Crying Freedom: On Chris Berg, Andrew Bolt and Paul Ritchie

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In October 1976 an aged Austrian economist assumed the podium in a Melbourne hotel and delivered, extempore, a speech that set libertarian hearts racing. The economist was Friedrich Hayek and the occasion was the Annual General Meeting of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), which was then in the process of transforming itself into a radical free-market think-tank of the kind we now associate with neoliberal economics. Still buzzing from Milton Friedman’s visit to Australia in 1975, the IPA’s members lapped it up. A standing ovation followed Hayek’s address. So too did an effusive editorial in the next edition of the IPA Review:

Professor Hayek came to Australia at a peculiarly appropriate time. It is clear that this country has reached a grand climacteric, a fateful parting of the ways so far as its political and economic future is concerned. The momentous question is whether, in the years ahead, libertarian values are to prevail, enterprise, both corporate and individual, is to be properly rewarded, and the market is to be allowed to perform its traditional function of allocating the resources of the community in the most effective manner in the interests of all; or whether Government as such is to assume an even larger role in the distribution of resources and income, in the provision of so-called Welfare and in the general direction of the lives of the people. In short, what is ultimately at stake is the survival of individual freedom.

There you have the libertarian critique – or right-libertarian critique – in a nutshell: the free market as the guarantor, not just of an efficient economy, but of human freedom and flourishing. ‘The threat to freedom in the economic sphere,’ the editorial continues, paraphrasing Hayek, is ‘only part of a wider threat to the whole of our civilisation, to morals, conventions and institutions laboriously evolved, not deliberately planned, over centuries of trial and error.’ Backed up by their support band, the Centre for Independent Studies (founded in 1976, funnily enough), the IPA has been playing this stripped-down version of classical liberalism ever since. [More here.]