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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/15108/making-the-world-a-better-place/

Making the World a Better Place

December 23, 2010 by

If you haven’t listened to it, this talk by Jeffrey Tucker on “How to Improve Society” is excellent. He points out a phenomenon that a lot of us don’t really notice but that reveals itself as madness once you think about it. We venerate politicians and government officials, even going so far as to call them “public servants,” when most of their activity is wasteful, destructive, or superfluous. A lot of people vilify entrepreneurs and producers, even going so far as to call them “parasites,” when most of their activity is is what feeds us, clothes us, shelters us, warms us, and teaches us. We bite the hands that feed us while we kiss the hands that choke us.

In her ongoing series of books on “The Bourgeois Era,” Deirdre McCloskey is arguing that the source of modern economic growth is a rhetorical and cultural shift that has taken place over the last few centuries: commerce came to be given a degree of respect, or at least a reduction in contempt. People began to see production and exchange as something that was either outright virtuous or at the very least not self-evidently vulgar. A combination of changing culture and evolving institutions helped create modern economic growth.

Even for all of its successes, innovative, voluntary capitalism has its detractors. In spite of the horrors committed in its name, socialism still has its adherents. Their arguments are still demolished by the Mises and Hayek critiques of socialism. I recently reviewed G.A. Cohen’s Why Not Socialism? for The Freeman, and over the summer I wrote an article about Eugen Richter’s Pictures of the Socialistic Future that again takes up some of these themes. I’m teaching a course called “Classical & Marxian Political Economy” during Spring semester that will give me a chance to reexamine these issues in a new light. Like the law of comparative advantage before it, the Mises/Hayek critique of socialism is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.

{ 1 comment }

Phinn December 23, 2010 at 11:37 am

Here’s my short version of European history.

The rise of the bourgeoisie is commensurate with the decline of feudal serfdom. The idea that there could be a sphere of economic activity where voluntary relationships could occur was entirely new. It was unthinkable that a serf could declare that he wanted to choose another lord, but eventually it caught on that a person could choose the source of his wheat, flour, carpentry, baked goods, etc. There were severe limits on economic choice (guild restrictions as a barrier to entry), but the idea of working for money was new.

Economic liberty was slow to expand, but the ruling class tolerated it because it was like having a nuclear reactor in your back yard — economic freedom is always and everywhere immensely powerful and generates tremendous wealth very quickly. As long as the ruling class could capture and control that new form of wealth-generation, then it was willing to let it exist.

So, slavery-by-serfdom was gradually replaced with slavery-by-taxation. Instead of agricultural-slavery, it was replaced with money-slavery. This new form of slavery was more complex, more sophisticated, but essentially the power-relationship between producer and beneficiary, master and servant, was unchanged.

Eventually, the monarchies were replaced with corporations. The monarchies were mostly corporate by then anyway, but with the American Revolution, then the French Revolution, the corporate structure surrounding the monarchy decided they didn’t actually need the monarchy any more, and could just rule directly. This happened more neatly in the US than in other places, but the rise of the nation-state is really just a way of describing the incorporation of formerly-feudal power structures, and replacing them with officers and directors, which meant calling people “shareholders” (i.e., citizens) instead of “subjects.”

Rome went the same way, from feudal-style monarchies, to a corporate state, then back to a monarchical-style empire, then to dust. Greece, the Levant, China, Japan — all similar patterns, each a little different, but the main theme is the same. The ruling class wants the wealth that bourgeois (voluntary) economic relationships produce, but never want the bourgeoisie to be truly free of them.

The most desirable position of all (from the ruling class’s perspective) is to be the recipient of bourgeois wealth-generation, while avoiding the problem of allowing the bourgeoisie-class to get to the point of being so independent that it decides that rulers are less than worthless, and they try to kill you.

This is essentially the position that banks enjoy today — they operate as our de facto lords and masters, we pay them for the privilege of living our lives, and they have found a way to hide behind a front-line ruling/enforcement class that works for them, but has managed to convince a large number of people that the enforcers actually represent the bourgeoisie. To accomplish that, the enforcers had to develop very sophisticated skills at lying, since pro-statist propaganda is now their most important work product.

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