Aug 10 2010

Made In America Still Means Something To Me

Category: capitalism,corporationsamuzikman @ 8:55 am

I recently bought a pickup truck.  A full-sized 1968 Ford F100.  It has a manual four-speed transmission, a 360 cubic inch V8 engine and doesn’t get very good gas mileage.  It’s mostly painted with reddish-brown primer, though the original two-tone blue and white can be seen here and there.  The bench seat is covered with duct tape to keep it together.  The cab smells of gasoline and it has wind wings and a manual choke.

I really like this truck.  It is pretty much exactly what I was looking for and after a lot of searching I found something within my meager budget.  Some guys go out and buy sports cars or motorcycles when they hit that so-called mid-life crisis.  Me…I wanted a truck.

Here are some of the reasons I like this truck:

1. It’s a Ford.  The Ford Motor Company is not owned by the Federal Government like Chrysler and GM.  Ford took no bailout money from Obama.  That’s a good enough reason for me to buy a Ford product.

2.  It’s an American-made product, through and through. It was made at a time when Detroit was the center of the auto world, they had pride in what they made because they made good cars and trucks.  (Exhibit A – the 43 year-old Ford truck I am now driving with pride.)

3. The truck is old enough to be exempt from smog inspections, smog certificates and smog equipment.  Sorry if you think I’m killing the planet – I’m not.

4. It’s got character, not because it has Bluetooth, GPS or a DVD player, but because it’s still around.

5. My dad would love it if he were here to see it and a lot of my relatives back in Georgia would be proud.

(Disclaimer: No. I am not going to start listening to country music.  No I am not going to begin wearing cowboy boots or a cowboy hat. No I am not going to begin chewing tobacco. No, I have not had a sudden recent interest in rodeos. No I am not a redneck…yet)


Jul 28 2010

Experience Trumps Brilliance

Category: capitalism,economy,leftamuzikman @ 8:55 am

In case you have not yet read this or if you have been living in a bunker and do not know the name Dr. Thomas Sowell … here is his latest, and quite brilliant commentary.  It should be required reading.

Many of the wonderful-sounding ideas that have been tried as government policies have failed disastrously. Because so few people bother to study history, often the same ideas and policies have been tried again, either in another country or in the same country at a later time – and with the same disastrous results.

One of the ideas that has proved to be almost impervious to evidence is the idea that wise and farsighted people need to take control and plan economic and social policies so that there will be a rational and just order, rather than chaos resulting from things being allowed to take their own course. It sounds so logical and plausible that demanding hard evidence would seem almost like nitpicking.

In one form or another, this idea goes back at least as far as the French Revolution in the 18th century. As J.A. Schumpeter later wrote of that era, “general well-being ought to have been the consequence,” but “instead we find misery, shame and, at the end of it all, a stream of blood.”

The same could be said of the Bolshevik Revolution and other revolutions of the 20th century.

The idea that the wise and knowledgeable few need to take control of the less wise and less knowledgeable many has taken milder forms – and repeatedly with bad results as well.

One of the most easily documented examples has been economic central planning, which was tried in countries around the world at various times during the 20th century, among people of differing races and cultures, and under government ranging from democracies to dictatorships.

The people who ran central planning agencies usually had more advanced education than the population at large, and probably higher IQs as well.

The central planners also had far more statistics and other facts at their disposal than the average person had. Moreover, there were usually specialized experts such as economists and statisticians on the staffs of the central planners, and outside consultants were available when needed. Finally, the central planners had the power of government behind them, to enforce the plans they created.

It is hardly surprising that conservatives, such as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Britain and President Ronald Reagan in the United States, opposed this approach. What is remarkable is that, after a few decades of experience with central planning in some countries, or a few generations in others, even communists and socialists began to repudiate this approach.

As they replaced central planning with more reliance on markets, their countries’ economic growth rate almost invariably increased, often dramatically. In the largest and most recent examples – China and India – people by the millions have risen above these countries’ official poverty rates, after they freed their economies from many of their suffocating government controls.

China, where famines have repeatedly ravaged the country, now has a problem of obesity – not a good thing in itself, but a big improvement over famines.

This has implications far beyond economics. Think about it: How was it even possible that transferring decisions from elites with more education, intellect, data and power to ordinary people could lead consistently to demonstrably better results?

One implication is that no one is smart enough to carry out social engineering, whether in the economy or in other areas where the results may not always be so easily quantifiable. We learn not from our initial brilliance, but from trial-and-error adjustments to events as they unfold.

