If ever a television quiz show for intellectuals appeared, a good question to keep contestants from making off with a million dollars of the producers’ money would be, “Who said the following?”
We destroy the beauty of the countryside because the unappropriated splendors of nature have no economic value. We are capable of shutting off the sun and the stars because they do not pay a dividend…. Once we allow ourselves to be disobedient to the test of an accountant’s profit, we have begun to change our civilization. 1
The utterer of these Global Village-like words does not seem to be a big fan of capitalism and the profit motive. Yet it was John Maynard Keynes, the 20th century’s most prominent economist. Here’s another question: “Who said, ‘Liberty may be incompatible with, and better than, too much efficiency’?” 2 It was Isaiah Berlin, one of the century’s great champions of individual freedom and tolerance. With friends like these, the market model is in no need of enemies.
At the beginning of the 21st century, an observant banker sounded a note of caution over proclamations that with the death of communism, capitalism was triumphant. “The intellectual faith we now have in markets provides hope for the future,” said Lawrence Lindsey, currently a lead advisor to President Bush, “but also holds a risk. Markets are not perfect, even though they beat any alternative form of economic decision making.” 3 Lindsey noted that market mechanisms matched risk and reward so that those who dared greatly would either suffer greatly or reap great rewards. Consider how Keynes and Berlin would have reacted. “You want the present to be servant of the future,” they might have collectively responded.