This coming Thursday, November 24, the Fundación para el Progreso brings to Chile the economist and public intellectual David Friedman (see here), university professor, son of the Nobel Prize Winner in Economics Milton Friedman, and famous radical and anarcho-capitalist thinker. His visit is framed in a conversation that the author will hold around the theme “Is neoliberalism dead?” Your presence is very welcome in the country, especially in the context in which we find ourselves today, since in recent weeks we have had visits from eminent left-wing intellectuals who are very critical of the markets and capitalism, such as the Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz, the economist pop Mariana Mazzucato and the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson, among others. Undoubtedly, the visit of this economist is a healthy counterbalance and a good dose of an alternative vision of the economy and the social order, which could well enrich our impoverished public debate around the public, the State and the reviled “neoliberalism”. In these lines I will try to outline why the arrival of David Friedman is important in Chile today.
It is difficult to sum up the importance of David Friedman’s thought for the ideas of freedom and the vital contribution of his book The Freedom Machinery to understand the functioning of the social order. Well, despite not being an economist by training, he is one of those rare but valuable and necessary figures who embody the idea of the “Renaissance man” in the 21st century. Friedman has made contributions in theoretical physics, price theory, liberalism, in the economic theory of law, and in the political economy of anarchism, among many others; Touching in this way, and without many problems, various topics ranging from the natural sciences to the social sciences, also going through philosophy and the theory of anarchism. David Friedman is undoubtedly a unique mind and an extraordinary intellectual, worth reading and being challenged by his radical thinking.
Your book The Freedom Machinery makes two contributions to contemporary political and economic thought: 1) It marks a before and after in the literature of anarchism and stateless governance. David, in his Freedom Machinery, outlines for us the serious and factual possibility of what is called today “self-governance”, that is, the means and mechanisms through which a society can function without a centralized and coercive apparatus such as the State. Ideas that he would later expand on in his other important book on the history of the creation of legal orders and the economic theory of law, Law’s Order. In this way, David Friedman illuminates the path that few have dared to illuminate: how a social order and a legal order can function without a State and without a monopolistic and centralized center of power. For these reasons, The Freedom Machinery it is a remarkable contribution, both to anarchist and anarcho-capitalist literature and to the political economy of self-governance. It is likely that the work of many economists and political scientists who are today at the forefront of the field of anarchy (Leeson, 2014), of self-governance (Leeson, 2009; Skarbeck, 2014; Stringham, 2015) and decentralized orders without a state (Richmann, 2017; Shortlands, 2022) would not exist today if it were not for the bold effort and intellectual path blazed by David Friedman.
2 seconds, The Freedom Machinery makes important contributions to today’s political economy, pointing us to the real possibilities and logic behind self-governing or self-managing systems and how they might be sustained. In this way, the book introduces key concepts such as “polycentric law”, “spontaneous orders” and the “cooperative provision of public goods” – which were once believed to be the exclusive responsibility of the State (such as the state police, today increasingly in question). in the world)-. Friedman convincingly dismounts throughout The Freedom MachineryLittle by little, all our preconceptions and Hobbesian biases regarding the role of the State within a modern and peaceful social order. While one does not necessarily have to agree with the ultimate consequences of his ideas, his lucid way of thinking and the rational logic behind his method of analysis are certainly commendable. In fact, his way of understanding private systems of governance and cooperative and spontaneous orders –as private systems of rules that have to establish mechanisms for sanctions, conflict resolution and solid incentives– resonates with the work of important Nobel Prize winners. of Economy as Friedrich Hayek (1974), James Buchanan (1986) Y Elinor Ostrom (2009)among others.
In short, David Friedman’s visit to Chile reminds us that, at the end of the day, a progressive society that wants to keep more and more with less need of the centralized state, is a society in which cooperation should be encouraged of civil society, individuals and markets to promote the development of competition for all of these in the services offered and monopolized by the State. This is a cooperative and decentralized vision of the social order that is in the antipodes of the thinking of contemporary national intellectuals, such as Fernando Atria and many others (Paniagua and Vergara, 2022). D. Friedman’s vision of the social order, of the economy and of the invisible hand of cooperation is as inspiring as that of the luminaries who follow the path traced by Adam Smith, such as Nobel laureates Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman.
To conclude, 200 years ago, the great philosopher Immanuel Kant commented that having read the skeptical and liberal philosopher David Hume had radically shaken him and “awakened from a long sleep.” It is very likely that a similar experience will cause us to openly read the thought of David Friedman and his famous book The Freedom Machinery. Reading and seeing it today is, without a doubt, a healthy exercise in “awakening from a long lethargy”.
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David Friedman in Chile