Tuesday, 29 June 2021

"...economics provides us with is a way to see what makes a society of peace, cooperation, and progress possible."

Steve Horwitz, the libertarian economist whom we've posted here at NOT PC a few times, died yesterday at the cruel age of 57, after a years-long battle with plasma-cell cancer (multiple myeloma).

The comments on his last Facebook post (which is public) give a sense of how much he inspired people.
And this excerpt from a talk he gave in 2019 gives some small idea of why they felt that way:
I want to argue that what an understanding of economics provides us with is a way to see what makes a society of peace, cooperation, and progress possible. The reason to care about economics, and the reason to study it, is not just to understand material well-being, but instead it’s about a much bigger picture: how we cooperate in a world of strangers and diversity, and how we turn that cooperation into better and longer and more peaceful lives for more people….
    Through this process, exchange brings strangers into each of our communities, and helps transform them from a potential enemy to a friend. We trade across differences all of the time, and there’s no better way of reducing the suspicions and stereotypes about 'the other' than to enter into a mutually beneficial exchange relationship with them….
    Nothing symbolises this better than the 'double thank-you' of the marketplace. How often when we conclude an exchange do both parties say “thank you?” That’s symbolic of the mutual benefit, cooperation, and interdependency that markets and liberalism create. It’s a world of peaceful human cooperation and progress captured in the simplest of acts. It is also, I should note, an expression of gratitude to the other party. And gratitude for the bounty that markets and liberalism have given us is in short supply these days.
    We live in a world of secular miracles, not the least of which are the drugs that are beating back diseases and extending human lives, including a bunch that have made it possible for me to be here tonight. The poorest of Westerners lives far better than the kings of old, and many of the global poor have access to all the world’s knowledge in their pockets….
    We’ve learned that the positive-sum game of the liberal order is better at producing the world of Micah’s vision than the zero- and negative-sum games of plunder, whether feudal or socialist. Or nationalist. An increased understanding of economics helped make this happen and has sustained it in the face of enemies, old and new.
    Unfortunately, we are at a dangerous point of losing this learning these days thanks to the revival of the forces of nationalism and socialism. There are a lot of reasons for this, but I do think that liberals need to engage in some self-reflection about whether our own rhetoric and way of talking about economics and liberalism don’t bear some responsibility for our dilemma. How often do we speak of markets as sources of not just prosperity, but prosperity for the least well off? How often do we speak of markets as the cause of peace and social cooperation and mutual interdependence? How often do we talk about how markets have humanised us and reduced our propensity to violence, and turned strangers into honorary friends or kin? It’s important to stress the material wealth that markets produce, but the point of even that is enabling us to live lives of peace, cooperation, and security.
    Perhaps more focus on economics as the study of peaceful human social cooperation and how markets and liberalism enable us to bridge our differences and leverage our diversity can bring more people who are concerned with peace, prosperity, and progress to appreciate the study of economics and the institutions of the liberal order as a means to those social ends.

[Hat tip John Althouse Cohen and David Pritchard]

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