Friday, January 20, 2012

In Which I Try to Explain My Position on Economy and Welfare

Given the recent, minor exchange prompted by my distributivism post, I want to try and explain the bare handful of interested people what my positions on these things are.

I'll start with the short version: I view any perspective which  treats these questions as fundamentally legislative questions to be fundamentally mistaken.

And now for the long version. And I mean pretty long by this blog's standards.

First, socialism. It's probably no surprise to anyone who's actually heard me talk about this subject that I'm not a fan. I've seen too many times, firsthand, the sort of personal decay that is inevitably promoted by regarding some bureaucratic entity as owing people something. It produces ungrateful and frankly greedy, selfish people who become increasingly likely to reduce every tribulation that faces them to "someone (the government) should help me", and far less likely to view themselves as in any way responsible for or in control of their lives. I am frankly speaking from anecdotal experience here - I could rally all kinds of arguments, statistics and surveys to bolster my point, but the most compelling evidence has been what I've seen with my eyes and heard with my ears. People who think that, say... government welfare is an acceptable, even superior alternative to charity - and I mean direct, 'from my pocket to your hand' charity - are gravely mistaken.

"Prove it," you may say. "Piss off," I reply. I'm telling you what I think here, not proving my views are correct.

Now, that's socialism. So clearly if I dislike socialism - if I dislike the welfare state from social security to public schools to college loans to everything else - I must really love capitalism, right?

Well, yeah.

Partly right, anyway. But here's where things get more complicated.

See, I'm a Catholic. Not a particularly good one, but I do take it very seriously. It informs my thought. And I think any believing Christian would have to say that their Christianity informs their political views, from economic policy to social policy, no matter their particular sect or their personal failings.

The one great thing that capitalism promotes is self-reliance and self-responsibility. A very ideal capitalist system makes life easier for you - products are cheaper, perhaps jobs are more plentiful - but at the end of the day, no one's going to give you your food at no cost to you like they will under a socialist model. The tradeoff here is that, on capitalism alone, it's quite permissible for you and your family to crawl in some hole and starve to death.

Yes, fellow - fellow! - socialism haters, I'm very well aware of people starving to death under socialism. The difference is found in the patch notes, so to speak. Notify the admin of socialism that people are starving to death and the admin will always say, "That's a bug, we're trying to fix that." Notify the admin of capitalism that people are starving to death and the admin will say "This feature is working as intended." It doesn't matter, for the purposes of my discussion, whether more people will die under the socialist model, each and every time. I grant that.

Anyway, the point is that the capitalist - as a capitalist - has no concern if someone starves to death in poverty. Christians, however, are not at liberty to accept this. A starving man is a man who we believe should be fed, even if we may disagree on how that should come to pass. I probably don't need to tell anyone who's reading this that you don't need socialism, technically, to feed a starving man. (And of course, this starving man is just one example of where the capitalist as capitalist won't care. Ask a believing Catholic for an abortion and they'll rebuff you harshly. Ask a believing capitalist as capitalist and the response is to pull out a calculator and determine whether it will be a profitable venture.)

So, capitalism on its own will allow people to be ruined whether by their own bad choices or bad luck, and will permit (or even encourage) some rotten practices that Christians must oppose. So there's the argument for socialism, right? Well, to a degree, perhaps - insofar as, say, outlawing abortion is socialism, to give one example.

But here's the great thing about capitalism that so many people, even Christians, seem to forget. Because it's an individual-centric system, it allows each and every individual - in principle - to make their own decisions about how they conduct their businesses and lives. Hence, Tom Monaghan can engage in philanthropy if he so chooses. If a pro-choice organization wants to rent property he owns to hold a pro-choice rally, he can - ideally - tell them to go to hell.

Let's spell it out: the great thing about capitalism is that you don't always have to do the most profitable thing. And for any believing Christian, doing the most profitable thing at all times and in all situations is intolerable. Christ and Christ's teachings are supposed to be the overriding factor in one's life, and no one can say with a straight face that the Christian thing to do is always the most economically profitable thing to do. So, on a personal, individual level, I'm free to impose whatever standards I like on myself. And many Christian capitalists, I am sure, do this.

