Friday, December 27, 2013

Institutions And Capitalism

I really must redo the blogroll. Most of the writers I've been reading obsessively aren't on it, while at least half of the entries on it are sites I no longer visit.

Yeah, yeah: pressure of work, other priorities, endless distractions, unceasing interruptions, the vagaries of time and space and the Higgs boson, et cetera ad nauseam infinitam. I'm as good at making excuses as anyone. (I thought briefly about having "stop making excuses" as my New Year's resolution, but I realized immediately that I'd surely find an excuse for not living up to it, and would immediately implode from unterminated recursion.) All the same, it must be done, and I will get to it...right after I finish waxing the garden hoses.

But seriously, ponder this neatly phrased swatch of insight:

I told one of my Little Bookworms yesterday that the laws of economics are as unfailing as the laws of physics. When you first jump off a cliff, you may think you’re flying, but you’re really falling. And when your government distorts the marketplace, the short team benefits invariably give way to real world wealth loss.

It got a chuckle from me for two reasons. The first was the penetration of it...which would only be grasped by persons who understand the difference between legislated law and natural law. The second was the following snippet from Freedom's Fury:

    He sighed. “There you go again.”
    “Being wiser than your years.”
    She scowled. “Wiser? Wise-ass, maybe. Want to hear what has my gears grinding?”
    He peered at her through the gloom. “Hit me.”
    “I’ve been sleeping with Chuck. Since the day before yesterday.”
    Barton became immediately lightheaded.
    “Emma, was that...your idea?”
    She snorted. “It wasn’t his. Though he took to it enthusiastically enough, I can tell you that.”
    He found himself bereft of speech. She grinned wanly at him and chafed his hand.
    Presently she said “I had to do something, Uncle Bart. He was desolated. Worse than the day she told him she wasn’t his wife anymore. I thought he might self-destruct on the spot. The only thing I could think of was to love him, so that’s what I did.”
    “Is it working?”
    “I think so.”
    “Then why...”
    “Because it was a trademarked Emma Morelon impulse decision! Because it’s done and can’t be undone! What comes next? What have I committed myself to? If I stay with him, I’m blocking him from finding someone nearer to his own age and experience. If I treat it as a fling and just stroll away, it might crush him even worse than losing Charisse!”
    He laid his free hand over hers and squeezed gently, and she regained a measure of calm.
    “I remember your last serious impulse decision pretty well,” he murmured. “To become my scion. How would you say that’s worked out?”
    She peered at him curiously. “So far, so good. We’ve done some good work together. I’ve actually had a lot of fun at it. Why?”
    He grinned impishly. “You just used exactly the phrase I was hoping to hear. ‘So far, so good.’ As long as you’re alive and kicking, that will apply to every decision you make that you aren’t struggling that very moment to overturn. So how are things going with Chuck? Would you say the same?”
    Her face clouded with uncertainty. “Yeah.”
     “Okay. That’s check mark one.” He pantomimed checking a box on a form. “Second question: has either of you proposed to the other?”
     “So there are no firm commitments in either direction, right? Believe me, Chuck knows that quite as well as you and I. He would never presume otherwise.” Another check on the invisible form. “Third question: would you say the two of you are satisfied with this new relationship, at least for the present? No undue burdens or significant friction?”
    She nodded warily.
     “You’re three for three and rounding into the home stretch, Em. This is for the win: Are you loving him, or just having sex with his body?”
    Her mouth dropped open.
    Her whisper seemed to require all the force she had in her. “Loving him.”
     “Grand prize.”

Give that a moment to simmer.

The fate of Man is to make mistakes, learn from the non-fatal ones, pick himself up, and carry on.

Hey! Don't blame it on me. It's a designed-in feature. It's the basis of the scientific method. It's how we learn. And as long as we persist under the veil of Time, it will refuse to change.

Man's institutions are as fallible as Man. Indeed, we can't honestly claim credit for having created most of them intentionally. They're a secondary consequence of what Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek termed spontaneous order: a constructive interplay between some human undertaking and the laws of Nature that reinforced the former and allowed something persistent to form around it. And like all else in Creation, they are finite, fallible, and mortal.

An institution that has served some need well for a long interval is likely to be nearing its demise. The reason is not far to seek: Success attracts parasites. A man with an agenda will be powerfully tempted to seek a successful institution -- an icon of substantial and persistent accomplishment -- and to attach his agenda to it, even if the agenda is entirely distinct from the field in which the institution has historically succeeded. As the institution will be operated by persons likely to have a high opinion of themselves, he will endeavor to flatter them into taking his cause for their own. Should he succeed, the degree of congruence between the institution's historical mission and its new undertaking will determine the direction and magnitude of the consequences.

