Saturday, May 29, 2021

'Freed!' to Box Ourselves In - The diminishing returns of Economic Thinking

In the last two posts (here and then here), we've gone over how the apparent differences of Left, Right, Libertarian, Populists, who are economically severed from any principled contact with reality, producing only an indistinguishable growth of government power, which none of their supporters like, and yet all continue to urge more of the same to 'change' which has boxed us into the short sighted world of relativism and power. We also looked at the worldview that came before the world of the Administrative State's Economic Black Box, an integrated way of looking at the world which refused to go along with divorcing thought from action, and would not allow Great Britain to use its own black box thinking upon the Colonies, transforming those colonies into The United States of America... and the tell tale signs of how we lost that understanding, and were slowly sucked into the dismal Black Box of economic thinking.

What's most apparent today, is that we won't get out of the box we're in, by using the same thinking that put us into it, no matter how well intentioned that thinking might be. Populists, who like to think of themselves as bucking the economic elites of the Left and Right, are little different from the economically minded that they imagine themselves to be opposing, and while they often do see that 'something's up!' with what the Left, Right, and Libertarians are ignoring, they venture in no deeper than the same shallow end of the economic wading pool, which the Left & Right are busily splashing about in. Populists are quick to call out those policies and issues which they dislike (Big Tech, etc.), through some form of lukewarm traditionalism and folksy standards, but they do so without bothering to identify what the problem actually is, and so they never identify, let alone refute its premises, and so are unable to call for any meaningful reform of what the actual problem is (such as the regulatory structure which makes and encourages the issue they are calling out). Instead, they invariably utilize, reinforce and grow the very thing that brought about the problem in the first place, as they do when demanding that govt use those same regulatory agencies to enact their policies to force other 'bad people' to behave according to what some half remembered past would have described as being "only fair!".

The populist's stand upon the divided ground of the Left & Right is doubly dangerous, as their nominal support of liberty and traditional rights is formed around the same economic measures, and the traditionalist grab bag which once had vaguely seemed to at least have a bottom-line, splits their justifications between the two in their calls for using govt power to 'do something!' to achieve what they too excuse as being for 'the greater good'. Case in point, Tucker Carlson stated in the same monologue, that:
"Socialism is a disaster. It doesn’t work. It’s what we should be working desperately to avoid. But socialism is exactly what we’re going to get, and soon, unless a group of responsible people in our political system reforms the American economy in a way that protects normal people. "[emphasis mine]
, somehow oblivious to the fact that pushing 'reforms to protect normal people' is precisely the costume that Socialists and every other statist ideology parades around before the public eye in, in order to justify their preferred system's usurpation of your power over your life, in order to create the world that they're convinced that you should want. It must not be forgotten that an 'economy' is made up of all of the choices that you and your fellows make in your lives - what do you think that their reforms of limiting and prohibiting the choices of others in the market, will mean to your being able to make those choices, which you might want to choose for the living of your life? Such considerations as those which segregate thoughts from actions, are what are kept out of sight through the welcome operations of the Economic Black Box.

That is the very same populist means by which the likes of Teddy Roosevelt first saddled us with the Administrative State to begin with, which, then as now, operates through rationalizations which are just as economically divorced from reality as what they are opposing. Thomas Sowell sums up the implications of that in his "The Quest for Cosmic Justice" (an overview here):
“In politics, the great non-sequitur of our time is that 1) things are not right and that 2) the government should make them right. Where right all too often means cosmic justice, trying to set things right means writing a blank check for a never-ending expansion of government power.”
Worse, as they justify their measures with little more than "We The People demand this!", they lead to ever more pandering appeals to the passions of the majority through a more and more democratic process, to use power over a vilified minority, bringing us even closer to, as it was put in Federalist #10, yet another historical repeat of a forgotten lesson, that
"... democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths..."
The painful reality is that when you follow matters through to their ends, you find that for all their trumpeting against socialism, and for 'capitalism', or traditionalism, their populist ideals have too few roots in what is real, and serve mostly as props to support their rationalizing the imposition of power over others, for what they passionately see as being useful for (and excused by) the 'greater good'.

In short, just as 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions', the road to 'Progressivism' is paved with Populism.   

Freeing ourselves from the Box
Why does philosophy matter? It matters, because as I noted at the beginning, a proper and valuable use of Economics, can only come at the end of a long train of philosophic thinking about what is, how you know it, what you should do about it, and how to resolve disputes over that and why, and the fields of study which inform us about and help us think about such matters, are the philosophical subjects of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political, legal & moral philosophy, which 'Modern Economics' has virtually banished from modern educational practice, which if taught at all, are taught as words only, with no meaning, integration into, or relevance to their lives. It matters because by our unthinkingly beginning our thinking from the pretext of economic ideals, which itself refuses to anchor its actions down through the ethical and epistemological waters and into the metaphysical ground, we're 'Freed!' (AKA: enslaved) from the requirement to engage in the thought and effort of explaining how our understanding of economics fits or conflicts with our political philosophy, and so any 'necessary' political machinations will be approved of so long as some expert reports that 'it works!'.

By such actions we are 'Freed!' from the need to adhere to and operate within a compatible system of ethics, as 'Freed!' from that anchor, we feel free to act as if 'the ends justify the means', which ensures that you will drift with what seems useful and 'cool!', and not getting caught is all that's needed for the justification of authoritative reports that 'it works!'. And so of course, the nature of life 'Freed!' from believing that our actions need to be supported by a sound epistemology, which would root their meaning and operations in the 'burden' of logic, and so 'Freed!' from a concern for what the meaning of anything actually is, vapid rhetorical wordplay will do just fine, so long as we can *confidently* say that 'it works'.

That chain of reasoning is precisely how the Economic Black Box enables us all - Left, Right, Populist - to evade and escape from the requirements of what is meaningfully real and true, it is what assimilates you and your thoughts securely into the Black Box, and that is how 'Economics' has managed to substitute itself for 'philosophy' in our world today: it enables us to brush off questions of Right and Wrong, and even of reality itself, through its supposed expert power to 'do something!'. There is no love of wisdom there, only bargaining with devils so as to get a deal... and in come the walls of the box snugly around you, while telling you that it has 'Freed!' you from those outmoded ideas of dreadful past, which must be cursed and forgotten.

To escape from the Economic Black Box we've put ourselves into, we've got to learn to identify what it is that it was designed to blind us to. Tomorrow.

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