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
Dans la sphère économique, un acte, une habitude, une institution, une loi n’engendrent pas seulement un effet, mais une série d’effets. De ces effets, le premier seul est immédiat ; il se manifeste simultanément avec sa cause, on le voit. Les autres ne se déroulent que successivement, on ne les voit pas; heureux si on les prévoit.Frédéric Bastiat (1850). Ce qu’on voit et Ce qu’on ne voit pas, Introduction
Entre un mauvais et un bon Économiste, voici toute la différence : l’un s’en tient à l’effet visible ; l’autre tient compte et de l’effet qu’on voit et de ceux qu’il faut prévoir.
Mais cette différence est énorme, car il arrive presque toujours que, lorsque la conséquence immédiate est favorable, les conséquences ultérieures sont funestes, et vice versa. — D’où il suit que le mauvais Économiste poursuit un petit bien actuel qui sera suivi d’un grand mal à venir, tandis que le vrai économiste poursuit un grand bien à venir, au risque d’une petit mal actuel.
(The) capitalist process produced that atmosphere of almost universal hostility to its own social order. … (The capitalist order) is unwilling and unable to control its intellectual sector effectively. … Freedom of public discussion involving freedom to nibble at the foundations of capitalist society is inevitable in the long run. The intellectual group cannot help nibbling, because it lives on criticism and its whole position depends on criticism that stings; and criticism of persons and of current events will … fatally issue in criticism of classes and institutions.Joseph Schumpeter (1943). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, ch 13 II. The Sociology of the Intellectual
All systems, either of preference or of restraint, therefore, being thus completely taken away, the obvious and simple system of natural liberty establishes itself of its own accord. Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man, or order of men. The sovereign is completely discharged from a duty, in the attempting to perform which he must always be exposed to innumerable delusions, and for the proper performance of which, no human wisdom or knowledge could ever be sufficient; the duty of superintending the industry of private people, and of directing it towards the employments most suitable to the interests of the society.Adam Smith (1776). The Wealth of Nations, book IV, chapter IX
The two fundamental problems of organization are the assignment of tasks and the apportionment of rewards. In unorganized action each person performs all the tasks by whose performance he benefits, and his reward is the immediate, physical benefit of his own work. But when men work together some machinery must be provided to give each his special work and to determine the amount of the results of others’ effort which he shall obtain and the amount of his own product which he shall give up to others.Frank H. Knight ( 1957). Risk, Uncertainty and Profit, p 55
Modern industrial society, the “existing economic order”, performs this twofold task chiefly through free agreement and voluntary exchange between individuals themselves. Economic theory is the analysis of this mechanism.
Liberal justice directs us toward institutions designed to enable citizens to develop their moral powers of responsible self-authorship. Market democratic regimes such as democratic limited government and democratic laissez-faire are designed with this goal in mind. The defining institutional feature of market democratic regimes is that they enshrine a wide range of private economic freedoms as basic constitutional rights. It is this platform of thick economic liberty that most clearly sheers off market democracy from liberal social democracy as a rival democratic form.John Tomasi (2012). Free Market Fairness, p 215