Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Libertarian Looks to Belloc, Röpke, Agrarians, and Distributists

Joseph R. Stromberg, who writes for and, begins his piece for First Principles saying, "It is remarkable that the prospect of One Big Market—planetary, inescapable, open all hours—raises no questions for libertarians, who scorn the idea of One Big Cartel (communism) or One Big State (world government)" — Who Needs One Big Market?

He rightly decries "a world where 'free trade' amounts to American-led 'globalization,'" the "British 'free trade,' a.k.a. British 'free trade imperialism'" of the past, and the "violent institution of 'spontaneous' orders" in the present, as well as the "libertarian think tanks" for whom "such views are gospel."

After reminding us that "Hilaire Belloc argued that reforms of capitalism along socialist lines would yield a third thing—the Servile State"—, he makes what has to be one of the wisest economic statements upon which I have ever stumbled:
    In actual modern life, if we experience any market freedom at all, it is probably on the micro level—maybe at the flea market. On the macro level, we get state-capitalist determinism, arbitrary and episodic. (Here at least is an interesting basis on which to divide micro from macro studies). Probably, the only genuinely “free” markets that could arise entirely on their own, would never take in more than a region, leaving aside some specialized long-distance trade in luxuries or raw materials.
And later, he looks to some other worthies:
    There are also problems of context—cultural and moral. As Röpke put it, the market system “must find its place in a higher order of things which is not ruled by supply and demand, free prices, and competition.” On that view, we might do better to turn to Agrarians and Distributists—and indeed anyone with a modest view of what markets are good for—rather than take advice from the official friends of markets and freedom. The latter might be called “corporate libertarians,” as the heirs of a waning corporate liberalism tottering on the edge of receivership.

    Claes Ryn finds room for a “free market of goods and services . . . in a decentralized, group-oriented society” where “moral and other disciplines” persist. Small may well be beautiful. Minus the costs—moral, sanguinary, and monetary—of forcibly providing One Big Market, it looks to be cheaper as well.
Here are some posts of mine which deal with this same theme:

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