(T)hroughout the long twentieth century, communities and people looked at what the market economy was delivering to them and said: “Did we order that?” And society demanded something else. The idiot Mr. Hyde side of Friedrich von Hayek called it ‘social justice’, and decreed that people should forget about it: the market economy could never deliver social justice, and to try to rejigger society so that social justice could be delivered would destroy the market economy’s ability to deliver what it could deliver – increasing wealth, distributed to those who owned valuable property rights.J. Bradford DeLong (2022). Slouching Towards Utopia. An Economic History of the Twentieth Century, p 6
The political problem of mankind is to combine three things: Economic Efficiency, Social Justice, and Individual Liberty. The first needs criticism, precaution, and technical knowledge; the second, an unselfish and enthusiastic spirit which loves the ordinary man; the third, tolerance, breadth, appreciation of the excellencies of variety and independence, which prefers, above everything, to give unhindered opportunity to the exceptional and to the aspiring. The second ingredient is the best possession of the great party of the Proletariat. But the first and third require the qualities of the party which, by its traditions and ancient sympathies, has been the home of Economic Individualism and Social Liberty.John Maynard Keynes (1926). Liberalism and Labour, in Essays in Persuasion (2009), p 187.
Why did farming ever replace foraging if the rewards were work, inequality and war?Ian Morris (2010). Why the West Rules – for now, p 107 [verwijzend naar Marshall Sahlins (1972). Stone Age Economics]
(Y)ou need a lot more than “market failure” to have a successful government subsidy program of firms–you need massive externalities and precise, well understood targets. The garden-variety market failure that can be shown on a blackboard isn’t enough, in part because such arguments often underestimate the market and in part because they overestimate government.Alex Tabarok (2022). Marginal Revolution: Chinese Industrial Policy is Failing
When millions of people produce goods for each other’s use, they must have some way of notifying each other of their desires. Moreover, people’s desires and preferences are fluctuating, complex and delicate. James Joyce could have filled a fat volume in describing the half-formed inclinations in the mind of a woman setting out on a shopping expedition. No words could completely define her potential desires. Consumers cannot therefore be expected to present shopkeepers with an adequate psychological analysis of their needs. Money comes to their rescue. Their offer to buy certain things at certain prices completely reveals what they have in mind.Michael Polanyi (1951). The Logic of Liberty, p 139
The wonder was, it [Coketown, a town of red bricks but blackened by smoke and ashes] was there at all. It had been ruined so often, that it was amazing how it had borne so many shocks. Surely there never was such fragile china-ware as that of which the millers of Coketown were made. … They were ruined when they were required to send labouring children to school; they were ruined when inspectors were appointed to look into their works; they were ruined, when such inspectors considered it doubtful whether they were quite justified in chopping people up with their machinery; they were utterly undone, when it was hinted that perhaps they need not always make quite so much smoke. … Whenever a Coketowner felt he was ill-used – that is to say, whenever he was not left entirely alone, and it was proposed to hold him accountable for the consequences of any of his acts – he was sure to come out with the awful menace, that he would ‘sooner pitch his property into the Atlantic.’ This had terrified the Home Secretary within an inch of his life, on several occasions.Charles Dickens (1854). Hard Times, Book The Second, Chapter 1
However, the Coketowners were so patriotic after all, that they never had pitched their property into the Atlantic yet, but, on the contrary, had been kind enough to take mighty good care of it. So there it was, in the haze yonder; and it increased and multiplied.
Though, for the economist, the goal of social betterment must be held ever in sight, his own special task is not to stand in the forefront of attack, but patiently behind the lines to prepare the armament of knowledge.Arthur Cecil Pigou (1924). In Memoriam: Alfred Marshall, p 84
The purposeless economy: Let us by all means continue to strive for, and to support, efforts to analyze the structure of the economy, and to seek consensus on means to make this structure more capable of allowing us, as individual participants, to further those separately defined objectives that we seek. Let us, however, guard against allowing intellectual confusion about what an economy is to offer, legitimatizing cover for the efforts of some persons and groups to impose their own purposes on others. Beware of those who pronounce on the economy’s purpose.James Buchanan (1989). On the Structure of an Economy: A Re-Emphasis of Some Classical Foundations, p 11
This is why liberalism is an unintuitive political arrangement, and why it has always been necessary to make the case for it. Perfectionism and perfectionist ideas are in many ways much more natural. In fact, around the world, in every major civilization, some form of perfectionism represents the older, indigenous strain of political thinking. This may be because perfectionism takes the resources that we use to organize small-scale communities and attempts to scale them up, to apply them at the level of the nation-state. Liberalism, by contrast, has no correlates at the small-scale or community level, and so it is extremely non-obvious as a template for the organization of human society.Joseph Heath (2020). The Machinery of Government. Public Administration and the Liberal State. p 115-116
The misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all.Joan Robinson (1962). Economic Philosophy, p 45
It is not a correct deduction from the Principles of Economics that enlightened self-interest always operates in the public interest. Nor is it true that self-interest generally is enlightened; more often individuals acting separately to promote their own ends are too ignorant or too weak to attain even these. Experience does not show that individuals, when they make up a social unit, are always less clear-sighted than when they act separately.John Maynard Keynes (1926). The End of Laissez-Faire, in Essays in Persuasion (2009), p 169.
When you cast policy issues in moral terms, you degrade the character of public discourse. You lead people to see conflicting priorities as an occasion for battle, rather than an occasion for compromise. You send the message that policy is best decided by appeals to one’s inner conscience (or, more likely, to the polemics of demagogues), rather than by appeals to impersonal cost-benefit analysis.Steven E. Landsburg (2013). Don’t cast recycling as a moral issue
… If we’re determined to instill blind moral instincts that make people behave better most of the time, I’d like to nominate a blind moral instinct to respect price signals and the individual choices that underlie them—an instinct, for example, to recoil from judging and undercutting other people’s voluntary arrangements.
(T)he use of incentives can signal our fellow citizens’ lack of enthusiasm for the public good, and so damage the norms of civil behavior and be counterproductive. To the extent that we all want to retain the illusion that the society in which we live is virtuous, this also sheds light on the widespread resistance to what economists have to say, because economists are often the bearers of bad empirical news concerning how virtuous people are.Jean Tirole (2017). Economics for the Common Good, p 149
Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it is just the opposite.John Kenneth Galbraith
While those who are superstitious may avoid walking under ladders, the scientific mind who wants to defy the superstition may choose to look for ladders and delight in passing under them. But if you keep looking for and walking under the ladders long enough, something is going to happen to you.James Thurber (1937). Quoted in Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (2009), p xviii