I liked Thomas Aubrey’s little book, All Roads Lead to Serfdom: Confronting Liberalism’s Fatal Flaw. It could alternatively be called, Confronting the weaknesses of the Anglo-Saxon economic model. But he does so thoughtfully, contrasting the utilitarian tradition of British/American economic policy with (West) Germany and the “underlying ordoliberal principle of the dispersion of power”. It’s quite a philosophical book, concluding that private and public power should be dispersed across labor markets, product markets, and state activities (as well as the liberal market basics of property rights secured and a stable currency). In addition to emphasizing the importance of ideashowever – and I fully agree – the book calculates indices of power dispersion (“to provide a potential alternative framework to the current welfarist utilitarian approach”) and contains a series of proposals on how to disperse power in the three domains.
The empirical data turn out broadly as expected. Canada, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden turn out to have widely dispersed state power, just as the United States and the Scandinavian countries cluster near the top of the three rankings. The UK is near the bottom of all three rankings, while the US is near the top for dispersion of state power, but not for labor or product markets. This seems to me to underestimate the ripple effect of economic power in terms of political power, albeit in sometimes indirect ways.
Books comparing and contrasting with the German model is interesting although Aubrey concludes that Germany itself failed to live up to ordoliberal ideals. I tend to agree with his final conclusion: “If liberalism is to have a future, those who believe in liberal values will have to argue for an alternative ethical foundation; one where freedom and equality can be steadily manufactured by the continuous dispersion of public and private power. Ideas are indeed important in winning hearts and minds. The naïve utilitarianism that has underpinned the economic policy textbook of the past 40 or 50 years has lost hearts and minds. But I’m not sure that defining what is needed in terms of “ordoliberalism” with all its free market and Hayekian baggage will be an easy sell, both from a heart and mind perspective. (And the book was only priced for libraries by its publisher, Bristol University Press, so it won’t even have much chance of swaying people.)