(1898–1984) is most famous for his leading role in shaping the London School of
Economics in the interwar years, and also for his remarkable body of scholarship.
The reader will see why when reading through this wonderful collection of
articles published in 1939. It is newly published through Laissez Faire for the
first time since those days.
writing at the end of a terrible decade of depression and upheaval, and just
before the war-planning state came to be the central planner of the world’s economies
from 1940 onward.
him here in the last period of his status as a leading defender of free
markets. He is directing his arguments not only Keynes and not only against
socialists but also against the defenders of capitalistic monopoly and the
redistributionist state. His arguments are fresh and passionate — a model of
consistency and clarity on topic after topic.
essay is a great example. In "The Economic Basis of Class Conflict," Robbins reasserts
the classical-liberal wisdom that, in a free society, there are no natural
conflicts between groups — and certainly none that need to be remedied through
state intervention. Rather, conflicts occur between individuals, and these are
not intractable but managed best through the rule of law. Any state measures to
fix such conflicts engender more conflict and create damages on both the taxed
party and the group that is the target of the benefit. Robbins specifically
mentions how fake conflicts between classes, races, and sexes end up tearing
society apart. This whole essay, then, becomes a response not just to Marxism
but to the entire anti-liberal tendencies of modern statecraft.
As the book
proceeds, we find defenses of market freedom in the areas of trade, competition,
price controls, countercyclical policy, and even patents. On patents in
particular, Robbins has some wonderful analysis that anticipates all the modern
criticisms of policies that grant industrial monopolies and slow down growth.
It’s almost unbelievable that he could have been so prescient in 1939, long
before patents became a source of stagnation in so many industries from
pharmaceuticals to software.
is our teacher now and forever.
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