This weekend, I am attending the Prague Conference on Political Economy. It’s being held at the Cevro Institut, which is housed in a beautiful court-yardÂ structure. The Institut’s director, Josef Sima, describes it as a free marketÂ college where students can explore the writings of John Locke, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and Ludwig von Mises. The students there are to be envied and one wishes Prof. Sima well in his endeavours to make the Cevro Institut a European centre of classical liberalism.
Among the talks and papers delivered, here are some of the highlights:
* Terry Anderson of the Hoover Institute gave a stimulating presentation arguingÂ that the notion ofÂ externalities ought to be expungedÂ from environmental policy discussions. In its place, we should speak of rights.Â If a farmer’s cows, for example,Â pollute a lagoon owned by a nearby fishermen, the question to ask is whose rights have been impinged? Anderson makes an intriguing proposal, but one wondersÂ if this doesn’t simply move us from one set of controversies to another, this time involving the definition of rights.
* Peter Boettke of George Mason University advanced theÂ notion of defendingÂ anarchismÂ on the basisÂ of aÂ positive (i.e., factual) analysis of how social co-operation arises and optimally evolves.Â Prof. BoettkeÂ - if I understood him correctly — set this approach forth as an alternative to defending anarchism as a moral imperative. Not sure if one can so neatly set aside the moral issue, since Boettke’s proposal must assume the desirability of Â social co-operationÂ – namely, that it is something we ought to promote.
* The best question raised at theÂ conference: if one could choose a utility function, would it be rational to choose one with a conscience?