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LIBERTARIAN WRITER PUTS FAITH IN FUTURE'S PROMISE OF PROGRESS.

Byline: JOSEPH J. JACOBS Local View

I have just read a new book by Virginia Postrel, the brilliant editor of Reason Magazine, a publication of the libertarian Reason Society. She does an excellent job of cutting through some of the most troublesome aspects of liberal-conservative conflict.

Every writer has favorite words with which they fall in love. I have a long list that I'm always editing out of my own writings. One of Postrel's favorites is ``stasis.'' According to Webster's that means the condition of standing still. In her book ``The Future and its Enemies'' (Free Press), she looks at social and economic problems from the standpoint of the ``Stasists'' - those who insist upon confining enterprise to the established rules and who resist thinking ``out of the box.''

A number of people tell me that I am more of a libertarian than a traditional conservative. They may be right. After all, I complain often about too much government. I wrote a column recently criticizing Republican legislators for so rarely saying: ``It's a problem that the government can't solve properly, let the people do it themselves.'' An example is the pro-choice vs. pro-life abortion debate.

One thing Postrel does is to help resolve the difficulty I've had in defining the terms ``liberal'' and ``conservative.'' I have claimed that liberals are often really conservatives because they insist upon using the same old solutions to solve social and economic problems. Consider how many liberal programs are nothing but a tedious repetition of ideas and methods devised by President Roosevelt 60 years ago during the Great Depression. These methods are stasist by any definition.

And there is certainly an appreciable segment of conservatives who stick to solutions which are ``tried and true.'' Thus, this scholarly book presents a new way of classifying the body politic.

What is the opposite of the stasist? Unfortunately the best word to describe them is as ``progressives,'' but that has been usurped by the ultimate in stasists, the liberals with a failed socialist methodology. Postrel uses the more elegant word, ``dynamists.'' Using this book as a guide, we can now divide people as either stasists or dynamists. We avoid the use of labels that have lost their meaning.

Not surprisingly for a libertarian, she suggests that most of the stasists are in the government apparatus, stuck with a corrupt methodology. She places her trust in the hands of the people. Thus, established structure is seen as the enemy. In another sense, however, Postrel reinforces an observation I agree with heartily.

The most successful and the most satisfying accomplishments in one's life are not in attaining goals, but rather in inventing or devising the method of attaining the desirable goal. The ``process'' is the most important creative effort and results are just a byproduct. That is an existential view, seemingly contradictory for an engineer or a businessman, who traditionally are oriented toward the bottom line.

I've observed that for an entrepreneur the end result of a process is not the special prize one anticipates. Once a process has been established that gives less than best results, the temptation is to repeat it over and over, hoping for better results. This is the kind of stasis Postrel frowns upon.

Ideologues, when faced with failures in practice, insist that the only remedy is to pursue their ideas with increased fervor. The dynamists, on the other hand, keep trying to invent new processes in order to get better results. In the business world, the corporate functionary is the stasist and the entrepreneur is the dynamist. It is the difference between General Motors and Microsoft.

One interesting chapter in ``The Future and Its Enemies'' discusses the environmental movement and especially the preservationists. Save the forests, save the wetlands, save the snail darter, etc., are ultimate examples of stasis.

Stasists do dominate our lives and they project the false image of the ``risk-free society.'' Dynamists represent adventure, the attack on the wilderness of free thought, the fording of rivers and the advance in the face of danger. They represent the best values in human nature. This book celebrates them and should be read by all who cherish the intrinsic worth of human beings.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 26, 1998
Words:698
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