Anthony de Jasay, RIP Reply

By David Gordon

Anthony de Jasay, an important free market economist and political philosopher passed away on January 23. Born in Hungary in 1925, he studied at Nuffield College, Oxford, where he was a protégé of I.M.D. Little, a leading authority on welfare economics. Like Little, de Jasay was an astringent critic, and he often assailed his fellow classical liberals, such as Friedrich Hayek, as well as opponents of the free market. Almost everyone wrongly took for granted, he thought, that the state is necessary. In fact, those who control the state are self-interested actors, not neutral umpires. In this view, he followed the public choice school, but he argued that James Buchanan and others erred in thinking the state could be tamed by constitutional restraints. He was also skeptical of defenses of the free market on consequentialist and natural rights grounds. Instead, he defended “moral minimalism.” The burden of proof rested on anyone who proposed to limit the conduct of others. His greatest book is The State, but he was the author of many other books as well, such as Social Contract, Free Ride, a criticism of “public goods” justifications for the state. He will be missed.

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