The European miracle

Taking up the theme of limited government that I dropped in a comment the other day, Gerard Radnitzky wrote a fascinating paper on the “European miracle” of scientific progress, freedom and prosperity that marched together over the last few centuries.

The bottom line of this long and challenging paper is that the secret of the ‘European Miracle’ has been the evolution of limited government. There is no trade-off between freedom on the one hand and economic success and scientific progress on the other hand. The two are inseparable because economic growth has come from economic freedom and competition, and scientific progress has come from a free market of ideas.

The phenomenon of the ‘Rise of the West’ has been made possible by the evolution of freedom in the economic sphere from political and religious influences, and by other developments including the security of property rights.

His conclusion:
“It is an open question whether the relatively free society, which can support autonomous sciences and is supported by it, which grew out of the ‘European Miracle’ and which constitutes a unique and fragile exception in human history, will be an episode or an enduring achievement. Much will depend on whether it will be possible to educate the educable sections of the population and above all the future decision makers so that they understand the functioning of modern society and economy. This is a cognitive and also an educational task. The comparative institutions approach outlines the consequences of various institutional arrangements: the ways institutions work out for people living under them, what opportunities various systems offer, what sort of life is possible under them. It will then be up to the individuals to choose between giving individual freedom priority in the social and public sphere or to accept some form of slavery under a totalitarian system, including unlimited democracy in the sense of the dictatorship of the majority as a special case of totalitarianism. Thus, a position taking on value issues is indispensable. Hayekians posit the value of individual freedom. In my opinion, the contractarian approach to Constitution and State conceals the value issues. Values are traded off all the time. Sometimes people sell themselves into slavery if they are paid for it ¢â¬â as we witness in connection with the modern welfare state. however, there is no trade-off between freedom on the one hand and economic success and scientific progress on the other hand. The two are inseparable: economic growth has come from economic freedom and competition, and scientific progress has come from a free market of ideas and intertheoretical competition.”

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Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

When someone poses the dichotomy of “giving individual freedom priority in the social and public sphere or to accept some form of slavery under a totalitarian system” I usually start losing interest.

I like a few more shades of grey.

Rafe
2022 years ago

Yes that looks like hyperbole. The more important part of his argument is that various good things were pre-democratic achievements. The main effect of democracy or at least universal sufferage, has been to bring politics under the sway of the “vote-buying motive” (aka porkbarelling and bribing special interests). The main game at present, apart from finding a way to move ahead on terrorism, is to get the vote-buying motive under control.