23 October 2012

Brook and Watkins: Free Market Revolution

Yaron Brook is on the front lines in the battle for freedom. . .and the scariest part is not simply the long odds he confronts facing an overwhelmingly entrenched opposition. The frightening thing is that he is practically the only man on the front who is armed.

He is armed, of course, with ideas: the ideas of Ayn Rand, the novelist and philosopher who championed reason. Rand showed that the rights of man—the rights of every individual to his life, his thoughts and actions, his property, and his selfish pursuit of joy and happiness—are firmly rooted in the facts of reality. Rights are neither divine gifts of supernatural deities nor arbitrary privileges bestowed by governments, but are moral principles that follow from the facts of man’s nature as a living, free-willed, conceptual organism.

On Friday, Lynne and I attended Dr. Brook’s lecture in Lexington, at which he articulated many of the ideas that he presents more thoroughly in the critically important new book, coauthored with Don Watkins, called Free Market Revolution: How Ayn Rand’s Ideas Can End Big Government. I just finished the book, and I think it is nothing short of priceless if it can reach a wide enough audience. It could quite literally save the world—or, at least, the United States.

The book’s message is straightforward. The ever-increasing presence of the government in our lives—the incomprehensively reckless borrowing and utterly unsustainable spending by politicians—is not caused by widespread beliefs that the free market doesn’t work. People know that capitalism works. The issue, at root, is one of morality.

It is true that thanks to popular fallacies and myths, some confusions and suspicions about the free market exist. (Brook and Watkins do a good job untangling some of the alleged problems of the free market, showing that invariably the ills are either caused by government intervention, for which the free market receives the blame, or are not problems at all.) But for the most part the book’s many and varied examples are simply pounding us with what we already know. Capitalism works—and unless you are a university professor or a Nobel Prize-winning economist writing for the New York Times—you know that. As Brook noted in his lecture, the evidence is in. The past two centuries provide the overwhelming, undeniable evidence: where freedom prevails human beings flourish, and where freedom is throttled misery and death reign. Every cudgel and club of government intervention has been tried, from welfare programs to price controls to concentration camps, and history has shown a standard of living and general prosperity exactly in inverse proportion to government controls.

So, knowing that, why do we continue to vote for politicians who promise to intrude more and more into our lives? Why is it impossible for politicians to cut spending even though it is plainly leading us to disaster? Why are welfare programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid considered to be untouchable “third rails”? Why do Americans universally distrust businessmen who depend upon satisfying their customers, but blindly trust “impartial” government bureaucrats?

Brook and Watkins make the case that the answer is fundamentally a matter of morality. For the most part, Americans want to do what they believe is right, and have tragically accepted a morality incompatible with the requirements of liberty: altruism. As long as we believe, as we’ve always been told, that sacrifice is good and noble—that it is right to put others before ourselves—then we will be unable to defend ourselves against statists who ride into power precisely on that platform. Even those “small government” conservatives and “Tea Partiers” who passionately defend fiscal responsibility, limited government, and the Founders’ vision of individual rights generally crumble in the face of accusations that they are “heartless.” Conservatives who would claim to defend free markets are the first to leave their posts, begging to be seen as being compassionate.

If we are to restore liberty—or indeed, realize a freedom we have never yet fully achieved—it will require the moral revolution described in this excellent book. Read it.

And, of course, read Ayn Rand.


I excerpted some passages from this for my Goodreads and Amazon reviews of the book.