Blind Spots and Free Speech

What are blind spots? They are lacunae in the minds of excellent analysts.  My stock in trade is political economics, so I will confine myself to that small area of intellectual endeavor. In order to have a blind spot, one has to be really first-rate.  The lack of knowledge of most people I will not characterize as a blind spot, since they have blind spots all over the place. No, a blind spot, at least the way I am defining the term, can only apply to those who are really exceptional in one or more areas of political economy, but horrid on others.

I just got finished reading Pat Buchanan’sIs the American Empire Worth the Price?” I was suddenly struck not only by the brilliance of this one essay of his (he offers a possible way out of the North Korean situation now facing the U.S.), but by the fact that this was just one of many, many foreign policy essays that have achieved this magnificent level.  He has shed important light on U.S. failures ranging from Libya to Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen and numerous other countries in which the “leader of the free world” has shot itself in the foot, and, all too often, higher up into its body politic. I don’t say Murray Rothbard could not have done better applying the basic premises of libertarianism to this complex arena, but I can’t see how he could have done much better, so good is Mr. Buchanan in opposing U.S. imperialist ventures all over the world. Put it this way: Murray is up there, somewhere, and I am sure he is smiling at what a great libertarian is Pat Buchanan on foreign policy.

His blind spot? Mr. Buchanan is God-awful on economics in general, and, in particular, on free trade. His knowledge of this field is abysmal. The meanest freshman in my introductory to micro-economics class, at least after a few weeks after the beginning of the semester, even a “C” student, is more than superficially acquainted with the distinction between comparative and absolute advantage, and the praxeological fact that free trade enhances the welfare of all market participants. Murray himself tried to educate Pat as to the evils of protectionism, but failed.

Time to buy old US gold coins

The same cannot be said of Milton Friedman. He was one of the world’s leading experts on the mutual benefits of free trade.  He properly went so far as to advise all and sundry to unilaterally declare this system with all nations. That is, even if other countries set up tariff barriers, the rational government would totally ignore them. Just because Smith will not buy or sell items beginning with odd letters of the alphabet (A, C, E…) does not mean Jones should refuse to do so with even letters (B, D, F…). And not only that, but Milton was sound as a bell on a whole host of other important issues: rent control, minimum wage, occupational licensure, even when applied to medical doctors. And, yet, he, too, had blind spots from the libertarian point of view, several of them: the negative income tax, educational vouchers, monetary policy, tax withholding, logical positivism, etc.

Let us consider one further example. Murray Rothbard was pro choice. Ron Paul is pro life. There cannot be two more libertarians with impeccable credentials than these two. And, yet, they are 180 degrees apart from each other on this crucially important issue. Each derives each and every one of his positions in political economy from basic libertarian principles. Each is a scintillating exponent of this philosophy.  So at least one of them has a blind spot on this matter. (I contend that both do, that only evictionism is compatible with libertarian principles, but that is a separate matter).

What does all of this have to do with free speech? We live in an era where Larry Summers, former president of Harvard University, can be hounded from his job for articulating in public politically incorrect thoughts (that there may be biological explanations for why men and women are not equally represented at the higher reaches of mathematics, physics and other STEM callings).  A similar fate recently befell James Damore, who was recently fired from Google for voicing similar opinions.

But if people have blind spots, and they most assuredly do, even the best of us, then, if we are ever to make any sort of improvement in intellectual matters, “sunshine must be allowed to be the best disinfectant.” If scholars can lose their jobs for nothing more than doing their jobs, what hope is there for progress in human affairs? Do we or do we not wish to cure cancer, set up outposts on the Moon and Mars, solve the problems of poverty, unemployment, crime, etc.? If we do, we need the best thoughts of very bright people. If they stifle themselves out of fear of losing their jobs because they hurt the feelings of snowflakes, the prognostication for human advancement is not a good one. Losing their jobs? How about going to jail? The bitter opponents of free speech have already gone sofar as to try to impose RICO statutes on those who dare to articulatepolitically incorrect opinions.

I am not a big, big fan of John Stuart Mill, but this passage from his “On Liberty” strikes a strong chord within me: “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion… Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them…he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”

Trigger warnings, safe spaces, snowflakes and other accoutrements of cultural Marxism stand in the way of human improvement, just as does economic Marxism undermines economic development and prosperity.