Monday, April 20, 2009

Punks Deferred, Conflicts Defused, Circles Squared


My main political focus my entire adult life has been on economics.  I’m sure I’m as guilty as countless other writers, though, of acting as though my positions are self-explanatory when they are in fact baffling even to some intelligent, well-meaning people.

In an effort to make things a bit clearer, below is a super-quick walk-through of the connections/phases in my basic thinking — and then let’s try to leave some of this behind as if starting fresh.

(I may refer people back to this post henceforth to avoid refighting some older battles.  I will spend the next couple weeks preparing for our May 6 animal welfare debate and mulling topics of that sort, then May blogging about nerds and June blogging about rock.  I’ll round out the summer with the completion of a more purely fun/creative non-blog project and perhaps a return to working on the long-delayed Conservatism for Punks manuscript, though I almost wish it’d just be rendered irrelevant and unnecessary by a Second American Revolution inspired by the Tea Parties.  And surely a comment like that mandates some explanation of where I’m coming from.)

•Happiness is good, suffering bad, as we know from direct experience and as is implicit in virtually all human effort, from getting out of bed to dreams of utopias, paradises, or simply better lunches.

•Basic economic reasoning suggests a close tie between utility and markets, since markets maximize the scope for voluntary transactions — doing with resources and one’s own energy what one prefers (instead of what one is forced to do against one’s wishes, which is by definition a diminution of utility, in the form of squelched preferences).

•For this reason, despite countless largely-imaginary metaphysical constructs — from dialectics to rights to gods to egalitarian ideals — that people use to shape seemingly-important political narratives in their heads, ostensible friends of the market (and property rights) always deserve an initially more-sympathetic hearing than avowed market foes (no matter how pure of heart and “well-meaning” the foes are and no matter what metaphysical claims they deploy to justify their predation on the energy and wealth of others).

•Thus conservatives’ defects have arguably been more tolerable — so long as at least some subset of conservatives were ostensibly aiming to shrink government and promote markets — than the defects of the left, who admittedly may at times do no more damage than the right but aim, however gradually, to build a non-market-based or substantially less market-based world (and are thus with almost all their domestic policy decisions threatening, long-term, to undermine civilization by undermining the market basis that makes it prosperous and happy).

•Conservatives failed to shrink government over the past three decades, for which they may deserve to be abandoned as useless, but this is no defense of modern liberals, who didn’t even try.  It is at least logically possible to abandon conservatism, liberalism, moderation, anarchism, and even libertarianism as ineffectual without committing any contradiction, something worth keeping in mind, lest we become complacent.

•Current stimulus spending to the tune of some $2 trillion, shoveled overwhelmingly to the already rich and well-connected (or the merely irresponsible), removes any remaining need to give the benefit of the doubt to liberal rhetoric about helping the deserving poor, changing the debate from the “business vs. workers” dynamic of past century or two to, at long last, “redistribution by self-serving government and government-tied elites vs. the simple moral/pragmatic discipline of allowing-to-fail.”

•This is such a night-and-day battle that most prior quibbling (including “cultural” questions across the spectrum, from the existence of God or the importance of sex and gender to the best forms of art and community) must, at least within the realm of policy debate, be deemed distractions.  Stop government spending.  Deregulate our economies.  Not just in America but around the world.  Civilization’s time is running out.

I have not forgotten my own opinions regarding countless other battles over religion, feminism, the political spectrum itself, foreign policy, and so forth, but these things look more and more petty — like doing art criticism in a burning museum — by contrast with the Obama-led final annihilation of markets now taking place.

Nonetheless, life is full of variety and one hates to become boring and single-minded, so tomorrow I’m attending a debate about prostitution.  Please forgive the distraction, about which I’ll write more tomorrow.


Todd Seavey said...

An addendum: as a rule utilitarian, in case I haven’t made it clear before, I do see property as a “mere” social construct, albeit a highly useful and therefore legitimate one, lest anyone wonder how I could mention property rights in passing so soon after listing rights-in-general among imaginary metaphysical constructs. Virtually everything’s a social construct — and many of them are indispensable and good. They do not become the proper playthings of government or evidence in favor of “social democracy” simply by being social constructs. But then, countless such details will have to be glossed over here, obviously.

Mitch Golden said...

Happy to debate you (or a person of your choosing) on all of this. (I suggested it already, but here it is again: “Resolved: libertarian governance of the economy is a proven failure.”)

There are those of us who don’t accept what you’re saying here, and not because we don’t believe in markets or do believe in suffering. It seems to me that you make some objective statements in the above, which it behooves you to support with some evidence. If you’d like, I can write a rebuttal to these, and you can reply.

Todd Seavey said...

Moving on to discuss animals, nerds, and rockers for the next couple months, but you’ll find a last-for-now batch of libertarian links in my 4/22 entry: