The essence of the FLOW worldview is that the more that we can structure the world’s problems so that they may be solved entrepreneurially, the more quickly and more deeply those problems will be solved. Indeed, the optimism of FLOW is rooted in the fact that historically, any field of endeavor ever open to large-scale creative enterprise resulted in dramatic improvements over time.
- Historical Examples of the Miracles of Large-Scale Creative Enterprise
- FLOW Libertarianism and:
- Helping the poor
- Environmental sustainability
- Excessive consumerism and materialism
- Creating vibrant communities
- Honesty and integrity in business
- Getting a Sense of Perspective on the Ethical Crimes of Business
- Supplying public goods
- Regulations for health, safety, etc.
- Why Didn’t I Learn the FLOW Worldview in my College Courses?
1. Historical Examples of the Miracles of Large-Scale Creative Enterprise
To take two of the better known and more dramatic historical examples miracles created by means of large-scale creative enterprise:
1. In 1780, the average working person in both Britain and the U.S. had roughly the same standard of living as did most of the working people around the world, a standard of living which is below the average standard of living in Africa today. In essence, the entire world was poor.
By 1880, the average working person in both Britain and the U.S. had a higher standard of living than did all but the highest elites in most other nations around the world. In that century, the miracle of free enterprise in a system of rule of law allowed Britain and the U.S. to create the world’s first societies to bring prosperity to the masses. The cost of countless consumer goods became dramatically cheaper; for instance, cotton clothing, which was a luxury item in the 1780s, was 1/100th the cost one hundred years later.
2. As recently asthe 1930s, mathematicians developed the theoretical concept of the computer. Today we literally cannot imagine a life based on manual typewritesr, carbon copies, government postal delivery, slide rules and abaci, let alone all of the thousands of other miracles brought to us daily via the IT industry.
In both cases, thousands and thousands of individual tinkerers, engineers, and businessmen (and more recently business women) changed our lives in truly miraculous ways. We want to bring this stunning miracle creation process from the domain of technology to the ways in which we educate, heal, and create communities. This is the only way through which we will be able to create sustainable peace, prosperity, happiness and well-being for all the world’s people in the next fifty years.
2. FLOW Libertarianism.
Creators throughout history have always needed freedom. Visual artists have always demanded freedom of expression. Writers, intellectuals, and journalists have always demanded freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Scientists demand freedom from the outside world so that they can pursue their research with integrity. So, too, do innovators and entrepreneurs need freedom of action so that they may create new innovations, then scale and commercialize those innovations by means of new enterprises.
The body of thought that most closely captures the worldview allowing innovators and entrepreneurs the freedom to innovate is libertarianism, though we do not attach ourselves to any particular libertarian dogma. It is simply a convenient introductory label for an increasingly well-developed body of thought. The best representatives of this body of thought, from our perspective, are the Austrian economists Ludwig Von Mises and Friedric von Hayek, both intellectual theorists par excellence.
FLOW has been aptly described by Brink Lindsey, Vice President of the Cato Institute, the leading libertarian think tank in the world, as “bleeding heart libertarianism.” Normally the expression “bleeding heart” is associated with the phrase “bleeding heart liberals,” emphasizing the notion that people on the left are motivated by compassion, that their hearts “bleed” when they see someone in need, and that they feel motivated to help that person.
“Libertarians,” on the other hand, are often regarded as selfish and greedy, as individuals who don’t care about other people. Thus the expression “bleeding heart libertarianism” is a paradox relative to common conventional interpretations of these terms. In short, we do care about peace, the elimination of poverty, environmental sustainability, excessive consumerism and materialism, and most of the other issues that motivate people who are normally – though not only – found on the political “left.” On the other hand, we have an uncompromising commitment to free enterprise, a perspective that is often associated with the “right,” but which for us – and for libertarians – is simply a way of creating a system that provides the optimal path for entrepreneurial creativity.
Because many people are so deeply indoctrinated by the prevailing tribal attitudes of the political “left” and political “right,” below we will address how we reconcile the following concerns that people may have regarding libertarianism and free markets with our deep commitment to using freedom to light our world in order to create the first truly “upwing” movement.
Finally, because our perspective is different from what is usually taught in mainstream university courses, we will end with a section on academic support for our perspectives, as well as on where, and why, our perspective is similar to and differs from some of the most common worldviews taught at leading universities.
For those who are interested in digging more deeply into these issues, we will provide links to diverse resources that provide additional analytical understandings, empirical evidence for some of our claims, and real world initiatives that show the ways in which the world is moving in many of the directions suggested below. There is also a bibliography available, “From Left Liberal to FLOW Libertarian,” which helps the interested reader through the paradigm shift that may be needed to understand our perspective.
Helping the Poor
A simple way to understand the manner in which we reconcile the seeming paradox of “bleeding heart” impulses to help the poor and our libertarian dedication to market solutions is to look at three specific commitments we have to helping the poor:
A. We are supportive of various approaches to provide a “Citizen’s Dividend” or to create trust funds to help those in need, and envision a world in which everyone on earth could easily have a comfortable minimum income from birth as the world becomes richer.
B. More importantly, we are focused on liberating entrepreneurship so that the world’s poor have access to The Entrepreneur’s Tool Kit and can themselves become empowered creators. Even Scandinavian nations are more free market and have better tools for entrepreneurs than the entire developing world.
C. We are also focused on deregulating those industries where the poor’s needs are most urgently not being met: education, housing, health care, and community formation. By means of liberating entrepreneurs in those fields, the poor even in the developed world will experience dramatic improvements in their standard of living.
For those who are unfamiliar with the legal obstacles currently in place around the world that prevent entrepreneurial initiatives to help the poor, the first of the three elements is more familiar as a “bleeding heart” element. In the long run, however the second two are actually of greater importance in helping large numbers of the poor escape poverty and become happy, empowered human beings.
Another common perception is that libertarians don’t care about environmental sustainability. FLOW – and many other – libertarians are very serious about environmental sustainability, and support diverse forms of green purchasing, investing, and entrepreneurship. We also advocate three specific policy proposals that will put sustainable business initiatives on steroids:
A. A “Green Scissors” campaign to eliminate subsidies to environmentally harmful industries.
B. A green tax shift, away from taxes on work, savings, and investment and towards taxes on land and on environmental harms.
C. Property rights solutions to environmental problems, including environmental trusts.
These three policy initiatives collectively will have a more positive long-term impact moving us towards environmental sustainability than do all existing environmental laws and regulations.
Excessive Consumerism and Materialism
Traditionally the free market has had critics (from both the left and the right) who were uncomfortable with capitalism’s apparent propensity to lead people to become increasingly focused on purchasing goods and services they don’t need (consumerism),hereby becoming more materialistic and less committed to values of family, community, spirituality and religion, ethics and morals, and the environment.
To some extent, as humanity naturally advances up Maslow’s hierarchy, we will find that more and more of us have satisfied our needs for basic material goods, and then satisfied our needs for emotional security and status, and gradually we will be more and more interested in self-actualization. But we can and should support and accelerate this process by liberating entrepreneurs of happiness and well-being.
What the critics of capitalism have not realized is that for more than a century, there has been an asymmetry between those opportunities for entrepreneurship involving material goods and short-term entertainments, on the one hand, and entrepreneurship involving the creating of improved ways of life that could support deeper virtues, on the other hand. For example, especially in the past fifty years there have been fewer legal obstacles for entrepreneurs of gambling and pornography than there are for entrepreneurs of happiness and well-being. Therefore the best means of reducing the propensity of our society towards consumerism and materialism is to liberate entrepreneurs of happiness and well-being so that they can compete on a level playing field.
Creating Vibrant Communities
Related to the complaint that markets cause excessive consumerism and materialism is the complaint that markets destroy communities. In a sense, this is true; creative destruction of old ways of doing things, be they sliderules or family farms, is the essence of the market process. Innovation necessarily involves change, and the magnificent scale of improvements that entrepreneurs and markets have brought to our lives simply would not be possible without the associated destruction of countless ways of doing things that used to be the norm in the past.
For instance, it would simply not be possible to have the standard of living that we enjoy today in the U.S. if a majority of Americans still lived and worked on family farms, the way we did a hundred years ago. And just as Americans moved en masse from the farm to the city in the first half of the 20th century, so too today hundreds of millions of people in developing nations are moving from the farm to the city. Urbanization is a necessary and, on balance, positive aspect of economic development, and it will take place around the world no matter what any of us do, short of forced imprisonment of people on farms. As this process takes place, millions of villages and towns around the world will likely disappear, and countless traditional ways of life may be lost. The avalanche has already begun, and there is no stopping it.
But the loss of traditional communities does not imply the end of community as such. We've already seen new forms of community spring up online, bringing together people based on common values and interests rather than merely common geography. In order to create a future that is much richer in the experience of community than are the lives of most of those in the developed world at present, we need to liberate entrepreneurs of community formation.
