Friday, May 8, 2015

How Humans Can Cooperate Without Being Forced

I don't now why it is, but today there's an explosion of pieces on the virtues of capitalism.

First there is the excellent Kevin Williamson asking why the left is so firmly opposed to President Obama's (!) free-trade bill before Congress. The left these days is full of nostaglia for the glory days of the 1945-73 period, when growth was good and unions were strong. Look, Williamson writes, growth was good because the Second World War had destroyed so much. He quotes Ike's Cross of Iron speech:
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
Well, lefties are all opposed to defense spending, although defense spending was up at 10% of GDP through most of the post-war period. They are opposed to military force, except to fight Fascists. But they are all in favor of force when it comes to competing with foreigners to serve the consumers.

The president's Trans-Pacific Partnership would liberalize trade between twelve Pacific nations (not China).
With the exception of those under White House discipline, progressives are almost uniformly hostile to TPP, as indeed the Left is generally hostile to all international trade deals. 
So what's their problem?
The Left wants to withdraw from international trade and detests globalization. Progressives lament an almost entirely mythical “race to the bottom” in global commerce. 
The Left seems to hate economic cooperation among nations, and is getting nasty about the Chinese.
The anti-capitalist progressives have made clear what they do not want: free trade, free exchange, nasty foreigners and their nasty cheap goods, international exchange with fewer bosses declaring who may buy and sell and under what conditions, etc. What is it they do want?
You can't have a rerun of the 1945-73 period without the prior destruction of war. So what is it that the Left really wants?

"Capitalism is cooperation," writes Williamson. And that theme is taken up by David Boaz celebrating F.A. Hayek's birthday.
When we see an orderly process, we naturally assume that someone has designed or planned it. Hayek says that we fail to distinguish between two kinds of orders: the "made" or planned order, such as a business firm or other limited organization, and the "grown" or spontaneous order, such as the whole society or market process.
It is The Fatal Conceit of the Left not to understand that the economy doesn't need a guiding hand. It needs rules; it needs a government to punish thieves and robbers: street and corporate. But not a gentry liberal class regulating and directing traffic.
The fatal conceit of intellectuals, [Hayek] said, is to think that smart people can design an economy or a society better than the apparently chaotic interactions of millions of people. Such intellectuals fail to realize how much they don’t know or how a market makes use of all the localized knowledge each of us possesses. 
As in Jonathan Gruber.

There's a lot of talk about "settled science" these days, although I thought that the whole question had been settled by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions forty years ago. Science is settled, as in "normal science," until it gets upset by a revolution, a change in paradigm. I'd say that settles it.

Now liberals talk a pretty good line about climate science being "settled". That's because they don't want to argue the science of climate and whether there really is catastrophic global warming that would need the moral equivalent of war, led by a general staff of gentry liberals, to correct.

On the other hand liberals are completely uninterested in the settled science of economics, that a government-run economy is a really unscientific, not to say unjust, not to say superstitious, way to go. Why? Oh I'd say that settled science says that a government-run economy is The Road to Serfdom. And we don't want that.

Look I get it. The Left's religion is that everything must be done by politics. The US's gentry liberal class wants to believe that we need "smart people" like them to organize our economy and society.

If politics is a really bad idea for organizing the economy then what will the Lefties do then, poor things? If "smart people" aren't needed to direct economic traffic or to lead the Army of Climate, then what will the gentry liberals do then poor things?

The modern era is unprecedented in this one weird way. We have developed knowledge that tells us that free exchange is the fundamental difference between humans and the rest of life on earth. We don't need alpha males ordering us around, telling us what to do. We just need alpha males to catch the malefactors and a community of women to shame the freeloaders.

Fix that one weird thing and humans will freely cooperate and flourish without the need for force.

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