Posts tagged Julian Simon

Column on The Struggle

The struggle–the long arc of advances in human liberty

Tibor R. Machan

Here is some good news: The march of liberty has so far proven to be generally unstoppable. Over the span of human history there have been periods during which hardly any sign of respect for human liberty had been in evidence. In other eras the globe has seen advances toward human liberty by leaps and bounds. That is to say, in some periods clear evidence can be pointed to showing that some men and women–such as kings, queens, czars, Pharaohs, Caesars, dictators, tyrants, politburos, political bodies of all types and uncivil majorities–have began to recede in their efforts to suppress other men and women, to treat them as their tools, instruments, subjects, and such. In other periods the opposite trend has been in evidence.

Still, overall the trend has been toward the spread of liberty. More and more of us have become masters of our own lives, fewer and fewer are in the position of ruling others. Even when in some areas, such as national economic policy, liberty has taken a beating, there are others where fewer impositions and restrictions are made into public policy–for example, the basic rights of members of minorities, women, gays, natives, the press, etc., are being recognized and provided legal protection alongside onerous economic policies. And globally, while the former beacon of human liberty, the United States of America–itself, sadly, never fully committed–is now rather halting in its defense of human freedom, other communities–for instance, the former Soviet and other colonies–are slowly but surely shedding the idea and practice that would have some people run roughshod over others, especially as a matter of official public policy.

Now this is not all that surprising. In any area of their lives people can do better or worse or just linger in some kind of mediocre limbo. And this is so when it comes to political matters. Sometimes, in fact, there can be improvement in one sphere of human life and a decline in others–for instance, while economic liberty can widen, it is possible for personal or cultural fulfilment to be on hold for many. Not everything is moving in the same direction at once and with the same speed. (One can easily confirm this by just checking one’s own life and noticing that there can be advances in one area while another can be faltering–one’s career can even soar while one’s health might not improve.)

All this is enhanced by the sheer fact that the surrounding natural world in which men and women may struggle to strive, to flourish, isn’t uniformly supportive–storms, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, diseases and other adversities not of our making are often complicit in making life not so triumphant for us all. Fortunately, here, if men and women are substantially free to live their lives without being oppressed by others, they tend to do better at figuring out how to deal with these non-human adversities–the sciences, philosophy, technology, education, and other features of life tend to get improved treatment when we are free, less time needs to be spent on fending off the intrusive ones among us.

So, as one contemplates developments in one’s immediate or the broader human sphere, it is a good idea to keep in mind how even without a inevitable trend toward a better and better existence, in the long run human beings are experiencing a better and better life (just as the late Julian Simon and his students (e.g., Matt Ridley) have been stressing in the midst of the endless doom-sayings of the likes of Paul Ehrlich and Paul Krugman).

Quite often predictions of doom come from politically disgruntled folks, those who still believe that they should be in charge of others and not respect the rights of everyone to sovereignty, self-government. Also, as one gets older and senses that ones own life is slowly declining, one may be tempted to project this on to the rest of the world and declare it all going to hell in a hand basket.

No, there isn’t a guarantee of a steady march toward liberty–it is truly a matter of eternal vigilance. But fortunately there are many, many people who exhibit this vigilance in various parts of their lives, throughout human history and around the globe, and thus help keep afoot the advances toward greater and greater freedom and, alongside, a better chance of overall improvement in human affairs.

Column: Recycling a Beauty

Recycling A Beauty

Tibor R. Machan

My friend and occasional colleague–when we have both worked for the Institute for Economic Studies Europe now and then during summers over the last couple of decades–Professor Donald J. Boudreaux of George Mason University has a wonderful knack for zeroing in on the nonsense that so often surrounds us in certain very prominent forums the editors of which appear to have no critical abilities at all, no clue as to whether the kind of stuff they publish manages to be utter balderdash. He is a dedicate scout searching out such nonsense and often publishes the letters he sends to newspapers, magazines and other media at the blog he and some friends of his operate, Cafe Hayek.

Just today he sent out one of these that is a great winner in my book, no question about it. It echoes something I had pointed out about ten years ago to a young friend of mine who was pining to me about how the Middle Ages had been so much more meaningful and noble to live in than our own times. (I had had enough of this pining after a while so I pointed out to my friend that he, as a father of then four–now six–children might rethink his adoration of those days past by considering that probably but one of those four would manage to survive to the ripe old age of 20 back in those glorious times!) So I have asked Professor Boudreaux whether I might reproduce in my own column his absolutely spot on comment on a similar young person’s mindless ruminations discussed in The Washington Post. Here it is and please take it to heart.

The only thing I would like to add is that anyone who would like to delve into more of such sensible points made against the innumerable know-nothings of our age should check out the works of the late Julian Simon as well as the recently published book by Matt Ridley, Rational Optimist. Perhaps these will manage to be the antidotes to the kind of baffling thinking produced by the likes of Mr. Kelley (below) and by more prominent public philosophers such as Jeremy Rifkin!

Of course our era has its problems but these folks are really bonkers with their pessimism. What’s more, they aren’t upset with some of the real horrors of our time, such as the tyrannies and wars and oppression that go on in parts of the globe but with the good stuff, like our having enough to eat and efficient transportation! Nor does one hear from them much about Nazism and Communism, the really horrible systems of the modern age but instead they keep advancing lamentations about modernity and the free market system, precisely what have been the liberating features of our time.

Editor, Washington Post
1150 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20071

Dear Editor:

Benjamin Kelley says that his art “represents the dehumanization of modern society” (“An artistic body of work’s bone of contention,” July 16). I’d like to ask him which aspects of pre-modern society he believes to have been most humane. Was it a life-expectancy of about 30 years? How about mass illiteracy? Maybe Mr. Kelley longs for the odors, lice, and scabs that regularly adorned human bodies that seldom bathed and that slept on dirt or straw?

Possibly Mr. Kelley regrets that the homicide rate in modern society is far lower – as much as ten-times lower – than in pre-modern societies? Perchance he laments modernity’s liberation of women from the oppressive dominance of men? Maybe he finds fault with modern humans’ greater skepticism of tales of witches and sentient volcanoes? Or perhaps Mr. Kelley is upset simply because modernity has eradicated slavery?

Being only 26 years old in modern society, Mr. Kelley has many decades left to reject his fashionable romantic nonsense about a past Golden Age. Were he born just a few generations earlier, however, not only would he have been unable to earn a living as an artist, his own stint in humanity would have been much shorter.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030