Libido for Power

by Don Boudreaux on November 16, 2008

in History, Myths and Fallacies, Politics

Challenging the myth that society would be improved if governed by “intellectuals,” Thomas Sowell — writing in today’s Washington Times — says that “It would be no feat to fill a big book with all the things on which intellectuals were grossly mistaken, just in the 20th century.”

Such a book has already been filled.  Paul Hollander’s Political Pilgrims documents the gullibility, the boundless capacity for self-delusion, and the ecstatic fetish for Great Leaders displayed throughout the 20th century by large numbers of American and European intellectuals.  These Smart People cheered the Soviet Union, applauded Mao, drooled over Castro, celebrated the Sandinistas – all the while dismissing those persons suspicious of centralized power as “anti-intellectual.”

Of course, consistently these “anti-intellectuals” were proven right as the heroes of the “intellectuals” were revealed to be blood-thirsty bastards.  Is there reason to suppose that the “intellectuals’” still-raging libido for Great Leaders and Big Plans is today any more rational than it was during the tragic episodes documented by Hollander?

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{ 49 comments }

Kristen Atlee November 16, 2008 at 1:38 pm

I recently got into an argument with a self-described "intellectual" over his role in a federal regulatory case. He insisted that I was an unthinking radical who couldn't understand the complexity of the situation he was dealing with — because I objected to his admitted falsification of evidence in order to justify a verdict that he acknowledged was unjust yet "necessary" to preserve the agency's credibility.

Incidentally, this "intellectual" is a member of the GMU faculty. I suppose not everyone at the school can have the integrity or intelligence of this blog's co-authors.

Beverlee November 16, 2008 at 2:25 pm

This comment supports Ms. Atlee's post. As a former DOJ Trial Attorney who has spent the last 15 years in private practice, and who has sued a particular federal agency more than once, Ms. Atlee describes our current government. Agency lawyers and, unfortunately, DOJ lawyers who file regulatory cases in federal court and defend agencies when sued, simply work to sustain regulatory power despite occasional off-the-record acknowledgment that no basis for such power exists in the Constitution. Moral fiber exhibited by any individual government lawyer is strongly discouraged. Agency power and its growth surmounts any concern for truth, honesty, or merely doing what is right. Instead one can expect twisting of facts and precedent, violations of rules, and federal courts who turn a blind eye and jump through hoops to sustain agencies' "expert" presumptions and rulings. Such purported "expertise" changes depending on how the political winds blow. No business or individual can ever predict where the next government intrusion will come; it can only know that come it will, and the system will support it no matter what.

Bill Mill November 16, 2008 at 2:53 pm

> Of course, consistently these "anti-intellectuals" were proven right as the heroes of the "intellectuals" were revealed to be blood-thirsty bastards.

But let us not fall into the fallacy, then, that "anti-intellectuals" are always right, which the american right has used to devastating effect.

Danial November 16, 2008 at 3:14 pm

I wouldn't go so far as to accuse the "intellectuals" as being blood-thirsty bastards, rather they are merely gullible enough to be attracted to dogmatic ideals that advertise easy and quick resolutions. As long as these resolutions are promised people are content and have no incentive to see how these solutions are structured and put into practice. This reiterates the folly of faith in the unselfish nature of politicians, as more often then not there is a multitude of hidden incentives.

Ray G November 16, 2008 at 3:15 pm

The key word there was rational.

Left wing ideology relies on things being felt as opposed to things being thought through. Leaving out all of the psycho mumbo-jumbo, this emotionally driven thought process is what eventually leads them to be enamored with Great Leaders, and their plans.

If these same people weren't so enamored with themselves as well, they would be religious and focus this zeal on God or some gods. As it is, they have their secular religion that we see it today, and so it is man that they worship.

Praise be to Obama, and woe to the heretics.

shecky November 16, 2008 at 4:05 pm

Does Sowell consider himself an intellectual? Don Boudreaux? Milton Friedman? Pointing out the times when intellectuals were wrong seems like a nice "gotcha". Does Sowell tally the times when intellectuals were actually right? Or is he just taking some cheap culture war potshots?

Keith November 16, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Quote from Danial: "… rather they are merely gullible enough to be attracted to dogmatic ideals that advertise easy and quick resolutions."

As learned "intellectuals", they should know better. Obviously the "anti-intellectuals" did.

Quote from shecky: "Does Sowell tally the times when intellectuals were actually right?"

