Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Economic or Political Problems

RR Reno has a thought-provoking post at First Things about what to do in the wake of the triumph of capitalism. It is, I think, a pretty good summation of the problems which modern society faces, as planned economies are increasingly seen even by their former proponents as untenable. However, I would take a slight issue with part of the conclusion:
If we wake up from our dreams we’ll see what the postmodern left already sees, which is that the explosive growth of economic freedom in recent decades has created two very large social problems.

• Greater economic freedom has brought greater economic inequality, as it always has in the modern era. Those with sufficient capital, talent, and ambition are able to use their greater freedom to exploit opportunities and capture efficiencies. Others fall behind. This is a threat to social solidarity.

• Greater economic freedom accelerates the rate of creative destruction, again, as it always has in the modern era. This means that communities, and even nations, organized around existing industries and types of employment are increasingly vulnerable to dislocation and disintegration. This too is a threat to social stability.

These are not economic problems, and therefore cannot be addressed by increasing economic freedom, as the Romney campaign imagined. In the broadest sense of the term, they are political problems, as the social problems associated with the explosive successes of capitalism have always been in the modern era. Dealing with them will require political and not economic approaches. [emphasis in original]

I think Reno pretty well identifies the problem which modern society faces: It's clear that free market economies create unprecedented growth, but at a political level societies need to figure out how to ameliorate their side effects without cutting off the growth itself. He's also right that there's a "postmodern left" which already sees this. As libertarians enjoy cheekily pointing out, Europe's social democracies have in recent years been trying things which only the most libertarian in the US have proposed, such a privatizing the post office.

The thing is misses is that there's a reactionary left, of sorts, which holds that this isn't a political problem, but rather an economic one. That there's a way that "the system" could be reformed such that the economy itself would work in some more egalitarian fashion. We're not in an odd situation in which nostalgia for the 30s through the 50s is widespread in a certain sector of the left, which holds that the economy was much better then.

It seems to me that the jury is still out on whether the backward-looking or the free market left is likely to be the dominant force of the left in the coming years in the US, and obviously it's a lot easier for the right (which has been arguing against forms of socialism for the last century) to respond to the backward looking left which is a familiar adversary than to come up with an alternative political vision to that of the free market left -- which after all is more similar to the free market right vision anyway.


Art Deco said...

The dichotomy you draw between the 'free-market' left and the 'backward looking' left I think is an argument between academic social researchers and dependents among opinion journalists. It does not map very well to political distinctions in the Democratic Party.

A digression. If you take a look at the principals in the Democratic Senate caucus in Congress, you see 21 people. Collective experience in the business world amounts to 14 man-years. Ten of those man-years were compiled by Mary Landrieu, lapsed real estate agent. The other four were compiled by Maria Cantwell. The rest = nil. Of these 21 people, about 15 you might call Congressional lifers, having spent the majority of an ordinary person's worklife squatting in Congress. Eight of the 21 have held an executive position: three were mayors, three were state treasurers, one was a secretary of state, and one worked in a private concern. Twelve of the 21 hit the trifecta: no business background, no executive experience, and more than 20 years on Capitol Hill.

These people have spent most of their adult life brokering favors for clientele. That is what they know. You will not find 'free market liberals' among this crowd. Your business maven therein is Mary Landrieu, a political scion who worked in a trade commonly enmeshed in local networks of influence and shot-through with collusive practices (in a state with a rancid political culture to boot). Of the two with a reputation as a clean and capable public executive, one is Bernard Sanders, a Trotskyist with an a priori objection to free markets.

The crevasse in contemporary Democratic politics in recent decades has been between state and local officials, who appear to be able to accomplish the basics, and the sociopathic and incompetent Congressional caucus.


Art Deco said...

One other thing. A phrase like "the explosive growth of economic freedom in recent decades has created two very large social problems." might apply to the quondam command economies in Europe, to Latin American countries like Mexico and Chile, and to Britain. It does not apply to the United States, which has seen only incremental changes. While we are at it, Latin American countries have long had hideously malintegrated labor markets and one needs good data before one asserts that dismantling mercantile controls has injured people who were not well-connected under the antecedent political economy.

Darwin said...

Fair point, Art.

In the real of actually running the government, the administration and appointments are arguably the main place that the free market left shows up.

Darwin said...

So we get Treasury run more or less as a "free market left" might envision, but big legislative packages like ObamaCare put together by the unreconstructed left found in Congress.

Art Deco said...

In the real of actually running the government, the administration and appointments are arguably the main place that the free market left shows up.

The rap on Timothy Geinther is that he was a cat's paw of the casino banking sector, so, maybe not. While we are at it, one might note that both the President and Steven Chu thought it was a jim-dandy idea for the federal government to get into the venture capital business.