In Their Usual Corners

I’ve expressed reservations about Michael Moore’s upcoming movie on capitalism. My bet is that Moore will have come correct points about failures of capitalism as practiced which led to the financial crisis but he will also stick to his usual political views and fail to appreciate the many benefits of capitalism. The movie will also be attacked from the right–often by people who will stick to their longstanding views that treat capitalism more as a religion and fail to acknowledge any problems.

John Stossel argues that Michael Moore Gets It Wrong.  He falls back on quoting Reason which can be counted on to always cherry pick the facts to show that any problem is always caused by government intervention.

I have little use for those on the left or right who have a knee jerk reaction of defending their long-standing beliefs in such manners while ignoring any facts which show a need to revise their views. Rather than listening to either Moore or Stossel there are some other people I’d recommend here–all conservative or libertarian writers. I’m not saying they are always right, but I respect them for showing a willingness to revise their beliefs based upon the evidence. Such willingness to consider revise one’s views based upon the facts and changing situations also displays an essential component of true liberal thought.

Richard Posner, a long time supporter of the Chicago School, responded to the economic crisis by writing an excellent book, Capitalism in Crisis, which argues that the deregulation of the financial sector he previously supported did contribute to the crisis.

Bruce Bartlett, a former adviser to Ronald Reagan, has written The Next Economics which argues that:

economic theories that may be perfectly valid at one moment in time under one set of circumstances tend to lose validity over time because they are misapplied under different circumstances. Bartlett makes a compelling, historically-based case for large tax increases, once anathema to him and his economic allies.

Stossel argues about this quotation:

The wealthy, at some point, decided they didn’t have enough wealth. They wanted more — a lot more. So they systematically set about to fleece the American people out of their hard-earned money.

On one level Stossel is right that this sounds ridiculous. Most people strive do obtain more wealth and you cannot fault the wealthy on this alone. Ultimately Stossel is the one who is ridiculous in stressing the wrong points and instead I would suggest the works of former Republican strategist Kevin Phillips. His books in recent years have shown where the Republicans have gone wrong, including how they have used government to transfer the wealth (and fleece the American people out of their hard-earned money).

The transfer of wealth which Phillips writes about is from the middle class to the ultra-wealthy. Such actions by Republicans  could be used as an example by libertarians of a problem caused by government, but in this case many libertarians back the Republicans on economics and are blind to this. Of course there are exceptions, such as Will Wilkinson who has written, “the great success of the GOP over the last eight years has been to destroy the reputation of free markets and limited government by deploying its rhetoric and then doing the opposite.”

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3 Comments

  1. 1
    Eclectic Radical says:

    The problem is that there really are no genuine ‘economic laws.’ There are economic tendencies which have value when studied and remembered, but they must be applied on a case by case basis because ‘markets’ are not real entities, merely collections of disparate individuals with competing goals whose motivations and ethical decisions are variable. Classical capitalism would function perfectly if people really knew their best interest at all times, communism would function perfectly if people really were altruistic and fair-minded in nature, anarcho-capitalism might function to some degree if classical capitalism really worked the way it is supposed to.
     
    I’m a strong advocate of capitalist economic structure, but also of socialist government policy. There really needs to be a balance between the ability of the economy to generate wealth and the ability to society to use that wealth to provide for its needs.
     

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    While I would tilt more towards capitalism than Communism in its true utopian form, neither can be taken as a religion. While adherence to Communism was far more dangerous than adherence to total laissez-faire capitalism, I agree neither can apply as a true law of nature.

    Capitalism generally works, but for markets to work there needs to be some regulation. In some cases, such as health care, free markets create problems which must be addressed.

  3. 3
    Eclectic Radical says:

    Well, the failure of communism in practice was as much because communist principles were never actually properly applied to the Soviet experiment as it was that utopian communist principles were deeply mistaken about basic human nature. The doctrine most damaging to the Soviet Union was not Marxist at all, but one Trotsky borrowed from Rousseau’s writings about democracy… that the final will of the people, expressed by the state, was more important than the individual rights of citizens. This theory was adopted by the French and Bolshevik revolutions with disastrous consequences.
     
    It was also shared by Jefferson, who believed that pure democracy would always lead to the correct and moral decision and that the resulting will of the people was more important than any other consideration of rights or equality.
     
    I am not trying to argue in favor of communist economic or political systems, I consider Marxism, syndicalism, anarcho-socialism, and anarcho-communism to all be impossible to implement. However, the NFL, Saturn (before GM purchased it back from the employees), various agricultural cooperatives, and some other examples have shown that ‘communist’ ownership structures can function very well in a capitalist economy.
     
    Eurocommunism in France, Germany, and Scandinavia has shown that socialist principles can be very useful in a fundamentally capitalist and democratic economic and political setting.
     
     

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