Friday, July 24, 2015

Are We All Just Peasants at Heart?

As I weave my ideas about a better world, in which the domination of the welfare state administrative system is replaced by a just world where people cooperate to help each other rather than compete for freebies, I wonder.

Think of things this way. A couple hundred years ago most people were serfs on some lord's estate. They were, in a profound way, his dependents, living at his pleasure and subject to his power. Yet people owed, and felt they owed, loyalty to their lord, and expected in return the lord would protect them, after a fashion. And he usually did.

The commercial and industrial era changed all that. Now the subordination was dissolved -- and also the privileges of rank.

But no sooner had the industrial era got started than a counter-movement began, that the rich owed the poor a duty of care, that "rights" were not simply rights of legal equality but rights to a decent standard of living.

The result has been the construction of the vast administrative welfare state, the principle of which seems to be that people have access to economic benefits as a right of social membership. Just like in the days of the agricultural age and what we used to call feudalism.

So now we have a politics divided between those that believe in this new subordination, this neo-feudalism, and those that believe in freedom from subordination through responsible individualism.

But how do you speak of freedom to the new subordinates?

Mona Charen chides the Republican Party, the party of freedom and responsible individuals, for a lack of outreach to such people.
A number of Republican candidates for president have been seeking to recast the Republican Party as the party of reform and outreach. They recognize that a party that lost not just the Hispanic vote, the black vote, the women's vote and the youth vote, but also the Asian vote has an image problem.
But the thing about the Hispanic, black, women's and youth vote is that these are people that think like peasants. They look to a community organizer or a political boss or a union leader to deliver the goods. They do not believe in surrendering themselves to the market, but to a human, political leader.

It is said that the core of the Republican Party is people that think of themselves as "typical Americans." This means, if it means anything, that such people are willing to submit to whatever America is. They do not experience themselves as being peculiarly defined or disadvantaged by some particular identity.

The point of all the Democratic Party identity groups is that politics can in some way advantage their members against oppression and "economic injustice". The world is stacked against them and only force can rectify the situation, by forcing employers to pay more to low-wage workers, or forcing employers to hire and promote more women, or a forcible system to deliver old-age pensions and health care.

To believe in the essential justice of the market, to abjure the resort to force and the political fixer, this is what requires the leap of faith.

It is, of course, a leap of faith that is based on the imperfect science of economics, that the price system is the best and most just and most efficient way of signaling what should be produced and sold and exchanged, and that the surrender to this faith is the royal road to prosperity both for individuals and for humans as a whole.

For many people it seems that the leap of faith in the market is only possible after the faith in politics has been crushed by bitter experience.

And that's easy to understand. The market is a rational abstraction; the sauntering politician is real and tangible, part of the always already familiar lifeworld of the everyday.

And yet it is the market that has delivered a world of $100 per capita income per day compared to the world of two hundred years ago that delivered $1 to $3 per capita per day.

What does it take to turn a subordinate peasant into a believer in freedom and responsibility?

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