New Book Highlights Bottom-Up Planning
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of socialism hastened intellectual realignments and a rediscovery of the virtues of free markets. Many on the left and the right now agree that markets and supporting institutions are necessary for the material progress of both developed and developing nations. Beyond exploring intellectual shifts, however, it is useful to note carefully what people do (and have always done) as they strive to manage their every day lives. Regardless of whether the current worldview emphasizes the merits of top-down planning or bottom-up action, the latter has always been consequential. The demise of socialism and progressivism (both of the "industrial counter-revolution" according to Brink Lindsey) has brought a new appreciation of spontaneous orders but the important fact is that these have always been there. Without black markets, communist states would have succumbed much sooner.
We have come full circle and it is useful to examine the power of bottom-up innovation in shaping human events now as well as in recent history. The authors of The Voluntary City document some of the important episodes and thereby prompt questions for the next great debates. Markets may be necessary for material progress but are they sufficient? What exactly do we mean by progress? Can market economies protect workers from economic downturns? Can they provide for the downtrodden and unfortunate? What about non-material progress? Can markets be equitable? Can a market society develop community?
The scope for markets is wider than is even now recognized; the contributors to this volume show that voluntary and contractual arrangements also develop communities and deliver social services. Some of the evidence comes from a rediscovery of the history of voluntarism in social services, including the remarkable history of fraternal orders and friendly societies in nineteenth century America and Great Britain. These provided members with medical care, unemployment insurance, sickness insurance, and many other social services.
The studies illustrate that the authors do not have a blinkered view of either markets or human nature. With respect to markets, too often the vital role of the non-profit sector has been ignored.
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