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This WSJ poll is about six weeks out of date, so it is pretty useless for tracking the presidential race. There are some other results that have more lasting relevance. 58% say that the globalisation of the American economy has been on the whole “bad,” with just 28% saying the opposite and 11% declaring it a wash. That is pretty clearly bad news for the party most closely identified with globalisation at present. The number for those saying globalisation has generally benefited “the American economy” has dropped 14 points from a poll 10 years ago. There are as many dissatisfied with their financial circumstances (33%) as there have been since the wake of the ‘01-’02 recession. 52% said that immigration “hurts more than it helps” the United States, up eight points from last summer and back at the same levels two years earlier. As of mid-December when the poll was taken, 56% said that victory in Iraq was not still possible. All of the pro-”surge” talk affected the respondents over the course of 2007, but as of last December 44% said it had made no difference and 14% said that it had made things worse. 57% agreed with the statement that most American soldiers should be withdrawn from Iraq by the start of 2009. Except for immigration, obviously, the Republicans are on the unpopular side of every one of these questions.
The poll also has two interesting figures on anti-Mormonism. 59% could correctly identify that Romney was a Mormon, and 26% “felt uncomfortable” about Romney’s Mormonism and its possible effect on his presidential decisions (this was how the question was phrased), which was slightly higher than the percentage “uncomfortable” about his religion in the abstract.
It’s like this, James: if you push for more neoliberal policies in Latin America, that will magically reduce the popularity of the “false populism” that has flourished on account of the backlash against the last round of neoliberal policies pushed by Washington, whereas if you don’t support those policies “false populism” will run wild. That’s clear, isn’t it?
When the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis went crashing into the Mississippi River, everyone was suddenly paying a great deal of attention to our old, overburdened infrastructure, which is still, as it was last summer when this happened, old and overburdened. Now, as it turned out, that particular collapse did not result from a lack of maintenance but from a structural flaw, but this hardly makes the overburdening of the rest of our highways and bridges any less real. When Huckabee talked about doubling I-95 along its entire length, a frequent reaction on debate night was to laugh or make cracks about Huckabee’s Keynesian economics, but there were some who saw something of value there. One of the common themes that can be found among a number of different advocates for a genuinely middle-class-oriented conservatism is a recognition of the incredible amount of time and energy put into commuting, as well as the huge opportunity cost of this commuting.
Though all of the advocates in question might not agree with this entirely, mass commuting over long distances is a function of the unsettled and highly dependent nature of American life that creates the vast spaces between home and work and obliges people to rely increasingly on automobiles to go anywhere or do anything. While the “whirlwind of creative destruction” makes mobility from city to city commonplace, sprawl daily compels frequent long-distance mobility. In such an arrangement, people are settled neither in place nor really even in state of mind.
The trouble with Huckabee’s proposal is that it seems to be a kind of ad hoc alternative to even more dubious “stimulus” packages on offer and does seem to reflect the logic of government work programs, but it also shows him as someone who appears to understand the strains commuting–and the traffic jams those commutes create–puts on families, on energy resources and on the environment, to say nothing of the additional transportation costs that are passed on to consumers. Ross spoke about addressing the length of commutes in his bloggingheads appearance with Ruy Texeira here. The larger problem with Huckabee’s proposal is that it is really almost nothing more than a Band-Aid, the sort of temporary fix to structural problems of our (sub)urban life and zoning regulations, and it is ultimately no different from paving over more rural and suburban landscape to provide larger roads for ever-growing settlements, except that this proposes to do the same on a semi-national scale. As people live farther and farther away from their places of work, highway expansions are either going to become increasingly necessary to accommodate the increasing numbers of cars driving ever-longer routes or the divisions among residential, commercial and industrial zones will have to be reduced or eliminated. Ideally, the less dependent on the highway system communities could become the better, and the less need for mass commuting the better. Until then, highway expansions are probably the best make-shift solution.
The objection to Huckabee’s I-95 proposal reminds me a lot of the complaints against Huckabee’s fiscal record in Arkansas. Some significant part of the tax hikes for which he is now being demonised went to rebuilding Arkansas’ main highways. This is what the Huckabee campaign says, but it also happens to be true. Anyone who drove through Arkansas on I-40 during the very beginning of his tenure and then drove on it a few years later (as I did for four years going to and from college four times a year) knows how much Arkansas’ main highways improved in just a few years. While I can think of some traditional arguments against internal improvements that would make highway spending undesirable, I don’t believe for a second that most of Huckabee’s critics think that highway maintenance is not an acceptable function of government. Infrastructure is costly to build and maintain, and it is reasonable that it is a public expenditure that pays for it, since these roads serve a public purpose and, at least in theory, benefit the entire commonwealth.
By the way, whatever you think of Paul’s monetary views, his statement that wars produce inflation is absolutely right and pretty much irrefutable. At some point, you have to be either pro-dollar or you can be pro-war.
Does Huckabee enjoy people ridiculing him?
Duncan Hunter, who actually opposes free trade and illegal immigration, has endorsed Mike Huckabee, who wants you to think that he does. My one-time, quite ludicrous prediction that Duncan Hunter would be the Republican nominee (based once again on the implausibility of all of the alternatives) was informed partly by the idea that Hunter’s protectionist and border security credentials would help the GOP this cycle with those states that they must win. One of the crucial flaws with this is that I assumed voters would want the experienced legislator who knew what he was talking about, rather than the artful showman who does not. Nonetheless, the Huckabee phenomenon shows that there is some response among Republicans to the themes Hunter has articulated–they just needed someone a bit smoother and more glib to gesture towards them very generally before they would get excited.
P.S. Hunter’s endorsement statement is here. It clearly helps Huckabee’s reputation on border security and national security that one of the leading restrictionists and former Chairman of the Armed Forces Committee has endorsed him. It’s an interesting split of the two also-rans: Tancredo went for Romney, which was frankly more bizarre than this, and Hunter has backed Huckabee. As recent and cynical as Huckabee’s shift on immigration has been, the Hunter endorsement doesn’t strike me as being nearly as odd as Tancredo’s support for Romney. The latter is just wrong on so many levels.
Self-reliance is an excellent thing to instill and to follow, and that is and should be the ultimate answer, but almost everything about the current regime works against self-reliance and creates disincentives for practicing self-reliance.
By that I mean that we have a dependency problem that has been fostered to a significant degree by what some people like to call “economic dynamism” or “creative destruction.” Knocking out the old mechanisms of social support, scattering communities with the draw of “better opportunities” elsewhere (and thereby helping to kill whichever small towns weren’t already ravaged by the highway system) and encouraging consumption and the mandate of “growht” with cheap credit all work to make Americans less economically independent and make sure that they have few, if any, private institutions they can fall back on that are capable of bearing the load. Having creatively destroyed support networks that were fulfilling the functions that must be assumed more and more by the state, the “greatest force for change” is the greatest force for facilitating the growth of intrusive government to clean up the wreckage of all that destructive creativity. Further, having become so dependent on either government or employer (or both), Americans are at the mercy of policy decisions over which they routinely have little influence, except at election time when the people who have fashioned the system that puts them in the present predicament of dependency promise them…more government assistance! This reminds me of Caleb Stegall’s op-ed from 2006:
One of the primary conditions of freedom is a widespread distribution of capital, both economic and cultural. This accounts for conservatives’ long-standing skepticism and mistrust of centralized and concentrated enclaves of money and power with their tendencies toward societal management at every level. The oppressive effect of the management elites is essentially the same whether those elites sit in the board room, the judicial chamber, the legislative halls or the Oval Office.
Or as I said during the debates over Wal-Mart and similar corporations back in 2006:
I don’t know if it is “counterfeit Americanism” to find troubling or objectionable the considerable dependence of the well-being of a town on the unaccountable decisions of one corporation that has no stake and no real attachment to the place, but I would suggest that there is nothing terribly consistent with the listed American “core values” in this development. We do well to be wary of the road to state serfdom and advocate going in the other direction, but we make a great error if we think that road to corporate serfdom does not lead in the same direction and does not eventually meet up with the other road. The masters of both use fear of the other to aggrandise their power. The state tells you, “I will protect you from exploitation, give me power (and money)!” And so you do. Then the corporation says, “I provide you services and represent your freedom from government interference, so give me money (and power)!” And so you do. At no point are you concerned that the corporation generally supports what the state is doing and vice versa, or that some of the money you give to each one goes towards empowering and influencing the other.
Fundamentally, all of this comes back to the question of whether dependent people can be the governors of those upon whom they depend, and the answer is no. Without that, there can be no real self-government, and as Caleb said no real freedom. To the extent that he has no intent on breaking this chain of dependency, Huckabee is not any kind of populist that Caleb or I would recognise. He uses the opposition between “Main Street” and “Wall Street” rhetorically, but one has to wonder if he thinks that their interests are really all that divergent, or if he thinks that there has just been some misunderstanding in allocating the benefits. He acknowledges that something is awry, but he apparently thinks the answer is to elect him so that working Americans will feel better about their President (he will remind them of their co-workers!), as if that will alleviate their real ills.
This ties into the debate that has been going on over Romney’s “I’ll fight for every job” routine that he is now reprising in South Carolina. I sympathise with calls to self-reliance generally, but these are being made as much in a vacuum as Romney’s false promises. How do I know Romney’s promises are false? It isn’t just that I think he’s untrustworthy (though if his recent display in Michigan hasn’t persuaded you of that, nothing I say here will), but that he is not going to make the auto industry in Michigan competitive with production facilities in other countries simply through deregulation and research subsidies. For one thing, Washington only has so much control over the cost of doing business in Michigan, and the one area where Washington does have control over relevant policy (i.e., trade) is the area where Romney isn’t going to do anything to shore up domestic manufacturing. Not only is he not going to do anything, but he has all but vowed to make sure thhat the same process that has been hollowing out Michigan factory towns will keep happening elsewhere–that is what his “Reagan Zone” offers American manufacturing.
To stave off recession, the Fed appears anxious to slash interest rates another half-point, if not more. That will further weaken the dollar and raise the costs of the imports to which we have become addicted. While all this is bad news for the Republicans, it is worse news for the republic. As we save nothing, we must borrow both to pay for the imported oil and foreign manufactures upon which we have become dependent.
We are thus in the position of having to borrow from Europe to defend Europe, of having to borrow from China and Japan to defend Chinese and Japanese access to Gulf oil, and of having to borrow from Arab emirs, sultans and monarchs to make Iraq safe for democracy.
We borrow from the nations we defend so that we may continue to defend them. To question this is an unpardonable heresy called “isolationism.” ~Pat Buchanan
Many of Romney’s policy specifics involved removing Washington-imposed burdens on the industry, such as the prospect of new regulations. You can think he exaggerated their impact—I do—but that’s not left-wing. Convening industry reps and government officials to gab about the industry’s problems doesn’t strike me as all that alarming, either: It’s what comes out of the meeting that matters, and Romney didn’t commit to anything statist. Romney’s plan to quintuple research spending was pretty bad, in my view—but plenty of free-market folks are okay with such subsidies. The reason Romney got a “slap on the wrist” is that it’s all he deserved.
Plenty of free-market folks may be okay with such subsidies, but then that makes the definition of “free-market folks” rather flexible. If you look at what Romney said, he made the subsidies an essential part of his proposal:
But taking off all these burdens is only half the solution [bold mine-DL]. If we are going to be the world’s greatest economic power, we must invest in our future. It’s time to be bold. First, I will make a five-fold increase – from $4 billion dollars to $20 billion dollars – in our national investment in energy research, fuel technology, materials science, and automotive technology. Research spins out new ideas for new products for both small and large businesses. That is exactly what has happened in health care, in defense, and in space. Look how industries in other states have thrived from the spin out of technologies from our investment in these areas. So if we can invest in health care, in defense, and in space, why not also invest in energy and fuel technology here in Michigan?
In other words, state capitalism is already the way we do things in other sectors, so why not link yet another industry to massive government spending in unhealthy and distorting ways?
Noting a double standard in the treatment of Romney on the one hand and Huckabee and McCain on the other on fiscal and economic policy, Ross says:
It’s “sustained and detailed,” all right, just as Frum says - a sustained and detailed infringement on free-market principle, and one that appeals to voters in places like Michigan precisely because it goes much further to the left than Mike Huckabee’s substance-free talk about how the current period of economic growth isn’t doing all that well by the working class, or John McCain’s straight talk about how Michiganders can’t expect the federal government to bring back the glory days of Chrysler and GM. But because conservatives spend way, way more time worrying about the spectre of “class warfare” than they do about than the nexus between big business and the Republican Party, Romney gets off with a mild slap on the wrist, while McCain and Huckabee get tarred as liberals.
This is what I was talking about when I said:
My larger point was that Huckabee actually presents much less of a threat to economic conservatives than they suppose. It seems to me that, in their indignation that one of the non-anointed candidates has started succeeding where the chosen ones have failed, establishment Republicans have started applying a kind of rigour to litmus tests on fiscal records that they would not apply in other cases. If Huckabee’s Cato grade was a D, Romney’s was a C, yet we are gamely told by those who endorse Romney that he is much better as an economic conservative than Huckabee, when the truth is that, by the high standards of Cato and CfG, both are woefully lacking. The difference is that Romney is a corporate Republican and will be quite glad to work in the interests of corporations, while Huckabee manifestly is not. That makes Romney more reliable [bold mine-DL], even if it does not make him any more conservative on economics and fiscal policy…
This point would also apply to McCain. Beyond the substantive differences (i.e., Romney seems to be calling for massive state intervention to revive the auto industry and gets little criticism, while the same magazine that endorsed Romney would shriek about creeping socialism if Huckabee mocks candidates who went to boarding school), there is also a difference in the style of how Romney delivers his pandering nonsense: he is “optimistic” while the others are “pessimistic.” If you dress up even worse policies in optimistic language, optimists will view whatever you say more favourably than if you cast it in “pessimistic” (i.e., realistic) terms.
Those who don’t support Romney have certainly noticed the glaring problems with what Romney said. Doesn’t it seem odd that the “full-spectrum conservative” is the first candidate to elicit multiple comparisons between his plans and Soviet economic policy? Of course, you can’t believe a word he says, so there’s probably no danger that his actual policies would be quite so interventionist, and he is a team player, while McCain and Huckabee are idiosyncratic, temperamental politicians who enjoy bucking the establishment, if only a little. In an odd way, Romney’s complete lack of credibility means that any promises he has made to Michigan are almost certainly empty and therefore non-threatening, while Huckabee’s mildest gestures in the direction of the middle class are proof of his unacceptable “populism.” What also seems to worry people about McCain and Huckabee is that they have convictions and might act on them in a consistent manner. Romney gives them nothing to fear on that count.
Update: Or, as David Brooks says:
His campaign was a reminder of how far corporate Republicans are from free market Republicans.
Of course, it helps to be reminded of this, since many free market conservatives often take criticisms of corporations as criticisms of the free market and some of them seem to conflate the two.
During a speech delivered in the heart of the financial district, where compensation packages routinely reach into the tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars, Mr. Bush announced that he would ask corporations to curb excessive executive pay.
When it comes from Bush, Republicans may not be happy with it, but they aren’t exactly declaring him the second coming of Huey Long. What shocking socialist rhetoric has been pouring forth from Huckabee’s mouth? One news story reported late last year:
He calls himself the candidate who isn’t a “wholly owned subsidiary” of investment banks, decries large executive-pay packages and says the party needs to shift its focus from Wall Street to Main Street.
The logic of the backlash against Huckabee seems to be this: if you have a net worth of $20 million-plus, you can call for curbing executive pay packages, and if you don’t have that much your similar calls to do this are proof that you are a wild-eyed left-winger. Or something like that. It does make sense that an establishment embarrrassed by or tired of Bush would be unwilling to rally around Huckabee, but that would confirm the point that they see the two men as being markedly similar and it would likely mean that they are quite similar.
Let us all cast our minds back to those early days of the 2000 campaign when Bush unveiled the “compassion” agenda (in 1999) and see what he said:
The purpose of prosperity is to make sure the American dream touches every willing heart. The purpose of prosperity is to leave no one out–to leave no one behind.
In Michigan the other day, Huckabee said:
My goal is not to make rich people poor, it’s to give poor people a shot at the American dream.
Now I don’t like Huckabee or Bush, but can someone explain to me what the substantive differences are between the two of them?
And yet, Romney, the candidate with the most executive experience, is fated to wake up one morning and realize that he just ran the worst campaign since Phil Gramm’s. Romney will have spent $100 million or more wrecking his reputation! That takes work. It is all worthy of a Harvard Business Review analysis someday. ~Rich Karlgaard
Karlgaard also makes the right point about Huckabee and the Fair Tax, and the same one I was making earlier:
His Fair Tax would devastate lots of small businesses, such as retail stores, restaurants and realties.
This is frankly why I don’t understand how Karlgaard can also say that Huckabee has “boxed himself in with his populism.” If anything, he has boxed himself in with his advocacy for a crazy tax plan that hurts small business and middle-class households, but he seems to be persuading middle and lower-middle class voters that he is “one of them,” even when his policies do not benefit them. It is Thompsonesque phony populism at its best, and it seems to be working. Granted, he makes a lot of noise about being against Wall Street, but where is the evidence is that he is? It seems to me that if corporate Republicans could get someone who promised to get rid of corporate and capital gains taxes in exchange for calling them names once in a while, they would take him. The crucial flaw in Karlgaard’s analysis is the assumption that most voters will understand that his tax plan harms small businesses.
Huckabee has every incentive to distance himself from the GOP coalition; his nomination rests on its demise. ~Dick Armey
If that doesn’t seem to make any sense, that’s because it doesn’t. Arguably, Huckabee’s election as President would lead to the splintering and demise of “the GOP coalition,” but for Huckabee to win the nomination he does have to alleviate the doubts of other members of the coalition who are not yet convinced that he is tolerable. Now Armey is a primarily economic conservative with some libertarian inclinations, and he has long been engaged in a running battle with prominent religious conservatives over domestic policy priorities, so we understand why Armey is hardly thrilled to see Huckabee succeeding. Even so, what Rollins said about the disappearing Reagan coalition is not all that remarkable. It is a statement of recognition that the current GOP coalition is not what it was fifteen years ago, much less almost thirty years ago. The makeup of the GOP has changed over just the past ten years, as many noted last year with the release of the latest Fabrizio polling. Trying to organise an electoral strategy that rallies a coalition that no longer exists would seem misguided and a classic example of fighting the political equivalent of the last war. Listening to Romney rail against the welfare state, as if it were 1980 all over again, you get the impression that he is trying to run for Reagan’s fourth term. There are significant elements of the GOP opposed to Huckabee, even though they may be relatively few in numbers, but the same might fairly be said of every major contender. When it comes to talking about all of the others, even Giuliani, most establishment Republicans do not make overblown claims that this or that nomination would entail the “demise” of the GOP coalition.
With respect to Huckabee, this accusation has become a bit of conventional wisdom so commonplace that people assert it without even going through the motions of demonstrating whether it is true or not. Whatever else you can say about Huckabee’s fiscal record, it is extremely odd for economic conservatives to attack him when he proposes to do more tax-cutting than every other Republican candidate save Ron Paul. Never mind for a moment that his plan is poorly conceived, would probably be impossible to pass and induces laughter in most conservative economists–he claims that he wants to wipe out corporate, capital gains, income and payroll taxes and yet the corporate wing of the party is actually angry at him? What more does the man have to promise these people? A consumption tax would actually function as a burden on small businesses, making every small firm and store around the nation into the middlemen for revenue collection–a task that would still be handled by some part of the federal bureaucracy. Forget for the moment that it would hit middle and lower-middle households more directly, since they spend a larger percentage of their income on consumption, and consider how unfriendly the program is to small business and how actually very pro-corporate it is. While a consumption tax would have a certain kind of benefit, in that it would, like all taxes, discourage the activity being taxed, the impact this would have on consumer spending would be fairly severe. Americans might become less consumerist, at least temporarily, and might be less inclined to go into ever-greater debt to buy trifles that will have become simply too expensive, but that probably means the service economy would suffer. Once again, this would hit small firms hardest and would have deleterious effects on the general economy. The biggest joke of the Huckabacklash is that he claims to represent Main Street Republican interests and somehow corporate Republicans believe it, even though his main domestic proposal is far more to their advantage than it is to Main Street. There is nothing especially desirable about reorganising how Leviathan is fed if we continue to insist on feeding it ever-increasing amounts.
On countless levels, however, 2008 is aeons away from 1996, let alone 1992. In each of his races, Buchanan was trying to topple a genuine, formidable front-runner: a sitting president, a Senate majority leader. But today it’s evident that, after a year of frantic campaigning, no such creature exists; indeed, Huckabee’s leap into the top tier is itself vivid proof of the point. The GOP too is a very different beast from what it was in the nineties: no longer the majority party in Congress, its foundations crumbling, its leadership dazed, confused, and helpless. When I recently asked a senior party operative if the Republican Establishment could block Huckabee from the nomination, he replied, with a tiny chuckle, “What Republican Establishment?”
More to the point, the conditions on the ground are arguably more conducive to populism now than in Pitchfork Pat’s heyday. In 1996, after all, the economy was in the midst of a historic boom, one that was on the verge of kicking into overdrive. Today, the situation is the reverse: Recession looms, the Dow sags, the housing and credit markets buckle. The economy has elbowed aside Iraq as the central locus of voter anxiety. ~John Heilemann
Ron Paul appeared on Jim Kramer’s CNBC show Mad Money. They make for a very unusual pair, but just watch them as they bash the Fed!
To hear the pronouncements about Ukraine that issue from that establishment’s nodes every time the country makes it through another election without mass violence, you’d think this was Switzerland. Brussels and Washington pat Ukraine on the head for its ‘maturity’ and its ‘evolving democracy’. The smart locals know they live in a klepto-oligarchy, and that the West will trumpet Ukraine’s ‘robust democratic culture’ as long as capital keeps flowing in and out of the country. It’s meaningful that every time populist Ukrainian politicians have made noises about renationalising industrial properties stolen by oligarchs, the screaming from the West has been such to make you think a return to Stalinist terror had been proposed.
And it’s telling to watch Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the Orange revolution’s villain restored now to power, smiling a thousand-watt smile as he consorts with sheepish Western leaders. He knows where his bread gets buttered. Ukraine has achieved that sine qua non of the second-tier country whose elite wants to prosper in the global order — it’s managed to unlink politics from the economy. ~Andrey Slivka
What can be said about Mr. Paul is that he’s not only ahead of Mr. Bernanke but also of his fellow Republicans, and he will eat into their standing until they address the question of the soundness of our currency. ~The New York Sun
That’s pretty high praise for someone who has such allegedly “kooky” ideas on economic policy. It’s good to see Ron Paul finally getting a little more respect.
Sullivan responds to this Brad DeLong post by claiming that “only a left-liberal” could ask how the NYT could choose Bob Herbert “out of the 75 million liberal adults in America.” But DeLong’s point in objecting to Herbert was not ideological. He was focused on the errors in one of Herbert’s columns. He wasn’t complaining that Herbert was somehow insufficiently liberal, as his concluding question taken out of context might have suggested, but that Herbert was embarrassingly wrong on basic matters of fact. Everything DeLong said about recession and the CPI, so far as I can see, was correct, and Herbert’s statements (and uncritical repetition of others’ statements) were not. What Herbert describes as the “flimflammery of official statistics” is actually the evidence that we were not in a recession last quarter, which makes his moaning about Bernanke’s refusal to say that we have been in a recession in the last quarter even more ridiculous. Certainly, there are some weaknesses in the economy, and there is a great deal of economic anxiety, but those things do not make it a recession.
Apparently, Daniel thinks I spend a good deal of time saying nothing more substantive than that I do not agree with things I disagree with. ~Will Wilkinson
In the two particular cases in question, I think that a skeptical reader might not find that much more to the arguments Mr. Wilkinson advances beyond his assertion of moral abhorrence for policies and norms that he does not support, plus the occasional dismissive reference to nationalism or a “national coalition” thrown in here and there. How substantive that is, I will leave to others. My concluding remarks for both responses sought to draw out what seemed to me to be the root of the disagreement, which was a disagreement over basic assumptions. In the remainder of both posts, I did attempt to address at least some of the rest of what Mr. Wilkinson had to say. Perhaps these attempts were lacking.
In any case, the two posts in question are expositions of the observation that conservatives do not hold his kind of libertarian assumptions about national identity and borders, because, among other things, they do not and cannot take liberty to be the moral baseline. They make distinctions between citizens and non-citizens, nationals and non-nationals, which they consider to be not simply prudent but actually obligatory and right. Neither do conservatives, or most people for that matter, judge the efficiacy and worthiness of U.S. immigration policy on the basis of whether it aids the populations of ”developing” nations, because we do not think that it is the role of the U.S. government to set its policies to maximise the prosperity of the populatiions of “developing” nations. Having put up a rather eccentric set of standards, Mr. Wilkinson finds that conservatives are not measuring up. That’s all very well, but I don’t know that it tells us very much. That is why I wrote the concluding remarks that I did.
My concluding points in these two cases were to draw attention to the fact that the points of contention between Mr. Wilkinson and his interlocutors are not disagreements over anything like measurable practical benefits for the world’s poorest or anyone else. They are disagreements between libertarians such as Mr. Wilkinson and conservatives, because the two are sharply, seemingly irreconcilably at odds about basic values. He berates conservatives for privileging the interests of fellow citizens and countrymen (which he finds “morally abhorrent”), but beyond asserting that this act of privileging is wrong he does not give any persuasive reason why this should be so, except to fall back on his assumption that distinguishing between citizen and non-citizen is arbitrary and wrong.
For example, this liberal finds the claim, implicit in much of the immigration debate, that I ought to heavily discount the welfare gains to non-citizens simply because they belong to a different national coalition morally abhorrent. I don’t doubt that many people take themselves to have an “inescapable” moral obligation to treat outsiders unfairly, or to even positively harm them (even kill them!), if it redounds to the benefits [sic] insiders. But I deny that there is any such obligation to escape in the first place.
There’s no question of an obligation to treat outsiders “unfairly”–the so-called “unfairness” comes in distinguishing between insider and outsider–since it only seems like unfair treatment to someone who thinks there should be no distinction. Yet there is no good rationale for abolishing the distinction, or at least none that has been presented in these posts. The point is that there is not an argument I can see for why there is no obligation. It is simply a restatement of Mr. Wilkinson’s assumption that none exists. Hence my original conclusion.
He then made the point that the (to use Levin’s phrases) “contractual way” and moralising according to “continuity and generation” are both equally artificial, which prompted me to respond that, if this is true, their equally artificial nature simply underscores that people opt for one “way” or another depending on what functions they valued most. This drives home the point, implicit in the entire discussion about moral sentiments, that the adherents of the two ”ways” judge morality by significantly different standards. If it is true that “the liberal dimensions of the moral sense are uniquely amenable to defense by rational argument,” it would be interesting to see some of that kind of argument in these cases.
In the latest post, Mr. Wilkinson tells us that “the global system of exclusion through citizenships, visas, and borders has manifestly failed to make the world’s least well-off better off,” though the system was never designed specifically to make the “least well-off” better off. The basic question remains: why should that system be upended or radically changed, when the system of exclusion has actually worked to promote competition and innovation that have benefited most nations enormously? Furthermore, is it even certain that such a proposed massive influx of poor labourers into developed economies would have the beneficial effects attributed to the proposal? The idea might be as humanitarian and high-minded as you please, yet the costs of absorbing all these people (and the more, the better, because we wouldn’t want to be heartless and cruel, would we?) could weaken or stall those developed economies to the detriment of all.
Conservatives argue that there is a hierarchy of loyalties based on natural affinities and social relationships, and that it is, in fact, a disordering of moral priorities to pretend that our obligations to our next-door neighbour and to a man on the other side of the world are effectively the same or even close to being comparable. Proximity, kinship and shared citizenship create bonds between people that do not exist with others. Conservatives here are no more personally ”indifferent” to the suffering of the world’s poorest nations than are the people of any “developed” country. What Wilkinson calls “indifference” to foreigners’ suffering, conservatives call loyalty to compatriots (and a rejection of the sentimentality that allows us to see nothing around us closer than Africa). The false choice that Mr. Wilkinson would have us make is to believe that there is something particularly pernicious and vicious about valuing such loyalty, and that the only way to show concern for the suffering of the world’s poor is to open the gates and create a huge, exploited underclass in our own country.
I assume that Mr. Wilkinson’s concern for the world’s poorest is not a kind of rhetorical moral blackmail, though he still deploys it rather heavy-handedly. Naturally, he does not extend the same assumption of good faith to his interlocutors, but imputes to them “morally abhorrent” views, he hints of bad faith and disregard for other people’s human rights, and describes the ideas to which he objects as “repugnant, and dangerous” and “poisonous.” He says things like: “Levin wants to defend the shudder when it comes to, say, cloning, but (I trust) not when it comes to the subhuman treatment of the Dalits.” Levin argues that there are some obligations that we owe family and neighbours that we do not choose, which means in Mr. Wilkinson’s view that he would not really think twice about tacitly endorsing the worst aspects of a dehumanising caste system.
Don’t you see? Any reasonably strong concern for purity and hierarchy must lead to tolerating the treatment meted out to untouchables. That sounds like a very fair conclusion based on what the man said. This is the sort of tendentious stuff that religious conservatives in particular have had to put up with for years: if you strongly espouse a moral precept, you must obviously endorse the worst fanaticism imaginable and you cannot possibly object to it. Oh, yes, and then there is the charge of indifference to the suffering and injustice suffered by billions. But, no, really, there is an argument in there somewhere.
Telling us that that our immigration policy should be geared towards reducing global poverty is revealing in its own way, but takes no account of the ever-greater immiseration of the population left behind by the mass emigration advocated here as a solution. Is Mr. Wilkinson “indifferent” to the suffering and injustice that those people who remain behind (and inevitably many people will remain behind) will experience? I wouldn’t assume that he is. Yet that seems to be a likely outcome of the proposal he has endorsed. Rather than stripping the most destitute of nations of their human resources, it would be best for all involved in the long term if they remained in their own countries. This would in all likelihood hasten the pace of domestic reforms that would gradually make these places increasingly liveable and prosperous. For each horror story from the “developing” world, there are success stories in the same parts of the world that suggest that mass abandonment of the poorest countries is not the only alternative to dead-end developmentalism. As Easterly says:
But this doesn’t quite square with the sub-Saharan Africa that in 2006 registered its third straight year of good GDP growth — about 6%, well above historic averages for either today’s rich countries or all developing countries. Growth of living standards in the last five years is the highest in Africa’s history.
At the moment when things may be looking up, with the obvious notable exceptions, we should call on people to flee their countries just as they beginning to enjoy some limited prosperity? The failures of international development efforts in many parts of the world are well known, and Mr. Wilkinson and I are in agreement about that much. However, some “developing” nations have actually managed to improve social and material conditions quite considerably (those Dalits that concern Mr. Wilkinson so much are politically mobilised now and have elected officials drawn from their ranks–unthinkable only a couple decades ago). It seems to me that the benefits for future generations in these countries would be greater still, if more of their most capable and industrious people did not resettle elsewhere but instead remained to build up those countries rather than essentially abandon them.
So if it’s wrong to consign someone to second-class citizenship based on skin color, why should we feel any more comfortable about forcing someone to live someplace horrible like Zimbabwe simply because that’s where he happens to have been born? ~Tim Lee
Because we’re not “forcing” someone to live in Zimbabwe (or wherever), but rather preventing him from living here. Second, Zimbabwe was not always so horrible, and is not doomed to be so. It is horrible for very explicable reasons of bad “policy,” if you can call systematic plunder and looting a policy, that are a matter of record, and which could be corrected if the Mugabe kleptocracy were no longer there. I feel “comfortable” about stopping Zimbabweans (or anyone else) from coming to this country en masse, if they could actually manage it, because I see what this massive influx of refugees is doing to Zimbabwe’s neighbours and I do not want that for my country. I would prefer that it not be happening to Zimbabwe’s neighbours, either. The refugee crisis is a product of corruption and misrule on an epic scale. The solution is not found in constantly offering maniacal despots a safety valve to release the buildup of social discontent, but in keeping the pressure on until the tyrannical goose is well and truly cooked by domestic rebellion. Mass emigration not only drains other countries of some of their most industrious members, but it also serves as a much-needed relief for people in control of the sclerotic and bankrupt political institutions of many “developing” nation-states. Western guilty consciences and the policies based thereon are their insurance policy and one of the means for their continued domination and exploitation of their subjects. I have a hard time coming up with a moral theory that justifies that.
Update: On the subject of Zimbabwe, would you believe it if I told you that Zimbabwe was still 31st in a ranking of states for good governance in sub-Saharan Africa? That means that there are 17 countries that are considered to be governed even more atrociously. That seems worth nothing.
Today we regard a Northerner circa 1855 who transported, housed, and concealed from authority a fugitive slave as a moral visionary, despite the fact that he was flouting the laws of his time. Is there any morally relevant distinction between that individual and someone today who smuggles a refugee from Zimbabwe into the United States, shelters him in his home, and helps him evade the immigration authorities? ~Tim Lee
My Scene colleague Tim does his best to weight things in favour of his argument with the most extreme example of a misruled country and a comparison with slavery and a title that evokes memories of apartheid. Since everyone will agree that Zimbabwe is today a waking nightmare, and we will also agree that slavery and apartheid are bad, there must be nothing left for it but to relocate the entire population of Zimbabwe to our shores. The Zambians will be relieved. Or maybe there is another answer.
First, it is doubtful that life in a country that is suffering net population loss by the millions because of fears of famine and violence from ZANU-PF-supporting ”veterans” is less brutal than was the antebellum South. With respect to food production in particular, modern Zimbabweans would be fortunate to live in agriculturally rich and fertile lands that were being used so productively as they were in the Old South. Slaves in the antebellum era certainly had a much better chance of staying alive and prospering after a fashion than do “free” people in Zimbabwe today. Give Mugabe his due: his tyranny is just about as brutal as it gets short of mass killing.
Second, since it apparently needs to be said, people who are actually engaged in human trafficking today and the Harriet Tubmans of the past are very different sorts of people. First, the former are driven primarily by economic interests, while the latter were a sort of politico-religious agitator. The moral differences between them are vast. The former are criminals, not simply by some technicality of federal immigration law, but by trade. They are smugglers and crooks who exploit and abuse their charges. Since the people they bring here are on the fast track to being cheap exploited labour, and if we wanted to keep using slavery analogies, they are about as morally pure and high-minded as slave traders.
Bringing slavery into the debate might introduce other difficulties for the proponent of large-scale immigration, since extreme economic dependency is the state into which these people are entering (or, rather, it is the state in which they will remain). The argument a pro-immigration person might want to make is that this system of illegal exploitation and human trafficking is one of the reasons why immigrants should not be criminalised for trying to come here, since that would theoretically prevent at least some of them from putting themselves at the mercy of criminal operations. Of course, even in an era of open borders with all the other problems that would create, such exploitation would continue, especially for those coming by boat, as migrants will still be herded into shipping containers just as they are today if there is an economic incentive for the smugglers to do it and little or no law enforcement to deter them. Decriminalising immigration, which I take to be the main point Tim wants to make, would not mean that the human traffickers will be any better regulated; decriminalising immigration is a concession to the supposed “reality” that it is already impossible to regulate the “movement of labour.” If I were wont to get on a humanitarian soapbox and decry the evils of such human trafficking, I could point to this as a massive moral blind spot of the pro-immigration side, but I don’t like humanitarian soapboxes and see this as mostly a distraction from the larger question.
The larger question is this: how does mass emigration actually help other parts of the world? Letting in those who can escape the nightmare is all very well and good, but it is almost certain that the most motivated and most capable will be among the first to abandon their “prisons,” as the Free Exchange blogger calls them, leaving their neighbours to endure even greater hardships as conditions continue to deteriorate. Applied domestically, this would be rather like writing off inner cities as hopeless and encouraging those who could ”get out” to move to the suburbs, leaving the city centers to deteriorate and collapse even more quickly. In effect, what these humanitarian arguments for ending “international apartheid“ will lead to is resource-stripping of human capital by the developed world, maintaining the “developing” world’s status as a source for raw materials and a world with the export profile of a colonial dependency. Rather than arguing, as some anti-developmentalists do, that trade and investment will build up the economies of these countries, the “humanitarian” argument for encouraging mass emigration calls for massive divestment from the failed “enterprises” of post-colonial Africa and elsewhere by the very inhabitants of those countries.
Some might think that people who live in these “prison” countries regard the place where they live as their home and might even say that they are not simply labour units to be reassigned to allow for greater efficiencies. Mass uprooting and relocation of poor populations with migrants moving from the countryside to the city and from the home country to communities abroad, which has happened in virtually every impoverished, modernising nation-state from the independence of Greece on, is all very good for those who can get out, but dooms those who remain (and many will remain) to an even more miserable existence. Dr. Wilson once remarked on this, asking a rhetorical question that went something like this: “What sort of country robs poor countries of their best and brightest people?” This blogger’s kind of country, it would seem.
Via this Economist Free Exchange blogger (via McArdle), whose arguments seem strangely familiar, comes a review of The Bottom Billion. My guess is that Paul Collier, the author, and I would agree on many of the evils of ”developmentalism” and would find some of the same problems with the organisations and institutions that allegedly promote development in poor countries. The Free Exchange blogger refers to ”Easterly’s jaded pessimism,” which is fair if he means Easterly’s attitude towards the institutions and ideology of development. It might be misleading to those who are not aware that Easterly is, in fact, a tremendously optimistic booster of free trade (one might almost call his views on trade naive, but I do not) who believes that the surest way for “the developing world” to enjoy economic growth is for development agencies and foreign governments to stop engaging in their absurd obsession with “helping” them. Much more help of that kind, and these countries are done for.
At one point, the reviewer writes:
The Nobel laureate Robert Solow once wrote that economists are intellectual sanitation workers: their key contribution is to consign bad ideas to the trash.
So that’s what economists are good for! I had been wondering. The Free Exchange blogger goes on to promote mass immigration (or rather mass emigration from the poor nation-states) to free people from their “national prisons.” Iraqi refugees have been thus “liberated,” and I assume that they would have preferred to stay in the “prison,” which makes this talk of prisons seem rather odd. Some might think that people who live in these “prison” countries regard the place where they live as their home and might even say that they are not simply labour units to be reassigned to allow for greater efficiencies. Mass uprooting and relocation of poor populations with migrants moving from the countryside to the city and from the home country to communities abroad, which has happened in virtually every impoverished, modernising nation-state from the independence of Greece on, is all very good for those who can get out, but dooms those who remain (and many will remain) to an even more miserable existence. Dr. Wilson once remarked on this, asking a rhetorical question that went something like this: “What sort of country robs poor countries of their best and brightest people?” This blogger’s kind of country, it would seem.
This talk of “national prisons” is the sort of language applied to states that one wishes did not exist and would like to see dismantled. Again, the example of Iraq (or that of the recent Ivorian civil war) stands out to show us what will follow the breakdown of the “national prisons” in Africa and elsewhere. However, like the bold Wilsonians dispensing self-determination to the “imprisoned” nations of the Hapsburg and Ottoman empires, those who would destroy the prisonhouses may be quite unhappy with what results.
Concerning the specific dispute over why respectable economists routinely put their arguments on The Wall Street Journal op-ed page, I don’t think that either Klein’s incredulity or Wilkinson’s mockery gets anywhere near the real answer. It isn’t a question of credible people lending support to a “laughable ideology” or credible people who are ideologically inclined towards the paper’s editorial views publishing in a comfortable venue. Prominent, respectable economists submit articles to the WSJ op-ed page because the paper is one of the most widely-circulated national newspapers whose main focus is reporting on business and finance. A huge percentage of WSJ readers, whose politics are happily not always that of the immigration-cum-imperialism crowd who write the paper’s editorials, is made up of people who make their living working for corporations or investing in the market (or both) and who want to have informed commentary about developments in the economy. Economists publish their op-eds in the WSJ to reach an audience that is going to be interested in what they have to say. And supposedly clever schemes of building up the empire of the supply-siders really has nothing to do with it.
Ross follows up on the debate over his latest Atlantic piece on future Democratic electoral prospects, and he explains quite clearly what he means by populism and how his reform ideas relate to it. I think Ross’ analysis of electoral trends makes sense, which is why I wrote in defense of it. However, I am actually sympathetic to those, such as Will Wilkinson, who do not like the substance of the policy proposals endorsed by economic populists, as I do not care for many of them myself. I disagree with some libertarian critics of this populism, to the extent that they even allow that it actually exists, concerning some specific areas of policy and more general assumptions about the legitimacy of the claims of national sovereignty and national interest. While I have some right-populist inclinations in matters of trade and immigration and I have a very old-fashioned Bolingbrokean-Jeffersonian hostility to concetrated wealth and power, which makes for some common anti-corporate ground with more conventional left-populists, in practice I am not that much of a populist. You will not see me voting for Edwards-style populism or “compassionate” conservatism or “Sam’s Club Republicanism” now or ever. For that matter, I neither shop at Sam’s Club, nor am I a Republican, so that makes me a pretty unlikely supporter of this sort of politics, since I rather rather regard the former as a symptom of moral and economic disorder and regard the latter as, well, not my favourite organisation. Yet I still do recognise that there are people who might just go for such reformism, and these really are the sorts of people the GOP needs to win over and keep if it wants to remain competitive going forward.
As I have made abundantly clear over the years, I am a small-government constitutionalist and a Ron Paul man, which puts me in a fairly small group. (I am also very sympathetic to corporatist ideas of solidarity and a conservationist ethic, which may put me in an even smaller subset of this group.) Despite an appreciation for some of the aspects of corporatism, the kind of economic intervention by the state on offer these days leaves me completely cold. (Non-intervention is very often the wise course, in foreign policy as in domestic affairs.) However, my preferences do not really give me the luxury to pretend that people in this country are not looking for some sort of intervention by the state in the field of health care, because they plainly are. You hear this anecdotally from friends and colleagues, and you see it backed up in polling. The desire is there, and the main dispute seems to be over whether you have a mostly state-run or a more state capitalist-run program. Mike Huckabee talks vaguely about having a solution that involves none of the above, but he is typically blissfully free of specifics when he says this. (Based on anecdotal impressions, I would say that young, educated professionals might be even more worried about health care than many other groups, but I wouldn’t press that too far.) These people are acting on the assumption that the U.S. government is “their” government (if only!) and that it exists to provide them with certain things they need, or at the very least to provide them with the “opportunity” to acquire what they need.
At this point, someone usually says something saccharine about empowerment, which is usually where they finally lose me, since it is never the government’s role to empower its citizens. This idea of government empowering people is the root of all swindles. Indeed, citizens’ power stands in an inverse relationship with that of the government,and the government never “gives back” the power it has taken. The more “empowerment” we have, the more servility we have. This is naturally not a popular view (for confirmation, see the political history of the 20th century or just the 1964 presidential election), and it is not one that is normally associated with populism, though I think a case could be made that it is the ultimate populist view, insofar as it is one that places the best interests of the people ahead of popular enthusiasms. It is the view most consonant with a decentralist understanding of political liberty, and such an arrangement would ultimately be far better for the common good, a humane, sane way of life and the flourishing of more self-supporting communities.
As George Grant observed forty years ago, though, political decentralisation without economic decentralisation is simply submission to corporate oligarchy, which I think he regarded as worse than a living Hell (in which case, he would have been too generous). Consequently, he was known as the “Red Tory” for his harsh criticism of the dissolving acid that capitalism and technology poured on social bonds. Also, the Loyalist and Anglo-Canadian Conservative tradition never knew the reflexive hostility to state action that our political tradition initially did, and strangely enough Canada now enjoys more effective decentralisation in certain respects than we do (even though it also has more in the way of government services).
All of this got me to thinking about how strange it is that the Democrats have become the party of the economic populists, since they have historically been the less nationalist of the two parties and appear to be in no danger of changing, yet this kind of populism almost always goes with a strong dose of nationalism. Most economic populist complaints today focus on a few general areas: free trade, the effects of globalisation (e.g., outsourcing, etc.), related government favouritism for corporate interests and immigration. The Washington-New York political elite is largely in agreement that free trade, globalisation, state capitalism and mass immigration are fundamentally desirable. There may be disagreements about how to manage them, but there is only minority support for rejecting or opposing any of them on a large scale. (This is still true in the current presidential fields.) You would expect the historic party of labour to be more concerned about immigration, but as chance would have it, they are also the historic party of immigrants. You would expect the more nationalist party to be more skeptical of free trade and globalisation, but they are also the party of corporations. On each issue where populists might gain traction, the party leadership has tended to reject the populist position and endorse the globalist one, because their true corporate masters desire it. This remains true. What is striking today is the extent to which Democratic candidates are willing to buck corporate America at least a little when it comes to free trade, which suggests that the populist critique of free trade and globalisation, which was smothered during the incredibly boring, issue-free 2000 election, might break through this time and cause a change in the political landscape.
