Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Distrust of Liberty

Normative disbelief in liberty is based on values, usually the valuing of something more than individual living humans. The values can be based on religious belief.

Positive disbelief in liberty is metaphysical often religious.

Distrust of liberty, and distrust of free markets, acknowledges that these things are possible and that they might even be good, but they might also be bad. Better to apply human ingenuity and rational analysis to monitor and guide.

Possibility of Scientific Test

Unlike normative and positive disbelief, distrust of liberty is subject to scientific analysis. It can be tested, just as the climber who doesn’t believe in (trust) a rope can test the rope. The result of the test cannot make someone trust, but it can indicate whether trust is reasonable or not. No amount of scientific testing can counter an irrational distrust of (disbelief in) elevators, airplanes, vaccinations, liberty, or free markets.

How to test? First come up with an hypothesis, maybe “The amount of personal liberty enjoyed by average people is inversely proportional to their standard of living.” That is, more liberty yields greater poverty (less wealth). Then test it.

Comparisons can be tricky because there are so many variables: liberty can have many dimensions (rights to property, rights to contract, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.), cultural and technological differences both over time and in different regions.

Wouldn’t be easy, but statisticians noodle out trends from worse starting points. And there are some relatively easy “experiments” that have been performed.

Possible Experiments
For example: in 1953, North and South Korea were equally devastated, equally undeveloped, and equally impoverished. The hypothesis predicts that the North, with little personal liberty and no free markets, would progress much more rapidly than the South and would have a higher standard of living today.

Or Argentina: one of the ten countries with the highest per capita income in 1900, the hypothesis predicts that Argentina, once the statist, anti-free-market Juan Peron came to power, would surge ahead of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and other countries suffering from free markets and personal liberty.

These, and other experiments, show the prediction is wrong, hence the hypothesis is refuted.

One could propose and test an opposing hypothesis: “Free markets and personal liberty reduce poverty and increase the wealth of a nation” via the mechanisms explained by Adam Smith. (The Wealth of a Nation… that might be a good title for his book. I’ll suggest it.)

A pattern of disproof and failure to disprove (scientific theories can never be proven: see The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper) will indicate whether trust in liberty is a good idea or not. Those with open minds will follow where the evidence leads them, those with closed minds will find excuses and special explanations (long after Copernicus and Galileo demonstrated otherwise, many remained convinced the Sun and stars revolved around the Earth) and both sides will accuse the other of being closed-minded and dogmatic.

And many who claim they merely distrust liberty and free markets will reveal that their disbelief is normative: they just don’t like liberty.

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