The Morphology of Liberalism

Here’s a book review in The Economist looking at the morphology in meaning attached to (neo)liberalism. Here is the publisher’s blurb.

But the line between Smith and Friedman is not a straight one, as Mr Stedman Jones points out. Smith thought one of the state’s jobs should be to build public works and forge institutions that would otherwise fail under market pressure. Here he sounds more like Franklin Roosevelt. Smith believed the state should fund schools, bridges and roads. Friedman said that was the job of the private sector.


Morals and markets

Sandel plugging his latest. The journalist’s quote below has much resonance to me.

Even to a toddler’s mind, the logic of the transaction was evidently clear – if he had to be bribed, then the potty couldn’t be a good idea – and within a week he had grown so suspicious and upset that we had to abandon the whole enterprise.


Science, the Market and Iterative Knowledge

The second paper co-authored with Dave Hardwick has now been published in Studies in Emergent Order:

Abstract: In a recent paper (Hardwick & Marsh, in press) we examine the recent tensions between the two broadly successful spontaneous orders, namely the Market and Science. We argued for an epistemic pluralism, the view that freedom and liberty (indeed the very concept of liberalism and civil society) exists at the nexus of a manifold of spontaneous forces, and that no single epistemic system should dominate. We also briefly introduced the concept of “iterative” knowledge to characterize the essentially dynamic nature of scientific knowledge. Herein lies a tension. The Market (and perhaps the prevailing culture at large) sees scientific knowledge in cumulative terms, that is, progressing to a conclusion in a linear fashion. This relatively static understanding of medical science as it relates to pharmaceutical studies can have a corrosive effect on the practice of medicine and ultimately, we believe, on the proper functioning of the market itself. In this paper we examine this tension in much closer detail by focusing upon the demands of the market, specifically the pharmaceutical industry, and the science upon which it is based. In other words, we expound upon a clash of epistemic value – one (science) that sees knowledge as essentially iterative (dynamic yet tentative) and the other (the Market) that harvests conclusive scientific knowledge (ostensibly as a fixed and firm commodity) functional to its own interests. Clinical Trials that are sharply focused with precisely determined deliverables often manifest this tension in the sharpest of relief. As a means of recovering drug development and testing costs, conclusive assessment is required to avoid creating serious financial problems for the companies themselves not to mention issues in the public interest.


Clash of the Titans: When the Market and Science Collide

Coming soon the first of three papers I’ve co-authored with Dave Hardwick, this one due in Advances in Austrian Economics, Vol. 17


Purpose/problem statement – The two most successful complex adaptive systems are the Market and Science, each with an inherent tendency toward epistemic imperialism. Of late, science, notably medical science, seems to have become functional or subservient to market imperatives. We offer a two-fold Hayekian analysis: a justification of the multiplicity view of spontaneous orders and a critique of the libertarian justification of market prioricity.

Methodology/approach – This paper brings to light Hayekian continuities between diverse literatures – philosophical, epistemological, cognitive and scientific.

Findings – The very precondition of knowledge is the exploitation of the epistemic virtues accorded by society’s manifold of spontaneous forces, a manifold that gives context and definition, to intimate, regulate, and inform action. The free-flow of information is the life-blood of civil (liberal) society. The commoditization of medical knowledge promotes a dysfunctional free-flow of information that compromises notions of expertise and ultimately has implications for the greater good.

Research limitations/implications – While we accept that there are irresolvable tensions between these epistemic magisteria we are troubled by the overt tampering with the spontaneous order mechanism of medical science. The lessons of Hayek are not being assimilated by many who would go by the adjective Hayekian.

Originality/value of paper – On offer is a Hayekian restatement (contra the libertarian view typically attributed to Hayek) cautioning that no one spontaneous order should dominate over another neither should they be made conversable. Indeed, we argue that the healthy functioning of a market presupposes institutions that should not answer to market imperatives.

Oakeshott, Libertarianism and Judaism

Here’s a nice rendering by Mary Campbell of a photo of Oakeshott given to me by his son Simon (the photo was taken at Caius circa 1933). Speaking of Oakeshott, the following must rate as the most bizarre invocation of Oakeshott I’ve come across (Jewish Political Studies Review 19:1-2, Spring 2007).

Michael Oakeshott (1901-1990) was a leading British social and political theorist, often credited as a father of libertarian thought.

Even on the most generous of interpretations “father of libertarian thought” is so off-beam. We know Oakeshott took issue with libertarianism in no uncertain terms. Who conceives of Oakeshott in these terms? I’d like to know. And again:

As to openings, Oakeshott, unlike many other philosophical defenders of the free society, has a generous appreciation for the category of tradition. Although his political thought is often associated-no doubt simplistically-with libertarianism, he afforded traditional ways of life considerable scope in the conduct of a humane society.

A traditionalist (assuming Oakeshott to be one) cannot accept the spontaneous unforseen consequences of an absolutely free-market. It would be corrosive of tradition!! This is not to say that the free-market doesn’t have an important role to play  for Oakeshott – or that tradition itself is not a spontaneous phenomenon – but to so brazenly claim that Oakeshott is associated with libertarianism is absurd. I know of no theorist who makes that claim.

Although somewhat overshadowed in life by his more famous contemporaries Isaiah Berlin, Friedrich Hayek, and Karl Popper, Oakeshott, not least on account of his profound and astonishingly elegant prose, bids fair to displace them in death.

That’s quite an optimistic claim – at best Oakeshott might take his place next to these titans – but displace them? This is hagiography.


Oakeshott’s thought, however, has hardly been taken up by Jewish philosophers. Although political theorists who are Jews, such as Josiah Lee Auspitz or Efraim Podoksik of the Hebrew University, have worked on Oakeshott, there have been no diligent attempts to mine Oakeshott for the purposes of Jewish thought. Nor have Jewish thinkers engaged him in philosophical conversation. This is regrettable, for Oakeshott offers a number of promising openings and provocations for contemporary Jewish thought.

Though a significant chunk of those who have written on Oakeshott are Jewish, this fact has no salience at all. Can only “Jewish” scholars plausibly claim expertise in Jewish philosophy? Ridiculous.