Following my post on the History of Economic website, The presumption must always be in favour of individual rights and personal freedom, I received a number of comments off line which have made me think about how different the political world we live in is from Mill’s. The economics is still the same but the political philosophies that surround us are quite quite different.
I have had a number of comments sent to me offline that have made me think more deeply about the use of Mill’s principle in regard to the way in which the notion of “actions that are prejudicial to the interests of others” can be manipulated for sinister purposes. As our moderator noted right at the start of this discussion, this is an economics discussion forum, and with this in mind, let me note it is disturbing to see the way in which this entire episode surrounding the coronavirus has morphed into a form of centralised, socialist, and indeed fascist totalitarian outcome in which our economies have become, for all practical purposes, a centralised command economy in which the principles of Modern Monetary Theory seem to have become the means of organising production and providing incomes. Beyond that, parts of the food production industry have been ordered to stay open and to continue to produce even though their own individual profitability positions would have induced them either to reduce production or even close down. What is more worrisome still is that there seems to be only a small constituency who recognise the immense dangers to our political freedoms and to our longer-term economic prosperity. The billions and trillions of public sector outlays that have flowed out into the economy in a matter of months, while major enterprises such as our airlines have been closed down, suggests such a massive lack of understanding about how our societies operate and provision themselves, that I fear we will wake up in the not too distant future within economies that are no longer anything like as wealthy as they were, and find ourselves living within communities that are no longer anywhere as free as they once had been.
It really is, moreover, a worry how easily such major restrictions were accepted on our wandering down the street in the middle of the day, going out to shop, or showing up at a cafe with friends. Behind all of these restrictions are businesses that are going to the wall, people who have lost their livelihoods and public sector deficits that are mounting that will inevitably lead to some kind of major fiscal retribution and possibly even to an uncontainable inflation. Governments can certainly act on our behalf in restricting some of our freedoms as a matter of principle, such as by imposing a military draft. But there is also the need for some kind of sense and proportionality. The world in which Mill lived could not have contemplated the actions we have taken. Today, with our massive bureaucracies, and with our media unable, or perhaps even unwilling, to explain the major risks we have taken on, we seem to be blundering into a Venezuelan future that may become impossible to reverse.
You know what? No one knows.