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Ersatz Liberals (Part I)

Ersatz Liberals (Part I) Economy Near Us (LIV)

(Too) many of today’s politicians in Romania claim an intellectual and/or moral affiliation to different political ideologies or schools. Ignoring the fact that such a claim resonates with the voters if and only if the population reaches an average level of political sophistication (or even general culture) at the minimum level required for such complex issues, the problem is whether those claims are justified, i.e., morally legitimate. Of course, we have here two ‘sources’ of information in solving the question: a) the politicians’ declarations; b) the facts, that is, the political decisions and actions (either as acts or abstentions) of the politicians in question.

(a) Declarations

To declare an ideological affiliation (we presuppose, for the sake of the current discussion, that the formal affiliation to a political party is perfectly consistent with the real level of adherence to the corresponding ideology or political philosophy) means, generally, to publicly both announce a principle of political behaviour and commit (engage) in a way that evinces respect for that principle. This hermeneutics of the behavioural principle is that which the political theorist Robert Nozick discusses in his remarkable “The Nature of Rationality”. In fact, the (public) announcement of and commitment towards a principle constitute, for the others, a strong predictor for the future decisions and actions of the respective politician.

(b) Facts

Obviously, facts weigh more heavily than words. Therefore, either to corroborate or adjust the announced principles, the actual decisions/actions of the politicians concerned must be observed and examined. Another thinker could help us here – this time an (alleged) economist, not a political theorist, namely the famous Samuelson, with his concept of revealed preferences. Briefly, a revealed preference is that preference that (reasonably) seems to ground an actual decision or action. So, no matter if we know or not something about the principle (generally, ‘inferred’ from the party affiliation, as stated earlier) which governs (or is expected to govern) the behaviour of a given politician, we should have full confidence in those decisions/actions the politician actually performs, in order to identify its (real) behavioural principle on the political ‘market’.

Since facts win over words, in what follows I shall discuss some practical cases focused, for now, on the politicians who declare themselves as adherent to the liberal ideology (maybe, in a future intervention, other ideologies will be illustrated in the same matter). 

What is (economic) liberalism? 

The (philosophical) liberalism is a general conception regarding the society’s organization and functioning in order for that society to have, as of last resort driver, the freedom (especially and primarily the individual freedom). We should mention that democracy and freedom are not at all so linked to each other as many unmindful TV politicians and TV economists both proclaim every night.

Within this general framework of the liberalism, the economic liberalism is a particularization of the concept of individual freedom to the economic process/action/activity. More precisely, the economic liberalism requires normative assurance that the individuals are free to decide on their own purposes. In other words, the economic liberalism implies that pressures should not be exerted on individuals regarding their purposes, nor the means involved in achieving those purposes.

To provide a correct and complete picture of the economic liberalism, some additional considerations are needed:

- the individual freedom has, as a (logically) necessary consequence, the market’s freedom (Smith’s invisible hand). But, according to any theory of the state, the freedom itself must be instituted, guaranteed, and defended by law/norm. If not, the ‘full’ freedom of individuals will lead (necessarily, too) to monopolistic (or monopsonistic) insulations which will undermine and, in the long term, destroy exactly the freedom;

- the protective law/norm of the freedom belongs to the state (no matter how minimal);

- the state intervention is forbidden if and where the market is self-testable, so self-adjusting (in other words, in those conditions, any state intervention is illegitimate, although it could be, of course, legal) – so, the minimality of the state is not a quality per se, but one correlated to the sphere where its intervention is illegitimate, as explained above). This does not mean that there are not enthusiastic and irresponsible liberals (or, perhaps, libertarians) who require the minimal state in an un-conditioned and un-contextualized way;

- not even the most radical libertarians proclaim market freedom without requiring, as well, a strong state to norm and preserve such freedom – but nothing more than norming and preserving the market freedom. 

Who are the ersatz liberals?

An ersatz liberal is a liberal who ‘learned’ liberalism in its popular, rudimentary lines, as expressing the total liberty of decision and action, fully based on the individual selfishness and, in most cases, on large implicit anomie. For example, there are liberals (especially those who teach us the economic liberalism from beyond the TV screen) asking for radical de-regulations like: the abolition of the central bank's monopoly on currency, the abolition of taxes, the abolition of public pension funds and the like. Obviously, a deeper (philosophical, logical, and institutional) examination could not provide tenable arguments, maybe only a more arrogant repetition of the targets concerned. However, it is not the radical libertarians who worry us (they are not taken seriously by anyone, as expected), but the ersatz liberals who speak about they do not know, or do not know correctly, or do not know completely, who only learned a book version of liberalism.

The current communication is, in fact, playing the role of prolegomenon for some concrete analyses I would provide in the next intervention. More exactly, I shall examine the following issues, from the perspective of public interventions and positioning of self-alleged liberals who have the chance (for them) and the mischance (for us) to hold public positions (either legislative or executive):

  1. tax adjustments, including the fiscal regime adjustment;
  2. price increases, primarily for energy;
  3. social responsibility and solidarity of the large companies (including multi-national ones) with the state in handling societal risks, vulnerabilities, and destabilizations;
  4. inter-dependences between the private sector and public sector (especially the budgetary one) in bringing public revenues into the general consolidated budget.




The Market For Ideas Association

The Romanian-American Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture (RAFPEC)

Amfiteatru Economic