Note: After reading this over, I see that it jumps back and forth a bit. I’ll have to ask you all to bear with me; I’m still working these ideas out.
I’m sitting in front of the television with a stack of financial-crisis books beside me (three of them have the word “crash” in the titles). I’m not any kind of financial professional, just a stiff like you who’s worried about the future and is trying to figure out what the hell is going on and what I should do.
It doesn’t help that many of the experts don’t seem to know what they’re talking about. That is, many of them are unaware of, or unwilling to acknowledge, some pretty major factors. One book I just tossed aside, for example, blithely talks about countries that are currently the Third World becoming the next centers of industry and technological advance, as if all they needed was a few schools and a market niche, not centuries of cultural tradition laying the necessary foundation. The author also seems to believe that bloated bureaucracies are useful and necessary for prosperity and advanced technology. You see what I mean about people who didn’t read Atlas Shrugged when they were sixteen? Finally, the author predicts with optimism that the imminent financial collapse will force Western societies to become “less hierarchical” and make the “distribution of resources” more equal. Well, we all know that financial difficulties make human nature vanish, so why not.
Another book, which has already found its way into my “trade in at the used bookstore” box, advised growing your favorite fruits and vegetables in your own backyard, in terms that made it clear that the author thought this was an incredibly clever and original idea on his part. As an enthusiastic gardener, I had quite a chuckle over this. Having a lawn service till up space for my vegetable garden, buying the plants, putting up a fence to keep the critters out, and acquiring the various tools and pesticides and mulch and fertilizers and stuff… it’s an expensive hobby. I haven’t done the math, but I know it would have been far more economical to just buy all my squash at the store. The only way to save money by gardening is to grow everything from seed (seeds are cheap) and do every single lick of work yourself, including tilling up your lawn with a shovel. This, for the record, is very hard work.
Most of these books ignore important factors such as welfare and taxpayers’ growing anger over it. Another of the books beside me has a long chapter on demographics, but it doesn’t mention that our welfare and immigration systems (in both America and Europe) are encouraging the underclass to reproduce with abandon, passing on their genetically low IQs and their lack of opportunity and their propensity to crime, while discouraging the middle classes from passing on their higher IQs and their more solid values. (The upper class will do what they damn well please right up until they’re carted to the guillotines.)
None of them mention the huge seismic shift in the economy caused by feminism. When a large number of women insisted on staying in the workplace even after they had husbands and children, this caused a large increase in prices of major purchases. A two-income family could afford to pay more for a car or house, and prices rose accordingly. Prices became so bloated that soon, women who wanted to be full-time homemakers couldn’t afford to. Ironically, a century ago, one of the demands labor unions made was for a “family wage” so that men could support their wives and children themselves, instead of the women and children having to hold jobs as well. “Equal pay for equal work” was a deceptive feminist slogan. It covers up why married men were routinely paid more than women or single men by many companies. Single men didn’t complain about this, because they understood perfectly well that the extra money was being spent on clothes, tuition, braces, pediatricians, and all the other things a family requires. Our economy was structured to support families. Feminists destroyed this in order to force women out of the home. But there is simply no way for any economy to create enough jobs for every adult. Keeping most women out of the workplace would create a far less turbulent, more sustainable economy, but there is nary a whisper about such matters in these books.
What these books talk about is P/E ratios and whether we can expect inflation or deflation and innovation curves and a lot of other things a liberal arts major such as myself has to concentrate hard to comprehend. These authors would be more reassuring if they talked about some things I really understand, like the above.
I am, of course, a free marketeer, a follower of the Austrian school of economics. I hasten to add that capitalism by itself is not enough. Perhaps at some other time I will go into more detail about this, but for now, suffice it to say that capitalism will not automatically lead to good morals or even productive behavior. For that, transcendent values are required. Capitalism is, properly, a subordinate ingredient in creating a healthy society.
The real problem is that many capitalist theorists, including some of the most brilliant, miss important things about human nature, just as the socialist-leaning wishful thinker I discussed in my second paragraph does. Among other things, it means that they do not comprehend why so many people vote for and otherwise support socialist policies, despite all history and logic showing them to be disastrous. (The better books, such as Crash Profits, chronicle the ways that democratic, socialist “solutions” to economic woes set us up for greater catastrophes.)
The television is playing one of the five trillion WWII documentaries that have been airing for the last week or so in preparation for Memorial Day. I’ve gotten fairly sick of hearing about it, frankly, but a throwaway remark in this one threw more light on why people support the financial measures that they do. Hurrying through the explanation of how Hitler got elected so that they can get on to the shiny uniforms and flashy parades and occult theories, all the things which make Nazism such good theatre, the announcer mentions in passing how depressed Germany’s economy was, thanks to the Treaty of Versailles. Of course Germans voted for a party that promised to take care of them financially, to provide for them materially.
