Perhaps the greatest contribution of socialism to economics was to cajole Austrian economists into understanding just how different their theoretical approach was from the main stream of economics. At first, Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek thought they were on the leading edge of that main stream. But the two major debates that they engaged in in the first half of the 20th century — over business cycle theory and regarding calculation in the socialist society — both proved vexing. They should have won both debates. They had the better arguments. But in both cases the majority of economists sided against Mises and Hayek.
In a recent episode of This Week in Google, Jeff Jarvis, with some support from Leo Laporte, suggested that perhaps, given the incredible importance of the Internet, it should be treated like the highway system, with the government paying companies to build it out, but having state guaranteed access. I enjoy listening to TWIG, and many other programs on the TWIT network, but this idea immediately made me think of an old SNL skit:
Compared to turning the Internet into something like the highway system, the ideas in that clip are absolute genius. Consider what the government routinely does on the highway:
It claims the right to stop and inspect travelers’ cars based on the judgment of the police officer (probable cause)
It levies taxes on machines which use the highways, above and beyond the taxes it already collects on the purchase
It licenses users, charging them for the right to drive, on top of the taxes it already levies on the sales of vehicles and license plates
It mandates insurance, corrupting the insurance industry and incentivizing them to support government policies and donate to political campaigns
It forbids the use of technology to hide the interior of the car (window tinting laws) as well as technology to avoid speeding tickets (bans on radar jammers and detectors)
Turning the Internet into something like the highway system would mean government inspecting Internet traffic, blocking it, or even arresting users for things like copyright violations, setting policies on how traffic is prioritized, banning encryption except for approved encryption which the government can decrypt at will, taxing users for the right to use the Internet, and mandating the purchase of security programs. It is hard to imagine a finer example of a Bad Idea.
Islam was founded by a successful merchant, and the religion was largely pro-market until the colonial disease of socialism infected the Muslim world. The Koran calls the merchant the most honorable man, saying that nine of ten of God’s bounties come from trade.
TWiT Live Specials 32: The Future Of The Web. In this episode–hosted by TWiT host Leo Laport’s daughter, high school senior Abby Laporte–”Young entrepreneurs give their vision of the future of technology.” It is quite impressive and inspiring to see these dynamic, intelligent, confident, ambitious, well-spoken young people–and quite a contrast to the unfortunate ignorance and aimlessness of too many young people today.
Tom Palmer’s FEE talk Theory of Rights and Property — overall, an excellent and interesting (some of it elementary) discussion of the history of ideas, “delivered to students at the History and Liberty seminar.” Note: Palmer describes the Hayekian position on socialism and attributed it to Mises; yet Mises’s calculation argument against socialism is distinct from Hayek’s emphasis on knowledge–see my Knowledge, Calculation, Conflict, and Law; Salerno, “Postscript: Why a Socialist Economy is ‘Impossible’” and Mises and Hayek Dehomogenized. Palmer’s criticism of Bork’s famous “inkblot” comment is also a bit lacking–my view is Bork’s theory of original understanding is basically sound but that he applies it incorrectly to the Ninth Amendment. Also, Palmer denigrates Rothbard’s property views for relying “only” on homesteading–Palmer says he has a “more pluralist” view of how property can arise–but doesn’t specify what this might be. Interestingly, he observes correctly that when we libertarians say we favor property rights we of course do not mean that property has rights. Of course, a parallel observation could be made regarding the notion of “states’ rights”–when libertarian decentralists say this, they just mean the federal government has limited and enumerated powers.