On another blog some people were discussing capitalism and socialism. One person said that the problem in the American economy is not capitalism but unfettered capitalism.
Wow! As I understand capitalism, saying unfettered capitalism is redudant–like saying free freedom or salty salt or wet water. To have fettered capitalism would be like having captive freedom or bland salt or dray water.
Capitalism is the system in which the economy is free from government control. In other words, there is separation of business and state.
The same person who spoke of unfettered capitalism said that he defined capitalism as a system in which most property and most businesses are privately owned.
Most? Does that mean that if the government owns 49% of property and businesses, that you can say that the country is operating under a capitalist system? You might as well say that a country in which the government controls 49% of the churches is practicing freedom of religion.
Actual capitalists do not define capitalism that way. They define it as a system in which all businesses are privately owned, and in which owners may do almost anything they want with their businesses. The only legitimate limit that a government may place on business is to prevent them from infringing on the rights of others, such as through fraud or breach of contract or reckless endangerment.
I think that Americans in general cannot discuss capitalism and socialism objectively. We have been programmed to charge those two words with added meaning. Most of us think of capitalism as “the American way” and as a good system. Most of us think of socialism as un-American and bad. Therefore, when somebody calls somebody else a socialist, we think that the first party is insulting the second party, instead of labeling them with an appropriate designation.
I ask, “What’s wrong with being a socialist?” If you favor socialism, just say so. It’s a legitimate position to take, even if I happen to disagree with it. If you sincerely believe in it, stand up and be counted. Shout it from the rooftops: I am a socialist, and I am proud of it.
What is more annoying to me than the ordinary man or woman on the street misuing the words, but the well-educated politician doing so. In that case, it is political posturing to say that one believes in capitalism when one actually believes in taxing and regulating businesses to death. Politicians know that any admission of being a socialist would not play well with the electorate. It would be like telling a group of Baptists that you are an atheist or a Satanist.
However, I would respect an honest atheist or an honest Satanist who tells people what they really believe (or don’t believe, in this case). I would also respect an honest socialist who tells people what they really believe and does his or her best to defend those beliefs.
Listen carefully to political speeches. You know your in trouble when a candidate says, “I believe in capitalism, but. . .” It’s that but that leads to a fettered, that is a socialist, economy.
More and more, we hear that our government leaders are enacting laws and policies for our own good. We must use corn as fuel, we must switch to low-energy light bulbs, we must stop eating unsaturated fats, we must depend on government bailouts and government-funded health insurance. The list is getting longer all the time.
C. S. Lewis had a low opinion of benevolent governments:
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience” (”The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” in God in the Dock).
One thing that Lewis does not seem to understand is that robber barons flouish in a system of government support for their businesses. Through the granting of licenses, the regulation of new businesses, subsidies, and tax policies, governments can uphold their favorite companies and block competitors. They say that they do it for our good, but they really do it to support their own political careers.
In an ideal state, we would not have to choose between robber barons or do-gooder tyrants. Neither one could gain power over us.
Here’s a multiple-choice question for you. Where do our rights come from?
b. the Constitution
Thomas Jefferson and the signers of the Declaration of Indpendence believed that our rights come from God:
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
There is so much in that statement that it blows my mind. You can love it or hate it, but what you cannot do is deny that our Founders believed in natural law and in inherent rights and, in some way or other, in God, the Creator.
There are problems with all the other choices above.
If my rights come by my own self-declaration, then I could claim the right to kill you. Of course, you would claim the right not to be killed. Where would that leave us?
If our rights come from the Constitution, then we could amend the Constitution to do away with the right, for example, of free speech. The Constitution once recognized the right to own slaves; now it forbids slavery. The same document that called both ownership of slaves and freedom from slavery a right, cannot be a stable and consistent source of rights. It can only list rights that are recognized by people.
The courts present the same problem. It has happened in America that one judge or one court ruled in a particular manner, but then another court ruled in the opposite manner. The courts are supposed to interpret laws and decide cases based on the Consitution, and it, as noted above, reflects the rights that people discover and recognize.
Laws can either reflect our rights or not. Good legislators make sure that they do. Ignorant or evil legislators might not do so. Jim Crow laws certainly did not reflect people’s proper rights. Neither did laws against women’s suffrage.
God, or whatever you believe underlies our innate sense of being entitled to things as human beings, is the source of those rights. Maybe you want to conceive of the source as the Tao or as Nature or Evolution or the Collective Unconscious or Je Ne Sais Quoi. However, there must be an ultimate source.
