Friday, March 17, 2017

Political Power is Just Not That Useful Any More

Today there are a couple of items on Instapundit about social justice warriors doing their social justice warring. One such loser is proposing that St. Patty's Day is a celebration of whiteness. The other wants us to believe that milk is racist.

It's a challenge, isn't it, to find a new issue to protest. These chaps and chapettes are really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

Of course, the joke is on the SJWs. St. Patrick's Day was a way for the Irish-Americans, then a marginalized immigrant group, to march down Fifth Avenue in New York City right past the mansions of the Morgans and the Vanderbilts and show them that the Irish were not to be taken lightly. Now, we are told, St. Pat is a racist dog-whistle for the overclass.

In my view, the millennial SJWs are being led down a rabbit hole.

What these easily-led youngsters do not understand is that political power is not the be-all and end-all any more.

You can see the error getting started with Marx in The Communist Manifesto. Marx and Engels proposed in that remarkable document that the capitalist bourgeoisie was to the proletarian factory worker as the feudal nobility was to the peasant.

Good point, Chuck and Fritz. It was a pretty sensible prediction to make back then in 1848. Only it turned out that you were wrong, for a number of reasons.

The first reason, that needs to be repeated over and over, is that the bourgeoisie, then and now, is just not that interested in power, whereas the feudal nobility most certainly was. The difference is, of course, that the business of the bourgeoisie is business, the understanding, the manipulation and exploitation of the market and the consumer. The business of the feudal nobility was politics. They started out as the lords of their lands, almost independent of the kings and princes that ruled over them. And every Harry Hotspur fancied himself the equal of the monarch that ruled over him. In due course, with the rise of the absolute monarch and the taxation of merchants, the feudal nobility got taken down a peg or two. But they still believed in politics.

The point to grasp is that the nature of society has profoundly changed due to the industrial revolution and the rise of the market economy and global trading. Used to be that the foundation of wealth was land and its food-generating potential. The great feudal barons were land-owners. If you owned good rich acres and defended them against rival landowners you were rich and you were powerful.

But now the rich and the powerful are differentiated. There is now a political sector that specializes in power and politics, and there is an economic sector that specializes in invention and production and distribution and trading and consuming.

When Matthew Josephson (a rich kid) wrote The Robber Barons about the 19th century industrial magnates he completely missed the point. These men might have robbed, but they were also lowering the cost of steel by 65 percent, and the cost of illuminating oil by 90 percent. They were innovators, producing new products at low prices. And when they retired they created charitable foundations to give money away. And the beat goes on. When I bought my first personal compute in the early 1980s, courtesy of Bill Gates and his MS-DOS operating system, the price was about $1,600 and it seemed like a complete bargain compared with the $30,000 you would need to buy a minicomputer. But now I can buy a Chromebook for less than $200. Who cares if the Microsofts and Googles and Apples are robber barons? I still get a computer for $200 and very likely less.

So now we have Elon Musk, the king of crony capitalists. But he is in the middle of a reckless process of reducing the cost of launching a satellite from $360 million to $30 million, and the goal is $10 million per launch once his reusable rocket boosters are really up and running. No doubt he is an outrageous manipulator of the political system. But his dream is to get to Mars.

When the whole world is for sale it doesn't matter too much what race or gender the worker is. What matters is the price. For sure, if you are black or Hispanic you face speed bumps because people are hesitant to hire you. But then today people are probably hesitant to hire a white guy in tech, compared to an East Asian.

The fact is that the left today is the most remarkable reactionary movement in history. It is saying that power, political power, is the only thing in an age when the evidence is that political power is the problem and is on its way out.

I wonder if we will look back at the 20th century as the last hurrah of the age-old truth that political and military power, the ability to defend your borders and keep the pirates and plunderers at bay, was the important, indeed the only thing.

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