Unbound on Abundance


Cato Unbound is hosting a lively discussion of Cato Scholar and reason Contributing Editor Brink Lindsey's book, The Age of Abundance. Julian Sanchez–also a reason contributing editor–isn't buying the link between a chicken in every pot and a libertarian awakening in every soul:

Even granting that there is something of a libertarian streak in America's public political culture, Lindsey's projection that this will persist and, indeed, expand in the future is tied to his account of how mass affluence promotes these attitudes. (At least some doubt should be cast on this by the gulf in attitudes between Americans and their European counterparts, which seems unlikely to be explained entirely, or even primarily, by our greater wealth.) Implicit in this assertion is the idea that, ceteris paribus, we will only become more libertarian as we get wealthier. Yet it is easy to come up with a variety of equally plausible counter-narratives.

In his book, Lindsey invokes Maslow's Pyramid, a hierarchy of human needs people seek to satisfy lexically: As our basic survival and security become better assured, we are increasingly driven by our desires for social belonging, self-esteem, creative expression, and self-actualization. Consider the environmental Kuznets Curve as one manifestation of this. Industrializing economies produce increasing amounts of pollution up to a point, but once a certain level of general wealth is achieved, people begin to value environmental quality above economic growth at some margin, and pollution decreases. Perhaps that's all to the good, but it's also a clear way in which greater wealth makes people more disposed to sacrifice the productive power of unfettered markets in the name of other values. It's rare to find a call for an expansion of government social programs that isn't prefaced by some equivalent of: "Surely the richest country in the world can afford…" Matt Yglesias cites a column in Reason by Nick Gillespie on the different kinds of "freedom" available in low-tax Kansas and regulation-happy Manhattan. Gillespie notes that he, and many others, seem to prefer the latter.

Whole thing, including crucifixion joke, here; Lindsey's reason cover story on "hippies and evangelicals" here.