Honesty and integrity in business
Decent human beings are rightly repulsed by the rampant dishonesty of commercial advertising, the frequent cases of corruption in business, and the extent to which the profit motive stimulates unethical behaviors among business leaders.
We share a distaste of this all-too-common aspect of business, and are therefore committed to:
A. Conscious Business
B. Transparency and Online Reputation Systems
One of our programs, of course, is Conscious Business, and we support diverse approaches to improving the ethical behavior of business leaders and their organizations. As we have an entire program devoted to this issue, we will not develop it further here.
Getting a Sense of Perspective on the Ethical Crimes of Business
It is useful to get a sense of perspective on the relative damage caused by harmful business practices. For instance, an article widely circulated among many media outlets a few years ago was titled “Bhopal: The Biggest Crime You’ve Never Heard Of.” The article rightly notes that the human damage caused by an explosion at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in India made it “the single deadliest industrial disaster of the modern environmental era.” An estimated 22,000 died and an estimated 100,000 continue to suffer “chronic, largely untreatable diseases of the lungs, eyes and blood” in the words of Mark Hertsgaard, the article’s author. This was truly a tragic accident, and it is likely that the accident could have been prevented if the managers of the plant had followed the advice of Union Carbide’s own safety experts.
And yet as tragic as that preventable disaster is, the author’s title remains unforgivable hyperbole. To take but one example, to this day, many of those who remember Marshall Tito, the communist dictator of former Yugoslavia, remember him for his courageous independence in breaking free from Stalin and creating a coalition of non-aligned nations that were neither part of the West bloc nor East bloc. In comparison to Stalin’s Soviet Union, Tito’s Yugoslavia was a relatively free nation. And yet there are estimates that he is responsible for killing between half a million and a million of his own people; surely Tito’s murders are a better candidate for the title “The Biggest Crime You’ve Never Heard Of” than is the Bhopal accident.
Of course, Stalin and Mao, with some 40-60 million murders apiece, are in a far greater league than is Tito. Moreover, it may or may not be the case that public is as familiar with the murders of Stalin and Mao as they are of the Bhopal disaster; in many circles both incidents remain relatively unknown. For instance, in a survey of Advanced Placement World History textbooks taken a few years ago, although the Nazi holocaust had a most of a chapter devoted to it, only a few paragraphs mentioned vaguely that “it is thought that many people starved” or expressions to that effect regarding the crimes of Stalin and Mao. Howard Zinn, whose leftist history of the U.S. is frequently assigned reading for high school and college courses alike, to this day regards Mao as a hero (and says so in his book).
While the crimes of business are truly dreadful; the crimes of governments, including the governments of democratic countries such as the U.S. and France, have been quite literally orders of magnitude more dreadful. Yes, even most democratic nations have far more innocent blood on their hands does Union Carbide, and those crimes are rarely presented openly. As horrible as are the crimes of Union Carbide, it may well be difficult to find a nation state that has done less harm.
Supplying Public Goods
Most people believe that one of the principal purposes of government is to supply those public goods that will not be adequately supplied by a private market. The range of goods that people believe must be supplied by government, rather than private entrepreneurs, is very extensive, ranging from municipal-level public goods such as roads, street lights, sewer, water, and other kinds of infrastructure, to goods more frequently supplied by the nation state, including national defense, a legal and regulatory system, etc.
This issue is a complex one, where sometimes surprising innovations can allow for the superior supply of theses goods through private entrepreneurial activity than has traditionally been the case through government supply of the goods in question. For instance, there are increasingly private communities in which infrastructure, streets, lights, etc. are all supplied by the developers of the community. In Freeport Bahamas, even the airport and electrical system are privately supplied. In principal, private community developers, even private developers of city-scale projects, could supply all municipal level “public goods” by means of private initiative. This is clearly more realistic with new communities being created than it is for existing cities, but this is both a likely and promising direction for the future.
The private supply of national defense is a more complex issue which we will reserve for those interested in researching these topics. For the foreseeable future, most national defense is likely to be supplied by existing nation states. Ideally, through global economic integration (see our “Peace through Commerce” program), we hope to see a world in which the need for military force is dramatically reduced around the world.
Regulations for health, safety, etc.
In order to spur innovation as much as possible, we prefer that all regulatory systems be based on systems of voluntary certification that provides brand advantages to the companies that seek those certifications rather than government-mandated regulation.
