Political Philosophy, Clearly: Essays on Freedom and Fairness, Property and Equalities
Bandow, Doug, Freeman
Political Philosophy, Clearly: Essays on Freedom and Fairness, Property and Equalities by Anthony dejasay Liberty Fund * 2010 *360 pages * $24.00 hardcover; $14.50 paperback
Reviewed by Doug Bandow
One of the great myths of society today is that life is too complex to leave unregulated. Liberty might have been fine for a simple, agrarian society a couple of centuries ago, but now, supposedly, we need vast intervention by the State to manage human affairs.
In fact experience demonstrates that it is even more important to rely on the decentralized decisionmaking of the marketplace as society grows more complex. The commissars had a passable chance at figuring out how to make steel, however inefficiently. In the midst of the information and other technological revolutions, though, creating an advanced economy is beyond any human's ability. Instead we must rely on Adam Smith's "invisible hand" of voluntary action within the rule of law.
In this meaty book, Hungarian-born economist Anthony de Jasay explores the ability of individuals to privately organize their affairs and other issues relevant to the debate between statists and advocates of liberty. The essays collected in this volume span a broad array of questions, including the private provision of "public goods," the viability of limited government, and the relationship between liberty and justice.
Jasay begins with a frontal attack on two traditional concepts of classical liberals: the social contract and constitutionally limited government. The basic problem, he contends, is that the "fictitious social contract" logically results in far more government than originally desired. That in turn is because "[t]here is an obvious potential gain to the government, or to be pedantic, the persons in charge of it, from exceeding this mandate, and the means are available for doing so." That is to say, paper guarantees that are meant to constrain the growth of government and protect the liberties of the people are almost certain to fail. America's unhappy experience with the theory that governmental power can be contained by writing words on paper strongly supports Jasay 's position.
It is true that limits on government are sometimes respected - for a time, at least - but Jasay notes that this is mostly for idiosyncratic reasons. He points, for example, to the once generally held belief that government should abide by the same financial rules that individuals do as having restrained government spending in the past. "For about a century and a half before Keynes' General Theory became common currency for the literate and semiliterate, it was widely believed that repeated deficits in the state household were mortally dangerous, liable to lead to the country's ruin, and to be countenanced only in desperate circumstances. …