But, Christianity is not wholly personal. It was not sufficient for William Wilberforce himself not to own slaves. By Christian teaching, he had to discourage others - anyone and everyone, in fact - from owning slaves as well. Put aside for the moment that Wilberforce accomplished this through force of law, because that's not what I'm getting at here. The point is that Christianity is not a stoic, personal faith, where all that matters is what I do, and what my neighbors do doesn't concern me. If they're doing something rotten to someone else - say, like owning slaves - it's my business. Why, if they're doing something rotten to themselves, it's still my business.

So, we're back to socialism, right?

Well, no, we're not. Because everyone seems to ****ing forget that there are ways to accomplish things without passing a law, or arguing about law. We can persuade through personal appeal. We can persuade through culture. Through argument and reason. Through emotion. All manner of options are available to us.

And that means, when someone accumulates 90 billion dollars through their own hard work, brilliance and ingenuity, and there are people who through no fault of their own can't afford socks, we cannot and should not somehow view it as immoral to make a personal appeal to the billionaire to help the sockless schmuck get something on his feet.

Let me stress something here: it is not socialism to make a personal appeal like this. Encouraging someone to donate their money is not theft, so long as it's not the wrong kind of coercive. Boycotting a company because you dislike how the person who owns that company spends or does not spend their money is not socialism, and as near as I can tell it is to be encouraged under Christian thought given the right situations.

Yet, this sort of thinking seems to be absent from so many Christian capitalists. They seem to think that their economic considerations begin and end at fighting socialism and promoting capitalism, and either do not then turn around and talk about what sort of economic, voluntary culture we should promote, or they don't do it nearly enough. The impression I get is that one reason for this is because there's a tendency to regard the whole thing, if not as socialism itself, as a stepping stone to socialism. If a group of people - even fellow Christians - think a person should or should not spend their money a certain way, and it's important enough to press them on this even as one (or a group of) free citizen to another, then you're on the path to coercing them to do this through force of law. Or so it seems the reasoning goes.

If the price of a commitment to capitalism is never applying any coercion whatsoever to any wealthy party to voluntarily do or not do something with their money, then as near as I can tell the price is too high for a Christian to pay. Now, I don't believe this is the price - not at all. But if it was, then to hell with it.

So where does this leave me? Well, it leaves me in a ridiculous minority of economic thought. I oppose socialism except in the most necessary of circumstances. But I regard capitalism as a woefully incomplete economic position - one that must be supplemented through personal and collective action, detached from legal obligation. I realize that this means a whole lot of work. Everyone, capitalist and socialist alike, Christian and not, thinks in terms of laws, laws, laws nowadays. Every problem is, ultimately, a government problem - even if the problem is that there's too much government. No one seems to focus on what individuals and communities should do.

I could say a lot more, but I've already said too much. Hopefully, though, this does a good job of explaining what my position is on broad economic questions.

tl;dr version - Socialism sucks, Capitalism is preferable but incomplete, and 'completing capitalism' is a question of personal, collective and cultural action and responsibility, rather than a question of "let's pass more laws and argue about government". This is the perspective that informs just about all of my political thought.


IlĂ­on said...

It seems to me that your objection to capitalism -- much like that of the open socialists and the crypto-socialists (i.e. the "distributionists" and "subsidariasts", etc, etc, etc) -- is that people may, and some obviously do, exercise their freedom in ways of which you disapprove.

Your objection is, ultimately, as absurd as that of the socialists; fortunately you don't take it to the absyrd extreme that they do.

the WV for this post is "mantra"

Crude said...

Well, where did I go wrong here? Yes, some people will do things I disapprove of, and which I think are contrary to Christian teaching. Therefore, even if I don't pass a law against them, I have a duty to try and persuade them not to do what they're doing. I also have a duty to challenge the culture, to try to influence people to prioritize where they spend their money and how.

Where's the part you disagree with?

Crude said...

To add to this: you say my 'objection to capitalism'. But where did I even phrase it as an objection, so much as pointing out the obvious? 'Under unfettered capitalism, you can behave like an immoral/amoral prick. In fact it may benefit you to do so.' Do you deny this is the case?

I didn't say, "Therefore, we need socialism." I pretty much ran in the opposite direction from that. So I don't even see what criticism you have of me.