17 March 2010

in the land of the unseen hand

My venting over explaining economics to people in forums of meaningless internet debates is getting old. At least when I talk to people who hold more favorable views of communism or socialistic thinking I know where they're coming from and that they have a sincerely held view. Even if it's dangerous or wrong in my opinion to draw their conclusions and recipes of political action, and in human practice the brutal technocracy isn't much of an improvement over the non-engaged and unserious use of mob rule (or, as the Polish proverb goes, not much of a change from mob rule in a more colloquial sense), these are still marginally well informed people who have some affiliation with what the terms mean. Many of them are just as annoyed about farm subsidies and the drug war as I am in what must be one of the stranger forms of bipartisan consensus imaginable (though I have little doubt their reasoning is substantially different in some cases, because of puff puff pass rules for example).

It's mostly these people who have been going around for the last year and a half as though they just discovered the existence of Ayn Rand and Karl Marx (neither of whom I would describe as a particularly enlightening or challenging political and economic thinker) that are getting to me. Where the fuck where you 8 years ago? Or even 4? It's "communism", or "liberal" (as though these were somehow meaningfully interchangeable phrases) when it's not something I approve of. When it's really bad I'll put out the dark side and go with Maoism or Fascism (to the point of including it as a prominent conservative book title decrying liberalism) to make my opposing views seem more "informed". Meanwhile actual acts which resemble communism or fascism are allowed to continue unmolested perpetrated by the exact people who are claiming the public mantle as our best watchdogs against them (that is: Republicans). Usurping is more like it after the debacle that is Medicare part D, protection against medicare cuts, continued support for trade barriers and farm subsidies, etc.

More absurd still than that we supposedly have a free market supportive party is the idea that somehow "capitalism" has become a bad word and should be described as something else. We can certainly blame the people who made up the word to describe a theoretical form of political economy for associating it with capitalists, who are often a distinct and vital practitioner of market economics. It's hardly the most singular feature of them that corporate entities formed through capital accumulation by wealthy industrialists are supposed to and somehow enabled to run society in a market economy. But it is awfully convenient for many of the detractors that they end up doing so. Such detractors are often careful to ignore that it is more often the involvement of government in their private affairs to begin with that allows for such widespread and continued market domination in an unfavorable social manner, as that would raise skepticism over their usual proposed solution: more government involvement. The problem isn't the word choice. It's the bias that most of the citizenry has against market processes being allowed to run their perceived course. People see the unseen hand as only taking things away from them in the forms of "outsourcing" or "immigration" or "price gouging", all representing costs in ways that would actually provide some substantive benefits to everyone (even "price gouging", often misinterpreted, has benefits in the form of more equitably rationing resources in times of emergency than would be the case in their absence, that is: you can't ration what is consumed and gone because someone else over-consumed beyond what they truly "needed"). And likewise see only the purported benefits provided in the forms of illusory things like security or safety without taking note of the costs. This happens across party affiliations and regardless of a supposed party line for or against markets (which I have not personally seen, at least between mainstream Democrats and mainstream Republicans). But it's profoundly more annoying when it emerges from mainstream Republicans who supposed to be the economic conservatives. At least when some uninformed anti-market Democrat stands up and rambles on, you can say that well, that's supposed to be part of the party line that the little guy or the middle class somehow needs someone to stand up for them (without examining whether or not the person doing the standing is actually doing much "for them" and not merely "for himself"). When some mainstream Republican gets up and starts painting everything their opponent does blood Red as though it was 1917 or 1953 I see every right to get annoyed because these are the same fucking things these people wanted to pass themselves. We rarely see "less regulation" or "less government" from Republicans in meaningful ways. The airline deregulation story from Reagan's era has been recycled to death. Guess when it passed. 1978. Before Reagan showed up. The main legislative figure was Ted Kennedy. THE whipping boy of hatred for conservatives. It took quite a while for Southwest to get big enough to start competing with other regional players like Delta or United and really get the ball moving into a success story, they claimed credit over it (to be fair, conservative/libertarian economists had been pushing this for decades and only finally got an attentive ear during the energy crisis in the early 70s, during the Nixon and Ford administrations). We're still waiting to see similar reconstructive surgery over railroads or automobile companies. Other than opposing frivolous new regulations or regulations which impede oil based energy's dominance, I'm not all that hopeful we'll see a GOP spearhead on these issues either. We may have to wait for whoever comes after Obama on the Democratic ticket.

As it has been helpfully suggested, if one is a libertarian you can find any old Republican who will rhetorically oppose government growth by opposing the increase of taxes (whether or not they follow through on this was, until W, actually something of an open question). I've been following the tea party movement since it began referring to itself with a rather profane sexual act (I suppose until someone looked it up on urban dictionary). I would imagine that much of its firepower is derived, particularly after we saw Sarah Palin show up at a rally, from opposition to the team with a different colour on the maps than "Red State America". After reading their rhetoric and observing the commentators that appear to either pander or inform this movement, it seems pretty clear that they are not significantly informed by some shared (and very recent) unveiling of libertarian ideals and this will become more and more obvious any time the discussion moves away from economics, specifically fiscal policy and occasionally monetary policy as well with the Goldbugs and Paul-ites who are more informed generally, if delusional, and into national security or social/culture war policy. They clearly have little interest in market economics and the type of social orders that are necessary for and result from markets and are mostly concerned about "debt levels". Which is fine, I guess. Deficits and debts are most often wonderful things to pay attention to. Sort of like looking at the DJIA once in a while to "see how the stock market is doing". But it baffles belief that these were a people mobilized by deficits and chose now to act, all of the sudden. As though these absurd deficits and high debt levels were magically invented by the usurping of the throne by some renegade blue state fellow, practically from another planet by their consideration.

Still what is most aggravating is that they seem content to claim themselves as now experts on economic and political theory after having (claimed to) read Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead and run around painting everyone who disagrees with them as a dirty liberal or communist. Go read Marx. I'll summarize.
#1 Abolition of property in land and of all rents of land to public purposes.
#2 A heavy progressive or graduated income tax.
#3 Abolition of all right of inheritance.
#4 Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels.
#5 Centralisation of credit in the hands of the State, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
#6 Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.
#7 Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.
#8 Equal liability of all to labour. Establishment of industrial armies, especially for agriculture.
#9 Combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, by a more equitable distribution of the population over the country.
#10 Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production.

Other than the first one (which has not yet happened in American society, with a few exceptions where the government has used its eminent domain power to transfer property to other private owners against the will and utility of the former owner), let me know which of those you wouldn't support if it were removed from Marxist connotations, or, more significantly, what you would propose instead. For example instead of a graduated income tax, what would you use to deal with a democratic polity's tendency toward requiring occasional economic inequality resolutions (witness the people whining about CEO pay and bonuses, many of them on the populist right). Why is it that you people consistently vote for things like #7 and have done so for decades in the form of major subsidies for favoured industries like oil, automobiles, and corn? I suppose the inclusion of #10 on this list might give me some explanation as to why there are these crazy folks running around in Texas trying to kill education more generally (regardless of public or private sources of funding, they're actually attacking its public utility by attempting to reduce thought and productive intellectual ventures or curiosity).

But if I can go down the line of public policies we have in place, many of which are like those listed above, and find broad support for keeping most of them largely intact even from these so called fiscal conservatives who claim to want to "cut spending", I should think my next conceit would be to tell you to go read some more Rand and shut the fuck up. Because you're just bullshitting. Either yourself or someone else. And that's basically what Rand was often doing too. You belong together.
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