Caplan divides them into three categories: antimarket bias, antiforeign bias, make-work bias and pessimistic bias. Antimarket bias describes people feeling that trade and profit are zero-sum games, that one person’s gain is another person’s loss. They haven’t learned that free exchange is win-win and that in a free market, profit comes from cost-cutting innovation. Antiforeign bias, perhaps a vestige of primitive man, consists of distrusting “them” even though our prosperity increases according to how global the division of labor is. Foreigners don’t want to invade us; they want to sell us useful things [bold mine-DL]. Make-work bias is the belief that what makes us rich is jobs, rather than goods, and so anything that eliminates jobs is bad. If that were really true, we could prosper by outlawing all inventions created after 1920. Think of all the jobs that would create! Finally, pessimistic bias is the view that any economic problem is proof of general decline. Lots of people actually think we’re poorer than our grandparents were! ~John Stossel
It’s no secret that I don’t like Caplan’s arguments. I also find them wanting. Do “lots of people” actually believe that we are poorer than our grandparents, the folks who lived through the Depression? I would really need to see some evidence for that. Not that the self-serving claims of libertarians aren’t enough for me, mind you.
Profit can come from innovation, or it can come from other ways of cutting costs, such as reducing the price of labour by moving operations to places where labour is exceedingly cheap and of fairly comparable quality (or by importing cheap black market labour that does the same job for half the price or less). If you could cut costs through innovation and cheaper labour, profits would be even greater–that sounds like a win-win…except for the people who don’t reap any of the profits. The generalisation about foreigners is true, except in all those cases when it isn’t. Some foreigners may want to invade; some may want to infiltrate and attack. If you want to say that most do not want to do this, you might have a point, but the default assumption in favour of importing foreign labour and foreign products is no more rational when it is pursued relentlessly. What Caplan has categorised as irrational biases are simply different political leanings from his own; he knows that he is rational, so it must be that all these others are irrational. People do not assume that anything that eliminates jobs is undesirable. They assume that something that eliminates, for example, the manufacturing sector from their town is undesirable, particularly when that manufacturing provides most of the employment in the town. The libertarian answer: things change, people should move to another location. When people respond to this upheaval in a hostile way, it is declared irrationality and bias and the libertarian believes he has answered his critics. The optimistic bias of every free trader and market enthusiast is that every disruption, upheaval and economic transformation brings net benefits to all at ultimately minimal cost. That might even be true, but it won’t change the response of the voters harmed by the upheaval. The people who bear the brunt of those costs don’t care whether the costs are “minimal” in the grand scheme of things–they respond rationally to what is happening around them and are not inclined to measure their present misery against an uptick in national productivity.
I can see why Caplan’s agenda is attractive. It would be tempting for me to argue that no one who disagrees with me about policy questions should be allowed to vote. That would simplify matters considerably, and naturally I think that the resulting policies would be better, but somehow I think someone might suspect that this was a not-so-subtle power grab. If we were going to start setting up standards for voting, I would want to insist on voters who could also demonstrate foreign affairs and historical literacy, which would disqualify so many people that we would not need ballots, but could settle all important matters by a show of hands.
But in fact, the real Africa is quite a bit different. And the problem with all this Western stereotyping is that it manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of some current victories, fueling support for patronizing Western policies designed to rescue the allegedly helpless African people while often discouraging those policies that might actually help. ~William Easterly
Prof. Easterly is on a roll this month. His Foreign Policy article on development ideology was excellent (my comments are here), and he offers a much-needed corrective to the common media portrait of Africa (starring mainly Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe). As Prof. Easterly supposes in his latest, the developmentalists have an institutional interest in exaggerating the nature and scope of the problem (much as governments have an interest in exaggerating security threats, etc.). The larger the problem is, the more important, necessary and powerful they will become (or at least this is the hope), so they have a real incentive to continue to deem all of Africa to be a failure by their standards. That in turn makes the developmentalists that much more relevant to “fixing” a problem that is already being addressed, albeit at less-than-miraculous speed. Then comes the revelation that the developmentalists really don’t want you to hear:
In truth, Africans are and will be escaping poverty the same way everybody else did: through the efforts of resourceful entrepreneurs, democratic reformers and ordinary citizens at home, not through PR extravaganzas of ill-informed outsiders.
Just imagine–a world with no NGO junkets, no meddlesome international bankers and bureaucrats, no self-important actors who are out to save mankind! Okay, let’s not get carried away. Those things will all continue, but if African nations are fortunate they will not have these things inflicted on them. These nations have been poorly served by the way in which development lending has been done and the way in which foreign aid has been distributed. These nations will be the ones that achieve increased prosperity, provided that the developmentalists do not sabotage it, retard it or discourage it through their historically unsuccessful policies.
People do not grasp the “invisible hand” of the market, with its ability to harmonize private greed and the public interest. ~Bryan Caplan
Some unfortunate phrasing, perhaps, but even so it is an interesting claim that, because most people do not see the imaginary, metaphorical force that surrounds and binds together economic activity, they thereby must have an “anti-market bias.” More likely, these people lack the invisible hand-detectors that libertarians receive upon obtaining their libertarian membership. Caplan continues:
They underestimate the benefits of interaction with foreigners.
Perhaps some people underestimate them, but if anyone overestimates the benefits it is surely a free-trading libertarian, who seems to see no real downside to such interaction.
They equate prosperity not with production, but with employment.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but if someone lacks employment it doesn’t matter to him how outstanding the GDP has been. If we’re talking about politics, and not what constitutes good policy, the lack of employment today is more pressing and will move more votes. 19th century liberals at least understood this and restricted the franchise accordingly to keep the electorate from expanding much beyond their base of support. Once the electorate grew in size beyond the buergerlich urban voters that supported liberal economic policies, these new voters quite rationally embraced policies that would work to secure their interests–whether of agricultural land or labour or small artisanal workshops–rather than endorse those that tended to benefit middle-class businessmen and industrialists. As 19th liberals were bewildered then by the choices of the mob, so, too, are libertarians today, yet like the 19th century liberal the libertarian is an interesting, eccentric and fun figure who can command no great political following. Liberalism flourished in the early phase of industrialisation, and the effects of that same industrialisation worked to overthrow and destroy classical liberalism. Likewise, it is not “baffling” that American labourers sought and supported the politicians that at least promised to secure them certain basic protections with respect to the length of the workday, safety and health regulations and the like. (It is a separate question where the federal government gets any authority to do these things.) These choices may not be optimal for maximising productivity, but that doesn’t necessarily matter to the labourer. The interests of labour actually involve more than the compensation for work that has been done. Voters act irrationally just as Caplan claims if you have already determined that labourers’ voting for policies that govern workplace conditions, for example, is a form of irrationality.
If someone’s job has been outsourced to another country (there’s my anti-foreign bias!) or eliminated for the sake of efficiency (my anti-market bias is taking over), it is unreasonable to expect him to say, “That’s all right. The economy grew by 4%!” Voters are often irrational when it comes time to select candidates (because candidate preferences are driven by all sorts of intangibles and identity politics quite distinct from policy questions), but they are not so blindly, willfully hostile to their own self-interest that they misunderstand their own immediate economic interests. They may very well not see “the big picture” and they may support policies that seem immediately beneficial to them (for instance, nationalisation of an industry or massive redistributionist taxation), but which have overall negative consequences for the entire economy.
This complaint has ever been the lament of the classical liberal when confronted with a mass electorate: “Why don’t you people realise that the policies that will make me wealthier are the right ones?”
Of course, voters are short-sighted, prone to misguided enthusiasms and vulnerable to the predations of demagogues. I don’t like democracy. Generally speaking, I’m against it. It is injurious to liberty, because no mass electorate presented with the ability to control, however minimally, a huge coercive apparatus is going to endorse a platform of austerity, limited government and decentralised power. It will abuse to some extent this power, and demagogues will encourage this abuse for the sake of concentrating more and more power in their own hands.
No one will confuse me for a defender of the rationality and sanity of democratic politics. However, policies aimed at shoring up or protecting domestic industry do not strike me necessarily as being at all obviously “socially harmful.” They contribute to increased prices on imports, and often provoke retalitatory tariffs on exported goods, but is such protectionism actually “socially harmful”? Beyond the diminished consumption of commodities that such a tariff war might cause, what exactly is the harm?
Whatever else this study reveals, it definitely explains why no one will be bending over backwards to run on a libertarian economic platform anytime soon.
Conservatives and liberals will fight unto eternity over whose notions of the law, society and justice are right. But the one idea owned by conservatives is the market.
For many Democrats in politics, the market–the daily machinery of the private economy–is a semi-abstraction. ~Daniel Henninger
To normal people, “the market” is a full-blown abstraction. No semi-abstractions here. Conservatives are supposed to be allergic and opposed to abstractions. Therefore, it seems implausible that conservatives “own” one of these abstractions and still remain conservatives. How does one own an abstraction anyway? Wait, I know–the market will provide the deed!
If Mr. Henninger means to say that many modern conservatives have traditionally tried, at least to some degree, to guard property rights, defend the claims of private enterprise against regulation and argue for the more effective distribution of goods and services via a relatively less regulated process of providing such goods and services, then he might say something more like that. To speak about “the market” as if it were a concrete entity in opposition to an abstraction is to take a term that is specifically designed to abstractly describe a vast, complex system of exchange and make utter nonsense of it. But then if I were trying to pretend that providing cheap labour for business interests (a.k.a., exploitation) was a “core” American value, I would probably wind up talking a lot of nonsense in the process as well.
If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political subject, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and her moral authority, identifying herself with a single political path and with debatable partisan positions. The Church is the advocate of justice and of the poor, precisely because she does not identify with politicians nor with partisan interests. Only by remaining independent can she teach the great criteria and inalienable values, guide consciences and offer a life choice that goes beyond the political sphere. To form consciences, to be the advocate of justice and truth, to educate in individual and political virtues: that is the fundamental vocation of the Church in this area. And lay Catholics must be aware of their responsibilities in public life; they must be present in the formation of the necessary consensus and in opposition to injustice. ~Pope Benedict XVI
In 1988, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger published a collection of essays under the title of Church, Ecumenism and Politics. In it, he argued that capitalism is little better than national socialism or communism, in that all three propose false idols (prosperity, the Volk, and the state, respectively). Ratzinger said that to build a humane civilization, the West must rediscover two elements of its past: its classical Greek heritage and its common Christian identity.
From the classical era, Ratzinger wrote, Europe should rediscover objective and eternal values that stand above politics, putting limits to power. Ratzinger used the Greek term eunomia to describe this concept of the good. In that sense, one could say that Ratzinger proposed a eunomic, rather than capitalist, model of Western culture.
Over the years, Ratzinger has been close to the Communio school within Catholic theology, which stresses the need for cultures to take their point of departure from the Christian gospel rather than secular ideologies. Its primary exponents have repeatedly criticized capitalism for promoting an ethos of individualism and “survival of the fittest” that is at odds with the communitarian thrust of Catholic social teaching. ~John Allen
The “Idiot” species, we suggested, bore responsibility for Latin America’s underdevelopment. Its beliefs—revolution, economic nationalism, hatred of the United States, faith in the government as an agent of social justice, a passion for strongman rule over the rule of law—derived, in our opinion, from an inferiority complex. In the late 1990s, it seemed as if the Idiot were finally retreating. But the retreat was short lived. Today, the species is back in force in the form of populist heads of state who are reenacting the failed policies of the past, opinion leaders from around the world who are lending new credence to them, and supporters who are giving new life to ideas that seemed extinct. ~Alvaro Vargas Llosa
Far be it from me to defend the wisdom of crowds and the virtues of democracy. If Mr. Vargas Llosa wants to say that the policy preferences of mass democratic electorates are often foolish and unsound, I will not contradict him. However, I tend to find the anti-populism of the liberal democrat a little hard to take, since it is so transparently inconsistent with his own confidence in democratic government. There is often nothing obviously more purely rational and less self-interested about the preferences of the liberal democrat that puts him in the position to laugh at the populist and socialist as an “idiot.” Carl Schorske’s cultural history of fin-de-siecle Vienna was one work that revealed to me this contempt of the 19th century liberal and his sympathisers for the conservative Catholic, the nationalist and the socialist: in this telling, liberals conceived of themselves as embattled heroes of rationality, and their foes were foolish crowds stupidly pursuing “magical” answers that could not be explained by anything other than irrationality. In fact, the backlash against classical liberalism across all of Europe and, to some extent, also here in America was the result of the failure of liberal policies to address the interests and needs of huge numbers of people. There is good reason why Christian democracy and social democracy became the dominant forces in European politics in virtually every country: most constituencies did not benefit from and did not want the liberal order. The story of modern Europe is the story of how liberty and democracy are frequently mutually exclusive, but it also offers an important reminder that there are social and political goods that most people will privilege ahead of fairly abstract notions of liberty.
Liberal economic policies were geared for the benefit of liberal middle-class voters and promised, eventually, benefits for others as well, but in the short term the rural and labour interests were quite rationally and sensibly opposed to policies that privileged the interests of buergerlich city-dwellers and the interests of capital and finance. Liberals are always caught in the paradox that they endorse all of the contractual and egalitarian theories that must lead inexorably to universal suffrage and mass democracy, knowing at the same time that their definition of good government and freedom is not shared by the overwhelming majority of people in the world and will likely be repudiated once everyone has a vote. Nowadays they possess a charmingly naive faith in the virtues of democracy, but reserve the right to declare the exercise of the franchise in ways they dislike to be the workings of idiocy. This role today is taken up by the inheritors of the American Freisinnigen, the Republicans, who are quite happy to extol the glories of democracy and “people power” at every turn when it seems to vindicate their policy preferences until the demos turns against them, whereupon they rediscover that America is supposed to be a republic and the madness of crowds is a dangerous and worrisome phenomenon. It is as some of them are Jacobins who are willing to pose as Federalists when the occasion requires; the centralising tendencies of both Jacobin and Federalist make this contradictory stance less absurd than it might otherwise be. But that is another story.
Back to Latin American idiocy. What is striking about this analysis is not its rude dismissal of the recurring preferences of large numbers of Latin Americans, but the treatment of the resurgence of “the Idiot” as if nothing in the 1990s happened that might have caused many Latin American nations to question the neoliberalism that was being promoted as the answer to “the Idiot.” Latin American electorates did not turn on neoliberalism out of a fit of pique or whimsy–like its original, neoliberalism introduced any number of strains and upheavals into the societies where neoliberal policies were implemented and austerity budgets alienated those who depended on government largesse. Like classical liberalism, neoliberalism has proved to be wildly unpopular. The disasters of neoliberalism in Argentina in particular seemed to vindicate increased hostility to such policies. Even though the Argentinian government could be fairly blamed for the overspending that pushed their country into the debt crisis that led to the meltdown that impoverished many Argentines, the association of the ruling party and the government with neoliberal policies tainted the entire theory with the failures of their mismanagement.
If “the Idiot” has returned with a vengeance, it is because neoliberal politicians also acted pretty idiotically in their own right and discredited the alternative to old-fashioned populism. To the extent that neoliberalism was associated with pro-American attitudes, its failure made hostility to U.S. policy fashionable once again. Rather than face up to any of these political realities, Vargas Llosa goes so far as to declare outside sympathisers with this backlash to be guilty of “intellectual treason” (whatever that means).
The author takes the easy road of bashing Hugo Chavez, who is so ridiculous that criticising him is a bit like calling in an airstrike on a barrel of fish. He cites Chavez’s admiration for Chomsky and Chomsky’s admiration for Chavez. That is a surprise–two radical leftists admire each other! In other news, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair get along, and Christopher Hitchens does not believe in God. Somehow Foreign Policy thought it worth publishing an article that tells us that (contrary to all of those numerous Western claims of success) Venezuelan social and economic policies are not working very well. Plus, did you realise that some sociology professor from Binghampton University (where?) has defended the Cuban government? How could you not know–he is apparently an “American opinion leader.” Continuing to show the vast influence of ”idiot” sympathisers in the industrialised West, Mr. Vargas Llosa has dug up a lecture by Harold Pinter (he’s still alive?) in which Pinter rallies to the side of the old Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas (because it’s never too late to justify communist atrocities). Of course, it’s dreadful to have people still defending the Sandinistas, but in an age when Trotsky admirers appear in the pages of National Review it might just be that old leftists rehashing debates of the 1980s are not the most pressing concern of our time.
But did you know that there are occasionally news stories written about Chavez that do not roundly condemn him and all his works? Clearly, there are terrible and sinister forces at work! That is not all. He goes on:
Populists share basic characteristics: the voluntarism of the caudillo as a substitute for the law; the impugning of the oligarchy and its replacement with another type of oligarchy; the denunciation of imperialism (with the enemy always being the United States); the projection of the class struggle between the rich and the poor onto the stage of international relations; the idolatry of the state as a redeeming force for the poor; authoritarianism under the guise of state security; and “clientelismo,” a form of patronage by which government jobs—as opposed to wealth creation—are the conduit of social mobility and the way to maintain a “captive vote” in the elections.
This is all perfectly true, and it is also a pretty good definition of every welfarist, progressive and social democratic political movement that has come to power in North America and Europe for the last seventy years. Give or take a point, it could be a very good description of FDR and the New Deal. These movements are routinely very wrong about the efficacy of the policies they promote, they are often quite stupid about economics and they often end up worsening the conditions of the people they set out allegedly to help, and they are, of course, vehicles for ambitious men to acquire power for themselves, but they came into being in response to the inadequate representation and inadequate response of governments dominated by other forces. It may be the case that Latin American governments working on behalf of the interests of the wealthy oligarchs pursue policies that are better for the economic development of their respective countries, and it may often be the case that populist backlashes harm these countries, but it is entirely understandable and predictable that marginalised, dispossessed and poor people who see relatively few obvious benefits from this order are going to seek some kind of change. There is not even a hint that there might be some explicable cause for the resurgence of populism–it can only be idiocy.
Now, obviously Western sympathy with Chavismo is fairly idiotic, but it is also highly unrepresentative of most Western opinion, just as Chavismo itself is largely unrepresentative of most Latin American left-populism. Most Latin American nations have turned left without indulging in the more absurd excesses of Venezuela and Bolivia, and they will benefit from their moderation. The “threat” described in this article is not really that threatening, since it refers to the political sympathies of mostly marginal and far-left Western figures who have limited influence, if they have any at all, on policy. The regimes for which they have sympathies are themselves relatively weak and have already begun to suffer the economic consequences of their flawed policies.
But in the 21st century, things look different. Dictatorships, as in China, appear to have learned from the failure of the Soviets. While they continue to oppress political opponents, they allow a high level of economic freedom within their borders. ~Kevin Hassett
For some people, this seems difficult to accept, but I’m not sure why it should be. Providing goods and services and participating in government are two very different things. If the government permits the former, but prohibits the latter, that might even help boost productivity (imagine how much more productive political bloggers would be at whatever they did for a living if they weren’t spending all their time blathering about politics!). As a matter of resources, time, energy and attention, it could easily be argued that participation in politics and the exercise of political freedoms are a drag on economic activity. We could acknowledge this and still say that we prefer to expend our energies on these other goods, but it makes sense that those who have no such political freedoms and no participation in government to worry about will probably devote more energy and attention to work. Authoritarian governments may decide to do economically stupid things (such as the Thai junta clamping down on moving bahts out of the country), but democratically elected governments may make their countries commit prolonged economic suicide (e.g., Venezuela) to pursue ideological and political goals. It certainly doesn’t follow that giving more people the right to vote will ensure better economic policies–to believe this is to assume that the mass of voters knows something about economic policy and can gauge and discern wisely which proposals are better than others. Usually, voter preferences tend to be very blunt: they tend to overreact to perceived failure with extreme swings to the opposite side, or they find themselves confronted with a two party consensus on economic management that permits no real change no matter what the people may or may not want.
It isn’t as if the thesis that societies with less of a participatory government could be economically more productive was entirely unsuited to the 20th century. Singapore has stood as a brilliant, shining repudiation of all theories that insist political freedom and economic freedom are somehow inextricably tied together. Arguably, Singapore is exceptional in many ways that could make it a weak example, but time and again you can find evidence that both less free and less democratic societies (not always the same thing) will enjoy greater productivity and wealth. The post-Cold War era has seen this happen on a consistent basis, as the graph in Mr. Hassett’s own article demonstrates. The disparity between unfree-but-productive and free societies has actually widened during the 2001-05 period. Of course, this involves including Malaysia (which at least plays at having elections) and Russia (which has elections that produce outcomes that liberals don’t like) among the “repressive” societies, which will definitely boost the numbers against the free and the democratic.
The result is that these Coastal Megalopolises [sic] are increasingly a two-tiered society, with large affluent populations happily contemplating (at least until recently) their rapidly rising housing values, and a large, mostly immigrant working class working at low wages and struggling to move up the economic ladder. The economic divide in New York and Los Angeles is starting to look like the economic divide in Mexico City and São Paulo. ~Michael Barone
On the political implications of this increasingly severe social stratification, I had this to say last year:
Why anyone wants to replicate the splendid “successes” of the Mexican social, economic and political model, I will never fully understand, but the reality that Mexican immigrants will reproduce the society and culture of their old country was entirely foreseeable and was foreseen. For some folks, the transformation will not be so bad and will make some into a hereditary oligarchic ruling class tucked away in their little enclaves. That is, at least until homegrown Chavismo comes knocking on their door.
There are two forces at work gradually creating a new oligarch-serf society in certain parts of the country. First, there is the arrival of large numbers of immigrants coming from cultures in which this sort of stratification and the attendant systems of patronage and graft that go with it are all considered normal. The inherited political culture of these immigrant populations reproduces itself, and the native oligarchs encourage this development because the highly stratified arrangement suits their interests and may even match their own preoccupations with class-driven politics. Perversely, those most inclined to bang the economic populist drum about income inequality have the most to gain politically from the processes that are encouraging the widening of income inequality in these megalopolitan centers, since the two-tier structure would benefit an oligarchic party doling out largesse to clients in exchange for support. Second, there is the steady, ongoing departure of the middle-class families that cannot afford to live as the oligarchs do and do not want to live among the serfs, especially if the serfs are from a significantly different culture and/or race. Call the process ”flight of the native.”
