Sammy on What Capitalism Needs, Cactus in Agreement and Extending on the Same Theme
This post is by Sammy…
This editorial reflects the angst often expressed on this blog, only it’s from the conservative side:
Conservatives have to come to terms with the fact that capitalism, in its current form, undermines not only the virtues necessary to the kind of society conservatives claim to want, but ultimately risks subverting itself.
Capitalism is an ingenious system for increasing material prosperity. It succeeded historically because the free market is the most rational device for meeting human wants and needs. It also thrived because it rewarded creativity and industriousness, and encouraged both qualities. And the most prosperous people under capitalism tended to be those who understood the value of self-denial and delayed gratification.
Today, however, capitalism is defined not by a producer mentality but by a consumer ethos. The prosperity we see is in some respects a mirage, purchased with a credit card. According to U.S. government statistics, the personal savings rate recently dipped into negative territory for the first time since 1933. Consumers are buying more and more stuff we can’t afford. When bills come due, the whole pyramid scheme stands to collapse.
Our consumerist economy depends on people’s inability to discipline their consumption. The best consumer sees no reason why he shouldn’t have what he wants, right now. The best consumer, in other words, exists in a perpetual state of childishness.
This reminds me of ancient Rome:
Democracy requires virtue. So does a healthy capitalism. A nation that cannot govern its own appetites will, in time, be unable to govern itself. An economy that divorces economic activity from the restraining virtues that make for good stewardship will implode.
Socialism is not the answer. But we can’t pretend that our prosperity does not present us with serious civic problems. Consumer capitalism contains within its unfolding dynamic the seeds of its own destruction, to say nothing of the way it chews up traditional loyalties to faith, family, community and place.
You guys think big government is the answer. I disagree. But as of now, I don’t have a different answer.
This one was by Sammy.
Cactus here… I can’t speak for anyone else, but here’s what I think is the answer:
Enforcement of laws. No matter how big or small one thinks the government should be, it is hard to argue that setting the rules and enforcing them is the domain of anyone but the government. We give a monopoly on violence to the government in order that there be rules to make an orderly society possible.
Such enforcement has to extend to everyone. That includes those in government, and those who come from the right families, have fatter wallets, or are celebrities. When average people see that there are protected classes that can cheat with impunity, their interest in maintaining the status quo by not cheating themselves goes away.
Such enforcement requires both punishment and mercy. But if the mercy is reserved for protected classes, the system breaks down.
But as I write this, it occurs to me that there is something else that is needed, and it doesn’t come from government (though a leader might inspire it), it comes from us. See, there are many things that are not illegal, but which cause a lot of damage. There are the actions of the hacks and bamboozlers – something I often rant about. They lead us down paths we should not take, paths that even the hacks and the bamboozlers knew we shouldn’t take. There are liars and the rumor-mongers, whose slander creates the impression of injustice even when that injustice does not exist. And then there are the folks dedicated to finding technicalities around the rules, subverting the purpose and all of the benefits of a civilized society.
These things cannot be combated by government. They have to be combated by us. We have to encourage honest disagreement, and yet still turn our backs in disgust when the Harvard professor or the business school dean or the senior fellow or the TV show host walk into a room because grifters cannot be tolerated. We have to encourage the spread of information, but still turn, even to those with whom we generally agree, and say, “No sir, much as I would like to believe it, your facts are wrong” when they repeat a falsehood, whether on purpose or inadvertently. These are things we all have to do, and all fail to do often enough.
Correction… added the word “not” before “illegal.”