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The “Operating System” for Western Civilization
In an address delivered at the recent Mises Institute conference in San Diego, Overstock.com founder Patrick Byrne posited that classical liberalism is the operating system for Western Civilization. It is an operating system based on consent: in this OS, free people make free choices to advance their individual interests, and evolve sub-systems of consensual exchange and governance that result from their individual behaviors.
Dr. Byrne applies this idea of a civilizational operating system to set out the philosophical history of classical liberalism, and identifies Austrian economics as fundamental to that system. As Mises taught, economics plays a paramount role in the determination of civic affairs.1
Dr. Byrne warned that there are competing operating systems, all necessarily based on submission rather than consent. In these OS, a central authority is endowed with superior knowledge and a superior vision of the best outcomes for society. It imposes choices on individuals who must submit to this authority in order to achieve freedom. In essence, people must be forced to be free, because the definition of freedom is submission to a process defined by authority.
Today, the liberal OS based on consent is under heavy attack from those OS based on submission. Such attacks may be philosophical, constitutional, institutional, or civilizational.
Dr. Byrne’s philosophical tour d’horizon prompts many thoughts. One is this: that adherents of Austrian economics, including the Mises Institute, are required to be sufficiently assertive of our role in defending Western Civilization from attack. It behooves us to energetically gather the resources required to support our important role. We should not think of ourselves, as I fear we often do, as a specialized minority group preaching a pure but esoteric doctrine of mainly academic interest. We cannot resign ourselves to be the permanent opposition. Our goal should be to achieve at least a 50% share of mind, giving Austrian economics the opportunity to bend the arc of civilization back toward the operating system of consent.
To earn a 50% mindshare, we should be able to assert a broadly consumable principle that most people can understand and subscribe to. I would like to propose Individualism (perhaps it’s Austrian Individualism). Jeff Deist, at the same event addressed by Dr. Byrne, suggested that our community focus should be each individual taking on action to improve their own life, guided by Austrian principles. Following the precepts of Hayek’s Individualism True and False,2 people who pursue their own interests and improve their own individual lives discover that they are successful when they serve others (i.e., consensual market exchange) and they thereby build a better society for all. Individualism is a highly marketable attribute of the Austrian economics brand.
Individualism is a contemporary idea, consistent with the ethos of the new emerging world of technology. A.I. is Augmented Individualism. Cloud computing is computing power purchasable by anyone. Blockchain is peer-to-peer transactions without expensive and intrusive intermediaries. Collaborative platforms connect any individual to any other individual in open networks, enabling a higher order of exchange. Austrian economics is the theory for the modern world.
A focus on Individualism opens up new possibilities for tactical marketing. One example would be the harnessing of Influencers. In modern content-based marketing, Influencers can broaden the reach and accelerate the adoption of ideas even when they are not originators of content. There are YouTube Influencers today with millions of loyal followers. With Individualism as our meme, Austrian economics Influencers can aspire to these levels of reach and impact. Our wonderful Mises Institute content can find new channels of distribution by harnessing a new cadre of contemporary high-tech Influentials.
If we think in majority terms — as the OS for Western Civilization — we can better promote the ideas that stimulate human action in favor of liberty.
- 1. Human Action: Scholar’s Ed. (LvMI) Ch XXXVIII The Place of Economics in Learning; Sec. 7
- 2. Individualism: True and False; Finlay Lecture, University College Dublin, Dec. 17 1945.
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