Extend that process over time and compound it with two other human characteristics:

  • Our unending pursuit of innovation and improvement;
  • Our penchant for screwing up.

"John Galt" noted in Dreams Come Due that the longer a trend has persisted, the more suspect is its continuation. ("Trees do not grow to the sky." -- Baron Philippe de Rothschild) The same is true of human institutions, regardless of their character or the intentions of their founders.

In another segment of the cited post, Bookworm declaims thus:

The Left makes inroads into institutions, while conservatives abandon them. Theirs is the better tactic. Or, as I’ve also said before, Leftists have horrible ideals and great tactics; conservatives have great ideals and horrible tactics.

Consider Bookworm's evaluation of Leftist tactics rather than the accuracy of her observation thereof. Yes, that's what the Left does. That's the basis of all its successes since the British Fabians decided to take over the Labour Party from within. Is Bookworm's evaluation ("great") atemporal and eternal? Is the tactic a guaranteed, never-to-fail winner?

My answer is: No, it is not. It requires the prior existence of institutions to batten on -- and it reaps gains only for so long as the institution persists essentially unchallenged. But capitalism doesn't merely create institutions; it also destroys them.

A free-market / capitalist economy is a "So far, so good" state of affairs. In his masterwork Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Joseph Schumpeter put it thus: by nature a form or method of economic change and not only never is but never can be stationary....The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers’ goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization that capitalist enterprise creates....The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop and factory to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrate the same process of industrial mutation...that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.

This process, which arises from Natural Law and cannot be modified nor set aside by any exertion of human will, applies to every sort of institution, whether economic, social, or political. Thus, there is a countermeasure to the Left's tactic of infiltrating and corrupting existing institutions: Bypass them and create new and better ones.

That's our "paper" to the Left's "rock." But as you might infer from that analogy, there are "scissors" yet to be considered, and "rocks" beyond them, and so on.

To preserve the advantages it has acquired from the corruption of existing institutions, the Left strives to prevent the formation of competitors by political means. The pattern is observable in both small matters and large ones, over short spans of time and long ones.

The historical countermeasure to political suppression is to move away: to pass beyond the frontier, to where the Left's political influence does not reach. Today this is very difficult, as the entire land surface of the Earth has been partitioned into States, essentially all of which have been irremediably corrupted by the Left. Barring the fortuitous arrival of a convenient planetoid, that appears to leave two other approaches: "hiding in place" and revolution.

"Hiding in place" is distasteful to many. It's a passive strategy; it relies upon the conviction that things will eventually change...which they will, though on what schedule we are forbidden to know. Yet it smacks of surrender...and indeed, it shares many of outright surrender's least attractive aspects. But for some, there are no practical alternatives.

Revolution doesn't have to be an armed or a political affair. Revolutions have started inside institutions, including governments, on several occasions. However, most institutions have internal processes that "filter out" those opposed to their reigning norms and philosophies. That makes it a chancy matter to try to change one from within: given the correlation of forces, it's more likely to change you.

(As I wrote the above, another approach occurred to me: "feeding the beast to death." A corrupted institution can sometimes be brought down by over-larding it with new and incongruent missions; consider the government-run schools as a case for study. Variations on the idea apply to political structures as well. But that's a topic for a separate tirade.)

Whatever our chosen tactics, we must always keep in mind the "so far, so good" nature of all things: the inevitability of failure, change, and subsequent developments. Governments cannot legislate that pattern away. O'Brien's vision of "a boot stamping on a human face -- forever" is as fallacious as the dream of a perfect freedom eternally unchallenged by the envious and the power-mongers who exploit their unholy desires.

The moral should be clear. Regardless of your preferences in countermeasures, whenever you look at any institution the Left has succeeded in perverting, say to yourself:

"And this, too, shall pass away."

Your task is to keep fighting -- and to survive.

Happy New Year.


Anonymous said...

I stumble a little bit with "Left" and "Right" as suitable substitute nameplates for "Unrighteous" and "Righteous."

Perhaps it's that those words have become embroiled in the political parties of Democrat and Republican, and I daren't accuse either of being Righteous to any meaningful degree today.

Still, I take your point that the cause of Liberty and limited government has been historically championed by what we call today the Right.

Or perhaps it's simply that Jesus put the sheep to his right, and that is enough.

MamaLiberty said...

Terrific article! Thank you for stating so clearly something I talk about all the time. I'll be posting the URL and blurb to several fora I visit frequently, and two I administer.

The only thing that never changes is the fact that all things change. And nobody can change THAT. :)

Anonymous said...

Only Love shall abide forever...