Once you get any kind of distance out of the conservative/libertarian enclave, one of the first things you notice about it is the patronizing tone. A good example of this is one of Doug Wilson’s recent posts, on how N. T. Wright answered a question. Wright was saying that the alliance between conservative theology and conservative politics is a unique trait of American Christianity.
Wilson admitted this was the case as an historical fact, but took issue with whether this meant that the American alliance is wrong. Obviously, as a good libertarian, Wilson thinks we ought to pony up to capitalism and embrace the political right. In so doing, he reveals this patronization (not to mention a good deal of arrogance) typical of all libertarians. Here are a few offerings.
“It is good that we are saved by grace, and not by works. If it were by works, our economic incompetence would leave a bunch of us hosed.”
Obviously, these guys are the other guys, those icky leftists.
“When Jesus taught us to feed the poor, instead of turning their place of habitation into a desolation, this necessarily excludes every form of Keynesianism.”
“We might conclude, for example, that Jesus doesn’t care what our economic policies are, so long as we love Him. Or we might decide that those who are conservative in their economics need to quit it, and become progressive, because that’s what Jesus wants. Or we might go the other way, and say that the progressives ought to become conservatives, also in the name of Jesus. The correct answer, boys and girls, is the last one.”
“All such meddling is economic stupidity, and God did not tell His people to fan out over the globe, doing stupid things to people.”
“If the world’s poor could be fed with leftist ignorance of economics, the world would have been satiated generations ago.”
Yes, anyone who is not a libertarian is ignorant of economics. Gosh, those darn leftists sure are stupid. Can’t they crack a book once in a while? Not only is this supremely unhealthy, not only does this merge affirmation of the gospel with the gospel of libertarian economics and conservative politics, but it betrays just the sort of parochial attitude which Wilson suspects his opponents view him as holding. Yes, well spotted. It is parochial to confuse one’s own opinion with an absolute claim on “the way the world works.” When Wilson says “leftists don’t understand economics,” what he really means to say is that “a number of other people don’t agree with the economic model I have chosen to self-identify with.”
It is also remarkable how much at odds such an understanding is with what seems to be what is going on in the world today. (And please notice that I did not say, “Wilson doesn’t understand economics at all.”) But to claim that the real world supports libertarian economics is a highly questionable assertion, one that must remain an assertion because he assumes the correctness of his position and therefore any problems in the world must be created by the other guy. Now, I have no love for Keynsianism personally, but as John Medaille (Toward a Truly Free Market) points out repeatedly, capitalism doesn’t work.
What, precisely, does a capitalist mean when he says that capitalism works? Simply this: that the capitalist system can provide a relatively stable and prosperous economic order without a lot of government interference in the market. That is to say, capitalism is basically self-regulating and needs no outside force, such as government , to balance supply and demand and ensure prosperity.
Yet, this has been repeatedly shown not to be the case.
the plain fact of the matter is that capitalism cannot function without government interference. Capitalism relies on an expanded state to balance aggregate supply and demand. Consider this fact: in the period from 1853 to 1953, the economy was in recession or depression fully 40 percent of the time. Since 1953 the economy has been in recession only 15 percent of the time.
That is to say, when Keynsianism was introduced into the economy in 1953, it was done in order to stabilize the inherently unstable capitalism that preceded it. And at this Keynsianism worked effectively, or at least effectively enough. The implications are numerous, including that so long as we want to have a capitalist system, we must be prepared to accept larger government, and Keynsian economics, which works to stabilize our economy. To put it another way: libertarians claim to want less regulation and unfettered capitalism given free reign, but the reality is that such a move actively destabilizes our market system and causes problems for everyone. To put it yet another way: capitalism itself depends for its existence upon large government, its practices actively grow and expand government, and it causes the problems with which our system is currently plagued. In short, it does the opposite of what its claimants say it will do.
Why do they keep saying it, then? Because the capitalist ideology depends upon theoretical operations of economic “laws of nature” just the same as laws of gravity or physics or mathematics. Wilson is at odds with his great Austrian instructors when he says that we can just look around and see the glories and effectiveness of capitalism around us. Ludwig von Mises, the founder of modern Austrianism, wrote
The economist does not base his theories upon historical research, but upon theoretical thinking like that of the logician or the mathematician. … he does not learn directly from history.” (von Mises, Ultimate Foundations of Economic Science, p. 73)
So much for falsifiability and concrete historical observation. Such abstractionism is blind to the world, so naturally we have difficulty convincing him that his theories do not work in practical application. The theory seems sound, they say, so the problems must come from interference. It couldn’t possibly be that capitalism is a failure and has to be subsidized by government spending and Keynsianism in order to simply continue functioning. Wilson says he has opposed crony capitalism from the start, which is all well fine and good, but the most pressing question does not seem to be one he has seriously asked himself.
Is it possible that all capitalism is crony capitalism? Is it possible that Medaille is correct when he writes, about the failure of capitalism, “I do not mean that there are certain imperfections in it, or that from time to time it experiences difficulties.” Rather, he means that the problems are systemic to the theory itself.