Some great books are products of lifetimes of research, reflection and discipline. Others are written during moments of passionate discovery, with prose that shines forth like the sun when new understanding first brings the world into focus.
The Market for Liberty is that second type of classic. Written by Morris and Linda Tannehill after intensive study of the writings of Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard, it has the pace, energy and rigor you would expect from an evening’s discussion with these two giants.
More than that, the authors put pen to paper at precisely the right time in their intellectual development, that period of rhapsodic freshness when a great truth had been revealed and one has to share it with the world. Clearly, the authors fell in love with liberty and the free market and they wrote an engaging book-length paean to these ideas.
This book is radical in the true sense of that term: It gets to the root of the problem of government and rethinks the whole organization of society. Starting with the idea of the individual and his rights, the Tannehills work their way through the market, expose government as the enemy of mankind and — surprisingly — offer a dramatic expansion of market logic into areas of security and defense.
Their discussion of this controversial topic is integrated into their libertarian theoretical apparatus. It deals with private protection services, private arbitration agencies to resolve disputes and private insurers to provide profitable incentives for security. It is for this reason that Hans-Hermann Hoppe calls this book an “outstanding yet much-neglected analysis of the operation of competing security producers.”
The section on war and the state is particularly poignant:
The more government “defends” its citizens, the more it provokes tensions and wars, as unnecessary armies wallow carelessly about in distant lands and government functionaries, from the highest to the lowest, throw their weight around in endless, provocating power grabs. The war machine established by government is dangerous to both foreigners and its own citizens, and this machine can operate indefinitely without any effective check other than the attack of a foreign nation.
Also remarkable is their plan for desocialization, or transition to a fully free society. The Tannehills argue against privatization as it is usually understood on grounds that government is not the owner of public property, so it cannot sell it. Instead, they say, public property should be seized by people with the strongest interest in it and then put on the open market. If that seems crazy to you now, you might change your mind after reading this book.
But think what this means in general. Here we have a book written more than 40 years ago that already anticipated the need to transition out of state control into a market system.
Remarkably, The Market for Liberty actually predates Rothbard’s For a New Liberty. It had a huge impact when it came out in 1970, especially among the generation that was debating whether the state needed to provide basic functions or be eliminated altogether. Rothbard even chose it as one of the top 20 libertarian books of all time, to be printed in his Arno Press series.
The authors were drawn to Rand’s ethical outlook but Rothbard’s economics and politics. But clearly, they were surrounded by classics of all ages when they wrote. So this fiery little treatise connected with the burgeoning movement at the time, providing just the type of integration that many were seeking.
Since the 1980s, however, the book has languished in obscurity. If the authors are still around, no one seems to have heard from them, a fact that seems only to add to the mystery of this never-to-be-repeated book.
There is no reader who can possibly agree with all its contents. I find the section on intellectual property rights to be completely wrong, and obviously so. Their defense of IP even seems to call upon a theoretical idea they had already ruled out, namely, the labor theory of value. However, this was written before the digital age, when the real challenge to the idea of IP had not yet presented itself. Their fallacies are obvious to me but so is the corrective.
However, in other ways, these authors made great leaps forward, particularly regarding the usefulness of the market institution of insurance for the provision of security. They write as if they knew that there had to be a market-based solution to the problem, and they struggled to find it. Libertarians have been drawing on their insights ever since.
The Market for Liberty makes a bracing read for a person who has never been introduced to these ideas. For the person who has an appreciation of free enterprise, this book completes the picture, pushing the limits of market logic as far as it can go. No reader will be left unchanged by it.
Jeffrey TuckerExecutive Editor of Laissez-Faire Books, for The Daily Reckoning
I'm executive editor of Laissez Faire Books and the proprietor of the Laissez Faire Club. I'm the author of two books in the field of economics and one on early music. My main professional work between 1985 and 2011 was with the MIses Institute but I've also worked with the Acton Institute and Mackinac Institute, as well as written thousands of published articles. My personal twitter account @jeffreyatucker FB is @jeffrey.albert.tucker Plain old email is email@example.com
Where Rand falls short–and I’m going o guess the others do too–is that to them there is no eternal, unchangeable reason to be ethical, other than it’s all good in the here and now. Money = power. Once one party has a lot of it, the remaining parties have to cross their fingers that the person who has the money will continue to be ethical.
It’s not as easy as Ms Rand would have you believe. An individual with enormous wealth (i.e. power) can tyrannize just as easily as can a government. You see, Ms Rand never considers the possibility that really evil people can be highly talented as well. All of the “evil / bad” characters in Atlas Shrugged are basically buffoons, who managed to intimated a few smart folks like the physicist who builds the sonic disruptor. Put evil and talent together, and they may not be so quick to respect everyone elses’ liberty if it jeopardizes their hold on power.
Like a pendulum, society tends to swing too far to both extremes. Either extreme is bad as Bertrand Russell puts it, “Too little liberty brings stagnation, too much liberty brings chaos”.
And then there is always the law of unintended consequences, where we due to our machinations, often arrive at the situation we try so hard to avoid.
The argument of managing a society solely by government OR individuals is flawed since both are intertwined.
We should instead strive for balance, where the government is kept in check by the people, and the people in turn governed by reasonable laws.
In turn, in a area like the market, the government’s involvement should be limited to upholding contracts and infrastructure while the participants go about their business.
“Money = power”
no no no. to rand, “money = good”.
“Ms Rand never considers the possibility that really evil people can be highly talented as well.”
bosh. if they have money then it means they’re righteous. if they have more than you then it means they’re more righteous than you. simple. everything is righteous so long as it’s paid for.
“There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Liberty”
yeah. try raising 10,000 swine in a residential area.
From the little I’ve read about the book I think the genarel idea is that intellectual property is not property and therefore should not be treated like property. When you buy a book how is it that you only really own paper and a cover. When you buy a music CD why is it that you can’t technically play it at a party without paying royalties. What did you buy?Also, I think they would argue that IP laws in areas of patents, etc. have slowed innovation and genarelly hurt progress (no one can improve upon anything without licenses which the original inventor does not even have to give, and why would the original improve it if there is no other competition in the unique newness of the contraption).I personally would not relate this to GNU. They seem to want to force items to be free particularly in software. Having no copyright would not mean that you have to release your code because people would be buying compiled software. I would mean that people are actually buying that program and not just a license.I haven’t worked out a complete theory of this and I sense some possible problems (how does the artist make his living). At the same time there do seem to be obvious problems with IP especially in the patent area.
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