You can say that societies create rights for the people in them. If that were true, you would arrive at a strange conclusion. You would have to say that Jews had no right to life in Nazi Germany, but now they do have the right to life in post-Holocaust Germany. I submit that Jewish people (and any other ethnic or religious group of people) always had and always will have the right to life. The Nazis violated their rights, but they could never take away their rights. If they could, then on what basis could we condemn the Nazis.
You would also have to say that you wish that homosexuals would have the right someday to marry people of the same sex and that you hope that someday enough people will agree to make it a right in the entire United States. That’s not what I usually hear, though. I hear people saying that people have the right to marry whomever they choose, and that that right should be formally recognized by law. And as long as there is no such legal recognition you would have to admit that people have no such right.
You would make a mockery of Roe v Wade if you looked at rights that way. You would have to say that nine men arbitrarily decided that women could go ahead and have abortions if they want to. The way it really happened was that those men ruled that women have such a right, and the law cannot infringe upon it. In other words, the supposed right to an aboriton was the basis for the ruling and not the other way around. The ruling is not the basis for the right.
Two quotations of Friedrich Hayek struck me today:
A claim for equality of material position can be met only by a government with totalitarian powers.
Even the striving for equality by means of a directed economy can result only in an officially enforced inequality – an authoritarian determination of the status of each individual in the new hierarchical order.
His statements seem obvious to me.
In order to make people “equal” there must be some force applied. I see it on a small scale in my family. My wife and I used to distribute snacks and treats to our children when they were small. That was the only way that we could make sure that nobody got more than their fair share. In that system, though, it’s obvious that the children were not equal to their mom and me. If we, the parents, wanted a double portion of dessert, we could take it.
That’s Hayek’s other point. Not only must a totalitarian government (the parents) be the means to acheive equality, but such a system, by definition, is unequal. In a nation we can note at least three levels of a hierarchy: the political leaders who authorize favors, the beaurocrats who dole out the favors on behalf of the political leaders, the ordinary people. There is nothing inherently wrong with having a hierarchical system, but there is no way for such a system to create the equality that socialists, statists, progressivists, et al. talk about.
It is appropirate in a family for there to be inequality. The children need responsibile parents to control what they do for their own good, but, of course, they need the parents to turn control over to them gradually, as they become more mature and more responsible for themselves. Which is why it is inappropriate for political leaders to follow the same model.
If nations are to be run like families, an immediate problem arises. Some of the adults in the nation must act as the parents, while others must remain in the role of the children. How should that be decided? Should the smartest people be placed in the parent role? The richest? The most popular?
And where does that leave people not so gifted? The least intelligent are the runts of the family. The most unlikeable become the Cinderellas who must do all the grunt work and do all the chores. (The fairy godmother, by the way, would be a little thing called Freedom. More on that later.)
Our President and our members of the Congress make well above the median income in the United States. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the average person is certainly not “equal” to them. It’s hard to imagine some way that they could ensure “equality” without their being way above the average person in earnings and status. It probably wouldn’t do to have a cafeteria lady or a street sweeper running the state–although sometimes I think that such people might do a better job.
(Someone recently wrote to me that it is totally appropirate for Al Gore to have huge electricity bills, since he is who he is. Well, I can tell you that I am nowhere near “equal” to him, although he is a big proponent of equality.)
The President and the Congress are the ones who set up all the departments and agencies that strive to implement equality. Most of those people make more than the median American income. They are one tier down from the political leaders, since their salaries are generally lower and their jobs depend upon the whims of those leaders. They are usually chosen because of favors that they have already done or that they will have the power to do for the elected leaders. Even among this tier, though, there is inequality. The assistants and clerks certainly do not make as much as the heads of agencies. Regional leaders make less than national leaders, as one would expect. It’s ironic that even people who espouse equality usually pay people at different scales.
Then there are the ordinary people. In theory, they should all be equal, according to socialist and semi-socialist political philosophies. It has never worked that way in real life. Political leaders favor certain groups and certain individuals and disfavor others. Most of this favoritism is based on political expediency. If trade unions can help them retain power, politicians will favor trade unions. If business owners are more likely to give them what they want, politicians will favor business owners. Some politiicans will try to keep both groups on their side. A few, very few, politiicans actually act on principle in choosing their allies and adopting their positions.
