A Reviewer's Notebook - 1977/11
NOVEMBER 01, 1977 by JOHN CHAMBERLAIN
Awake, for Freedom’s Sake (Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington, N.Y., 192 pages) is Leonard Read’s twenty-second book. Like most of its predecessor works it makes its case for the free market in distinctively moral terms. The free market is better not only because it makes for more efficient production, it is better because it builds on the exercise of individual wills, which forces responsible men to think in ways that lead one straight to the Golden Rule as the governing principle of life.
Leonard Read does not claim to be an original in his promotion of a philosophy that is as old as the Ten Commandments, which state the case for "life, liberty and property" in grand negatives ("Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt not steal," etc.). But he remains a master of the sly juxtaposition that makes him such an excellent teacher. He invokes the prophet Isaiah, who exhorted his listeners to "awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust." Dust, of course, is infinitesimal. Mr. Read makes the point that all our "numerous know-hows" are, taken separately, rather infinitesimal in nature. As he has said before, no single man can make a pencil! But the sum total of low "specks of dust," when they are permitted to operate in freedom amounts to something fairly substantial. If we realize our own individual investments in the "counties; millions of know-hows experienced by others" we will be ready, writes Isaiah, to "awake and sing."
In the same essay that quotes Isaiah on dust, Mr. Read tosses off a phrase about "wall-to-wall socialism." Man’s goal, he says, is, with the help of others, "to shake loose his ‘dustiness’ as best he can." But what can you do when "wall-to-wall socialism" hides the dust under the carpet?
A Mirage of Prosperity
Even in Russia, Mr. Read notes, there is a leakage of creative human energy from underneath the carpet. Moreover, the wall-to-wall socialists depend utterly on the transfusions they get from the relatively free societies on the other side of iron and bamboo curtains. In several essays Mr. Read remarks on the "mirage" that causes people to think that State interventionism is the cause of prosperity. "What gives socialism the appearance of working," he says, "is the freedom socialism has not yet destroyed." Because the many "dusts" of American "know-how" are still combining to produce the "plethora of goods and services no other people on earth have ever experienced," State interventionism has not yet managed to kill prosperity. But the masses, who see "socialism advancing as never before in American history," are deluded by politicians who claim credit for causing a plenty which will surely disappear when there is no more freedom for energy to flow.
We live, so Mr. Read reminds us, on thrusts from the past. The Sumerians, practicing the freedom philosophy, gave us the first schools, the first bicameral Congress, the first case of tax reduction and the first moral ideals. Sumerian freedom lasted for four centuries, until "the city-state of Lagash had become a total bureaucracy—all parasites and no hosts." Then the world was pushed back into "the same old mess" until a "second exception occurred in Athens." The Venice of Marco Polo (1250-1325) was another exception, with a "freedom to produce and to exchange with others thousands of miles away."
In the time of Louis XVI Turgot tried to apply the principles of the 18th century French Physiocrats ("a fair field and no favoritism") to government, but he couldn’t hold his king to a strong policy. Nevertheless the Physiocrats had their effect on Adam Smith, whose Wealth of Nations, in turn, affected the thinking of the American Founding Fathers. Now, with the multiplication of scores of sub-governments in Washington, we are in danger of forgetting the Founders. It could be "the same old mess" once more if we don’t "awake for freedom’s sake."
Bits of Autobiography
Mr. Read is not given to personalities, even personalities about himself. But he does give us a few tantalizing bits in this book about his personal history. He tells how he first came to despise the hell of war. He and a school roommate applied for acceptance in the aviation signal corps in 1917. The roommate was rejected—and "dejected"—but Leonard was accepted and dispatched on the liner Tuscania for France.
Then the Tuscania was torpedoed and sunk in the Irish Sea, Leonard was rescued and debarked in Ireland. Since telegraphic services were out of order, he happened to be listed as a nonsurvivor in his Michigan hometown newspaper. His school roommate, angry at the presumed loss of a friend, went to Canada, got into the Canadian infantry, and was in the front line trenches in France in two weeks. Six months later he was in the hospital with twelve shrapnel wounds, half of them still open. That was the last Leonard Read ever heard about his roommate.
