Libertarianism, Academic Philosophy

Nozick on Free Enterprise

The United States broke away from mercantilist England and stood, though imperfectly, for liberty (including economic liberty) and for property rights. These two ideals are right not only for their economic and productive fruits and for the allowing of new ideas to be tried out, picked up, imitated, and modified, important though these be, but also they are right, important, and valuable in themselves. If we fail to stop the drift away from these ideals, the drift in which England has preceded us, the apparent dismal fate of the country we broke away from will become our own.

That’s the conclusion of a short piece by Robert Nozick on “Free Enterprise in America,” written for the Britannica Book of the Year, 1976.

I’d never seen this piece before, or even heard of it, until Eric Mack asked me about a reference to it a few days ago. After a bit of hunting, I was able to track down a copy, and the scanned version is posted above. So far as I know, this is the first time it has been made available electronically.

For Nozick scholars, the piece is interesting largely for the insight it gives us into Nozick’s non-philosophical views of capitalism. Almost all of the essay is about factual matters – the history of capitalism, the functioning of the price system and of property rights, and the effects of government intervention. Since there’s not a whole lot of that material in Anarchy, State and Utopia, and since what is there is widely dispersed throughout the book, it’s useful to have Nozick’s views on these matters summarized in a short, accessible way.

And for those who aren’t Nozick scholars, it’s still a nice short reference piece on free enterprise in America! Left-libertarians will, and properly I think, take issue with its idea that America is mostly a free-enterprise system with just some government distortions. But that qualification aside, it’s a good short read, and one that would make a nice accompaniment in the classroom to Nozick’s more substantial philosophical work on libertarianism.

Published on:
Author: Matt Zwolinski
  • Chris MacDonald

    This is great, Matt! Would it be possible, though, to upload a PDF that includes bibliographical info, for citation purposes?

  • cuccles

    Your colleague, Brennan, is going to be arrested for criminal conspiracy to extort AND IF HE ADMITS just one more OFFENCE OF THE SAME KIND all you BHL guys go down under R.I.C.O.
    BTW. This is the shite you write? Really? How fucking jejune are you actually?

  • Sean II

    “These and other objections to free enterprise can be met one by one, and yet this has little effect. A puzzle whose satisfactory solution still evades us is why many persons, especially intellectuals, so desire there to be some conclusive objection to free enterprise.”

    That puzzle is with us still, having easily survived Nozick’s own later attempt to solve it. It’s one of my biggest preoccupations: trying to understand the anti-market mind. But every explanation I come up with just turns to ash. At the moment I’m sure of only three things:

    1) Market haters are dangerous.

    2) It’s no use asking market haters why they hate the market. As Nozick observed, every time you answer one objection they invent another. The folks who once claimed to hate to markets for causing poverty now claim to hate them for causing too much prosperity…proof enough that they are unreliable narrators.

    3) Until we find the true source (or sources) of market hating, we stand at a serious disadvantage in our struggle against it.

    • Phil

      I’m curious who the market haters are that hate them for causing too much prosperity, without reference to poverty. Is this a small faction or large one? I’ve only heard market haters object to too much prosperity on the grounds that it is concentrated in too few hands, where the idea is that by lowering the amount of prosperity of a few, we can increase the prosperity of the many.

      • Sean II

        a) Greenos. Not so much the tiny few who actually study climate science and care about it, but the great many red-on-the-insiders who for decades (more often without and against data than with it) have been complaining that our “greed” has gone too far because of evil luxuries like vaccines, etc.

        b) Income Equality fetishists. By any reasonable historic standard, the poor today (in market-esque societies) are rich as shit. Cell phones, flat screens, after-market rims – all the comforts of Ali G including the ability to stream Ali G on demand. The only way to turn all this amazing productivity into a bad thing, is to say “Hey look…this one guy over here has three yachts! Who the fuck needs three yachts? The system is broken, folks.” Point being: We figured out that markets create absolute prosperity in the late 1940s. You were forced to admit as much in the early 1990s. Next thing ya’ know, suddenly you guys are all fixated on relative measures of prosperity, especially with the complaint that some people have too much of it.

        c) Protectionists and Luddites. The labor wing of the left does not deny that free trade and applied capital create prosperity. Indeed, their whole complaint is that foreign labor and labor-saving capital create far too much prosperity for their liking.

        I’m sure there are some lefties who don’t fit into a), b), or c)…I just haven’t met one in quite a while.

