Friday, November 7, 2008

The Ground Rules

So what is this blog all about?

Dissatisfaction with the religion of the free market is hardly a new thing. In 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto. There wasn't much wrong with it on its face--there were very and valid real criticisms of the effect of capitalism on the average person. Unfortunately, when put into practice, there were very real problems with the proposed solution. What tends to happen in these cases is that the lambs mentioned in the previous post promote themselves to the rank of lion and continue the cycle. Many of them (Iosef Stalin, Pol Pot, Hugo Chávez) are little more than gangsters.

You could try an approach like Lysander Spooner's "Letter to Cleveland," which is a more libertarian approach of voluntary association. But we see how well that worked. No, it seems some sort of government-like thing is necessary to make people mad enough to work hard enough to thwart the will of some bureaucrat. I think you're going to find that I am a lot more like Spooner than Stalin. This is a good thing on many levels. If you're a libertarian sort, you're going to find me mostly sympathetic, but frustrated by your slavish devotion to Horatio-Alger-mongering. Yet, even the Marxists among you will get a fair hearing from me, though it's difficult to take seriously anyone who still clings to Marxism after seeing the ridiculous death and destruction it caused over the last 100 years. If you lead a horse to water and force it to drink, you drown the horse. Let's learn the lesson.

So, my operating premises, which we'll discuss and defend later, are:

1. The "free market" is something that doesn't exist, cannot exist, and probably would be harmful if it did exist.

2. The classical economists are so gung ho on conservative economic principles as you might believe. Consider the following:
By necessaries I understand not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without. A linen shirt, for example, is, strictly speaking, not a necessary of life. The Greeks and Romans lived, I suppose, very comfortably though they had no linen. But in the present times, through the greater part of Europe, a creditable day-labourer would be ashamed to appear in public without a linen shirt, the want of which would be supposed to denote that disgraceful degree of poverty which, it is presumed, nobody can well fall into without extreme bad conduct. . . .Under necessaries, therefore, I comprehend not only those things which nature, but those things which the established rules of decency have rendered necessary to the lowest rank of people.
Who wrote this, you think? Marx? Engels? No, that was Adam "Invisible Hand" Smith, right there in the book commonly referred to as The Wealth of Nations. Throw this at the next person who criticizes poor people for owning TVs or asserts that health care is something only wealthy people should have.

3. Markets are probably the only efficient way of directing the manufacture and distribution of good and services. "Wait, what," you say. In the future, we'll discuss these seemingly contradictory ideas, to wit: "Markets suck. Except when they rule."

4. Don't be afraid of the government. The government can help organize effort helping those hurt the most by rapacious capitalism. It can certainly do other things, both helpful and not so helpful.

5. Be afraid of the government. The fundamental problem with the government is that it does everything by the threat of violence, and social contract theory is rubbish.

6. Fundamentally, economy is energy. So without sane energy policy, nothing else we do to help the economy matters in the long run.

Eh, that's enough to get started. There will be lots more.

No comments: