Thursday, April 24, 2014

From "Because Exploitation" to "Because Inequality"

As I've studied Marxism over the last few years, I have found myself cudgeling my brains to figure out what the point was.

Eventually, I beat the answer out of my brain.  Marx admits that the bourgeoisie had conjured miracles of economic growth out of the ground.  But it was all going to end in tears.  Because exploitation.  The capitalists would secure a larger and larger share of the economic pie, and the proletariat would be driven to penury.  Because the capitalists would secure all the value added by labor, leaving merely a subsistence existence for the rest, including the middle class.

The point is that without the exploitation, the Marxians don't have an argument for revolution, for the seizure of political and economic power by the educated youth in the name of the working class.  So there must be exploitation, "naked, shameless, direct, brutal".

Today liberals are insisting we have a big argument about inequality.  And they are all over the moon over the new version of Capital.  It is called Capital in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Piketty.  He argues that the income from capital is about 4-5 percent per year while the growth in the economy is only about 1.5 percent per year.  Thus wealth will concentrate in the wealthiest families without end.  As Scott Winship writes:
In other words, Piketty is suggesting that we may have entered a period in which concentrated wealth will produce a sort of inequality death spiral. With economic growth sluggish, and the returns to wealth high, owners of “capital”—land, housing, buildings, businesses, and other income-producing property—will receive a rising share of income as they re-invest their returns. 
So he is making exactly the same argument as Marx.  Marx argued for an exploitation death spiral and a progressive "immiseration" of the workers.  Therefore we should stop the rich cold with a revolution.

Piketty argues for an inequality death spiral and a progressive increase in the wealth of the 1%.  Therefore we should stop the rich cold with a global wealth tax.

There is a rather obvious conclusion to be drawn from both these theses.  Without exploitation and immiseration there was nothing for the Marxists to complain about.  Just shut up and let the railroaders make more railroads, the shipbuilders make more steamships, the Carnegies make more steel, the Rockefellers make more oil, and let the market take care of it.  Because, as it turned out, the workers eventually got to wield not spades and shovels, but powered backhoes and dragline excavators.

Without inequality and concentration of wealth there is nothing for liberals to complain about.  Just shut up and let the Googles and Facebooks and Apples get on with it.  Oh and don't forget Qualcomm.  They are the guys that developed spread-spectrum CDMA.  That's the technology that allows cellphones to work.  Back in the 1990s the settled scientists said CDMA violated the laws of physics.

Oh, and before we follow liberals into the inequality black hole maybe we should remember Nassim Nicholas Taleb and his Black Swan. On his idea, capitalists make their tidy 5 percent for years and years.  Until a Black Swan event completely wipes them out.

Or there is Stein's Law.  If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.

But one thing will go on forever.  Liberals will always need a "because" to justify their political power.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Military Socialist? Of Course It Is

Jonah Goldberg is not sure if Jacob Siegel is kidding when he applauds that the "U.S. Military is a Socialist Paradise" -- and sniggers that conservatives ought to be all confused about the institution we support being a poster boy for the "other" way of doing things, from subsidized childcare to universal health care.

But really, how little liberals know about conservatives and what we think!

Yes, of course the military is a socialist paradise.  That's because the military is all about force.  It forces its members to toe the party line, and it is the government's weapon for defending the country by force against foreign enemies.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the military is a single-purpose organization. Its job is to make war. All the members of the military are supposed to be focused upon the single purpose of preparing to make war on behalf of the United States government.

Such a single-purpose organization cannot have people going off doing things on their own account.  That is why it has to provide everything for them.  Even then, the military suffers from its Sgt. Bilkos trading on military supplies on their own account.  That's why Sgt. Bilko was so funny in the 1950s.  Everyone had run into a guy like Bilko in their time in the service.

But the military is not a poster boy for socialism.  It shows why the socialist idea cannot work outside a single-purpose organization.  The military is an engine for war.  Very good: that is what it is suppose to be.  But the trouble is that every other government program ends up being the Moral Equivalent of War.

Back in the day John Wayne starred as a civilian contractor militarized into one of The Fighting Seabees during World War II.  The Seabees built all those Pacific island airfields.  A major subplot in the movie was the difficulty of getting tough hard-nosed John Wayne to do things "the Navy Way" according to the bureaucratic book.