Science tells us that the human brain reaches its maximum potential in early adulthood. Why, then, are young adults so seldom capable of doing what people with more years of experience can do?

Because experience trumps brilliance.

Elites may have more brilliance, but those who make decisions for society as a whole cannot possibly have as much experience as the millions of people whose decisions they pre-empt. The education and intellects of the elites may lead them to have more sweeping presumptions, but that just makes them more dangerous to the freedom, as well as the well-being, of the people as a whole.


Mar 08 2010

Big Business is not in the Republicans’ pocket; its hands are in YOUR pocket, if you pay taxes… and everyone does, one way or another

At Townhall, Jonah Goldberg points out that big business supported Obama 2 to 1 against McCain, because it hoped to cash in at taxpayer expense:

It’s worth remembering that Obama was the preferred candidate of Wall Street, and the industry gave to Democrats by a 2-1 margin at the beginning of last year. The top business donor to Democrats in 2008 was Goldman Sachs, and nearly 75 cents out of every dollar of Goldman’s political donations from 2006 to 2008 went to Democrats. Few can gainsay the investment, given how well Goldman Sachs has done under the Obama administration.

It’s not just Wall Street. Obama led in fundraising from most big business sectors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Aside from the desire to back the winner, and the cultural liberalness of East and West Coast plutocrats, why did Obama get so much support from precisely the constituency he demonizes?

Because it was good business. A host of big corporations bet that the much-vaunted Obama era would materialize. For instance, nearly 30 major corporations and environmental groups invested in Obama’s promise to force the American economy into a new cap-and-trade system via the United States Climate Action Partnership (CAP).

Whatever the benefits of such a scheme for the economy and environment as a whole, these corporations, led by General Electric, were looking simply to cash in on government policies. GE, which makes many wind, solar and nuclear doodads that would be profitable under “cap-and-trade,” was poised to make billions if Obama succeeded in seizing control of the “carbon economy.” GE is still protecting its bet, but after the failure in Copenhagen, the “climategate” scandals and perhaps most significantly, that implosion of Obama’s new progressive era, several heavyweights — Caterpillar, BP and ConocoPhillips — have pulled out of CAP, with rumors that more will follow. There are similar rumblings of discontent within the ranks of PhRMA, the trade association for the pharmaceutical industry, which had cut an $80 billion deal with the White House last year for its support of ObamaCare, only to see the whole thing unravel.

The lesson here is fairly simple: Big business is not “right wing,” it’s vampiric. It will pursue any opportunity to make a big profit at little risk. Getting in bed with politicians is increasingly the safest investment for these “crony capitalists.” But only if the politicians can actually deliver. The political failures of the Obama White House have translated into business failures for firms more eager to make money off taxpayers instead of consumers.

That’s good news. The bad news will be if the Republicans once again opt to be the cheap dates of big business. For years, the GOP defended big business in the spirit of free enterprise while businesses never showed much interest in the principle themselves. Now that their bet on the Democrats has crapped out, it’d be nice if they stopped trying to game the system and focused instead on satisfying the consumer.

Go back and read the title of this post. Then read this, to which I’ve linked before.  Ignore the reviews, pro and con, and just take it on its own terms… and see if you can refute the history.  I think you can’t.

There hasn’t been a “free market” in the USA for sometime.  The government’s power to tax and regulate, and to give tax breaks and regulatory exceptions, is the reason there is so much lobbying in the Beltway.  It could not have been otherwise, once corporate taxes got high, and the regulation of business became one of the chief functions of government.  The merry-go-round career path of government “service” to lobbyist, and often back to government “service,” is the biggest indicator of this.  The essential role of a lobbyist in the modern world is to figure out who should get the money that the lobbyist’s principals have to donate.

When big business couldn’t count on government to help it get captive markets, and to restrain competitors, it had to compete for consumers on the basis of price and quality.  That’s why Rockefeller kept cutting the price of kerosene in the 19th century, not exactly an act of violence against the consumers of the day.

It’s unfortunate that so many people still believe that we live in a “free market” economy and that “the market” is the cause for so much economic woe today.  But we have had a “mixed economy” that often crossed the line into “crony capitalism” or just plain “state capitalism” (especially in time of war), for over a century.  The government is by far the most responsible for our current economic mess.  The lobbyists of big business (the johns) wouldn’t have any place to spend their money if politicians weren’t pimping themselves out.  Those lobbyists are often the ones who write campaign finance law and regulations.

