Tag Archives: Fascism

The Free Market

“The freedom to trade is derived from the freedom to own property. The freedom to own property is derived from the freedom to own ourselves. When you take away the Free Market you take away self-ownership.” – Anthony Freeman

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Capitalism! Capitalism is an alternative to what we have now. I highly recommend it.” – Jim Grant

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TSA asks woman to prove her breast pump is real at Lihue Airport

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Who Is “We”?

One of the beliefs that most distinguished the fascists, Nazis, and communists of the 20th century was their organic view of society. Proponents of all three ideologies thought of society as an organism – and of each of you, dear readers, as simply a cell in some part of the organism. And just as our cells have no importance outside their ability to serve our whole body, in the aforementioned three ideologies, our whole beings had no importance aside from their ability to serve the whole society. So, of what value was the individual? He was simply a tool for the ends of others, none of whom have importance either because they, also, were tools. And if society was an organism, then it made sense for the head to run things, right? Government was thought to be the head. And, of course, because there were many people within government, the true head was leader of the government – Mussolini, Hitler, and Lenin or Stalin.

Why is all this relevant to an article by “The Wartime Economist?” Because the organic view of society, though hostile to the basic principles of individual rights on which the United States of America were founded (I use “were” on purpose; “states” is plural) has crept into our language and has distorted much thinking on the issues of the day, including war. It is particularly important in discussions of war because people are more likely to fall into the trap of seeing war as a conflict between two organisms rather than what it is, a conflict between two governments that, in most cases, have dragooned their countries’ resources with little or no consent from their citizens. So, for example, most people who discuss U.S. foreign policy, including, distressingly, most libertarians, talk about what “we” did when it was, in fact, not you or I, but specific government officials, who took the actions they’re describing. They say, “We dropped the bomb on Hiroshima,” not “Harry Truman decided to send a small number of people in the military to drop a bomb on Hiroshima.” “The Japanese [or, more commonly, “the Japs”] bombed Pearl Harbor,” rather than “The Japanese government decided to send hundreds of pilots in airplanes to bomb Pearl Harbor.” Etc.

George Orwell wrote a famous essay, “Politics and the English Language,” and a famous novel, 1984, making the point that language really does affect thinking. In 1984, he focused on the fact that, without certain words, certain thoughts could not be expressed – thus the importance of the government’s “memory hole,” down which certain words went. In his “Politics” essay, Orwell also pointed out the other side: using words can affect how we think. And that is my point here. Specifically, if we use the word “we” to refer to what specific governments have done and will do in the future, we are adopting the organic view of society, which most definitely will affect how we think.

I saw this in a conversation my wife and I had recently with a well-traveled man we met while in San Antonio. In response to an innocent question about what his favorite place in the world was, he lit into an attack on George Bush and Bush’s foreign policy. At some points in his rant, he personalized the issue – for example, when he talked about “Bush’s war.” There’s nothing wrong with speaking that way: it is Bush’s war. But then he went on to say that the Sept. 11 attack was “self-inflicted.” It was a predictable result of the U.S. government’s meddling in the affairs of other countries, he said. Now, as it happens, I agree with this last statement. But he then went on to minimize the loss of 3,000 people on Sept. 11: what did the lives of 3,000 people matter when millions have been murdered throughout the world? That I don’t agree with. I thought then, and still think, that the loss was horrific and that the people who did it were among the most evil people in history. But that’s because I see each of the 3,000-plus people as an individual who matters. He doesn’t. Why? Because he has the organic view of society. Go back to his statement that the Sept. 11 attacks were “self-inflicted.” How did the young kid and the 40-something businessman on one of the flights inflict it on themselves? They didn’t. So, what did this man really mean? He meant that the U.S. government had helped to bring on the Sept. 11 attacks. But his organic view of society – society is an organism with government as the head – led him to say that the killings were “self-inflicted.”

The great tragedy of collectivism, the organic view of society, is that it makes people heartless – they become incapable of seeing the real losses and hurts inflicted on innocent people because they stop seeing them as individuals. The example above is one of someone who couldn’t see the hurt that individual innocent Americans suffered in the Sept. 11 attacks. Another example is how hard it is for Americans to see the hurt that the U.S. government inflicts on many foreigners. Two instances come to mind.

While reading a draft of one of my students’ thesis chapters a few years ago, I came across the statement, “Fewer than 150 people were killed in the 1991 Gulf war.” I wrote in the margin that the number killed was likely in excess of 100,000 people, three orders of magnitude higher than the number he mentioned. When we went over his chapter together, he said that when he wrote “people,” he had meant “Americans.” His mistake was an innocent one, but it was an innocent consequence of a selective collectivism: seeing Americans as individuals, but people of other societies – particularly ones living in countries on which the U.S. government had made war – as part of an organism.