That's the way government does everything.  It sets up one single way to do things, usually for the convenience of the bureaucrats, and certainly to try to control the Sgt. Bilkos.  But it is ruinously expensive and ruinously unjust.

What about education?  Well, the problem is that millions of parents have millions of different ideas about how to educate a child.  But when the government does it we are all forced to send our children to government schools and our children get educated the One Way.  Originally it was the One Horace Mann Way; now it is the One Liberal Way.  So government education is irradiated with liberal initiatives like anti-racism, diversity, and positive self-esteem.  Conservatives can go pound sand.

What about health care?  There are about 170 million women in the United States and therefore about 170 million ideas on health care needs.  But Obamacare is all about reducing those ideas down to a single program.  There will be certain procedures that will be free, and certain procedures that will not be available.  And a bureaucratic committee, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, will rule over all.

The point about capitalism is that modern society is so complicated that the ukase of the local political boss and the formation of society into a single socialist collective under his control just cannot work.  What we find is that the market system, in its prices, wages, buying and selling, working and consuming, has spontaneously developed to coordinate the interaction of millions of acts and decisions of millions of individuals in the economy.

That's because a society does not have a single purpose.  It has millions of individual purposes that are facilitated and coordinated by the voluntary cooperation of millions of individuals.  Each person has her particular wants and needs that she wants to get from society.  But each person has his individual skills and abilities that he can contribute to society.

How do we coordinate needs and abilities?

It is in the nexus between needs and abilities that society happens.  In his Critique of the Gotha Program Marx confidently proclaimed:
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
Well, yeah!  So true, Chuck old chap.  But every individual and every society is trying to do that, to convert abilities into the satisfaction of needs.  The question is what works.

The truth is that capitalism works out how to realize the Marxian slogan every day.  The whole point of Adam Smith's invisible hand is to helpfully direct each individual everyday in the best way to match ability and need.

In the military it is the commander-in-chief and under socialism it is the Forward Thinker in the educated ruling class that gets to decide what is a "need" and what is an "ability" and how the two are to be combined.

And the universal result has been death and destruction.  The military does that very well.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A new mega-church opens in China

In the United States the coming thing is “marriage equality” and multiple genders. In China the coming thing is Christianity, like the new mega-church that just opened in Liushi, Zhejiang province, featured in the London Telegraph. China is on course for 247 million Christians by 2030.

To your average educated American this seems astonishing, because after all Christianity is so pre-Enlightenment. As Charles Murray puts it: “Smart people don't believe that stuff any more.” That's probably the way the Chinese ruling class feels too. But what can we, with open minds, understand about Chinese Christianity?

We can start with the comments of a Chinese Christian captured by David Aikman in Jesus in Beijing.

 At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.

So what is it about Christianity that the Chinese find so powerful? Leaving aside the question of whether God or Jesus actually exist, there is plenty. First, there is the idea of the individual believer responsible for her individual life to God. Individualism permits the breakout from tribalism and the expansion of trust beyond the boundary of blood. Then there is the end of actual blood sacrifice when things go wrong; Jesus made the sacrifice so we don't have to. You may think that's a minor thing, but it makes a difference when Christianized villagers stop sacrificing animals during hard times. Finally there is the particular appeal to women. Jesus loves you. If men are fighters and women are lovers, Christianity is the lovingest religion in the world with its perfect relationship of love: you love God and God loves you right back.

In Latin America the US-born Pentecostal movement seems to be really effective in helping women wean their husbands away from the male macho culture and towards work and supporting their families. David Martin in On Secularization.

Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...

That's probably what's going on in China, too. Of course, nobody really knows how many Christians there are. The mega-church in Liushi is a state-approved Protestant church, but many millions of Chinese worship in so-called “house churches” outside the state-approved system.

The most intriguing thing about Chinese Christians is their notion that Christianity is fated to move westward across the world, and it is the destiny of Chinese Christians to complete the global circum-conversion and return Christianity to Jerusalem.

I'm not sure if they have checked in with the mullahs on that.