Feel free to start tallying that score for us, anytime. We're listening.

Danial November 16, 2008 at 5:39 pm

Politicians provide emotional arguments as solutions. It is not a question of whether these answers will sometimes work, but the danger of following a "Great Leader." There is the small chance that by sacrificing a measure of your own freedom and self thought, and devoting yourself to the plans of others that society as a whole may be better as a result. But is that a chance worth taking? Germany took that chance with national socialism, China with Mao,and now many take that chance with Obama.I am not saying that Obama will be a despotic dictator, but that blindly following any leader is risky behavior at best.

Tony November 16, 2008 at 5:52 pm

Sowell's beef is with Nicholas Kristoff who is quoted:

Intellectuals, according to Mr. Kristof, are people who are "interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity," people who "read the classics."

I hate to put words into Kristoff's mouth, but I believe that this is a direct criticism of Mr. Bush and Ms. Palin.

My advice is to avoid getting caught up in the debate about "intellectuals"; what Mr. Kristoff is actually saying is that we should not elect dumbasses into the White House anymore because all that stupid really hurts.

Sowell goes on to defend Harry Truman, and I doubt Kristoff would have much issue with Truman… but who knows and who cares? That's ancient history… let's leave it to the intellectuals.

muiregeo November 16, 2008 at 7:03 pm

What can you say to this? Am argument in favor of anti-intellectualism…GREAT! I guess Sowell wants 4 more years of Bush and his anti-intellectual rule. I have to wonder if Sowell has been reading the paper lately. I'll take a Clinton or an Obama any day over a non-thinker like the current president. The suggestion here that intellectual leaders are prone to extreme regimes is pretty much what I'd expect to hear on the Rush Limbaugh show. Finally, many of the trademark fascist regimes of the past had the common feature of rounding up and "sending off" the intellectuals.

muiregeo November 16, 2008 at 7:09 pm

I am not saying that Obama will be a despotic dictator, but that blindly following any leader is risky behavior at best.

Posted by: Danial

What do you take as evidence that people are blindly following Obama? Did people blindly follow Bush? I'd say anyone who voted for the Republican candidate this time considering the current mess they delivered to our nation was more likely a blind follower then one who voted for a new direction.

Martin Brock November 16, 2008 at 7:27 pm

Isn't Sowell himself an intellectual?

SaulOhio November 16, 2008 at 7:52 pm

I thought I was done arguing with strawmen.

muirgeo: Sowell is not arguing for anti-intellectualism, just for what is smeared AS anti-intellectualism in politics and economics. The so-called "intellectuals" are the ones claiming to know things they can't. They are pseudo-intellectuals, claiming a superior knowledge they don't have.

Interesting that that GMU faculty memeber should argue that someone doesn't understand the complextities of the regulatory situation, when that is OUR argument, that the situation is too complex to be regulated.

John L November 16, 2008 at 7:58 pm

I voted for McCain. 3 reasons: 1) I agree with his FP. 2) I prefer judges who empower the legislature and executives – not who legislate from the bench. 3) He would be the best check on Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. Perhaps you could read this as more an anti-Obama vote than a pro-McCain vote. Fine.

But as for McCain not being a new direction that is just bunk. McCain and Bush disagreed on many issues. We all know that.
As for "I'd say anyone who voted for the Republican candidate this time considering the current mess they delivered to our nation was more likely a blind follower then one who voted for a new direction."

Who delivered the mess? McCain? How so? He wasn't a pawn of Fannie and Freddie. You can pin the mess on Republicans if and only if you ignore bad business models, poor investment strategies, government incentives that distorted the market, and a lack of common sense regulations that would create transparency and accountability. No one proposed them as of yet. McCain also was not responsible for the 2004 SEC decision to deregulate the capital-leverage ratio. By combining both McCain and the R party you are in effect saying they are one in the same when they are not. You also ignore other possible reasons people have for voting anti-Obama.

John L November 16, 2008 at 8:01 pm

Forgot to add:
Saying McCain isn't a new direction ignores his environmental stance, and his stance on spending. Is he similar to Bush in some policies? Sure. But let's be objective. One of the worst things that has happened in our country is people resort to being hacks. Talking points are for people who can't think for themselves. They don't belong on any credible medium.

Anonymous November 16, 2008 at 8:03 pm

I hope this planet blow up soon.

