‘The Left’ and Public Choice Theory

The mention of public choice theory to those on ‘the left’ of politics can prompt a variety of reactions. Some are based on ignorance about the very existence of public choice economics as a theoretical perspective. This reaction was demonstrated to me following one of the first lectures I gave in my academic career. Having … Continue reading ‘The Left’ and Public Choice Theory

Two Views on ‘Structured Inequality’

I am no fan of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, which one or two libertarians notwithstanding, is a gathering of the ‘usual suspects’ on the reactionary left. That said the one virtue of this so-called ‘movement’ has been the attention it has focused on ‘structured inequality’. Most people do not care about the massive inequality … Continue reading Two Views on ‘Structured Inequality’

Sex, Luck and Distributive Justice

If ‘status anxiety’ is as big a threat to individual well-being as many egalitarians seem to think then logically they should favour the equalisation of opportunities based on physical attractiveness as well as those based on income. Policies focussed solely on ‘correcting’ the income distribution may simply intensify the significance of physical attractiveness or other … Continue reading Sex, Luck and Distributive Justice

Footballers and the Top 1%

I looked today at some data on the changes in top division/Premier League footballers (soccer players for Americans) pay between 1985 and 2010 here in the UK. According to figures compiled by the Professional Footballers Association average pay increased from £1000 per week in 1985 to £33,000 per week in 2010 – an increase of … Continue reading Footballers and the Top 1%

Gypsies, Land Use Planning and the Tyranny of Social Democracy

This week saw a violent confrontation between Gypsies/travellers and the police as the former were evicted from an illegal camp site at Dale Farm, Essex, UK. There is no doubt in my mind that the decision to evict the Gypsies from the site was the correct one under the terms of British law and land … Continue reading Gypsies, Land Use Planning and the Tyranny of Social Democracy

Amartya Sen as Paternalist

Amartya Sen is a great economist and social philosopher whose willingness to recognise a central role for market institutions in securing economic development and individual freedom shows considerable commonality with the classical liberal tradition. Sen’s commitment to the values that underpin a free society is, however, equivocal and indeed often points towards what classical liberals … Continue reading Amartya Sen as Paternalist

Urban Sprawl as Government Failure

Segments of the conservative press in the UK are currently running a concerted campaign against very minor proposals by the coalition government to relax land use regulation, arguing that this will encourage the further development of ‘urban sprawl’. Similar attitudes are prevalent in America – the supposed exemplar of a ‘sprawling’ society– where prior to … Continue reading Urban Sprawl as Government Failure

Urban Planning and the Poor

Many government interventions in markets though they are often justified in terms of the ‘public interest’ work to the disproportionate benefit of organised interests – often the rich or relatively rich – and at the expense of the unorganised and often relatively poor. One area of public policy where this pattern is particularly evident is … Continue reading Urban Planning and the Poor

Ha Joon Chang: Confused on Bounded Rationality and Economic Regulation

In this third and final of the series on Ha Joon Chang’s critique of ‘free market economics’ I examine his account of ‘bounded rationality’ and the case for greater economic regulation. As in much of his work the policy conclusions which Chang draws simply do not follow from his premises. In chapters 16 and 19 … Continue reading Ha Joon Chang: Confused on Bounded Rationality and Economic Regulation

Ha Joon Chang: Wrong on Free Trade, Markets and Development

My first post on 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism addressed Ha Joon Chang’s dubious debating tactics when discussing ‘free market economics’. I turn now to some of Chang’s more specific critiques of economic liberalism to illustrate these tactics in greater detail. Summarising his work in Kicking Away the Ladder and Bad Samaritans … Continue reading Ha Joon Chang: Wrong on Free Trade, Markets and Development

What Ha Joon Chang Doesn’t Tell You about ‘Free Market Economics’

Professor Ha Joon Chang has become something of a hero to those who champion heterodox economic theory and who rail against the supposed intellectual hegemony of ‘neo-liberalism’. In a number of books such as Kicking Away the Ladder Chang sets out to overturn the alleged orthodoxies of mainstream economics by questioning the case for free … Continue reading What Ha Joon Chang Doesn’t Tell You about ‘Free Market Economics’

Cuts, Responsibility and the Public Sector

Last week saw large scale strike action from public sector workers here in the UK, campaigning against changes to pension arrangements and more generally ‘cuts’ to government spending. The most common refrain from these workers, as on similar days of action in the UK and elsewhere, was that because the public sector was not responsible … Continue reading Cuts, Responsibility and the Public Sector

Sheilagh Ogilvie: Classical Liberal Heroine

The economic historian Professor Sheilagh Ogilvie is an intellectual heroine of modern classical liberalism. Her work on the operation of proto-industries such as woollens manufacture in sixteenth century Baden Wurttenburg may seem esoteric but its study has a remarkable amount to offer our understanding of modern political economy. Ogilvie’s latest book Institutions and European Trade, … Continue reading Sheilagh Ogilvie: Classical Liberal Heroine

