By Louis E. Carabini
[Editor’s Note: This article is a lengthy excerpt from the author’s “Introduction” to his LIBERTY, DICTA & FORCE (Auburn: Mises Institute, 2018). A review by Jim Davies of LIBERTY, DICTA & FORCE is appended to the end of this article.]
In the summer of 1961, I was returning from a fishing trip with my friend George Vermillion. We were both in our early thirties. George was a pharmacist and I worked for Parke Davis, a pharmaceutical company. We had been fishing in Mexico, and George was driving us back home to Long Beach, California — a trip that would take about three hours. During the drive, I told him (it was more like a confession) I had never registered to vote and was embarrassed about not knowing the difference between a Democrat and a Republican. I thought it was time I learned about politics and joined the crowd, but most of all I wanted to avoid embarrassment when questioned about my political affiliation.
My main interest outside of family affairs was science; politics and economics were too esoteric for my taste. Other than the required courses, my classes in college were in the biological sciences. George was the perfect person to ask about politics, given that his father, George “Red” Vermillion, a Democrat, had been the mayor of Long Beach from 1954 to 1957 and his mother was the president of the Long Beach Republican Club. Imagine growing up in that household! So, George began explaining things to me. He talked nonstop for well over an hour, and I don’t recall asking any questions along the way. When he finished, I told him I should become a Republican because personal responsibility and free enterprise struck a chord with me. I felt relieved that I could now at least call myself something: a Republican. (I should mention George was a Republican; it seems his mother got the best of him.)
A few weeks later, George invited me to a meeting where Assemblyman Joe Shell was speaking about his campaign against Richard Nixon in the California Republican gubernatorial primary race. I went to the meeting where there were twenty or thirty people in attendance. As Shell spoke about what he would do if he were elected governor, he touched upon some of the same thoughts George had expressed to me during our trip. After he spoke, he took time to meet with each of us. When he got to me, he asked where I lived. When I told him, he asked if I would be willing to run his campaign in that part of Orange County. I gulped and said yes. Within minutes, a newspaper reporter and photographer had me shaking hands with Joe, flanked by the California and US flags. That was my introduction to politics, of which I still knew next to nothing. The following day, the picture was in a local newspaper. How proud could I be? Just a few weeks earlier, I hadn’t known the difference between a Democrat and a Republican, and now I was running a local campaign for a conservative Republican. No sooner had I escaped one embarrassment than I found myself right back in another. I didn’t have a clue about what to do as a local campaign manager. I was on a crash course to learn about what it meant to be not just a Republican, but a conservative one.
As a local campaign manager, I had to recruit workers and try to woo voters to our side. Recruiting workers was easy because I only solicited people who already considered themselves conservative Republicans. Most were around my age, and getting together with like-minded people who shared a common agenda — with dinners and cocktail parties thrown in — was a fun and stimulating experience. In the process, I learned from my recruits, who had already read many conservative books and essays, which they either gave me or told me about. After doing some reading and becoming somewhat comfortable with my newly gained knowledge, I was ready to spread the word and persuade voters.
Because the internet and PCs were not yet available, all campaign materials were in print form. We simply delivered the literature door to door. I even commandeered my two sons — ages five and seven at the time — to fill their wagon with literature, which they distributed in the neighborhood. They eventually got to know by precinct number where their friends lived. The campaign went well, with hopes of an upset. However, when the final votes were counted in June 1962, Shell had lost to Nixon, 35 percent to 65 percent. Over the next two years, I became involved in various other conservative Republican campaigns and, in the process, achieved a perfect record of zero to whatever.
At some point while campaigning, someone asked me a question that put me on a different course: “If your free enterprise system is so great, then what about schools, roads, laws, and justice?” I don’t remember my answer, but that question was just too simple and fundamental for me not to have considered it when I first got involved in politics. I would like to think the question was at the back of my mind from the beginning and that I had just hoped no one would ask. More likely, though, I had feared the answers might cause me to doubt, or even reject, the efficacy of free markets. Nevertheless, there I stood, shifting from where I was a few months earlier when I had wondered, “What is the difference between a Republican and a Democrat?” to now wondering, “Is there a difference?” After all, neither party suggested that markets free of government intervention would be able to provide all goods and services more effectively than politically regulated markets could.
