What Crusaders for Liberty Are Up Against: Part II

Recently my fellow blogger Robert Higgs put up a post on The Beacon with this title, and I am following up with a post of the same name, after my attendance at the annual meeting of the Association for Heterodox Economics (AHE) last week.

The AHE is an organization of academic economists from throughout the world; the conference had 600 attendees from six continents. The AHE has a distinctly left-wing outlook on things. It is dominated by Marxists, post-Keynesians, greens, and feminist economists: in other words, economists who have anti-market and anti-capitalist views.

I have attended many conferences dominated by individuals with a free-market orientation. Some organizations worth noting, and supporting, along these lines are the Association of Private Enterprise Education, The Mont Pelerin Society, the Austrian Scholars Conference, and the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics. One nice thing about those conferences is that there is a feeling of comaraderie being among a large group of individuals with similar viewpoints on public policy and the appropriate role of government. Being among like-thinking individuals is a comfortable feeling.

Attending the AHE conference pushes me out of that comfort zone. Attendees are very intelligent and have serious academic research agendas aimed at undermining capitalism. There’s a lot of comaraderie at AHE too; but I’m not one of the comrades.

I find the conference intellectually interesting because it offers me the opportunity to hear the best arguments and latest research that promotes left-wing economic ideas. If I only attended conferences that attracted individuals with a free-market bent, I might be lulled into thinking that those ideas are the primary alternative to current economic policy. Either we continue with our current course of bigger government, leading to economic ruin, or we turn back the state to regain our freedoms and unleash the economic power of the market.

At the AHE conference the perspective is very different. Most attendees don’t see the current state of affairs as big government, but rather the legacy of neo-liberalism. While the term goes back to the 1930s, many AHE attendees see problems starting with the neo-liberal governments of Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980s that displaced the Progressive policies that blossomed in the 1960s and 1970s.

As they see it, current governments aren’t spiraling out of control, but rather are excessively constrained by neo-liberal policies initiated decades ago.

Readers of The Beacon are likely to see the current political alternatives as continuing with the out-of-control government we have today, or reigning in the state. Those at AHE see the alternatives as the current neo-liberal neutered government, or an expansion of government to correct the current inequities of the system and control the inefficiencies of capitalism.

In The Beacon post by Robert Higgs with the same title as mine, he was lamenting that crusaders for liberty are up against a population that has little interest in limited government or public policy. But there are people, like those who attended the AHE conference, who are serious about public policy and who are actively working to enlarge the scope of government. Don’t think that the alternative to the status quo is smaller government; many serious thinkers believe we already have smaller government, and are working to expand it.

Here’s another sobering thought. This was an academic conference, so the people in attendance are passing along their ideas to the world’s college students.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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