        • genemarsh

          “By any reasonable historic standard, the poor today (in market-esque societies) are rich as shit”

          By any reasonable historic standard, market-lovers today are free as shit.

          • Sean II

            As you often do, you’re dragging issues from one thread into the comments of another. We can talk about the evils of the drug war and rent-seeking privatized prisons, etc. some other time. No one here is shy about facing those topics, and probably everyone here broadly agrees with you about them.

            The problem is just, those topics have little to do with this thread about an obscure bit of Nozick that Matt dug up like a lost ark.

            No reason why you can’t keep your trolling on topic, and maybe take the few minutes of additional effort needed to make your comments more responsive.

          • genemarsh

            I’m sorry. I’m unable to distinguish the posts you hijack for the purpose of liberal bashing from the posts you hijack for the purpose of liberal bludgeoning.

            I have to admit, I’m in awe of your rancid persona.
            Truly the most unlikable human being I’ve found on the web across two decades. Truly satanic. Fascinating.

          • Sean II

            Your writing style combines the breathless overstatement of a teenage girl’s diary with the screwball diction of a North Korean press release.

            I must admit, I do look forward to each new comment. Keep ’em coming.

          • JoshInca

            Actually, genemarsh illustrates the irrationality of market haters that you described.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            Inequality is a basic fact of life in all systems, all times, and all nations. It is indicative of absolutely nothing unless it is ginned up by hate merchants and sold as a hot slab of raw envy to the masses for political power.
            .
            .What matters is both absolute poverty and social mobility. If people are not living in abject poverty (not the relative poverty of our wealthy industrialized nations) and if they have avenues to improve themselves, then they are unlikely to even notice that rich people are rich Duh!

          • genemarsh

            Bravo, Igor.

        • jdkolassa

          a) I believe those are called “watermelons.”

          b) God, I hate Income Equality Fetishists. I keep telling people that income inequality is irrelevant, that income mobility is what matters and that that’s what really helps the poor, but they stubbornly refuse to even open their minds. IEF do not care about the poor and in fact probably hate the poor, but just don’t want to seem like they hate the poor so they want to bring everyone down to the poor’s level so we can all be miserable together. I hate them.

          c) The labor wing is getting it’s ass whooped, at least in America. Even the center-left is sick of them these days.

          Then you have the aristocratic “limousine liberals,” the outright socialists, and Roderick Long. (Kidding.)

          • Sean II

            The key to understanding people who flog income inequality is to listen to the arguments they actually make, and not to the slightly better arguments we could make for them*.

            Once you do that, you see that their focus is rarely “income inequality is bad because look how these people at the bottom suffer”. Instead what you catch them saying most of the time is “income inequality is bad because..well duh!, of course it’s bad, just look how these scoundrels at the top are carrying on with their cocaine, hookers, and Jonah Hill.”
            ___________________________________________________
            * Some of the better arguments for thinking IE is important are the psychological one (people empirically show some preference for relative status over absolute value, thanks no doubt to something sordid in human nature), and the cultural one (some level of conditional equality is desirable to maintain the values of a free society). A few leftists make such arguments, but not many. The dominant version is: “Behold the 1%, let’s count their equity like it was just sitting in a checking account and then compare it to our checking account, and get really mad!”

          • jdkolassa

            Regrettably, you are completely correct. They’re just as bad as fundamentalist Christians. It’s not so much they’re dumb (though they are), it’s that they refuse to reason whatsoever.

          • JoshInca

            people empirically show somepreference for relative status over absolute value, thanks no doubt to something sordid in human nature

            That’s an artifact of human’s evolution as social primates. Wherein access to mates and resources was largely determined by one’s social standing the group. Socialists seek to exploit that legacy for their own benefit.

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          At the bottom of nearly all opposition to freedom, whether markets or personal choices, is the innate desire to control others, and the fear that people different than you are prospering or having fun in some way.

    • j r

      You’re right that market haters are dangerous. However, I don’t find market hating to be such an impenetrable phenomenon. It is a combination of misguided moral intuitions, risk aversion, affinities for tribal affiliations, and the do-gooder mentality of approaching the world as one big problem that has to be solved.

      I think maybe (and I say maybe cause I honestly do not know) the reason that you are having such a hard time understanding the market-hating mind is that you seem almost exclusively focused on market-hating minds on the left. Once you start to look at the full spectrum of folks who hate us for our freedom, you get a much clearer picture.