Why would nature’s feedback favor the efficacy of free markets for some enterprises and not others? If nature’s feedback favored the efficacy of free (politically unrestricted) enterprises A, B, and C, why would it disfavor the efficacy of free enterprises X, Y, and Z, unless there was something peculiar or unique about them? If a free, unrestricted market was capable of delivering fresh milk to my front door, as was the case when I was a kid, it would seem natural that such a market would also be capable of delivering mail to my front door if allowed to do so, which was and is still not the case. But then, maybe both enterprises would fare better as government-regulated markets.
For nature to be inconsistent seemed implausible. Either a free market is a more efficacious social arrangement than a politically restricted market for all enterprises or no enterprises. Double standards seemed unnatural. I simply adopted the free-market alternative as more universally efficacious because my inherent bias drew me there, which was reinforced by the concern that if regulated markets did lead to greater efficiency and productivity, such would hold true for the most minute market exchanges.
In addition to my free-market bias, I regarded my life as my sole responsibility. Partial responsibility in which others become responsible for part of my life and I responsible for part of theirs was incomprehensible.
Around 1962, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) came to my attention with its published collection CLICHÉS OF SOCIALISM. The collection consisted of a couple dozen or so essays printed on 8½ x 11 inch sheets, each on a socialist cliché. The essays described the failures of socialist policies and the fallacious reasoning behind the clichés. Although I was excited to find some justification for free markets, the responses to these clichés did not tell me why free markets work better or even why socialism doesn’t work. Nonetheless, CLICHÉS OF SOCIALISM and other FEE materials led me to books and essays that kept my search alive. Discovering the why obviates the need to analyze every enterprise by every group of actors in every part of the world at every given time. Scientific truths are universal, necessary, and certain. If applying the free market to food production would lead to better food supplies in Oregon, the same should hold true in Zimbabwe — now, one hundred years from now, or one hundred years ago. There are underlying principles of nature that govern matter in motion, irrespective of the enterprise, actors involved, location of the event, or time of occurrence.
Also around 1962, I learned about the Free Enterprise Institute (FEI), a newly formed, for-profit educational organization headquartered in Los Angeles and directed by Andrew Galambos (1924–97), an astrophysicist. Art Sperry, an anesthesiologist I had met as a Parke Davis representative, organized an FEI course given by Galambos in Long Beach. I signed up for the premier V-100 course, “The Science of Volition,” which was conducted in fifteen weekly three-hour sessions. There were about twenty people in attendance, many of whom were physicians. This was exactly what I had been looking for because it offered a scientific approach to markets and society. …
I escaped the political box in 1964, and the views expressed here come from outside the world of politics and government. I invite you to escape that box as well. If you have already done so, I hope you will find further reinforcement here for having made that decision.
The thrust of this book is not about changing public policies, limiting or abolishing government, “fixing” America, or trying to change the world. Nor is this book about a crisis or the notion that if we don’t do something soon, civilization will collapse. I hope to convey an appreciation of liberty as the natural common sense way to view the social world and interact within it. The inherent moral compass that guides our behavior in private matters can serve us just as well in public matters.
While political governments are constructs of disutility that cannot serve a useful social purpose, I consider political intervention to limit or abolish them as counterproductive since such activity endorses the use of dicta and force, which is the very reason political governments are constructs of disutility in the first place. Advancing social ideas that do not demand obedience or compliance requires far more personal patience than simply forcing others to comply via the political ballot box. Nevertheless, by way of volition, the widely held idea that dicta and force can serve a useful purpose will eventually fade into backward thinking in the so-called public sector as it has in the private sector. Time, nature, reason, and the human spirit will see to that. Irrespective of good intentions or the approval by consensus, nature’s unrelenting feedback will gradually drive ruling political authorities to extinction.
A review by Jim Davies
If you read but a single book this year, let it be this one: it’s a masterpiece, and at only $2 on mises.org for a hard-copy or a free .pdf download, it makes a perfect gift.
The author is a highly accomplished but delightfully modest businessman, Louis Carabini. I suspect it’s a distillation of his life’s thinking, his magnum opus. That it’s a short work, a mere 112 pages, does not detract from that; it’s packed with wisdom, it compares well with Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – and makes good some of her omissions.
What struck me first is its density, the closeness of its reasoning. Carabini does not waste a word. This makes this book a slim volume, but an intense read. Prepare to stretch your brain!
