March 17, 2018Uber Scam?
March 17, 2018Coase and Krugman
March 16, 2018Henderson at Troy University
March 16, 2018Who are we?
March 16, 2018Red Sparrow's tweets
March 16, 2018Happy Open Borders Day!
March 15, 2018Me on C-SPAN
March 14, 2018Functional capitalism
March 14, 2018What About a Travel Ban to Reduce the Trade Deficit?
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Frequently Asked Questions
Since Elizabeth Bruenig has posted her whole opening debate statement, I thought I'd reply point-by-point. She's in blockquotes; I'm not. Before I get started, though, let me say that personally, Elizabeth seems a gracious and kind human being. Still, even if I were an avid socialist, I'd be baffled by the way she tackles the issue.
I spent many years studying intellectual history. Still, my honest reaction: While these "luminaries" were smart, most were also profoundly ignorant and dogmatic - and apologists for the brutal societies in which they lived. Most had near-zero knowledge of what actually sustains the true and beautiful in our culture, namely: science, tolerance, and markets. They have far more to learn from us - both factually and morally - than we do from them.
That said, I suspect the large majority of these luminaries would look at us with amazement. Indeed, when they exited of the time machine, they'd wonder if they'd died and gone to heaven. After all, they'd witness amazingly well-fed, healthy people enjoying a cornucopia of technology and art beyond their wildest dreams. Then they'd learn about the abolition of slavery and serfdom, the amazing progress of women, and the peaceful co-existence of conflicting religions and philosophies. And hygiene. And Netflix.
Would any of the luminaries till have the nerve to call us "unfree"? Probably a few misanthropes and hate-mongers like Augustine and Marx, though perhaps even they could be shock-and-awed to their senses by our resplendent world.
I agree that Socrates might have this reaction. But even that's unclear; perhaps he'd reach the more sensible view that the human nature is pretty stable. Stoic self-control was rare in ancient times, and remains rare today. And if he were even more sensible, he'd object to Bruenig's hyperbole. In a world with eight billion people, you can find unbridled lust and ravenous want if you search hard enough. But most of the lust is bridled, and most of the want is measured.
When I heard Bruenig invoke Aristotle on slavery, I was expecting at least some acknowledgement that modern U.S. workers are freer than ancient Greek slaves. But if I'm reading her correctly, she seems to think that modern conditions are no better, or possibly worse. If so, this is beyond absurd. Even the crummiest job in the U.S. lets workers serve their own end of making money, and spending or saving it as they like. The vast majority of workers also get some satisfaction from being productive and socializing with their coworkers. It's a lot better than historic slavery.
To repeat: Most would be astounded to witness what, to their eyes, would look like heaven. In any case, these "greats" were at best great for their time. Few would measure up to modern intellectual or moral standards. And yes, as a moral realist, I say today's standards are plainly morally superior to those of the pre-modern thinkers who took slavery, persecution, and dictatorship for granted.
Absurd hyperbole. In a world with eight billion people, you can probably find a few that fit most of this bleak description (though I doubt that a single human being has ever been taught that "freedom is a vast blankness defined only by its featurelessness"). But the overwhelming majority mix passion with self-control, and materialism with cherished ties to family and friends.
What measures of "human flourishing" does Bruenig have in mind? Every measure that social scientists study - happiness, health, leisure, life expectancy, consumption, and beyond - are near their all-time highs in the world's most capitalist countries.
In other words, capitalism brought modern religious toleration. Until Marx's followers gained power in half of Europe and introduced the most heavenly ecstasies of atheistic fervor.
If you wanted to convince students to not bother to read pre-modern thinkers, this would be a good way to do it. What childish hyperbole these "luminaries" write.
"Largely impossible"? People have far more leisure time today than ever before. I agree that they spend little of it on "sustained contemplation for no other purpose than to know the truth." But that's because of the timeless fact that most human beings are philistines. Always have been, and probably always will be. No pre-modern thinker enjoyed the opportunities for Enlightenment that modernity delivers to everyone with Internet access.
Absurd. Capitalists want disciplined, focused workers - and well-reward those who possess these traits. Impulsive people in capitalist societies have trouble even holding down a job, as sociologists of poverty are well-aware. Even if you focus on consumers, plenty of firms - such as insurance companies and lenders - want people to be strong-willed, because their products offer long-run gain for short-run pain.
A better story is that even relatively capitalist thinkers are over-eager to justify existing governments, which plainly are not consensual. See Mike Huemer's The Problem of Political Authority.
This is indeed a poor argument on Locke's part, but it's a red herring. No sensible defender of capitalism claims people consent to aggregate social outcomes; that's why Hayek's slogan about society being "the product of human action but not human design" is so widely quoted. Instead, as in Nozick's Wilt Chamberlain example, we focus on whether individuals consent to what they're personally doing with their own bodies and their own stuff. (Thus, the capitalist ideal upholds the right of two men to marry each other, even if everyone else is horrified by gay marriage). Then, as I explained in my talk, there's a second set of arguments designed to show that this system leads to good aggregate outcomes.
Agreed. Hobbes' argument is Orwellian and silly.
It's worth pointing out that in pre-modern times, the economy was so unproductive that almost everyone had to live in poverty. And even in the poorest countries, it's normally multinational corporations that provide the best wages and working conditions.
But more fundamentally, almost everyone thinks that we can give morally meaningful consent even when our other option is terrible. As I mentioned in my talk, if you're highly unattractive, your options in the dating market are poor, but that doesn't make dating non-consensual. Similarly, if your productivity is very low, your wages will probably be low too. But why treat the employer as an "exploiter," when no one else on Earth will offer you a better deal?
Even if you believe that people can't meaningfully consent to work for subsistence wages, what does this have to do with the vast majority of First World jobs that provide living standards that medieval kings would have killed for?
Sure, every employer expects you to take his desires into account. Why else would he hire you? But what's so objectionable about the mundane fact that businesses don't pay people to do whatever they feel like doing?
If someone claimed that North Korea or Venezuela approximated these ideals I'd disagree, but at least understand why it might be plausible. But Sweden, where 70% work in the private sector? Furthermore, while Sweden has relatively low income inequality, it has very high wealth inequality - and it's hard to deny Sweden's richest families have considerable sway over Swedish politics.
"Protected from total domination by market-based forces"? It's more accurate (though still overstated) to say that these sectors are totally divorced from market-based forces. The results are predictable: Massive stable waste and low innovation, paid for by exploited taxpayers. Education is a case in point.
It also sounds unreasonably optimistic because self-identified socialists have dominated numerous countries without noticeably increasing the cooperative impulses of their citizenry. And don't forget evolutionary psychology.
As I mentioned in the talk, the Orwellian doublethink is palpable. People who do what they want with their own bodies and their own stuff are "unfree." People who do what socialist policy-makers force them to do are "free." And frankly, it's Bruenig who seems cynical, misanthropic, and indifferent to me. Yes, people who run businesses want to make money; but most are also glad to create economic and personal opportunities for their workers, and valuable products for their consumers. And my opponent seems totally indifferent to these amazing achievements. I suspect she'll insist that workers and consumers are unwitting accomplices in their own oppression. But again, that seems like a rather cynical and misanthropic view of things. Why not just say that businesses, workers, and consumers are working together in dignity for mutual advantage - and focus instead on the plight of the global poor who are excluded from this glorious marketplace by force of government?
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Twitter: Bryan Caplan @bryan_caplan