More worldly philosophy

Cato Executive V. P. David Boaz has written his own balanced obituary for economist Robert Heilbroner (see my post below). It includes a quote from an excerpt from an article Heilbroner wrote for Dissent in 1992 about the collapse of socialism:

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.

Friedrich Hayek couldn’t have asked for a better response to his wonderful dedication in The Road to Serfdom, which read, “To the socialists of all parties.” He could, however, have asked to see it sooner.

Comments

  1. What was missed in the scant coverage of Heilbroner’s death was an acknowledgement of his expanation of the “socialization of loss” in The Nature and Logic of Capitalism.

    Heilbroner rightfully states that American businesses have never operated under anything near “free market” conditions — but instead have used the state to perform those tasks that could not be performed at a profit. Thus all infrastructure is the collective responsibility of the taxpayer, yet all profits belong to the owners.

    I’m far from a Marxist, but it seems to me that Heilbroner was right to point out this pervasive but invisible subsidization of American business.

  2. Ben Stark says:

    Well, the fact of the matter is, not EVERYTHING can be privatized. Richard Epstein, hardly a socialist, points out that, for instance, there would be terrible transaction costs if every piece of road belonged to a different private individual.

    It’s never been a black-and-white distinction between Joseph Stalin and Ayn Rand. As in much of politics, it’s all which shade of gray you want. Which isn’t to say there’s no debate. The difference between light gray and dark gray can be huge sometimes. (Which, by the way, is also my response to those who say “I hate black-and-white moral debates.”)

  3. Mike M says:

    It took me forever to figure out who Leopold Stotch was. South Park rules! Anyway, I was just curious if there is a good example of a society that has removed all elements of socialism from its system? Because America, while based largely around capitalist ideals, still has many socialist tendencies as well.

  4. Ben Stark says:

    Well, there’s always America in the late 1800s. It as protectionist, but it certainly wasn’t socialist. Not that I’m saying libertarians want to take us back to 1898. They would at LEAST move forward to 1900.

    (Just kidding, Jacob!)

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