influence: Barack Obama is the #1 Hayekian in the World

Ask your average economist what Friedrich Hayek’s central claims in economics are — the claims that made Hayek the most controversial economist in the world over the last 100 years — and the likely answer will be: 1) Hayek claimed that the market is the best mechanism ever invented for efficiently allocating resources to maximize production; and 2) that there is a connection between the freedom of the marketplace and freedom more generally. The first of these in the economics literature is often called “The Hayek Hypothesis”. The second claim is sometimes referred to as “The Hayek-Friedman Hypothesis”.

These have been massively controversial and contested claims. But the current President of the United States, Barack Obama, is a believer in both, as Obama confessed to New York Times reporter David Leonhardt on Aug. 20, 2008: “The market is the best mechanism ever invented for efficiently allocating resources to maximize production. And I also think that there is a connection between the freedom of the marketplace and freedom more generally.”

How did Obama come by his understanding and belief in the Hayek Hypothesis and the Hayek-Friedman Hypothesis? Well, no doubt in part because Obama was reading Hayek and Friedman in the 1980s. Indeed, one of Obama’s closest intellectual associates is Hayek quoting U. of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, now a member of the Obama administration.  And another is Obama’s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, who explains his understanding of economics this way:  “What’s the single most important thing to learn from an economics course today?  What I tried to leave my students with is the view that the invisible hand is more powerful than the [un]hidden hand.  Things will happen in well-organized efforts without direction, controls, plans.  That’s the consensus among economists.  That’s the Hayek legacy”.

No matter what you might think about the unfolding of contemporary political events, the world isn’t what is was in the 1930s and 1940s when the “Hayek Hypothesis” and the “Hayek-Friedman Hypothesis” stood as a shocking challenge to mainstream “progressive” thinking.  As historian Alan Brinkley points out, the intellectual environment shifted decisively soon after the publication of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, even if it took decades for for “mainstream” economists — such as Paul Samuelson — to finally “get it”, and although it must be admitted that a few — such as Robert Heilbroner — never quite did.  We are no longer living in the 1930s.  And we shouldn’t pretend that we are.

And finally, it should be noted that the great intellectual “hero” of the 1930s — John Maynard Keynes — didn’t believe in either the Hayek Hypothesis or the Hayek-Friedman Hypothesis, as Roger Garrison and Ralph Raico explain.  So for all the talk of “going back to Keynes” the talk in its most important sense is mere fantasy — we can’t go back again because it is impossible for us once again to be as economically and as politically naive as was John Maynard Keynes in the 1930s.

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43 Responses to influence: Barack Obama is the #1 Hayekian in the World

  1. James says:

    This is some bizarre example of Orwellian doublespeak. Hayek would be appalled at a $800 billion government aggrandizing power grab called a stimulus. Where is the free market in anything Obama preaches?

    Obama is the king of saying one thing and doing the opposite, and Hayek would certainly not endorse this neo-Statist cult of personality. That’s the exact thing he was trying to prevent with Road to Serfdom.

  2. Sean says:

    I agree with James. Obama’s policies are in complete contradiction to Hayek’s core “invisible hand” free market philosophy. Obama’s irresponsible pursuits to grow government and stifle free markets are exactly what Hayek warned against. I get sick listening to our messiah of hypocrisy. Perhaps he believes if one lies loudly and forcefully enough, people will believe the lies to be the truth.

  3. Greg Ransom says:

    There does seem to be a bit of a disconnect between what Obama says and what he does …

  4. Jonathan says:

    Absolutely Sean and James. Other than Obama’s double speak, I find it talented Greg Ransom struggled with all of his might to try and connect the two men, but ultimately failed. Obama looks at individual liberty and tells us that we are selfish, which is a parallel argument from socialists for many years. He visualizes economic freedom as a hindrance to advancing his social and economic evolution to a centralized state. How many times have we heard the “Make America New” commercials? He will not bring the nation under the socialist flag but he is the beginning of economic despotism. Mr. Ransom, you have been duped into believing he is a Capitalist and has ever intention to promote our individual liberty that we from the State.

    Two things to remember Mr. Ransom: 1.) Obama say’s look left, you look right. 2.) Every Obama quote comes with an expiration date.