It’s simple.  If big business didn’t think it was going to get something out of it, why would it donate so much money to politicians?  And more particularly, why did it give so much to Obama?

Let’s hope that if the Republicans do get some power back, they don’t blow it this time.


Jan 02 2010

Putting the “New” in New Year!

John Updike once said, “Americans have been conditioned to respect newness whatever it costs them”.  I think he’s right – after all, newness is a part of our heritage.  For one, we live in what was referred to by Christopher Columbus as “The New World”  We’ve got several states and cities given names that are a combination of the word  “new” with names brought by the pilgrims  from the “Old World”.  New Jersey, New Hampshire, and New York are on the “new” list of states.  The cities list includes New Orleans, New Haven and New Brunswick.  Yes we do seem to be attracted to all things new.

Our music is saturated with references to newness.  We all remember the big Disney hit, A Whole New World.  And can you imagine even for a minute that James Brown would have sung, Poppa’s Got A Slightly Used BagYou Make Me Feel Brand New, Brand New Day, New Kid On The Block….the list goes on and on.  In fact there is an entire genre of music known as “New Wave”.  Of course classical composers have jumped on this bandwagon too.  Dvorak penned the New World Symphony and he wasn’t even American..go figure!

Our politics (The New Deal), our literature (Brave New World), our advertising (“new & improved!”), and our vernacular speech (“turning over a new leaf”) all attest to our love of new. We compliment others when we say, “it’s the new you!” And when someone has been ill we give encouragement by telling them that in no time they’ll be “good as new”.

Nothing displays our love of new more demonstrably than the celebration of New Year’s Day.  We mark it as a fresh start, an annual genesis, a time to initiate personal improvement.  We make New Years resolutions, we begin a new calendar year.  It’s “new” at it’s best.

Politicians understand Americans and their love of “new”, and they use it as a very effectively campaign tool.  With each election cycle and with debate on major issues like health care, taxes, banking, finance, the military, etc, we are told new is good and old is bad.  Political candidates who successfully market themselves as a part of “new” and completely disassociate with “old” usually stand a pretty good chance of being elected, especially if “old” is unpopular.

In many instances we embrace “new” and equate it with “better” even though most of us have had experiences with new versions of something that does little more than make us long for the old version (software!).  And who hasn’t picked up a familiar food product in new packaging to note that there is now less of the product inside the package, but it costs more!

But “new” is NOT always “better”.  And we need to learn that lesson once and for all. I think John Updike is right.  However, this time the price tag on “new” is costing us more than we or our children can ever afford to pay.


Jul 08 2009

The arbitrariness of anti-trust law

Category: capitalism,Democrat,economy,government,Obamaharmonicminer @ 8:59 am

In a takedown of the Obama adminstration’s apparent attempt to use its legal howitzer, anti-trust chief Christine Varley, to prevent the airline industry from doing mergers that would save it, keep it out of bankruptcy, preserve jobs, and allow it to continue to provide service for consumers, Holman Jenkins asks the question, Does Obama Want to Own the Airlines? While describing the Justice Department’s move to block mergers that would save troubled corporations, in the guise of protecting the public from evil monopolies, he makes this trenchant comment:

Even now, she has turned her attention from airlines to the mobile-phone business on the theory that any industry that hasn’t collapsed into government receivership must be doing something wrong.

It’s all worth reading.

And for background in the sorry history of anti-trust law, you might want to read this.  Just remember a simple principle: whenever the government gets involved, prices go up, supply goes down, and the only winners are the bureaucrats and successful lobbyists who wangle exceptions for their companies…  all the while pretending that they’re protecting the free market and competition.

For now, let’s just say this.  If you’re too successful and capture a larger share of the market than your competitors, look out; the feds are coming for you.  If you’re struggling, and need to merge with some of your competitors in order to stay in business, create economies of scale that allow more efficient operation, and provide a service or product that the public will buy at a price you can sell it, look out.  The feds are coming for you, too.

Basically, it’s simple.  The feds would rather own you than see you succeed.

Clear?

They have the only monopoly that matters, and they intend to keep it.


Jun 06 2009

Combat Power, Capitalism and the real enemy

Category: capitalism,economy,government,liberty,socialismharmonicminer @ 9:00 am

To win battles, you have to achieve adequate combat power in relation to your enemy:

… Combat power is created by combining the elements of maneuver, firepower, protection, and leadership. Overwhelming combat power is the ability to focus sufficient force to ensure success and deny the enemy any chance of escape or effective retaliation. … Overwhelming combat power is achieved when all combat elements are violently brought to bear quickly, giving the enemy no opportunity to respond with coordinated or effective opposition. …

Commanders seek to apply overwhelming combat power to achieve victory at minimal cost. … They attempt to defeat the enemy’s combat power by interfering with his ability to maneuver, apply firepower, or provide protection.