My second example is like that of the man who thought Sept. 11 was “self-inflicted.” Kevin S., a Navy officer and former colleague of mine at the Naval Postgraduate School, was burned by fuel from the airplane that flew into the Pentagon on Sept. 11. It looked as if he wouldn’t live, but he did. It was a heroic story that was written up in his local Virginia newspaper. The article talked about his recovery and had me cheering for him and his spirit. But then the article stated that Kevin had contacted some of his buddies in the Air Force and asked them to write on one of the bombs to be dropped on people in Afghanistan, “Kevin sends.” As much as I sympathized with Kevin, I was equally sympathetic toward some of the people whom “Kevin’s” bomb would injure or kill, who were at least as innocent as he was. Unfortunately, Kevin’s collectivist thinking prevented him from distinguishing between those who had hurt him and those who had not.

Collectivism is the ugliest ideology in the world. It has been directly responsible for well over 100 million deaths in the 20th century. Let’s do our part by not participating in it, even – maybe especially – in our language. The only hope we have for a peaceful world is to hold guilty people responsible for their actions and to treat the innocent people in all countries as innocent. Let’s quit talking about governments whose horrific actions we detest as “we.”

Copyright © 2005 by David R. Henderson. Permission automatically granted to use in whole or in part as long as publication, author, and title are attributed.

We’re All Lawbreakers Now

Podcast with Lew Rockwell

Capitalism is the 99%

Real capitalism, free enterprise, puts far more economic power in the hands of the “99%” than a managed economy such the one that exists today.

In a free market the 99% is the market.

In the attached article Robert Bradley at the Institute for Energy Research makes this point nicely.

Click here for the article.

Thanks to Nick Sorrentino for this story.

Blaming Capitalism for Corporatism

From project-syndicate.org:

2012-01-31

NEW YORK – The future of capitalism is again a question. Will it survive the ongoing crisis in its current form? If not, will it transform itself or will government take the lead?

The term “capitalism” used to mean an economic system in which capital was privately owned and traded; owners of capital got to judge how best to use it, and could draw on the foresight and creative ideas of entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers. This system of individual freedom and individual responsibility gave little scope for government to influence economic decision-making: success meant profits; failure meant losses. Corporations could exist only as long as free individuals willingly purchased their goods – and would go out of business quickly otherwise.

Capitalism became a world-beater in the 1800’s, when it developed capabilities for endemic innovation. Societies that adopted the capitalist system gained unrivaled prosperity, enjoyed widespread job satisfaction, obtained productivity growth that was the marvel of the world and ended mass privation.

Now the capitalist system has been corrupted. The managerial state has assumed responsibility for looking after everything from the incomes of the middle class to the profitability of large corporations to industrial advancement. This system, however, is not capitalism, but rather an economic order that harks back to Bismarck in the late nineteenth century and Mussolini in the twentieth: corporatism.

In various ways, corporatism chokes off the dynamism that makes for engaging work, faster economic growth, and greater opportunity and inclusiveness. It maintains lethargic, wasteful, unproductive, and well-connected firms at the expense of dynamic newcomers and outsiders, and favors declared goals such as industrialization, economic development, and national greatness over individuals’ economic freedom and responsibility. Today, airlines, auto manufacturers, agricultural companies, media, investment banks, hedge funds, and much more has at some point been deemed too important to weather the free market on its own, receiving a helping hand from government in the name of the “public good.”

The costs of corporatism are visible all around us: dysfunctional corporations that survive despite their gross inability to serve their customers; sclerotic economies with slow output growth, a dearth of engaging work, scant opportunities for young people; governments bankrupted by their efforts to palliate these problems; and increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of those connected enough to be on the right side of the corporatist deal.

This shift of power from owners and innovators to state officials is the antithesis of capitalism. Yet this system’s apologists and beneficiaries have the temerity to blame all these failures on “reckless capitalism” and “lack of regulation,” which they argue necessitates more oversight and regulation, which in reality means more corporatism and state favoritism.

It seems unlikely that so disastrous a system is sustainable. The corporatist model makes no sense to younger generations who grew up using the Internet, the world’s freest market for goods and ideas. The success and failure of firms on the Internet is the best advertisement for the free market: social networking Web sites, for example, rise and fall almost instantaneously, depending on how well they serve their customers.

Sites such as Friendster and MySpace sought extra profit by compromising the privacy of their users, and were instantly punished as users deserted them to relatively safer competitors like Facebook and Twitter. There was no need for government regulation to bring about this transition; in fact, had modern corporatist states attempted to do so, today they would be propping up MySpace with taxpayer dollars and campaigning on a promise to “reform” its privacy features.

The Internet, as a largely free marketplace for ideas, has not been kind to corporatism. People who grew up with its decentralization and free competition of ideas must find alien the idea of state support for large firms and industries. Many in the traditional media repeat the old line “What’s good for Firm X is good for America,” but it is not likely to be seen trending on Twitter.

The legitimacy of corporatism is eroding along with the fiscal health of governments that have relied on it. If politicians cannot repeal corporatism, it will bury itself in debt and default, and a capitalist system could re-emerge from the discredited corporatist rubble. Then “capitalism” would again carry its true meaning, rather than the one attributed to it by corporatists seeking to hide behind it and socialists wanting to vilify it.