We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

We do not have to choose between dreaming of a better future and thinking intelligently about how to get a better future

Madsen Pirie describes how he invited his University of Brighton audience to look at the world “through neo-liberal eyes”, rather than through the sort of eyes they are probably more used to using:

Others look at what is and compare it with a vision in their mind of what it might be. We are more empirical, comparing it to what was. Life expectancy about 150 years ago was about 30 years, and had been so for millennia. Now it is about 68 years globally, and higher than that in developed countries. We look at death to mothers in childbirth, and see it is now a tiny fraction of what it was even at the turn of the previous century. We look at infant mortality and see how that, too, is now a tiny fraction of what it was. Many of the diseases of the past have been conquered or controlled, and although there are new ones now that we live longer, we are in the process of controlling those, too. In the past most people battled to survive at subsistence level, whereas now we have more people above poverty and starvation than ever before in the history of humankind.

In other words we see things as being better than they were. Of course we can imagine a future which will be better than our present, but the empirical approach is to compare present with past, examine what made the difference, and attempt to do more of it. What made the difference was economic development and wealth creation, not the redistribution of existing wealth. It was opportunity, not equality, that drove progress, and we who support freedom want to see more of it, so that the future world will be as different from the present as ours is from the past.

I agree with everything there, except that very first sentence, about how “others look at what is and compare it with a vision in their mind of what it might be”, the implication being that we “neo-liberals” don’t do this.

I think it is truer to say that we do indeed think in exactly the empirical yet optimistic way that Pirie describes, but that we also compare what is with what might be. The difference is not that we look to the past and our opponents look to the future, but that we look more intelligently at the past than they do, and we also look to a different and better future.

I do not welcome, for instance, a future of “equality”, the sneer quotes there being because equality of the sort that is equal enough to satisfy the sort of people who demand equality will require someone to impose it, and that someone has to be unequally powerful to be doing such imposing. If you truly believe in equality, then you – you personally – will do what you can to improve the circumstances of those at the bottom of the heap. The poor will keep their freedom, thereby ensuring that whatever improvements you offer them really will be improvements. And you will not contrive these improvements by robbing richer people, because that will require you to be – unequally – powerful enough to do that, and there goes your precious equality. It will be equality that does not apply to you.

But just because I do not dream silly dreams of imposed equality, this does not mean that I dream no other dreams, dreams of freedom, dreams of progress, and yes, dreams of greater equality, that really is that, rather than just inequality that has been rearranged a little, in favour of new equalising rulers.

And nor does it mean that Madsen Pirie himself refrains from any such dreaming. He dreams – does he not? – of a future world that is – in a good way – “as different from the present as ours is from the past”. And he compares, as I do, that dreamed future with the present, to the present’s disadvantage.

14 comments to We do not have to choose between dreaming of a better future and thinking intelligently about how to get a better future

  • Otpu

    In the greatly despised Capitalist world, today’s poor have it much better than even the Kings and Potentate’s of yesterday.

    In the Socialist Heavens of the East and Africa the lot of the poor does not seem to have been improved over the last 200 years.

  • But just what is neo-liberalism?

    In the world of political theft of words (as well as money) it strikes me as barely less confusing a term than liberalism itself. So I do hope it well enough defined for those Madsen Pirie was asking to think about it, and also for those of us here who want to do the same.

    Best regards

  • pete

    Pirie looks at humanity as a whole.

    But the problem is that the western nations and their capitalist societies are apparently expecting lots of people to live their longer lives poorer than their parents did while the more affluent stay at the same level or get even richer.

    Capitalism has shown it can work when everyone is getting richer but life is now more complicated than that in the west.

  • CaptDMO

    “Capitalism has shown it can work when everyone is getting richer” Um…NO, only those who honorably participate.
    “…but life is now more complicated than that in the west.”
    Well, you see, apparently a great amount of labor/assets must be extracted from those who actually aspire to actually produce, for “health”, “education”, “mass communications”, and “special protections”, for those who do not, lest they “re-discover” JUST ENOUGH “philosophical” impetus and investment to violently revolt.

    Youth (ie. US K-26 years), is being “taught”, to seek out socialism (let’s just say communism shall we?), so their “community” can “progress” fairly.
    They’re increasingly not ALLOWED “access” to “contrary theory”, nor, (if such samizdat is somehow “accidentally” discovered) allowed to repeat it, without SEVERE CONSEQUENCES.

    “Dear Colleague…” (*sigh* look it up)

    I’ll hold with Nigel in “What exactly IS “neo” (hyphen) liberal?”, INCLUDING (para)”theft of political (science) words”, AND fruits of actual labor(money/”prestige”/”privilege”).

  • PersonFromPorlock

    I do have to correct the notion that “Life expectancy about 150 years ago was about 30 years, and had been so for millennia.” Psalms 90:10, written probably 2000 years ago (and certainly no later than the King James Bible, ca. 1611), places the human lifespan at 70 to 80 years. This was accepted by the editors of the KJV who, being pastors and such, buried people and presumably would know.

    What has changed is that few people now die ‘before their time’ and bring down the average. But ‘their time’ has been 70 to 80 years for a very long time, and I very much doubt that fifteen year-olds in 1860 were experiencing mid-life crises.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Heh…technically, PfP, if (IF) the typical (not “average,” a misleading concept here — which in fact is part of the point you’re making, of course)– If the typical lifespan were 30 years, then the normal adolescent crisis (if it still happened around age 15) would in fact be a “midlife” crisis. :>)!

    Seriously, I believe it’s been accepted for 40 or 50 years by now that the reason for the longer typical lifespan is the vast decrease in infant mortality first, and then in child mortality.

  • Laird

    I am unfamiliar with the term “neo-liberalism”, and frankly the definition linked by Nigel Sedgwick did nothing to assist my understanding (nor, I think, did it enhance his). Please enlighten me. Are you trying to distinguish it from libertarianism, and if so, how?

  • Rich Rostrom

    Laird: “neoliberal” is a common term of abuse in Latin American politics for those who favor free markets, property rights, international trade, fair dealings with foreign investors, and honoring state debt obligations. It is used extensively by the votaries of Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales, Christina Kirchner, Daniel Ortega, Rafael Correa, and of course Fidel Castro.

  • Laird

    Rich, thank you. So it’s sort of a return to “classic liberalism” before that word was corrupted by leftists? How does it differ from libertarianism?

  • Rich, The Source of All Knowledge begs to differ, and so do I – although I certainly cannot vouch for the South America version.

  • Laird

    Alisa, that’s the same definition that Nigel linked to, and which did me little good. (At least I understood Rich’s succinct definition!)

  • Laird, as I understand it, originally NL was more or less another way of saying Social Democrat, The Third Way, or whatever other combination of have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too may come to mind. With time it morphed into what today’s Occupy types think of as ‘capitalism’ – i.e. your common variety of corporatism. Obviously, it still includes a large (although seemingly never quite large enough) doze of welfare thrown in, but somehow that part always tends to be ignored by aforementioned Occupy types when they speak of the evil NL.

  • Tedd

    I’m not sure about envisioning the future, but I believe it’s important in all things to compare present reality with an ideal. Otherwise, how do you know which direction to head? I think this is a self-similar kind of truth that applies at all scales of thinking, from tying your shoe to planning a trip to Mars. Even the kind of evaluation of the past that Pirie talks about depends on it. How do we know whether the present is better than the past in some way, unless we have an ideal in mind that one is closer to than the other?