McCloskey Watch

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer] Deirdre Nansen McCloskey reviews a new bio of Friedrich Hayek (link at right), and concludes Hayek Was a True Liberal. A small excerpt:

So Hayek and the Austrian School are liberal, in a modern world lurching between the fatal conceits of left and right. On the left nowadays Acemoglu and James Robinson, and more radically Thomas Piketty and Mariana Mazzucato, recommend a bigger and bigger state. They promise it will be a very nice one, you understand. On the right Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin recommend a bigger and bigger state. They make no such promises about niceness. They envision a state of the sort that Hayek opposed in Russia and then in the German lands, growing up with Viennese antisemitic politics and the street violence of Weimar Germany next door. We liberals stand apart from the usual spectrum, recommending as Hayek did a competent but small state, liberty with love.

The peculiarly American term for such a worldview is libertarianism. The usage delivers liberal over to the social democrats. Hayek and I disapprove. True liberalism adopts instead the strange and wonderful idea arising suddenly by happy accident in northwestern Europe during the 18th century that the ancient hierarchies of husband and master and king should not stand. Ordinary people were to be treated for the first time like adults. Such a liberalism could be called adultism.

All this ideological classification can get confusing, even frustrating. It doesn't matter if you're being pigeonholed, or you're self-pigeonoling; there's no USDA regulation for what goes on your philosophical ingredient list.

If I absolutely must label myself, I usually—sorry, Deirdre!—go with "libertarian". Because I want not to be misunderstood, as I would be if I said "liberal". If I'm allowed a few more words, I add "with significant conservative leanings."

Anyway: I'll probably take a pass on the book. 824 pages, and it only goes up to 1950! I think I'd prefer to reread The Constitution of Liberty.

How Evil Are Politicians?

Essays on Demagoguery

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

Bryan Caplan is an economics prof at George Mason University. This is his second curated collection of blog posts from EconLog, a joint blog of libertarian economists. (He moved on to his own Substack site earlier this year.) My take on his first collection is here.

Yes, you can probably get most of the content of this book for free by wandering through EconLog archives. (For example, if you would like to get a flavor of Caplanesque argument, the title essay for the book is here.) But it's nice to have a collection, and I don't mind contributing a few bucks to the Caplan kids' scholarship fund.

Bryan is an excellent essayist, setting forth an uncompromising array of libertarian positions. Here, besides his unsparing criticism of our rulers' morality, you'll find his views on pacifism (for); socialism (against); open borders (for); demagoguery (against). And more.

There's only one small misstep I noticed: in a 2006 post, "The Mirage of Libertarian Populism", Bryan despairs that the majority of voters are unlikely to push for libertarian reform; witness the popularity of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, and the ease with which demagogues turn any proposal of reform into "pushing granny off a cliff in her wheelchair" TV ad. But:

Furthermore, the public heavily supports even the least defensible infringements on personal liberty – like prohibition of marijuana.

Sixteen years later, and (uh, so I'm told) a short drive down to East Coast Cannabis will satisfy any weed craving I might have. So maybe "libertarian populism" isn't quite as hopeless as Bryan once thought.