2013-11-12

My House Is Better Than The White House

The first link in today's "Some Links" post is a recent blog post from Bryan Caplan, in which he, as I previously mentioned, encourages economists to learn from other disciplines.

Below the post, in one of the comments, respondent "Brad" says, "We need another Milton Friedman to make learning about econ and capitalism 'cool' again."

While I empathize with Brad, I believe this is the wrong idea. I don't really think we need to make capitalism cool again. I don't think we need to make libertarianism cool. I don't think we need to focus our attention on a celebrity or get caught up in the cult of personality or the general team-cheer-leading of partisan politics. The benefits of liberty generally - and market freedom in particular - are simple: less death, starvation, misery, and human need in the world. That is already plenty "cool." Everyone wants that.

Of course, something that also seems to be cool is when celebrities - famous for such fabulous contributions to the human cultural landscape as Get Him To The Greek - utilize their position as celebrities to promote a political ideology. Russell Brand recently made some headlines by expressing some of his political views, for example.

This is the problem. The problem is not that we have too few Milton Friedmans, but rather that we have too many Russell Brands. And Tom Morellos. And Susan Sarandons. And Michael Moores. And, yes, too many Milton Friedmans, also. This is the problem, and the prescription is the exact opposite of what "Brad" suggests.

The problem is that we have somehow created a cultural artifact of the act of declaring what the government should be designed to do. We expect our celebrities to provide us with thoughtful opinions of how the world can be changed. We watch TED talks on Netflix for chrissakes. We watch talking heads on television. And then we go home and we parrot what we've seen. We start talking about if only the government could be designed this way or that, if only we could "educate" people to believe the right things and act the right way. If only!

But, of course, saying it doesn't make it true.

Today, the cultural landscape is one in which everybody, no matter how insignificant their fleeting contribution to human progress might be, is prompted for their views on how the government might be changed. In short, what "Brad" wants to see is more of the same, and I don't think we need that.

Instead, I think we ought to devote my time to analyzing what would make our own lives better. Imagine what would happen if all you saw on TV were celebrities carefully analyzing what set of conditions would greatly improve their lives at home. Then, you'd turn on Good Morning America and hear Soledad O'Brien or whoever-the-heck talking about what sorts of recent changes have come about that made her own personal life much better.

In short, imagine what would happen if all the space in life filled up with political blathering were instead filled up with blathering about life at home. Less The Atlantic and more Better Homes and Gardens.

In such a landscape, I think what you might find is that people would devote more time to thinking about and improving their own personal lives. I think what you might find is a culture of people who are interested in making every minute at home count, a nation filled with a desire to improve their marriages, raising their children well, experiencing a little more career success, cooking better meals, playing more games, etc.

Okay, here's the punchline: I believe so completely that freedom, virtue, and personal responsibility are completely intertwined that I can only conclude that people whose primary focus is improving their quality of life will naturally tend toward... freedom, virtue, and personal responsibility. It's easy to buy into socialism when you're thinking about grand designs for a country, for other people, etc. But when the scope of your vision is limited to your own household, socialism becomes much more difficult to justify: You'll get a subsidy of some kind, but you'll have to pay for it somehow. So then it's no longer a subsidy, it's a trade-off. And since it's a trade-off, it's now a question of what gives you the biggest bang for your buck, and that's never socialism.

In other words, we need to spend less time obsessing over how to fix the country and more time obsessing over how to improve life at home. If we do that job correctly, then the country will fix itself.