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  6. Cristopher Rodriguez says:

    This is unbelievable, dissapointing, and naive. Even George Bush before leaving office was praising the free market. Becase politicians just like to tell people what they want to hear. Barack is a socialist to the core.

  7. Greg Ransom says:

    They say hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue. We live in a different world than existed only decades ago when a politician like Obama feels compelled to bow down to the arguments made by economists such as Hayek and Friedman.

    I’m on record identifying Obama as the poster boy for what philosopher Harry Frankfurt is talking about in his famous essay “On Bullshit”:

    http://www.gwinnettdailyonline.com/articleB5BD6D4417AF444DBD8F9770AA729B26.asp

    I recommend everyone read the essay, and think about it in the context of Obama’s approach to political communication.

    I don’t claim to know that is going on in the man’s mind or in his ethical thought processes.

    But I’m not naive about all this.

  8. Greg Ransom says:

    Note well this.

    Those who would make the case for markets and a free society possess a powerful set of shared premises with the President from which to drive home their conclusions.

    You can point out how you are in agreement with Obama’s beliefs about that superior capacity of markets to produce the goods and the dependence of our freedoms on our economic liberties. And you have that anchor from which to point out that Obama’s bedrock understandings of the social order conflict with his expedient political proposals of the moment — and you can hold him account for that incompatibility between foundational beliefs and the political schemes of the moment.

    Obama is on the hook to be accountable to reasons and to his acknowledged understanding of the facts.

    If the facts are that markets work and liberty depends on them — and his proposals jeopardize markets and our liberty — then you have an overwhelming case against behavior and proposals that don’t meet the factual and moral demands of even Barack Obama’s own beliefs.

  9. Scott says:

    Greg,

    This is certainly a thought provoking essay, but it’s just too short to cover the breadth of Hayeks’ thought. Pehaps expanding on your thoughts a bit more would clarify your position.

    Just a though,

    Scott

  10. Scott says:

    Greg,

    This is certainly a thought provoking essay, but it’s just too short to cover the breadth of Hayeks’ thought. Pehaps expanding on your thoughts a bit more would clarify your position.

    Just a thought,

    Scott

  11. Scott says:

    Greg,

    Never mind, I just came back to proof-read and realized I need to do my own homework.

    Thank you,

    Scott

  12. Charlie says:

    Greg, I have to strongly disagree…you are painfully naive about this.

    Your quote:
    “If the facts are that markets work and liberty depends on them — and his proposals jeopardize markets and our liberty — then you have an overwhelming case against behavior and proposals that don’t meet the factual and moral demands of even Barack Obama’s own beliefs.”

    If Obama was honestly seeking the alignment of the quote that you used about his belief in markets and his actions now that he is in office, maybe your assertion would have some merit. But, he isn’t. Obama only said what he thought he needed to say to get elected. In his recent press conference, he said that he didn’t “believe in big government”. Do you believe that too?

    Obama would be the first to piss on the grave of Hayek and Friedman. What he really believes is quite clear from his actions. He is a socialist of the first order and any efforts to cast him as a free-marketer is a joke!

    Obama and Gordon Brown are bringing a “global new deal” to a planet near you. What, pray tell, would Mr. Hayek have thought about that?

  13. Scott says:

    Charlie,

    If I’m reading Greg correctly, I think he’s calling b.s on Obama, just in a round-about way and it’s not coming out as such. We all know already that politicians cannot be counted on to stick to their words/promises and certaintly Mr Obama is no exception.

  14. Clifford says:

    I don’t want to sound fatalistic, or come across as conspiracy minded, but when I combine Greg’s comment that Obama fully understands the superiority of a free market, and the link between economic and personal freedom with Scott’s last comment about Obama saying one thing and doing another in order to get elected, I form a picture of a leader who know exactly the elements needed for a free society, and exactly how to destroy them.
    It is as if he has identified the strongest point in the garrison, and focused all his attacks there, thus bringing down the last opposition stronghold.
    It reminds me how Hayek points out that in the extreme, right and left (communism and fascism… Stalin and Hitler) are really the same. Obama the Democrat puts in place policies that concentrate power to the head of state.
    Have we witnessed the ascencion of a new American dictator?

