| Sunday, December 12, 2004
Of liberty, free markets and tourism - Christmas-gift book recommendations by Steven Greenhut
Of liberty, free markets and tourism
Columnist, The Orange County Register
A day hardly passes when some critic of this newspaper's
editorial philosophy doesn't contact me and express some glaring
misunderstanding of what it is we believe. To many critics,
libertarianism is nothing more than a philosophy of selfishness and
greed, a way for the "haves" to justify their exploitation of the
Some overheated critics suspect I am like Scrooge,
indifferent to human suffering, because I believe that government
poverty programs make people worse off rather than better off. They
think I would like to see Yosemite paved with concrete because I
believe private property owners - rather than government planners -
should make most development decisions.
They prefer the government to the market.
scratch my head at such thinking. Everything government does, it does
poorly. By contrast, the market is a place where individuals strive to
provide better goods at better prices - if they don't, they will
quickly go out of business. Some limited government is needed, to
uphold individual rights and provide a handful of services, as the
founders intended, but why do so many people love the government and
show such hostility to the market?
In part, it has to do with
motives. Academics, in particular, love the noble goals of government,
compared to the base motives of business, even if government good
intentions often go awry, and themarket's selfish intentions usually
work out well.
As an antidote to such thinking, I like to read
about economics. Not those economists who try to predict business
cycles, or who make the dismal science as dismal as possible. I prefer
to read those who understand that the rules of the market are as
ironclad as the rules of gravity, and that dismissing either set of
rules ensures disaster.
One of the clearest writers on economic matters, Lew Rockwell,
president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and editor of
the LewRockwell.com Web site, has collected his speeches in
a book, "Speaking
of Liberty," which puts economics in much-needed
is important that we think of economic life as an intricate global
system of exchange, one that works without any central direction, and
which generates prosperity and its own form of order within the
framework of liberty," he writes. "We are not just talking about the
earnings in people's stock portfolio. We are talking about whether
mothers can afford to buy milk for their children, and whether the
businesses that deliver milk have the freedom to be entrepreneurial and
find the least costly methods to make such deliveries possible."
of the market, the average lifespan has tripled, the standard of living
has soared. Rockwell recounts all the obvious advances any of us can
think of, from refrigeration to the World Wide Web. But instead of
marveling at it, celebrating it and defending it, "The intellectual
world often appears to be a conspiracy against market economics, and
the media routinely ridicule capitalism. Statesmen spend every waking
minute trying to curb, regulate, hamper, or otherwise loot the
So many readers I hear from zealously
embrace the power of government, and constantly denigrate freedom,
markets and anything that holds back the power of government. Rockwell,
however, is an optimist. "Speaking of Liberty" is an inspiring read
that makes one want to go out and champion freedom, rather than hole up
and get depressed about certain trends.
A less philosophical, more practical guide to free-market
Sense Economics," by James Gwartney, Richard Stroup and
Dwight Lee lays out the case for a market-based system
in a straightforward yet compelling manner.
the book's lessons are that "incentives matter; there is no such thing
as a free lunch; decisions are made at the margin; trade promotes
economic progress; ... people earn income by helping others; the
'invisible hand' of market prices directs buyers and sellers toward
activities that promote the general welfare; too often long-term
consequences, or the secondary effects, of an action are ignored."
Music to my ears.
the chapter on the role of government, the book makes these two crucial
points: "Government promotes economic progress by protecting the rights
of individuals and supplying goods that cannot be provided through
markets." And ... "Government is not a corrective device." Repeat that
last line over and over until it sinks in.
Economics" even includes a chapter on personal finances that applies
the market's lessons to an individual's life. It reminds readers that
the market is indeed like gravity. Follow its lessons carefully,
because there are direct personal consequences for those who defy
And now for something completely different.
A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry," by Santo Cilauro,
Tom Gleisner and Rob Sitch is one of the funniest things
I've read all year. The book, which mimics the style of a
travel guide, provides tips for visiting a fictional former
Soviet-bloc nation described as a "delightful blend of Renaissance
charm and Balkan sleaze."
It's filled with
practical ideas for the visitor, such as this one for getting around:
"Buses run frequently and can be hailed by simply waving your hand or,
during peak periods, a small handgun." It offerspageafter page
ofwonderful, silly fun, and a humorous reminder of what happens when
governments defy the market (I have to have some justification for
including it in this review!).