There Is No Central Plan for Winning Liberty

By Ebeling, Richard M. | Freeman, January/February 2004 | Go to article overview

There Is No Central Plan for Winning Liberty


Ebeling, Richard M., Freeman


People who become enthusiastic supporters of the freedom philosophy often ask how the case for individual liberty, free markets, and constitutionally limited government can be successfully spread across the land. How can it triumph over the prevailing system of governmental paternalism?

In frustration and despair they point out that the interventionist-welfare state has its advocates and indoctrinators everywhere in society. Whether they are in the government-run schools, or on the television news shows and in the pages of newspapers and masscirculation magazines, or in the pulpits of too many of our churches, or in armies of special-interest groups feeding at the trough of government spending-no matter where we turn the supporters of intrusive, regulating, redistributive government dominate the arena of ideas and the battlefield of politics.

To defeat these forces of political coercion and control, it is sometimes said, we have to devise a strategy and plan of action to which all friends of freedom must apply themselves. In other words, it is implied that the proponents of limited government and the free-market society must design a central plan for winning liberty in which everyone must find his place, like a cog in the machinery advancing the cause of freedom.

In fact, there is not, nor can there be, such a central plan for winning liberty. We need to remember why socialist central planning was unworkable and inevitably bound to fail. During the heyday of collectivism in the first half of the twentieth century, free-market economists like Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek swam against the intellectual and ideology currents of the time and showed that socialism lacked the ability to solve the most fundamental of economic problems. They explained that no matter how well-intentioned, knowledgeable, and wise we might assume the central planners to be, they could never have sufficient information and insight to know all they'd need to know to plan all the economic activities of all the people in any contemporary society.

Hayek, in particular, emphasized that in any society in which there is a division of labor there is, by necessity, a matching division of knowledge. Through such a system of specialization, we respectively become informed, knowledgeable, and expert about, at most, a handful of things, while remaining ignorant about all the other aspects of life on which our social, intellectual, and material well-being depends. The superiority of the free market is that it leaves each individual at liberty to apply his knowledge, abilities, and creativity as he sees fit, yet at the same time succeeds in coordinating all that everyone does through the incentives of profit and loss and the communication network of the competitively generated price system.

How, then, can we ever expect to win liberty through central planning? We would be handicapping all our efforts by subordinating them to the knowledge, wisdom, and insight of those who would construct the blueprint to which the rest of us would be required to more or less conform. The goal of establishing the free society can never be achieved through the application of such collectivist methods.

The methodology of winning freedom was a topic to which Leonard Read, the founder of FEE, devoted a lot of his attention over the decades. he reminded us that the one over whom we each have the most influence is oneself. …

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