This point is sometimes the most difficult one for many people to understand, because we have all become so accustomed to relying on the government to set public standards. Most of us have come to believe that the government has more expertise to determine what we want than we do, a perspective that is obviously false in at least some cases.
Moreover, what has been virtually ignored is that:
A. There are numerous highly effective systems of private regulation and certification.
B. Monopolistic, coercive government regulation massively reduces opportunities for innovation in ways that are largely insidious and invisible, but ultimately very far-ranging.
The case for voluntarily supplied regulation, rather than coercive monopoly regulation via government, is best articulated by Friedrich Hayek in his essay “On the Creative Powers of a Free Civilization.”
There is an extensive literature outlining the ways in which regulation is counterproductive, even having consequences contrary to those intended, as well as serving as an obstacle to innovation. For a great example of this, consider the fact that states with higher standards for the certification of electricians have higher rates of electrocution; presumably this perverse result comes from the fact that the more expensive electricians are, the more likely are ordinary people inclined to do their own electrical work and die in the process.
Regulation is also a means through which unscrupulous companies use government to subtly obtain an unfair advantage over their competitors. The public choice literature (see below) has countless examples of this, and surely we will never know 99% of the instances in which special interests have used subtle changes in regulation to line their own pockets.
Consistent with the notion that the most important moral goal is to make those who are “worst off, best off” on the planet, we are more concerned with improving human happiness and well-being for all than we are concerned with inequality per se. By means of Citizen’s Dividends we hope to give everyone a reasonable starting ground for life, and then by means of the entrepreneurial creation of ever-improving models of health, education, and community we believe that we can improve the lives of those who currently are “worst off” at a far more rapid rate than has ever been the case in the past.
Relatedly, we are more concerned with inequality of well-being than we are concerned with inequality of material goods. While there will always be inequality of well-being, we believe that the best way to provide as many people as possible with their optimal level of well-being is to allow entrepreneurs of happiness and well-being to operate freely.
There are two distinct ways to understand democracy, first as an ideal and second as a set of practical institutions. Pericles’ famous “Funeral Oration,” given on a battlefield in which many Athenians had died, is a particularly famous statement of democratic ideals from a hero of Athens, proud birthplace of democracy:
Our government does not copy our neighbors', but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit. Neither is poverty an obstacle, but a man may benefit his country whatever the obscurity of his condition. There is no exclusiveness in our public life, and in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes; we do not put on sour looks at him which, though harmless, are not pleasant. While we are thus unconstrained in our private business, a spirit of reverence pervades our public acts; we are prevented from doing wrong by respect for the authorities and for the laws, having a particular regard to those which are ordained for the protection of the injured as well as those unwritten laws which bring upon the transgressor of them the reprobation of the general sentiment.
These are certainly worthy ideals which we support in every possible manner.
While Pericles’ perspective is certainly an ideal, Nobel laureate James Buchanan offers another perspective in his book Public Choice: Politics without Romance, based on the work for academic field he created, along with Gordon Tullock, public choice theory. Although there is a formal discipline of public choice theory, complete with mathematical models and so forth, for our purposes public choice theory is merely common sense once one realizes, rather unromantically, that most of the time politicians will say and do whatever it takes to get re-elected, that bureaucrats and judges tend to work to enlarge the scope of their power and influence, that voters are and always will be largely uninformed, and that legislation will almost always reflect the needs of special interests rather than those of the public good. Public choice theory is, in short, a profoundly realistic, rather than romantic, means of looking at democratic governance.
The implication of public choice theory is that the influence of government should be limited as much as possible, precisely because every expansion of government almost always serves special interests rather than the public good. Thus just as Winston Churchill said of democracy that it is “the worst form of government, except for all the others,” we are not romantic about large-scale democratic government, and agree that it should be limited as much as possible.
It is noteworthy in this context that the scale of government is relevant; the smaller the government, the more likely it is to be responsive to the public, rather than to special interests. The romantic Vermont town meeting was typically effective for towns with no more than a few thousand residents. Athenian democracy in the age of Pericles had perhaps 10,000 actual citizens among a population of 100,000 slaves and foreigners.
Realistically, Pericles’ inspiring words are better understood as an endorsement of the principal of meritocracy and rule of law rather than of large-scale electoral politics. It is a category error for so many people to have imported some version of Periclean romance for Athenian democracy for the large-scale interest group politics of the modern nation state.
Finally, there may be some innovations in electoral systems that could reduce the impact that special interests have on democratic elections. We are interested in and supportive of all such innovations.