[First published on Free Life]
The world’s political systems today are, generally, neither fully despotic on the one hand nor completely free on the other. Instead, most of us languish under so-called “social democracy”, a curious mixture in which a degree of sovereignty in the form of voting rights reside in the citizenry while political leadership and control remains distinct in the form of various functionaries such as Presidents, Prime Ministers, Congressmen and Members of Parliament.
A libertarian might contend, of course, that such a social democratic system ends up being worse for individual liberty than a dictatorship or monarchy. The important point, however, is that the ideological extremes have been blended into some kind of soup which, at least from the de jure point of view, represent neither total freedom on the one hand nor total despotism on the other.
In exactly the same way, neither do our economic systems represent any ideological purity. We are neither fully capitalist nor are we completely socialised. Instead we have to put up with some kind of “mixed” economy that contains both capitalistic and socialistic elements.
Although the relationship between economic and political systems is one joined at the hip, the justification of social democracy on the one hand and of the mixed economy on the other appears to come from different directions.
Democracy, rightly or wrongly, is believed to a good and noble thing in its own right – a positive and independently justifiable improvement over any other option. The mixed economy, however, appears to be based on little more than the intellectually slothful adage that “the truth lies somewhere in the middle”.
Capitalism will bring us massive economic prosperity and improvement in the standard of living – but, so it is alleged, it leads also to unstable business cycles and encourages greed, selfishness and extensive inequalities in wealth and income. Socialism, on the other hand, may make things “fairer” and more equal; yet, in the face of a hundred years’ worth of evidence, it is difficult not to conclude that it decimates the productive capacity of a nation and the standard of living stagnates or even reverses. The “correct” system “must”, so the argument goes, lie in between these two points so that we can take the best of both systems while avoiding the alleged pitfalls. Hence we end up with the mixed economy.