Tuesday, March 02, 2010
A few days ago, one Arthur Kerschen of the Free Market Monument Foundation, sumbitted a comment to an old post here, "Are Principles Optional?" Most of it was lifted from his foundation's web site and that part of it follows, with all formatting removed and with my comments added in bold.
Principles of the Free Market (Draft Version)I was at first tempted simply to point out for comparison a far more elegant laying-out of principles by Ayn Rand, history's best philosophical defender of capitalism, but I realized that that would not be enough. Nevertheless, let's start with them, because they still get to the point.
1) Individual Rights: "We are each created with equal individual rights to control and to defend our life, liberty and property and to voluntary contractual exchange." Created? By whom? To attempt to base an argument for individual rights, capitalism, or anything else, on faith is to declare intellectual bankruptcy at the outset.
Does a fetus have a "right" to life or not? This question (and others like it) is relevant to capitalism on much more than the basis of whether abortion clinics should exist legally.
2) Limited Government: "Governments are instituted only to secure individual rights, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." True, if couched within a proper philosophical context. Otherwise, this verbiage is as meaningless as if a parrot had said it.
What are individual rights? In addition to the above question on abortion, do I have a "right" to own nuclear weapons if I can afford them?
3) Equal Justice Under Law: "Government must treat everyone equally; neither rewarding failure nor punishing success, or the benefits of the free market are lost." This is redundant if the government is truly protecting individual rights.
4) Spontaneous Order: "When individual rights are respected, unregulated competition will maximize economic benefit for society by providing the most goods and services possible at the lowest cost." The proper ethical justification for capitalism is egoism, not altruism. That said, members of a free society will, incidentally, have higher standards of living overall than those not living in a free society.
5) Private Ownership: "Private ownership is the only just and the most efficient way to preserve and utilize the natural resources of our world." See number four above.
6) Subsidiarity: "Larger organizations and governments derive their authority from the consent of smaller organizations, governments and individuals, and no authority should be granted to a larger organization that can be governed by a smaller one." So if the workers in a Toyota plant feel that they could "govern" their plant better than an international corporation can, does this mean the plant should be separated from Toyota? Before we start squabbling over a metric, what happened to Toyota's property rights?
What if a state imposes socialized medicine? Should the federal government intervene on behalf of the rights of physicians and patients? For that matter, what if the physicians decide they are no longer "subsidiary" to the state? This "principle" also sounds like an endorsement of anarchy.
It is not the size of government (or the fact that a government exists) that is a problem today, but its proper scope.
7) The Golden Rule: "Deal with others honestly and require honesty in return." What is honesty?
Many free market and political organizations have issued statements of principle. Everyone has a slightly different idea of exactly what the principles of the free market should be. The order in which they appear here is based roughly on the frequency with which these or similar principles are sighted [sic] as necessary for functioning free markets. The truth or falsehood of a principle is not a matter of popular vote or divine decree, but of adherence to the facts of reality and can be investigated only by reason.
Most statements of free market principles are more elaborate than these seven principles. We have attempted to reduce the principles of the free market to their minimal definition with scientific and legal precision. Philosophical rigor is what is needed here, as my various questions should indicate.
At a sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, one of the book salesmen asked me whether I could present the essence of my philosophy while standing on one foot. I did as follows:Implicit in the above is a systematic, hierarchical approach to philosophic ideas, of which politics occurs late in the game. Ayn Rand is such an able defender of capitalism because of her method of approaching ideas, which led her to discovering or fleshing out the many principles needed to provide a moral and practical defense of capitalism
1. Metaphysics Objective Reality
2. Epistemology Reason
3. Ethics Self-interest
4. Politics Capitalism
If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed" or "Wishing won’t make it so." 2. "You can't eat your cake and have it, too." 3. "Man is an end in himself." 4. "Give me liberty or give me death." [link dropped]
This is a point that many people sympathetic to capitalism miss, and which hamstrings them time and time again when they discover (or, against their wishes, it simply turns out to be the case) that principles they wrongly hold (or wish) to be compatible with capitalism turn out not to support it, attack it as immoral, or result in political developments that attack freedom outright.
Oddly, the first goal of this organization will be to carve the above principles "in stone and [mount them] on a hilltop for all to see so that they can never be forgotten."
What good would this do if said principles are wrong -- or not even wrong -- or not grasped by enough people to affect the overall trends of the culture? The membership of this organization would do well to spend less time carving stone and more time understanding the philosophical basis of capitalism or what they will create will be a tombstone rather than a monument -- which is no substitute for a fully free society anyway.