September 1, 2000

Why Does Freedom Wax and Wane?

  • Tyler Cowen

    Holbert L. Harris Chair of Economics at George Mason University
Key materials
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The 20th century has seen some of the greatest restrictions on liberty of any period in human history, as well as significant liberalizations and improvements. These questions do not always hold a central place in mainstream academic discourse, but there are scholars who seek to explain how and why these changes have occurred. This paper attempts to make this research accessible to a broader audience. It presents relevant research on social change and concludes that Western societies are not headed off the proverbial economic cliff. Even though governments may be larger and more bureaucratic than before, they largely continue to support freedom because failure to do so could destroy the entire system. Moreover, market-oriented economies have demonstrated a lasting ability to outcompete alternatives, such as communism. Technological changes and advancements hold a promise for greater freedom and prosperity across the world.

Author’s Note

“Mercatus first put this piece out in 2000. We all thought it was worthwhile to revisit these issues, given the uncertain course of liberty in today’s world. I don’t these days agree with everything in this piece, so think of it as a time-slice of my opinions and survey methods from back then. In any case, I hope it is still of interest. Some verb tenses and discussions related to time have been changed in minor ways, to avoid sounding strange or incongruous, but otherwise I have left the content as it was.”