You have the prospect of the coastal megalopoleis becoming extensions of Latin America in terms of social structure quite apart from any cultural or other changes that may be happening, while Middle America becomes ever-more staunchly the bastion of middle-class interests against a coalition of interests of oligarchs and serfs. This will make the coastal regions even more inaccessible to Republicans, while continuing to strengthen Republicans over time in the middle of the country. If the megalopoleis, Upper Midwest and coasts are net demographic losers over time, we should continue to see a decrease in the political clout of relatively left-leaning strongholds. However, as the social transformation on the coasts continues, these areas promise to produce ever more radically leftist politics that will separate these places even more from Middle America. It seems that it follows that those who do not want there to be two truly starkly opposed Americas should give serious thought to curbing mass immigration.
I like the optimism explanation. It’s easy to see why folks would refrain from reproduction if they thought their kids had only a broiling, denuded planet full of wretched consumer-zombies living pointless lives in cookie-cutter McMansions and soulless big box strip malls to look forward to. ~Will Wilkinson
Via Ross Douthat
On the other hand, more than a few conservatives who already have children and are having still more certainly fear that their children will have to face exactly this kind of future (and present), which would be one of the reasons why they are so vehemently opposed to most or all of the things Mr. Wilkinson describes. So that leaves me with something of a puzzle: are Americans optimistic in Mr. Wilkinson’s view because they believe that the future will not be like the dreary consumatopian wasteland that he has painted above, or are they optimistic because they look at the same dreary consumatopian wasteland and see its better qualities? Or is the key to American optimism (and thus relatively higher birthrate) the active embrace and celebration of said wasteland?
Leon Hadar explains why peace and populism may possibly play well in Peoria.
I can imagine a few explanations. One is that most conservative pundits have allowed that portion of the brain that one uses to analyze a substantive question of national policy to atrophy to the extent that they don’t understand why this is something that conservatives should like. Another is corruption; this proposal would be bad interest group politics and the energy companies are major financiers of the right. A third is hackishness; this proposal would put you in disagreement with George W. Bush and other Republican Party politicians. Last is the politics of resentment; conservative pundits just hate environmentalists too much to see the forest for the trees. [sic] ~Matt Yglesias
Yglesias proposes here some possible explanations why there aren’t many conservative pundits who advocate a carbon tax despite its purportedly great political advantages. While listing those who do support such a proposal, Ross also offers an explanation for why pundits, whose job description rarely involves introducing interesting or new policy proposals, aren’t pushing this or any other potentially controversial proposal. Ross’ explanation makes sense of pundit indifference, but Yglesias’ answers sum up fairly well most of the actual political reasons why a carbon tax proposal would go nowhere today on the right. A proposal that goes against corporate interests, the administration and offends mainstream conservative knee-jerk anti-environmentalism all at the same time is obviously doomed from the start as far as most conservatives today are concerned. As for the pundits themselves, they have no incentive to swim against the tide of anti-environmentalist, pro-administration sentiment that remains widespread in their regular readership. A carbon tax is the sort of thing Mike Huckabee would probably propose, and that is exactly why conservatives will want nothing to do with it (much as they already want nothing to do with the rest of Huckabee’s tax policy).
There are at least three additional reasons why you will not see a lot of enthusiasm for the carbon tax on the right once the policy ideas begin to filter down from the wonks to everyone else. There is the die-hard small-government response that lower taxes in one area shouldn’t be replaced by another tax. “Starve the beast” isn’t a big vote-winner, I agree, but among the true believing anti-statists, who are actually disproportionately represented in the middle and lower echelons of movement conservatism, it remains one of their hoped-for goals. Regardless of what a carbon tax is supposed to achieve, these are the people who will oppose it because it is a tax and the overall government take will not significantly diminish; the stated purpose of reducing consumption in something, regardless of what that something is, will offend another batch of economic conservatives who seem to think that consumption is man’s purpose here on earth. There would also be a pretty intense reaction among voters against a tax that would obviously raise the cost of living for everyone, since this puts another financial strain on working and middle-class families that will feel as if they cannot afford it (and in many cases, whether for reasons of indebtedness or not, they actually cannot). Direct taxes are no better for these people, but the voters who want lower taxes do not simply want to see their money extracted in a different way. The middle-of-the-road, less obsessively anti-tax voters who might even be sympathetic to the goal of the policy (i.e., reducing carbon emissions) are not so sympathetic to the goal that they want to see higher energy costs.
During a time in which economic populism is becoming more popular, because job security is worsening and outsourcing has become an ever-greater problem, it seems to me that the party of the carbon tax is the party that will implode all across the Midwest. If conservative pundits are as reflexively pro-corporate, pro-administration and anti-environmentalist as Yglesias makes them out to be, they would just need to sit back and wait to reap the benefits of a backlash against a Democratic candidate proposing a carbon tax.
The party of the carbon tax will probably not do very well elsewhere, but those areas hardest hit by the glories of free trade will probably not be eager to add yet another cost to doing business in the United States that will encourage still more industry to relocate in foreign climes. Add to this the visceral, nay, reptilian response of the average suburbanite to the suggestion that their ability to consume ought to be challenged and questioned, all for the sake of the alleged benefits stemming from the reduction of carbon emissions, and you have the next great “populist” anti-tax movement just waiting to be directed by a savvy pol. This last point may be the most important for explaining why this is an idea fit only for policy wonks: the powerful consumerist hatred of any conservationist appeal that says that consumption of anything ought to be reduced vastly outmatches in intensity any feeling of approval for something like the carbon tax.
Perhaps if the policy were sold as a step towards energy independence, it might manage to win the support of non-interventionist conservatives who already think we should extract ourselves militarily as much as possible from the Near East. However, if we were to pursue the nuclear route and oil fields ceased to be strategically important for America, what rationale would the empire have left? Has Krauthammer really thought this one through all the way?
I turn off a light and say, ‘Take that Iran’ and “Take that, Venezuela.’ We should not be sending our money to people who are not going to support our values. ~Hillary Clinton
I can picture HRC getting really excited about this as she walks through her house. Perhaps she also gets a kick out of denouncing Nigeria by not using her hair dryer, or enjoys mocking the Mexicans when she buys a hybrid. As has been pointed out by others, ceasing consumption of a fungible commodity for which there is particularly inflexible demand, such as oil, does not significantly affect the price and so cannot “punish” oil-producing countries that have governments that you dislike. Especially in a heavily cartelised industry, such as oil production and export, price is dictated somewhat more by the producers in collusion with one another and somewhat less by the market. In theory, OPEC could ramp up prices to $100 per barrel by slowing production or arbitrarily withholding exports, but they have little interest in precipitating global economic meltdown. Divestment from the companies that do business with such governments is just as ineffective as this boycotting, since selling your shares in the “tainted” companies simply creates a buying opportunity for all those investors who are not so burdened by fairly fake moral dilemmas (this would be most investors).
By the way, how pathetic have “centrist” Democrats become that they feel obliged to join the looney jingo fringe in vilifying Venezuela as a major foe?
Joseph Pearce has started more regular blogging at Small Is Still Beautiful. He has two new posts this week: one on globalisation and one on the related problems of global free trade. In the latest Mr. Pearce challenges what he calls “economic correctness,” in which support for free trade becomes the moral position against which it is not permitted to argue:
Global free trade has become an unquestionable moral dogma enshrined at the heart of modern economic theory. Aware of this “economic correctness”, politicians and economists are reluctant to question its presumptions and are failing to confront or even comprehend the effects of free trade on a world economy that is changing radically. Yet with rapid technological innovation it is possible, even likely, that the globalization of trade will destabilize the (post)industrialized world while at the same time exacerbating the problems facing the developing world.
The dogma of free trade has its roots in the nineteenth century and is based on the interrelated concepts of specialization and comparative advantage. Free trade theory stipulates that countries should specialize in those economic activities in which they excel in order to achieve a competitive edge, or a comparative advantage. They should abandon less efficient activities, relying on imports. These imports are paid for by exporting the surplus produced in the specialized industries. The result is greater efficiency and productivity and, therefore, higher levels of prosperity.
The rapid changes in the world over the past few decades throw the whole theory into question. New technology has made the global marketplace a practical, as opposed to a theoretical, reality. This has far-reaching consequences. During the past few years, four billion more people have entered the world economy. China, India, the countries of the Pacific rim and those of the former Soviet empire have all joined, or are trying to join, the Promised Land of global consumerism.
Sooner or later this is likely to cause major disruption. Labour costs in the developing world are as little as one-fiftieth of those in the developed, or over-developed, world. Since the free movement of technology and capital has `levelled the playing field’ the underpaid workers of the third world are now in direct competition with their comparatively rich counterparts in Europe and America. The workers of India, China and Bangladesh are part of the same global labour market as the workers of Britain and the United States. The implications are clear. Two identical enterprises, one in Britain and one in Vietnam, produce an identical product, using identical technology, destined for identical markets. They both have access to the same pool of international capital. Indeed they are both part of the same multinational corporation. There is only one significant difference: labour costs in Vietnam are one-fiftieth of those in Britain. It is not necessary to be an economist to realize which enterprise has the comparative advantage.
I know many of you have already jumped in and have been commenting at SISB for many days, but I encourage everyone to go see what Mr. Pearce is saying and, from what I have read so far I would recommend the book to you all.
My copy of Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful: Economics As If Families Mattered arrived today, and I look forward to digging into it over the weekend (Nativity services permitting) and being prepared to join, albeit from afar, the conversation that will be beginning next Monday at the blog.
From an E.F. Schumacher quote cited at the start of Chapter I:
If an activity has been branded as uneconomic, its right to existence is not merely questioned but energetically denied. Anything that is found to be an impediment to economic growth is a shameful thing, and if people cling to it, they are thought of as either saboteurs or fools. Call a thing immoral or ugly, soul-destroying or a degradation of man, a peril to the peace of the world or to the well-being of future generations; as long as you have not shown it to be “uneconomic” you have not really questioned its right to exist, grow, and prosper.
Schumacher, along with that other great subsidiarist, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, championed the idea of self-limitation. This necessary virtue for a healthy economy, a healthy culture and a healthy environment, is enshrined in the everyday realities of family life. Families teach us to be selfless and to sacrifice ourselves for others. It is these very virtues that are necessary for the practice of the economic and political virtues so sadly absent from our ailing and deteriorating world.
The increasing atomisation of society in the direction of self-centred individualism not only undermines the family but undermines the present and future health of the economy and the environment. The elevation of so-called “rights” over responsibilities has further accentuated the rise (preceding the fall) of heedless hedonism with its rampant consumption of the world’s resources.
In short, therefore, and to conclude these opening remarks, all true economics begins with the Family and ends with the Family. Small is still beautiful because families still matter! ~Joseph Pearce
Schumacher’s greatest achievement was the fusion of ancient wisdom and modern economics in a language that encapsulated contemporary doubts and fears about the industrialized world. The wisdom of the ages, the perennial truths that have guided humanity throughout its history, serves as a constant reminder to each new generation of the limits to human ambition. But if this wisdom is a warning, it is also a battle cry. Schumacher saw that we needed to relearn the beauty of smallness, of human-scale technology and environments. It was no coincidence that his book was subtitled Economics as if People Mattered.
Joseph Pearce revisits Schumacher’s arguments and examines the multifarious ways in which Schumacher’s ideas themselves still matter. Faced though we are with fearful new technological possibilities and the continued centralization of power in large governmental and economic structures, there is still the possibility of pursuing a saner and more sustainable vision for humanity. Bigger is not always best, Pearce reminds us, and small is still beautiful. ~Description of Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful.
Clark Stooksbury, Jeremy Beer and (I suspect) many others familiar to us all from our Crunchy Cons and Look Homeward, America adventures earlier in the year will be assembling next month for the group blog about Mr. Pearce’s new book, whose name it bears: Small Is Still Beautiful.
That was a quote from Russell Kirk, which Gene Healy read at the start of AFF’s February 2005 debate over whether fusionism could be saved that Michael mentioned in his recent post. The quote was one of a series of examples given of the rocky and quarrelsome nature of the “marriage” of fusionism over the years, and it helped set the stage for the debate that followed. I was moved to go back and listen to the debate (audio available online here) because of something Michael cited from it that caught my attention:
Then there are the memorably named, Dupont Circle Libertarians. They no longer see what conservatives consider moral decline as the result of liberal social policies but rather as the natural progression of things - the loosening of religion’s power over society. I’d like to discuss Dupont circle libertarians at length soon. But one notices from the 2005 AFF debate that Nick Gillespie considers the decrease in social stigma against gays to be an increase in freedom.
Once upon a time, I was, or at least considered myself to be, a libertarian. Obviously, those days are long gone, but I remember how I saw the world back then and I can recall how a statement like Mr. Gillespie’s would have made a great deal of sense. If the libertarian typically has no use for the claims of authority, at least those of temporal, earthly authority, and thinks the word authoritarian is a kind of insult (and I think most libertarians would fit this definition), he will normally have no use for social stigmas, or he will normally have no use for social stigmas that he comes to believe are merely the product of a taboo, a prejudice or a religious belief. Prejudices and stigmas of all kinds, which conservatives tend to accept as part of the human condition, are positively detrimental to human freedom in the libertarian view because they impose burdens on individuals for reasons that seem to the libertarian to be irrational or irrelevant. Especially if the stigma or prejudice focuses on something believed to be innate and unalterable, burdens imposed on the individual on account of these things that he cannot change and had no control over seem particularly unjust and damaging to human freedom. Thus it makes a kind of sense to see the end of a social stigma as an advance of freedom, provided that you assume that these stigmas are the enemies of freedom rather than the boundary markers that make stable and orderly social life possible and so create the conditions in which real political and economic liberty, in addition to other, far more important things, can flourish.
Their view requires a fairly flexible and often elusive definition of freedom, and a definition of freedom that many traditional conservatives would might not even recognise, much less accept. It is a freedom for individuals to act as they will (yes, I know, provided that it infringes on no one else’s “rights”), which conservatives will always see and will always parody as a lack of restraint and the surrender to the passions. This is, in the end, why fusionism fails on an intellectual level and will always fail. What we mean by freedom and what libertarians mean by freedom have surprisingly little in common; what is for them the top priority is at best a second-order good for us that is certainly desirable but simply cannot take the same precedence.
Practical cooperation for common goals and friendship are all very well and good. However, there is no coherent theoretical justification for a conservative-libertarian alliance. In truth, there never was, but most everyone played along with the “tradition of liberty” because there was a very specific sense of respecting the constitutional patrimony that made the idea of this tradition seem remotely plausible. There is instead the need to work together against common adversaries and advance mutually beneficial proposals that we embrace for radically different, largely incompatible reasons.
There are, however, powerful disagreements that might still pull the alliance apart, nowhere perhaps more so than on questions of economics and immigration. If the alliance worked in the past because both sides saw the expansive welfare state as a major threat to their respective goods, the alliance increasingly breaks down when what Brink Lindsey called capitalism’s “relentless dynamism” seems to be one of the forces dissolving social bonds and stable communities. This is one of those disputes where there is probably no happy middle ground: what we see as disintegration and dissolution of vital social bonds, many libertarians will see as the exhilarating explosion of individual energies and the inevitable consequences of “creative destruction.”
Many conservatives have contented themselves with being warmed-over classical liberals on economic questions for a very long time, so much so that when some propose to start thinking about economics as traditional conservatives once did they are roundly attacked by these Austrianised and Wal-Mart conservatives as incipient state socialists. These other conservatives adopted the worn-out clothes of Bastiat et al. perhaps because they believed that there no alternatives available, state socialism was the great, common post-war adversary at home and, besides, capitalism “delivered the goods.” (Even though this demands us to ask, ”Which goods does it deliver, and do we want them more than others?”) It is possible that some sort of fusionism may live on through the collaboration of the Wal-Mart conservatives and libertarians, but it will survive mainly through the conservatives’ embrace of almost all libertarian premises about economics and society.
Finally, the social constraints upon the farmer and the trader are different in two important ways. Primo: farming produces rootedness, trade volatility. The farmer has a stake in the land, which makes him much less mobile than the trader. Also, his means of livelihood are much more secure than those of the trader, who can make huge profits one day and go broke the next. As a consequence, the farmer is a lot more predictable and trustworthy than the trader. In contrast to the latter, he can be relied upon to take a keen interest in and to take part in the preservation of the realm.
Secundo: the farmer depends on no one for his livelihood; he is independent. He can therefore speak for or against anyone, as he wishes. He can afford to be proud. The trader in contrast is dependent upon the favorable opinion of others. Trade therefore demands, or at least goads into deception. “Those who buy (..) and sell again immediately, should (..) be thought of as demeaning themselves. For they would make no profit unless they told sufficient lies, and nothing is more dishonorable than vanitas–misrepresentation.” Moreover, traders are likely to be sycophants; they cannot speak their minds freely, but have to fawn upon their customers and swallow their pride. ~Andreas Kinneging, Aristocracy, Antiquity and History
Most traditional notions of honor, good manners, and the like seem to be aimed at addressing exactly these kinds of problems. For example, if everyone were like Mr. Pink, the entire profit model of waitressing would break down. ~Chris Roach
The biggest recipient of Wal-Mart money? The National Council of La Raza, at a cool $630,000.
La Raza (“The Race”) is the radical “Latino” organization that is aiding and abetting, by supporting illegal immigration, the Mexican reconquista of the American Southwest. La Raza is uprooting English as the national language, plowing under American history and heroes, and planting Mexican-“Latino” culture, like so much maize, in the fertile ground of American public schools. Recently, Wal-Mart dumped spokesman Andrew Young, the black former mayor of Atlanta, for spouting unwise and unkind remarks about Jews and foreigners who supposedly exploit inner-city blacks. Yet the company merrily subsidizes “The Race.” La Raza travels with baldly racist organizations that seek reconquista, the targets of which include Washington and Oregon. What will happen to the Wal-Marts in Seattle and Portland after the reconquista is anyone’s guess, but whatever the answer, we can now see the problem with Wal-Mart. In its single-minded pursuit of profits, the company funds organizations that undermine American culture, traditions, law, and sovereignty.
This, in turn, points to the problem with capitalism on the Wal-Mart scale. To continue growing, Wal-Mart, like any cyclopean, globe-straddling corporation, must ingratiate itself not only with the political elites who rule the local, state, and federal regulatory bureaucracies, but with the cultural elites—in this case, the leftists using Wal-Mart’s ill-conceived largesse to peddle multiculturalist and open-borders ideology. These leftists and the illegal immigrants who love them would destroy the culture and economic system that created Wal-Mart. Sadly, the libertarians and “conservatives” who adore Wal-Mart, and believe its always-low-price bric-a-brac are manna for Middle America, apparently are as comfortable with Wal-Mart’s philanthropic treachery as the leftists who oppose Wal-Mart’s alleged predatory wage-and-pricing practices. Yet, if the enemies of American prosperity and culture whom Wal-Mart supports attain their goals, the libertarians and “conservatives” won’t have a Wal-Mart to adore or a country in which to adore it. That middle America will be gone. Neither Wal-Mart nor its worshipers care that a free-market economy requires consumers who appreciate and understand a free-market economy and love their country, including the laws and culture that create them. The culture creates the economy. Destroy the culture, destroy the economy.
So Wal-Mart is akin to McDonald’s: It is the apotheosis of everything wrong with America. Entering the maw of a Wal-Mart is creepy. Any normal person over the age of 40 viscerally feels, as the cornucopia of junk and tatterdemalion illegal immigrants who shop there deluge his eyes, that something is horribly wrong beneath the garish consumerism and materialism. Well, something is wrong. The company knows no loyalty. ~R. Cort Kirkwood
I interviewed [Bruce] Frohnen on my radio show recently and found it more appealing still. He lamented what he called “Wal-Mart conservatives,” by which he meant people who worship at the alter [sic] of the “cheapest price,” and the utilitarian values of the market right generally. He expressed dismay with the Bush Administration on everything from foreign adventures to his imposition of federal standards on local schools and the diminution of local control.
His dismay was akin to that of many on the decentralist left when the Clinton Administration stumped for corporate globalism; and when his “liberal” appointees to the Supreme Court voted to affirm the power of local governments to use eminent domain to kick people from their homes and give the land to Wal-Mart. (That’s “public purpose”?) There is congruity here, if not outright convergence. It would be a stretch to call a Russell Kirk a commoner, or a father of them. He had too much of a patrician quality, too much distrust of the rabble.
Still, someone who is a friend of Wendell Berry and Ralph Borsodi, and hangs with the thinking of Jane Jacobs and E.F. Schumacher, is sniffing around the right tree. When was the last time we heard a Democrat in Washington invoke such people? Those of us who are concerned about reviving communities and rebuilding their social wealth [bold mine-DL], have got to stop heeding ideological stereotypes. There are allies out there. ~Jonathan Rowe
Mark Shea pointed out Mr. Rowe’s smart discussion of the important agrarian and conservationist figures who appear in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (ISI, 2006) and the possible points of contact between what I take to be his green/decentralist left view and an authentic conservative (which includes the decentralist right) one. Mr. Rowe also refers to his surprising discoveries at Crunchy Con, so he would probably also have an interest in the figures lauded in Bill Kauffman’s book Look Homeward, America and the related blog Reactionary Radicals. Better still, he would find a treasure trove of conservative thought on all of these important themes of local community, conservation, agrarianism and more at Chronicles, which is a superb magazine regardless of whether you agree with its politics or not. The gentlemen (and a few ladies) there have been blazing the trail on these and other vital questions for 30 years now, and I think it is fair to say (although I am biased as an occasional contributor) that they continue to get better as time goes by. Speaking of Wendell Berry, whom Mr. Rowe mentions, Chronicles had a fairly lengthy interview with him in the 30th Anniversary issue of the magazine this past summer (July 2006), where he said:
There is a kind of alliance in this country of people who want to take care of things–children, dark nights, the land, architecture, forests, ecosystems, rivers, and so on. I don’t know the degree of competence there is in this movement. I don’t feel much assurance that we know how to take care of much of anything over the long haul. But the sense that things need to be taken care of is growing, and it’s a good thing.
That description of an alliance is strongly reminiscent of the description from The End of the Modern Age of the ideas of the patriots mentioned as one part of the opposition that Prof. John Lukacs sees between nationalists and patriots (cited by Caleb Stegall at Crunchy Con):
Our “conservatives” care not for the conservation of the country, and of the American land. Yet: more than tax policy, more than education policy, more than national security policy, more even than the painful abortion issue, this is where the main division is beginning to occur. So it is in my township. It is the division between people who want to develop, to build up, to pour more concrete and cement on the land, and those who wish to protect the landscape (and the cityscape) where they live. (Landscape, not wilderness. The propagation of wilderness, the exaltation of “nature” against all human presence, is the fatal shortcoming of many American environmentalists.) Beneath that division I sometimes detect the division between a true love of one’s country and the rhetorical love of symbols such as the flag, in the name of a mythical people; between the ideals of American domesticity and those of a near-nomadic life; between privacy and publicity; between the ideals of stability and those of endless “growth.”
With respect to those divisions, it seems clear that traditional conservatives and Mr. Rowe’s folks would very likely on the same side. An ideal of stability, not of endless “growth”–surely, that is what conservatives should want to pursue. Real growth is natural and needs only good soil and wise gardeners to encourage it; it is not hastened by the unnatural hyperactivity of endless consumption and acquisition.
That idea Mr. Rowe mentioned of “reviving communities and rebuilding their social wealth” sounds excellent to me, and it sounds very much like a major part of what conservatives should be trying to do. In fact, that is what conservatives do (allow me to explain), and those who do it are conservatives, though they may not care for the label and may never have heard of Richard Weaver. Those who fail to do that but talk a lot about conserving this or that may be sympathetic to many conservative appeals and may well incline in the right directions most of the time but have yet to fully become living conservatives and conservators of a living tradition, living way of life (and I must plead guilty to being lacking in some respects in being the latter) and a specific place to which they are bound by time and fidelity. Still others who can make quips about immanentising the eschaton but either a) don’t really understand what that means in the real world or b) don’t live as if they understand what it means are in worse shape yet.
As Jeremy Beer observed in the recent American Conservative symposium, “What Is Left? What Is Right?” the localist, historic preservationist, conservationist and community values that should be hallmarks of conservatism are embodied instead in civil associations that are not self-consciously conservative and tend to align themselves with a different part of the spectrum all together. Mr. Beer outlines who these people are and he then cites the example of Kirk the local patriot as inspiration:
The conservers, preservers, savers, and protectors—conservatism once stood for such folks, and such folks were at one time conservatives. But they make bad apparatchiks. They aren’t ideologically motivated and aren’t “thinking big.” They are simply concerned, if often locally prominent, citizens. They may also be sentimental saps, but that’s understandable. As normally functioning human beings, they have formed dear attachments to their social and physical worlds. They like their communities, want to see them thrive and prosper, want to see them made or kept beautiful, want to preserve (or reinvigorate) their sense of their places as unique, and prefer to interact daily with people they know and love—or even hate.
Here is where Russell Kirk was truly exemplary. He ought to be remembered not as “the principal architect of the postwar conservative movement,” as the quasi-official adulation has it, but because he went home. There he restored an old house, planted trees, and became a justice of the peace; took a wife (and kept her) and had four children; wrote ghost stories about census-takers and other bureaucrats getting it in the neck; took in boatpeople and bums; and denounced every war in which the U.S. became involved—especially the first Gulf War, which he detested. And he also denounced abstractions because he knew they were drugs deployed to distract us from the infinitely more important work of the Brandywine Conservancies of the world.
Mr. Rowe mentioned being surprised at the inclusion of Bryan in ACE, but there is really nothing all that surprising about including a latter-day hero of the Country party in a conservatism that can proudly embrace the Antifederalists, Agrarians and Bradford in its tradition. But, then, you would never know that these people form an important (some might even say central) part of that tradition if your acquaintance with conservatism was limited to the main magazines and talking heads of the last ten years. Conservative enthusiasm for Bryan and the Populists is not necessarily universal even among traditional conservatives (though I think almost all would readily prefer him to McKinley or T.R. given the choice), but where that enthusiasm exists it is powerful indeed.
If there are tensions between patricians and commoners here, this should be less troubling than might seem necessary, because decentralists across the conventional spectrum tend to affirm many, though certainly not all, of the same basic political, social and economic goods and share many of the same assumptions. Men of backgrounds as diverse as Harrington, Bolingbroke and Chesterton understood the importance of widely distributed real property, resistance to the concentration of wealth and opposition to the consolidation of power as all being essential to the preservation not only of liberty but also, more importantly, the preservation of humane and stable community life.
Update: More Jeremy Beer (again via Caleb at Crunchy Con) on the history of conservationism among conservatives, the obstacles to the potential future green-conservative alliance and the beginnings of a possible way forward:
You might not know it from the exhibit tables at most conservative gatherings, stacked as they are with explicitly anti-environmental flyers, articles, and books, but America’s conservative movement was once intimately linked with conservation. The influential conservative thinker Russell Kirk wrote warmly about Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring when it was published in 1962 and frequently held forth on the dangers of pesticides, the protection of endangered species, and the preservation of farmland. In fact, a near-apocalyptic tone suffused the environmental writing of many conservatives during the first decades after World War II. So, how did we get from there to where we are now, with environmentalists firmly established as the favorite whipping boys of conservative intellectuals, pundits, and politicians?
… This issue is particularly important to Christians, whose faith counsels a sacramental vision of nature and opposition to the hubris underlying the modern economy and its institutionalized disregard for the care of God’s creation. “You cannot know that life is holy if you are content to live from economic practices that daily destroy life and diminish its possibility,” writes Wendell Berry.
However, the environmentalist movement itself must deal with its own confusing and contradictory alliances with the left. As John Lukacs has written, Greens are often the self-made prisoners of their leftist and anti-establishment inclinations. They are split-minded: traditionalists and anti-traditionalists at the same time. They want to conserve the land, and they are opposed to the inhuman progress of bureaucracy, automation, technology. In that respect they are conservatives, in the proper, larger-than-political sense of that word. Yet at the same time they favor abortion, feminism, unlimited immigration, nomadism—at the expense of the traditional family, of traditional patriotism, of traditional humanism, of the traditional respect for rights of property.
Who knows? Perhaps Greens would not have been driven to embrace such allegiances if conservatives had not abandoned their conservationist roots. The crowd that forms around Lukacs whenever he speaks to young audiences is an encouraging sign that someday soon, there may be a conservative movement that is dedicated to healing that schism.
There are two Conservative traditions, too. But I honestly do not see how unfettered markets, which uproot traditions, communities and hierarchies, can be reconciled with the desire to conserve things. There is a faultline and it will not be concealed by vacuous slogans. ~David Miliband, The Spectator
Many of this year’s prominent candidates are also surprisingly nationalist on immigration, playing off concerns about declining wages. “I do believe we must gain control of our borders,” Webb said during a debate. “We also must gain control over corporate America’s use of illegals. This, along with the Iraq war, has been the major failure of this administration.” ~David Brooks, The New York Times
It cannot be a good sign for the GOP that prominent Democratic candidates are able to articulate genuinely conservative sentiments on the war, corporations and immigration more ably than their opponents. With the rise of candidates such as Ford and Webb the Dems may be beginning to understand that, to be successful, their coalition has to be broad enough to include those who, like Webb, have Confederate ancestors and are proud of them and what they fought for and those, like Ford, who express a natural affinity with believing Christians because they are themselves church-going folk. What Brooks seems to miss is that as Democrats have become more skeptical of “free trade” once more, so has the nation. Economic populism should work politically because, in spite of a perfectly respectable economy according to the numbers people in the country do seem unusually anxious about their economic prospects. When the left-liberals do not engage in cultural warfare, whether in the courts or elsewhere, that rallies ordinary folks to oppose them, and Democrats start to sound more like the common man they purport to represent on cultural questions, the appeal of Red Republican rhetoric diminishes significantly.
What is a progressive globalist (a name Brooks invented to refer to the squishy cosmopolitans who have made up the political leadership of both parties) to do in an age when nobody seems to care much for globalisation and globalism? There is always the attack on the dumb nostalgics:
And yet Democrats have reason to worry long term. This message is based on a sort of economic nostalgia, what The Economist called a “rose-tinted version of the 1950’s and 1960’s” — when the middle class prospered, families cohered, America dominated, unions thrived, Islam was invisible and immigrants were Irish and Italian.
That’s odd. This sounds remarkably like the ”nostalgia” that has motivated most conservatives and Republicans since the 1960s. It is commonplace to hear evangelicals talk about ”taking back” the country, which has more than its share of nostalgia. Perhaps there is a real element of nostalgia in this “rose-tinted” view, but it is also based in a recognition that, on the whole, those conditions were better for large swathes of the country than the conditions we have today. Conservatives used to know this and say as much. Except perhaps for enthusiasm for strong labour unions, can you think of anything in that list that the average conservative or Republican voter would find undesirable? Even if it were actually impossible to recover some measure of that old order, that does not make its appeal any less powerful. To remind the voter of how things were–or how we remember them to be, which often is virtually the same thing–is to tap into their discontent with the way things are, and the discontent is considerable. If Democrats could acknowledge voters’ importance of anxiety about social and moral disorder in a genuine way, best of all if they actually shared this anxiety and valued the same kinds of things that the voters valued, they would recapture a lot of middle-class voters who have written them off as the party of decadence and cultural rot.
If there is one thing that reading about Bolingbroke and the Opposition has reminded me of, it is that the “politics of nostalgia” do not seem nostalgic to the people who espouse them, but seem to be the very stuff of principle and common sense. Wanting to restore the ancient constitution or “the good old days” is not just some hopeless dream cooked up by poets and oddballs–though it may ultimately be out of reach–but is the natural and healthy response of people who are seeking a restoration of order in deeply disordered times. If people want eunomia, they may respond favourably to those who offer them the nostalgic vision of the way things used to be when there was more eunomia to be had (or people at least think that there was, which is effectively the same thing as far as its impact today is concerned) and a promise to bring them back. This was one of the principal appeals of Populism and La Follette’s Progressivism: to go forward to the “good old days.”
This nostalgia is certainly common today. In their must-read book, “Applebee’s America,” Doug Sosnik, Matt Dowd and Ron Fournier quote an anxious Michigan voter: “This is going to sound silly, but I wish things were like they were when we were growing up. … I wish I could go back in time. We had stable lives. Mom could stay home, and we could afford it. Life was slower.”
But nationwide, and in the decades ahead, can a politics that evades the modern realities of Islamic extremism and the skill-based global economy really be the basis of a majority movement? I doubt it.
Certainly nostalgia alone won’t cut it. Even nostalgia and criticism won’t do it by themselves. There does have to be a positive alternative offered up. However, the more things in the present differ from the memory of how much better things used to be, the more powerful the appeal to the past will be. The more chaotic, uncertain and dangerous the present, the more people will want to return to something more like a previous era–even if that era was in some respects just aas chaotic and dangerous in reality–and the more willing they will be to follow those who paint that picture of the old days.
But there is nothing that says return to the past must evade present realities. Usually the return to the past comes about because people come to believe, rightly or not, that imitating the way things were done in the past when things seemed to have been better will tend to reproduce the same happy consequences. Perhaps it does not always provide a handy solution, and sometimes it might be genuinely misleading, but it is almost always in the search for a solution for modern problems that people seek solace and answers in the experience of the past. Again, real conservatives have always known this. For Brooks it is a sort of baffling phenomenon that appears to him as an obstacle for the political success of Democrats. Unfortunately, this sort of nostalgia could have limited appeal, but not for the reasons Brooks gives–we are a people cursed by an inclination to optimism and a stunningly naive confidence that there really is such a thing as progress. If the ”good old days” are gone, it is only to make way for the better days to come–this is the fatuous assumption of so many. On the whole, progressives in the Democratic Party are the worst offenders in this regard, but they have lately been joined by a great many Republicans. Typically, the party in power is always more inclined to prattle on about optimism and the future, because they think that they control what the future will be, but there are built-in tendencies to think in this way across the spectrum.
Incidentally, I love some of these euphemisms we have today, such as “skill-based global economy.” What is the “skill” of labourers in Indonesia? Their “skill” is to live in a poor country with a low cost of living and limited labour regulations. There are skilled, educated workers in other countries, yes, who work for less than our skilled workers, and to this extent there is a “skill-based global economy,” which is to say that there is a global economy. No one denies this, and no one is “evading” the reality of it. Critics look starkly at the reality of it, see its deleterious effects on American workers and say, “What if we tried something that didn’t result in the death of American manufacturing?” For some crazy reason American workers respond to this sort of thinking–obviously, they’re just being nostalgic for the olden times. You know, the time back when they had stable jobs with decent wages.
Is it at all ironic that free enterprise is mostly defended only by people who have never had a real job in the for-profit sector? ~Thomas Fleming
If one of the chief problems with Wal-Mart is its tremendous concentration of wealth and power and its practise of wielding its enormous power over its suppliers to their and our disadvantage as a “monopsony,” it seems fairly clear to me that its ability to put large pharmaceutical companies over a barrel and dictate damaging price reductions that “benefit consumers” should worry a great many people. It should at least bother the people who find Wal-Mart’s practises towards its suppliers troubling. If all we’re concerned about is the end result (oh, look, cheap drugs!), Wal-Mart is again saviour of the poor and the great benevolent hegemon. As long as people don’t mind taking their bread (or medicine) from an overlord, because he is a benevolent overlord, who can be bothered to complain? As usual, I will, and for just these reasons.
In contemporary America, this presumption toward freedom may no longer be valid, as Mr. Will makes clear. The lower middle classes and nearly everyone else, for that matter, really do love Wal-Mart and are quite happy to sell their American birthright of independence and self-sufficiency for a bowl of processed – but cheap! – soup. This is the challenge facing the new populists of the right: how to advocate and promote the free and sturdy democratic qualities of the common man – qualities that made America great – when the common man has apparently turned his back on those virtues?
The genius of Wal-Mart lies in its ability to make dependence attractive to individuals and communities. The fact that independence is handed over willingly by the masses only makes the surrender that much more difficult to overcome.
If it is to be overcome, it will require an effectively conservative and populist appeal to the conscience of freedom, independence, morality and sturdy self-sufficiency that is still alive in this country. ~Caleb Stegall, Dallas Morning News
The sheer size and power of Wal-Mart ought to make any conservative wince. A private entity the size of the U.S. military with the economic clout of the Federal Reserve is no friend to liberty. It should be clearly understood that the conservative’s objection to centralized power and wealth – either in its statist or its corporate forms – is primarily, perhaps exclusively, an objection to its capacity for imposing servility and dependence among his fellow citizens, who should be free.
In this, postwar American conservatives are heirs to the Jeffersonian, anti-Federalist and populist arguments of the 18th and 19th centuries. These decentralists, state’s-righters and agrarian champions presumed a basic level of democratic and economic sturdiness and self-sufficiency in the common man. Left to his own devices, it was thought that the common and working classes – the Minutemen of the Revolution, the pioneers of the West – would not willingly don the yoke of servitude, but would prefer to be free, despite the sacrifices and hardship such a life might entail. ~Caleb Stegall, Dallas Morning News
Unfortunately, those who are conditioned to think that economic dependence on ever-larger corporations is a mark of their “economic liberty” (look at the wonderful selection! look at all of the “choices” we have!) rather than a sign of their servility do not even realise that they have donned the yoke of servitude.
As Mr. Will sees it, the liberal war on Wal-Mart in the name of the common man is really a war on the preferences of the common man. By couching his arguments in terms of “consumer sovereignty” and the “preferences of ordinary Americans,” Mr. Will undermines liberal objections to Wal-Mart by co-opting the historically liberal defense of unconstrained freedom of individual choice. This is effective for puncturing the pretensions of liberal elites, but it’s a curious position for an avowed conservative.
Arguments from preference for, say, complete sexual freedom, unlimited abortion license and illicit drug use have never been very convincing to conservatives. Instead of asking what conditions most Americans prefer, postwar conservatives have traditionally asked the more important question: What conditions will make common Americans free – free not just to pursue their baser appetites, but to fashion an independent and virtuous life? Further, conservatives have argued that our democratic system of self-government cannot last in the absence of a class of men and women who are truly free by virtue of their moral, economic and cultural independence from the centralized management classes.
One of the primary conditions of freedom is a widespread distribution of capital, both economic and cultural. This accounts for conservatives’ long-standing skepticism and mistrust of centralized and concentrated enclaves of money and power with their tendencies toward societal management at every level. The oppressive effect of the management elites is essentially the same whether those elites sit in the board room, the judicial chamber, the legislative halls or the Oval Office. ~Caleb Stegall, Dallas Morning News
Buchanan’s economic nationalism is synonymous with mercantilism and is not only the economics of empire, but the economics of THE empire. As Charles Beard notes in his history of America, the Boston Tea party was only partially a reaction against taxes. In fact, even with the tax, the tea was priced below market rate. But that was exactly the problem. The Americans were virtually forced to buy their tea from the British merchants because “national-unity” bulding trade barriers made the cost of importing tea from foreigners prohibitive. Thus, the tea became a symbol of government control of the economic system. Yet, all the King wanted was national unity, did he not? Shouldn’t British subjects buy tea from other British subjects? Doesn’t that build unity? How dare those Americans suggest they should be able to buy goods from whomever they want. Such insolence! Such contempt for national unity.
I am firmly convinced that most modern “conservatives” would be firmly on the side of the British were it 1776. ~Ryan McMracken
This would be the same Mr. McMacken whose first instinct when he hears Mr. Buchanan use the phrase “blood and soil” in the context of talking about national identity is to start hearing refrains of the Horst Wesellied. That is to say, he is someone who is likely to make enormous leaps in associating things based on superficial similarities.
Thus, if you support protective tariffs today (which a fair number of Founders supported in their own time) you are as bad and presumably un-American as those who supported the Stamp and Tea Acts–nevermind, of course, that a great many Loyalists also opposed many of the novel tariffs imposed from 1765 on. They, the Loyalists, simply didn’t think it was right to resist this with violence. In other words, they didn’t think it was worth killing people over a tariff dispute. Critics of Lincoln at the LRC Blog might appreciate the wisdom of such a view better than most.
Mr. McMacken also seems to be rather confused about what most “modern conservatives” believe about trade and economics–unless I have missed something, Mr. Buchanan’s economic views are not exactly taking the “movement” by storm and in fact they represent one of the important points of divergence between some paleoconservatives and a lot of “movement” types. If Mr. Buchanan’s economic nationalism supposedly puts him in the company of 18th century Tories, it assuredly does not put him in the company of most “movement” conservatives. In short, this post by Mr. McMacken doesn’t make a lot of sense.
In any case, Mr. McMacken talks about being on “the British side” in 1776 as if this were some terrible insult, yet in my book to associate a modern conservative with the Loyalists would be the highest form of praise for the authenticity of his conservatism, regardless of anything else it might say about him. George Grant often observed that “American conservatism” was no such thing, since it was just a sort of liberalism in a nice suit, and argued, as many others have, that the expulsion and suppression of the Loyalists eliminated a major source of genuine conservatism in the United States. To liken a conservative today to the Loyalists is to compliment him in the most glowing terms, provided that one is not indulging in the traditional ideological denunciation of Tories as enemies of liberty.
Of course, opposition to Parliament-imposed tariffs then had everything to do with questions of self-government and the tradition that taxation required consent, which the patriots believed they had not given because the taxes were passed in Parliament and not their local legislatures, and nothing to do with the usual objections to economic nationalist measures. In fact, most anti-”free trade” arguments today are tied closely to questions of retaining sovereignty and ensuring that commercial policy is set by our representatives in Congress rather than by international organisations and commissions. The populist and economic nationalist position here is much more like that of the patriots than that of the Loyalists, since the latter many of the tariff measures but ultimately accepted Parliament’s right to pass such laws. In the end, the patriots fought not to prevent all such taxation (think of the Whiskey Rebellion) but to retain control over how and by whom that taxation was levied. Globalists and free traders would typically like to cede that control to international, unaccountable bureaucracies; economic nationalists–one might call them economic patriots–refuse to cede any control that should properly remain with the Congress, which remains at least theoretically accountable to the citizens of this country. Who’s on “the side of the British” now?
Obviously, given many things I have written over the last two years, I personally take a dim view of Hamiltonianism and regard the Country tradition, which stood in stark opposition to Hamiltonian/Federalist, Whig and Republican economic policies, as the true source of the genuine Anglo-American conservative and agrarian traditions. I accept as very compelling John Taylor’s argument that protective tariffs, as opposed to revenue tariffs, are unconstitutional, and I have never seen a compelling counter-argument that they are not. But virtually no one I know of since John Taylor has advanced such a view, and that is certainly not the basis for libertarian objections to tariffs. In any case, I think the American System and “internal improvements” were among the first usurpations by the center at the expense of the states and the people; they began the unhappy story of concentrated wealth and concentrated power working together to the detriment of the people; they inaugurated the slow march to the destruction of the Republic. All that being said, in an industrial world a nation needs to have domestic industry if it wants to be able to provide for itself and remain relatively independent of foreign manufactures and credit.
Just got in from the FANTASTIC FEST screening of APOCALYPTO tonight. From seeing the film for a second time in the same day. After the second screening, I have to say it plays even better. The themes about how the industrial needs of a civilization, even a primitive one - lay the groundwork for moral, societal and physical decay really begin to come out. ~Harry Knowles
Via Peter Suderman
At the heart of Friedman’s error is a lack of justice and a confusion about human nature. Most people are not would-be managers or flexible entrepreneurs prepared to change careers every two or three years. People work to live, to support their families, and to feel useful and productive. A decent human being is concerned when anyone loses his job and doubly so when that person is his countryman. And it’s simply unrealistic to expect people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s to retool for new careers. But, hey, it’s important entire regions of America (and the world) are impoverished so that Friedman can have a Starbucks latte with Indians in Monteverde or wherever he is this week. ~Chris Roach
But I’m sure Friedman will shout: the world is flat, and so is Uruguay! At which point I suspect the Uruguayans will kindly ask him to leave for insulting their fine mountains. This is what Friedman actually said about Uruguay:
The New Yorker once ran a cartoon by Peter Steiner of two dogs, with one sitting at a computer keyboard saying to the other, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
Nobody also knows you’re Uruguay.
Um, not to be too geeky about this, but aren’t there routers and IP addresses that tell people things like this? But more basically, did Friedman just compare Uruguay to a dog? Did one of the local patriots smack him in the face for this insult to national honour? I hope so. I honestly have no idea what Uruguayans might have to be proud of, and they must have something, but comparing someone’s country to a dog is just poor form.
