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Welcome to The Artful Dilettante–a sanctuary of reason and virtue, where reality is your best friend and facts always trump wishful thinking.  It is the Lamp of Hope in a dark and musty corner of a crumbling civilization.  It is the seedbed of the Republic of Letters and Virtue coming soon to a world near you.  It is a place of free minds, free wills, and free markets–without chains, yokes, or harnesses.  The Artful Dilettante is on the front lines of the Liberty Movement.  It is intended for people who think rationally as a way of life. There is no place here for the false dichotomies of left and right, haves and have-nots, liberals and conservatives.  History is and has always been about the struggle between liberty and power.  The stale bromides and recycled political pablum advanced as solutions by our benighted leadership will find no support here.   Great moral problems cannot be solved by sleights-of-hand.   The true sign of a good idea is the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the ruling class.  We are ever on the lookout for bold and sweeping ideas, firmly grounded in liberty, which will send the political class into fits of rage.   

We always have our finger on the pulse at The Artful Dilettante.  We are dispassionate, keenly perceptive, and yes, somewhat cynical observers of human events.  We are at once above the din and in the fray. We have a nuanced understanding of our political system and the criminals and reprobates who run it. We never accept anything at face value, especially the pronouncements of those in power and the echoes of their dutiful, fawning bottom-dwellers in the media and university faculty lounges. We know that people often aren’t who they say they are, and that things aren’t always as they appear to be.  We fully agree with the notion that there are no accidents in politics. We reflexively assume that every politician is either lying or stupid, and that the vast majority of the American people can be trusted with a deadly weapon but not the right to vote.   We fully agree with the words of Jefferson: “The Tree of Liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of tyrants and patriots.”  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are yours by birthright, not permission.  They can be taken away, but never granted.

We promise never to be fair and balanced but to tell the unvarnished truth.  Fair and balanced just means you’re telling the truth half the time. Remember, all you get when you straddle a fence is a sore ass. We promise to challenge the prevailing wisdom while honoring the universal, timeless truths of our forebears. Lastly, we promise to aggressively promote our vision of a just and peaceful society based on the application of reason to the challenges of life on earth.  

The Artful Dilettante

A Legend in His Own Mind.

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 Ama-gi: first known recorded symbol of “liberty” in Sumerian cuneiform

Recent Posts

Free Market vs. Crony Capitalism

In my last post, I made light of British columnist George Monbiot’s absurd charge that today’s free market economists and libertarians are part of an establishment crony capitalist system. A “progressive” friend of mine responded by asking: “Doesn’t big business wrap itself in the mantle of free markets? If so, aren’t exponents of free markets supporting crony capitalism? Aren’t they therefore responsible for the crony capitalist practices that beset us today?

The short answer to this question is that free market economists and libertarians are no more responsible for the willful distortion and misuse of their doctrines than Jesus is responsible for the bloody wars of religion of 16th and 17th century Europe. Adam Smith pointed out two-hundred-and-fifty years ago that business owners, especially big business owners, are not generally supporters of free markets, whatever they may claim. They find its disciplines too onerous; they try to escape them through one means or another, and subverting government through crony capitalist techniques is the tried and true way to do it.

Nor is it correct to think that crony capitalism is a particular phenomenon of our own day. Yes, it has grown by leaps and bounds in recent decades, thanks to ample financing provided by world central banks. But it has always been with us.

As I pointed out to my friend, crony capitalism is as old as the human race. It is the economic system embedded in tribalism and as such has been the dominant system for all of human history. Through the ages, powerful cronies latch onto political and economic philosophies and distort them in the process, but this is just window dressing.

The first real effort to rethink and challenge the tribal crony capitalist system came from classical liberal thinkers. Laissez faire, the economic philosophy embedded in classical liberalism, was not, as most progressives have been taught, a rationalization for oppressing workers, but rather a reform movement trying to free middle class merchants from being strangled by the economic cronyism of the courts.

Laissez faire reforms made possible the industrial revolution in the UK and US. For example, when cotton first appeared in 17th century Europe, the wealthy woolen, flax, and silk cronies persuaded the French monarchy to ban it in order to protect their own businesses. Tens of thousands of people were made galley slaves or executed for importing or selling or even wearing cotton garments in France. The same attempt to ban cotton almost succeeded at the Tudor court in England, but fell short. British cotton textiles then became the basis of the industrial revolution.

Laissez faire modified the crony system in the UK and US, but did not begin to eradicate it. As we all know, the next wave of “reform,” progressivism, took the opposite tack of increasing government control of the economy. This led to what I called in my earlier post the progressive paradox: as government takes more and more control of the economy, allegedly in order to right wrongs, it leads private special interests to put more and more effort into taking over government. They usually succeed, because government does not offer much resistance. Indeed government, whatever it says, often initiates and usually welcomes the process.

Since the 1930s, the face of progressivism in economics has been Keynesian. Despite his intellectual errors and character flaws, Keynes was never personally corrupt. He would be appalled at what is done now in his name. A few cases in point: when President Obama finally got his tax increase on the rich, in the very same bill he included massive federal giveaways to favored industries donating to him. The giveaways more than canceled any revenue gain to the treasury from the tax increases. The stimulus bill, also presented as Keynesian, directed much of its money to friendly state and local governments and friendly private interest donors. A startling proportion of green energy grantees benefiting from the that bill were also friendly political donors. Despite this and many other glaring examples, the New York Times keeps telling us that the Obama administration has been scandal free.

Neither the behavior nor the excuses are what the early progressives imagined progressivism would be. It was supposed to protect the poor and middle class from the powerful. It has done the reverse.

Mont Pelerin was not, as my progressive friend thought, convened in 1947 in order to provide intellectual cover for crony capitalist practices. This is a complete fabrication and travesty of the truth. Its members were just applying basic logic to the problem at hand: if crony capitalism represents an illicit alliance of government and private interests in the economy, the only sure way to combat it is to separate economy from state, just as our constitution separates church from state.

Does this mean that we will return to allowing child labor? Of course not. Just as churches operate within a basic moral framework, some of which is embodied in law, the economy, freed of government control, would do the same. There is no discipline more severe than market discipline, which is why businesses try to escape it with government assistance. Legal constraints together with free markets, in which producers must justify everything they do to consumers, will provide far more protection for children than laws alone, especially when the government enforcers of law can be bought.

When we think about what is licit and illicit for the government to do in the economy, the key test is pricing. If the government is controlling or manipulating or otherwise trying to influence free prices, you can be sure that a crony capitalist deal has been struck behind closed doors.

A march through history in only a few paragraphs cannot be expected to shed much illumination. But in a world in which George Monbiot loudly proclaims that free market economists and libertarians are somehow supporting crony capitalism, and is applauded by fellow progressives, it is important to step back for a moment to reaffirm the truth. The simple truth, reflected in both fact and logic, is that free market economics and libertarianism are the only possible solution for the age old plague of crony capitalism.Author:

Hunter Lewis

Hunter Lewis is author of twelve books, including The Secular Saints: And Why Morals Are Not Just Subjective, Economics in Three Lessons & One Hundred Economic LawsWhere Keynes Went Wrong, and Crony Capitalism in America 2008-2012, and has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Times of LondonThe Atlantic and many other magazines and web sites including Mises.org and LewRockwell.com. Lewis is also co-founder of Against Crony Capitalism, co-founder and CEO of investment firm Hunter Lewis LLC, and co-founder and former CEO of global investment firm  Cambridge Associates LLC. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, and cultural organizations, as well as the World Bank.

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