Thursday, November 6, 2008

Apostates and Anticapitalists

Well, it’s official — at last night’s Lolita Bar panel, I confirmed I know at least one person who, heeding Ron Paul’s presidential candidate endorsement, voted for the Constitution Party’s Chuck Baldwin.

But in a reminder that there is no ideological camp so tiny it cannot be riven into two diametrically-opposed halves on at least some issues, I find myself thinking that the qualities of Chuck Baldwin that likely drew Ron Paul to him are the precisely the things about Ron Paul that I dislike (though I like others): the religiosity and paranoia — but even more so the anti-globalism.

For, you see, while I might be as happy to abolish the U.N. and the IMF as the next guy, I think there’s an obvious danger that the global trading order of which they are a part can get lost in the shuffle when people turn in an isolationist, anti-immigration direction. And it’s that worldwide commercial order that I want more than anything else in the universe of political possibilities: Texas trading with Tanzania, workers migrating at will from Denmark to Dubai, environmental standards raised by efficiency instead of edicts, and the fulfillment of the anime slogan “world peace through shared pop culture.”

And I know how eager a huge portion of the world’s misleadingly-labeled “Non-Governmental Organizations” and anti-globalization “anarchists” and protectionists are to shatter all that and trap us in our local, impoverished, regulated little worlds, a cruel thing to do to a world in need of trade — a world where something like a billion people still live on the brink of starvation and about 2 billion lack reliable access to clean water.


So, fascinating as habeas corpus and gay marriage debates may be, I think the most dangerous enemies of humanity are trade-bashing intellectuals like…Naomi Klein, author of No Logo and the anti-Milton Friedman screed Shock Doctrine, who I saw on a panel with neo-socialist econ Nobelist Joseph Stiglitz (formerly head of Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and a great reminder that free-marketeers had plenty of reason to fear in the 90s, even if things didn’t work out too badly) and Latin American libertarian Hernando de Soto.

•Klein was quick to point to the current financial crisis as supposed confirmation of her sweeping, sloppy theories: “Now we know what an unregulated free-market looks like — it looks like the derivatives market.”

•Stiglitz, seeming awfully happy to have his worst fears realized, chuckled that the era of free markets and neo-liberalism is “over” and dismissed the views behind that era as madness.

•De Soto, humbly, stuck to his favorite message: that with or without taxes, regulation, and even redistribution, the crucial thing is that property rights be clearly defined and enshrined in a stable law code, so that at least people know what things are worth and can make plans accordingly — a system of property rights is “essentially an information system,” he said, and the frightening thing about the current state of finance is that “your system of paper has ceased to reflect real value.” Will debtors fail? Be bailed out? Discover some new fortune in a round of clever trading? Be reimbursed? Find no buyers? The uncertainty, more than any immediate risk of real poverty, is what reminds De Soto of the often lawless netherworld of Third World market activity.


These are the big issues, it seems to me, the global issues, and I applaud the people drawing attention to them — from the Cato Institute giving out its annual Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty (named for Naomi Klein’s ultimate villain and this year going to a Venezuelan, Yon Goicoechea, who has bravely criticized the socialist thug Hugo Chavez) to the International Policy Network, which at its own annual Bastiat Prize ceremony had a keynote speaker from Uganda, Andrew Mwenda, who turned down an offer to be an advisor to Bono after the leftist rocker audibly heckled during one of Mwenda’s pro-market speeches.

In a world where starvation, disease, regulatory red tape, and the arbitrary confiscation of property — whether by mere brigands or the organized brigands known as the state — remain the most important problems, the real evils, I think I can be forgiven for a bit of impatience (sometimes) with members of the free-market coalition who would distract us with ambiguous, coalition-splitting, non-econ side issues, such as declaring the civil rights issue of the new century to be gay marriage (relevant to perhaps less than 1% of the population and in any case a legal formality that need not determine with whom one lives).

But then, econ, too, can become an arena for needlessly unlibertarian arguments, even from ostensible free-marketeers. Like many people, I fear (despite my admitted lack of expertise — though some might say I fear because of my lack of expertise) that’s the case with macroeconomics-inspired, counterintuitive defenses of the Wall Street bailout (such as those from the surprisingly yet rather consistently risk-averse Megan McArdle, who also favors sumptuary laws and regulatory action against global warming, which is the heated subject of tomorrow’s Book Selection of the Month entry). It’s not clear the bailout has done much good, given the long-term perverse incentives it will likely create among irresponsible institutions that deserved to vanish, but one good thing undeniably came of it: this funny Reason.TV video by Ted Balaker asking “Where’s My Bailout?” and starring, among others, his wife, Courtney Balaker (herself the writer-director of the funny short film Cute Couple — and years ago a tall and perfect-looking vampire in Sleepless Nights, for those keeping track).

1 comment:

Chad said...

I did a good review on the non-socialist parties that made the ballot about a month ago, and found my views matched the Prohibition party the most, except for that whole banning beer and other vice thing they have. They had a really well developed platform, unlike the Boston Tea Party, who should just have a website that says “Isolationist” on it.