2010-06-21

Bryan Caplan Impresses Me Again

This morning, Mises Daily published the foreword to the re-print of Pictures of a Socialistic Future on their website. Written by Bryan Caplan, the foreword provides very interesting insights into the rise and nature of socialism. Those of you who have read Ayn Rand's nonfiction works will find Caplan's insight very familiar. Rand's being so far ahead of her time continues to amaze me. Ludwig von Mises, who stated many of Ayn Rand's hypotheses as brief asides and throw-away comments in his many books, impresses me even more.

Caplan, however, is a standout in the crowd of contemporary thinkers because he approaches issues from the mindset of an Austrian Economist despite his not actually being one. His position as a non-Austrian Austrian allows him the freedom to make Austrian-like arguments from the comfort of the mainstream; at the same time, he is not bogged-down by the absurdities of Austrian School Economics (such as trying to prove every point by Robinson Crusoe imaginary constructs, etc.). As such, I personally think he is one of the most effective and convincing thinkers in economics and policy today.

Some standout quotes from his foreword:
Richter's novel advances a very different explanation for socialism's "moral decay": the movement was born bad. While the early socialists were indeed "idealists," their ideal was totalitarianism. Their overriding goals were to engineer a new society and a New Socialist Man. If this meant treating workers like slaves — depriving them of the freedom to choose their occupation or location, forbidding them to quit, splitting up families without their consent, and imposing draconian punishments on malcontents — so be it.
And later on, the coup de grace (and the part that most closely echoes the Rand/Mises position):
Despite their intuitive appeal, the Actonian "power corrupts" and Hayekian "worst get on top" theories of socialist moral decay seem inferior to Richter's "born bad" account. Power does indeed lead politicians to betray their ideals, but from the standpoint of 19th-century socialism, the real "sellouts" were the moderate Social Democrats who gradually made peace with the capitalist system. The worst do indeed get on top in totalitarian regimes. But if the early socialists had not intellectually justified extreme brutality, their movement probably wouldn't have attracted the many sadists and sociopaths who came to run it.
Thank you, Bryan Caplan, for your insights.