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Alberto Mingardi

Alberto Mingardi

Mingardi, one of the rising stars of European libertarianism, is the founder and Director General of the Italian free-market think tank, Instituto Bruno Leoni. His areas of interest include the history of economic thought and antitrust and healthcare systems. He is particularly well known for popularizing the work of past scholars under-appreciated by today’s libertarians. Currently an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, Mingardi has also worked with the Heritage Foundation, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, the Acton Institute, and the Centre for a New Europe.

Articles by Alberto Mingardi

Mallaby on Grant’s Bagehot

4 days ago

I cannot add the second post before this afternoon but it would be this
I’m halfway through James Grant’s Bagehot. The Life and Times of the Greatest Victorian. The book has been widely reviewed and it is, indeed, excellent. Grant writes engagingly and makes the most of Bagehot’s life (by the way, I was saddened by his reference to Thomas Hodgskin as “a kind of anarcho-socialist”, but this is a very minor fault of the book).
Of the reviews I read, I’ve particularly appreciated Sebastian Mallaby’s, published on Foreign Affairs. Mallaby starts his piece by writing:
In James Grant, it sometimes seems, the nineteenth century has been resuscitated. Towering, gaunt, bow-tied, and pinstriped, he writes with a sly wit that recalls the novels of William Thackeray. His

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Dan Klein on Sweden

6 days ago

Dan Klein has an interview on Sweden, a country he knows well. It will read counterintuitive to many. In short, Dan argues that Swedish civic virtue precedes the welfare state and does not depend on it. Thinking otherwise implies not understanding “why the Swedish bumblebee flies as well as it does a strong and liberal national identity, free markets, civic virtue”.
A couple of highlights.
Dan emphasizes the importance of an entrepreneurial class that is relatively cohesive and that has a distinctive understanding of its own social role:
In Sweden there is a nexus of private enterprise—organizations, families—who still cohere as a loose yet important force of the central zone. They are counterparts to the “honest gentlemen” of Britain that David Hume and Adam Smith

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Italy’s new political crisis

10 days ago

Is Italy going to have elections in the fall? Or will it have a new government, supported by a coalition of the populists and the mainstream left, bringing to an end the coalition of the populist left and the populist right which has led the country in the last few months?
Jacopo Barigazzi on Politico provides a good summary of a political crisis which is rather peculiar even by Italian standards:
For almost 14 months, Salvini has been saying that this government will last five years. But last week he tried to end it.
One of his main opponents, former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, when he was still the leader of the PD, opposed any deal with the 5Stars. Yet on Sunday, in an interview with Il Corriere della Sera, he opened the way to exactly such a deal.
The 5Stars’

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The New Tory Zeitgeist: Security over Freedom?

13 days ago

Onward is a new center-right think tank in Britain. I never heard of them before, but I ran into this poll they commissioned and published. It is based over some 5,000 interviews and it looks like a serious thing. The gist of it is basically that Tory voters tend to care more about “security” than about “freedom”.
Here are some points of interest:
In total, 65% of respondents favored security, compared to 35% who chose society based on freedom.… 71% of people think that “more people living in cities has made society worse”, compared to 29% who think it has made society better.… 61% of people believe that “on the whole, jobs and wages have been made worse by technological change”.… 66% of people think that “globalization has not benefited most people”.… Among

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Dalibor Rohac on Brexit

17 days ago

While I do perhaps naively believe that Boris Johnson is the right man to put lipstick on a pig, that is: to trim some sort of agreements between the EU and the UK, Dalibor Rohac thinks that we should prepare for a No Deal Brexit. Dalibor has lived in England and is a fine observer of European matters.
There are several interesting points in his piece but let me highlight a couple. On the one hand, he thinks the European Union has no margin to work a new agreement out for “geopolitical” reasons: “The current era of great-power competition requires the EU, especially if weakened by Brexit, to build credibility and a reputation for a certain degree of ruthlessness for being able to make decisions and stick with them even when it is temporarily inconvenient”. On the

