Saturday, November 3, 2007

Be Afraid. Be Very, Very Afraid.

Following the LGM links to some of the best blog posts evah!, I discovered this very nice summary of David Frum's conservatism (and not his alone):
What ‘offends’ conservatives about the welfare state is that it is economically inefficient: it destroys value by systematically encouraging masses of people to behave in reckless, value-destroying ways, which ultimately hurts those masses themselves. The cost of maintaining the safety net eventually frays even the satefy net, and then you’ve got nothing. Of course, this is putting the thesis rather crudely and ignoring numerous variants. But never mind that. It turns out economic inefficiency isn’t what ‘offends’ conservatives after all, at least not Frum.

“The great, overwhelming fact of a capitalist economy is risk. Everyone is at constant risk of the loss of his job, or of the destruction of his business by a competitor, or of the crash of his investment portfolio. Risk makes people circumspect. It disciplines them and teaches them self-control. Without a safety net, people won’t try to vault across the big top. Social security, student loans, and other government programs make it far less catastrophic than it used to be for middle-class people to dissolve their families. Without welfare and food stamps, poor people would cling harder to working-class respectability than they do not.”

The thing that makes capitalism good, apparently, is not that it generates wealth more efficiently than other known economic engines. No, the thing that makes capitalism good is that, by forcing people to live precarious lives, it causes them to live in fear of losing everything and therefore to adopt – as fearful people will – a cowed and subservient posture: in a word, they behave ‘conservatively’. Of course, crouching to protect themselves and their loved ones from the eternal lash of risk precisely won’t preserve these workers from risk. But the point isn’t to induce a society-wide conformist crouch by way of making the workers safe and happy. The point is to induce a society-wide conformist crouch. Period. A solid foundaton is hereby laid for a desirable social order.

Let’s call this position (what would be an evocative name?) ‘dark satanic millian liberalism’: the ethico-political theory that says laissez faire capitalism is good if and only if under capitalism the masses are forced to work in environments that break their will to want to ‘jump across the big top’, i.e. behave in a self-assertive, celebratorily individualist manner.
This dovetails very nicely with the Randian only-an-ubermensch-can-succeed-in-business silliness. The two conspire in that they apply to completely different people: the poor get the fearful conformity, the rich get the fearless individualism.

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