  15. Jeff Harding says:

    If Obama does believe Hayek and he acts contrary to that, then his is evil because he knows what he’s doing will reduce liberty and harm our economic well being.

    If Obama doesn’t believe Hayek, then he is a hypocrite by mouthing the words and doing the opposite.

    The problem is one of semantics. I think that when Obama, Summers, Geithner, and Romer use the same words as do Austrians, they are talking about something else. Language such as “free market” and “invisible hand,” to them mean that generally free markets can do a better job of creating wealth and allocating resources than central planning, but not without unlimited regulation and guidance of the government to correct capitalism’s preceived excesses. They are starting from a different premise.

  16. Mike says:

    For someone to quote verbatim, certainly indicates a clear understanding. This is why I find the currrent occupant of the white house so dangerous. There were alot of people I know well and respect, that fell for the garbage he spews. I think they are doubting themselves, at least I hope they are.

  17. DDA says:

    If Obama read Hayek (and actually understood any of it), then I have been on the moon.

  18. Stephen Goldstein says:

    I had this great aphorism attributed to Hayek which I have lost. The lesson was that when something goes wrong with a plan, like a bailout in the current context, we (humans) might looks far and wide for explanations but we are not likely to admit that the problem might be caused by anything that we did.

    Hayek, of course, said it much better than I. Can anyone here cite the actual quote?

  19. Noel says:

    You also can’t discount the effect of pure campaign politics when candidates make statements like this. Ask anyone who’s ever worked in the inner circle of a political campaign. Smart candidates and their campaign strategists are VERY aware of how these kinds of statements will play with different demographics. Obama almost certainly made that statement knowing it would get picked up by libertarian blogs and websites and cause a lot of people to think “Wow, maybe he’s a lot more moderate than I thought. He can’t be worse than Bush and Bush would certainly never have quoted Hayek.”

    And the sad reality is that’s exactly what happened. A lot of libertarians and even conservatives took his many moderate sounding statements like this at face value and were persuaded. It’s also the kind of statement he could make without it costing him any votes on the Left because they’re unlikely to take it so literally. I mean sure he believes in market economics – just like Sweden.

    Don’t forget, this is the same guy who said on several occasions “I strongly support public financing” and “I’m a big believer in public financing” and even wrote an op-ed saying he wanted to “aggressively pursue” an agreement with the Republican nominee guaranteeing “a publicly funded General Election in 2008 with real spending limits.”

    Those statements are significant because he wasn’t just making an off-the-cuff remark like “Oh sure, I’ll take public financing”. He was saying this was one of his core beliefs. “I’m a big believer” in it. Obviously he wasn’t, as we later discovered. But he got a lot of credit from all the right groups for saying so during the primary.

  20. Tim says:

    I would have to agree with some of the comments above in response to your assertion. I chose to believe that Obama is himself deceived, and that if he understood the truth he would repent and change his ways. If Obama does in fact understand and buy into Hayek’s philosophy as correct, then we must conclude that he is an evil oppressor. Since taking office, he has been buying into almost every Keynesian policy that has even been suggested. And, to make matters worse, he has been arguing for more socialization since long before his election campaign, accusing the framers of the constitution of creating a document that reflects the “fundamental flaw,” as he put it, of our country in that it does not address what government should do for us. He talked about having a second bill or rights to address these responsibilities.

    I will leave you with this quote from Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom;” “The principle that the end justifies the means is in individualist ethics regarded as the denial of all morals. In collectivist ethics it becomes necessarily the supreme rule.”

    You tell me which philosophy is driving Obama’s decisions.

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  23. Oskar Shapley says:

    Hayek worship is just as stupid as Keynes worship or Marks worship.

    They all would have different opinions if they were transported to the present.

  24. gappy says:

    Nice post and nice blog. I think that Geithner, Obama and Summers are indeed closer to Sunstein’s view, which has been heavily criticized by Mario Rizzo.

    P.S.: my vote for the best Hayekian intellectual is for Mario Rizzo, by the way.