Four primary elements – maneuver, firepower, protection, and leadership – combine to create combat power – the ability to fight. Their effective application and sustainment, in concert with one another, will decide the outcome of campaigns, major operations, battles, and engagements. Leaders integrate maneuver, firepower, and protection capabilities in a variety of combinations appropriate to the situation. …

The idea of combat power may seem a bit abstract, so a few examples may help.

If you have a combat force of 100 soldiers, how should you distribute weapons?   How should you distribute ammunition?   How should you distribute the soldiers in the battle space?  The answer can be stated generally this way:  you want the best, most powerful weapons to be gathered at the point where they will be most effective, with the most available ammunition, supported by as many soldiers as necessary to use the weapons, protect the weapons, and protect the soldiers who are USING the main weapons until those weapons have been effectively employed and the enemy is destroyed or neutralized.

Here is what you don’t do.  You don’t automatically distribute the ammunition evenly to each soldier.  You don’t just spread the soldiers out and hope that one of them runs into the enemy.  You don’t hold a lottery to decide who gets the biggest guns, or the ones with the highest rate of fire.  You don’t give all the soldiers identical training, and you don’t place soldiers in particular roles without primary regard for their achievement and acquired skills.

Combat power is the idea of focusing energy and resources where they will do the most good in defeating the enemy.  Somebody has to be in command, to make the decisions that will lead to that timely concentration of power.  It won’t happen by accident.  Ideally, an officer moves up through the ranks by demonstrated success against the enemy, although in this imperfect world, other criteria will sometimes be applied.

There is a strong relation between the concepts of combat power and capitalism.  Capitalism gets its name from the fact that it involves building up sufficient resources to accomplish economic tasks that are beyond the “average resources” of individuals.  An important point:  although “capital” is analogous to “combat power,” the enemy for capitalists is poverty.   This fact is not obvious, on the surface, to anti-capitalists, including socialists, who also claim that their enemy is poverty.  But consider: there is an upper limit (and it’s pretty low) to how rich a person can be in a poor society.

The richest man in a third world country may still have to spend a lot of time in considerably less luxurious circumstances that most American inner cities, where no one spends much time bouncing over dirt roads, rarely has to smell open sewage, can safely drink water from pretty much any tap, and so on.  You know all those rich people you read about in third world countries?  They are often rich only because they have managed to sell a product into a developed middle-class economy (think Saudis selling oil to the USA), or because they just plain stole it by means of military force, or maybe both.  Would you rather be the richest guy in Zimbabwe, or comfortably middle-class in Topeka?  The richest guy in Zimbabwe has to watch his back….  In any case, the best way to STAY rich (and alive) is to be rich in a middle-class economy.  Globalization has masked the fact that the rich in third-world countries are often dependent on the middle-class of developed nations, again proof that capitalists need markets with disposable income, while statists/socialists need a lower class to justify themselves.

It took capital to build the first railroads, the first airlines, the first automobile factories, and the first computer businesses, not to mention electronics factories, farm equipment factories, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, clothing factories, retail outlets for all of these, and more. In each case, poverty was the enemy of the capitalists who funded these things, who took risks to make them happen.  If your society is poor, its members don’t have the resources to buy whatever you’re selling.  It really is that simple.  (A secondary enemy of capitalists is people whose power is threatened by them, mostly statists/socialists/royalists/entrenched privilege…  but even then, the major enemy is still poverty, which limits the ability to market what you make or do.)

John D. Rockefeller ruthlessly suppressed his competition by the simple expedient of finding every possible way to deliver his product at a lower price than his competitors.  But he depended on a technological infrastructure that created a need for the product he wanted to sell.  That is, if people hadn’t needed kerosene and oil, Rockefeller couldn’t have sold it to them.  They needed oil because they lived in a society that was rich enough to afford devices that required oil.

The enemy of capitalists is poverty, not other capitalists.

Let’s make this a little clearer this way:  the enemy of professional baseball team owners is not other baseball teams; it is an apathetic public that no longer cares to watch baseball.  Of course, there is competition, with “winners” and “losers,” but even the losers win if the public keeps coming to watch them lose.

