Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cudgeling My Brain on Freeloading

Back when Alger Hiss was trying to pitch himself out of a jam on the Pumpkin Papers and the naughty accusation from rumpled Time writer Whittaker Chambers that Hiss had spied for the Soviet Union, he knew that he had a problem. And so he told Congressman Richard Nixon that he had been cudgeling his brain on the way down to testify about whether he knew Whittaker Chambers.  So long ago, back before the War, but Chambers had testified to numerous details about Alger Hiss's domestic arrangements.  How would Chambers know all that if, as Hiss said, he didn't know Chambers?

Well I'm cudgeling my brain right now about the question of freeloading.  I want to show that our liberal ruling class -- and the educated ruling class elsewhere around the world -- has ruined the nation with its reactionary return to feudal politics.  By that I mean that the handouts of free stuff to the voters of the Democratic Party is the same as the handouts that any feudal regime, or any tribal lord, distributes among its supporters.  Just for supporting the ruling class, these supporters get loot. Like the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin.

And that's a problem.  It's a problem economically, because every hand that doesn't contribute to the national commonwealth has a mouth that must be fed by the labor of other people.  And it's a problem morally, because as Nicholas Wade writes, "nothing is more corrosive to a group's cohesion than free riders."

The point is that where you have government you have freeloading.  That's because every government that ever lived depends on its supporters, and its supporters want loot.

There is another way.  It is to anathematize government handouts (from green crony capitalists to middle-class entitlement beneficiaries to welfare recipients) and to base society on the principle that everyone goes out to find work and provide services for other people.

We know what this system is: it is called capitalism.  People go out from their families into the exchange economy and figure out how they can be useful to their fellow humans.  They accept the verdict of the market.  If the market doesn't reward them as much as they would like, they understand that they need to up their skills or improve their service in order to give more and receive more.  No fair complaining to government that life is unfair.

Eric Hoffer ingeniously wrote a confirmation of this notion.  He observed that there are two ways to get the work done.  Either the government can issue orders from the top down.  Or the worker figures it out on his own.

You can see what is implied here.  If the government is making all the decisions then we will never escape the vice of oppression vs. freeloading.  The government will always be making decisions with one eye on its supporters, so it will always deliver a result that is unjust, because it will always favor its supporters.

But the exchange economy is different.  Here there are no little darlings of the ruling class getting their special handouts.  There is just talent and skill and hard work and, above all, being in the right place at the right time.  And it is up to each individual to figure out how to become useful to his fellow humans.

The great question then is why, starting in the middle of the 19th century, there arose a moral and political movement that denied the basic equity of the exchange economy that was already starting to deliver cheap textiles, cheap food, and cheap transportation to the masses.  Why did these moral and political revolutionaries insist that this new industrial exchange economy was nothing but exploitation and oppression?  And why did they think that government, the vehicle of force, was the answer?

The answer is, I suppose, that it doesn't matter.  The Marxians and the Fabians and the Progressives all decided that government -- run by people like them -- was the answer. Period.

Our job is to found a new movement based on the moral argument that all government is unjust, but smaller government in less unjust than bigger government.  And we have such an argument to hand, from lefty Jürgen Habermas.  He argues that all systems, government and business, are inherently dominatory.  If we want to get out from the shadow of domination then we have to treat each other with respect and work out our differences with rational discourse that tries to find a consensus rather than strategically bending other people to our purpose.

But humans will always been tempted to reach for the power of government and cudgel the insolent folk that dare to oppose them.

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