Right-wing bloggers gleefully pointed out that when California had its recent referendum on gay marriage, black and Hispanic voters, both of which Democrats have chosen as their protected groups, voted against gay marriage. You know, the way those evil white religious right bigots voted! Unfortunately, these right-wingers mostly misinterpreted this as meaning that all we have to do to get persons of color to vote Republican is get out our message about the social conservative values they share with us. It won’t work. They aren’t going to vote Republican to stop gays from getting married or roll back feminist excesses. Like almost everybody, they are voting for their own financial survival. Toothless as Republican attempts to reform welfare and slow immigration have been, black and Hispanic voters will support the party which has a solid record of promoting these things.
Capitalist idealists are short-sighted about this. “How could they vote for affirmative action? It deprives them of the satisfaction of knowing their achievements are valid! It deprives them of the respect of other people, who suspect they aren’t competent at their jobs!” They make similar arguments about welfare.
What these idealists really fail to understand is themselves. They are in favor of a level playing field and personal achievement and standing on their own feet because they can afford to be.
People who support laissez-faire are generally, for one thing, highly intelligent. They are capable of inventing things or learning skills. They also tend not to be particularly neurotic; psychological problems prevent a lot of very bright or creative people from earning a living. They know, or believe, that they are endowed with such qualities that were they turned out of their realm in their petticoats, they would prosper anywhere.
In addition, and perhaps even more importantly, they have a cultural tradition of being free to provide for themselves. In most cases, not only were they never barred from professions or colleges because of their race or creed or anything else, neither were their grandfathers. Today people of any race cannot be barred from anything in America or Europe, and they can file lawsuits if they even suspect they are being barred on the basis of their race, but it is not surprising if they do not feel complacent about this prerogative. How certain can they be that Jim Crow laws will never come back? Small wonder that they vote for an unfair advantage; they have clear memories of an unfair disadvantage.
One of the most influential capitalist ideologues, Ayn Rand, was a Jew born in Russia in 1905. At that time many Russian Jews were still required to live in the Pale of Settlement, but her parents were among those who secured permission to live outside it. Her father was a chemist; he had wanted to enter another profession, but universities had quotas limiting how many Jews could enter each program of study, and the one he wanted was already full, so he entered chemistry instead. Today quotas consist of forcing universities or workplaces to hire a minimum number of members of protected groups, but a century ago, they consisted of limiting the number of Jews who got in. Of course, given our cultural tradition of study and rigorous thought (honed over generations of studying the Talmud), and our genetic tendency to higher IQs, whenever an arena was opened to us, we did quite well in it. Miss Rand saw quotas and other regulations as things that prevented the able from achieving, and she was right. What she couldn’t really understand was that not everyone had her confidence in her own ability to achieve if others would just stay the hell out of her way.
I don’t have a solution to propose. But we’re going to have to understand all this and cope with it if we’re going to preserve enough capitalism to keep a decent standard of living. Or even feed the unprecedentedly large human population we now have.
One more thought before I close. I believe that this is probably closely related to something Mencius Moldbug outlined in a recent post:
While the continuity between John Stuart Mill and Barack Obama may not be obvious – considering as their preferred policies are almost opposite – it is there. They are part of the same great movement, which it is perfectly fair to describe as “liberal,” a word which both gentlemen would have used to describe themselves.
The policies changed. But the movement is one. 19th-century Radicalism and 20th-century progressivism are unified by a single force: the collective quest for power.
19th-century Radicals favored libertarian policies because they faced an ancien regime which still, to some extent, existed. This was the old regime of Throne and Altar, of mercantilism, Anglicanism and Anglo-Catholicism, imperialism and colonialism – in a word, Toryism.
When Toryism was a reality rather than a bugaboo, liberals could only seek power by destroying it. Thus they sought to cut off its air supply, destroying its sources of profit: protectionism, venal offices, chartered companies, and so forth. They favored rigorous economies of government, and other such ideals quite foreign to the modern liberal.
As they gained power through these aggressive measures, the liberals entered government itself. Thus their interests naturally shifted, toward enlarging and empowering the State. A State that had become “us,” rather than “them.” And thus, the Left went from libertarian to statist.
The Left had to begin by destroying legitimate power and legitimate property. That is, hereditary power, and entailed or created property. That is, barons and robber barons. With those effectively crippled, the rest of us have no defenders from statists.