Classical Liberalism ≠ Libertarianism, Vol. 2

22 Apr

Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy,  A Treatise on Political Economy (1817):

The truly sterile class is that of the idle, who do nothing but live, nobly as it is termed, on the products of labours executed before their time, whether these products are realised in landed estates which they lease, that is to say which they hire to a labourer, or that they consist in money or effects which they lend for a premium, which is still a hireling.—These are the true drones of the hive…

Luxury, exaggerated and superfluous consumption, is therefore never good for any thing, economically speaking. It can only have an indirect utility. Which is by ruining the rich, to take from the hands of idle men those funds which, being distributed amongst those who labour, may enable them to economise, and thus form capitals in the industrious class.

Friedrich Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty (1960):

There must be, in other words, a tolerance for the existence of a group of idle rich—idle not in the sense that they do nothing useful but in the sense that their aims are not entirely governed by considerations of material gain.

What today may seem extravagance or even waste, because it is enjoyed by the few and even undreamed of by the masses, is payment for the experimentation with a style of living that will eventually be available to many.

The importance of the private owner of substantial property, however, does not rest simply on the fact that his existence is an essential condition for the preservation of the structure of competitive enterprise. The man of independent means is an even more important figure in a free society when he is not occupied with using his capital in the pursuit of material gain but uses it in the service of aims which bring no material return. It is more in the support of aims which the mechanism of the market cannot adequately take care of than in preserving that market that the man of independent means has his indispensable role to play in any civilized society.

Tyler Cowen, “Capital Punishment” (2014):

Piketty fears the stasis and sluggishness of the rentier, but what might appear to be static blocks of wealth have done a great deal to boost dynamic productivity….Consider Piketty’s native France, where the scores of artists who relied on bequests or family support to further their careers included painters such as Corot, Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Degas, Cézanne, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec and writers such as Baudelaire, Flaubert, Verlaine, and Proust, among others….The nineteenth century, with its high capital-to-income ratios, was in fact one of the most dynamic periods of European history. Stocks of wealth stimulated invention by liberating creators from the immediate demands of the marketplace and allowing them to explore their fancies, enriching generations to come.

For “Classical Liberalism ≠ Libertarianism, Vol. 1″, see here.

7 Responses to “Classical Liberalism ≠ Libertarianism, Vol. 2”

  1. sharculese April 23, 2014 at 12:03 am #

    I can’t say I’ve really ever understood what classical liberalism was supposed to be. Correct me if I’m wrong but it I always read it as being about arguing that the liberal reforms of seventeen or eighteen what-the-hell-ever their target is supposed to be were good enough, and let’s not try to mess with that.

    But if you’re pegging society as having figured itself out a hundred and fifty years ago, you’re not a liberal, you’re a conservative, no matter how your ideas may have seemed back at the time you pine for, so why do you have to package them as anything except what they are?

  2. David Timoney April 23, 2014 at 6:38 am #

    Amusing to see that Cowen is incapable of extending his own logic (“liberating creators from the immediate demands of the marketplace and allowing them to explore their fancies, enriching generations to come”) from the few to the many, despite being on record as an advocate of a guaranteed income.

    Of course, like most right-libertarians, he ultimately sees a GI as the necessary price that accumulated capital must pay in the face of technology-induced unemployment, with the added bonus that it enables the shrinking of government.

  3. s. wallerstein April 23, 2014 at 9:17 am #

    It might be worthwhile to point out 19th and early 20th century writers who wrote for a living and to compare their achievement with those rentiers mentioned above.

    Here’s a very incomplete list:

    George Eliot
    Thomas Hardy
    Joseph Conrad
    James Joyce (he taught English in Berlitz to finance his writing career)
    Walt Whitman

    There are a lot more, but I have the suspicion that my list of writers who were not rentiers contains as much or more talent and genius than the list of rentiers. It seems that the discipline of writing for the public, of trying to communicate to a wider public, sharpens writing and narrative skills.

    Actually, with the exception of Flaubert and Tolstoy (who interestingly gave away his fortune), none of the writers mentioned above bother about social reality (their themes are elitist and removed from the everyday world of those of us who work and count our change), while Balzac and Dickens confirm in narrative form what Marx tells us in systematic form.

  4. jonnybutter April 23, 2014 at 9:58 am #

    It is more in the support of aims which the mechanism of the market cannot adequately take care of than in preserving that market that the man of independent means has his indispensable role to play in any civilized society.

    This is just pure mysticism. Now the market is a mere, faintly stupid ‘mechanism’, but market exchange is still the organizing principle of a civilized society because…it allows a few to escape its clutches, and then to speculate (I guess in a cultural sense of that word), which function is even more important than ‘preserving’ that market! Wow.

  5. Lawrence Loro Saitoti Okelo April 23, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Reblogged this on Lawrence Okelo.

  6. Russell Scott Day April 23, 2014 at 12:52 pm #

    The aviation adventure writer and engineer of airship R 100, ? Fairley, some parasol wing thing that did well and a few other airplanes, Nevil Shute, or Nevil Shute Norway was one of those out of a good well off family that said inheritance was necessary for people to use to start businesses. Sopwith is on for that. These were young men who messed around with things they liked and then those things were businesses. Hippie economics of Alan Watts and right livelihood were all about that as well.

  7. jonnybutter April 24, 2014 at 3:50 pm #

    I hadn’t thought about Murry Rothbard recently, until reading Jeet Heer’s Race and Libertarianism twitter-essay. Heer calls Rothbard a ‘tragic’ figure, and while I was trying to find out why, I came across this citation/excerpt from the Justin Raimondo bio “Enemy of the State”:

    [Rothbard] considered black separatist Malcolm X to be a “great black leader” and integrationist Martin Luther King to be favored by whites because he “was the major restraining force on the developing Negro revolution.”[5]

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