Uncommon Sense

politics and society are, unfortunately, much the same thing

America needs less statism

The Hillsdale Collegian recently published an opinion piece by Kate Patrick titled “Hillsdale needs a little more socialism.” Coming from Hillsdale College I found this title in the student newspaper quite curious and decided to read it. I found myself a bit shocked at the presumption reflected in the piece, given the sorts of things taken for granted in order to promote socialism, especially in relation to the philosophy at Hillsdale College. So I stayed up a bit late to comment on their website. Below is an updated version of those comments.

Quite an ironic piece, here. I’d like to address several points about John Strinka’s comments and about Kate Patrick’s framing of the issue. (Note: I am neither a Hillsdale student or alumnus. I don’t personally know anyone who attends or works at Hillsdale. I am merely a passerby. My knowledge of Hillsdale College is limited to some resources Hillsdale makes available to the general public.)

First, the opening Strinka comments in Patrick’s article lament how socialism tends to be misrepresented. The irony in this first quote is that the bulk of Mr. Strinka’s comments on capitalism are a gross misrepresentation of it. And this is no accident, Mr. Strinka’s pointedly anti-capitalist perspective is riddled with a rosy colored picture of socialism and government.

According to Patrick, Strinka says “Capitalism [teaches] that humans are commodities to be bought and sold.” If that’s his opinion, I’d like to offer a similar swipe at socialism for comparison. If I stated “socialism teaches that people are cogs in a social machine, and not really people but merely demographics”, I imagine Mr. Strinka and many socialists would object to such description. But policies promoted by socialists and their lauded remedies to society’s ails often seem like this is precisely what big government statists (socialists) believe. If Mr. Strinka insists his complaint about capitalism is accurate, I likewise insist my description of socialism is accurate.

Another Strinka quote: “At this point in American history, corporations can buy government policy.” That’s nothing new, and it was praised as a grand thing when the railroad began asking for government intervention to curtail competition from the trucking industry, and it is lauded today when corporate interests harm the competition under the guise of helping people. Under the pretense of fairness and protecting people, government has gladly embraced corporate entanglements – because these types of entanglements allow government to grab more power.

So what’s the problem with that? I believe P. J. O’Rourke said it best: “When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.” And he’s exactly right. Government regulation of industry invites, nay, begs for industry to attempt to leverage such intervention to its favor. The very thing government regulation of industry is supposedly meant to cure ends up exacerbated by it instead. The Law of Unintended Consequences often raises its ugly head with the implementation of well intended policies trying to manipulate society.

Another comment from Strinka: “Democracy has been eaten up by corporate interests.” While I’ve admitted corporate interests have infected the political process (in no small part a self-inflicted problem by government itself) I notice Patrick includes nothing in her article from Strinka or anyone else about how political interests have infected business, education, health care, the environment, national security, national defense, the IRS, the interpretation of the Constitution, and on and on. Democracy has also been eaten up by political interests.

Another comment from Strinka: “We see a free-market system that has failed to distribute the goods”. The sad fact is, no one knows such a thing. There are very few people alive today who have ever seen capitalism or a free-market system at work. For generations Americans have seen only a hybrid of socialism and a free-market, with the pendulum swinging toward the former at an accelerating pace. As it stands, socialists and other Marxians conveniently blame all of society’s ails on anything other than government intervention.

After Patrick lends plentiful space to air Strinka’s misrepresentation of capitalism, she continues with some curious comments of her own.

I was expecting to find the term “crony capitalism” in this article, and I was not disappointed. The definition of crony capitalism Patrick offers is, to no surprise, one from a rather socialistic perspective. You’ll notice in her article that crony capitalism is presented as only a capitalism problem. It is not. Crony capitalism is a capitalism AND a government problem. It can’t happen without both sides of the coin. The term is designed to misrepresent the problem in the first place. A more accurate label would be crony government. Simply calling it cronyism should suffice but it is more expedient to Marxians of all stripes to indoctrinate us all into thinking cronyism is exclusively a result of capitalism.

And there is further socialistic bias in the term crony capitalism. There is an implied assumption that without corporate interests, Democracy (in this context meaning government) would have no corruption, or at least wouldn’t have nearly as much. I find this rather hard to believe because behind this implication an even more fundamental yet flawed belief: money is evil and government is good.

Let me propose an idea. Actually, it’s not my idea, it’s a very well known axiom:

Money is Power

Effectively, at the end of the day, this is true. But the reverse is also true: Power is Money. And we all know what is said of power, and absolute power. Why is it then that Marxians see corruption in money but not in power? In the name of ridding the world of corruption, socialists see a problem with concentrated wealth and see concentrated power as the solution.

In this article we predictably see morality ascribed to wealth. But money and wealth have no morality – they are merely ideas and tools. Just as government has no morality, it is also an idea, but it tends to have more muscle behind it which is physically real. The only morality associated with wealth or power is that which people bring with them.