I am not sure, but the average Uruguayan probably has about as much sympathy for the Uruguayan Round of GATT as the average West Virginian, which is to say not a whole lot. Perhaps the near-collapse that Uruguay suffered in the wake of Argentina’s default (one of those small unfortunate incidents that followed upon Argentine embrace of the Great Whore of Neoliberalism) soured the locals on Friedman’s starry-eyed mentality of “Globalisation is to bright I have to wear shades made in Indonesia by child labourers and ordered online through a Nigerian server.” It also cannot be very comforting for computer engineers in this country to read that Indian corporations have started to outsource their own computer engineering jobs to Uruguay–next stop on the Flat World Express, Namibia. Have broadband, will not travel. One will instead facilitate an ever-more dislocated, uprooted world that moves concrete, real-world industries to ever-poorer countries and pawns expendable, easily outsourced service jobs off on the rest.
Chris takes Friedman apart with ease and skill in this post. It is a pleasure to read, and I strongly recommend it to all.
Well, if I go into too much detail here I shall get into trouble of the PC sort; but the main idea was, that any society ought to offer useful and productive lives to its epsilons—i.e. to citizens over on the left-hand side of the Bell Curve. The postindustrial West has been depressingly bad at this. Our basic approach to our low-IQ fellow citizens has been “Let them eat cake.” It’s hard not to get the impression that we have been busily building a society of law-school elites, by law-school elites, and for law-school elites—the “Yale or jail” society. Wal-Mart, with its simplified, stripped-down training programs that concentrate on a few easily-mastered skills and disciplines, is a small reversal of this deplorable (to my mind) trend.
Whatever you think of the society imagined in Brave New World, at least there was a place for everyone in it, bright or dim. That is not the case with present-day Western society, except in pockets like Wal-Mart. ~John Derbyshire
Note that comparing Wal-Mart to an aspect of Brave New World here is supposed to be a compliment of sorts: it gives dim people something to do. I leave it to the Friends of Wal-Mart to determine whether this sort of argument does more harm or good to their cause.
Kirk observed that “Detroit, during my own lifetime, has produced tremendous wealth in goods and services. But it has been a social failure. And so have nearly all of America’s other major cities.” I put it to you that Wal-Mart contributed to moving those failures into small town America by shuttering local business and creating huge barriers to entrepreneurial entry into fields traditionally the province of local small business men and women.
Being a conservative is supposed to be about things like tradition, community, and, yes, aesthetics. If I’m right about that, it’s hard to see why a conservative should regard Wal-Mart as a societal force for good even if Hugh’s right about the job story.
So what do we do? Well, we must strike a balance between respect for private property rights (see my Kelo post) and our other values. How? On the one hand, government should not legislate against Wal-Mart and its ilk. On the other hand, government should not subsidize Wal-Mart either through zoning or tax breaks. Wal-Mart’s a big boy, so to speak, who can take care of itself. We ought to let it compete in a free market. And those of us with a bully pulpit out to use it to encourage Wal-Mart to become a better neighbor and citizen. ~Prof. Bainbridge
Via Rod Dreher
Hugh Hewitt responded, as most friends of Wal-Mart do when confronted with the unfortunate effects of their shining idol, that Bainbridge has become a “statist,” even though he explicitly argues for reducing the collaboration between government and Wal-Mart. In its original meaning, statism, etatisme, was precisely a system of close government involvement in the operations of industry and business, which could make supporters of Wal-Mart like Hewitt more likely to be a “statist” in this sense than those whom he cluelessly attacks.
For Hewitt, in other words, anything that might preserve small business and small-town communities at the cost of giving up Hugh Hewitt’s ”low prices” is invariably “statist,” even if there is no public authority involved. Hewitt has often been a walking, talking parody of a hysterical Republican, but he outdoes himself here.
If Wal-Mart’s aim were simply to dictate the price it will pay for a product, then leave up to its suppliers all decisions as to how to get to that price, it would cause far less economic damage than it does now. But that is not Wal-Mart’s way. Instead, the firm is also one of the world’s most intrusive, jealous, fastidious micromanagers, and its aim is nothing less than to remake entirely how its suppliers do business, not least so that it can shift many of its own costs of doing business onto them. In addition to dictating what price its suppliers must accept, Wal-Mart also dictates how they package their products, how they ship those products, and how they gather and process information on the movement of those products. ~Barry Lynn, Harper’s
As I read this, I was reminded of the habit common to American and European colonialist powers of seizing other countries’ customs houses and sending in military forces to confiscate the revenues indebted governments would have collected. They did this as a way of making good on the fantastic amounts of credit Western banks had extended to poor, developing nations. Even more similar in some ways was the British decision to liquidate indirect rule through the Company and take more hands-on control of India in order to secure revenue and security interests without the Company’s incompetence or errors getting in the way of what the government wanted. The similarity lies in this: cut out the middle-man as much as possible and dictate how things function directly. Wal-Mart does not merely set prices, but wants to dictate terms and leverages its power against its suppliers to get them to reorganise their businesses as it, the buyer, sees fit, removing the uncertainty of the other firms’ operating in ways that might threaten Wal-Mart’s goals.
Free-market utopians have long decried government industrial policy because it puts into the hands of bureaucrats and politicians the power to determine which firms “win” and which “lose.” Wal-Mart picks winners and losers every day, and the losers have no recourse to any court or any political representative anywhere. ~Barry Lynn, Harper’s
But the issue before us is not how Wal-Mart grew to scale but how Wal-Mart uses its power today and will use it tomorrow. The problem is that Wal-Mart, like other monopsonists, does not participate in the market so much as use its power to micromanage the market, carefully coordinating the actions of thousands of firms from a position above the market. ~Barry Lynn, Harper’s
The name I use in the title, dynatoi (the powerful), is the name applied in Byzantine imperial legislation to curtail the acquisition of land from smallholders for the aggrandisement of largeholders and aristocrats. The comparison may seem a stretch, but the problem with megacorporations, of which Wal-Mart is the preeminent example, is their concentration of wealth and power that they use to dictate the economic lives of tens of millions. Entities that leverage this kind of power over an entire society have nothing to do with economic liberty and positively abhor real economic liberty; they do not want a free market–they want a controlled market, where they give the orders; they do not want competition–they want obedience. Those who fall all over themselves about the benefits that these entities provide the poor or the general economy seem to miss a vital point: serfs can be well-treated and amply provided for, but serfs they remain. Those who object to Wal-Mart and like entities from a traditional Jeffersonian perspective do so because they object to servility in those who should be free men. If recovering liberty meant the end of one-stop shopping and “low prices,” wouldn’t it be worth a worthy exchange? Or is “freedom isn’t free” a slogan that people only say when they are cheering on another one of the state’s wars?
It is a consistent traditional conservative and libertarian critique that government should be as decentralised as possible to avoid the concentration of power in too few hands, to prevent abuses and to keep the citizens secure in life and property. The rationale for keeping power diffuse applies in the private sector no less than in the public. (It is also the same rationale that argues for the agrarian idea of the wide distribution of real property as a check against concentrations of propertied wealth and thus of power in the hands of a relative few.)
It was George Grant’s devastating observation that decentralising government without decentralising corporate power would be simply to create a band of oligarchs–and I believe this is precisely the word he used, redolent as it is now of Russian cronyism and corruption. He observed that for the purposes of securing the liberty of the free small property owner it would accomplish next to nothing to reduce the state while leaving the corporations as they were. Indeed, in certain parts of everyday life, it could create new relations of dependence that are more immediate and tangible than when there is dependence on the state. That does not in any way imply that either form of dependence is preferable for free people. The key is to reject the concentrations of power in both, rather than allow them to play citizens off against each other in foolish squabbles over which master is to be preferred.
The stakes could not be higher. In systems where oligopolies rule unchecked by the state, competition itself is transformed from a free-for-all into a kind of private-property right, a license to the powerful to fence off entire marketplaces, there to pit supplier against supplier, community against community, and worker against worker, for their own private gain. When oligopolies rule unchecked by the state, what is perverted is the free market itself, and our freedom as individuals within the economy and ultimately within our political system as well.
Examples of monopsony can be difficult to pin down, but we are in luck in that today we have one of the best illustrations of monopsony pricing power in economic history: Wal-Mart. There is little need to recount at any length the retailer’s power over America’s marketplace. For our purposes, a few facts will suffice—that one in every five retail sales in America is recorded at Wal-Mart’s cash registers; that the firm’s revenue nearly equals that of the next six retailers combined; that for many goods, Wal-Mart accounts for upward of 30 percent of U.S. sales, and plans to more than double its sales within the next five years.
The effects of monopsony also can be difficult to pin down. But again we have easy illustrations ready to hand, in the surprising recent tribulations of two iconic American firms—Coca-Cola and Kraft. Coca-Cola is the quintessential seller of a product based on a “secret formula.” Recently, though, Wal-Mart decided that it did not approve of the artificial sweetener Coca-Cola planned to use in a new line of diet colas. In a response that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, Coca-Cola yielded to the will of an outside firm and designed a second product to meet Wal-Mart’s decree. Kraft, meanwhile, is a producer that only four years ago was celebrated by Forbes for “leading the charge” in a “brutal industry.” Yet since 2004, Kraft has announced plans to shut thirty-nine plants, to let go 13,500 workers, and to eliminate a quarter of its products. Most reports blame soaring prices of energy and raw materials, but in a truly free market Kraft could have pushed at least some of these higher costs on to the consumer. This, however, is no longer possible. Even as costs rise, Wal-Mart and other discounters continue to demand that Kraft lower its prices further. Kraft has found itself with no other choice than to swallow the costs, and hence to tear itself to pieces. ~Barry Lynn, Harper’s
You’ve heard about the Russian “oligarchs,” right? They’re the richest men in Russia. The insinuation is almost invariably that they owe their riches not to entrepreneurial ability, but to political connections. It’s not “what you know,” but “who you know,” right?
If this theory were true, you would expect the oligarchs to have unusual demographics for business leaders. In particular, they should be:
Unusually likely to have been important members of the Communist Party before they went into business. Unusually unlikely to come from groups - like Jews and Armenians - known around the world for their entrepreneurial talent. Both predictions are wrong.Most of the oligarchs are too young to have been Communist Party bigwigs. As one interesting paper explains, “Most of the individuals… are relatively young: nine of them are in their 30s, and 13 are in their 40s.” The older oligarchs generally had Communist backgrounds, but were hardly leading figures in the Party: “The older oligarchs have typically come from Soviet-era nomenklatura. Prior to transition, they were either managing the respective enterprises or working in government agencies supervising the enterprises, and when the Soviet-era firms were privatized, they converted their de facto control into ownership rights.”
Even more striking: The oligarchs are disproportionately Jewish. 90% of Russian Jews have left the country over the last 30 years, but 6 out of the 7 leading oligarchs have Jewish ancestry. This would be hard to explain if their success were primarily due to political connections - but expected if their success largely reflected entrepreneurial ability.
Of course, in a corrupt and chaotic environment like post-Communist Russia, no successful businessman is going to have a perfectly clean record. You’ve got to compromise with the system to get by, and cut corners to get ahead. The real question is: “How much of the oligarchs’ success stems from entrepreneurial ability, and how much from political connections?” Demographic information alone can’t resolve the question, but it does tilt the scales in the direction of ability. ~Bryan Caplan, EconLog
Via Steve Sailer
Mr. Sailer does a good job pointing out the crooked and corrupt way that many of these oligarchs acquired their incredibly vast fortunes (as a friend of mine reminded me as we were going to church this past Sunday, Moscow has the most billionaires of any city in the world–and it aint because they’re the most entrepreneurial folks on the planet). He answers the silly “where are all the Communists?” line like this:
Bryan, Yeltsin overthrew Communist Party rule when he came to power. His runoff opponent in 1996 was Gennady Zyuganov, a Communist. Of course, the crooks Yeltsin turned to to finance his re-election campaign in return for his handing them much of the newly privatized national industries of Russia (through the loans-for-shares rigged auctions) tended to be newer men. They had frequently been clever fixers and black marketeers whose machinations had been tolerated under the Communists. But they hadn’t wormed their way into the heart of political favor until Yeltsin’s anti-Communist regime.
A little history never hurts to save us from the sophisters and the economists. The privatisation process was, of course, notorious for unleashing criminality and the sell-off of national companies for a pittance which, particularly in the energy sector, the oligarchs used to build their private empires and finance their criminal (I’m sorry, I mean entrepreneurial!) enterprises. This is not a secret. This is not something that anti-market propagandists have invented to discredit the glorious Invisible Backhands delivered to the face of the Russian people, but has demonstrated to all and sundry that the private sector without the rule of law is nothing better than predatory capitalism with corruption and cronyism smoothing the path before those with power and connections.
In some ways, this has not changed under Putin, because those who got the ill-gotten gains have largely kept them, except when they got in Putin’s way (see below), but instead of those with connections with “the family” of Yeltsin benefiting the most those tied into the siloviki of the intelligence and security services are dominant. All I can say is that you can consider these people entrepreneurial only in the sense that Al Capone was entrepreneurial. Someday someone will be able to explain to me why some libertarians can look past the crimes of such people because these are the fruits of ”the market” while they will scream bloody murder about state oppression if they encounter a particularly haughty meter maid (this is only a slight exaggeration).
For some reason, mostly because of the agitations of criminals like Boris Berezovsky and their friends in high places in this country (see The Wall Street Journal), oligarchs are somehow seen as being equivalent to the “robber barons” or even protectors of Russian freedom (!) against Putin the autocrat. (Now Putin is a democratic authoritarian who does all sorts of untoward things against the opposition and the free media, and there are all kinds of problems with that kind of rule, but ordinary Russians find it more desirable than being ripped apart by jackals in a lawless free-for-all and no wonder.) Now our “robber barons” were not exactly princes, and the strange libertarian and modern conservative adulation of American plutocrats is a subject worthy of an entire book, but to liken the Berezovskys and the Rockefellers is to insult the latter. Our plutocrats exploited political connections in a way that drove many ordinary 19th century Americans crazy, and often had the laws shaped to suit their interests as much as they could, but they were still subject to the law in a way that never applied to the oligarchs in the ’90s. It wasn’t so much that they were the law, as that the law was powerless to check them once they had acquired their massive holdings through chicanery (and they also tended to be chummy with the people in the Kremlin, which made the law worse than powerless).
People in the West complain about the rough treatment of Khodorkovsky–not really because they think he is innocent of the crimes of which he was accused and convicted (tax evasion being the big one–just like Capone!), because they know that probably isn’t true, but because he is anti-Putin (and a political ”liberal”) and was supposed to have been protected by the understanding Putin had with the oligarchs that he would not dig too deeply into the crimes of privatisation (since it would mean he would have to go after essentially all of them). He has made exceptions for those oligarchs brave or stupid enough to make challenges to Putin’s hold on power and treated them as any good authoritarian would treat a rival to the throne–he throws them in prison. It makes you remember the good old days of Byzantium, does it not? But before we get too misty-eyed, let’s move on.
For those still inclined to feel sorry for the poor, abused Mr. Khodorkovsky, consider this from Mr. Sailer’s post:
But being Yeltsin’s bankroller was lucrative indeed. Khodorkovsky, for example, bought about 1% of the world’s oil reserves for $159 million in an auction that he himself ran for the Russian government! (He’s currently serving 9 years in prison for tax evasion.) Similarly, Roman Abramovich bought the giant Sibneft oil company for $100 million. The Russian government recently bought 73% of it back from Abramovich for $13 billion.
Khodorkovsky and Abramovich didn’t discover the oil or pump it out of the ground as Caplan imagines - they just bought proven reserves in rigged auctions. I’m sure they are talented wheeler-dealers, but they aren’t exactly Henry Ford or Thomas Alva Edison when it comes to increasing national productivity.
As has been noted elsewhere, privatisation is always inevitably a political process, and in Russia it was particularly advantageous to have connections to or to be the ones deciding on who won these auctions, since the energy businesses these men acquired for relatively low cost were extremely lucrative and guaranteed to make back instantly what they had paid for them. This makes them very clever and very, very rich, but it does not make them into Andrew Carnegie.
From the new issue of The American Conservative, Prof. James Kurth offers this succinct statement on globalisation in an interesting article on income inequality:
Anyone who claims that globalization is a conservative process is either a liar or a fool.
I was interested to see Prof. Kurth make the argument that growing economic inequality on a global scale empowers ideologies, such as Islamism, that preach egalitarian doctrines of one kind or another, and he is right to make this point. He could have reinforced his argument with some mention of the Maoist Naxalites currently wreaking havoc in eastern India as the perfect example of the losers–or non-participants–of globalisation fueling radical and violent political movements in the developing world.
Finally, while we can have an interesting discussion about questions like the role of unions in wage inequality, or the role of lax regulation in exploding C.E.O. pay, there is no question that the policies of the current majority party — a party that has held a much-needed increase in the minimum wage hostage to large tax cuts for giant estates — have relentlessly favored the interests of a tiny, wealthy minority against everyone else. ~Paul Krugman, The New York Times
I’m sure that we are all shocked (shocked!) to find the Republicans working in the interests of corporations and the moneyed interest. That would be so…entirely in keeping with their entire history as a party.
But this system, however efficient, is valid only as a particular and subordinate sector of human relations. In the contemporary world, the market ceaselessly extends its influence, not only geographically (economic “globalization”), but also temporally (Sundays fall increasingly under the sway of the market) and socially: the market rules more and more in sports, in culture, and in the arts. It all but dominates the powerful machine known as television. Its influence is visible everywhere; the drumbeat of its slogans is inescapable (in North America, advertising extends to politics and even prescription medications). Since exchange is an activity that presupposes the consent of both parties, by what principle can the contractual procedures of the market be limited? If (as in fact happened in California) a woman who can afford it contracts with her Hispanic maid to carry her child to full term, this is a contract like any other. The market economy no longer serves ends beyond itself; it is no longer one element of the social order. Rather, it tends to dominate as a form of civilization–the civilization of the market. ~Philippe Beneton, Equality By Default
The following is not an original observation, but it’s one worth repeating: Much of the talk we hear from economists and government financial panjandrums nowadays treats the national economy as a thing in itself, to be egged on and expanded and caressed and cherished, without any concern for the actual citizens of this country. Sure, I’d rather live in a rich country than a poor one, and a healthy economy is a jolly good thing; but “expanding” is not necessarily synonymous with “healthy,” not for economies any more than for waistlines. A swelling economy is not ipso facto a good thing. It might lift all boats; or it might just lift a few and swamp the rest. It depends how things are organized. As Oliver Goldsmith noted: “Ill fares the land, to hast’ning ills a prey,Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.” That’s about where we’re at, it seems to me. And no, it’s not a leftist remark; Goldsmith was a Tory. ~John Derbyshire
While we’re being unoriginal, contrarian and dangerously Tory (George Grant-style), consider a problem that is perhaps all too pertinent in the wake, so to speak, of the commemoration of Hurricane Katrina: suppose there is a proverbial rising economic tide and there are entire groups of people who have no boats at all? Beneton’s Economist will say simply enough, “They will not benefit.” The libertarian will say, “Maybe Wal-Mart will sell them a boat.” Another will say, “The Market™ will provide.” Larry Kudlow will say, “Demand for boats will rise. I should buy some stock in a boat-building company.” I suspect the Christian will begin looking around somewhere for some life preservers.
Philippe Beneton conjures for us the image of a horrifying future (or, if your name is Anthony Sacramone, a comforting utopia). You may, of course, replace the name of the company in question with any other, be it the corporation so many love to hate, Wal-Mart, or any other megacorp, multinational or one of their imitators (as Beneton says, “By McDonald’s, of course, I mean more than McDonald’s.”):
The McDonald’s system is also a triumph of procedural rationality, a rationality appropriate to a market economy. There, as in the supermarket, the pure spirit of the market reigns. Nothing troubles the purely functional, abstract, impersonal relationship between the seller and the buyer. Here every person, whoever he or she may be, is exactly like all the others; he or she is a consumer, nothing but a consumer, entirely a consumer, a consumer from head to toe. McDonald’s is universalist; its calling is to embrace the whole world without regard to divisions. Once one passes through its doors, an alchemy takes over and erases whatever distinguishes and separates; the person becomes a consumer and every consumer’s money is as good as any other’s. This is the wonder of the system: it neutralizes differences and divisions among people, differences in traits of character, as well as social, natiional, political, religious, or other differences. It makes coexistence and cooperation possible among people who have nothing in common except respect for the same rules of the game. All over the world, in New York, Paris, Istanbul, or Beijing, McDonald’s restaurants welcome in the same way (automatic smile, guaranteed hygiene, industrial food), whether you are of the left or of the right, Turk or Kurd, Chinese apparatchik or dissident, a child or his grandfather, a policeman or a criminal, a racist or an antiracist. McDonald’s is the missionary of a new humanity, the builder of a new world, in collaboration with all the other businesses set to conquer the world market and sharing this great cause with a view to the greatest profit. This new world is undifferentiated, destined to unify itself on the basis of uniform consumption–an egalitarian world, except of course for the only distinction that matters (money), a world called to achieve unity by the grace of the market. The political problem par excellence, the problem that arises from differences among human beings, is finally about to be resolved: consumers of all lands, unite over a Big Mac!
This vision of uniformity, dullness and mediocrity terrifies. It is the world, as he says, “at once perfected and decivilized.” It abolishes differences in time, and as for consideration for manners, propriety, station, custom, meaning, beauty, love–these are completely banished from such a world. As he says later, “Who would declare his love over a cheeseburger?” And before someone volunteers, let me suggest that anyone who would do such a thing profanes love and mocks his beloved.
It summons to mind the absurd self-justifying essay of Mr. Meilaender, who prefers the tedious hegemony of Burger King (quote via Spengler):
Making a long drive home from a meeting late last summer, I found myself hungry in the early afternoon. I needed something that would be quick inexpensive, and good. And there (providentally?) was the sign: a Burger King off the next exit. I felt like a flame-grilled Whopper, and the beauty of it is that you can “have it your way” which in my case meant hold the tomato and mayo, add justard. Hear is a realm of life where being pro-choice is just the thing for me…As I began to eat, two young boys (probaby about ten and eight years old) sat down with their parents at an adjoining table. Both boys had on Chief Wahoo caps, so I would have known they were Cleveland Indians fans even if they had not been discussing the previous night’s game, whcih they had seen on ESPN. It happened that in my hotel room I had myself spent the last part of the evening watching that same game. I decided therefore to venture a brief conversational gambit. “Go Tribe,” I said to the younger of the two boys…Our ability to watch the Indians on television even though we did not live near Cleveland created a little shared community among us as we sat there eating in Burger King. The experience was so satisfying that I went back up tot he counter for a Hershey’s Sundae Pie and stayed longer than I’d planned.
