Per Contra magazine recently interviewed me about Economic Freedom. The questions ranged from equity concerns to measuring economic freedom, to this question on the whether competition is zero or positive sum:
PC-Given the nature of competition, is it possible for all members of a society to benefit from economic freedom, or does it promote an imbalance that is deleterious to some members in a society?
SP- People sometimes think that competition in the economy is like a baseball game where someone wins and someone loses. This argument was made in the nineteenth century by the famous art critic, John Ruskin, who opposed free trade.But Ruskin's alternative was something like non-development -- art, furniture, etc., that were hand made but too expensive for the vast majority of people to enjoy. ...
Economic competition, trade and growth, aren't zero sum, aren't win/loss phenomena.Instead, they mean that more stuff is made so that there is the possibility of more stuff for everyone.
In spite of Ruskin's argument -- and it's sometimes used now to oppose free trade globally -- trade benefits both parties.You buy a watch from me and you value the watch more than the $10 you give me for it.I value the $10 more than the watch.We're both better off than we were before the trade.Now maybe you got a "better deal" out of the trade than I did:you benefit more from the trade than I do.This doesn't mean that I didn't benefit or that my envy of you should make me forego the trade.
I've just returned from traveling for a week in Italy. We began in Lecce at the annual conference for Storep, Associazone Italiana per la Storia dell'Economia Politica, where I gave an invited plenary lecture in their "celebration" series. The conference was wonderful. Highlights include a trip to a castle in nearby Otranto, where Luigi Pasinetti and Alessandro Roncaglia celebrated the work of Paolo Sylos Labini. The same evening, former Summer Institute presenter, Paula Tubaro, was awarded the best dissertation award, while former SI participant, Michele Alacevich, received the best young scholar paper award. (Good to know we pick good students!)
I was invited to speak on Mill and I gave a talk entitled, "Did Mill Ruin Classical Liberalism? Hayek on Discussion and the Constitutional Order in J. S. Mill". (The title was meant to be provocative. The short answer is No!). The question that is puzzling me is this. Mill was by many accounts the great classical liberal of the 19th century. Hayek was the great classical liberal of the 20th century (at a lecture I attended a year ago, James Buchanan said that Hayek's most significant contribution was the work to preserve classical liberalism in the 20th century at a time when its survival was unsure.) And Hayek knows Mill as few others have known Mill. The work I'm doing on his edition of the Mill-Taylor correspondence (which will be published by the U of Chicago as part of the collected works of F A Hayek) provides a case in point. Yet Hayek is very critical of Mill both in print and in his interview with Buchanan, where he refers to the "delusion" that he traces back to Mill, that democratic government is enough to limit government power. So, what is it about Mill that so incensed Hayek? This is the question I'm trying to address and the lecture presented some (very) preliminary thoughts -- the answer, I suggest, lies in Mill's position on discussion and reform. You can see the powerpoints here: did_mill_storep.pdf.