Wednesday, June 02, 2021

With friends like Economics, who needs enemies? - The diminishing returns of Economic Thinking

I'll close this series of posts out, by going back to our beginning, noting that America's exceptional 'system' was originally no system at all - at least not as economic policy makers think of such matters today. In America's founding, their primary concern was for preserving that Liberty which naturally follows when individuals in a community are able to think for themselves and interact with each other as they see fit, and so long as none violated the rights and property of another, the long arm of the law remained at a distance from their everyday lives. Such a system as that was only possible where individual rights and private property were understood to be inseparable, and where each person - high or low - was understood to be equal before the law. As James Madison put it in his excellent and exceedingly brief essay on Property:
"In a word, as a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights."
, and that,
"...Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions.
Where there is an excess of liberty, the effect is the same, tho' from an opposite cause.
Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own."
When such a system as that is put in place by a people who understand and respect what it provides and requires of them, it results in a society that is able to enjoy the blessings of liberty - being able to produce, buy, sell, trade, associate, speak and think as they see fit - which gave rise to conditions that were later identified as being a Free Market, born of Natural Liberty.

For all of our establishment Republican's stated concern for 'Free Trade', by way of establishing convoluted govt policies which use the law and extensive penalties under it, to define, limit and mandate what type and quantity of trade will be permitted to the people living under those nations that sign on to such 'Free Trade Agreements', they demonstrate a profound ignorance of Madison's warning that "...Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions...", and serve only to undermine self governance, imperil Liberty and eliminate the possibility of a Free Market existing even in theory.

For all of the so called 'Libertarians' loud claims that removing the hand of the law will magically produce the mutation of 'Economic liberty' (which is to Liberty, what 'Social Justice' is to Justice), they demonstrate their ignorance of why Madison warned that tyranny also follows "...Where there is an excess of liberty, the effect is the same, tho' from an opposite cause...", imperiling Liberty itself, as it cannot result from an absence of that which secures it.

For all of Populists such as Tucker Carlson's stated concerns for 'Male wage earners', teens, young married couples, and most others in society today, when he seconds their concern that "...they don’t see a connection between people’s personal lives and the health of our economy...", which the populist believes justifies giving govt the power to use the economy as a tool to 'fix' how they should be living their lives, they demonstrate a dangerous ignorance of that threat to everyone's liberty which, as Madison continued, must inevitably follow,
"...that government, under which unequal taxes oppress one species of property and reward another species: where arbitrary taxes invade the domestic sanctuaries of the rich, and excessive taxes grind the faces of the poor;..."
, and they are willfully blind to the consequences of their 'good intentions',
"... where the keenness and competitions of want are deemed an insufficient spur to labor, and taxes are again applied, by an unfeeling policy, as another spur; in violation of that sacred property, which Heaven, in decreeing man to earn his bread by the sweat of his brow, kindly reserved to him, in the small repose that could be spared from the supply of his necessities...."
One thing that economics can demonstrate in devastating detail, is how the unforeseen consequences of actions such as penalizing the rich for buying yachts, leaves hundreds of workers unemployed, and in the fashion of Benjamin Franklin's old rhyme 'for want of a nail, the horseshoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost...' and so on for the rider, the battle and the entire kingdom, all lost. The populist basks in the warm glow of self-congratulations for 'fixing the problems' of other people's judgment, blind to the reality that they are engaging in the very same misuse & abuse of power which they despise the socialist for craving, and to the fact that forcibly depriving someone of their ability to act on their own judgment, isn't made any better by the good intentions that led to it.

Each of these would-be friends of liberty on 'The Right', and of course its deliberate enemies on The Left, are exhibiting a species of Economic Thinking, which abandons the practice of thinking from those First Principles which America resulted from, and instead behave as if there is and can be no dire consequences from treating effects as causes, and attempting to start off in midstream. A brief glance out at the world around us today, shows you exactly where such foolhardy and prideful thinking leads.

The system of ordered liberty which a Free Market blossoms from and thrives in, depends upon an integrated set of philosophical ideas being at least implicitly understood: that reality exists and is not only knowable, but perilous to disregard, which means that we ought to respond accordingly to what we can see is true, and to not pretend that what we cannot know, can be treated as if it is a 'known'.

