Voluntary Cooperation or "The Market"?
Stealing a meme from Tyler Cowen, here's the best paragraph I've read this morning. It's Cato's Timothy Lee making the case for why libertarians should be supportive of free, open-source software initiatives. He argues that they represent the kind of de-centralized voluntary cooperation that libertarians should support and criticizes some libertarian tech folks for labeling them overly "communal" and the like. In making that argument he writes:
So libertarians are right to criticize policies aimed at accomplishing communal goals via coercive means. But some libertarians have gotten so used to defending the market against those who want to impose collectivism that they start criticizing purely voluntary efforts to organize people on more communal lines. They are forgetting that libertarianism is not necessarily about increasing the role of for–profit enterprise in every aspect of our lives. Commercial activity is one alternative to statism, and an extremely important one. But it's just one possible mode of cooperation, and it's not necessarily the best choice in every situation.
His opening paragraph applies this argument to co-ops as compared to commercial grocery stores. Lee is quite right here and over the years libertarians have become better at distinguishing being "pro-market" from being "pro-business." That's a good thing. But perhaps we now need to be even more careful and make the distinction between being "pro-market" and "pro-voluntary cooperation."
As an intellectual paradigm, post-WWII classical liberal/libertarian thought has not paid nearly enough attention to forms of voluntary social cooperation that exist outside of the market. Our esteemed colleague David Beito's book is one obvious notable exception of course. But beyond that, what have classical liberals had to say about the myriad ways in which humans organize their lives that do not involve the realm of monetary calculation? My own work on the family is my own small attempt to fill this gap.
Long ago, Mises argued that economics (or what he called "catallactics") was just a subset of the broader study of society that he termed "praxeology." (In a more intellectually ideal world, it would be called "sociology.") He suggested that there were other branches of praxeology yet undeveloped. In the 21st century, libertarian thinkers need to begin those explorations. We, I would argue, have a glut of economists and a shortage of sociologists, anthropologists, historians, and political scientists looking at these other forms of voluntary social cooperation.