Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Is the Politics of "Crush or be Crushed" The Only Way?

I got an email yesterday from Sam, a long-time reader of my blog, and he wonders if the Left has it right after all, that "the ends ALWAYS justifies the means." He continues:
[W]hile I debated how many Bastiats could dance on the head of an anarchistic needle the Left was busy owning education, passing socialist programs for over a century, wholly controlling the popular media sphere, co-opting judeo-christian religion, dominating every bureaucracy, writing every rule, setting every tone, winning and losing battles but nearly always the victor in culture wars. 
Frédéric Bastiat was the French economist who famously developed the notion of the Broken Window fallacy, "what is seen and what is unseen" and the modern idea of cost as the foregone opportunity.

In other words Bastiat was at the center of what we might call "Second Wave" economics, that included the idea of marginal price and demolished the Marxian economics that was built upon a tendentious reading of classical economics and its dichotomy between use value and exchange value. It is because of chaps like Bastiat that Marxists, to this very day, cannot venture out of the fenced pasture of Marx's economic writings. To do so is to abandon the Marxian dream.

OK, great. So the science is on our side! That, and $7, will get you lunch at McDonalds. My reader Sam continues, noting that history doesn't care how the winner wins, but the fact of winning.
When learning about a past war, no student cares if one or both sides followed the Geneva Conventions.  They only care about who won, because that is all that matters.  I now believe that it is not enough to win the argument, but to force it as well.  The left wins because they have no compunction putting the boot heel to their opponents, so I now believe liberty lovers have to get the bigger boot.  An unavoidable contradiction.  After all, did the founding fathers content themselves with posting their grievances and accepting their lot through gritted teeth - as we do today - or did they rise up and double down on the violence inflicted upon them?  What's one of the few culture wars that the Right has won?  Gun ownership - the one right that the leftist government must get bloody to trample.  Coincidence?
 Of course, to the Left, it is always the capitalists that strike first. The whole idea of "capitalism-and-imperialism" in one word is that capitalism grew across the world as much by force of arms as by exchange and markets. And in a milder vein, Karl Polanyi in his Great Transformation argued that the introduction of the exchange economy in the colonies more or less forced the locals out of their rural idiocy into the global exchange economy.

So if you are a lefty, capitalism is the most powerful force in human history, crushing everything in its path, and it is the bounden duty of all the Melissa Clicks of the world to shout F-words in the face of policemen and call for muscle at their glorious little peaceful protests and fight to protect those in the path of the capitalist Godzilla.

So who is right? How about everyone?

It is true that capitalism and freedom have increased per-capita human income by 30 times in 200 years, but it is also true that it has obliterated everything in its path, and utterly transformed the human experience. In other words, capitalism is transforming the world with almost brutal power, whatever we do or say.

It was completely understandable for the early Left to raise a banner against capitalism and predict that it would all end it immiseration. And it was worthy of the Left to protect and advocate for each new wave of migrants to the city. But it is also true that left politics has encouraged the migrants not to assimilate to the ways of the city and to surrender to the market as the bourgeoisie does. This has caused untold misery, from the death camps of communism and fascism to the predictable miseries of the Castro Brothers' Cuba and Chávez Venezuela, to the demoralization of the white working class where drug addiction and suicide are abroad, and the devastation of the western underclass where the women don't marry much and the men don't work much.

Capitalism and freedom are as inevitable as a Law of Nature. But it is also inevitable that people will fight being thrown into the deep end when they arrive in the city from the countryside, and it is inevitable that sauntering politicians will appear to lead those fighting against their dunking into the capitalist swimming pool.

My reductive Three Peoples theory is an attempt to make sense of this world. The People of the Subordinate Self are people that have not yet acculturated to the modern market economy. They look to a powerful patron or a strong leader as a means of support, and they get it. The People of the Responsible Self are people that has surrendered to the market economy and the radical idea that it is their job to find out how to be useful to the world, and then do it. The People of the Creative Self are people that have mastered the modern world and now they want something better. They want not just to adjust to the world but to amaze it. Thus art-for-art's-sake, progressive politics, the start-up culture, and, at the low end, work/life balance and "lifestyles."