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Again on The Mule

18 days ago

Like David Henderson, I watched The Mule and enjoyed the movie. I tend to enjoy all of Eastwood’s movies, but I thought this was particularly good: I’d rank it slightly better than Gran Torino, too. One of the reasons I thought the movie was so good—and here the reviewer shall disclose his weaknesses!—was its message. I find it naturally agreeable, for all that David mentions, to which I shall add a further point. I found it to be a great movie about unintended consequences.
Of course, the first unintended consequence Eastwood forces you to consider is the emergence of a hugely profitable business (drug trafficking), precisely because the legal circulation of drugs has been prohibited. The impression the viewer has, if he pauses a minute, is that banning drug made

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Malamet discusses Hazony

24 days ago

I am glad that some libertarians are dealing with Yoram Hazony’s The Virtue of Nationalism. It is a book that is shaping conservative thinking and ought to be addressed thouroughly. I’ve reviewed it for the Cato Journal and dealt with it on this blog too (here, here and here). Alex Nowrasteh has written a powerful post here. More recently Akiva Malamet has published an interesting critique, on Libertarianism.org.
Malamet doesn’t wear velvet gloves, as he states:
Hazony’s work does not perform this task and instead adds further confusion. Ultimately, he defends propositions that, if taken to their conclusion, imply denying that individuals have any kind of meaningful autonomy, excusing state violence, and legitimizing gross violations of human rights. Hazony

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DeMuth on nationalism

27 days ago

Disagreeing vehemently with people you admire is always uncomfortable. But it also helps one to develop a better appreciation of some arguments: how come a person as smart as x believes in that?
Chris DeMuth, the former head of the American Enterprise Institute and a true scholar, took part in a “National Conservatism Conference” and the Wall Street Journal has published excerpts of his speech. I have nothing but admiration for DeMuth and his case for a “nationalist awakening” is much better than most of the competing attempts.
Chris’s article has a particularly interesting takeaway. He compares the “nationalist awakening” with “the religious Great Awakenings that swept over America in the 18th and 19th centuries.” He continues, “In the American colonies and early

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Boris Johnson- any reason for optimism?

July 25, 2019

The new British prime minister, Boris Johnson, is considered a dream politician by some conservatives, and a nightmare by many more. Boris is regarded as a messy organizer, a man affected by attention-deficit disorder, a beloved but not particularly effective mayor of London, an opportunist who chooses to be anti-EU not because of deep convictions but simply to prop his career up, and a demagogue. He is considered by many a clown, and he certainly did all he could to reinforce such an opinion. But he is also a literary figure who has written many books, whose subjects even include Churchill. (Though perhaps not great books, they are commercially successful ones.) He is also a journalist and the former editor of a substantial magazine, a politician with an

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A (strong) letter on inheritance taxes

July 23, 2019

High(er) inheritance taxes are relatively popular among people otherwise not unfriendly towards private property, including the great James M. Buchanan. On July 20, the FT has published a letter, from Mark G. Brennan, that claims that targeting inherited wealth as “unearned” may be but the first step on a slippery slope.
It is per se quite a surprising fact, as these philosophical arguments (of a libertarian kind) seldom get into letter pages.
So writes Mr Brennan:
As leftist revolutions have shown time and again, what starts off as a distaste for “hereditary” wealth often mutates into a distaste for all wealth.
Demagogues past, such as Lenin, Mao and Castro, incited rage in the masses with their attacks on the “injustice” of any wealth that created even the

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Why not ‘individualism’?

July 1, 2019

Daniel Klein has long been fighting an uphill battle to restore the word “liberalism” to “true” (that is: classical) liberals. Labeling in politics is always a complicated issue, and at the end of the day what really matters is how other people see you. In a sense, labeling someone, or even labeling yourself, is a “positional” effort: it is needed to put you in relation with others. You can use one word or another depending on how other people use them, and what really matters is the meaning _they_ attach to them.
For this reason, I find intriguing a proposal by Steve Davies, that in a recent piece masterfully argue for adopting the word “individualism”.
Using “classical liberal” is – Davies writes – problematic, as it is ‘essentially a historical term, referring

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Who will the free-marketers befriend?

