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Freedom or Regimentation

Mises Daily: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 by

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[This review originally appeared on Amazon.com.]

Inclined to Liberty cover

Written in the libertarian tradition of Hayek's The Road to Serfdom and Ringer's Restoring the American Dream, Louis E. Carabini's Inclined to Liberty is a concise and discerning examination, both politically and economically, of what it means to prefer freedom to central dictate. The work was inspired by a 2004 dinner party in Carabini's home during which an academic discussion ensued among the guests involving such political clichés as, "No one should be allowed to inherit wealth," and "The salaries of company executives are too high." The implication, of course, was that the state should intervene to balance the scales of "social justice." But upon close scrutiny, what exactly does that entail and what are the oftentimes-unforeseen consequences as regards the human spirit? Bringing those ramifications clearly to light in an entertaining and accessible style, while citing facts and historical examples, is Carabini's self-appointed mission.

He begins with an analysis of the human proclivity toward "blame and resentment" and how those emotions are politically manipulated. He asks the questions, does societal inequality necessarily imply victims and villains, and why do we tend to divide ourselves into "them-versus-us" dichotomies? Carabini then warns of the pitfalls inherent in a strict system of democracy and reintroduces the old concept of "the tragedy of the commons." A consideration is offered as to how wealth is not a static monopoly but rather begets more wealth for all. A clarification is made as to what really constitutes money and how money does not equate with "prosperity." Carabini then berates the news media today for misleading us with skewed reportage and deconstructs the phenomenon of so-called "earnings gaps," explaining why any quest for "economic equality" is not only futile but harmful to the whole of society. As clearly demonstrated, redistribution of earnings and wealth quickly becomes a bane to a healthy economy, and everyone suffers the worse for it.

A good deal of space is devoted to a careful exploration of the concepts of jobs, labor, and the division of labor — and the consequences and stifling effects of intrusive regulation, as well as a critique of John Rawls's propositions regarding undeserved advantages in his classic book A Theory of Justice. This discussion leads to a revelation of the flawed reasoning of Karl Marx and his labor theory of value (as opposed to the subjective theory of value) and how unwittingly this philosophy underlies much of today's tragic experiments in social engineering. Carabini ends, however, on an upbeat assessment of where humanity may be headed in the future with the ascendency of technology undercutting the dominance of the nation-state and seeing its influence and control gradually erode away. He concludes, "Those who claim to be a better master of a life not theirs forfeit a part of their own lives, along with a portion of the lives of those who, wittingly or unwittingly, accept such claims as true," and "Liberty is a state of mind that does not require the indulgence of others."

If there is any weakness in Carabini's exposition, it might be found in chapter 30, titled "Spontaneous Order vs Intelligent Design." Here, while the point he is making regarding natural order is valid, his employment of the term "intelligent design" is misleading connotatively because, properly understood and distinguished from "Biblical creationism," that concept more nearly resembles Adam Smith's "invisible hand" than does Darwin's "principle of natural selection." Nevertheless, the fault is a minor one and in no way dulls the main thrust of his reasoning. Additionally, some might object to the brevity of some chapters, not because the subject is given short shrift but rather because the treatment is so well done that one wants more.

As Carabini himself observes in the penultimate chapter, he has within these pages spelled out convincingly for the reader the economic benefits of liberty with an emphasis on utility and prosperity. Nevertheless, he admits in the first chapter that in his opinion people are in general attracted to one of two opposing camps — those inclined to liberty and those inclined to mastery — and it is rare that exposure to additional evidence and facts sways anyone to switch camps. Yet a book such as this makes excellent reading for those of either camp by dispelling a good many misconceptions planted by a feckless media and conniving politicians, thereby providing even the liberty doubters with an accurate and faithful representation of the vision they themselves claim to oppose.