Friedman deployed every means possible to spread his ideas, building a repertoire of lectures, op-eds, radio interviews, TV appearances, books, and even a documentary.
In the preface to his bestselling Capitalism and Freedom, he wrote that it is the duty of thinkers to keep offering alternatives. Ideas that seem “politically impossible” today may one day become “politically inevitable.”
All that remained was to await the critical moment. “Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change,” Friedman explained. “When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”
The crisis came in October 1973, when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries raised oil prices by 70% and imposed an oil embargo on the U.S. and The Netherlands. Inflation went through the roof and the Western economies spiraled into recession. “Stagflation,” as this effect was called, wasn’t even possible in Keynesian theory. Friedman, however, had predicted it.
In less than fifty years, an idea once dismissed as radical and marginal had come to rule the world.
The Lesson of Neoliberalism
Some argue that these days it hardly matters any more who you vote for. Though we still have a right and a left, neither side seems to have a very clear plan for the future. In an ironic twist of fate, the neoliberalist brainchild of two men who devoutly believed in the power of ideas has now put a lockdown on the development of new ones. It would seem that we have arrived at “the end of history,” with liberal democracy as the last stop and the “free consumer” as the terminus of our species.
We inhabit a world of managers and technocrats. “Let’s just concentrate on solving the problems,” they say. “Let’s just focus on making ends meet.” Political decisions are continually presented as a matter of exigency – as neutral and objective events, as though there were no other choice. Keynes observed this tendency emerging even in his own day. “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences,” he wrote, “are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”
When Lehman Brothers collapsed on September 15, 2008, and inaugurated the biggest crisis since the 1930s, there were no real alternatives to hand. No one had laid the groundwork. For years, intellectuals, journalists, and politicians had all firmly maintained that we’d reached the end of the age of “big narratives” and that it was time to trade in ideologies for pragmatism.
Naturally, we should still take pride in the liberty that generations before us fought for and won. But the question is, what is the value of free speech when we no longer have anything worthwhile to say? What’s the point of freedom of association when we no longer feel any sense of affiliation? What purpose does freedom of religion serve when we no longer believe in anything?
On the one hand, the world is still getting richer, safer, and healthier. That’s a huge triumph. On the other hand, it ’s high time that we, the inhabitants of the Land of Plenty, staked out a new utopia. Let’s re-hoist the sails. “Progress is the realisation of Utopias,” Oscar Wilde wrote many years ago. A fifteen-hour workweek, universal basic income, and a world without borders … They’re all crazy dreams – but for how much longer?
Let this be the lesson of Mont Pèlerin. Let this be the mantra of everyone who dreams of a better world, so that we don’t once again hear the clock strike midnight and find ourselves just sitting around, empty-handed, waiting for an extraterrestrial salvation that will never come.
Ideas, however outrageous, have changed the world, and they will again.
Excerpted from the book UTOPIA FOR REALISTS by Rutger Bregman. Copyright © 2017 by Rutger Bregman. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.
Source By https://www.wired.com/2017/04/dont-despair-big-ideas-can-still-change-world/