      • Sean II

        On the contrary…leftists are not my only targets, just my favorite ones.

        A really good example that exposes the anti-market mind in all its forms – left, right, and center – was how people responded to the web revolution when it was still new. Take wikipedia, which drew three main reactions crossing all political lines:

        1) Oh my god, this is incredible. Dude, have you seen this yet? This might be the coolest thing ever.

        2) Hmmm…strange but interesting. I need to know more.

        3) (Snorting in utter disgust) What do you mean ANYONE can edit this? That’s the craziest idea I’ve ever heard. The death of reason is upon us, unless we act fast. Call the policy people AT ONCE! Let it be craved upon every stone and obelisk: no one may speak the name of this infernal website in any student paper or official document.

        By my count, camp 3 included just as many crusty old right-wingers as it did crusty young left-wing education professors. Same goes for the absurd complaint that social media – the greatest tool of human interaction ever devised – is destroying society. You hear that one from lefties and righties alike.

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          One of the hardest things for people who are moving on a road towards libertarianism to accept is that the left and right are really two sides of the same coin. No matter which direction you came from at some point you have to see it for what it is.

    • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

      Permit me to throw my hat into the ring. Market-haters have a mental picture of what the world should look like. Thomas Sowell calls this the “vision of the anointed.” In this world the internal combustion engine was never invented. Everything is powered by wind, sun, and water. In this world, everybody has more or less the same, and everybody’s kids attend the same school (except theirs of course because they alone are way too precious to be exposed to the riff-raff). In this world, we all get along, without conflict, like one big happy family. Strife is antithetical to the vision. In this world, the masses recognize and obey the smart people, the experts, who are delegated to write rules and regulations that benefit all right-thinking people. Etc.

      Markets and freedom disrupt patterns, including the vision of the anointed. The are messy, they produce conflicts, their outcomes cannot be predicted or tamed. They expose and rely on our self-interest, not our benevolence. They yield competing visions and ideas about, well, everything. They stand in the way of all planning and the realization of all visions. Does that help?

      • reason60

        Actually you are correct- we who want a regulated market DO have a vision of how society should be- a preferred outcome.
        This is driven by the religious/ philosophical belief in universal human dignity, and the idea that government exists to further and advance this. In this view, freedom (market and otherwise)- is only one tool and goal.
        Inequality- in and of itself, even if we all owned yachts- is pernicious since it renders the lesser off a second class status, dividing us and preventing the full realization of our human selves.

        • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

          Ah, if only you had arguments for your personal preferences, then…you…would…be…a…philosopher, instead of a blowhard. Give me my yacht, private jet, etc. and I can assure you that I will not envy those with entire fleets. In fact, as hard as you may find this to believe, I would not trade my current life (which does not include ownership of even a small boat) for Bill Gates’ life. Your willingness to appease people’s envy is not an actual argument for equality and your fondness for completely vacuous statements (“second class citizens”…”full realization of our human selves”) is nothing but a preference for hot air.

          • reason60

            Is there an argument in favor of liberty that isn’t filled with vacuous statements?
            Isn’t it based on the notion that all humans have some sort of value, independent of their actions?
            Why should we prefer liberty to say, order?
            Ultimately every argument I have heard leads to some sort of fuzzy vacuous stuff about human dignity.

            Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            My favorite argument for liberty is found in Nozick’s ASU; have you read it? Other famous arguments for liberty, which I find less convincing, are put forward by Rand and Rothbard–but perhaps you will prefer them. Then there are arguments by Lomasky, Barnett and Narveson. Try reading up a little before making blanket statements.

          • reason60

            I appreciate the homework assignment; I really do!
            But it would be much more convincing if you stated them in your own words, don’t you think?
            Lets start here- doesn’t the argument for a minimal state envision some optimal outcome, or order, a way-things-outghta-be?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Short answer: every philosophical argument that I can think of contemplates a “way-things-oughta-be,” which is not the same thing as consequentialism. Longer answer, here: http://naturalrightslibertarian.com/, which includes a preview of my book on libertarian philosophy, defending the minimal state.

          • reason60

            So ultimately Lockean liberty is grounded in…God granting the world to men.
            IOW, a faith based postulate. Again, I have no problem with that.
            But given that, is it so unreasonable for others to assert that property rights can justly be placed within a broader context, of human dignity?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I have no idea where you get that. I believe further conversation with you is a waste of time.