If you are a creative person and you don't want the risks of the start-up culture and invent the next iPhone or the first viable nuclear fusion technology or work in some billionaire's space program, then advocating for those struggling to adapt to the market economy is a natural. The problem is that the creative people running things quickly learn to assume that everything they want for the marginalized is good and beneficial. They think of themselves as kindly librarians rather than ruthless power politicians. That is why AFL leader Samuel Gompers a century ago advised the workers to keep their distance from middle-class socialists. As a later politician put it: they are not interested in you, they are interested in your vote.

It is to deal with this issue, what we might call an instance of the "principal-agent" problem, that I have come up with my "little darlings" notion. If you are a member of a group favored by our current progressive ruling class and lovingly adored as little darlings, beware. One day the ruling class will tire of you, and it will find a new little darling to flatter with its favors. Once upon a time the progressives looved the working class, and lavished it with privileges and benefits. But then the progressives found a new love, African Americans and women, and so they left the working class out in the cold, even stigmatizing it as a bunch of racist, sexist, homophobic Archie Bunkers. In the end, the progressives care about their power, not about the people for whom they advocate. You can see that in the tactics of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as of mid-February 2016. She thought she was going to cruise to the Democratic presidential nomination, but now that Bernie Sanders is showing form, she is resorting to race politics to stir up the African American voters in South Carolina.

So the white working class got left by the roadside, just like Joe Soptic. And far too many African Americans live in corrupt crime-ridden hellholes, fifty years after the Civil Rights Acts, courtesy of their liberal patrons that seem to be able to coexist with the murdering gangs that help them get out the vote. Women have been pitched out of suburban complacency into glittering careers only to find themselves hag-ridden by the impossible tradeoffs of the "work/life" balance.

Yes, but meanwhile the liberals are trashing the greatest country in the world and all we can come up with is Donald Trump! Isn't it time to take a page from the liberal playbook and crush them as they crush everything in their path?

We could, but I don't think it would do us any good. Our theory and our practice is built on the fundamental truth that the modern capitalist market economy cannot be run like a feudal estate. That is the meaning of Mises' argument for the impossibility of socialism, and Hayek's argument that the bureaucrat in Washington just cannot know enough to run the modern economy. We cannot resort to the bully-boy tactics of the left because that would destroy the economy and raise up a rebellion of people unjustly hurt by our bully-boy tactics. The argument for the market economy and limited government is not just that it is moral and right, not just that it works, but that it is both. The smaller the government, the less it is crushing its opponents and provoking them into a head of rebellion, and the more that nobodies get a chance to reinvent the world and surprise us with a new economic miracle.

If you are a member of the ruling class you almost certainly believe in power, and that means you worship the power of the state. So, how well is that working in Venezuela right now? There is not much glory and power in being the boss of a failing country. Now look at China. Mao Zedong plus the Communist Party plus socialism was a poverty-stricken wasteland. But Xi Jinping plus the Communist Party plus capitalism is growing into a global behemoth. Imagine what China could become if it junked the Communist Party bit.

So I am still keeping the faith. I believe that the progressives, far from preparing for their triumphal march at the Capitol breathlessly reported by TV personality Caesar Flickerman, are desperately patching up a failing dynasty. They thought they were going to sweep into power in 2009 and whip the economy into shape with a big stimulus, whip the banks into shape with Dodd-Frank, whip healthcare into shape with Obamacare, and save the planet with green energy. Oh, and clean up Bush's mess in the Middle East. They really did! Now they are like the Chinese mandarins around the emperor in the Forbidden City in the last decades of the 19th century. They don't know whether to double down on the progressive playbook, or...

Yes, just what do the progressives propose to do next? Free college? Free healthcare? $15 minimum wage?

That, and $7, will get you lunch at McDonalds.

1 comment:

  1. Keep an eye out for Haidt's next book, "Three Stories About Capitalism."