Through the roots of Western Civilization, the Greeks left us their philosophical method for knowing the world around us, and its equally important ideals to 'Know thyself' and to engage in self-governance; the Romans left us the idea of a Republic of Laws and its animating core idea of Natural Law, and our Judeo-Christian half showed us that neither wealth, class nor ethnicity, add to nor take away from the equal value of every individual life. Neither liberty nor the pursuit of happiness are possible outside of that entire understanding, and consequently knowing the reality of what the nature of being human is, is knowing that we must be at liberty to think and act, while respecting our fellows need to do the same.

Because we once understood and educated ourselves to have and bear that in mind, we in The West were able to form objective systems of law: its laws known and limited to upholding the individual rights and property of its people, while having a systematic means of justly administering them within society, by recognizing that every person is and must be equal in the eyes of the law; all of which serves to uphold and preserve the means necessary for human life to flourish - AKA: the blessings of liberty.

The danger of beginning from the Economic middle, rather than from First Principles
There is no 'economic model' that defines and creates a 'Free Market' such as that, because its true and defining sources are far outside of and prior to the concerns of economics, whose models can only describe factors within that wider scope, which enables it to identify what interferes with, hampers, and harms its operations. To use economic thinking to determine the political thinking which it springs from, is not only a case of the tail wagging the dog, but of expecting that tail to feed and care for the dog as well.

When you are seduced into arguing for which Economic System a society should be organized under (Socialism or Capitalism, makes little difference), you've blindly stepped onto the battleground that the enemy has prepared for you - the question itself implicitly yields precedence to utility and the management of things, over justice and individual rights - and you cannot argue for what is good and true on those grounds, but only for what will seem more useful, which can only work to the advantage of the Pro-Regressive Left (and Right). Such foundations cannot support Liberty and a Free Market, as a system of objective laws for upholding the rights of the individuals living under them, cannot be supported there, and whatever structures might still be remaining from earlier conditions, will rapidly crumble to the ground. See Hong Kong for reference.

Marx didn't just happen to formulate his 'ideas' on the basis of economics, that was his chosen means of dividing and defeating his enemy! It was no accident that he recast the new ideas of Natural Liberty and a Free Market, into the economic straightjacket of 'Capitalism' - that was a necessary step towards eradicating them, and few have been a greater aid in advancing his strategy, than conservatives, libertarians, and business people who actually thought they'd benefit from such narrowed and illiberal thought of 'just dealing with facts'. As some fiend once quipped, 'the capitalist will sell you the rope to hang him with'.

It's important that those who sincerely argue for Socialism out of good intentions, to realize that they are not simply arguing for 'a fairer economic system', instead they are calling for an entire political system that will use the force of law to restrict and compel the thoughts and actions of everyone (what begins with permitting what and how some people can produce, buy, sell, trade, is already actively restricting everyone's thoughts and associations), complete with a judicial system whose rules will define 'justice' as being what a powerful few experts from above will declare to be politically correct. Necessarily those rules will not only ignore, but must explicitly violate everyone's individual rights ('those actions necessary for human beings to make choices about, in the course of living a fully human life'), for what the Powers that be demand. The mere existence of such a system is itself a declaration that what is 'Right' or 'Wrong' is nothing more than what is presently permitted or forbidden by those in power, and they will assuredly see your every non-compliant thought and action as being existential threats to their power.

For those who persist in thinking that choosing Socialism is the intelligent and caring thing to do, you would be a fool to not familiarize yourself with Hannah Arendt and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about exactly that. Alexis de Tocqueville too, who was writing during the time of the ongoing French Revolutions, described the grave danger of thinking of socialism as being nothing more than economic policies, that,
"...Socialism means, Tocqueville insisted, that
the State must not only direct society, but must be . . . the master of every man . . . his tutor, his teacher; that from fear of letting him fall, the state must always be by his side, above him, around him, in order to guide him, protect him, sustain him, restrain him. In brief . . . it is the elimination of human freedom to a lesser or greater extent.
Those are strong words. Socialism, for Tocqueville, portends “a new form of servitude” in the name of protecting everyone against life’s ups-and-down. Paradoxically enough, he argued, this made socialism similar to the ancien régime that the French Revolution overthrew. It too had held that
"wisdom resides in the state alone, that its subjects are weak and infirm beings whom one must always lead by the hand for fear that they might fall or hurt themselves; that it is good continually to constrict, to oppose, to constrain individual liberties; that it is necessary to regulate industry, to guarantee the quality of goods, to prevent free competition...."
Statism in all its variations increases its power by 'abridging', infringing upon, or otherwise abusing and denying the structural supports for Individual Rights & Property, from its political philosophy and those laws written under it, and it justifies those actions by proclaiming whichever issue might seem most useful in appealing to the popular opinion of the moment, and whether that might be 'elimination of private property', or 'govt ownership of the means of production', or 'all within the state, nothing outside of the state', or maybe 'it takes a village', or even a more pragmatic 'make the market fairer!', makes no more meaningful difference than what was the more rhetorically useful tool at that moment.