No capitalist is required to stay a “loser,” because in a free system they are allowed to adjust their activities until they are winners.  That is the original meaning of “win-win.”  If I can’t make a particular widget that you want to buy at the price I can sell it, then I’ll find something you DO want enough to pay me for it, and we’ll both “win.”

The enemy of capitalists is poverty, not other capitalists, because it is only poverty that makes it unlikely for captalists to be able to sell anything at all.

Committed egalitarians would have us believe that the real enemy is the “gap between rich and poor.”  This is ludicrous on historical grounds.  Would these people prefer us to live in a society where everyone is equally poor?  The very, very exciting thing about a free, capitalist society is that no one has to STAY poor.  And there is no capitalist who WANTS the poor to stay poor, for the simple reason that it’s impossible to sell much to poor people, unless the government has required lending institutions to make loans to them that can’t be repaid.   And we all know how that ends.

Just as you don’t win battles or wars by equal distribution of troops, weapons and bullets, you don’t win the struggle against poverty by equal distribution of income or goods.  Instead, you let natural forces and markets encourage the concentration of those resources in the hands of the most productive among us, to the betterment of us all, as they produce goods and services we would never have had otherwise, and offer us choices we would never have had without them.  Successful capitalists are those whose products and services make the lives of the rest of us much better than they would have been without them.  It makes no more sense to resent fabulously successful capitalists than it makes to resent the success of Alexander the Great, or General Eisenhower.  Would you rather have fought on the side of Darius?  Or Hitler?  Would you rather be equally poor with everyone else, everywhere else?

Capitalism WAS the original war on poverty, and it is a war that was being won, pretty much on all fronts, right up until the government decided to hogtie its best commanders, divert resources used in weapons production to planting daisies in the park, send half the army on furlough, sound the retreat and sue for peace.  Peace with poverty, that is.  It is one of the great achievements of the Left that the only war that can go on forever, without a significant change in strategy or tactics, and with no strategy for withdrawal, is the publicly funded “war on poverty.”  Call it The Forever War.  It is the war that socialists/statists can never allow to be won.

Conjecture:  if there had never been anti-monolopy laws, but if the rule of law was scrupulously enforced, if corporations were not penalized for success, if government did not try to pick winners and losers, if government did not allow itself to be bought BY capitalists (no one said capitalists were angels), if government did not see the success of capitalists as a source of unearned income for itself (the only reason capitalists CAN try to buy government), if bad personal behavior wasn’t rewarded by government largess, if people were not conditioned to see “the safety net” as a hammock, if government did not promise things it can’t deliver forever, and in particular, if the presidencies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson hadn’t happened (and their allied Left political constituencies), we would be richer now than most folks can possibly believe.  We would not now be just getting around to returning to the moon in 15 years or so, we would have permanent colonies there.  The standard of living of virtually all Americans would be higher, much higher.  We would have even more medical and pharmaceutical innovation, and it would cost us less.  Fuel would be cheaper, energy in general would be cheaper, and we would have more leisure time.  And paradoxically, the air and water would probably be cleaner.  We would be profiting, all of us, from economic expansion that would dwarf what actually happened.

The reason is simple: the diversion of resources away from focused, productive use, by the programs of anti-capitalist government, has made us all poorer, because those resources did not produce greater “capital power,” and diverted many, many people away from being productive themselves.  To put it simply, we ate our seed corn, instead of planting it.

We are now hip deep in another presidency that has the ambition to make as permanent a mark on America as those of FDR and LBJ.  I have no doubt that it will be possible to reduce the average gap between “rich” and “poor,” but it will not be done by making the poor any richer, and the price will make it even harder for the poor to change their circumstances.

It’s very, very simple.  Capitalists need a middle class into which to sell their goods.  Socialists need a lower class in order to justify their existence and political power.  Socialists, if they ever succeeded in eliminating poverty, would immediately lose power.  Who would need them anymore?  Capitalists can win forever, as we all just keep getting richer, and richer.  Statists/socialists see the resources generated by a period of successful capitalism, and they lust after them.

Capitalists need middle classes, and capitalist activity tends to promote the growth of them.  Socialists/statists need lower classes, and socialist/statist activity tends to promote the growth of them.  The fact that socialists/statists seem always to manage to take over, just as capitalism starts to succeed, is all the proof anyone should require of original sin.

It is as if socialists/statists went to the front line of battle, just as their own general’s brilliant strategy is about to win a great victory, and insisted on unloading the weapons of some of their own soldiers, just to make it fair.


May 17 2009

The Spiritual Poverty of Socialism? Part 2

The previous post in this series is here.

First, in order to be able to talk about this, let’s agree that no purely socialist society has ever existed.  Nevertheless, it’s reasonable to observe that some government policies and programs are more socialist than others.  So it’s the morality of socialist policies and programs in general that is in question, without regard to whether they exist in a purely socialist system.  In any case, experience suggests that it’s a smokescreen to argue that particular politicians or governments “aren’t socialist” in some absolutist sense.  What’s very clear is that some policies are socialist.  Governments and politicians who primarily pursue those policies can reasonably be called “socialist” in normal speech.

So what ARE socialist policies?  Basically, socialist policies attempt to disconnect outcomes for individuals from the efforts made BY those individuals, and to do so with money and other resources taken from other individuals in the form of taxes, fees, restrictions, regulations, and sometimes outright confiscation.   This isn’t a theoretical economic definition, but is rather an observation of what animates socialist policies (the disconnection of outcomes from individual efforts) and the means by which socialist policies are carried out (taxes, fees, restrictions, regulations, and confiscation).  Call it an operational definition that allows the correct identification of “socialists in the wild” without first capturing them, checking their DNA and doing a complete morphological exam of their complete economic policy.  If it walks like socialist, talks like a socialist, and generally acts like a socialist….

You can look up socialism in several online references and get various definitions, some requiring “state ownership of the means of production” and “central planning of economic activity” and other things.  The problem:  the definition of “state ownership” is vague.  If I theoretically own something, but the state can tell me IF I can use it, how to use it, when to use it, who I have to pay to use it, how much I have to pay them to use it, who I have to hire to use it, where I can sell it, IF I can sell it, perhaps price limitations on what I can sell it for, what kinds of conditions I am required to provide for those I hire, etc., and after all that the state confiscates a large percentage of whatever money I can make using it, even with all those restrictions, regulations and requirements, at what point does my putative “ownership” cease to mean “ownership” in the normally accepted sense?   Particularly if the next “owner” to whom I sell it has the same relationship with the state that I did when I owned it? And now, what if all the people who (theoretically) don’t own my property are still allowed to vote for regulations and policies and taxes that impose all the restrictions I just listed, for their own benefit as they see it?  Who, exactly, owns my property?  Well, quite a few of us, apparently.

This is why those textbook definitions are of little benefit in really identifying “socialism on the ground.”  When someone tells you that European nations “aren’t really socialist,” it means they are looking at the textbooks, instead of the realities on the ground.  It’s like saying that the Soviet Union wasn’t really a dictatorship because they had elections.

So, while textbook definitions of “socialism” often obscure more than they reveal, it’s easy to see that socialist policies attempt to disconnect outcomes for individuals from the efforts made BY those individuals, and to do so with money and other resources taken in the form of taxes, fees, restrictions, regulations, and sometimes outright confiscation.

Statism and socialism have much in common.  It’s pretty safe to say that socialism requires statism to function; if there isn’t much statism going on, there won’t be much socialism, either.  On the other hand, some forms of statism (the purely kleptocractic dictatorship, for example) aren’t particularly socialist, because they have no intent to secure ANY particular outcome for individuals other than those in power.  So:  all socialists are statists, but not all statists are socialists, although in the modern world most are.

In what follows, therefore, everytime I use the word “socialist” it would be good to remember that it means “socialist and statist.”  I just don’t want to say it that way everytime.

Most people who reject socialism are really rejecting statism, its unavoidable symbiote.  I am one of those.  If there was some way of having an entire culture participate in “voluntary socialism,” where everyone worked as hard as if they were working only for themselves, and behaving as responsibly with public resources as if they were personally owned, I might be willing to consider it (though I would have several reservations…  and since we don’t live in Heaven yet, and the Fall happened, this is a ludicrous conjecture anyway).  For me, the deal breaker is the degree of statism that must accompany socialism.

In the next post in this series, I’ll discuss the continuum of socialism/statism, i.e., starting with those “socialist” policies that most of us agree about, and moving to those that are more controversial.   Then, we can get to the spiritual implications of all this, the moral questions, the really interesting stuff.  Stay tuned.  I know this has been a bit dull, but it’s about to get much more interesting.

The next post in this series is here.

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May 08 2009

The Spiritual Poverty of Socialism? Part I

Category: capitalism,economy,government,religion,socialismharmonicminer @ 9:46 am

In a brilliant challenge to social theorist Charles Murray, Greg Forster points to the incompleteness of Murray’s argument that socialism is spiritually negative on moral grounds.

