Monday, March 18, 2013

Irony is dead

This is a long article on the moral issues of capitalism, a generally balanced article even it it is written by an essentially Conservative author. You can tell he's a Conservative because he so badly misrepresents the Liberal position. For example, he states:

The traditional liberal defense of redistribution, of course, is that a lot of what passes for economic success derives not only from hard work or ingenuity but also from good fortune — the good fortune to be born with the right genes and to the right parents, to grow up in the right community, to attend the right schools, to meet and be helped by the right people, or simply to be at the right place at the right time.

Notice what's missing here? The entire concept of redistribution as effective economic policy. In any market system that "thrives on unequal outcomes," you are going to get concentration of wealth. This concentration is, in and of itself, harmful to the market system, as he notes elsewhere in his article. Yet the simple conclusion - that redistribution is thus necessary for the health of the market system - completely escapes him. This is how you know you're reading a Conservative author: when simple conclusions are invisible because they contradict with ideology. Not just rejected, condemned, or argued against, but invisible.

He also states:

A useful debate about the morality of capitalism... should also acknowledge that there is no moral imperative to redistribute income and opportunity until everyone has secured a berth in a middle class free from economic worries.

There is, in fact, a strong moral imperative to free everyone from economic worries, starting with The Golden Rule and running straight through"If a man asks you for coat, give him your cloak as well," and "What you do for the least of those among you, you do for me." Yet another way you know you're reading a Conservative author: Jesus' moral imperatives are invisible.

But that's not what prompted this post. That's all par for the course. The sentence that prompted me to look out the window to verify that the sky was still blue, intact, and not full of aeronautic swine, was this:

How much income redistribution is enough? Must we keep redistributing until we reach the equality levels of the 1950s, which liberals seem to consider the golden years?

And there you have it. Conservativism has now reached the point of blasting Liberals for being too traditional.

Irony cannot exist without self-awareness; irony is dead.


craftycoder said...

I'm a conservative and I fully believe in redistribution. It's all the rest of the stuff the government does annoys me. The problem of poverty isn't a lack of healthcare or education or food, those are the outcomes of poverty. The problem is a lack of money. If the government would JUST redistribute and stop Medicare, social security, dept of education, Ssdi, Medicaid, and food stamps among all the other stuff I think we'd be much better off. Then citizens would have the resources to buy whatever services they valued with whatever the minimum standard of living deemed appropriate for an American. Hopefully generous enough to get a major medical policy, food, lodging, and an education for your kids.

MCPlanck said...

That has at least the virtue of simplicity and consistency. However, it turns out to be inadequate.

There is an unequal distribution of power between individual citizens and mega-corporation entities. Government power is how citizens redress that. This is most obvious in Medicare, where the government's huge buying power allows it to dictate lower costs. Private individuals who had to buy health services would quickly find the cost was everything they had, since after all a sick person is in no position to negotiate.

The idea that free markets produce the best outcome is simply dead. They do not. This argument died when VHS beat Betamax. The only thing free markets produce are the most profitable outcomes, which is sometimes but not always the same thing. Markets without regulations produce the same effect as roads without speed limits: constantly decreasing travel times (due to increased speed) right up until travel times go to infinite (due to accidents). Catastrophic failure is an innate feature of free markets. Regulations (and competing non-free markets) are the bumper rails we put up because we don't want catastrophes.

All those things you mentioned are the ways private individuals band together to defeat the tragedy of the commons and the bullying of the corporations.

Although food stamps are an exception: yes, they should be replaced with simple cash payments (like they are here in Australia) - the current scheme was designed as much as punishment as it was redistribution.

craftycoder said...

I disagree with you. There will always be someone willing to provide a better service at the same price or a similar service at a lower price. The free market does work most of the time. It works through creative destruction which seems to be what bothers you. Personally, I don't mind letting people push the limits until they break. The incentive to not push the limits too far really works unless you BAIL OUT THE STUPID PEOPLE (and companies) whenever they make a big mistake. Stop the bailouts, let people suffer when they screw up, let companies die when they screw up, and then you will actually have a FREE market and then you will have something that actually works.

MCPlanck said...

You have neatly captured the entire flaw of free-market economics: the idea that "creative destruction" is a sufficient regulatory principle.

In other words, you agree that the there should be no speed limits on the roads, and we should just let people who drive too fast die.

The thing is, when people are dying trying to get to work, this is generally defined as "not working."

Nietzsche was wrong. That which does not kill you does not always make you stronger; sometimes, it just leaves you crippled.

Nietzsche was wrong. And once you realize that, you understand that letting people push the limits and cut costs/safety/procedures until they fail is not, in fact, the most efficient path for progress.

Nietzsche was wrong. Start with that, and see if you still come to the same conclusions.