Socialism, Communism, Fascism, 'Progressivism', Populism, and every other form of totalitarian control over society and its individuals, are more than simply 'economic' policies, and knowing nothing more of an economic system than its stated policies and terminology, is dangerously delusional, and that only becomes possible once the deeper philosophical fundamentals which those ideologies all share, are left out of popular discussion - if you ever wondered what the phrase 'Out of sight, out of mind' meant, that's it (thanks schools!). 

No matter what fine seeming goals you've conned yourself into believing, that is what every variant of Socialism requires of its 'citizenry', on penalty of death. It is not reality, it doesn't conform to what we can know of reality, it forbids ethics and morality, requires totalitarian injustice, and crushes the human spirt, until reaching that point where the system is in complete collapse, and the survivors have to try and recreate society from the ashes of a populace that is horrendously scarred and distrustful. See Russia & Vladimir Putin for reference. The result of such isms is not and never has been 'a fairer economic system' - not in ancient Greece, not in Revolutionary France, and not in any of the nationalist death traps of the 20th Century - but a system where each must be forced to deny what they know to be true, where each must be prepared to comply with anything that those in power tell them, no matter what they might still be capable of deciding for themselves.

When you fail to consider where the ideas that you are playing with fire with came from, you're gonna get burned. Count on it.

Whichever ideological labels you choose to justify your plans with, using differing labels & intentions to establish the same types of 'policies' while expecting that they will somehow make a real difference in how things must turn out, is but an exercise in making distinctions without a difference. If you employ some set of abuses & denials of Individual Rights, as did the communists & fascists abroad, and the Progressives (Left & Right) at home, or the Libertarian and Populists termites who only slightly more slowly reduce us to the same anemic philosophical state - whether they call that creating more 'economic fairness', or 'transforming America', rather than fascism or socialism, that is making distinctions without any fundamental differences.

The central issue facing us today is that economics is the result of philosophy, and not the cause of either philosophy, political philosophy or even of an economy, and using Economics as if it actually has some mysteriously self-contained black box of powers to enable them to escape the consequences of those ideas they want to benefit from without thinking through, dooms society and economy alike. And yet Conservatives, Libertarians, Leftists and Populists, all play along as if their economic policies can and should function as some form of technological Social Science app, suitable for rolling out their every whim to 'fix' the lives of 300+ millions of people - 'for their own good' - with the 'click' of a policy choice. Spoiler alert: That app is going to crash.

Marx's goal of eliminating private property to benefit the proletariat, and the 'Progressive's goal of using regulatory controls to override any & all properties of private property that hinder them from serving 'the greater good', differ only in the speed of 'progress' with which their respective systems will overtake and overrun that society. It is what it is, no matter what you're more comfortable with pretending it 'is', and formal declarations of 'economic policy' differences, changes nothing.

It is not only Socialists that lead us to that same ruin, every 'Economic' argument that fails to hearken back to the philosophical realities it rests upon, serves to undermine, not just the 'Free Market', but the only foundations of liberty that are conducive to an entire society living lives worth living. Whatever glowing exercise in intellectual finger-painting one or another economic ideology might present you with - be it communism, socialism, libertarianism, populism, traditionalism - they all undermine liberty and justice with their every word, and I am really, really, sick of hearing it, no matter which side of whoever's mouth those words are coming out of.

The good news is that returning to First Principles, requires only that you stop participating in their lies, and not hiding the fact that from your family, friends & neighbors.