There are other bits of autobiography in Awake for Freedom’s Sake, but only enough to whet the appetite. I could stand a lot more information about Leonard Read’s experiences as a General Manager of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. His efforts to keep California on the straight path during the period when Upton Sinclair was proposing the EPIC (End Poverty in California) plan for socialism convinced him that education, not political action, was the key to stopping the spread of socialist ideas. Accordingly, he came East with the idea of starting the Foundation for Economic Education.
He was, in short, a crucial link in an important process of osmosis that has revived the freedom philosophy not only in America but in Britain. In "accentuating the positive" about freedom, Leonard Read does not depend on the economists alone. The Index of his twenty-second book contains 148 name references to philosophers, religious leaders, historians, poets, novelists and belle lettrists where there are only eleven name references to economists.
It is Leonard Read’s widespread culture as well as his economic understanding that provokes letters such as the one from England which I received the other day about The Freeman. The letter spoke of the achievement of "Leonard Read Henry Hazlitt and… other colleagues" as "the brightest beacon it a lowering sky; and as I think A. J Nock once wrote, what is so exciting is that you will never know what your own teaching and writing impels other people to think, to believe and to achieve."
THE CAPITALIST READER
Edited by Lawrence S. Stepelevich (Arlington House, 165 Huguenot Street, New Rochelle, New York 10801 )
Reviewed by David A. Pietrusza
This book offers an admirable selection of free market writings from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman. It includes excerpts from Frederic Bastiat; essays by such representatives )f the Austrian School as Boehm-Bawerk, Mises, Stolper and Hayek; and the thoughts of such forceful exponents of the capitalist ideal as Ayn Rand, John Chamberlain, and Lawrence Fertig.
"The attack launched against capitalism… was never grounded n the issue of productivity," writes, the editor, "but rather in the issue of is morality. Does a system based on competition, self-interest, and monetary profit befit the true nature of man? Are freedom and justice possible within such an economic matrix, or must the economics be changed to ensure that these values prevail? It is to these issues that the capitalist apologist must address himself…"
It was Bastiat who argued that liberty and the free market are opposed to all forms of plunder and spoliation. Bastiat urged mankind to "reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgement of faith in God and His works."
Under the regimes of plunder, the powerful use political leverage to gain economic advantage, but when liberty prevails no one enriches himself at the expense of another. "Nobody is needy in the market economy because of the fact that some people are rich," writes Ludwig von Mises. "The riches of the rich are not the cause of the poverty of anybody. The process that makes some people rich is, on the contrary, the corollary of the process that improves many peoples’ want satisfaction. The entrepreneurs, the capitalists, and the technologists prosper as far as they succeed in best supplying the consumers."
Nevertheless—and despite its estimable track record of solid achievement—free enterprise continually comes under attack from those advocating redistributionist schemes in the name of a nebulous "common good." To obtain such an end result the freedom of the individual must necessarily be sacrificed on an altar of state power; governmental and bureaucratic controls must be imposed. "The tribal notion of the ‘common good’," writes Ayn Rand, "has served as the moral justification of most social systems—and of all tyrannies—in history. The degree of society’s enslavement or freedom corresponded to the degree to which that tribal slogan was invoked or ignored." Wilhelm Roepke, an architect of the West German industrial revival, acknowledges that "the economic function of private ownership tends to be obstinately underestimated," but points out that the free society is sustained by a moral base. "The truth is that a society may have a market economy and, at one and the same time, perilously unsound foundations and conditions, for which the market economy is not responsible but which its advocates have every reason to improve or wish to see improved so that the market economy will remain politically and socially feasible in the long run…. The market is only one section of society. It is a very important section, it is true, but still one whose existence is justifiable and possible only because it is part of a larger whole which concerns not economics but philosophy, history, and theology."
The market as a moral imperative is thus more than ably defended and from a variety of perspectives. While this volume provides opening glimpses into the works of the major defenders of the capitalist system, it also furnishes a significant look into this all-important aspect of the rationale for freedom.