June 16, 2019

In a short piece for Politico.eu (pages 24-25, printed version), I try to ask a question that has been with me since reading Steve Davies’s articulate Facebook posts on political realignment. Steve has been writing for quite a while that economic issues have lost centrality in politics, and there is a looming new alignment on identity and nationalism versus cosmopolitanism. He sees the last European elections, with traditional parties (center-right Christian-democrat conservatives, center-left socialists) losing ground and both cosmopolitan liberals and nationalists growing bigger, as a proof of that.
In this perspective, identity politics is becoming more and more important, both on the right and on the left. This is not good news for free marketers, who are

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GOT’s final season may have been disappointing, but not on politics

May 21, 2019

There are a number of remarkable things about Game of Thrones. One is of course how millions of people are, synchronously, watching the series’ ending. This sort of collective TV viewing was once reserved for big sports matches, or perhaps for a few great rock music concerts, like LiveAid.
Many people have commented on the last episodes. They are full of plot faults. Still, at least there is no JarJarBinks or young Anakin spoiling the franchise. The last one has disappointed many, but made more sense than most – for reasons Ilya Somin, my GOT guru among many other things, highlights here.
One interesting twist in the last episodes is that they wanted (or perhaps needed, as this is the gist of the story) to get back to what made many love the series and the books at

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Thatcherism at 40

May 4, 2019

On May 4th 1979, Margaret Thatcher took office as the prime minister of the United Kingdom. When I was younger and more libertarian than I am now, I used to think that Thatcher would be remembered one day as a moderate statist, because soon enough we would see far more sweeping reforms than hers, wider and wider privatisations, free-market liberalism if not an-cap eventually triumphing. Was I wrong!
Love her or hate her, Thatcher is still now – and will be for a while – remembered as the most committed free marketer among Westerner leaders. That is certainly due to what she did. I would say that Thatcher’s main and longer lasting legacy is privatisations: from “Right to Buy”, that is: allowing people to buy the government-owned “council” houses that they lived in,

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To Clap or Not to Clap?

April 30, 2019

Jay Nordlinger, always an insightful writer on music (and a brilliant writer on pretty much anything he writes about), has two posts on applause. I mean applause _during_ rather than after a concert. One is on “propriety by consent”: a politician’s sense of propriety, in this case Richard Nixon. The other tries to answer the question why applauding a beautiful aria during an opera is considered proper, whereas applauding an astonishing movement of a sonata performance is not.
These days, opera and chamber music aficionados tend to raise their eyebrows when some people who never attended a concert, because of age or because they thought this kind of music didn’t matter to them, upon discovering the immense beauty of what they came to listen explode in a burst of

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Is Liberal Civilization a ‘Somewhere’?

April 29, 2019

Dan Klein continues his gallant battle to recover the word “liberal” for classical liberals. His last effort is “10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Call Leftists ‘Liberal’.”
I have to confess that I am ambivalent about some of the arguments Dan makes here. He concludes his piece by writing that:
In The Lion King, the spirit of Mufasa tells Simba: Remember who you are.
You are not an “anywhere,” but a “somewhere”: a son or daughter of liberal civilization.
This is consistent with the way in which he frames his message—and publishing it with the conservative Intercollegiate Studies Institute—perhaps most evident in Reason #8:
Liberalism 1.0 [Dan’s term for Smithian liberalism] is what American conservatives like William F. Buckley, Russell Kirk, George Will, Peggy Noonan,

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Cowen on business and imperfections

April 26, 2019

I’m reading Tyler Cowen’s Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero and I can’t but agree with David Henderson: “the book is outstanding. There are valuable facts and/or bits of economic reasoning on virtually every page”. The book is written for the cultivated layperson and aims to address her concerns, to play with the wrong ideas she entertains and offer a better way to understand the reality that business is.
By reading the book, you sense how Cowen has been thinking about these matters for quite a while; he knows inside out the arguments used by the anti-market forces as much as the ones typically waged by those who are friendlier to a market economy. He has mulled over the anti-business rhetoric for quite a while.
The message of the first chapters

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Some thoughts on the Spanish elections

April 25, 2019

Spain is going to the ballot box on Sunday. The electoral law is a version of proportional representation, that helps the top-scoring parties to manage a high number of seats for the sake of governability.
The polls suggest that the Socialists will be the first party and will attempt to form a government with Podemos, the populist left wing. Such a government may not be enjoying a very wide majority. This is something that might make its life difficult, but it may also benefit the more extreme wing of the coalition, as each and any of their votes will matter, driving the Socialists to buy into their most radical positions to keep the coalition in power.
A government of this sort is likely to have two major consequences. It will be an executive friendlier to Catalan

