Adam Smith Institute President, Dr. Madsen Pirie, explains why he is willing to own the usually-derogatory term neo-liberal, and explains why the world actually shows us the success of the much-maligned perspective.
I spoke at Brighton University as part of their seminar series on neo-liberalism. The term ‘neo-liberal’ is usually used in a derogatory sense, though I chose not to use it that way. I was the only speaker in the series to speak in favour of neo-liberal ideas, and my title was “Looking At the World Through Neo-Liberal Eyes.” I began by quoting an old Chinese proverb: “Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. That way you are a mile away when you voice your criticism; and you have his shoes.” I invited the audience to see the world briefly as it looks through neo-liberal eyes. These were the points I made.
1. Value is in the mind, not within objects.
Value is not a property of objects or a quality they possess. Although we talk of objects “having value,” we mean that we value them. Value is in the mind of the person contemplating the object, not in the object itself. If value resided in things, it could theoretically be measured objectively and we would all agree on what it was. There would then be no trade, for exchange takes place when each person values what the other person has more than they value what they are offering in exchange. A trade gives each of them something they value more, and thus wealth is created by the exchange. When people make the mistake of supposing that value resides in objects, they ask how it arrived there, and come up with fallacious ideas such as Marx’s labour theory of value. An object can take masses of labour to produce, but if no-one values it, it will be worthless.