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Thoughts on Liberty and Society


I spent this week teaching at an Institute for Humane Studies “Liberty and Society” Summer Seminar. The weekend closed with a panel wherein the members of the seminar faculty answered questions about the importance of liberty, strategies for advancing liberty, our worldviews, and so on. Here are a few thoughts based on the questions that jumped out at me.

One of the first things we need to do is recognize that utopia is not possible on this side of eternity. Indeed, I’ve heard it said that the art of careful economic reasoning places “boundaries on our utopias,” and I tell my students that economics defines the non-negotiable constraints on social reality. No amount of wishing will change the fact that people respond to incentives, for example.

If liberty is to prevail then I think people need to understand that a possible market failure is not necessarily an unambiguous and overwhelming case for government intervention. Even when the theory says “market failure,” the implementation of a coercive solution is far more difficult than we sometimes want to think. Unfortunately, we are far too cavalier about intervening when we honestly aren’t sure whether we can actually make people’s lives better.

Art Carden is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and Assistant Professor of Economics at Samford University.
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