If you read but a single book this year, let it be this one: it's a masterpiece, and at only $2 on mises.org for a hard-copy or a free .pdf download, it makes a perfect gift.
"Dicta" is the Latin plural of "dictum", meaning something that is said, with deliberation - though just a considered opinion, not usually a heavyweight conclusion reached by rigorous logic. Among those are what we know as "laws"; pompous assertions of government people, backed up by force. It also includes the scary myths they create, to induce us to depend on them. All that contrasts with liberty. Now we understand the book's title.
The author is a highly accomplished but delightfully modest businessman, Louis Carabini. I suspect it's a distillation of his life's thinking, his magnum opus. That it's a short work, a mere 112 pages, does not detract from that; it's packed with wisdom, it compares well with Rand's Atlas Shrugged - and makes good some of her omissions.
What struck me first is its density, the closeness of its reasoning. Carabini does not waste a word. Twain once apologized for writing a long letter to a friend, for he "didn't have time to write a short one" and any writer knows how hard it is to condense one's thoughts into a short composition. This makes this book a slim volume, but an intense read. Prepare to stretch the brain!
Next I noticed that "ethics" and "morality" are not expressly referenced. Nothing wrong with those fine arguments for freedom; rational ethics are vital. But in Liberty, Dicta & Force (LDF) the author develops the idea of goodness, of right and wrong, from very basic premises; he reasons that harmless conduct evolved with the human race (and in other species!) because it was found to be the path most conducive to progress. That's a thought that underlies rational ethics, but I'd not noticed it spelled out before. This is awesome! Do good - get rich; "rich" in the fullest sense, of living in peace and contentment. The "Golden Rule", which is found in many religions, is even presented in its negative form: “Don’t do unto others what you would not have them to do unto you” as one frequently used in the early Church. The Non-Aggression Principle, almost verbatim.
So well entrenched is this human characteristic, LDF notes, that it normally governs the behavior even of politicians, in their private lives; their conduct as officers of the State may be appalling, but back in home, neighborhood and family, they are as civil and inoffensive as the next guy.
Then came reference to Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist who reasoned that living things exist not to advance each species as such but to favor their individual gene, which he dubbed the "selfish gene". Animals, notably humans, behave so as to favor the gene by co-operating, most of all in small, kinship groups, helping members of that group by exchanging favors, exactly as markets do; and to make that work, "cheaters" or free-loaders are identified and excluded. This is how nature works, Carabini reasons; yet a political system is expressly designed to favor free-loaders at the expense of producers. Hence the whole idea of government violates nature itself.
LDF's fourth chapter brilliantly ridicules the ubiquitous notion that "fairness" requires there to be a negligible disparity among incomes. I'll leave the reader to enjoy it himself, but here's an appetizer: redistribution is like "praising a bank robber who is trying to reduce inequality between himself and the bank owner and, as such, doing his best to reduce crime."
The work continues, with one brilliant insight following another. For example discrimination is a vital human trait, used daily in an array of ways; yet employers are forbidden to use it when hiring, while employees can use it freely when joining or leaving. Students on campus protest speakers opposed to laws against discrimination, while welcoming those in their favor; the deep irony that the protesters are themselves discriminating goes unremarked!
It throws new light on the "tragedy of the commons." The human gene is irrevocably selfish; we shall always each seek our own best interests and tend therefore to hurry to acquire what is openly available to all; however, it's been found that given time, relatively small groups will work out a peaceful way to share such resources in an orderly way. Carabini picks the Plymouth pilgrims as an example - after the disaster of the initial commune, they changed policy and let each member keep the product of his own labor. The key is always that the solution is worked out bottom-up, not from a top-down edict. Often Governor Bradford is credited with solving the problem, with a top-down decree that flipped folk from communists into capitalists; but that version ignores the fact that they were required in the first place, by a different edict, to behave as communists as soon as they landed. Bradford merely formalized what the community subsequently figured out.
LDF's eighth chapter offers a short version of the theme of L K Samuel's book on Chaos Theory, commended in another ZGBlog. It's one that may cause some brain strain, as it did for me, but it beautifully confirms that all of Nature becomes orderly as a result of bottom-up adaptation, not top-down design. Scott Page is quoted: "An actor in a complex system controls almost nothing, but influences almost everything. Attempts to intervene may be akin to poking a tiger with a stick." Anything there remind you of the market?!
There's much, much more in LDF to delight the mind; it's a first-rate feast. Before I run out of space, though, I must describe its single flaw.
It comes in the final chapter, #10, and is by no means unusual. That is subtitled "A Better Life - A Better World" and the reader reasonably expects it to suggest how this feast of a free society might be obtained in practice. Mr Carabini properly warns that political action is NOT the way, for that would be to deny what the rest of the book has proven: that action must be spontaneous, not directed from above. No problem so far. But then, to my dismay, he proposes nothing instead except "The foremost way to make the world better is don't go to war, don't go on the dole, don't endorse politics, do good work and mind your own business." That complements what appears on LDF's back cover: "Nature's unrelenting feedback will gradually drive ruling political authorities to extinction."
If the world's archists keep their WMDs bottled up it may well indeed, given a century or three, and the quoted advice is excellent as far as it goes; but it doesn't go nearly far enough. After 10,000 years of mayhem, misery, death and destruction by "political authorities", Nature clearly needs a helping hand; not, of course, with force but with any viable peaceful method. Alas, LDF fails to suggest one.
ZGBloggers already know of such a method, but the irony is that this extraordinary book could itself become another. It may be a tad too cerebral for Joe Sixpack, but for others its power to persuade is huge. What do you think; should it "go viral"? Would you get some copies and help spin it on its way?