Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The System Isn't the Solution

Why is Obamacare such a mess?  Why is the economy barely growing?  Why are the rich making money hand over fist in the stock market while ordinary Americans are struggling to find jobs?

It's the system.  Or rather the faith in system.  Our liberal friends believe that politicians can and should construct a system of health care.  They believe that government can fine-tune the economic system.  They believe that government can intervene in the labor markets to improve the outcomes for workers.

We talk about the free-enterprise system and the market system but really it isn't.  Nobody set up an economic system; it just evolved.  And the modern market system evolved out of the limited markets that obtained during the feudal era.  As people got more freedom from the hierarchical demands of their feudal ties they interacted with each other and developed markets and trading and credit and prosperity.  The folk that did international business, like the Champagne fairs of the Middle Ages developed the bill of exchange that allowed them do transact business without having to pay in coin.  Nobody ordered it; it just evolved.

Of course we are trammeling here into the dangerous waters of Social Darwinism.  It is one thing to say that genes evolve by an unconscious process of natural selection, where the offspring that are blindly better adapted to the environment survive and the others don't.  It is another thing to say that the same process applies to social interactions.

But you can see what happens when the unconscious interactions of market players are banned and a state system of interaction is substituted.  You get the flavor of it in Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago.  As the market interactions of ordinary Russians were made illegal and the "system" failed to provide food and basic necessaries in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution people were forced to exchange goods in a criminal manner in the dark of night.  You exchanged household goods for food.  On the train you leaped off at stations to buy food from peasant women that stood around the back of a shed ready for the train passengers with cooked food wrapped in quilted towels.

Here's Michael Totten driving across Cuba in a bus.
Most of Cuba is more or less flat. I could see off in the distance outside the window because the landscape is not forested. It consists mostly of grass, stray palm trees, sad little agricultural plots, and unused fields gone to the weeds. 
Unused fields gone to the weeds?  There's an infestation of weeds from Angola, and "no one seems to have a clue how to get rid of it."  Now why would this be so?

It's because nothing happens in Cuba outside the "system."  If you are an enterprising soul you can't rub a couple nickels together and buy a little weedkiller or experiment with a bit of poly-culture.  No indeed.   Because nothing moves in Cuba unless it's approved by the "system."

It is telling that the best indictment of "system" has been developed by a leftist, Jürgen Habermas.  The system that you get with any large organization, whether capitalist or governmental or military is inherently dominatory, according to Habermas.  That's because the whole point of a system is to force everyone to work for a single goal, and a system always thinks and acts strategically.  His solution is to balance the strategic domination of system with communicative "Handeln."  Handeln means "action" in German but it also means haggling and negotiation.  When applied to Jews and business people it seems to be a pejorative.

I don't know if Habermas knew what he was proposing, but it seems obvious to me that the combination of system and Handeln is in fact modern capitalism with a minimum of interference by lefties.  There is no doubt that the knowledge and the organization of institutions that make and sell goods and services are enormously powerful and dominatory.  But the market is voluntary; actual transactions are subject to negotiation.  You don't have to buy at Walmart, but many people do, and will continue to do so as long as Walmart offers their Everyday Low Prices.

The huge error at the center of Obamacare is to imagine that you can substitute the complex interaction of system and Handeln with a single bureaucratic systems manual.  There is a category error here.  You can create a government system to e.g., invade the continent of Europe.  There's a single, simple goal that, given the biggest economy in the world, you can achieve if you allocate 40 percent of GDP to the task for a few years.

But health care is not so simple.  It cannot end with the defeated enemies of good health care signing an instrument of unconditional surrender.  It is a constantly changing, constantly adapting thing -- an unconscious organism responding every moment to the great tides of secular change and the little ripples of individual need.

When you want something to respond every moment to every change in human need you don't want to give the job to government.

There is in the human breast the constant yearning for an end to all the struggling, to live in peace and tranquility free from the brutal forces of the world: the Kantian dream of Perpetual Peace.

And so, time after time, humans try to create that dream, by fiat, by saying let it be so.  But the only way that people can seem to imagine such a paradise is by forcing their dream on other people.  And so they transform the dream into a nightmare.

Liberals have been dreaming of a universal system for health care for about a century.  If only we had a centralized system, they have insisted, then all the inadequacies and injustices of the current system would be eliminated.

But our liberal friends are in the middle of being proved disastrously wrong on their health care dream.  And instead of a dream they are creating a nightmare.

They have only themselves to blame.  Economics says that a government system is not the answer.  Political theory says that centralized power is not the answer.  Even lefty sociologist-philosophers say that system is not the answer.  And that is to say nothing about the actual facts of history, from the failure of socialist communes in the 19th century to the failure of communist dictatorships in the 20th century and the dead hand of government bureaucracy everywhere you look around.

The system isn't the solution, liberals.  Why is that so hard for you to understand?

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