The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

March 26, 2019

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Free Markets & Civil Society

Lesson 1: Classical and Christian ideas of family and property

  1. Aristotle, Politics, Book I, chapters 8-10
    • How does Aristotle’s consideration of an individual or group’s ultimate end shape his discussion of means? What would his economics be like without such a consideration of ultimate ends?
    • Discuss the terms “natural” and “unnatural.” Do these seem like “economic” categories of thought? Why does Aristotle use them in a discussion of property and trade?
    • There is a boundary fixed to the riches needed for a good life because wealth-getting is an art, according to Aristotle. If wealth-getting is not an art, what is it?
  2. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II, 2, q. 66, a. 1 & 2, q. 77, & q. 78
    • Would anti-usury laws be prudent in a modern economy? Why or why not? If not prudent, would they nevertheless be just?
    • Does Thomas write with the individual economic actor in mind? What relationships between the individual and others or between individuals does he consider?
    • Is there such a thing as a just price? If so, what are its conditions? If not, what are the implications for economics?
  3. Johannes Althusius, Politica, “The Family” and “Tyranny and Its Remedies”
    • Compare and contrast Althusius and Aristotle’s respective discussions of the composition and purpose of the family.
    • Can a free market frustrate a tyrant, and if it cannot, what extra-economic conditions are required for a market’s free functioning?
    • What sort of market is required for the prince—as opposed to Althusius’ formulation—to support his people?

Summary question: How is the family an economic institution, and what does the answer to that question mean for both economics and politics?

Further reading:

  1. Richard Velkley, “Being and Politics”
  2. Frederick Wilhelmsen, “The Family as the Basis for Political Existence”
  3. Joseph Pearce, Small Is Still Beautiful: Economics as if Families Mattered

Lesson 2: The Anglophone economists

  1. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, I.i-ii
    • Compare Smith’s account of trade’s purpose to Aristotle’s. Why do these two thinkers come to their different conclusions concerning trade?
    • What motivates man to trade, according to Smith? Compare it to St. Thomas’s account of caritas. How are instinct and duty considered by each man?
    • What place do gifts have in increasing or decreasing the wealth of nations?
  2. Edmund Burke, Thoughts and Details on Scarcity
    • How does Burke’s pietas toward the long tradition of English farming affect his views in this treatise? Does pietas have a proper place in economic thinking?
    • Is the sanctity of contract violated by state interference in the market?
    • What is the connection between government intervention in the market and the welfare of the poor, e.g. the Papal system of granaries that Burke describes? Must the connection be detrimental to the poor, as Burke thinks?
  3. John Taylor of Caroline, Tyranny Unmasked, Section One, “Unmasking the Protecting-Tariff Policy and Its Advocates from Many Perspectives”
    • Why does Taylor distinguish between the government’s interest and the national interest, and what are some possible objections to his distinction?
    • Is it possible for a government to favor one specific group of people, e.g. corn farmers, without indirectly harming any other group? Whether or not it is possible, can patronage exist without the receiving group’s servility and therefore the loss of their freedom?
    • What for Taylor is the economic difference between manufacturers and farmers, on the one hand, and stockjobbers on the other? How does each group relate to the national economy, and what kind of trade (free or otherwise) benefits each?

Summary question: Is the possession of liberty inseparable from the right to private property, and what sort of liberty prevents illiberality, vice, and selfishness?

