Posted on | September 22, 2011 | 16 Comments
Crooked Timber is one Lefty blog I have subscribed. “Contradictory beliefs,” by Chris Bertram, lays out four ideas which seem in tension, especially if you don’t believe in the market.
Belief 1: As a keen reader of Paul Krugman, Brad DeLong (yes, really), our own John Quiggin and other left-leaning econobloggers, I believe that most Western economies need a stimulus to growth, that austerity will be counterproductive, and that without growth the debt burden will worsen and the jobs crisis will get deeper.
The cart cannot be the horse. If you mistake momentum for stimulus, you can flatter yourself temporarily that the cart can drag the horse. Witness the global slowdown. Feel the folly of believing that the cart can be the horse.
Belief 2: As someone concerned about the environment, I believe that growth, as most people understand it, is unsustainable at anything like recent rates. Sure, more efficient technologies can reduce the environmental impacts of each unit of consumption, but unless we halt or limit growth severely, we’ll continue to do serious damage. There are some possibilities for switching to less damaging technologies or changing consumption patterns away from goods whose production causes serious damage, but the transition times are likely to be long and the environmental crisis is urgent.
Some people have played environmental fear like a Steinway. We are now in the process of calling all bluffs and fact-checking a few clowns. Why not wait until all the raw data are validated, and the models have a bit more review? It may well prove the case that these Lefty guilt-mongers are so full of hooey as to be overflowing.
Belief 3: Some parts of the world are just too poor to eschew growth. People in those parts of the world need more stuff just to lift them out of absolute poverty. It is morally urgent to lift everyone above the threshold where they can live decent lives. If anyone should get to grow their consumption absolutely, it needs to be those people, not us.
Look, you can’t care about the environment, and spread the guilt about economic growth, and then turn a blind eye to the purported deleterious effects, just because the effects land on a foreign country. Such ‘situation ethics’ are laughable. How condescending, bordering on raaaaacist, is it to permit ‘the other’ to live in economic squalor, just so they can ‘grow’?
Actually, you can, if you hate markets.
Belief 4: The relative (and sometimes absolute) poverty that some citizens of wealthy countries suffer from is abhorrent, and is inconsistent with the status equality that ought to hold among fellow-citizens of democratic nations. We ought to lift those people out of poverty.
How can you rate the abhorrence without context? What if people are, you know, happy where they are, e.g. the Amish? What if, like Iceland, the people, wittingly or no, supported untenable policies?
One is tempted to wonder if Bertram agrees with what I feel is the Most Risible Statement Ever By A Public Figure:
Do some believe any government implementing the rule of law can provide the answers to the ultimate existential questions? If so, then, it probably follows that such a government could provide all the stimulus, environmental management, growth, and wealth that anyone needs.
As a reader of this blog, you might have already glommed onto the fact that government is not god. Government isn’t even demi-god. Government maintains problems, while nattering on about solving them.
But the Bertrams will always be with us. Rather than taking initiative and doing, somebody will always be moaning about getting the government to pass a law and using force. See Buffet on paying more taxes. We must accept the Bertrams. As we care about preserving the country, we must keep the mockery heaped upon these anti-capitalistic ideas, and seek to minimize their impact on the market.
Sorry, Bertram: your contradictions will plague you until you fix your assumptions about the rightful place of government.
Obama thinks it’s OK for government to risk taxpayer money on business ventures that he deems worthy of investment. But he’s outraged at the suggestion that younger Americans be allowed to have more control over the allocation of their own tax dollars.
This derives from the liberal belief that a central authority run by experts will spend money intelligently (in the case of Solyndra, by jump-starting alternative energy), whereas individuals will act irresponsibly if left to their own devices (in the case of Social Security reform, by blowing their retirement on personal accounts).