When it comes to the status of business in the hierarchy, it depends on the nature of the business. At one time in America it was illegal to manufacture or sell alcoholic beverages. At the same time that the government shut down businesses related to those beverages, it was continuing to support the railroad industry and the communications industry, among others. How equal was that?
I want to state again what I am saying. I am not arguing for an unstratified nation. There will always be strata. I am arguing precisely that point, and I think that Hayek would agree. The dream of “equality” is an impossible dream, if equality is taken to mean that everyone has the same economic status or even something close to it.
Orwell understood it. In Animal Farm, the utopian government devolved quickly into a system in which some animals were “more equal” than others. It is inescapable.
There is something beter than equality, and its name is freedom. With freedom, people can become as “equal” as they are willing and able to become. But before you start pointing to present inequalities in America, let me say that we do not have enough freedom in America. You cannot prove your point by looking at a state-regulated system and saying it proves that a free market doesn’t work.
Have you heard that a town on Long Island has used Google Earth to track down illegal swimming pools? If that is not exactly and precisely what George Orwell warned about in 1984, then I cannot imagine what would be. The most obvious problem with this government action is that it violates the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
It’s not that I am against using satellite technology to fight crime. I am against illegal searches, as we all should be. Maybe the town got warrants from a judge, but that has not been reported. Would a judge even grant a warrant for such a thing?
Assuming that they did get warrants, I still have a problem with a local government requiring people to pay money to them in order to have a swimming pool. In one interview they couched it as a safety issue. Another small intrusion by the nanny state! It’s in the homeowners’ own interest to make sure that a pool is safe. It is their responsibility, and if they do not fulfill it, they must pay the consequences.
Another problem that I have with it is that it is extortion by the government. Riverhead has reportedly made $75,000 so far by busting illegal pool owners. I suppose it’s another way to soak the rich, pun intended. Then again, I’m not sure that owning a pool makes one rich, and I would guess that most rich people just pay the licensing fees, since they can afford them. (Unless they have the ethics of John Kerry who tried to shield his fancy yacht from taxes in his home state.)
I wonder if Riverhead paid the licensing fee for Google Earth Pro, which Google requires of anybody who uses the service to make money.
I also wonder how much they have spent in administration costs to track down these evil pool owners.
A final problem that I want to mention is that it is inconsistent with our overall national climate. In a country where the presence of undocumented foreigners is winked at, it hardly seems fair or porportional to go after illegal swimming pools.
Are people property? It would seem that the answer to that was determined in the United States during and just after the Civil War. The United States determined that nobody could own another person as property.
If a person is property at all, and that is a big if, then she or he is the property only of himself or herself. How could it be otherwise? I would suggest that one aspect of our survival instinct is that our life and person are in our hands to do with as we wish. The fact that I have a will seems to entitle me naturally to use it. The fact that I can reason suggests that I have the capability to determine what is best for me, which implies that I have the right to do so.
I have worked for two organizations whose leaders liked to tell the employees that our people are our greatest resource. Huh? I always found that insulting. It is dehumanizing. A piece of paper or an electric current is a resource; I am not. In that sentence who are the people and who are the our? It seems to mean that the lowly workers (“our people”) are tools to be used by the elite employers. The possessive pronoun could imply that the workers are owned by the leaders. At the very least, it is an insensitive and insulting thing to say. Especially when one of the two organizations calls everyone, from the president on down, a member of the organization.
People are sovereign over their lives and persons. In terms of personhood, we are all, with very few exceptions, equal. Those people who are incapacitated are still fully human–fully persons–in my book, and the help that they require is actually needed to preserve their sovereignty as persons, not to undermine it.
My view on this matter influences my view on other issues. For example, both abortion and taxation are related to it.
Induced abortion treats the fetus as the property of the woman–to do with as she wishes. Hardly anyone would argue that a woman can do anything she pleases with her child after it is born, because we recognize the right to life and the right to safety of the baby. However a few moments and a few inches before it is born, that same baby is vulnerable to a mother’s “right” to dispose of it, according to current law in the United States.
Taxation for the purpose of redistributing income treats people as property. I’m not referring to taxes used to pay for services agreed upon by the people, such as police protection and bridges. I’m referring to the taking of wealth from one person and giving it to another person. Only if we operate under the assumption that a person, and his wealth, are the property of the collective (the people who want the money), can we justify such an act. Unders such an assumption, you are not your own and the assets that you have acquired are not your own. They belong to the state and can be confiscated by the state as it chooses and give way by the state as it chooses.
