After a protracted bout of not reading, I’m back to it. A friend gave me an iTunes card and instead of blowing it on music and TV shows (or show as it usually turns out) I bought some books. I feel very grown up… I got one new to me and an old favorite. I’m enjoying using iBooks on the iPad. I have been using an app called Stanza for most of my reading but I think I like the way iBooks looks better. There will be more purchases in the future. I am also finally getting around to a book I got for Christmas, one of the old fashioned kind.
So what am I reading? The recent ridiculousness in DC has me fuming and I have turned to a couple of books talking about politics, government and the decisions that come out of the process. First up is the old fashioned one, Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit. It is one of those books that I have always felt that I should read, but it is intimidating. Hayek wasn’t exactly the most scintillating of writers, but he was a very serious thinker. I’m only a few chapters into it, but he hasn’t disappointed so far. There are some really big ideas in there. A very short summary is that the book attempts to answer the question I’ve always had. Namely, why is socialism so attractive to so many people despite the obvious awful results that it brings about? So far, he has said that it comes down to the tension between small group dynamics, like the family, and large scale interactions that build societies. There is an inbuilt distrust of strangers and of more powerful tribes. That puts the worry about the tribe or the family in direct opposition to the things that lead to rising living standards. Hence, socialist ideas tend to sound attractive whereas allowing things to evolve without anyone’s control scares people. That’s his premise and it’s as good an explanation as I’ve ever heard. I’ll update as I go along.
I bought Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty because I had always heard that it was “the libertarian Bible” or some such like that. It was another book that I thought I should read. I have only read a couple of his essays, this is my first book by him. Everything I’ve read by him so far leaves me scratching my head about his “libertarian” label, he seems like a straight up anarchist. Anyway, he has some interesting things to say, especially when he puts things in a historical perspective. Libertarianism was the original “liberal.” The liberals back then were railing against the divine right of kings and the manipulations of people’s lives by him and his privileged merchants and guilds. Sometime in the 19th century the liberals joined with the powers that they had been fighting and we got the modern definition of liberal. Modern liberals invest rulers with lots of power and depend on politically connected merchants and guilds (corporations and unions) to help shape society the way they want it to be. Some things never change, and libertarianism is still as radical now as ever.
Rothbard uses some hand waving and conspiracy theories to explain why people have been following socialism in all it’s manifestations. I think Hayek has a much more nuanced and believable theory. To be fair, Rothbard glosses over that in a handful of paragraphs whereas Hayek dedicates an entire book to it. Anyway, I’m a little ways into it, I’ll see if there are any great revelations in it, his supporters would have you believe that it is the most amazing thing ever. We’ll see.