Friday, March 03, 2006

Harry Browne, RIP 

If you've ever been around the libertarian movement, you know of Harry Browne. He was the presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party in 1996, and I voted for him that year. He maintained a website through the end of last year. At times I thought he was wonderful; indeed, my view of him was such that when it turned out his campaign had violated party rules it was the last straw with my disillusionment with the LP, scant months before 9-11 would have blown my ties asunder anyway.

But while my disappointment with politics was complete, I still read and own "How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World." Perhaps its most important passage comes in "The Unselfishness Trap" from that book. I watch how people think the only way they can be good is to be 'unselfish', which means to sacrifice. The good, Browne points out, can also come from serving others for your own sake.

...your daily life is made up of dozens of such exchanges � small and large transactions in which each party gets something he values more than what he gives up. The exchange doesn't have to involve money; you may be spending time, attention, or effort in exchange for something you value.

Mutually beneficial relationships are possible when desires are compatible. Sometimes the desires are the same � like going to a movie together. Sometimes the desires are different � like trading your money for someone's house. In either case, it's the compatibility of the desires that makes the exchange possible.

No sacrifice is necessary when desires are compatible. So it makes sense to seek
out people with whom you can have mutually beneficial relationships.

Browne understood the basic fabric of a capitalist system, and offered it to people in a self-help book that was quite popular in its time. Walter Williams, 35 years later, said it succinctly, "income is earned through pleasing and serving one�s fellow man." Income provides 'certificates of performance' that allow one to claim the product of another man, who in turn uses the same certificates, &c.

Harry Browne died Wednesday at age 72. Lew Rockwell provides an obituary.