Column on It’s Always Freedom’s Fault

It’s Always Freedom’s Fault

Tibor R. Machan

In the middle of the financial scares I went to a little college in New
Hampshire to debate whether politics ought to be about moral virtue of
individual liberty. I took the position that even if one means to promote
moral virtue, one must do so by first securing the right to liberty for
all. It is not moral virtue if men and women aren’t free to choose their
conduct. Regimenting adult human beings to act properly, ethically, just
doesn’t cut it as a way to promote human morality.

My opponent argued that politics should be about promoting morality and
that the individual8ism implicit in my position is dangerous–he even
claimed that Hitler’s Nazi politics arose because of too much
individualism! While he was advocating a conservative program, in fact, as
I understood him, his objections to the libertarian alternative were no
different from the Left’s communitarianism which also blames everything on
individual liberty and claims that individualism is actually atomism, the
idea that people are self-sufficient and are able to thrive without
society.

The debate was conducted at a pretty academic, abstract level although
sometimes we made reference to current events to illustrate some of our
points. What was rather remarkable for me is just how eagerly my
conservative opponent found fault with the classical liberal viewpoint
because of its embrace of individual liberty as the prime public good. As
I returned to earth from the debate and resumed listening and reading
about the current problems on Wall Street and what politicians say and
want to do about it, I noticed that mainstream figures in both parties
also targeted liberty as the culprit, claiming that recent erratic and
halfway deregulations of the financial markets–supposedly a perfect
example of championing fully free markets–is responsible for it all.
None of the mainstream commentators took any notice of the fact, pointed
out in a recent comment by Professor Donald Boudreaux of George Mason
University, that it was free market economists who warned about the
policies that ushered in the curre
nt problems. Indeed, as these economists noted, the policies of the fed
and other governmental–and governmental sustained outfits like Freddy and
Fanny–can be clearly identified as precipitating the credit crises.

More generally, despite the fact that the likes of New York Times
columnist Paul Krugman, a Princeton University economists, keep repeating
that some mythical market fundamentalism that’s running rampant across the
country and the world, is causing all the trouble, free market economists
from such institutions as the University of Chicago, George Mason
University, the Austrian School and the Cato Institute have been warning
that government meddling in the market place will have dire consequences.
The most general lesson, as I see it, is that governments are forever
giving special breaks to people everywhere who are only too eager to take
on risks that then they need to cover but can count on government to do
so. This is often a hidden agenda but when one removes all the mambo
jumbo from the legislation and regulations, it is really the bottom line:
You can do whatever you like and not reckon with the consequences because
Uncle Sam will bail you out every time.

And this is then labeled market fundamentalism? Go figure. But the people
who environ themselves as ruling the rest of us do not stop with their
efforts to besmirch freedom, including, especially, free markets since
only by discrediting this most productive, most just institution do they
have a chance to turn enough citizens against it and gain the control they
so desperately seek. I can only express the strong hope that they will
not succeed. And maybe pointing this out often enough will stop them. (By
the way, anyone who wishes to read some really solid economic analyses
about the current situation and the history that has produced it should
check out http://www.cafehayek.com. Even thought the mainstream media ignores
this very valuable source, perhaps they will not succeed at suppressing
its content by focusing mostly on surface matters instead of the
substance.)

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