Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Depoliticizing Friedman, Mises, and Hayek

From an article on the death of Robert Heilbroner, a lifelong socialist economist who acknowledged that his side had been wrong (http://www.reason.com/hod/db012105.shtml):

"Capitalism has been as unmistakable a success as socialism has been a failure. Here is the part that's hard to swallow. It has been the Friedmans, Hayeks, and von Miseses who have maintained that capitalism would flourish and that socialism would develop incurable ailments. All three have regarded capitalism as the 'natural' system of free men; all have maintained that left to its own devices capitalism would achieve material growth more successfully than any other system. From [my samplings] I draw the following discomforting generalization: The farther to the right one looks, the more prescient has been the historical foresight; the farther to the left, the less so."

Robert Heilbroner's history of economics, The Worldly Philosophers, is one of the most widely published books on economics. For decades it was required reading in thousands of economics courses across the country. The economic world-views of literally millions of educated adults who are in power today were defined by Heilbroner's socialist spin on the history of economics. His recantation is especially important and should be more widely known.

Part of the task of FLOW, and everyone who cares about human well-being, is to transcend the notion that there is anything "right-wing" about Friedman, Hayek, and Von Mises. They were, and are, simply correct. One hundred years of "left-wing" economics and political theory were simply wrong. The continued hostility to the ideas of "free market" economists results in persistent poverty and misery around the world.

For many years, Chicago economists have denied that there is anything distinctive about "the Chicago school of economics." From their perspective, there is good economics and bad economics, and they have been practicing good economics for a very long time - which is why they have won so many Nobel prizes (according to wikipedia they have won almost half of all the prizes, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_school_(economics) .

Friedman, Hayek, and Mises should be regarded as heroes of intellectual courage across the political spectrum, the Galileos of the 20th century, who withstood tremendous abuse and ridicule for the sake of intellectual integrity - and who were proven correct in the end. The PBS documentary "Commanding Heights" does an excellent job of this with respect to Hayek. I believe it was just last year that Harvard finally added Hayek to the required reading list of its introductory social science survey course.

From this more rational foundation we can build a coherent idealism that is apolitical. We can now begin working from a solid intellectual foundation to help the poorest of the poor, to spread happiness and well-being, and to create a world in which people are valued more for their humanity and authentic virtues rather than for arbitrary characteristics such as race, gender, and place of birth.


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