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Saturday, March 25, 2006

A threat to superfluous wisdom

One of my favourite living writers on economics is Thomas Sowell, whose "Basic Economics" I highly recommend as an accessible primer on the subject. In a piece on him in the Wall Street Journal, Jason L Riley writes:
Free-market economics, a legacy of the classical school, is thought of as an old conservative doctrine. But Mr. Sowell explains that it was in fact one of the most revolutionary concepts to emerge in the history of ideas. Moreover, "the thinking of the classical economist was not only a radical break from landmark intellectual figures like Plato and Machiavelli but also from mainstream thinking to this day." The notion of a self-equilibrating system--the market economy--meant a reduced role for intellectuals and politicians, he says. "And even today many still haven't accepted that their superior wisdom might be superfluous, if not damaging."
Superbly put. Do read Riley's full piece, and check out Sowell's books if you have the time.

Also in the Wall Street Journal, check out this essay by Amartya Sen in which he says that democracy isn't a Western concept as it is often made out to be. Perhaps. So?

Update (March 29): NS Ramnath writes in:
Here's why i think it's important.

Sen quotes [Samuel] Huntington, but not this passage from "Clash of Civilisations":
Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the seperation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic, Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures.
I have heard some people use this to argue that free markets might work in some cultures, but not in others. An example: A review of [Hernando] de Soto's "The Mystery of Capital" (which argues capitalism fails in some places because of absence of property rights) says:
The world today lacks a consensus on how to create economic growth because the proven way -- capitalism, even modified by the welfare state -- is a peculiar creation of Western culture. It is an approach that, if not inherently alien to other cultures, is at least unfamiliar and unnatural.
More here.
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