Further reading:

  1. Paul Gottfried, “Adam Smith and German Social Thought”
  2. Arthur Kemp, “Legacies from Adam Smith”
  3. Frank Petrella, “Edmund Burke: A Liberal Practitioner of Political Economy”
  4. Rod Preece, “The Political Economy of Edmund Burke”
  5. Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke: A Genius Reconsidered
  6. J.W. Cooke, “Old-Fashioned Men”

Lesson 3: The Francophone economists

  1. A.R.J. Turgot, Reflections on the Formations and Distribution of Wealth, § 1-31 & 71-75
    • How and why are men linked to one another in Turgot’s account? Does he consider something more than an individual or a collection of individuals?
    • Does Turgot’s defense of interest successfully refute the points put forward by Aristotle and St. Thomas? Why or why not?
    • What does Turgot’s beginning with a discussion of land mean for economics in comparison with Aristotle’s beginning with household management?
  2. Richard Cantillon, Essay on the Nature of Trade in General, Part Two
    • According to whose knowledge is a price determined? What does this mean for the notion of price controls?
    • Why does Cantillon base a nation’s wealth on its farms? Is such an account of wealth persuasive? How would the Anglophone economists respond?
    • Does a capitalist or entrepreneur have a place in Cantillon’s system? If so, where? If not, is this a decisive defect in his theory?

Further reading:

  1. Jacques Wendel, “Turgot and the American Revolution”

Lesson 4: Statism in the nineteenth century

  1. David Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, XXXI: On Machinery
    • Why should a man pursuing his rational self-interest be concerned that his business decisions “very materially deteriorate the condition of the labouring classes”?
    • Is the rejection of machinery more detrimental to the poor than its development?
    • Would the worker be in a better position if he owned his machine or tools himself? Consider this from several vantage points, e.g. economic, familial, social, political, etc.
  2. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, IV.XV, sections 1 & 3-5
    • What sort of moral (or immoral) logic does Marx’s capitalist obey? Is this code determined by the pursuit of the material and/or moral goods seen in earlier readings?
    • Does the laborer in a factory possess free will in selling his labor, i.e. is the term “wage slave” applicable to him? Should the capitalist be responsible for the laborer’s well-being?
    • Should working hours be legally restricted? On what basis?
  3. Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk, The Positive Theory of Capital, Book Chapters 1 & 2
    • Compare Böhm-Bawerk’s account of economics’ telos with Aristotle’s, noting both significant and more subtle agreements and disagreements.
    • Given the nature of “capital” as an economic “apple of discord,” how is a definition to be attempted?
    • What implication does Böhm-Bawerk’s account of the powers of men and of nature have for a possible account of how wealth is created and exploited?

Summary question: Is the relationship between man and machinery antagonistic, and does the machine always benefit the already wealthy? Does the spread of capital diminish class antagonism or merely increase strife?

Further reading:

  1. Wladislaw Krasnow, “Karl Marx as Frankenstein: Toward a Genealogy of Communism”
  2. Stephen Tonsor, “Marxism and Modernity”
  3. Joseph Knippenberg, “From Kant to Marx: The Perils of Liberal Idealism”
  4. John Weicher, “Capital and Prosperity”

Lesson 5: Free trade in the nineteenth century

  1. Richard Cobden, Speech on the repeal of the Corn Laws, May 15, 1843
    • Is protectionism fundamentally injurious to the poor?
    • Does a protectionist law assume that all parties affected are “perfectly angelical”?
    • In view of Cobden’s mention of a connection between long leases and good farming, what conditions are generally necessary for economic flourishing, e.g. the rule of law?
  2. Frederic Bastiat, Selected Essays on Political Economy, “Protectionism and Communism”
    • If my property is naturally my own, for me to dispose of according to my will alone, are my government’s taxes on my property a form of plunder?
    • What assumptions about the political order could justify protectionism philosophically?
    • Are Bastiat’s arguments viable if there never was a pre-political “state of nature”?
  3. Friedrich List, The National System of Political Economy, “Political and Cosmopolitical Economy”
    • Is List’s distinction between “national” and “cosmopolitical” economy grounded in economic facts? If not, what is its foundation, and is it logically valid?
    • In light of his commendations of free trade and “a universal confederation and a perpetual peace,” of what does List’s objection to physiocratic theory consist?
    • Does greater peace between nations come about because of greater economic or greater political interdependence? That is, should economic union precede political union or proceed from it?

Summary question: Is unrestricted free trade inseparable from the right to private property and personal liberty, or can economic protections be at times justified (and how)?

