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Mont Pelerin in the Rear-View Mirror?

Jonathan B. Wight

David Warsh, in a column entitled, "Still an Overgoverned Society?" reports on the beginnings of the Occupy Wall Street movement and its connection with anarchists, and contrasts that with the rise of the Mont Pelerin society.

Anyone who appreciates long cycles of historical analysis will recognize that success eventually breeds over-stretching and hence an inevitable backlash. I've never studied Hegel, but the dialectic of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis seems to be at work. For example, I remember being somewhat shocked when a Nobel Prize was created in economics (technically it's the Sweden's central bank's Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel). In the powerful sway of Keynesian economics in the 1960s, it appeared that economists were glorified as the new physicists. How little they knew!

One group likely did know the Nobel was something of a sham, and this was the Mont Pelerin Society (even as several of their members won the prize). The hutzpah of economists claiming to know enough to do discretionary fine-tuning is now accepted as a fantasy, and led to the rise of the Austrians and other skeptics. But the Pelerin's own ideological excesses (or those of their followers) may lead to a similar backlash.

Here is David's conclusion:

Believing that societal norms move in long pulses, that a gradual turning has begun, I have to say I am still heartened by the excitement with which Occupy Wall Street has been received.  Its inner story is certainly a disappointment:  the tenets of "contemporary anarchy" are a weak foundation on which to build, but they express a powerful longing for a time in which the power of money will be reduced. Maybe it's a spiral instead of a zigzag; but the direction is slowly changing.  The road from Mont Pelerin is in the rear-view mirror. The next part of the journey has begun.

--David Warsh, (early edition, November 27, 2011, emphasis added)

The next part of that journey will not renounce markets, I believe, but will introduce pragmatism in establishing institutions that work with markets to achieve various goals of society. I interact each semester with excited, energetic future entrepreneurs: let's not kill that flame even as we seek to address issues of inequality and justice.


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