Setting Terms of Debate

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Have this guy free to create new marvels -- or have a bunch of busybodies chain us all down behind our backs? (Image via Pixabay.)
Writing for the the Foundation for Economic Education, economist Richard Ebeling writes an essay titled, "Socialism, Like Dracula, Rises Again from the Grave." Although the whole thing is worth a read, I think the most valuable point it raises pertains to how advocates of the capitalist alternative can make our cases. The example is negative, but it is part of the answer to what the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez seem to be doing, which is not quite as simple as shouting "free stuff!" just as people enter their voting booths. The below is the beginning of a section titled, "'Democratic Socialism' Means the Tyranny of the Meddler":
Since everything would be politicized with government involvement even more than currently in America to supply this promised "free" life of material post-scarcity existence, democratic decision-making would be extended to, well, everything. The [Democratic Socialists of America] says the U.S. Senate should be abolished, and the entire electoral process replaced with a system of proportional representation in more directly democratically elected bodies. There would be "civilian boards for various government services, program councils (at the national, state, and local levels) for those who receive government services, and municipal and state-level citizens assemblies that would be open to all that would be tasked with making budget decisions." [bold added]
Ebeling explores the implications of this further, noting that while most of us are busy with the work of our lives, the primary participants in these "civilian boards" would be "people with too much time on their hands possessing political and ideological axes to grind." (I recall reading that this happened during the height of the (initial phase of the) "occupy" movement, to the boards they used to run their encampments.) In other words, while the current crop of socialists are inviting people to imagine a utopia, Ebeling is improving their imaginations by grounding them in reality. As, I believe Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute once indicated in a podcast, many young voters support socialism because they mistakenly believe it will improve their lives personally -- an imperfectly selfish motive. Part of addressing this imperfection is to help some of these people see how their lives really will be affected personally, but long before the deadlier consequences of socialism begin setting in. (Although starvation and death are hazards, they seem far off to most voters, making it too easy for people like Bernie Sanders to plead that they aren't talking about the same thing as Soviet Russia -- or even Venezuela.)

Indicating the more immediate negative consequences is a good point of entry, but we can improve on this by recalling what Alex Epstein has said in The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels about the way people argue today: There is a strong tendency -- often by people on the left arguing against some aspect or benefit of capitalism -- to focus on the negatives to the near exclusion of the positives (e.g., honing in on the fact that petroleum use can cause pollution, but glossing over the numerous benefits of same). Debunking socialism is important, but we must remember that much of its momentum relies on taking for granted the many benefits of the capitalist aspects of our mixed economy. In addition to debunking socialism, we should also speak up for capitalism at relevant points, including by more directly appealing to self-interest. Furthermore, such more direct appeals ought to clarify, whenever possible, that the rational pursuit of self-interest (which most emphatically does not include taking things from other people) is virtuous.

As that last sentence demonstrates, there is great confusion about morality and politics in our culture today, to the point that advocates of the pursuit of happiness are practically dragged into a defensive posture at the outset, by the need to clarify basic terms. We have to learn how to quickly shift to offense, however, or we will allow ourselves to be defeated miss out on opportunities to win -- by making our case for justice and prosperity.

-- CAV

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