21st July 2011
Buy this excellent book by Timothy Ferris, but keep your eyes open
Over the past few weeks I've been making favourable mentions of Timothy Ferris's book The Science of Liberty. I've just managed to finish the first careful reading of this book.
I rate it 8 out of 10. Excellent. Definitely recommend it for everyone's PERSONAL library.
Note that Ferris doesn't have a theory about the science of liberty. His book should have been more aptly called "Explorations in the relationship between science and liberty". (Indeed, I have outlined the science of liberty at great length in The Discovery of Freedom – although I have not touched sufficiently upon the relationship between science and liberty – which I will now do in future revisions.)
But if we restrict Ferris's book to this more apt title that I've suggested, then it is a brilliant book.
Virtually on every page there is an interesting story or anecdote to show that science and liberty go together.
His analysis of some of the enemies of liberty (e.g. Rousseau) is very good – although he tends to confuse the "polarities" of political thought. For instance, socialism and fascism are intimately related, but in Ferris's view we need four separate points on the political spectrum to explain political worldviews. I don't quite agree with that.
Ferris's coverage of the French revolution (which was disastrous for liberty and science) and the American revolution (which was brilliant for liberty and science) is excellent, indeed brilliant.
His discussion on how socialist countries like USSR and China killed their best scientists, promoted their worst scientists to the top, and were forced to steal scientific results from the West, is very insightful. I always thought that the only way USSR could have succeeded (at least partially) in scientific endeavours was by stealing scientific results. That has been abundantly confirmed in Ferris's book.
This book and Terrence Kealey's Sex, Science and Profits (see my book review) must be read together. Doing so shows that the ONLY thing needed for innovation is liberty. NO government intervention or support of scientific research is needed. Indeed, governments only destroy wealth and harm science by picking winners.
If time permits, I'll extract snippets from this book for discussion. But that won't do justice to the book. So I strongly recommend that you buy it, read it, underline it, scribble on it. I guarantee that you'll learn many new and useful things.
Ferris simply doesn't understand economics and the underlying theory of liberty. Therefore he foolishly cites Jeffrey Sachs who credits "Keynesian economics … with virtually eliminating extreme poverty in the developed world" and other such wild and foolish claims (p.186). For Ferris to even consider the Fabian socialist Keynes as an advocate of liberty is a major weakness in his understanding of liberty. He should start by reading Isaiah Berlin. Keynes was a confirmed ENEMY of liberty: at every stage in his life he wanted centralised control, and was a great fan of USSR (which returned the favour by followed his "policies"). Ferris should educate himself in economics by reading Hayek.
His second major blunder is that he spoils his good work by touting climate change and IPCC in his final chapter. He therefore closes this book badly, with the climate change discussion as backdrop. That is a real issue since he clearly does NOT understand the science behind climate and has cherry-picked a few "results" in his desire to persuade us to panic about the situation.
But he forgets that at p.110 of his book he refers to the bitterly cold winter of 1788 – which was part of the little ice age – and the fact that "desperate peasants, foraging at dawn for roots and bark to feed their families, stumbled over corpses of neighbours who had died while pursuing the same desperate endeavour" Crippling crop failures occurred throughout that period. Thousands died. If nothing else this proves that COLD weather is far more destructive than warm weather. The modest warming that is going to occur because of CO2 is a BOON for mankind. We must not panic.
Anyway, overall, this book is 8 out 10. Go buy it if you don't already have it.