Faced with Charles Murray’s argument that the welfare state makes everything too easy, a socialist could ask: Should everything therefore be made more difficult? How can Murray say the welfare state is bad for making life easier while praising other state functions that make life easier, like the police? Only a moral perspective can oppose socialism while affirming legitimate state functions.At the American Enterprise Institute’s annual black-tie shindig on March 11, Charles Murray gave an outstanding lecture on the spiritual (as distinct from economic) dangers of the European-style social welfare state. But Murray’s analysis, though otherwise excellent, is missing a crucial element: an appreciation that these spiritual dangers ultimately arise from disregarding the moral law. And just as a small curve in a funhouse mirror changes the whole image, the single missing piece in Murray’s logic bends his whole argument ever so slightly, but crucially, out of shape.

The topic of Murray’s talk was well chosen. Whatever one thinks of its virtues, socialism on a scale that would have been unthinkable just two years ago is already the law of the land. We see government asserting de facto rights of ownership over our largest financial firms. We have seen a sizeable portion of the economy being brought under direct government control, financed by trillion-dollar borrowing. We have made steps to undermine the Fed’s independence that could bring about inflation that would make the 1970s look tame. Some are beginning to raise tentative but credible questions about the security of America’s sovereign debt. And the top two items on the legislative agenda this year will be near-irreversible first steps toward socialized medicine and a giant new energy tax disguised as environmental regulation.

Murray argues that, even aside from its demographic and economic flaws, the European welfare state undermines the aspects of civilization that make for “a life well-lived.” By a life well-lived, he means a life characterized by a lasting and justified satisfaction that one’s life was worth living. He identifies himself with the Aristotelian preference for seeing human beings fully “flourish,” and argues that this, as opposed to mere hedonism, is what Madison had in mind when he wrote that “the object of government” is “the happiness of the people.”

Only a limited number of human activities can serve as sources for this kind of deep satisfaction. Murray identifies three characteristics that all such activities must have: they must be important, they must be difficult, and they must involve individual responsibility for consequences. Activities that are trivial, effortless, or disconnected from consequences can be fun, but cannot make for a life well-lived.

Murray asserts that there are only four areas of life where such activities take place: family, community, vocation, and faith. The assertion is plausible, if only because Murray is careful to define these concepts broadly—a “community” need not be a neighborhood but can be geographically expansive, and “vocation” can include avocations or, more nebulously, “causes.”

The crux of Murray’s case is that the European-style welfare state undermines all four of these areas of life—and on a deeper level than even most conservatives now appreciate. The welfare state doesn’t just eat away at the material preconditions of these activities, but also detracts from their ability to provide a life well-lived.

—-In the lecture’s most powerful passage, Murray discusses how this deeper dynamic has been at work destroying the family in America’s poor urban communities—where something approaching a European-style welfare state already exists. Welfare makes it much harder for the family to be a source of deep satisfaction for men in these communities:

A man who is holding down a menial job and thereby supporting a wife and children is doing something authentically important with his life. He should take deep satisfaction from that, and be praised by his community for doing so. Think of all the phrases we used to have for it: “He is a man who pulls his own weight.” “He is a good provider.”

If that same man lives under a system that says that the children of the woman he sleeps with will be taken care of whether or not he contributes, then that status goes away. I am not describing some theoretical outcome. I am describing American neighborhoods where, once, working at a menial job to provide for his family made a man proud and gave him status in his community, and where now it doesn’t.

Welfare removes the difficulty from providing for the family, and therefore the importance of the husband and father.

And notice how, once family is undermined, two other areas of deep satisfaction—vocation and community—are undermined as well. The menial job loses its significance, and the now-superfluous father is no longer an important part of his community.

Murray is not saying that the welfare state removes absolutely all deep satisfaction from these areas of life. But the empirical evidence before our eyes, both in Europe and in our own poor urban neighborhoods, ought to convince us that the negative impact of the welfare state is extremely damaging.

—-…. faced with Murray’s argument that the welfare state makes everything too easy, a socialist might well retort: Should everything therefore be made more difficult, so you can have the deep satisfaction of overcoming difficulty? If the welfare state is bad, why are police good? Why not abolish the police so that walking home safely requires more effort (such as arming yourself) and can thereby become a source of deep satisfaction?

