Monday, December 19, 2011

Capitalism and the Right to Rise

Jeb Bush has penned a minifesto concerning economic opportunity that is worth giving a good think.  He argues that while freedom entails the risk of failure, statism ensures the certainty of stagnation.  In his opinion, the opportunity to succeed, even with the attendant downside of possible failure, is preferable to the certitude of gradual but inevitable demise.

Noman adds that earthly hope lies in freedom and the growth--personal, moral and economic--that derives from its exercise.  Hope cannot lie in a certitude destined to elude temporal, contingent beings in a world marked by limitation, or in false promises that no society can afford to keep.  

Human ingenuity is the only unlimited resource.  It is thus wise for society to foment its use and application.  It lifts humanity's material prospects.  It engages the person and enables his development, as well as society's.  Ultimately, it requires breathing room to operate, and freedom to fail in order to succeed.
The right to rise doesn't seem like something we should have to protect.  But we do. We have to make it easier for people to do the things that allow them to rise. We have to let them compete. We need to let people fight for business. We need to let people take risks. We need to let people fail. We need to let people suffer the consequences of bad decisions. And we need to let people enjoy the fruits of good decisions, even good luck.  That is what economic freedom looks like. Freedom to succeed as well as to fail, freedom to do something or nothing. People understand this.

Mayors, county chairs, governors and presidents never think their laws will harm the free market. But cumulatively, they do, and we have now imperiled the right to rise.

Woe to the elected leader who fails to deliver a multipoint plan for economic success, driven by specific government action. "Trust in the dynamism of the market" is not a phrase in today's political lexicon.  Have we lost faith in the free-market system of entrepreneurial capitalism? Are we no longer willing to place our trust in the creative chaos unleashed by millions of people pursuing their own best economic interests?
We either can go down the road we are on, a road where the individual is allowed to succeed only so much before being punished with ruinous taxation, where commerce ignores government action at its own peril, and where the state decides how a massive share of the economy's resources should be spent. 
Or we can return to the road we once knew and which has served us well: a road where individuals acting freely and with little restraint are able to pursue fortune and prosperity as they see fit, a road where the government's role is not to shape the marketplace but to help prepare its citizens to prosper from it.
This question of government's role seems to be the salient one.

Most conservatives understand that "too hell with the losers" is not a sufficient response to the question of what to do with those who cannot care for themselves.  But, it is a non sequitur to leap from a need to help others to a federal program to address that need.

Compassion that operates through bureaucracy is ineffective, futile, wasteful and illusory--in a word, phony.  People, qua taxpayers, are fed up paying for federal compassion because it doesn't work except for those who get hired, unionize and are able to convert others' need into their gain.  The incentives are all wrong.  It is a wearisome scam.

Compassion is first and foremost a personal virtue, albeit one with social ramifications.  As such, it operates through persons, or not at all.  That is not to deny that phony social compassion can do some good.  It is to say that there are inevitably better and less costly ways of achieving the same good without all the deleterious side affects, i.e., dependence, entitlement, resentment, stagnation, public bankruptcy.

Whether people choose to manifest their concern through family, church, neighborhood, club, league, association, or not at all, is a matter of hundreds of millions of people to decide over-and-over again on a daily basis.  That is as it should be.  It obliges personal responsibility for one's action and inaction, enables people to act in accordance with their own preferences and commitments, and builds accountability into the system.  It requires recipients and intermediaries alike to behave responsibly towards donors, something lacking in the taxpayer-government relationship.

If government is involved, it should be controllable at the lowest, most local level.  Big government plays a legitimate role by fostering heart-expanding activities, e.g., large families, strong churches, not by trying to muscle private initiative out of the service equation, or co-opt it with string-attached funding so as to assume a hegemonic role.
In short, we must choose between the straight line promised by the statists and the jagged line of economic freedom. The straight line of gradual and controlled growth is what the statists promise but can never deliver. The jagged line offers no guarantees but has a powerful record of delivering the most prosperity and the most opportunity to the most people. We cannot possibly know in advance what freedom promises for 312 million individuals. But unless we are willing to explore the jagged line of freedom, we will be stuck with the straight line. And the straight line, it turns out, is a flat line.

Freedom for 312 million individuals is not tantamount to freedom for 312 million autonomous, isolated beings.  That mythical creature is the perversion of classical liberal insights, and the invention of sexual revolutionaries and abortionists.

True, we are all in the same boat together.  But, we do not have to effectuate our responsibilities to each other through the agency of government.  That is merely one possible way, and the least preferable.

In an ideal world free of ignorance, self-interest, laziness, dishonesty, opportunism and power-lust--in other words, free of original sin, the root cause of agency costs--cost spreading solutions across the largest possible population would be ideal.  But, in a world of fallen human nature, Leftist ideologues, class warfare, sexual vice, avaricious opportunism and public servants who look with envy and greed at private sector (i.e., productive) counterparts--in other words, in the world we live in--forget it.

Mandatory cost spreading simply foments favor seeking, lobbying, bribery, corruption, self-seeking, political intrigue, and a permanent class of bureaucratic overlords.  No thank you.  From now on, Noman would prefer to try another way.

The American experiment in ordered liberty presupposes and depends upon a vibrant subjectivity of society, i.e., one filled with intermediate associations such as strong families, vibrant churches and flourishing private associations.  As federal government works to eradicate the right to rise in the name of everyone's paying their fair share, it also works to marginalize intermediate associations.  Noman would rather eradicate or marginalize big government, and so preserve the right to rise, fall, prosper, suffer, and live like a free man.

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