          • reason60

            Hey, I got it from your website!

            “God, who hath given the World to Men in common, hath also given them reason to make use of it to the best advantage of Life and convenience.”

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Right, and I go on to say that this is an UNSATISFACTORY justification for land titles.

    • I suspect that the underlying source of market hating is religion. I don’t mean theism, i.e., belief or faith in the metaphysics of God, free will, immortality, world-spirit, etc. I mean organised religion. The UK, for instance, is still largely a Christian society. And the Bible is full of diatribes against money, greed, money-lenders, the rich, etc. I don’t mean that most UK citizens are Christians (I don’t think they are). I mean that the culture is still suffused with those crappy Biblical ideas. Even people who have never been to church are imbued with Christian ideas because those ideas are reflected in novels, films, TV dramas, all types of journalism, pretty much all the schooling, etc. Youngsters absorb these ideas from their elders and pass them on to the next generation. Even if the Christian church totally disappeared, those ideas would continue, because they make up a substantial part of the cultural heritage that is transmitted largely unintentionally. Because people are exposed to these ideas from birth, because the ideas are so generally accepted, they seem self-evident and arguments against them are often powerless.

      • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

        Speaking as a practicing Jew, I can say that our attitude towards commerce and money is somewhat different, perhaps best summed up by a line from Fiddler on the Roof, “being poor is nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s not something to be proud of, either.”

        • But isn’t the Old Testament full of anti-market bullshit? I am asking: I don’t know, having had very little contact with the Bible (old or New Testaments).

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Well, first the usual disclaimers, i.e. I’m no rabbi, yada, yada, yada…but I don’t think so. It’s actually a fairly complicated question. The Hebrew Bible contains, so far as I am aware, no straight-forward condemnations of commerce or markets. It does require tithing, and charity generally, but this requirement is not inconsistent with capitalism and getting very rich.

            But the reason that this is a complicated question is that the Bible is not self-explanatory. People who believe they know anything about Judaism on the basis of their reading of scripture are sadly mistaken, in the same way that someone would be who proclaims themselves an expert on constitutional law by virtue of having read that document. Most of what the Bible actually means for Jews is found in the Talmud, the Midrashim, and other oral traditions (since written down). On this basis, I think that Judaism teaches that there is nothing wrong with accumulating great wealth, but the wealthy are judged by God on the basis of how they use it.

          • Sean II

            Don’t be so modest Mark. You’re way more of a Rabbi than Danny will ever be.

            One possibly helpful anecdote: about ten years ago my best friend’s father died, and I attended his funeral at this very old, very small Jewish cemetery. The guy was kind of a big deal, so there were four separate eulogies.

            I was amazed by how openly and admiringly the eulogists spoke of his financial success. I’m talking a high level of detail here: “…by then he was ready to cash in on his Sears options, and after some very profitable speculation with commodities – especially sugar – in the early 60s, he struck out on his own….”

            This sort of thing you would NEVER hear at the funeral of a Catholic patriarch or big daddy WASP. At those grave sites they only talk about how the money was given away, following a homily about the worthlessness of material life.

            My impression: for whatever complicated reasons, Judaism is not infected by the anti-market bias which (as Danny correctly remindes us) is so very strong in the faith spawned by Judaism’s bastard hippie brat.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Yes, in this one area I probably have a slight edge on Danny. This may shed some further light on the subject. Rabbi Sacks is the Chief Rabbi of the U.K., and fully Orthodox: http://www.rabbisacks.org/business-and-society/.

          • Mark Rothschild

            I’ll just note that there are cultural and geographic flavors
            of Judaism that exclude everything except the Bible. Mark D. Friedman is correct only if he limits his statements to Orthodox, and Conservative flavors of Judaism.

            Re market haters. Most Intellectuals are not in the business
            of producing wealth; they produce ideas.

            So, why should they embrace a system they don’t participate in? But, it is not the market that they hate. What they hate is the the fact that they are tangential to the market process.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I was Reform for many years, and still have plenty of friends who are. I have nothing at all against Reform Jews, so please understand this comment in this spirit. But, if you have ever met a Reform Jew who leads his/her life in accordance with the 613 commandments contained in the Bible (Torah), then you are one up on me. The reason Jews are Reform is precisely because they DON’T want to keep kosher, strictly observe Shabbos, pray three times a day, etc. etc. etc. They think the Torah has only a single commandment–be a good person. Hey, that’s great, really, but you don’t need the Torah to do that, right? So, when you say “exclude everything except the Bible,” is this what you mean?