  25. mylesglasgow says:

    The negative and closed minded responses to Greg Ransom insights do not contradict the truth of his view of Presdient Obama’s belief in the fundamental power of individual economic choices as the engine of the world economy. President Obama has led the charge to get money into the hands of borrowers so that they could make the choices they need to keep our economies producing. Some banks are leading the way to forestall the flow of money to borrowers maybe out of fear of risk or a political agenda to frustrate a popularly elected government or maybe to oppose being told to do the right thing or to not do the wrong thing. Presdient Obama is not looking at quarterly returns or at how not to appear to be a big spender. He is reasonably directing a reasonable response to the loss of liquidity in a world economic system which he knows depends on idividual borrowers being able to access credit to create their opportunities to make a profit and a living. He and Hayek would agree that is the right direction. Myles Glasgow

  26. ed says:

    poor mylesglassgow
    where is the leadership? to lead is still to serve.BO is just a little man with a gun
    same old programs reset to trample freedom

  27. Chillguy33 says:

    Based upon 124 days of what Obama does, the assertion that Obama is Hayekian is outrageously preposterous.

    Based upon what Obama says, I can imagine a very remote chance of confusion on the point . . . wait, upon reflection for 13 nanoseconds, there is no chance of confusion: Obama is absolutely, perpetually insistent that central bureaucratic and political control of economies and industries, from energy to communications (localization) to auto manufacturing to banking to mortgage finance to health care to you name it is superior in every way to free market control.

    To summarize, Obama is the absolute enemy of free markets; and much worse, Obama is totally self-abused with the absurd notion that he knows where the economic resources should be spread around better than anybody else.

  28. m says:

    One appointment, people selfish and freedom not means that they will do the correct, I mean, they can act on the wrong way, and only them should be the responsables on their wrong acts, ans hould pay for them.

    So that, let them fall, people I mean…

  29. thetruth says:

    What sort of ignorant n1gg3r bullsh1t spin IS THIS???????? Obama has been the most Keynesian socialist doucheb4g we’ve ever seen in office since FDR!!! What the hell are you SMOKING???!!!?!?!?

    Do you think the bailout was Hayek style? Do you think purchasing corporations using taxpayer money was Hayek style? Do you think a trillion of fiat money printed to keep power and protect criminals from the light was Hayek style??? etc.. etc.. etc.. etc..

  30. r says:

    You people are smoking some cheap dope…and it shows. Not one of you clowns mentions that huge deficit that your little hero, Bush left. Where was your whining and bitching then? Who started the bailouts? And “the truth” needs to go back to stormfront where all his inbred family members reside. Just when I start to take the “austrian school” seriously, the right wing nuts come out the woodwork. Pathetic.

  31. ian says:

    Here’s the problem. Socialism depends on the idea that markets work in order to level inequalities in income on behalf of the people, who would rather have government forcibly do it than to engage in economic activities to achieve the same goal. This is the mindset that has been fostered in American culture; government will fix it. Government is the first reaction of people facing some problem in their lives, either collectively or individually. If something is wrong, government is not doing something right.

    Socialism depends on a market economy that works to optimize the efficiency of production, and increase the freedom of individual citizens to take advantage of economic opportunities, in order for it to siphon funds away from productive citizens, and distribute it to the have-nots of the world. This is the “middle ground” of socialism. It’s also a direct contradiction that fosters an ideology of centrism (inability to move either left or right – just up and down). This can only be accomplished by pitting two opposing ideologies against one another, allowing the acceptance of a middle path by a majority of both ideologies. The end result will be no different than a more radical socialist proposal, but it will be much slower to progress in that direction.

    So in this sense, it would be reasonable to assume Obama has read most of the literature published by free-market advocate economists. He needs to understand how the market works in order to subvert it as much as possible, without destroying it. If he destroys it, he’ll destroy the “golden goose”, which will result in destroying the produce of golden eggs it provides. After all, if the golden goose were killed, where would the productive citizens come from to contribute to government entitlement programs?

  32. ian says:

    “Presdient Obama is not looking at quarterly returns or at how not to appear to be a big spender. He is reasonably directing a reasonable response to the loss of liquidity in a world economic system which he knows depends on idividual borrowers being able to access credit to create their opportunities to make a profit and a living. He and Hayek would agree that is the right direction. Myles Glasgow”

    Um. Have you ever read anything Hayek wrote? The sheer absurdity of this claim boggles my mind.

