The End of the Age of the ‘Free’ man

The strangest thing happened when I wrote this post. After having spent the better part of three hours reading, thinking and writing, I made the post and updated the tag cloud. I even checked wordpress tags related to my post. To my surprise, when I come back to see it, the post that I see published is an unfinished draft written about two hours back. When I log out and log in, the post has reverted back to a draft. So if you did read the draft that mentions hell too many times and even throws in the holocaust for dramatic effect, ignore it. The following is a minor rewrite of the post. Thankfully I retrieved a complete copy from my RSS feed. Don’t think this is a joke. It really did happen.

Today’s Economic Times had an article titled The End of the Age of Friedman, by guest columnist J. Bradford DeLong. Among other things, the writer states five principles which Friedman believed in, and then rates some of the more prominent world leaders of the 1970-80s on that basis. He then goes on to mount an attack on Milton Friedman’s ideas – (pure) democracy and the idea of free market are not scalable; they are not just in their distribution (of fruits of labour) – and questions whether they are relevant in this day and age. While he does maintain that market economies are better than certain other economies (referring to Soviet style planned economies, I hope), on the whole, he is bearish on the very idea of competitive market economies and pure democracies. He prefers social democracies which have produced the wealthiest and most just societies the world has ever seen. The piece ends with him putting words into Friedman’s mouth and providing replies to them. To better understand what he is talking about, along with the above mentioned article, you might also want to take a look at Shleifer the (counter-)revolutionary and What Makes a Miracle – Some myths about the rise of China and India.

There are very few things that I hold sacred in my life. And freedom – to speak, write and do as I please – is the most important of them all. When people ask questions on whether democracy is really the right system of government when a modified system might be more ‘just’ or ‘equitable’ (DeLong), or nonchalantly declare that some amount of socialism in the beginning is ‘good’ for the economy (Bardhan), they better have some solid reasons to do that. Consider the following paragraph in DeLong’s article –

“Nevertheless, the distribution of economic welfare produced by the market economy does not fit anyone’s conception of the just or the best. Rightly or wrongly, we have more confidence in the correctness and appropriateness of political decisions made by democratically-elected representatives than of decisions implicitly made as the unanticipated consequences of market processes. We also believe that government should play a powerful role in managing the market to avoid large depressions, redistributing income to produce higher social welfare, and preventing pointless industrial structuring produced by the fads and fashions that sweep the minds of financiers.”

Who are these ‘anyone’ and ‘we’ who feel that market economies are useless and that governments should wipe people’s ass because they cannot fend for themselves? I surely don’t. It is, in fact, those who head the ‘social democracies’ DeLong thinks so highly of (including the biggest pseudo-capitalist democracy in the world – the United States Of America), who think that way. And that is why they keep finding themselves in a deep hole every twenty years or so. And so do other countries (including India) who ape (depending on their economic ‘system’) every thing the US, England (sorry, Great Britain. England is so much easier) and Russia did at various times in their history.

Whether or not you have a problem with democracy in its purest form (what the hell is this pure democracy I keep chanting about, you may ask. A ‘pure democracy’, according to me, is a system of government which is not a mobocracy wearing the garb of democracy) and market economy that is the lifeblood of such a system, depends on your perspective and your ultimate goal. If the goal is government-mandated tax-payer subsidized equitable distribution of wealth or egalitarianism or similar ideas that do not require that the person having the idea pay for it, then sorry, market economy is not for you. If your goal is maintaining the superpower status of a country through military supremacy, then market economy might help you as long as you don’t try to pull a fast one on it.

My focus is the individual. Everything else – society, community, nation – radiates from that single entity. So any economic theory has to take the individual into account. Laissez-faire (free market to some) is the best economic system because it puts the individual before everything else. The scalability criticism does not hold water because the same can be said about any economic system (why is the biggest ‘social democracy’ facing a crisis? Who pays for universal insurance and universal health care? …). Instead of assaulting laissez faire, it would be more beneficial to concentrate on the various laws and measures that countries adopt from time to time to protect special interests or various sections of the society. For, that is the root case of all problems, surely not the fact that people are free!

Milton Friedman was probably one of the few economists who argued strenuously that governments should let their people have more economic freedom, instead of using economic thumbscrews on them. He is not called a libertarian for nothing. So, stop playing around with ideas like freedom. Only those people who do not have to bother about what freedom really means can afford to do that. If you write off democracy as a viable form of government, you undermine the very concept of freedom. And the day government decides what portion of your income must be spent in what manner (which unfortunately is the case in most countries today), you can be sure that you are definitely not living in a ‘purely democratic’ country.

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  • sinblancaporelmundo  On March 14, 2008 at 10:09 am

    El socialismo es muerte.
    Socialism is death.

    That, is true. It is a system designed to suck the life blood out of you.

  • K. M.  On April 13, 2008 at 1:16 am

    I have one issue with your post – your use of the term ‘democracy’. Democracy means a rule of the people (and that necessarily degenerates to rule of the majority) as opposed to a rule of law. The term that you should be using is ‘constitutional republic’. Of course having a constitution does not mean that it is any good, but not having one is necessarily bad.

    P.S. Good blog. Just added it to my blogroll.

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