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Kling on markets and imperfections

April 10, 2019

I’m traveling quite a bit lately, all through Italy, to launch my new book (alas, only available in Italian), titled—misquoting W.H. Auden—“O tell me the truth about neoliberalism”. The book is born, as I’m now quite used to saying and repeating, out of my frustration: today neoliberalism is the scapegoat of choice, being constantly conjured up as the ultimate cause for whatever catastrophe you can think of. In the book, I try to distinguish “properly defined” neoliberalism (produced by historical contingencies in post WWII Germany) from its caricature; to explain why globalisation as we know it is hardly anarchy; to refute Mariana Mazzucato’s thesis of the entrepreneurial state and to share some reflections on immigration and populism and how economic matters are

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Bannon in/on Italy

April 2, 2019

Steve Bannon, as you may know, spends more and more of his time in Europe. He visits Italy quite a bit, as he is rumored to be planning to turn a monastery into a sort of permanent summer school for “populists”.
Recently Bannon was in Italy and had a debate with Carlo Calenda, former Minister of Industry and soon to be a candidate in the European elections with the Democrats of the Left (he has his own movement, federated with them), hosted by Comin and Partners, a PR firm in Rome. I didn’t attend the debate but watched it online, as you can do here.
While I’m no fan of Mr Calenda, and disagree with his reading of globalisation, I think he clearly won the debate. And for a rather simple reason: he brought some facts in support of his narrative. On the other hand, I

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What future for French “capitalism?”

March 25, 2019

One thing that always amazes me is how a free market economy is regularly the scapegoat of choice, even in societies that fall short of any sensible definition of “economic freedom”. Consider this Bloomberg piece, which advances the argument that “France’s Message for Capitalism Is Quite Simple: Adapt or Die”.
The piece interprets the revolt of the Yellow Vests in France, a rather complex phenomenon that saw different, if not conflicting, political sensibilities on the protesters’ side, as a wake-up call for “capitalism”. It is worth remembering that the Yellow Vests began, at least in part, as a protest against a fuel tax hike, sponsored by the Macron/Le Maire government, aimed at nudging people towards newer, environmentally friendlier cars.
Is that “capitalism”?

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Chinese authoritarianism and Western transparency

March 14, 2019

In a recent EconTalk, Russ Roberts and Amy Webb discussed how Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be the tool authoritarian regimes (and, particularly, China) always needed to fully implement the sort of widespread social control they always aimed for.
I found Webb’s arguments sometimes not so persuasive. For example, the fact that big companies in China operate on the government’s marching orders she considers an _advantage_, as this avoids duplications. Russ replies that, well, competition, with its trials and errors, hasn’t been that bad in fostering innovation in the past. Webb tells Russ she agrees, but it’s not quite clear to me she does. As with many futurists, she appears to be rather oblivious to the fact that what we need is not a system that provides us

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Fantastic Neoliberal Policies and Where to Find Them

February 18, 2019

Perhaps the use of the word “neoliberalism” should be taxed, so that its use may become more parsimonious and more thoughtful. In a 2009 paper, Taylor C. Boas and Jordan Gans-Mors highlighted that the word (which now basically an “anti-liberal slogan”) is very frequently used and yet very rarely defined. Historians of ideas may use it to refer to the German Ordo-liberals and some of their contemporaries (like Walter Lippman), who endeavoured to adapt the classical liberal message for the 20th century, in years when the growth of government power seemed an inevitable destiny. But that use is rare.
Typically, the neoliberal story goes like this: Thatcher and Reagan got elected, they rolled government back, the rest of the world followed their lead and here we are,

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Anthony de Jasay, RIP

January 27, 2019

Anthony de Jasay died on Wednesday January 23. It was my understanding that the family wanted the news not come out for a few more days, as a private funeral was arranged, but it did anyway on social media, and Pierre Lemieux dutifully reported it. Jasay’s last few years, and particularly his last months were very difficult, for him and his beloved wife Isabelle. May he rest in peace.
I’ve known Tony for the last twenty years, which means my entire adult life. We first met at a Mont Pelerin Society meeting in Potsdam, Germany. I was a very young lad, who had a hard time putting together a couple of sentences in vaguely understandable English and, of course, was pretty sure he knew it all. So, I ended up somehow pontificating to nobody less than Anthony Flew,

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Mazzucato Missing on the Margins (Part 2)

January 17, 2019

With Terence Kealey
This is a continuation of our earlier post here, written in response to this recent EconTalk episode on which Mazzucato was the guest.

