Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Arguing Against Gravity

I was reading a book last night (Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War, a fascinating book for any history buffs out there.) and I came upon a chapter on the 1906 British election between the Unionist Party (A hodgepodge of Liberal and mostly Conservative MPs united by opposition to Irish home rule advocated by famous Liberal leader William Gladstone) and the remnants of the Liberal party. Not to get into too large of a history lesson, but the Unionist member of the Cabinet who was originally responsible for the split from Gladstone was Joseph Chamberlain. (Father of future idiot Neville Chamberlain.) What I found fascinating was a tidbit about a Liberal MP excitedly showing his wife a newspaper article detailing Chamberlain's new found desire for a tariff which flew in the face of traditional British belief in free trade. The Liberal MP excitedly exclaimed that arguing against the free market was like arguing against gravity and the Laws of Physics. (For any confused American readers, the term "liberal" in late 19th and turn of the century Europe didn't carry the same meaning as it does in our country today. It was more akin to "libertarian" or "classical liberal".)

I must say, it made me a bit nostalgic for an age I've only read about, especially after watching pundits and world leaders proclaim the death of capitalism over the past few weeks. There was once a time, before citizens began voting themselves a share of the national treasury, that elected leaders and the public at large had rational beliefs about economics and complete faith in capitalism. Of course World War I and the ascendancy of Keynesian economics changed that in Britain, and I'm certain that we'll never get to that ideal during my lifetime. (See the Keynesian government bailout approved by both parties and signed by our "conservative" President.) Still, if people and governments were rational once, they can be rational again. After all, arguing against the free market is like arguing against the Laws of Physics.

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