    Hayek said:

    “Instead of furthering the inevitable liquidation of the maladjustments brought about by the boom during the last three years, all conceivable means have been used to prevent that readjustment from taking place; and one of these means, which has been repeatedly tried though without success, from the earliest to the most recent stages of depression, has been this deliberate policy of credit expansion.”
    &
    “To combat the depression by a forced credit expansion is to attempt to cure the evil by the very means which brought it about; because we are suffering from a misdirection of production, we want to create further misdirection — a procedure that can only lead to a much more severe crisis as soon as the credit expansion comes to an end.”
    &
    “It is probably to this experiment, together with the attempts to prevent liquidation once the crisis had come, that we owe the exceptional severity and duration of the depression. We must not forget that, for the last six or eight years, monetary policy all over the world has followed the advice of the stabilizers. It is high time that their influence, which has already done harm enough, should be overthrown.”

    I seriously doubt Hayek would agree with any of Obama’s policies.

  33. Tommy Thompson says:

    What I am seeing, perhaps most clearly for the first time, is that there is a powerful intellectual and charismatic fraternity of believers and apparatchiks who are at the ready to spread misinformation and heighten confusion for very specific reasons. Mr. Greg Ransom’s post is, in my opinion, a prime example of the Orwellian, double speak campaign presently in full-bore overdrive. Unless one is totally blind, deaf and ignorant it is impossible to listen to President Obama proclaim advocacy for one thing while he is undeniably doing the exact opposite. Fortunately he is a bad liar. Unfortunately it must be clear that it does not matter which particular political party is in power, there is a guiding force and plan being executed with patients and grave seriousness to undermine the fundamental principals of freedom and limited government in this nation. The actions we were shocked to see in the last Bush administration are quickly being totally overshadowed by the massive increase in kind executed already in the Obama administration. Obama is just another useful tool.

  34. Earl Bohn says:

    It is not difficult to accept,as Greg Ransom wrote on March 1, 2009, that President Obama believes the Hayek Hypothesis and the Friedman-Hayek Hypothesis, provide one understands that Barack Obama’s goals and objectives do not necessarily include more efficient markets, higher economic productivity, and greater personal perogative for individual consumers.

    Barack Obama is a Statist. By his actions before and since his election as president, he gives every indication of wanting to demolish the sovereignty of the individual as construed in the Constitute and erect in its place an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-intrusive State so as to better conduct class warfare, correct the defects of capitalism, smoothe the irregular landscape of personal wealth, and thereby deliver justice to the nation that epitomizes the wickedness of Western civilization.

    These political traits in President Obama are understandable: his father was a Marxist; his mother flirted with Marxism; his boyhood tutor in Hawaii, Frank Marshal Davis, was a Marxist; as the child Barry Sotoro in Indonesia he was schooled as a Muslim, and as the Chicago-style machine politician Barack Obama he collaborated with the Marxist-anarchist William Ayers, worshipped under the black nationalist preacher Jeremiah Wright, and practiced Marxist-influenced politics as an employee of the Saul Alynsky-inspired Association of Concerned Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

    One can believe in the soundness and effectiveness of the Hayek Hypothesis and the Friedman-Hayek Hypothesis and still believe that the results of the influence and application are unjust.

    In fact, to the extent that Obama believes in Hayek the better prepared and more determined he might be to (metaphorically) plunge an ice pick into his skull.

  35. howiem says:

