In the early 1900s, when he was about to embark on one of his expeditions, famed explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, published the following advertisement in a London newspaper:
“Men wanted for hazardous journey to the South Pole. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.
Historians question its authenticity, but this advertisement is considered one of the most effective in history. Shackleton is said to have commented that the response was so overwhelming that it seemed as though all the men of Great Britain were determined to accompany him.
I was traveling to Antarctica when Sir Shackleton’s ad came to mind as I reflected on how, writing in defense of individual freedoms has become an unrewarded, arduous, and dangerous journey. Defenders of individual freedoms, like Sisyphus in Greek Mythology, find themselves repeating the same task of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again.
The aggressive socialist-collectivist mindset that permeates our contemporary society takes no prisoners. To illustrate, I will borrow and adapt from Professor Laurence Cahoone a simple typology of eight economic systems. Below, I have organized the economic systems according to our preferences for the ownership of the factors of production, and the corresponding level of government controls. That is, the sequence runs from more-to-less individual freedom.
- A minimalist state limited primarily to protecting our life, liberty, and property, in the tradition of classical liberalism.
- A laissez-faire, capitalist regime, which allows for some government functions such as public education, as well as some prohibitions on economic exchanges like prostitution.
- Economic nationalism with state support and protection of domestic industries as practiced by some Latin American governments.
- Progressivism, which promotes the government’s provision of a wide-ranging social safety net, and extensive regulation of businesses, but comes short of undertaking government ownership of large businesses.
- A social democracy, with a cradle-to-grave welfare state, and private property and free markets, but subject to heavy government regulations.
- State capitalism, where some major industries are owned by the state and others are privately owned but subject to extensive government coordination and control.
- Socialism where all major industries are owned or directed by the state, but with an underlying market for consumer goods.
- Marxist-Leninist communism where all property is owned by the state.
There are, of course, many variations of this list, but this version is adequate to help the reader identify his or her economic ideology. It is important to emphasize that this arrangement leaves out the political dimension. For example, state capitalism may, or may not, have fascist undertones.
My regular readers will recognize my writings mostly in the first category of a libertarian minimalist state, or somewhere between positions one and two. What detractors fail to recognize is that economic arrangements offering maximum personal liberty and minimum government controls protect our liberties from being diluted by what some call the Paradox of Freedom.
The Paradox of Freedom is the proposition that the freedom of an unchecked government necessarily leads to a loss of freedom for the people. This is because an unrestrained government is free to impose overwhelming controls to enslave a compliant population. And yet, as shown by this classification, in most contemporary economic systems, government controls are believed to be good and necessary.
This brings me back to Shackleton’s success in recruiting fellow travelers for a hazardous but honorable journey, and to Sisyphus, as he struggles with the hopeless task of pushing the boulder up the mountain. It seems that my similarly hazardous and hopeless journey is to push the boulder of individual freedoms up a mountain of misguided popular preference for more government controls.
Yet, existentialist philosopher Albert Camus, in the last chapter of his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” tells us that Sisyphus comes to understand that the struggle itself is enough to fill a man’s heart. And that, free to realize the absurdity of his situation, “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.”