          • Mark Rothschild

            What I was getting at is that there are Jews who don’t pay any attention to (or even know about) the books you mentioned and consider their religion to be entirely contained in the Bible exclusively.

            That’s all I am saying. Not making any other claim.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            From a recent speech to parliament by Chief Rabbi Sacks of the U.K., see the link immediately below for the full transcript:

            In the light of the G8 protests and so much else that has been said in recent years, it is often assumed that when religious leaders speak about business it is to be critical of capitalism and all its works. That is not the case in the tradition from which I speak. The Hebrew Bible, after all, records perhaps the world’s first economist, Joseph, who invented the theory of trade cycles, seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years, which has thus far proved to be a more accurate guide to the 21st century than most other economic forecasts.

            We believe that business, and the market economy generally, plays a moral role in society. It is the greatest stimulus we know to human creativity. It increases the common wealth. It reduces poverty, and poverty is profoundly humiliating. Economic liberty has a deep association with political liberty. Trade as Montesquieu pointed out in the 18th century is the deep alternative to war. And throughout history, trading centres, like the city of London, have been at the forefront of tolerance and respect for difference.

          • Thanks, Mark. Unfortunately, he did not draw the conclusion that the government should stop paying people to do nothing. Also, he misstated the law of comparative advantage. Even if you do EVERYTHING better than I do, we can still specialise for mutual benefit.

          • Sean II
          • You wre unusually restrained, Sean.

          • Sean II

            It doesn’t suit me, does it? Be honest…

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Okay, but I didn’t claim that the leaders of Judaism were libertarians or economists, just that they weren’t hostile to capitalism generally.

          • For that we can be thankful. It really does make a change – quite a startling one – to hear a clergyman of any kind standing up for markets.

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        Not sure how accurate that is. Protestant Christianity had no problem reconciling wealth and piety. In fact among certain protestants if you were wealthy through your own hard work and industriousness, that was a good indication that God favored you.

        • But every year over here, at Christmas, we get a speech by the head of the Anglican (protestant) church and it is full of the usual anti-market nonsense, whichever individual it is who holds the post.

          • Sean II

            I set foot in churches almost never, strictly weddings and funerals for me. But you’re right: when I do, I always hear the same old tripe. “The world is too much with us…getting and spending we lay waste…our hearts given to a sordid boon …blah, blah, blah.”

            That stuff is so standard, I found it hard to understand how people could be shocked last month when Pope Francis came out sounding like Wordsworth meets The Daily Worker.

            Don’t they always sound like that?

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            I propose that what you are witnessing is less an artifact of christianity as it is of simple marxism. Most of the older mainline denominations are overflowing with leftists.

          • But Marxism is only what happened to religion once the idea of God was dropped. When religious people lost their faith in God, they became socialists. Indeed, nowadays even the bishops no longer believe in God; but they all believe in socialism.

          • Michael Philip

            Marxism is just secularized Christianity.

      • Sean II

        No doubt you’re onto something when it comes to anti-marketism in the West. Hard to imagine it getting this far without the help of Scripture’s stupefying folk economics.

        But since anti-marketism is global, I think I’m more interested in finding the thing-behind-the-thing. What is it in human nature that put those folk economics in the Bible to begin with?

        One distressing possibility: what if most of humanity is just not bright enough to handle the counter-intuitive concepts needed to understand markets? As Hayek said, to such people the whole business of economics gives off a “whiff of sorcery”.

        On the surface, that doesn’t explain why intellectuals should be so over-represented among market haters. But there is this image in my head from youtube of Naomi Klein hating on Milton Friedman, where in a mock cavewoman voice she sums up his ideas as “Mmmm, trying to do good is…BAD. Trying to do bad is…GOOD.” The whole audience goes crazy laughing and cheering, grateful to be rid of all that nonsense about unintended consequences.

        So maybe the thing is that middlebrow intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals are especially prone to hate markets because they are just smart enough to be smarter than the mob, but not smart enough to come up with (or even fully grasp) the counter-intuitives themselves.

        • adrianratnapala

          Nice thread dude! Apparently not even a flamewar.