This post is about fundamental principles. No matter how much you think the wealthy should be taxed, you are basically saying that what other people have belongs to you, and that you have the right to take it from them and use it as you please. I object.
What’s yours is yours, and what’s mine is mine. I’ll be glad to share what I have, and I hope that you are, too. However, I will never concede that you have the right to take what is mine or that I have the right to take what is yours. I am a person, I am not your property.
Neither are you my property.
I will be the first one to admit that the world’s resources are unevenly distributed. A more accurate way to say it is that people are unevenly distributed. On one end of the spectrum is a person born into a wealthy family in an area where it is easy to make a living. On the other end is a person born into a poor family where there is hardly any opportunity at all. That situation stinks.
However, there is no point in blaming anyone for that situation. If one believes in God, I suppose you could lay the blame for the disparity at God’s feet. Otherwise, you have nobody to blame. There’s no evil king of the world who dictates where people live or who is going to be born where. There is no cabal that decided that certain people would be born on Fifth Avenue while other people are born in Harlem.
All sorts of historical events put people where they are in the world today. Nobody has control over where they are born or over the socio-economic status of their parents and their extended family. If a person is born to a farming family in Mexico, that’s the hand that he has been dealt–just as much by fate as a poker player’s hand is dealt to him.
People do have choice later in their life. I know a man from El Salvador. He came to America for what he considers a better life. He became a physical therapist and works at the center where my son is having therapy for his knee. It wasn’t easy for him to immigrate or to work his way through school. I admire him very much. At the optical center where my daughters got their new glasses, I met a man from Ghana with virtually the same story. I was pleased to congratulate him when his soccer team beat the United States team in the World Cup tournament.
When people talk about uneven distribution of resources or uneven distribution of wealth, I am dumbfounded. They seem to be under the impression that there is somebody who sits over a big store of resources or money, as though it is a giant apple pie, and decides how much to give each person. This imaginary pie server gave Donald Trump a great big piece of the pie and gave my acquaintances from El Salvador and Ghana just a tiny little crumb. Then they say that things are “unfair.” If somebody is giving out money, then it is unfair for that person to give it out in unequal amounts, all other things being equal.
Wealth is not a giant pie in some magical pantry. Wealth must be created by people. Oprah Winfrey created wealth from her talent as a talk show host. Bill Gates created wealth from his technological skill. They did not sit around waiting for somebody to dish them up a piece of the mythical pie. They made their own pies, and by lots of ingenuity and lots of hard work, they made some very big pies. Both of them have cheerfully shared their pies with people who did not have as much. I admire them for that. However, I do not admire anyone who believes that they somehow owed it to others to share their wealth. If it was owed, then the value of their donations goes down. What makes their philanthropy so admirable is that they voluntarily chose to share even when nobody was compelling them to do so.
One could argue that Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, among others, should “give back.” Perhaps they feel that way themselves. For my part, I would have preferred that they charge people a whole lot less for their products in the first place. I would have been happy to pay less for my Microsoft programs. I don’t watch Oprah Winfrey, but I suspect that her sponsors would have been happy to pay less, and their customers might have enjoyed the cost savings on those products. (I did enjoy Oprah’s acting in the The Color Purple.) After all, did either one of them need billions of dollars?
Some folks believe that it would be a good thing to even things up. President Obama, when he was running for president, told Joe the Plumber that he wanted to spread the wealth around. There is so much wrong with that goal, and it is so obviously wrong that I cannot understand how anyone could support it.
I understand the desire to help those in need. I have felt the desire and have acted on it–at a greater percentage than many of our politicians who espouse “helping the poor.” As I wrote above, I think it stinks that such huge disparities exist in the world between the haves and the have-nots.
There are only two ways to make things even, or closer to even. One is by people voluntarily sharing what they have. The other is by people being forced to give away what they have.
The problem with forcing people to share, is that somebody has to do the forcing. There can be no forced redistribution of wealth without somebody doing the forcing, and who has the right to do that? The state has the right to tax people to pay the President and his cabinet, to pay for interstate roads, to build office buildings for members of Congress, and to meet a whole host of legitimate expenses. In essence it is “the people” contributing toward their own government. However, the state has no right to take people’s money for the purpose of handing it out to other people.
If a man in a mask demands money from a bank, we call it a crime. If a man in a suit votes to confiscate your money to give away, we call it a tax. Essentially there is no difference. One of them looks more respectable, but it amounts to the same thing, morally speaking.