The Mezunian

Die Positivität ist das Opium des Volkes, aber der Spott ist das Opium der Verrückten

Duh… Is that How Politics Works?

Right-libertarians generally hold a simplistic interpretation o’ reality—’specially economic reality—largely based on Western traditions, safely unhindered in a world where the debate is whether capitalism is awesome or “too much freedom.”

Thus, it’s no huge surprise when I read Randall Halcombe’s “Joseph Stiglitz on Crony Capitalism” @ the official church o’ Mises, the Mises Economics Blog1, which reads like a middle-schooler’s attempt to discuss the political economy:

Although Joseph Stiglitz has a reputation as one of the most prominent defenders of big government…

I always thought Karl Marx had that reputation, but never mind. I’m sure Stiglitz scoffs @ the pure “anarchy” present in “Marxist-Leninist” states like North Korea.

It does appear to me that throughout the political spectrum, from left to right, there is a substantial consensus that government is the cause of many of the problems people perceive.

It’s shocking that problems in a political system might be caused by the organization that manages said political system. If Halcombe had taken only a minute to think ’bout it, he might’ve realized that opposition to too much capitalism—& especially it in general—in a capitalist country presupposes criticism o’ the government that maintains said capitalist system. I don’t know what logic exists in the belief that the US would be better off if ’twere socialist—or whatever alternative one wants—but that the government need not change to be, you know, socialist. It’d be quite a creative solution: change the political system without changing it @ all!

To be fair, I have to remember that right-libertarians are used to debating liberals; so this “solution” has likely been encountered in debates many times before.

The disagreement is over how to solve those problems.

(Slaps forehead.) So that’s the rub. I was so sure that with the left & right agreeing on the government needing to change in some way—a terribly specific diagnosis—they’d surely agree on how. We were so close to bringing that bipartisan Utopia dwelling in the Third Way’s fever dreams to fruition!

He goes on to explain how Stiglitz criticizes income inequality, caused by the “negative impact o’ government”—which isn’t equivalent to “too much impact.” He further connects Stiglitz to right economists through their criticism o’ cronyism, carefully ignoring the vital role the market plays in causing cronyism (I’ll delve in this later in this article).

I am encouraged to see that people throughout the political spectrum, from Stiglitz to Stockman to Schweizer, recognize government power as the source o’ many o’ our contemporary problems.

As we all know, Stiglitz is right there with Bakunin & Kropotkin on the far left.

& just ’cause you found some other guys in your li’l club who call themselves right-wing doesn’t mean they represent a significant role in the general movement. I can just imagine Mitch McConnel with his arm in mid-stretch to grab his cash from MoldyFumes, inc.2, only to stop with his pupils dilated & his hands grasping his hair, screaming, “No! I can’t! What would the famous Stockman & Schweizer think?”

Those on the left see more government, and better government, as the remedy to poor government policies, which seems counter-intuitive.

Sigh. This is the equivalent o’ a 3rd-grader’s attempt to describe leftism & fails. There’s no such thing as “mo’ government,” ’less one means “mo’ people in government,” which is, indeed, what those further on the left want: direct democracy. If the government exists, it exists, whether it uses police force to maintain 1 resource distribution or ’nother, or whether it chooses to ignore resource distribution entirely (note: never heard o’ a market defender backing this last choice). Only supporting government when it defends one’s riches, but not when it actually expects compensation for that, isn’t “libertarian”; it’s just narcissistic.

Why would we think a bigger government would work better than the government mess we already have?

1. Nobody calls for “bigger” government, ’cause that’s not a real thing. That’s an abstract label people on the right made-up.

The only way that argument makes sense is if we’re arguing ’tween splitting up the US or not. That’s not the discussion @ all, so Halcombe’s clearly mixing his words up.

2. The current government mess has nothing to do with the government being “too big.” If one’s belief is that the problem with the US’s economy is the rich being too powerful, then obviously the problem is that the government prefers the rich—that is what Stiglitz was actually saying. I don’t know why Halcombe had to complicate it with this abstract nonsense.

Stiglitz has already explained how all the incentives lean toward making government more responsive to the elite, at the expense of the masses.

& this is caused by either income inequality—which can only be fixed by income redistribution—or a lack o’ sufficient laws gainst excess lobbying. The solution to both requires “mo’ government” in the right-libertarian argot; hence Stiglitz’s diagnosis.

I don’t think Halcombe understands the implications o’ this point—though, to be fair, Stiglitz may not, either, considering his claim that “[i]t doesn’t have to be this way.” Think: the incentives make government corrupt. That’s the opposite o’ what Halcombe is arguing: rather than just the government corrupting the market, this shows that the market corrupts the government.

If anything, this shows that pure laisssez-faire is self-defeating: the economic inequality it’ll create will also create unequal influence over government, giving the rich superior control over the majority—as already happens now. If some o’ them benefit from cronyism—& some do, which is why they push for it—then they will have the superior means to make that goal become legal reality. Thus, laissez-faire naturally creates the very cronyism that s’posedly violates it.

That’s the paradoxical nature o’ power: power itself is all that can prevent other power. That’s what a “power vacuum” is: when there’s no power structure, there’s nothing to stop some other group from taking power. Thus, a lack o’ government intervention, rather than making society freer, only allows them to be defacto replaced by rich citizens who are not so shy ’bout using their economic advantages to enforce their own power. If anything, the imaginary “less government” solution is what’s counter-intuitive.

That also ’splains why the problem with cronyism is far deeper than just there not being ’nough “wise” economists like Stiglitz who somehow figured out that US politics & economics is corrupt—not unlike a 50-year-old finally learning that Santa Claus isn’t real. The very same cronyism gives those that benefit from it superior power over government, thus making it difficult to change it in any way that goes gainst what they want—which is said cronyism. It’s cyclical, with the market corrupting the government corrupting the market corrupting the government, & so on. This is why said cronyism is not new, but goes far back into US history—& will surely continue to thrive, regardless o’ the paper-spined promises o’ such benign capitalists as Stiglitz.

But if we agree that government has caused many of the problems we all see–all of us from the political left to right–then we are part-way toward finding a solution that we all agree would fix those problems. My thought is: eliminate what we all agree is the cause.

You know, I’ve just realized that there actually is something that laissez-faire libertarians who want a capitalist society without government & moderate liberals who want a capitalist society without cronyism & poverty can both agree they oppose: brutal reality.

1 This time I did read the book being discussed—& I must confess that I was able to understand it perfectly, & thus with a tear in my eye, I am unable to accept the kind o’ street cred that Douthat has proven himself to hold.

2 They’re truly some obnoxiously “ironic” marketing company.

Posted in Politics