Palmer and Cowen on Libertarianism

On Tuesday I hosted a Book Forum for Tom Palmer’s new book, Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice. You can see the video here. I thought Tyler Cowen’s comments were very astute, so I reproduce an abridged version here:

The first question is, “What do I, as a reader, see as the essential unity or unities in the book?” And I see really two. The first is I see this as a construction and articulation of a vision of what I call reasonable libertarianism. I think we’re in a world right now that is growing very partisan and very rabid, and a lot of things which are called libertarian in the Libertarian Party, or what you might call the Lew Rockwell / Ron Paul camp, are to my eye not exactly where libertarianism should be, and I think Tom has been a very brave and articulate advocate of a reasonable libertarianism. And if I ask myself, “Does the book succeed in this endeavor?” I would say, “Yes.”

The second unity in the book, I think, has to do with the last thirty years of world history. I know in the United States now there is less liberty. But overall, the world as a whole, over the last thirty years, has seen more movement towards more liberty than perhaps in any other period of human history. And I suspect most of these movements toward liberty will last. So there have been these movements towards liberty, and they have been motivated, in part, by ideas. The question arises, which are the ideas that have been the important ones for this last thirty years? And I view Tom’s book, whether he intended it as such or not, as a kind of guide to which have been the important ideas driving the last thirty years. And a lot of the book goes back into history pretty far – the eighteenth century, the Levellers, debates over natural rights – and I think precisely because it takes this broader perspective it is one of the best guides – maybe the best guide – to what have been the most important ideas driving the last thirty years (as opposed to the misleading ideas or the dead-end ideas). So that’s my take on the essential unities.

Another question you might ask about a collection of essays is, “Which of them did I like best?” I thought about this for a while, and I have two nominations. The first one is “Twenty Myths about Markets,” which is the essay on economics. I don’t know any piece by an economist that does such a good job of poking holes in a lot of economic fallacies and just laying out what you hear so often. You would think an economist would have written this long ago, but to the best of my knowledge, not.

The other favorite little piece of mine is called “Six Facts about Iraq,” which  explains from Tom’s point of view – and Tom has been there a number of times – what’s going on in Iraq and why. It is only a few pages long, but I felt that I got a better sense of Iraq reading this short piece than almost anything else I’ve come across.

I’m not sure exactly what’s the common element between the two I liked best – they both start with a number – but I think the ones I liked best reminded me the most of Tom when he is talking. I had the sense of Tom being locked in a room, and forced to address a question, and not being allowed to leave until he had given his bottom line approach. And I think what he’s very good at through out the book is just getting directly to the point.

There’s more to Tyler’s comments, and lots more from both of them in response to questions, so check out the video.