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May 06, 2013

Reno and Miller on capitalism and conservatism

The exchange at First Things between Rusty Reno and Robert Miller is well worth reading.   (Here's Rusty's opener, here's Robert's response, and here's Rusty's reply.)  Taken together, I think they shed a lot more light than do the typical "Randian!" and "Socialist!" accusations that fly around conversations about economic policy, including conversations among Catholics who embrace the Church's moral anthropology and social teachings.  My own sense is that Reno is right to remind us that the mis-use of "economic freedom" can lead to bad results.  But, that's true of freedom generally, and it's not an argument against economic freedom so much as a fact about the world, this side of Heaven, that should be taken into account when designing institutions and policies that, in appropriate instances, constrain that freedom.  

Now, Reno says that "conservatives" often don't see this -- that is, they don't see that economic freedom "creates problems."  That's not my experience, for the most part.  (More common, in my experience, are "liberals" who don't appreciate the real costs of misplaced regulations.)  [Update:  It was pointed out by a friend and correspondent that this kind of "tu quoque" is both distracting and a bad habit of mine.  It is both of these things.  To be clear, though, I didn't mean to suggest that the former mistake is somehow excused by the latter.]  But, in any event, it is clear that various problems are inevitable by-products of economic freedom and so a challenge for a decent political community is to try to solve those problems.  

Miller's essay, I think, does a lot of good things, but what I most appreciate is what I would have thought is his pretty modest point that (paraphrasing) "to attack those who oppose all regulation and believe in unregulated 'laissez faire' capitalism is to attack a straw man.  Such attacks should not -- especially in the name of the Church's social teaching -- be made and, instead, we should focus on pushing 'conservatives' to embrace those regulations and policies that enhance the opportunity for genuine flourishing, and respond to the real costs of free markets, and on pushing 'liberals' to realize that government regulations do not justify themselves and that, in some cases, they can do more harm than good."  I think this is actually where most people are -- few are "Randians" (even if they are attracted to some libertarian themes and ideas) and few (in America, anyway) are real collectivists (even if they are attracted to some redistributionist or communitarian themes and ideas).   

Posted by Rick Garnett on May 6, 2013 at 02:04 PM in Garnett, Rick | Permalink

Comments

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Many thanks, Rick, and: hear hear. IMHO, you're spot on with this. Few skeptics where regulation is concerned seem to be fully fledged 'Randians' or 'Libertarians,' and few promoters or enthusiasts where regulation is concerned seem to be 'Socialists' or 'collectivists.' The real question where regulation is concerned, as most seem to realize, surely has to do with where the proverbial Aristotelian golden mean lies; and that is a question that seems to me by and large amenable to empirical resolution. Of course, how we come to count the empirically discernable likely effects of promulgated regulatory norms as costs or benefits is as much a matter of 'values' as is the conception of flourishing that underlies our understandings of the terms 'cost' and 'benefit' themselves. But my impression, arm-chair though it might be, is that nearly all of us share a common core conception of flourishing, such that disagreement over regulatory norms and governmental action is largely, even if admittedly not entirely, empirically resoluble.

Thanks again,
Bob

Posted by: Robert Hockett | May 6, 2013 2:33:53 PM

"Such attacks should not -- especially in the name of the Church's social teaching -- be made and, instead, we should focus on pushing 'conservatives' to embrace those regulations and policies that enhance the opportunity for genuine flourishing, and respond to the real costs of free markets, and on pushing 'liberals' to realize that government regulations do not justify themselves and that, in some cases, they can do more harm than good."

The work of Wilhem Ropke can be very helpful in this regard, especially for a Catholic Christian perspective. So too are the works of von Hayek, von Mises, Tullock and Buchanan. The problem is that Catholic clergy as a whole does not have a very firm grasp on economic thinking.

If I were a scholar, which I am not, I would love to examine the intersections between Risk, Profit, Rent (as understood by the Public Choice theorists), and the Common Good. It would seem that there are certain types of regulations that promote the common good and others that detract. I think, in theory, that ex post regulations as enforced by courts or common law can generally promote the common good within a political economy. On the other hand, I think ex ante regulations as enforced by the federal administrative state necessarily create economic rents (profit beyond what a natural market would provide) which are ultimately destructive of the common good. The former allows all sorts of activity to occur where problems can be resolved if raised by an affected party. The latter prevents all sorts of activity from occuring which causes distortions in the marketplace.

Posted by: CK | May 6, 2013 2:34:39 PM

"I think this is actually where most people are -- few are "Randians" (even if they are attracted to some libertarian themes and ideas) . . "

Forgive me for quibbling about libertarian-Randian stuff, but calling a Randian a libertarian is like calling a Franciscan philosopher a Thomist. Randians and libertarians have certain conceptions of freedom that are in a large sense more radical than the rest of this country, but they diverge frequently. Similarly, Franciscans and Thomists can share a Catholic faith, but diverge frequently.

Further, Ayn Rand herself and her later followers have overtly and consistently rejected the label 'libertarian.' Randians have, and continue to, favor all sorts of statist practices that libertarians generally reject. In particular Randians have an affinity for concepts like central banking and have a warmonger streak. Libertarians often oppose such activities.

A good example of a libertarian, sort of an anti-Rand, is Dorothy Day. She consistently opposed a number of unjust American wars, and later resisted statist bureacracy. Further, Dorothy Day, unlike Ayn Rand, explicitly called herself a libertarian. See 'The Long Loneliness.'

Posted by: CK | May 6, 2013 2:49:41 PM

For anyone interested in Catholic Social Teaching and economic issues, they should consider this post quoting Josef Schumpeter on the importance of the family in capitalist societies:

"In the preceding chapter it was observed that the capitalist order entrusts the long-run interests of society to the upper strata of the bourgeoisie. They are really entrusted to the family motive operative in those strata. The bourgeoisie worked primarily in order to invest, and it was not so much a standard of consumption as a standard of accumulation that the bourgeoisie struggled for and tried to defend against governments that took the short-run view. With the decline of the driving power supplied by the family motive, the businessman’s time-horizon shrinks, roughly, to his life expectation. And he might now be less willing than he was to fulfill that function of earning, saving and investing even if he saw no reason to fear that the results would but swell his tax bills. He drifts into an anti-saving frame of mind and accepts with an increasing readiness anti-saving theories that are indicative of a short-run philosophy."

http://www.theamericanconservative.com/can-there-be-capitalism-without-the-bourgeois-family/

Posted by: CK | May 7, 2013 2:15:48 PM

Further, Daniel McCarthy argues:

"Schumpeter saw Keynes’s political views about sex, no less than his economic views about state intervention, as paving the way to socialism. Keynes would probably have said they were leading to a capitalism of a different kind. Certainly Keynes was well aware of the political and economic implications of what he styled the “Sex Questions.”"

Posted by: CK | May 7, 2013 2:17:25 PM

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