But where do Marxians typically focus their concern about corruption? At capitalism, not at government. Notice one of Patrick’s own comments: “Without proper regulation, the rich and powerful do what they want, according to Strinka.” Who is getting the blame for corruption in that statement? I submit this statement is not intended to make the reader think of government, but only of capitalism; to make people suspicious of freedom.

Another of Patrick’s own comments: “After all, it was improperly regulated capitalism that got us into the ugly state we’re in now.” Do we really know that or do we find the conviction of a love of big government here? How do we know it wasn’t government intervention itself that got us into the ugly state we’re in now? Among those not blinded by a love of government, there is plenty of evidence to suggest it was in fact government intervention that caused many problems we’re experiencing today.

Faithful statists have been lead to believe such allegations against government have been proven false, even though they haven’t. But there is such profound support for big government in politics and in the news media that repeating this lie has done its job.

Patrick does offer a token admission that socialism has its flaws. Unfortunately in today’s political discourse, those who express concern for government corruption are often dismissed or marginalized as anti-government right wing extremists. The fact that government corruption is also a vast plague on society hardly appears to be a second thought among socialists. Government incompetence makes the situation even worse, but that is a discussion for another day.

And why do Marxians defend an ever increasing government goliath? Because they trust and prefer government. That is not capitalist propaganda, that is an overt sentiment proudly embraced by socialists who believe government is benevolent. One of the greatest concerns I have about intermingling compassion and government is that the socialist love of government almost always wins out over anything else. Given the choice between (1) helping people but doing so unequally vs (2) harming people but increasing some abstract fairness quotient, lovers of government (Keynesians, Marxists, Socialists, Communists, Fascists, etc.) would choose the latter. And yet we are supposed to think liberals of all stripes are compassionate people (who happen to define “sharing” as confiscation of wealth under threat of imprisonment and “helping” people as regulating away their freedom).

Socialists lament that capitalism intermingling with government leads to corruption, but the solution to this corruption is power. Concentrated wealth can be a bad thing but is concentrated power really the solution? Socialists, Marxists, Communists, and others who believe life can be made fair if only there are enough laws also tend to believe government knows best and that people need to be forced to do the “right thing”. The essence of government is the use of force so those who value freedom and civil liberties ought to be cautious (not eager) about the use of government power.

Seeking government intervention first is anti-American. Trusting government more than liberty looks like freedom-hating. Trusting government to regulate itself but mocking the idea of a self-regulating free-market looks like the attempt to destroy everything America stands for. Pretending the free-market means only corporations (in order to justify government taking more control) and ignoring the other half of the “free-market” equation (the people and their freedom to choose) is a severely misguided view and not one that leads to a better society.

This differing view between a statist, big government mentality and a limited government, big liberty mentality has divided Americans to a point of tremendous hostility. But it is not the pro-free-market voice that is causing this. The “small capitalism, caps on business size, widespread ownership of private property, and farm-centered communities” voice is by far the predominant one in the nation, if not (thankfully) at Hillsdale College. The pro-freedom voice is largely squelched all across the American plain. Hillsdale College is fighting an uphill battle. If the pro-freedom mentality at Hillsdale is a “bubble” it is not because Hillsdale insulates itself from views differing from those it prefers, it is because they are an air pocket trying to elevate a country sinking into a sea of statism. The big-government view lives in a bubble protecting itself from outside criticism. It can be found almost anywhere, save a few bastions of freedom such as Hillsdale College.

One last point. Capitalists and lovers of freedom would like to see a “divorce [between] big business and politics” just as socialists would. But capitalists do not seek the use of government policy to achieve it, or if they do it is only where absolutely necessary for government to get involved. Sound-minded capitalists (which are the vast majority of capitalists) are rightly concerned about corruption of government and business.

I would also like to see a divorce between compassion and government, as this is the single largest category of spending in the American government. If corporate money corrupts politics I humbly suggest political control of the social safety net is just as corrupting of American society if not more so. Strinka is not “reacting to capitalism gone wrong in American society”. He is reacting to a leftist, statist, government-knows-best distortion of capitalism. I would like to know Strinka’s opinion of real capitalism, but I doubt he’s ever actually seen it (none of us have).

I used to be an advocate of the laissez-faire free-market approach. I no longer adhere to a libertarian view of the market place. I now support a more conservative approach to the free-market, one which requires input from a sphere outside both economics and government. Neither a self-regulating market nor a state-regulated market will achieve the results any compassionate person ultimately desires. That requires a moral component not really found in either of these approaches. Dr. Ralph Ancil of the Roepke Institute makes a good argument for where to find the best solutions to society’s problems.

bias, bureaucracy, corruption, cronyism, culture, economics, education, elitism, freedom, government, ideology, nanny state, opinion, oppression, pandering, philosophy, politics, public policy, socialism, unintended consequences

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Filed under: bias, bureaucracy, corruption, cronyism, culture, economics, education, elitism, freedom, government, ideology, nanny state, opinion, oppression, pandering, philosophy, politics, public policy, socialism, unintended consequences

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