The Joy of Freedom: An Economist's Odyssey

Article excerpt

The Joy of Freedom:

An Economists Odyssey

by David R. Henderson

Prentice Hall * 2001 * 361 pages * $27.00

Growing up in a fairly poor family in rural Manitoba, David Henderson would have seemed an unlikely candidate for the authorship of one of the most resounding libertarian books to come along in years. But an innate sense that there was something valuable in having the freedom to live one's life according to one's own choices kept the young man from being trapped in the bog of envy and egalitarianism that prevails in Canada. At a propitious moment Henderson laid his hands on a copy of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. From that point on he was hooked. The Joy of Freedom is Henderson's story of his discovery of the importance of liberty and the dour consequences for human beings when it is taken away.

Although the book has autobiographical aspects-its subtitle is An Economist's Odyssey-it isn't so much an autobiography as an impassioned brief for a society shorn of coercive governmental meddling. Unlike most autobiographies, in which the author indulges in the narcissistic belief that the details of his life are fascinating to others, when Henderson writes about himself, it is always incidental and useful to his purpose of trying to convince the reader that freedom works.

In that endeavor he succeeds wonderfully. His odyssey in the discovery of freedom is one that anyone could take, not necessarily winding up with a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA, service on the President's Council of Economic Advisers, and, currently, a fellowship at the Hoover Institution, but in coming to understand the fantastic potential of free people to make progress and solve problems. Most of the book is devoted to disputes between advocates of liberty and statists-- the "distribution" of income, minimum wage, property rights, health care, taxation, and so on-and in issue after issue, Henderson cogently, unequivocally advances the logic and morality of the libertarian side.

His technique is to weave into his discussion strands of individual stories (sometimes his own experiences, sometimes other people's), good economic analysis, statistics, and statements by defenders of government intervention. In doing so, he creates chapter after chapter of sharp libertarian argumentation. People unfamiliar with the case for the superiority of freedom over statist intervention will find themselves saying, over and over, "Well, I hadn't ever thought of that." And those of us who are veterans of the war against incessant government encroachments on our liberty and property will discover much that is new, ready for incorporation into our arsenals.

Here's a good example of Henderson at work. Labor unions try to cultivate the impression that they are the champions of "the little guy" and have only the interests of the workers at heart. …