Chapter 1: Economics and Politics
“It may be that wary beasts of the forest come around to accepting the hunter’s trap as a necessary concomitant of foraging for food. At any rate, the presumably rational human animal has become so inured to political interventions that he cannot think of the making of a living without them; in all his economic calculations his first consideration is, what is the law in the matter? Or, more likely, how can I make use of the law to improve my lot in life? This may be described as a conditioned reflex. It hardly occurs to us that we might do better operating under our own steam, within the limits put upon us by nature, and without political restraints, controls, or subventions. It never enters our minds that these interventionary measures are placed in our path, like the trap, for purposes diametrically opposed to our search for a better living. We automatically accept them as necessary to that purpose.”
And this is from 1959, a time when many folks alive still remembered life without an intrusive government. While reading the passage, I couldn’t help but wonder what Chodorov would have to say about our current situation. And what of our current situation? I live in Ohio where many still remember life before the advent of the state income tax. Yet ask those folks to imagine life without the tax and the majority will come up short, unable to conceive of such a world. But that trap was set only 37 years ago. However, for the majority, acceptance of the vile and pernicious tax is now a “conditioned reflex.”
In this chapter, Chodorov correctly declares that economics is not politics. To begin the defense of this proposition, he notes that the science of economics has been subsumed by practice of politics. As the state grows by factors, the science of economics subdivides in proportion. Mainstream economics is now nothing more than the study of government interventions in the market, Not a study of the flaws of those interventions and impossibilities for their success, but a challenge to get the interventions right this time around.
So we have the economics of this and the economics of that. The economics of agriculture is somehow differentiated from the economics of international trade, as if the fundamentals of the science of economics are dependent on the subject at hand – a process that fits the politics of the day.
According to Chodorov: economics is not politics. “One is a science, concerned with
the immutable and constant laws of nature that determine the production and distribution of wealth; the other is the art of ruling. One is amoral, the other is moral.” Furthermore, “Economics, like chemistry, has nothing to do with politics.”
However, politics has intruded on the science of economics. Just witness the assumed truth – though false – that the president can improve the economy. Sure, Obama could work to reduce regulations, taxation, etc, but it is acting man alone who improves the economy – men and women freely choosing among scarce resources in order to achieve purely subjective ends. As Chodorov notes, “The assumption that economics is subservient to politics stems from a logical fallacy … that in controlling men the State can also bend [economic] laws to its will.” Nevertheless, “men labor in order to satisfy their desires.” They labor for no other reason. Certainly the state can hinder and enslave men, but a slave is “a poor producer because he is a poor consumer.”
And this is true regardless of time and geography. It is an immutable truth.
Chodorov observes that “in the long run every State collapses, frequently disappears altogether and becomes an archeological curio.” This is true since the state (qua virus) slowly robs its citizens (qua host) of lifeblood, energy, and ambition. In the end, and in all instances, “Society collapsed and drew the State down with it.”
The American state was birthed outside the traditions of Europe. It was nursed on the ideals of liberty, not the divine right of kings. The men responsible for the Constitution, for the most part, conceived of a state “surrounded with a number of ingenious prohibitions and limitations.” A state “condemned to get along on a meager purse.”
Nevertheless, this arrangement was challenged by those very same men once they got their first taste of power. Government grew, slowly at first, until it found the main artery – the one pumping the lifeblood of income. “The Sixteenth Amendment not only violated the right of the individual to the product of his efforts, the essential ingredient of freedom, but it also gave the American State the means to become the nation’s biggest consumer, employer, banker, manufacturer, and owner of capital.”
In 1959, Chodorov could write, “There is now no phase of economic life in which the State is not a factor, there is no enterprise or occupation free of its intervention.” Moreover, “The metamorphosis of the American State from an apparently harmless establishment to an interventionary machine as powerful as that of Rome at its height took place within a century and a half; the historians estimate that the gestation of the greatest State of antiquity covered four centuries; we travel faster these days.”
The 50 years since Chodorov wrote this book has seen an ever-increasing state, to the point that we may soon face, just like Rome, our own decline and fall. If the state continues to destroy wealth and the ability to produce wealth, society will collapse. In all similar instances, “Society, which flourishes only under a condition of freedom, collapsed first; there was no disposition to resist the invading hordes.”