We can’t ultimately answer this question without distinguishing between morally legitimate and illegitimate ways of making things easier. Policing the streets makes our civilization more conducive to deep satisfaction because it is right. Coercive redistribution of wealth makes our civilization less conducive to deep satisfaction because it is wrong. Able-bodied people who live on welfare for extended periods are cheating—just as much as an athlete who bribes the judges. That’s why the welfare state has the corrosive effects it does.

—-Those who are now building the socialist utopia around us are convinced that their way is morally superior, and increasing numbers of Americans (especially in the rising generation) are beginning to think that they’re right—especially as they come to see unbridled capitalism as morally hollow and corrosive. The moral case for economic freedom—the rightness of capitalism in the context of an ethical culture—is indispensable if the disaster Murray rightly warns us against is to be averted.

It’s more or less received wisdom on the Christian Left that its socialist leanings are morally superior to those of the selfish, capitalist Right.  After all, didn’t Jesus come to minister to the poor and downtrodden?  Wasn’t His ministry about challenging everyone else to care for the poor?  Isn’t selfishness evil?  Aren’t we supposed to “give till it hurts”?  What about “widows and orphans” in the New Testament?  Aren’t Christians morally required to vote for politicians and policies that will provide more resources for the poor?  Wasn’t a form of communism the pattern of the early church?

These are serious questions, of course, and I plan to treat them seriously in upcoming posts.  If you’ve been lurking around this blog for awhile, you probably know what my general position is, but you may be surprised at some of the reasons.

The next post in this series is here.

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Apr 09 2009

Random & Sporadic Thoughts

Obama is proceeding with “immigration reform” (spelled a-m-n-e-s-t-y) in spite of the fact the American people clearly and unequivocally voiced their opposition to this the last time it was proposed.  Why?  Because amnesty and citizenship for illegals qualifies them for union membership.  And an increase in union membership is an increase in Democrat voters.  Obama has made no effort to disguise this as his motivation.

Obama is radically pro-abortion.  He is in favor of the killing of unborn infants with no restrictions, paid for with a government check.  He is also in favor of killing children born alive as a result of a botched abortion.  He is in favor of forcing doctors to perform abortions even if those doctors have a moral objection.

Does anyone remember Obama’s soft-spoken, relaxed and seemingly innocuous little comment to Joe the plumber?  “When you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody”.  We now see that what he meant was a wholesale destruction of capitalism and a premeditated effort to replace it with socialism.

Obama is robbing our future generations of any hope of prosperity by an orgy of federal spending unheard of in our country.

Obama is reaching into the board rooms of private companies and firing employees.  He has crossed a line between public and private sectors that is unprecedented.

Obama has just completed an international trip with the message of appeasement to our enemies.  When, in the course of human history, has appeasement ever worked?

Iran is on the threshold of becoming a nuclear power.  Is there ANYONE who thinks this is a good thing?

The laundry list of Obama appointees who were revealed to have unpaid taxes is shameful.  Is there ANY private citizen who could get away with this wanton disregard for tax laws by simply saying “Oops, I’m sorry”?

The Republican Party is currently populated with political eunichs.  Where is the voice of opposition?

Obama wants to socialize medicine.  If this happens it will complete his coup d’état and America as we know it will be gone forever.

Many citizens of this great country are simply left speechless by this apparently unstoppable. radical, ultra-liberal assault on America.  So many of us feel a combination of powerlessness and outrage in the face of what is happening.  Many are asking, “What can I do to stop this madness?”  Not all of us have a public forum from which to vent our frustrations.  Not all of us are eloquent of speech or skilled in writing.  But we all have family and friends.  We all live lives that are made up of relationships.  This is where the battle must be fought – one friend, one family, one realtionship at a time.  Those of us who do believe America is essentially good – that it was founded and made great on a firm foundation of Judeo-Christian beliefs, that it is a place where people can be free, that perserverance and hard work will be rewarded and that anyone can acheive the American dream – must share our convictions and persuade our family and friends that it is an America worth fighting for.  For outrage is not enough, feeling helpless and powerless is no excuse, and inaction is not an option.

Yeah, I know it’s starting to sound like there should be a choir humming “My Country Tis Of Thee” in the background.  I don’t care. It is a battle worth fighting…but we had better start now.


Jan 28 2009

Forms of government, some truth about left and right

Category: capitalism,constitution,government,left,politics,right,socialismharmonicminer @ 10:53 am
Not a perfect presentation, but much better than what’s typically on offer in the schools, or the media.

H/T: Jonah Goldberg

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