          Our intuitions rights, including mine-and-thine distinctions evolved to cope with small societies with strong social connections. Markets are a mechanism for cooperating with untrusted strangers and demand we to respect the rights, including “mere” property rights, of people we don’t care about and might dislike.

          • Sean II

            Not sure I take your point there, A-Rat. Wouldn’t it be the other way around: evolution offered a slight advantage to people who suspiciously rejected any bargain they were not clever enough to understand? In other words, evolution gave a slight advantage to people whose preference when dealing with strangers was 1) Avoid, 2) Scare Off, 3) Kill & Rob, and 4) Trade.

          • adrianratnapala

            I think we are agreeing: anti-market sentiment is in line with some pretty natural basic human intuitions. The first three strategies on your list actively undermine markets, and the fourth (and least) is only one element of what makes markets work. We have many other, warmer, intuitions when dealing with people we already know, but they only sometimes help develop markets.

            Large states are built up mostly from trade, helping out the tribe, and a sanctified form of killing and robbing (e.g. you MUST help the tribe or else). Let’s say everyone preferred one of those three at random, then 2/3 of the population would be at least mildly “anti market”.

      • Michael Philip

        theism is a part of it too.

    • Deontologists who are against some action or policy often try desperately to show how it also has bad consequences. I’ve never heard a deontologist say, “Yes, I know my moral system has terrible consequences for everyone, but we still ought to achieve it. On the contrary, what I usually hear is, “I would support my moral system no matter what the consequences were, but it just so happens that my system also has amazing consequences.” What a lucky coincidence, or perhaps divine plan, it is.

      Deontologists are more prone to bias when it comes to empirical facts, since they have incentive to believe that their deontological favored policies also have good consequences. Consequentialists on the other hand only care about the consequences, so they don’t need good consequences to match up with independent rules. My point is that perhaps the market-haters hate markets for deontological reasons, which is why they desperately try to find reasons why markets don’t work well (if that is in fact what they do). For why market-hating deontologists hate markets, you’ll have to ask a market-hating deontologist for his deontological theory.

      • I think your point is similar to mine. But I try to identify the source of the anti-market moral theory, namely, the ideas of the old religions (perhaps excluding Judaism, in light of Mark’s comments). The ‘holy texts’ of those old religions were put together in tribal societies and thus reflect tribalist deontology, which is opposed to market, open-society developments. And the messages of these old texts are kept alive by the spokespersons for organised religions. If Mark is right, we need an account of why Judaism is different; but I guess there is a lot written on that already (though I am not familiar with it).

        • The religious connection only explains one portion of market-haters, since market-hating isn’t confined to the religious (unless you think non-religious people have some left-over religious baggage which accounts for their market-hating). For example, the liberal atheist population, while not completely anti-market, may have some of the market-hatred we’re talking about. I myself have a negative emotional reaction when I witness or contemplate what seems like excessive wealth concentrated in few hands, though I certainly do not take this negative emotional reaction to be morally significant.

          • I think the religious connection explains more than you think. Even people who have abandoned religion have been formed by the old religious ideas that are dyed into our inherited cultural fabric. I said last time that the anti-market ideas are kept alive by spokespersons for organised religions. That is true. But I was then ignoring my earlier point that the old ideas also have a momentum of their own, simply because they are culturally inherited ideas which are passed on by the varied and pervasive means of cultural transmission to which each of us contributes often without realising it.

            Getting rid of these mistaken and pernicious ideas requires, of course, sustained criticism. But that is not enough. It also requires a critical attitude on the part of the people who adhere to the old ideas: they must be prepared to change their views in response to criticism. So we need not only to produce good arguments; we must also try to stimulate receptivity to argument. How do we do that? Open markets help, because they make people aware of all manner of surprising innovations that work. Education ought to do it; but it does not, because it is, for various reasons, dominated by a stultifying attitude of dogmatism. Of course, open markets in education would help, but I don’t think they would be sufficient.

          • Sean II

            “I think the religious connection explains more than you think. Even people who have abandoned religion have been formed by the old religious ideas that are dyed into our inherited cultural fabric.”

            This is very true. Some of the most Catholic people I know are atheists who left the church in childhood, but who discarded only the theism, keeping all the rest intact.

            One way to think about this: if the Catholic and Anglican Churches came up with 100 points of moral agreement and then crafted these into a personality inventory test, who doubts that most progressives would score 70% or better on that test? Hell, only the sex teaching would hold the back from a perfect score!