Of course, all that has nothing to do with secularized, educated Americans like us. Unless you'd like to read more of what Charles Murray has to say in his Curmudgeon's Guide for Getting Ahead about religion to thoroughly secularized college graduates like you and me.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Who are the American People?

In the third night of Wagner's monumental Der Ring des Nibelungen the broken Wotan, king of the gods, is reduced in Siegfried to "Der Wanderer," wandering the earth, his dreams of power shattered.

But Mime the dwarf still has a power project.  He wants to reforge Nothung, Siegmund's shattered sword so he can kill Fafner the dragon and recover the Nibelungs' golden hoard.

Ask me three questions, says the Wanderer, but Mime is too stupid to ask the right ones. Instead he asks who lives on the earth, below the earth and above the earth.

But here in America as the Obama years dissolve into disappointment and rage, we need to know who lives where.  We need to understand the different kinds of Americans and "where they live" so that, we may hope, we can pick up the pieces after Obamadämmerung, heal our divisions, and get back on our American journey.

Who lives below the earth?  The Nibelungs, said the Wanderer, and Nibelheim is their land.  But in our world the Nibelungs are the folks camping out in our dysfunctional cities, living a stunted life on welfare and disability and single-parenthood, reduced to sending their kids to dreadful schools.  I call them the "people of the victim self."  They are people that do not believe in agency, in the ability of the individual to make a difference in her life.  They look to a powerful leader to support them with the crumbs from his table.  Their faith is the faith of the rank and file in the charismatic leader.

Who lives on the earth?  The giants, die Riesen, said the Wanderer, and Riesenheim is their land.  But in our world the plodding construction firm of  Fasolt and Fafner, builders of Valhalla, are the broad middle class, the people that follow the rules, go to work, obey the law, and pay their taxes.  I call them the "people of the responsible self."  These are people that believe it is up to each one to get an education, get a job, and find a way of contributing to society.  Their faith is the faith that each individual can make a difference.

Who lives above the earth? The gods, of course, the "Lichtalben" or lightbringers, said the Wanderer, and Valhalla is their estate.  With his spear, Wotan rules the world.  In our world, of course, the gods are the liberals, and they rule the world with their education, their large-mindedness, and their control of the culture.  I call them the "people of the creative self."  These are people that believe the simple life of responsibility is shameful, because creative people are called to something higher, to make or enact some new creation of the mind.  But liberals have warped this noble idea.  They do not say: here's a good idea; they say pass this bill so we can see what's in it.  Liberals can never leave anything alone.  Everything must be a creation of liberal minds and liberal power, and no others need apply.  Health care cannot be allowed to develop on its own; liberals must positively shape and order it.  The normal life of growth, marriage and children is a kind of serfdom, a subjection to a culture of patriarchy.  Thus to differentiate oneself, liberals must "challenge the system" in activism, in gender-bending, in a life as a creative artist.

You can see that each of these peoples is social in the full human sense of the word.  The people of the victim self belong by subordinating themselves to a leader as a way to get along by going along.  The people of the responsible self belong by surrendering their ego to the will of the market, and law, and work, and family in the faith that the market and the law will reciprocate their surrender.  The people of the creative self belong by contributing their intelligence, their education, their creativity, in the faith that the world can only progress through the power of an enlightened elite.

So now we know who the America People are.  Let us now ask what went wrong.

Something has gone wrong, and we know what it is.  The people of the creative self have not used their power for good.  They have used it to worship themselves instead of serve society.  They have used force where they should have used persuasion; they have divided where they ought to have unified.  So the progressives, the lightbringers, have not brought sweetness and light, but injustice and darkness.  Like all ruling classes, they have not ruled for the benefit for the least among us, but to continue their own power.

What matters in this world is not the cunning of the underclass, not the rule-following of the middle class, not the power of the over class.  What matters in the end is the power of women's love.  And before that the cunning of the Nibelungs, the rules written on Wotan's spear, and the power of the ruling class will melt away in yet another Götterdämmerung.

Every ruling class gets seduced by earthly power, and ends up in a maelstrom of cruel injustice as it seeks to hang on to power by grasping at straws, and so our liberal creative class will rattle in the tumbrils to the guillotine asking plaintively: what did we do wrong?

And the answer always is: we told you, but you refused to listen.