Huzzah for Empiricism
In an essay at Cato Unbound, Virginia Postrel describes “empiricist libertarianism,” an
intellectual tradition…inspired by the Anglo-Scottish heritage of skeptical inquiry. It is the tradition of Smith and Hume, animated by a love not only of liberty but of the learning, prosperity, and cosmopolitan sociability made possible by a society in which ideas and goods can be freely exchanged. It looks for understanding, for facts, and for solutions to specific problems. Its distrust of grand plans and refusal to embrace the one best way—even the one best libertarian way—made it out of place in the 20th century. They make it essential for the 21st.
Exactly. She cites Ronald Coase as being in this camp:
My views have always been driven by factual investigations. I’ve never started off—this is perhaps why I’m not a libertarian—with the idea that a human being has certain rights. I ask, “What are the rights which produce certain results?” I’m thinking in terms of production, the lives of people, standard of living, and so on. It has always been a factual business with me….I don’t reject any policy without considering what its results are. If someone says there’s going to be regulation, I don’t say that regulation will be bad. Let’s see. What we discover is that most regulation does produce, or has produced in recent times, a worse result. But I wouldn’t like to say that all regulation would have this effect because one can think of circumstances in which it doesn’t.
It’s wonderful to discover such sanity in the midst of the dogma many very smart people espouse.