May 20, 2008

"Take Off Your Che T-Shirt; It's Making Me Angry."

Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.:

I'm sure that you have had this experience before, or something similar to it. You are sitting at lunch in a nice restaurant or perhaps a hotel. Waiters are coming and going. The food is fantastic. The conversation about all things is going well. You talk about the weather, music, movies, health, trivialities in the news, kids, and so on. But then the topic turns to economics, and things change.

You are not the aggressive type so you don't proclaim the merits of the free market immediately. You wait and let the others talk. Their biases against business appear right away in the repetition of the media's latest calumny against the market, such as that gas station owners are causing inflation by jacking up prices to pad their pockets at our expense, or that Wal-Mart is, of course, the worst possible thing that can ever happen to a community.

You begin to offer a corrective, pointing out the other side. Then the truth emerges in the form of a naïve if definitive announcement from one person: "Well, I suppose I'm really a socialist at heart." Others nod in agreement.

On one hand there is nothing to say, really. You are surrounded by the blessings of capitalism. The buffet table, which you and your lunch partners only had to walk into a building to find, has a greater variety of food at a cheaper price than that which was available to any living person — king, lord, duke, plutocrat, or pope — in almost all of the history of the world. Not even fifty years ago would this have been imaginable.

All of history has been defined by the struggle for food. And yet that struggle has been abolished, not just for the rich but for everyone living in developed economies. The ancients, peering into this scene, might have assumed it to be Elysium. Medieval man conjured up such scenes only in visions of Utopia. Even in the late 19th century, the most gilded palace of the richest industrialist required a vast staff and immense trouble to come anywhere near approximating it.

We owe this scene to capitalism. To put it differently, we owe this scene to centuries of capital accumulation at the hands of free people who have put capital to work on behalf of economic innovations, at once competing with others for profit and cooperating with millions upon millions of people in an ever-expanding global network of the division of labor. The savings, investments, risks, and work of hundreds of years and uncountable numbers of free people have gone into making this scene possible, thanks to the ever-remarkable capacity for a society developing under conditions of liberty to achieve the highest aspirations of the society's members.

And yet, sitting on the other side of the table are well-educated people who imagine that the way to end the world's woes is through socialism.

. . . . . . . . . .

Whatever the specifics of the case in question, socialism always means overriding the free decisions of individuals and replacing that capacity for decision making with an overarching plan by the state. Taken far enough, this mode of thought won't just spell an end to opulent lunches. It will mean the end of what we all know as civilization itself. It would plunge us back to a primitive state of existence, living off hunting and gathering in a world with little art, music, leisure, or charity. Nor is any form of socialism capable of providing for the needs of the world's six billion people, so the population would shrink dramatically and quickly and in a manner that would make every human horror ever known seem mild by comparison. Nor is it possible to divorce socialism from totalitarianism, because if you are serious about ending private ownership of the means of production, you have to be serious about ending freedom and creativity too. You will have to make the whole of society, or what is left of it, into a prison.

But other than that, socialism is a fine idea.

h/t: Hackbarth, who loves the idea of a buffet table as a symbol of capitalism's success. This was part of today's economics linkfest, and those are always fun: one-stop shopping for the brain.

Posted by Attila Girl at May 20, 2008 02:29 PM | TrackBack
Comments

It's one of the rare times in the last few years when Anarchy Lew Rockwell didn't go off the deep end. When he sticks to praising capitalism he's fine; it's when he goes into the "greatness" of Ron Paul that he loses me.

Posted by: Sean Hackbarth at May 20, 2008 04:18 PM




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