Mazzucato’s key idea is that the government’s pockets are virtually inexhaustible: government “can print money”, as she explains to Roberts. When push comes to shove, the government isn’t bound to scarcity: it goes to Afghanistan, it bombs Iraq, it enters the space race no matter what. Is that supposed to be an argument for government spending? Does profligacy really imply a wise use of resources?

Her thesis has an autobiographical background: “my Dad does basic research on nuclear fusion physics, so he left Italy to go to the United States because the U.S. Department of Energy has been a big investor in these

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Mazzucato Missing on the Margins (Part 1)

January 14, 2019

Written with Terence Kealey

In 1871, Austrian economist Carl Menger published his Principles of Economics. Simultaneously, British economist William Stanley Jevons sent to the printing presses The Theory of Political Economy. The two of them, to be joined in a couple of years by Swiss economist Léon Walras, had independently come to a dicovery that Menger’s student Friedrich von Wieser was to call “marginal utility.”
By which economists mean that “value” is something related to the incrementally consumed unit, one choice at a time. It is not, as their predecessors used to fancy, determined by the total stock of goods available at a certain moment or by its perceived meaning to the whole of society.
In his musings on the notion of “value,” Adam Smith remarked that

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“Whatever the cost may be…” Really???

December 30, 2018

“I’d rather be a poor master of my fate than having someone I don’t know making me rich by running it.” So says Sir Michael Caine, one of the great actors of our times, and I find it difficult not to sympathize with that. Yet Sir Michael isn’t speaking about his own personal freedom, but rather about Brexit. If quitting the EU requires the English people to pay more for imported goods, and perhaps even the costs of a recession, so be it.
Brexit is a terribly complicated issue, much more than it seemed at first, and I think this is hardly a proper way to discuss it. My gut feelings are pro Brexit: I’m an unrepentant Anglophile and tend to think that most Brexiters simply reasoned that self-government worked quite well for England, and were not up to trade it for

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Liberal Democracy and Its Reinventors

December 26, 2018

Reinventing “liberal democracy” seems a rather popular activity these days. There is a widespread presumption that voters are globally rejecting globalisation and freer markets. Most explanations of the rise of so-called “populism” tend to understand it as a homogeneous phenomenon all through the West, and thus the result of homogenous demands on the part of voters. “Liberal democracy” (or liberalism, or capitalism, all words that in this context are used as a substitute for “the establishment”) ought to be reinventing itself to answer such demands.
Most of the time, the reinventors of “liberal democracy” end up preaching for more economic interventionism, thinking this is the way to bring the populists’ demands back into the fold of the “establishment”. It is a

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Will Mexico get the populist “full package”?

December 1, 2018

Today Andrés Manuel López Obrador (“AMLO”) is officially assuming his office as President of Mexico, after winning the election in July (the transition in Mexico clearly takes a lot of time). He won with a stunning majority: over 50% of the popular vote, 31 out of 32 country’s states. Such a majority will allow him to do pretty much whatever he wants, including changing the Constitution, during his six-year term.
“AMLO” has been often compared to Donald Trump for his campaign style, and it was even reported that in the White House, he is confidentially referred to as “Juan Trump”. Indeed, “the relationship between Mr Trump and Mr López Obrador has got off to a surprisingly positive start”, writes the Economist in an article that also points out that AMLO is

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Wisdom from Mark Littlewood

November 17, 2018

In the last issue of Economic Affairs, Mark Littlewood, the Director-General of the IEA in London, offers his blueprint for arguing a stronger case for free markets in the contemporary world. Mark quotes (approvingly!) Tony Benn, “every generation has to fight the same battles again and again for there is no final victory and no final defeat”. The so-called “battle of ideas”, a metaphor dear to Littlewood’s predecessor John Blundell, is never over. And our current circumstances may suggest that emphasizing this element of a certain political vision might be in order, to calibrate them better for our contemporary audiences.
Mark has three points:
First, market liberals need to be much more comfortable with embracing failure. Too often, opponents claim that we assume

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