Further reading:

  1. Donald Boudreaux and Thea Lee, “Is Free Trade Good for America?”

Lesson 6: Twentieth-century statism

  1. John Maynard Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, ch. 16: Sundry Observations on the Nature of Capital
    • Compare Keynes’ account of capital with Marx’s capitalist. What do these men or forces have in common, and in what senses are they different?
    • Can the State legitimately enter in “as a balancing factor” in order to ensure full employment? Is interventionism purely a matter of economic necessity, or does it involve moral deliberation?
    • How does someone suffer from another’s saving? What are the implications of this for a theory of economic justice?
  2. Friedrich Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society”
    • Why is “knowledge of the relevant facts” necessarily dispersed among many people? Does such dispersal preclude the existence of Plato’s philosopher-kings?
    • Are there economic decisions that should not or cannot be made in a decentralized fashion?
    • What is the function of a price? Should government determine price? Why, or why not, according to Hayek?
  3. Frank Chodorov, “The Revolution of 1913”
    • What does Chodorov mean by “society,” and what distinguishes it from the state?
    • Articulate the principal points of difference between Chodorov’s two “revolutions.” What does this distinction illuminate?
    • In a democracy, will protectionism necessarily go hand-in-hand with populism? If so, must defense of the free market always be an elitist project in a democracy?

Summary question: Both centralized planning and national taxation assume the flow of revenue to a unitary, authoritative, and final central planner. Why or why not is such a central planner inimical, indifferent, or favorable to liberty?

Further reading:

  1. Bruce Bartlett, “Keynes as a Conservative”
  2. Arthur Kemp, “Post-Keynes & Pre-Keynes”
  3. Arthur Shenfield, “Law, Legislation, and Liberty: Hayek’s Completed Trilogy”
  4. Bettina Bien Graves, “Hayek on the Abuse of Method: A Classic Reissued”
  5. Frank Chodorov, “Debunking the State”
  6. Frank Chodorov, “Rotarian Socialism”

Lesson 7: The Austrian school & the Chicago school

  1. Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, Part 6, XXVII
    • Do all laws enforced by a government carry with them “violent action or the threat of such action”? Is this the essence of law?
    • Compare Mises’ account of natural law to earlier ones. How do differing conceptions of natural law play out in economic thinking?
    • Why does Mises reject “righteousness” as a standard for judging the market? Is his argument persuasive?
  2. Mises, The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality, “The Noneconomic Objections to Capitalism”
    • Is capitalism inimical to beauty in the practical arts such as architecture and furniture design?
    • To what degree does Darwinism appear in this chapter, and to what purpose? Is Darwinism essential to Mises’ thinking about liberty?
    • Must commitment to liberty always go hand-in-hand with a commitment to laissez-faire capitalism?
  3. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, II
    • Compare Friedman’s account of the family to Aristotle’s. How does a “believer in freedom” reckon with institutions and groups outside of the individual/state dichotomy, e.g. the family, the religious congregation, etc.?
    • Is the right to property a convention, i.e. positive law, or is it a natural law? Think of Friedman’s account, as well as, for instance, St. Thomas’ defense of property.
    • Does voluntary exchange presume a prior supra-economic order? Is exchange voluntary without the governmental guarantees of safety and liberty that Friedman enumerates?

Summary question: What place do politics and public deliberation have in Mises’ and Friedman’s respective accounts of the relation between government and the market? What could be legitimately debated within each thinker’s proposed public sphere? Is this a smaller, similarly sized, or larger sphere than that found in Aristotle’s Politics? What are the implications?

