Thursday, April 28, 2011

R.I.P. Richard Cornuelle, "prince of classical liberalism"

Peter Boettke  on the passing of a great thinker Richard Cournuelle.
In Healing America (1983) Cornuelle argued that what was required was a radical reconsideration of the scope of government responsibility.  Public policy had come to a dead end.  We had come to believe that we cannot make society habitable without making government bigger, and yet we cannot pay the cost of the bigger government without creating more problems that add to the cost of government.  A vicious cycle ensued following the Great Depression --- "Government is growing as it fails, and, to a chilling degree, it is growing because it is failing."

By the late 1960s and 1970s, the failure of government programs was recognized even by those who were entrusted with their management.  By the 1980s, the extent of the failures of the bureaucratic attempt to address the social ills of poverty had intensified.  We don't have much of a choice, Cornuelle tells us, when our policy options are humanity or solvency.  To solve the crisis we didn't need to starve the state of resources (this is not ultimately a tax and spend issue), we needed to starve the state of responsibility (it is a question of scope and fundamentally about political theory).  In other words, if we can theoretically and empirically demonstrate that the voluntary sector can outperform the state sector in the delivery of basic social services, then we can avoid the crisis of the fiscal state (and the inhumanity of bureaucratic 'solutions') and unleash the power of people and the communities they live within, and actively participate in, to tackle the social ills of poverty, unemployment, health and education.  The American Dream is of a society that is at once free, prosperous and caring.  The "good society" Cornuelle argued did not result from grand designs, but from "millions upon millions of caring acts, repeated day after day, until direct mutual action becomes second nature."
Here is his essay "New Work for Invisible Hands."

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