Leonard Read

Leonard Cohen’s recent, sad demise got us contemplating – not on ominous, insightful poetry – but on another Lenny – Leonard Read, who established the Foundation for Economic Education, a libertarian institution. Although he will no doubt flatly deny it – it seems that Donald Trump has much in common with Leonard Read.

Read was accustomed to using evocative, haunting imagery. He talked of flickering candles and brilliant beacons of light when he really meant leadership. He used shades of darkness to describe ignorance and wilful neglect. He reckoned big government was fundamentally dishonest and he could see no moral difference between tax collectors and pickpockets. He contended that central government was nothing but a political system of organised plunder managed by every conceivable type of pressure group – does this sound familiar?

He was very forthright in placing responsibility with the common man, “There is really nothing that can be done except by an individual – only individuals can learn – only individuals can think creatively – only individuals can cooperate – only individuals can combat government control.”

He felt the greatest political problem facing the world was how to curb the oppressive power of the government and how to keep it within reasonable bounds. He used a heartfelt healthcare analogy to support free enterprise (keeping the government at bay). Assume 1,000 people require brain surgery; there is only one surgeon with the required skill and she can operate on only one patient per week. Read’s suggested solution to this predicament was to call for whatever proved necessary to adjust supply and demand – charge €50,000 per operation! Opponents argued that such a solution would help only wealthy patients; but Read countered that the lucrative work would attract lots of trained surgeons and make the procedure affordable to everybody in the long run.

Read was particularly negative on the welfare state and enduring dependency. “One is entitled to what others will offer in willing exchange – that is all!” He believed the welfare state destroyed freedom of choice and dispossessed recipients of all responsibility, “The more dependent recipients become; the less dependable!”

Read loved to emphasise that the more complex the economy the greater reliance should be placed on individuals acting freely. Mr Trump’s moves to repeal financial regulation have much in common with Read’s approach.

MMPI is not choosing to define US President-Elect Trump in any way. He will most likely bend and sway to political pragmatisms just like many of his predecessors. However, there is an obvious attractiveness for some elements of the electorate in echoing a libertarian agenda. It remains to be seen whether or not looser government control will evolve from Mr Trump’s policies but for the moment the market likes what is being proposed. Read also held strong views on the markets – referring to spineless herds of bombastic fools who had more in common with professional con men than reasoned economic practitioners. Leonard Read died in 1983 but his spirit lives on and could conceivably be re-ignited over the next four years.

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