As I noted at the time, this is a deeply troubled view, and Fr. Jape agrees. If Fr. Jape agrees, there must be something to it. But Beneton’s description of what is to come (indeed it is already here!) is terrifying not just in the hideous future it holds out–and Beneton makes clear here that this is the future of a world of globalisation and multinationals–but in the recognition that breaks in as you read it that a great many Westerners would find themselves nodding in eager anticipation of its arrival. The libertarian would say, “Yes, you see, the millennium of peace and brotherhood is coming, and it will be brought to you by The Market™!”
The people who yearn for this age of uniformity are the people whom Adam Wayne fought in the streets of Notting Hill; they are the people who built the Crystal Palace; these are people who still believe that the Golden Age is coming, and expect that it will be televised and available in high definition. I find it hard to conclude that they are not the enemies, unwitting though they may be, of everything vital and real in human life, another gang of political optimists with a different scheme but just as misguided and deluded as all the rest.
Finally, vital differences among individuals are effaced. For the economist, all human beings are alike, not of course because they have some higher calling in common but because they all rationally pursued objectives that are equally irrational. Homo economicus is cold, rational, and utilitarian; he is gifted in calculating but empty of substance. Human beings are indistinguishable in their way of being; they can only be distinguished by their incomes, their levels of consumption or productivity. Here, everything that Peguy loves, all that he celebrates–good manners and morals, fine workmanship, beautiful language, simple joys, bonds of the flesh, the honor of the poor, the genius of Homer–none of this has any meaning. We are indeed in the world of equality by default. ~Philippe Beneton, Equality By Default
The economist takes no account of the nature of economic goods, any more than of free goods. Wealth and poverty, the optimum and the rational, growth and national product, standard of living and utility have nothing to do with what is beyond the world of the market. But the GNP cannot account for the services furnished by mothers to their families–”your remark is beside the point, since these are nonmarket services.” Consider another example: what if ugliness and boredom increase with productivity–”I do not deal with such matters.” Or what if too much economic rationality undoes social bonds and isolates human ebings–”Why do you persist? I tell you that this is none of my affair.” But what if the gap widens between what is good economically and what is good for humans as humans–”I choose not to answer you.” ~Philippe Beneton, Equality By Default
This is not the American way. Efforts to fight big chains like Wal-Mart are not either. The counterfeit Americanism of the far left and parts of the paleoconservaitve right has nothing to do with America’s core values: free competition, free access to property and markets, and minimal government interference with economic development. Now businesses, big and small, have resisted this model, seeking various forms of priviledge [sic]; but the rhetoric of free markets and small government has long been championed by the middle classes as a whole. These views have been the antidote to European-style socialism. This historically-grounded economic freedom was the banner of resistance to FDR’s New Deal. It is also the reason that all of the anti-Wal Mart hysteria is wrong-headed and un-American. ~Chris Roach
I am often puzzled how people can in the same breath talk about America’s core value of free competition and invoke Wal-Mart as the standard-bearer of that value. Surely any behemoth company itself is most interested not in free competition, but like all firms it is interested in limiting competition. The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a relative major corporations that grow ever larger and take over more and more markets has nothing to do with free competition. To look back to the town near my own alma mater of Hampden-Sydney, Farmville, I remember distinctly seeing just in the four years that I was there the final death of all of any Farmville downtown shops that competed in any direct way with the services provided by the Super Wal-Mart that seemed to dominate the space of the town like a castle overlooking the lord’s holdings.
At the time, young college student that I was, awake at all hours, the 24-hour Wal-Mart seemed like a boon to a young urbanite like myself stuck out in the boonies of Southside Virginia. It occurs to me now that the people who lived in the town might have had different views of the matter. In any case, the coming of Wal-Mart was not some simple introduction of new growth and money-saving opportunities, but caused a measure of dislocation in the town and, more than that, has now wedded the town’s future fortunes much more closely to the continued presence of that Super Wal-Mart.
I don’t know if it is “counterfeit Americanism” to find troubling or objectionable the considerable dependence of the well-being of a town on the unaccountable decisions of one corporation that has no stake and no real attachment to the place, but I would suggest that there is nothing terribly consistent with the listed American “core values” in this development. We do well to be wary of the road to state serfdom and advocate going in the other direction, but we make a great error if we think that road to corporate serfdom does not lead in the same direction and does not eventually meet up with the other road. The masters of both use fear of the other to aggrandise their power. The state tells you, “I will protect you from exploitation, give me power (and money)!” And so you do. Then the corporation says, “I provide you services and represent your freedom from government interference, so give me money (and power)!” And so you do. At no point are you concerned that the corporation generally supports what the state is doing and vice versa, or that some of the money you give to each one goes towards empowering and influencing the other. If the two parties are, as Mr. Buchanan’s memorable phrase had it, “two wings of the same bird of prey,” the state and corporations in state capitalist political economy are the talons of the same bird.
The Hamiltonian juggernaut has triumphed, and in one of the bitter ironies of American history it has convinced Americans that bank rule and the moneyed interest are friends of liberty and that dependence on these interests is emancipation. In all of this the dream of liberty and independence, an independent and self-governing people, is nowhere to be found. Hamiltonianism and indeed “the American System” itself are certainly American in origin, so I will not engage in the mistaken rhetoric of declaring them un-American, but it is not at all clear that they are in the best interests of the commonwealth or the institutions of the Republic. It has never been clear since the original system behind them was first concocted in 1789, and there is a long line of American patriots who have made credible arguments that this system is the enemy of a free Republic.
And while some did frame opposition to the New Deal in terms of economic freedom, and still others on constitutional grounds, the most vociferous opponents were the oligarchs of yesterday’s corporate giants. We do not necessarily have to bow either to FDR or to J.P. Morgan; the choice does not have to be between Social Democracy and Wal-Mart. An economic regime where landed property was widely diffused and securely held, where economic independence was a plausible reality and not an electioneering slogan, where direct taxation of any kind would not subvert the rights of the smallholder but public authority would not walk hand in hand with corporations would provide a means out of this false dichotomy.
When I think of the alternative to Wal-Mart, the supposed ideal society of small shopkeeper and the family farmer, I’m reminded of the abyssmal [sic]service, high prices, lack of selection, and utter dreariness of Hyde Park, Chicago, where I went to school. ~Chris Roach
Now perhaps I have been living in Hyde Park for too long and have been taken in by the place, but the words abysmal and dreary do not pop into my mind when I think of it. I won’t pretend that it is a marvelous neighbourhood, or that it is an instantiation of the small community ideal, but it is actually still something of an urban neighbourhood community (to the extent that this has not always been something of a contradiction in terms), which cannot be said for its counterparts in Glen Ellyn, Aurora and Naperville with their antiseptically beautiful rows of identical houses full of people who do not know each other. Evanston is similar to Hyde Park in many of the same ways with respect to being free of the box and chain stores, and while it has plenty of problems no one I know could reasonably describe it as abysmal or dreary.
The neighbourhood co-op does not seem to be charging such terribly expensive prices (since it is the main grocery store for the neighbourhood, I don’t have many handy comparative examples to know whether their prices are competitive–presumably, as a small co-op chain, they will not be perfectly competitive with a much larger chain such as Dominick’s), the selection seems perfectly adequate and the service in dreary old Hyde Park is no better or worse than that found in chain groceries in the suburbs of Chicago. The neighbourhood is, of course, oriented around the University and so tends to be heavy on services (mostly restaurants) and light on other kinds of stores. And no one would deny that the South Side surrounding Hyde Park is of an almost entirely different character from the neighbourhood. But if we want to speak about dreary places in Chicago, the “revitalised” Cabrini Green would be a better target than Hyde Park, which remains one of the few bright spots on the South Side in part because of the presence of the University. It is also undeniable that for things like appliances or furniture or any of the durable goods that the box stores sell in huge numbers that Hyde Park does not have stores that offer these things, but it is not hard to imagine why small stores providing these services would not exactly flourish in the age of Target and Wal-Mart.
In any case, Hyde Park is hardly a complete hold-out against chain stores of all kinds nor is it some hard-core center of mom ‘n’ pop businesses, though you will never encounter one of the sprawling megastores here or anywhere east of the Dan Ryan and south of Roosevelt. The city has made sure of that. I don’t know whether native Hyde Park and South Side residents would prefer to have Wal-Mart open in their neighbourhoods, but I strongly doubt it. Undoubtedly, opening these chain stories would save the people some money, perhaps quite a lot of money. But perhaps there is something else about their place, for all its flaws and higher prices, that they would rather save. Perhaps the people who live in the dreary abyss do not see it as such, but instead love it for what it is and would rather bear the costs of keeping it more as it is than succumbing to the rush to homogenise every corner of America.
Chicagoans will certainly have their chance to turn out the city councilmen who have kept the Lords of Bentonville from entering the city, but I think we all know that this isn’t going to happen (this is Chicago, after all, not some sort of kooky democracy). Probably in the end, in the name of growth and efficiency, the Wal-Marts and the chain restaurants will come, which will not mean a vibrant and happy Hyde Park to replace the abysmal dreariness that some remember, but simply a neighbourhood with shuttered windows on every block.
If a host of studies are to be believed, marrying these women is asking for trouble. If they quit their jobs and stay home with the kids, they will be unhappy ( Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003). They will be unhappy if they make more money than you do ( Social Forces, 2006). You will be unhappy if they make more money than you do ( Journal of Marriage and Family, 2001). You will be more likely to fall ill ( American Journal of Sociology). Even your house will be dirtier ( Institute for Social Research).
Why? Well, despite the fact that the link between work, women and divorce rates is complex and controversial, much of the reasoning is based on a lot of economic theory and a bit of common sense. In classic economics, a marriage is, at least in part, an exercise in labor specialization. Traditionally men have tended to do “market” or paid work outside the home and women have tended to do “non-market” or household work, including raising children. All of the work must get done by somebody, and this pairing, regardless of who is in the home and who is outside the home, accomplishes that goal. Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker argued that when the labor specialization in a marriage decreases–if, for example, both spouses have careers–the overall value of the marriage is lower for both partners because less of the total needed work is getting done, making life harder for both partners and divorce more likely. And, indeed, empirical studies have concluded just that. ~Forbes
David Brooks, bringing you “development and modernization” as he gets them
The reason there are such wide variations in ticket rates is that human beings are not merely products of economics. The diplomats paid no cost for parking illegally, thanks to diplomatic immunity. But human beings are also shaped by cultural and moral norms. If you’re Swedish and you have a chance to pull up in front of a fire hydrant, you still don’t do it. You’re Swedish. That’s who you are. ~David Brooks, The New York Times
The Swedes may be grateful that an American columnist on the right has finally made a reference to them that does not involves references either to socialism or selling weapons to Germany during WWII, but you still get the sense that if Brooks understands that human beings are not simply products of economics they are not a lot more than that. The item he chose to illustrate cultural difference was parking habits by nationality, which might tell us something about certain national habits when it comes to obeying ordinances and signs and respecting the relative orderliness of urban space, but even so to call this observation superficial would be to give superficiality an even worse reputation. It’s almost as if Brooks doesn’t quite want to accept the existence of virtually ineradicable cultural difference, so he tries to demonstrate it in the least disturbing way possible: Chadians and Sudanese thumb their noses at parking restrictions, but Scandinavians and Israelis are very puncitilious in parking legally. Perhaps it is an irenic attempt to say that the differences aren’t really that great; cultural difference, at the end of the day, is really just a small disagreement about parking etiquette. Perhaps this has a far more powerful meaning for people in a parking-strapped city awash in foreign diplomats, but does an attitude towards parking really reveal the significant obstacles to “development and modernization” in these cultures? Probably not, but let’s move on.
In some ways, a conservative should like the idea of development. He might even be expected to like development when the term is applied to the social, political, and economic spheres in certain ways. It is an organic, psychological and physiological metaphor based on the idea of natural (physical, spiritual and emotional) development of human beings. Like a person, the idea goes, a society has stages of development: infancy, adolescence, adulthood, old age and, of course, finally death. It lends itself to a cyclical theory of history, though it can be fairly easily hijacked and used for progressive narratives of history as well, and this is what Brooks does with the term. But, in many ways, development is a worthwhile concept for thinking about society and political order as things that have grown and come into being over time rather than having been ”founded,” which no sane social or political order ever has been.
Nowadays development is also a rather troublesome term. Today it is associated with the Reconstruction of small towns to suit the interests of business, developers, “growth” and local government revenues in the post-Kelo world. (To paraphrase Prof. Lukacs, growth is not necessarily progress–cancer is also growth.) There is definitely a sense that increased uniformity, drabness, ugliness and dependency on distant economic masters are the things that are being developed and these are the things towards which talk of “development” leads here at home. Overseas it is typically associated with the latest dispensers of “economic development,” and this has crept into every part of our language when we talk about the rest of the world and ourselves: there is no more First or Third World but developed and developing nations, as if we were the flowers in full bloom and they were the bulbs still waiting to spring forth, and we are ready to dump copious amounts of fertiliser via the WTO and the Doha round on those bulbs to help them “grow.”
The thrust of the article is that cultural difference accounts for different rates of development, but then this presupposes that Brooks’ idea of development is some innate, obvious or otherwise self-evident standard of development to which everyone would objectively agree were it not for their cultural hang-ups. There is a general standard for determining the sanity and well-being of a society, and this is human nature. It is commonplace to assume that Brooks’ kind of “development and modernization” (and it is important to note that the pairing here is really more of a redundancy–for Brooks, the two are one and the same) are basically well-suited for human nature, bring out more of the full potential in man than would otherwise be the case and do not fundamentally contradict that nature. But I would submit that the sort of development that corporations are foisting on “developing” nations and the towns and countryside of America alike has little relationship to man’s proper nature and works insidiously against that nature to try to reduce man to the level of an economic functionary.
In 1930 twelve Southerners, scholars, men of letters, poets and patriots, issued their defense of a way of life and an understanding of how to live well that they had received from their arts, their fathers and their Southern patria: the book of essays in defense of the Southern agrarian tradition, I’ll Take My Stand. They were, as M.E. Bradford described them, “the natural heirs of Randolph of Roanoke, John Taylor of Caroline, and the better side of Jefferson–anti-Hamiltonian, antistatist, conservative Democrat….Community was their a priori ideal–an informally hierarchical social organism in which all Southerners (including the Negro, insofar as the survival of that community permitted) had a sense of investment and participation. In brief, a patriarchal world of families, pre- or noncapitalist because familial, located, pious, and “brotherly”; agrarian in order not to produce the alienated, atomistic individual to whom abstractly familial totalitarianism can appeal; classically republican because that system of government best allowed for the multiplicity that was the nation while at the same time permitting the agrarian culture of families to flourish unperturbed.” (Remembering Who We Are, p.86)
As Dr. Tom Landess recounted to us in a talk last month, the South to which the Southern Agrarians referred and which they defended was neither an imaginary product of nostalgia for the antebellum South nor a the fruit of longing for the days of the Southern aristocracy. The South of their hopes and loves was the South of the small farmer, the yeoman, the small businessman, the shopkeeper, the South that existed, the one which they knew, and the one which they knew was threatened and in danger of passing away under the new onslaught of industrialism and abstract notions. In that land, there was a way of life not unique to the Southern experience but one that was nonetheless peculiarly present in the region that was attuned to the “rhythm of the seasons and the uncertainties of life,” tied to nature and to the passage of time, and thus to history, in a way that, as Dr. Patrick reminded us in his talk on Allen Tate, cultivated a mind all together more historical and culturally European than the mind malnourished in the cities of the Northeast.
On account of the agrarian way of life of the smallholder and the farmer and the culture of the people who settled the South, the region’s people had a keen sense of place that itself grew from an awareness of being fixed and rooted in a place and forming part of the continuity across the years that bound ancestor and descendant. That experience could fuel the imagination of a Faulkner to tell the story of the Sartoris clan where the generations of a family together formed a character in its own right, for perhaps the most complete story and the most fully formed characters come from the experience of multiple generations bound by place and their relationship to that place.
Memory across generations ties a people to their past and lends the place where they live meanings that had been hidden by the veil of time. This sense of the past was fed by the reception of memories from their fathers in the form of simple stories told and retold, the recollecting of their people’s lives that wove together anecdote, gossip and report into the remembrance of who they were and what they were doing in the particular time and place where they were.
The Southern mind saw history as something concrete, the fruit of a series of events that does not move us onwards towards a goal but is embodied in the tangible reality of habit and memory (and Bradford tells us to love the inherited nomos of our place and people rather than rush on madly towards the telos of the teleocrat). This mind saw history as a process of growth and change that those closest to the land understand better, and it remembered that history through the telling of the stories of their kin.
Receptive to memory, the Southern mind was also submissive to nature and God. As the “Statement of Principles” in I’ll Take My Stand tells us:
Religion can hardly expect to flourish in an industrial society. Religion is our submission to the general intention of a nature that is fairly inscrutable; it is the sense of our role as creatures within it. But nature industrialized, transformed into cities and artificial habitations, manufactured into commodities, is no longer nature but a highly simplified picture of nature. We receive the illusion of having power over nature, and lose the sense of nature as something mysterious and contingent. The God of nature under these conditions is merely an amiable expression, a superfluity, and the philosophical understanding ordinarily carried in the religious experience is not there for us to have.
And in its piety the Southern mind did not, like some Eunomian heretic, scrutinise and weigh the essence of God. On the contrary, it tended to set anything that smacked of rationalism to one side in the understanding of the Faith such that the Southern religion might even be called in many respects “arational,” as Dr. Patrick explained to us, and in its spirituality potentially and dangerously prone to think of religious experience as an escape from history rather than a living out of the Word incarnate and the Word enfleshed and embodied in us in the sacraments. And yet it was this same religious spirit in the South that does instinctively recognise the createdness of things and the dependence of the being of all things on the will of the Creator, a recognition that comes and must come in no small part from the relationship to the created order of one who tends and cultivates rather than one who uproots and exploits, which is to say an agrarian relationship rather than that of an industrialist and a consumer. It is there in the tending of the “cultivated garden” that man understands his place before creation and his Creator, particularly by being in his own place where he will give praise to his God for the bounty that has been provided in God’s goodness. It is there that he remembers who he truly is, seeing his connections to his place across the generations in the fields and groves that nourished him and made him into what he is. Then, having remembered, he will tell his sons and daughters of their history on that land, so that they will know it is loved and should be loved, and to see that they must love and care for it because, in a way, the land has already loved and cared for them. As Bradford concluded his essay in defense of the Agrarians (and all agrarians), so will I conclude today, with a few lines from Donald Davidson:
Is good, but better is land, and best
A land still fought-for, even in retreat:
For how else can Aeneas find his rest
And the child hearken and dream at his grandsire’s feet?
Global free trade talks, billed as a once in a generation chance to boost growth and ease poverty, collapsed on Monday after nearly five years of haggling and resuming them could take years.
The suspension of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Doha round came after major trading powers failed in a last-ditch bid to overcome differences on reforming world farm trade, which lies at the heart of the round.
“The WTO negotiations are suspended,” Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath told journalists. When asked how long the suspension could last, he replied: “Anywhere from months to years.”
The round, launched in the Qatari capital in 2001, stumbled from the start over how far rich nations would go to dismantle their huge farm subsidies and open up their markets. ~Reuters
It’s not a permanent defeat for the Doha round, but it is an encouraging sign that American trade policy is not quite as completely self-destructive as it has seemed to be for the last decade.
Looking over my old Polemics posts, I came across this one that will surely send Misesians into seizures:
Let us consider the consequences of this system [of unlimited freedom of capital]. The multiplication of the paths of exchange will soon lead to its logical conclusion, and we will only see on the market those goods produced by the most miserable of peoples. The Chinese will become the world’s best workers because they only require that their animal needs be met. Later, the worker, the engineer, the salesman, and the banker himself will be purchased on the open market. Then the banker of London, Paris, or Vienna, having made himself rich by putting his capital to work in China, will in turn face an unequal struggle against the Chinese usurer, who will not give himself the luxuries of a princely palace, teams of horses, parties, and the life of the rich. An irremediable decline awaits the economic order of the civilization of the West at the end of this path of freedom of labor, a path down which it is led by the teaching of the philosophers, the science of the economists, and the power of the capitalists. ~ Rene de La Tour du Pin, The Corporate Regime
Among several books I intend someday to write, one stands out: The Great Indoors: Why Going Outside Is Vastly Overrrated. Now is probably the time to pitch it—contrarian cant at its finest—given all the hugga-mugga over Crunchy Cons and the various websites supported by sundry disciples of Wendell Berry, who believe consumerism, free markets, and technological obsolescence are destroying our souls, families, and communities.
This concern is an old one. And the solution—high-tail it for the Ozarks—is also old. I believe Aristophanes was the first to give it dramatic form (while side-swiping poor old Socrates at the same time): Abandon the cities, abandon false patriotism, abandon the quack sciences and gimcrack philosophies that threaten old religion; abandon the battlefields, politics, and sausage salesmen. ~Anthony Sacramone, First Things
Surely if there was a place for cant, it would be First Things under Mr. Bottum’s esteemed guidance, and Mr. Sacramone shows himself to be right at home at the intellectual Bottum. One definition of cant, after all, is:
The use of religious phraseology without understanding or sincerity; empty, solemn speech, implying what is not felt; hypocrisy.
Check Mr. Sacramone’s sad invocation of the New Jerusalem as a justification for rancid urbanism and consumerist degradation to see whether he meets this definition. Perhaps Jeremy Lott will write a sequel to his current book that would be entitled In Defense of Cant, and Mr. Sacramone can be his chief defendant. I missed this latest wave of cant at First Things while high-tailing it to northern Illinois (the Ozarks were too far away), where, as it happens, I had some sausages for dinner at the Saturday dinner for the summer school on America’s agrarian tradition (whether they came from a salesman of sausages, or were instead homemade, was not made known to the assembled guests). Fortunately, Michael Brendan Dougherty took up my usual role of angry reactionary blogger and gave him and those like him a good hiding.
Now, as Mr. Sacramone may or may not be aware, the only problems that matter are old ones (who are we? why are we here? what is our purpose?), and the only solutions worth their salt tend to also be old and venerable ones. He may have heard something about the accumulated wisdom of generations providing us with time-tested truths that tell us about human nature, the good life, and so on. Supposedly First Things, given the name, might be expected to take these things seriously, since they pertain to the permanent things, the serious things, things of the first order of importance in human existence. It might be worth noting that the prophetic and eschatological witnesses to the Kingdom being not of this world, monastics and ascetics, typically have fled the wretchedness of the cities. But what did those monks and saints know? Besides, they’re all so very old. Nobody fashionable goes into the desert, into the country, to follow Christ anymore–you might be accosted by all manner of rustics with guns!