    Ian, you have it exactly right. Anyone who reads this rant and claims that Obama is a an advocate of Hayek either hasn’t read Hayek or doesn’t understand anything that Hayek said. The author of this post must be forgiven for having hearing and possibly vision difficulties. It appears he was reading Marx and thought he was reading Hayek. Obama is the last person in the world that would endorse Hayek. Does ‘spreading the wealth’ by taking from those that can and do to give to those who won’t sound like F.A.. Hayek? Does taxing the rich sound like Hayek? Does Nazionalizing health care sound like Hayek? Does giving unions increasing power sound like Hayek? Hiring communists as ‘czars’ is NOT Hayek. Hayek despised any and all forms of central collectivism, of state control. Hayek understood that one has to serve ones self interests before one can be capable of serving others. Hayek knew that the government should only perform minimum functions, and interfere with the lives of people to the minimum needed to preserve the security needed to protect INDIVIDUAL freedom. Obama is a Statist, a collectivist (and thus he can be rightly accused of promoting socialism, communism, which, as Hayek so wisely pointed out are simply different names for tyrannical central control. Hayek would be appalled by Ransom’s words. Obama interprets “self-interests as “selfish”. Hayek knew otherwise. Hayek advocated the free market and capitalism as the means to wealth creation, which in turn increases prosperity and reduces poverty. If you read what Obama says to the New York Times without comparing it to the legislation he is actually pushing, it is easy to be misled. What counts is what he is doing, not what he says. Obama says what he thinks will appeal to particular audiences at a given time, but he increasingly slips up. Every major piece of legislation Obama entails more taxes, and more taxes imposes more restrictions on the free market. Bailouts are anathema to the free market. Using ‘stimulus’ to create more and more government jobs is contrary to what Hayek advocated. To even imply that Obama has any belief in freedom of the individual is insulting to both Hayek and Milton Friedman. (remember, he spent most f his life ‘organizing communities’ which prepared him for his current attempts to ‘organize’ the United States). Mr. Ransom should take the time to actually read Hayek instead of listening to Obama spouting into a failing newspaper.

  36. BS says:

    Is this supposed to be serious or sarcasm?

  37. Richard Clark says:

    Hayek would have been for TARP, the auto industry bailout, and health care reform like that proposed in H.R. 3200???…Give me a break!!! Remember, it is the New Deal that Obama holds up and wants to expand on, while the New Deal, at the time, was one of the results of the socialist movement that he was writing against. One only need to read Bruce Caldwell’s introduction to The Road to Serfdom to see that the same tactics and rhetoric employed in the early 20th century are in fact the same that are being employed by the Obama administration and the Left Wing to forward their agenda today. The only difference is that today we refer to it as Rules for Radicals or Chicago Thug Politics.

    Sidenote: Isn’t funny how history repeats itself??? The early 20th century had its socialist movement and Hayak’s Road to Serfdom. Today we have our own socialist movement and Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny. Considering that Winston Churchill once commented that “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, it’s no wonder that one of the first things Obama did after his inauguration was to have the bust of Churchill removed from the Oval Office.

  38. Larry Walker says:

    I finally came up with a new word for Obamanomics: ‘Cluelessian Economics’. You don’t need to know basic math and you can just make stuff up.

    http://www.aipnews.com/talk/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=10118&posts=3#M28282

  39. TMLutas says:

    One can recognize that “The market is the best mechanism ever invented for efficiently allocating resources to maximize production” without agreeing that maximizing production is what the economic system should aim at. If you are separately committed to redistributive justice, using a market system as your baseline will maximize the “excess” production you are able to redistribute to the worthy, however the worthy are defined.

    Similarly, you can say that “I also think that there is a connection between the freedom of the marketplace and freedom more generally” without having any commitment to freedom whatsoever. Any totalitarian could say that sentence honestly but in their mind it would be justification for crushing the market, not promoting it.

    I am not accusing Obama of believing either of these things. His record speaks for itself and does not need my amplification. What I am saying is that one cannot automatically draw the conclusions of the original article based on Obama’s twin statements. There are alternate explanations. The article is therefore weak and may very well be wrong.

    The more important thing is whether Obama is acting like a Hayekian. I suggest that he is not.

  40. Joseph Ricca says:

    Sunstein and Summers as students of Hayek! That’s a good
    one. The importantance of blogs of this nature, is that
    the author and others are ignorant enough to believe it.
    Good Luck America

  41. jp says:

    Obama’s insistence on health care may be bolstered by comments from Hayek–“There is no reason why in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all [some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing…assistance in cases of sickness and accident–in other words–Government Health Care].” –The Road to Serfdom pages 133-134. However, his general pattern is in opposition to the spirit of Hayek, especially concerning the bailout. That was a tough decision to make but the consequences could be even tougher to deal with.

  42. N Burman says:

    The only economic system that works is the one that the public believes will work. All other measuments are just wishful thinking.

    The desire to keep government small and enhance personal freedom is futile in the face of excessive population numbers.

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