Next I noticed that “ethics” and “morality” are not expressly referenced. Nothing wrong with those fine arguments for freedom; rational ethics are vital. But in Liberty, Dicta & Force (LDF) the author develops the idea of goodness, of right and wrong, from very basic premises; he reasons that harmless conduct evolved with the human race (and in other species!) because it was found to be the path most conducive to progress. That’s a thought that underlies rational ethics, but I’d not noticed it spelled out before. This is awesome! Do good – get rich; “rich” in the fullest sense, of living in peace and contentment. The “Golden Rule”, which is found in many religions, is even presented in its negative form: “Don’t do unto others what you would not have them to do unto you” as one frequently used in the early Church. The Non-Aggression Principle, almost verbatim.
So well entrenched is this human characteristic, LDF notes, that it normally governs the behavior even of politicians, in their private lives; their conduct as officers of the State may be appalling, but back in home, neighborhood and family, they are as civil and inoffensive as the next guy.
Then came reference to Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist who reasoned that living things exist not to advance each species as such but to favor their individual gene, which he dubbed the “selfish gene”. Animals, notably humans, behave so as to favor the gene by co-operating, most of all in small, kinship groups, helping members of that group by exchanging favors, exactly as markets do; and to make that work, “cheaters” or free-loaders are identified and excluded. This is how nature works, Carabini reasons; yet a political system is expressly designed to favor free-loaders at the expense of producers. Hence the whole idea of government violates nature itself.
LDF’s fourth chapter brilliantly ridicules the ubiquitous notion that “fairness” requires there to be a negligible disparity among incomes. I’ll leave the reader to enjoy it himself, but here’s an appetizer: redistribution is like “praising a bank robber who is trying to reduce inequality between himself and the bank owner and, as such, doing his best to reduce crime.”
The work continues, with one brilliant insight following another. For example discrimination is a vital human trait, used daily in an array of ways; yet employers are forbidden to use it when hiring, while employees can use it freely when joining or leaving. Students on campus protest speakers opposed to laws against discrimination, while welcoming those in their favor; the deep irony that the protesters are themselves discriminating goes unremarked!
It throws new light on the “tragedy of the commons.” The human gene is irrevocably selfish; we shall always each seek our own best interests and tend therefore to hurry to acquire what is openly available to all; however, it’s been found that given time, relatively small groups will work out a peaceful way to share such resources in an orderly way. Carabini picks the Plymouth pilgrims as an example – after the disaster of the initial commune, they changed policy and let each member keep the product of his own labor. The key is always that the solution is worked out bottom-up, not from a top-down edict. Often Governor Bradford is credited with solving the problem, with a top-down decree that flipped folk from communists into capitalists; but that version ignores the fact that they were required in the first place, by a different edict, to behave as communists as soon as they landed. Bradford merely formalized what the community subsequently figured out.
LDF’s eighth chapter offers a short version of the theme of L K Samuel’s In Defense of Chaos. It’s one that may cause some brain strain, as it did for me, but it beautifully confirms that all of Nature becomes orderly as a result of bottom-up adaptation, not top-down design. Scott Page is quoted: “An actor in a complex system controls almost nothing, but influences almost everything. Attempts to intervene may be akin to poking a tiger with a stick.” Anything there remind you of the market?!
There’s much, much more in LDF to delight the mind; it’s a first-rate feast. Before I run out of space, though, I must describe its single flaw.
It comes in the final chapter, #10, and is by no means unusual. That is subtitled “A Better Life – A Better World” and the reader reasonably expects it to suggest how this feast of a free society might be obtained in practice. Mr Carabini properly warns that political action is NOT the way, for that would be to deny what the rest of the book has proven: that action must be spontaneous, not directed from above. No problem so far. But then, to my dismay, he proposes nothing instead except “The foremost way to make the world better is don’t go to war, don’t go on the dole, don’t endorse politics, do good work and mind your own business.” That complements what appears on LDF’s back cover: “Nature’s unrelenting feedback will gradually drive ruling political authorities to extinction.” If the world’s archists keep their WMDs bottled up it may well indeed, given a century or three, and the quoted advice is excellent as far as it goes; but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. After 10,000 years of mayhem, misery, death and destruction by “political authorities”, Nature clearly needs a helping hand; not, of course, with force but with any viable peaceful method. Alas, LDF fails to suggest any.
There is at least one such method, but the irony is that this extraordinary book could itself become another. It may be a tad too cerebral for Joe Sixpack, but for others its power to persuade is huge. What do you think; should it “go viral”? Would you get some copies and help spin it on its way?