But who are we kidding? There is apparently nothing so serious that the semi-learned gentlemen at First Things cannot trivialise and mock it. I have rarely seen such a self-indulgent, cynical display of intellectual hooliganism–and nihilism–as Mr. Sacramone has given us. Glad to know that this is what First Things stands for–it confirms what I have assumed about that journal for many years.
What would this kind of regional populism look like in an actual political platform? Broadly speaking, it would seek at every turn to end the dependence of its constituents on elites. It would oppose, for example, the nationalization of any sector of our economy, from health care to agriculture. Instead, it would seek creative ways to open regional markets for regional goods.
It would seek to permit regional cultural and religious particularities to emerge from the fog of federalized regulation and be made manifest in our schools, courthouses, businesses and civic organizations. And it would provide incentives to keep cultural capital local. It would encourage people to work, study and raise families close to where they grew up. It would seek ways to promote local culture and would cultivate loyalty to our neighbors and a fierce love for our own places.
But in the end, what this kind of vibrant regionalism requires is something much more difficult to obtain than a slogan. It is a renewed appreciation for society over and against both the individual and the state. Society defined by what the agrarian essayist Wendell Berry calls “membership” – a network of social interconnectedness and shared obligation. To be a member of this kind of social order is the best hedge against manipulation by the central planning committee for “growth” and “prosperity.” It is, to put it plainly, to be free. ~Caleb Stegall, The Dallas Morning News
In the mid-20th century, economist Joseph Schumpeter argued that capitalism – the acknowledged world-historical champion in terms of producing wealth and prosperity – would, by a process he called “creative destruction,” eventually undermine the very social institutions that gave it birth and guarded its existence. He pointed out that market capitalism exposed more natural ordering structures – the “ties that bind” – to a brutal new calculus. Commitment to kin, community and place entail making heavy economic sacrifices and provide benefits not easily entered on a balance sheet. The more cost-efficient process of market economics fomented an ongoing progressive revolution that eventually rendered those social and family ties largely superfluous. Lord Acton observed that “every institution tends to perish by an excess of its own basic principle.”
This tendency of our political and economic culture toward a state of permanent revolution is the hallmark of any modern progressive society. And if there is one deity today to which every politician, right and left, will pay obeisance, it is the god of progress. ~Caleb Stegall
Via The Japery
Everyone talks about energy independence as if our future depends on it. Simultaneously, we are told that globalization is good for us in every other respect. But why is energy independence any better than manufacturing independence, or engineering independence, or innovation independence? U.S. imports of industrial supplies, capital goods, automotive vehicles and consumer goods all exceed U.S. oil imports.
In recent years, offshore outsourcing has caused the U.S. trade deficit to explode. Offshore outsourcing means that the production of goods and services for the U.S. market is shifted from America to foreign countries. This turns goods formerly produced in the United States into imports. Between 1997 and 2004, the U.S. trade deficit increased six-fold. Since 1997, the cumulative U.S. trade deficit (including the $700 billion estimate for 2005) is $3.5 trillion. The outsourcing of America’s economy is a far greater threat to Americans than terrorists.
During the 1980s, economists spoke in doom and gloom terms about the “Reagan deficits.” The cumulative U.S. trade deficit for the entire decade of the 1980s totaled $846 billion. The U.S. trade deficit for 2005 alone is 83 percent of the cumulative deficit of the Reagan 1980s. Yet, we hear very little doom and gloom. Economists now declare the trade deficit to be good for us. They mistakenly describe the trade deficit as a mere reflection of the beneficial workings of free trade. Economists have become mouthpieces for the corporate interests who benefit by deserting their American workforce and replacing them with foreigners. ~Paul Craig Roberts
Actually, Pat, it is PROTECTIONISM that does all those things: 1) Being protected from competiton with tariffs or quotas causes the “protected” industry to become lazy and lethargic; why work so hard if there’s no competition? 2) Businesses that accept corporate welfare in the form of protectionism become, effectively, wards of the state every bit as much as any welfare mother. Once a business accepts such subsidies, it no longer can legitimately complain about or oppose other prosperity-destroying regulations or taxes. It does not engage in free speech for fear of losing its subsidy. It loses all of its independence, in other words. ~Thomas DiLorenzo, LewRockwell.com
Hat tip to Michael Dougherty.
Thomas DiLorenzo, known and respected by many traditional conservatives as a very competent historian of the War of Secession and Lincoln and author of The Real Lincoln, has decided to have a new war over tariffs with Mr. Buchanan. You know the libertarian drill: whine about government interference in the market and call your opponent ignorant. Prof. DiLorenzo throws a fit when Mr. Buchanan claims, using the imagery of a man destroyed by drink, that free trade makes nations dependent and weak and ultimately leads to their ruin. DiLorenzo is the historian, is he not? Why then is it that it is Mr. Buchanan who makes the cogent historical argument that our protective tariffs coincided with and fostered American industry, and it is DiLorenzo who seems to be throwing the “tantrum”?
Later in Mr. Buchanan’s article, which is not “recent” (it is dated Aug. 11, 2005), as DiLorenzo claims, and to which DiLorenzo provides no link, there is this important section:
But in the Clinton-Bush free-trade era, Alexander Hamilton is derided as a “protectionist.” Woodrow Wilson’s free-trade dogma is gospel. Result: our trade surpluses have vanished, our deficits have exploded, our self-sufficiency has been lost, our sovereignty has been diminished, and an industrial base that was the envy of mankind has been gutted.
And for what? All that junk down at the mall? What do we have now that we did not have before we submitted to this cult of free trade? ~Pat Buchanan
Perhaps I’ve missed where Mr. Buchanan has made an error–do we, in fact, have enormous trade surpluses and is our manufacturing sector growing stronger daily? “All that junk down at the mall” (or at the superstores) is exactly what an economic regime dedicated strictly to commerce and “service” jobs provides. Note that DiLorenzo makes no claim that a free trade regime can secure a country’s manufacturing base, because he knows he would be easily ridiculed with the present reality of our miserable manufacturing sector. We are supposed to be satisfied with a regime that leaves us dependent on the productivity of other nations for all finished and manufactured goods, which in the real world where nations clash and seek advantage against one another leaves our country vulnerable to economic extortion, deprives us of our freedom of action in international relations and steals our initiative in foreign affairs.
The free trade ideal might be summed up like this: Sell American independence to the lowest bidder, as long as we can have our Wal-Marts. The question between free trade and protection is not a question, ultimately, of economics alone, but of the kind of America that should exist. On the one side, there is a nation of dilapidated factories, shuttered plants and collapsing small towns shivering in the shadows of anti-social, dehumanising megalopoleis, while our people are awash in the latest imported vanities. On other side, there is the nation that might not necessarily have as much in sheer quantity but can rely on a steady level of productivity that meets the needs of our people, rather than being egged on to ever greater consumption and materialist desire for trivial things. Indeed, the cultural and spiritual fruits of a free trade regime are perhaps the most abhorrent and most rotten of all.
One could advance a radically different sort of argument against protectionism, the sort advanced by the old Jeffersonians. A tariff or high tariff regime can be very inimical to agricultural sectors, which is one reason why the historically predominantly agricultural South and West have traditionally supported the party opposed to tariffs. They opposed high tariffs not because it was destructive of an industrial economy, but exactly because they knew it was not. They did not want a world of cities, industry and “bank rule,” and their vision for America would assuredly have been better (for one, we could never have gone abroad in search of monsters to destroy if we had not become such an industrial power), but once we became a thoroughly industrial nation we no longer had the option of choosing the Jeffersonians’ vision. We now have the choice of continuing as the world’s consumerist dumping ground amid diminishing quality of employment and eventually diminishing standards of living, or we can reclaim some measure of economic self-determination, so to speak, and break the chains of commercial dependence on the production of nations that are, quite naturally, using all their economic leverage to gain as much for themselves at our expense as they can.
The Jeffersonian understanding of tariffs then, oddly enough, vindicates the Hamiltonian Mr. Buchanan today. In an increasingly industrialising world, that has become more, not less, true. When Western industrial nations were still the only game in town, they could afford to allow greater freedom to market forces in international trade. Now that the number of competitors has increased, the luxury we once had to enjoy healthy industrial production and a free flow of commercial goods has diminished considerably. We can choose greater national self-sufficiency, or we can choose the “junk down at the mall.” Or we can, like DiLorenzo, shout idiotic abuse at the people alerting us to the serious choice at hand.
Should he [Scott Richert] choose to continue the discussion, I would be very interested to hear what he might have to say to two of the points that I raised:
1. If the just price concept is to play a moral restraining function and not be identified from or solely from the free market price of a good and not be identified through a series of price controls then what criteria does Mr. Richert think that a merchant should look to that do not substantially involve considerations of the item’s supply or the needs of those who purchase it?
2. Does Mr. Richert acknowledge that by asking for a just price to be determined that is not substantially affected by “scarcity or the special needs of the buyer” that he is asking for a price to be determined in a way not substantially affected by considerations of supply and demand? ~Jimmy Akin
In looking for a mechanism other than state price controls for enforcement, it seems that we have excellent mechanisms in the form of social pressure, the disapproval of the community and the conscience of the seller. The seller might measure whether or not he is charging unduly high prices by what his customers are telling him about his unduly high prices–admirers of the market are frequently enthusing about its capacity to transmit information very effectively, so why should consumer resentment at high prices not be a significant part of the exchange of information? He could then keep his prices at a level as low as he could without suffering a loss. It might also occur to a seller in a time of rising prices that his efforts to keep prices moderate will be rewarded by consumers both in the short and longer terms.
Read the rest of this entry »
Finally, Mr. Richert takes exception to my characterization of the Middle Ages as impoverished compared to modern times. His response is that modern times are spiritually impoverished compared to the Middle Ages.
This is quite true. The faith among the Christian population was stronger then and suffused their culture in a way it does not today. This aspect of the Middle Ages is much to be admired and, if possible, duplicated at some point in the future (though B16 doesn’t see that happening any time soon).
Mr. Richert points out that there are values that transcend economics and that must be pursued, and this is also quite true. He tells a poignant story involving Mother Theresa, which is spiritually compelling and a powerful testimony to the value of compassion over money.
These points do not mean, however, that the economics of the Middle Ages were correct, that they should be applied today, or that the Church requires us to believe in them. ~Jimmy Akin
This was one of the few points worth commenting on from Mr. Akin’s riposte to one of Mr. Richert’s last posts on the just price debate. Rather than spending much time detouring down the side alley of Mr. Akin’s justifying his backhanded attack on the views of Father Eugene Cahill, S.J., which dominates most of Mr. Akin’s last post, I wanted to tackle Mr. Akin’s argument advanced against medieval economic practices.
Yes, Mr. Akin grants, medieval Christian man was generally more pious and lived in a far more consciously Christian and Christianised society than we do, and he also grants that, as I would put it, we are bereft of that spiritual illumination in our preoccupation with having effective strategies of capital management and working to maximise return, which conventional opinion regards more or less as essentially a good in itself. But medieval economics was just plain incorrect. By what measure are medieval economic practices (it seems somehow odd to refer to ‘the economics of the Middle Ages’) deemed incorrect? Again, by the measures of efficiency, maximising gain and “growth.”
Of course, when modern, capitalist economic standards are applied to past ‘economies’, all ages before early modernity will be found lacking, their economic “systems” deemed deeply flawed and retarded by cultural values that conceive of entirely different purposes for wealth and human life. But isn’t Mr. Akin’s acknowledgment of medieval Christian man’s superior spiritual and cultural life a tacit concession that, as far as the highest goods in life are concerned (the goods with which Christians should be most concerned), a meaningful and good life was realised far better in many ways under that economic regime than under our own?
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Man is made in the image and likeness of God; he is not Homo economicus. Where Mr. Akin and I disagree is on whether you can interpret the Church’s social teaching in light of an economic theory that celebrates the self-interest of man and is itself predicated on a philosophy that regards men as individuals who are related to each other and society at large only by means of contracts (economic or social) without doing irreparable damage to that teaching. ~Scott P. Richert
Last week, Scott Richert of Chronicles began an interesting discussion at The Rockford Files of Mr. Jimmy Akin’s objections to the regulation of price-gouging, in this case in the wake of a hurricane, and took issue with Mr. Akin’s usage of the term ‘natural price point’ where, he held, just price was more fitting and appropriate in reconciling the setting of prices with Catholic social doctrine. The post listed above is Mr. Richert’s response to Mr. Akin’s first reply.
The exchange is well worth reading, and Mr. Richert’s arguments are commendable in the way in which they take seriously the consequences of our creation in the image and likeness of God and our ultimate natural end in returning to Him. He is quite right to stress that this concept of man, to which, incidentally, all Christians are obliged to subscribe, cannot readily admit assumptions from theories in which man’s end can be conceived really only in terms of material self-gratification rather than spiritual and natural restoration in Christ. In this way it is tangentially related to my post about Dr. Fleming’s ethics article: understanding the proper theological definition of human nature and will found in the Fathers will necessarily lead to a rejection of any ethics that privilege the self as an autonomous agent and which consider the self’s fulfilling of its desires as the basis of moral rationality. Indeed, it is well worth considering whether the Christian doctrine of person, and the patristic understanding that true personhood exists only in relationship and communion, has anything substantial in common with the modern concept of self, which is, by and large, considered to be independent and autonomous in its true form.
In a parallel way, it seems to me, economic libertarians and somewhat less doctrinaire proponents of largely unregulated markets, such as Mr. Akin (who firmly disavows any libertarian label), appeal to concepts of economic self-interest rooted in a concept of autonomous man alien to the understanding of the Fathers, and they defend those appeals by turning to definitions of rationality and value that must inevitably vindicate their economic theory. As I read Mr. Akin’s “Just Price Analysis,” I find that he is willing to entertain that there might be intrinsic value in a commodity, but that he has long since accepted that value is determined in terms of money and anything’s value is only as great as the amount someone is willing to pay for it. In Austrian economics, as I understand it, anything that interferes with the market determining that value creates inefficiency and that interference is ipso facto irrational.
The goal of just price is, well, justice, not economic efficiency or ‘rationality’, and as I understand the early Fathers it would only be to the extent that the latter are compatible with justice that they would be considered desirable or even licit. There was considerable economic inefficiency in medieval Europe, as measured by this definition of efficiency, but I suspect that had the medievals been confronted with the alternative of great efficiency most of them (or at least the authorities in the Church) would have spurned it, as the hope and desire of medieval Christian man was not riches stored up here below but those laid up in heaven.
That being said, however, it is a bit tendentious to accuse Mr. Richert of a certain inconsistency in his argument for using the concept of just price without also necessarily endorsing the practices of medieval guilds. Mr. Akin writes: “From what I gather, Mr. Richert is not in favor of price controls, but these were a prominent part of the medieval just price system. By rejecting them, Mr. Richert is advocating a significant departure from the just price system as it was understood and practiced in the Middle Ages.” At this point I might point out that just price was originally a Roman legal requirement adopted into Christian theology through the Byzantine Fathers and reformulated by Aquinas and others in the thirteenth century, so there need be no necessary connection between medieval economic practices as they obtained in western Europe in the high middle ages and an embrace of the concept of just price. More to the point, as I imagine Mr. Richert might argue in a future post, if the Catholic Magisterium does not feel obligated to endorse a temporary economic arrangement in order to endorse the concept of just price, whether understood in scholastic fashion or not, Mr. Richert is hardly under any obligation, moral or intellectual, to do the same.
One must surely grant the importance of largeness in the free enterprise system—for diffusion of risk, accumulation of venture capital, and economies of scale. But I cannot see how liberty is best preserved in the implacable swallowing up of small, autonomous firms into vast bureaucratic corporations. I cannot see the sanity in preferring the huge and cumbersome to the small, local, and independent. I cannot see much to admire in that consolidation which allows a single corporation to own 40 newspapers or 200 banks. It is often remarked, both anecdotally and more systematically, that the corporate psychology vitiates innovation and vigor; that it bureaucratizes and thereby weakens considerably the creative human impulses. Like any bureaucracy, the corporation can regularly mean the promotion of agreeable fecklessness, the rewarding of failure, and the punishment of independent enterprise. We are foolish, as defenders of liberty, if we reflexively defend the corporate economy, or if we willfully ignore the tension that sometimes exists between the corporatist ethic and the spirit of ownership.
Someone will surely reply that I am mistaken in my economics. But they have missed the point. Economics answers to its master: mankind. It is precisely backwards to let economics dictate our principles—for economics is a tool, just like any other applied discipline. Economics cannot tell us our vision of the good life any more than biology can tell us why human life is sacred, or chemistry why a glass of beer after a hard day’s work is such a great pleasure, or physics why men look to the heavens with such awe. Economics can surely aid us in our efforts to achieve the good life, but it cannot, of its own devices, articulate the good life. The reign of economics as a kind of totem is the sign of a servile people. ~Paul J. Cella, The New Atlantis
Mr. Cella has said all of this very well, and I have little that can add to it. This captures concisely what I have attempted to explain when stating that when conservatives make economic arguments we are making first and foremost moral arguments, arguments concerning the common good and how men may best flourish. This is the case whether the arguments concern free trade generally (be it genuine laissez-faire or globalist and bureaucratic), the role of multinationals in de-industrialising the country or the terrible homogenising, dehumanising and atomising effects of a corporate, service economy.
Very few people are protectionists or hostile to bureaucratic free trade regimes because they believe that “the economy” will necessarily “grow” more under such an alternative regime. Few have pretended that it would–the point is to develop and secure domestic industry. They hold these views because they wish that there might still be American factories and manufacturers producing their own goods, to both reduce dependence on foreign products and provide sustainable and stable employment in this country. They take these views on the assumption that greater economic self-reliance is as essential to political independence as personal economic independence is to personal liberty and also that service-sector work is the least permanent, least productive, least fulfilling and least human kind of work.
When our measure of the good is a strictly economic one, that of efficiency, growth or profit, then we have agreed to sacrifice all those intangible or immeasurable goods that pertain to life in a genuine community for those goals. A society that determines the common good in terms of efficiency has already deemed all claims of obligation, loyalty and personal attachment to be irrational and irrelevant, things to be swept aside in the dispensation of “creative destruction.” When we determine the national interest principally by an abstract growth rate, and not by the sustainability and relative self-sufficiency of the nation, we have abandoned our political loyalties and duties as if we, too, were rootless multinationals. Unlike a multinational, however, we have no excuse for putting our country and our duty as citizens second to the desire for cheap commodities, cheap labour and convenient and ready-made services. At the same time, our own property claims, and thus the sole substance that preserves us from true servility as individuals and as a people, are imperiled in the wake of decisions such as Kelo that now in the same spirit and with the same logic place higher priority on general “growth” rates and government revenue levels than on prescriptive property rights.
In May, the Bush economy eked out a paltry 73,000 private sector jobs: 20,000 jobs in construction (primarily for Mexican immigrants), 21,000 jobs in wholesale and retail trade, and 32,500 jobs in health care and social assistance. Local government added 5,000 for a grand total of 78,000.
Not a single one of these jobs produces an exportable good or service. With Americans increasingly divorced from the production of the goods and services that they consume, Americans have no way to pay for their consumption except by handing over to foreigners more of their accumulated stock of wealth. The country continues to eat its seed corn.
Only 10 million Americans are classified as “production workers” in the Bureau of Labor Statistics non-farm payroll tables. Think about that. The United States, with a population approaching 300 million, has only 10 million production workers. That means Americans are consuming the products of other countries’ labor.
In the 21st century, the U.S. economy has been unable to create jobs in export and import-competitive industries. U.S. job growth is confined to nontradable domestic services.
This movement of the American labor force toward Third World occupations in domestic services has dire implications both for U.S. living standards and for America’s status as a superpower. ~Paul Craig Roberts
Which brings us to Reason Three of what’s wrong with corporations—disloyalty to nation and people. As corporations have gone global, they have simply ceased to be part of any nation or to identify with any people, race or civilization—as their managers love to boast. Some years ago, Ralph Nader asked the directors of 100 big companies to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance at their stockholders’ meetings. Only one agreed; half never responded; the rest got snippy at the suggestion.
Corporate disloyalty to nation and people is obvious in corporate support for NAFTA, the World Trade Organization, and mass immigration and the cheap labor it imports. Much of the hatred the left exudes for corporations comes from or plays on the theme of disloyalty, but—since the left itself doesn’t really believe in nation or peoplehood either, it’s limited in how clearly it can make the disloyalty charge.
The people who could make that and other charges against corporations and the global grabfest that they want to replace Western and American civilization are conservatives—the real kind, not the fakes who are little more than hired guns for Big Business. Maybe if real conservatives started telling us what’s really wrong with Big Business, Hollywood would put them in the movies.~ Samuel Francis
Let us consider the consequences of this system [of unlimited freedom of capital]. The multiplication of the paths of exchange will soon lead to its logical conclusion, and we will only see on the market those goods produced by the most miserable of peoples. The Chinese will become the world’s best workers because they only require that their animal needs be met. Later, the worker, the engineer, the salesman, and the banker himself will be purchased on the open market. Then the banker of London, Paris, or Vienna, having made himself rich by putting his capital to work in China, will in turn face an unequal struggle against the Chinese usurer, who will not give himself the luxuries of a princely palace, teams of horses, parties, and the life of the rich. An irremediable decline awaits the economic order of the civilization of the West at the end of this path of freedom of labor, a path down which it is led by the teaching of the philosophers, the science of the economists, and the power of the capitalists. ~ Rene de La Tour du Pin, The Corporate Regime
La Tour du Pin observed the economic problems that now beset Western countries over a century ago, and in his prophecy we can see the offshoring of our computer engineering and other technical jobs and the de-industrialisation of developed nations, particularly that of the United States. The logic of such a system, even when it labours under the distortions of its state capitalist framework, is to denude developed nations of all their advanced and creative industries. In a very specific way, this process is highly rational in terms of lowering costs and improving efficiency, but in terms of national self-interest at some point such a process becomes self-defeating.
No, only a corporate regime can secure the right of each individual, not a single right for all, inasmuch as people have different functions within the association, but an equal respect for differing rights. This is the foundation for any social order worthy of the name. These were combined in such a way that they were not the weapon of one group against another, but a protection of the interest of all, joined in harmonious solidarity, just as a sound constitution does not arm citizens as enemy parties, but unites them by making the public good truly the common good.
~ Rene de La Tour du Pin, On the Corporate Regime