Down with Karl Polanyi

When advancing the case for ‘free markets ‘ classical liberals are often chided for failing to recognise the wisdom of Karl Polanyi. In The Great Transformation Polanyi claimed that the pursuit of a ‘free market’ system is chimerical. Historically such an economy did not emerge spontaneously but was the result of social engineering by a … Continue reading Down with Karl Polanyi

Sweat Shops and the Need for Libertarian Moral Outrage

I haven't been able to post for the last week or so owing to my lecturing on the Institute for Humane Studies Liberty and Society Summer Seminars (i'm currently between seminars). Last week's seminar included a great presentation by Scott Beaulier. Using data on wage rates published by anti-sweatshop campaigners (i.e not from 'right wing' … Continue reading Sweat Shops and the Need for Libertarian Moral Outrage

Institutional Failure and the Tragedy of Climate Change

I am a Libertarian. I believe that market processes based on secure property rights and competitive ‘exit’ provide the best hope of discovering ‘solutions’ to the vast majority of socio-economic problems including environmental ones. Profit-driven capitalism and its desire to ‘make people pay’ for goods they were previously consuming ‘for free’ provides the key to … Continue reading Institutional Failure and the Tragedy of Climate Change

Hayek versus Habermas: Round 3

In this final round of the H versus H contest I want to question the claim that communication in markets is ‘distorted’ by ‘money power’. According to this Habermasian refrain not only do markets embody and reproduce inequalities they also corrupt the democratic process by allowing those with deeper pockets to buy support and to … Continue reading Hayek versus Habermas: Round 3

The Burden of ‘Too Much Choice’

Among the themes to emerge from ‘happiness economics’ one seized on by those disapproving of open markets and the decision-making autonomy they may bring is that having ‘choice’ does not necessarily make people happy. In situations as diverse as choosing items from a restaurant menu to more complex decisions about which financial products to buy … Continue reading The Burden of ‘Too Much Choice’

Hayek versus Habermas: Round 2

In a recent post I pointed out that Habermas’s theory of communicative ethics and deliberative democracy fails to recognise a fundamental point highlighted by Hayek – that much of the knowledge central to the process of social communication cannot be put into words. In this post I focus on a related error in the Habermasian … Continue reading Hayek versus Habermas: Round 2

Robust Political Economy and Realistic Idealism

What criterion should we use to evaluate political theories and the institutions they advocate? In my book Robust Political Economy, I argue that it is the criterion of ‘robustness’. Institutions that meet this criterion are those best placed to cope with fundamental constraints that arise from the human condition. The most important constraints are those … Continue reading Robust Political Economy and Realistic Idealism

Hayek versus Habermas

Jurgen Habermas is one of the most influential political philosophers of the last fifty years. Though he has now, thankfully, abandoned the neo-Marxism of his early career, his theory of ‘communicative ethics’ and ‘deliberative democracy’ lurks behind the claim that social institutions should be ‘democratised’ and that market relations based on consumer and producer ‘exit’ … Continue reading Hayek versus Habermas

David Cameron, Libya and the Twitterati

Prior to, and immediately after his election as British Prime minister, David Cameron articulated what he saw as a distinctively Conservative foreign policy. A key aspect of this approach was Burkean scepticism about intervening to ‘bring democracy’ to places which have little or no cultural experience of democratic institutions. Recent opinion polls on the Libyan … Continue reading David Cameron, Libya and the Twitterati

Car Insurance and the Arbitrary Quality of Egalitarian Justice

Classical liberals claim that theories of justice must be judged by their practical capacity to facilitate positive sum games in society and to eliminate scope for the exercise of inconsistent and arbitrary political power. Unfortunately, as one of the recent rulings by the European Court of Justice reveals few people in today’s legal and political … Continue reading Car Insurance and the Arbitrary Quality of Egalitarian Justice

The Invisible Hand of Peace

Events in the Middle East and concern over the likely impact of democratic change in the region on the prospects for peace with Israel, and beyond, raise important questions about the relationship between democratic institutions and stability on the international stage. Optimistic commentary from democratic enthusiasts suggests that democratic reform is likely to improve prospects … Continue reading The Invisible Hand of Peace

The Care of the Elderly Under Socialism

 European commentators on US healthcare are often misguided in their description of the American system as a ‘free market’ model - when that system involves significant levels of government regulation and funding. Equally, American commentators are often misguided in their accounts of ‘socialist’ healthcare in Europe. Europe contains a diversity of healthcare systems. Some, such … Continue reading The Care of the Elderly Under Socialism

Ronald Coase: On the Market for Goods and the Market for Ideas

Ronald Coase is one of my favourite living economists (he is now 100 years old). His work on the significance of transactions costs and dealing with problems that these costs raise is fundamental to a proper understanding of the market economy and the institutions that support it.  Alas, though his work was recognised with the … Continue reading Ronald Coase: On the Market for Goods and the Market for Ideas