            The fact is: Christianity morality is very much intact in the West. The fact that it is now mitigated by large-scale cheating and hypocrisy does NOT mean people have actually replaced it as their default moral code.

          • Sean II

            Of course I forgot the clearest example that proves Danny’s point: environmentalism.

            It’s not a question of whether you believe in AGW or not. One doesn’t have to agree or disagree with that idea to notice that, on a street level, environmentalism is weirdly inward-looking, and bears a striking resemblance to the Christianity which overlaps it demographically. Most of the places where environmentalism has taken hold are current or former Christian countries.

            You see people – in a way that would be very familiar to students of hagiography – making these petty sacrifices that have no chance of changing anything. I’m talking about the guys who let piss pool in their toilet bowl as a way of saving water, or the ones who give up all their favorite foods in favor of some dietary equivalent of a hairshirt.

            At the extremes of both movements – Christianity and environmentalism – you see people imitating the behavior of the Desert Fathers: withdrawal from society, intentional self-inflication of misery and ill health, lives devoted to proving a single point at all costs, etc.

          • Mark Rothschild

            The Green relationship to Christianity is an interesting observation.

            Perhaps carbon takes the place of sin in Green religion and
            affluence assumes the role of original sin.

          • Michael Philip

            I now recall Michael Chrichton on the same subject:

            “Environmentalism seems to be the religion of choice for urban atheists. Why do I say it’s a religion? Well, just look at the beliefs. If you look carefully, you see that environmentalism is in fact a perfect 21st century remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths.
            There’s an initial Eden, a paradise, a state of grace and unity with nature, there’s a fall from grace into a state of pollution as a result of eating from the tree of knowledge, and as a result of our actions there is a judgment day coming for us all. We are all energy sinners, doomed to die, unless we seek salvation, which is now called sustainability.”

          • Mark Rothschild

            vaclav klaus has said some interesting things about environmentalism’s totalitarian tendencies.

          • Michael Philip

            he did indeed. nowadays its just couched in the more middle-class-friendly political term, “sustainable development”

          • jdkolassa

            Making some very interesting points, Sean. Now I feel an urge to go off and read a bunch of Ayn Rand…

          • Sean II

            You kid perhaps, but Rand was onto something that we tend to neglect now, because it’s conceptually messy and sloppy and easy to throw around.

            Nevertheless…there is an anti-human impulse in some humans, as dangerous as it is repugnant. At least some of the green movement clearly partakes of this. You don’t have to spend a ton of time in those precincts before you meet someone who more or less believes the earth would be better without us, because everything human is ugly, and everything inhuman is beautiful.

            That’s not some over-cooked novelistic bullshit. Some of them really do say it.

          • Michael Philip

            those ideas have inertia. that’s what happens when you don’t explicitly conceptualize what are you doing or talking about and we are now up against that inertia. but religion is only part of it. there is also the altruism, both on the religious and the secular side and that will not simply be diminished with markets or sustained criticism especially if no viable alternative is offered.

  • Andrew F.

    Neat find. I’m too young to have been there, but this little primer strikes me as pretty basic for anyone who would have been reading Nozick in 1976. Would this have been new to some readers?

  • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

    Hi Matt:
    Thanks for sharing this. I was also unaware of it.

  • Ross Levatter

    ” Left-libertarians will, and properly I think, take issue with its idea that America is mostly a free-enterprise system with just some government distortions”. Matt, I can’t tell from Gary’s discussion at the link. Do you see the quoted statement as definitional of “left libertarianism,” in that if you agree with it, as I do, you ARE a left libertarian?

  • Free enterprise is open source. Always more efficient, higher quality and cheaper.
    ———————–
    Anarcho Capitalism

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      Freedom is open source, I like that.

  • Jerome Bigge

    Governments tend to generate monopoly that benefit a favored group at the cost of everyone else. From government we get licensing, building codes, zoning, prescription laws, professional monopoly, intellectual property laws (enforced by government). In effect government exists to “protect” a favored minority from “everyone else”. The free market on the other hand creates and encourages invention, free competition, and as far as is possible, will usually destroy existing monopolies if not prevented from doing so by government. Government separates people by “credentials”, whereas the free market is only interested in what can be done, regardless of who is doing it. Government restricts what people can do. The free market on the other hand encourages them to do whatever their knowledge and abilities allow them to do.

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