Further reading:

  1. Ludwig von Mises, “Capitalism versus Socialism”
  2. Ludwig von Mises, “On Equality and Inequality”
  3. Israel Kirzner, Ludwig von Mises: The Man and His Economics
  4. Murray Rothbard, “Austrian Views”
  5. Arthur Kemp, “The Political Economy of Milton Friedman”
  6. William Peterson, “The Humaneness of the Market”

Lesson 8: The ethics of economics

  1. Wilhelm Röpke, “The Economic Necessity of Freedom”
    • Röpke was a proponent of the soziale Marktwirtschaft, a “third way” that Mises specifically attacks in our readings. Are Mises’ criticisms answered in Röpke’s essay? Why or why not?
    • How is Röpke’s self-identification with the “classic-Christian heritage of Europe” borne out in this essay? Would Mises or Friedman also identify with that same heritage?
    • What is the “restricted vision” of the economist? Is such a label a compelling claim on Röpke’s part?
  2. Israel Kirzner, “Philosophical and Ethical Implications of Austrian Economics”
    • Is economics a science? What reasons does Kirzner provide for an affirmative answer to this question? Are these reasons persuasive?
    • Are there instances of value-free economic writing in any of the readings we have considered? Is Mises himself wertfrei, and depending on your answer, how is this achieved or not achieved?
    • Can an economist not “imbued with the value judgment that scientific truth is worth pursuing and disseminating” do economic research?
  3. Anthony de Jasay, Justice and Its Surroundings, “Right, Wrong, and Economics”
    • Is economics necessarily wedded to an instrumental view of reason that forswears morality?
    • Does a free market need virtuous participants or merely utility-maximizers?
    • Does de Jasay imply that economics is not wertfrei because thinking about human action categorically excludes Wertfreiheit?

Summary question: Does economics necessarily eschew ethics or morality? If so, why does it, and what then does that tell us? If not, how are ethics and economics to be integrated?

Further reading:

  1. Wilhelm Röpke, A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market
  2. Wilhelm Röpke, “European Economic Integration and its Problems”
  3. Wilhelm Röpke, “The Place of the Nation”
  4. John Zmirak, Wilhelm Röpke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist
  5. Ralph Ancil, “The Romanticism of Wilhelm Röpke”
  6. Israel Kirzner, “Divergent Approaches in Libertarian Economic Thought”
  7. Edward Hadas, Human Goods, Economic Evils

Lesson 9: Individualism and the common good

  1. Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty, ch. 6 & 7
    • What role does virtue play in Rothbard’s free society?
    • Is Rothbard’s concept of natural law similar or dissimilar to what we encountered in the first lesson? In Mises?
    • How does thinking about unprofitable forms of exchange (e.g. gifts, loans without interest) play into Rothbard’s thinking?
  2. Allan Carlson, ”The Family and Liberal Capitalism” and “Creative Destruction, Family-Style”
    • How does the family support capitalism? Is the support mutual?
    • Does “Creative Destruction” evince an account of the family’s relation to capitalism different from “The Family and Liberal Capitalism,” written twenty years earlier? If so, how?
    • Are feminism and capitalism enemies or allies?
  3. Paul H. Dembinski, “From Cracks in the Liberal Edifice to the Rediscovery of the Common Good”
    • Can “awareness of the Other” come about naturally in a Rothbardian “Crusoe” scenario, and would such an awareness give rise to a notion of the common good?
    • Is the family a communal organization prior to and therefore more important than the individual?
    • Is the “seduction” of the individual by the market ineluctable? Are there familial ties strong enough to escape erasure?

Summary question: How is economic thinking affected by beginning with the isolated rational individual (Robinson Crusoe)? Does this produce a different economics from one that assumes the family’s centrality to human beings or even begins with the family (cf. Aristotle’s household manager)?

Further reading:

  1. Murray Rothbard, “Money, the State, and Modern Mercantilism”
  2. Murray Rothbard, “Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism, and the Division of Labor”
  3. Harry Veryser, “Murray Rothbard: In Memoriam”
  4. Allan Carlson, Third Ways
  5. Allan Carlson, “Agrarianism Reborn: On the Curious Rebirth of the Small Family Farm”
  6. Thomas Woods, “Voices in the Wilderness”
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