«ECON JOURNAL WATCH 12(3) September 2015: 400–431 Classical Liberalism and Modern Political Economy in Denmark Peter Kurrild-Klitgaard1 LINK TO ...»
Haarder, who comes from a family and an environment traditionally associated with the Liberal Party, was originally a folk high schoolteacher, then entered politics, becoming an MP in 1975 and a cabinet member for long periods (1982–1993 and 2001–2011). Alongside this career Haarder has authored a number of short books dealing with liberalism and public policy. These include, among others, Statskollektivisme og spildproduktion (“State Collectivism and Surplus Production,” Haarder 1973), Institutionernes tyranni (“The Tyranny of Institutions,” Haarder 1978), Grænser for politik (“Boundaries to Politics,” Haarder 1990a), and Slip friheden løs (“Unleash Freedom,” Haarder 1990b). He also coauthored Ny-liberalismen og dens rødder (“The New Liberalism and Its Roots,” Haarder, Nilsson, and Severinsen 1982), which was one of the first attempts to describe the contributions of Friedman and other so-called ‘neo-liberals.’ Haarder’s works are rarely deeply analytical and may often seem inconsistent; however, they have been among the very few publications offering Danes intellectual arguments in favor of liberal positions.
The most influential book defending liberal ideas in many years was written by the economist and then-vice chairman of the Liberal Party, later Danish prime minister and NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen (b. 1953). In 1993 Rasmussen published Fra socialstat til minimalstat (“From Social State to Minimal State,” Rasmussen 1993) which owed a great deal of both personal and intellectual inspiration to individuals associated with Libertas. Rasmussen (1993) criticized the tendency to found liberalism on utilitarian considerations, and he instead called for a deontological liberalism, inspired by such thinkers as Kant, Rand, and some of the Austrians. In the first half of the book Rasmussen criticized the thinking underlying the modern Danish welfare state, and he addressed specific policy issues. Rasmussen’s later tenure as first leader of the opposition (1998–2001) and then prime minister (2001–2009) was a huge disappointment to liberals. From the moment Rasmussen took over the party leadership he took—inspired by British Labour leader Tony Blair—a swift and marked turn towards the very center of the political landscape and almost adopted a social democratic platform, at least on economic policy and the role of government. As Danish businessman and liberal columnist Asger Aamund (b. 1940) later phrased it in a speech at CEPOS in 2008, Rasmussen
19. Henning Fonsmark received the Danish Adam Smith Prize 1991 and the CEPOS Prize 2006.
“looked in the mirror and asked himself: ‘What would you most like to be? A freemarket liberal or prime minister?’” A public figure whose importance is hard to overestimate, and who has doubled as a political activist, is the political scientist Christopher Arzrouni. In the 1980s and 1990s he spearheaded the renaissance of classical liberal ideas within the Young Liberals and the Liberal Party, and for several years he was a close advisor and worked as speechwriter to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, both at the parliament and free-lance. Arzrouni has contributed to several academic and political anthologies (e.g., Arzrouni et al. 2001; Elbjørn and Gress 2006; Arzrouni et al. 2007; Jensen 2008). He has been a prolific public debater and writer, including serving as an editor and columnist at the weekly newspaper Weekendavisen and, since 2011, as oped editor and lead editorial writer of the daily Børsen. There he has assembled a large and diverse cast of free-market op-ed writers. Arzrouni’s best known work is the book Helt uforsvarligt (“Completely Indefensible,” Arzrouni 2005), a book inspired by and much in the same spirit as Walter Block’s infamous classic Defending the Undefendable (1976), which inspired many young Danish libertarians in the 1980s.
Arzrouni’s book brings to new levels the essentially Blockesque premise that if an interaction is voluntary it is also—at least prima facie—beneficial to both parties. He includes not only classic cases such as prostitution and drug dealing but also trade in organs and endangered species.
Two other authors trained as economists who have contributed to economic debates are the CEO of CEPOS, Martin Ågerup (b. 1966, with an M.A. in economic history), and the banker and entrepreneur Lars Tvede (b. 1957, with a B.Sc.
in international commerce and an M.Sc. in engineering). As the primary face of CEPOS, Ågerup has participated in hundreds of public debates on political thinking and public policy. He is the author of two monographs: Enerne (“The Individualists,” Ågerup 1998), about work at the turn of the millennium, and Den retfærdige ulighed (“The Justifiable Inequality”, Ågerup 2007), which collected empirical data in support of the view that, if inequalities are the result of market processes, they are not only justifiable but may result from processes that benefit the least well off.
Tvede, while pursuing a very successful business career, has written a number of books, including one on ‘super-trends’ and one on the psychology of investments, but his liberal credentials stem mostly from The Creative Society (Tvede 2015/2014) and Business Cycles: History, Theory and Investment Reality (Tvede 2006).
The former deals with practical insights from the thought of John Law, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Joseph Schumpeter and other economists, while the latter searches for the foundations of prosperity.20
20. Tvede was awarded the Danish Adam Smith Prize in 2015.
A Danish lawyer who has made a significant contribution to debates on liberalism is the Hayekian civil liberties author Jacob Mchangama (b. 1978). He began as a professional lawyer and taught human rights as an external lecturer at the University of Copenhagen, then worked at CEPOS for five years before eventually establishing and heading his own think tank, Justitia, in 2013–2014. Mchangama has published work on freedom of speech and constitutional reform (Mchangama 2012; CEPOS 2013), and his writing has appeared in outlets such as Wall Street Journal, The Times, Foreign Policy, and National Review.
ConclusionsAfter a long drought, the 1980s brought a visible renaissance of liberal thinking and writing in Denmark, and the present study has surveyed and highlighted some of the more visible circles and personalities. One lesson the history here presented may offer is that a few individuals and a few ‘centers’ may actually influence quite a lot.
It is not easy to determine exactly how much of the Danish liberal renaissance has been sui generis and locally driven and how much has been determined, or at least significantly influenced, by factors and influences originating outside Denmark. Certainly, inspiration from abroad has been pervasive.
Much of the liberal renaissance in Denmark has taken place outside academia, but there is certainly a marked difference from, say, the 1970s. Liberal academics today are conducting research at all the four most important institutions of higher learning, and they are working on issues central to liberal thought. The liberal renaissance, while strong in many ways, is weak at the economics departments and is extremely heterogeneous, with no unifying profile or paradigm. It is also one whose contributions have so far received little attention outside the country.
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