In an earlier post I noted the unwillingness of Australian academics to engage with the best libertarian literature in the world, i.e. from the Cato Institute, the Ludwig von Mises Institute, the Independent Institute & the economics faculty at Chicago University and George Mason University. I gave the example of John Quiggin’s off-hand dismissal of libertarian ideas in an opinion piece. He responded in comments, with words to the effect that: (1) there are numerous practical problems with libertarian ideas; (2) it has already been debated to death; and (3) the public is not ready for it yet.
I have now searched through Quiggin’s (impressive) publications record and found his article engaging with public choice theory. So while I was wrong to say that Professor Quiggin is ignorant of the literature, he seems to have concluded that libertarianism has been “proved…[not] workable”. I find this an astoundingly inaccurate claim, given the sheer number of libertarian ideas that have been successfully adopted here and overseas (not to mention the libertarian Nobel Prize winners who have contributed to the mainstream body of thought).
Although Quiggin may not be ignorant, there is undoubtedly a general problem of ignorance. Perhaps this is because when libertarian ideas are adopted, due credit isn’t given. For example, it’s not widely recognized that the Productivity Commission’s agenda of “microeconomic reform” and “deregulation” is a product of intellectual contributions by the libertarian greats — not by conservatives.
The ‘campaign against ignorance’ must continue, especially in Arts Faculties. It may also be useful to bookmark a list of important Wikipedia pages. These can be passed on to friends who are skeptical about the efficacy of libertarian ideas and have fallen victim to the falsehood that our recommendations are based purely on ideology. Here is a suggestive, but by no means comprehensive, list:
- Economic Freedom
- Unintended Consequences
- The Tragedy of the Commons
- Free-Market Environmentalism
- Public Choice Theory
What is needed is to get people to engage with libertarian ideas explicitly, without using easy conservative targets as a sideshow. Conservatives have absolutely no intellectual foundation. Libertarians do. Someday, I would like to see an Australian academic write a book titled “Why Milton Friedman was wrong: a critique of Capitalism and Freedom”. However, it may be that engagement of a less explicit nature will have to suffice until there are more libertarian academics in our universities.