Ken November 16, 2008 at 8:24 pm

"…a non-thinker like the current president." muirgeo

I get a kick out of people like you, muirgeo. A non-thinker to you is anyone that doesn't think like you. Does it ever occur to you that people who come to opposite conclusions from you when looking at the same data set do so because their values are different from yours? You want to claim, then, that these people are ideologues without acknowledging that your ideology guides your thinking.

Bush has made many mistakes, but he has had a spectacular success that no one wants to give him credit for: Iraq. Believing terrorism, and the link between terrorism and Iraq, to be imminent he took down Saddam Hussein. In the process made a catastrophic miscalculation in the talent of his military leaders, keeping the wrong ones in charge for too long. In which case the chaos of 2004-5 came about. However, this 'non-thinking' president recognized this mistake and changed leadership. Finally, and correctly, settling on Patraeus; a man that got the job done. The Iraq war is over and we won.

Again, Bush made mistakes in the economy, but this 'non-thinking' president recognizes the insolvency of social security and correctly tried to privatize it, partially anyway. It has been well known that the average rate of return for the average tax payer has been slightly negative on the 'investment' made into to social security. At the same time, the average rate of return on the stock market has been 8% (in real terms). Having workers actually invest in the future, with a fantastic rate of return compared to anything the gov has ever done, was stopped by 'thinkers' such as yourself.

The 'non-thinking' Bush tried to reign in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac years ago, but again was stymied by 'thinkers'. The mortgage problem is a direct result of these 'thinkers' you seem to be blindly following. The current mess was delivered to us by Barney Frank, Nancy Pelosi, and Barack Obama, all of whom blocked any rational oversight of these two out of control agencies, while implicitly backing them with my (and yours) money.

Renato Drumond November 16, 2008 at 8:26 pm

"many of the trademark fascist regimes of the past had the common feature of rounding up and "sending off" the intellectuals."

Muirgeo, to say that fascist regimes are anti-intellectuals per se is to forget that the same (communist) regimes supported by a lot of western thinkers made a similar persecution against a lot of intellectuals.

The Nazis were against jazz because it was considered by them an inferior type of music, when compared with classic compositions. The same was true about abstract painting. They had an ideal of a classic culture wich need to be restored. The modern civilization was considered a decaying society.

The important question here isn't between intellectualism and anti-intellectualism, but to understand why such people, who are supposed to be the best and smart of us, consistenly commit such errors of judgment. I recommend you to read this text by Hayek about this subject: http://mises.org/etexts/hayekintellectuals.pdf

brotio November 16, 2008 at 8:53 pm

"What do you take as evidence that people are blindly following Obama?"

The following Marxist/communists/socialists/terrorists/racists have close ties to Obama.

Tony Rezko: Irrelevant. We need change.

Bill Ayers: Irrelevant. We need change.

Pastor Wright: Irrelevant. We need change.

Louis Farrakhan: Irrelevant. We need change.

Obama vows to bankrupt anyone who builds a coal-fired power plant: Irrelevant. We need change.

Obama claims that health care is a right, and believes that you are entitled to the property and labor of your fellow citizens to exercise that right: Irrelevant. We need change.

Obama writes in his book that he was in Rev Wright's church every Sunday; claims on the campaign trail that he seldom went to church and never heard phrases like "God Damn America" come from the sewer that is his pastor's mouth: Irrelevant. We need change.

Chris Matthews gets a tingly feeling every time he thinks of Obama, believes it is the duty of the press to ensure that this president succeeds.

T L Holaday November 16, 2008 at 9:34 pm

In today's blog, Don praises essayists who scorn the "public interest" and "intellectuals."

If only scare quotes were money!

Ryan November 16, 2008 at 10:26 pm

Someone once said, “An intellectual is a person who will change their minds with facts and logic”; and all that that implies.

Sam Grove November 16, 2008 at 10:50 pm

Self proclaimed "intellectuals" are like self proclaimed "progressives".

do they really think about it? Or are they merely pretending the way a child pretends to be a super being?

How often are libertarians dismissed as "naive" or similar?

This often comes from someone who is unable or unwilling to argue a point any further because the discussion has approached their discomfort zone.

LowcountryJoe November 16, 2008 at 11:20 pm

GREAT! I guess Sowell wants 4 more years of Bush and his anti-intellectual rule.

Please, muirgeo, I'm asking that you do not use the word "rule" to describe a role that the U.S. presdident has. Don't use that kind of language anymore. I realize that others have said it but that kind of stuff has no business being written or spoken.

shecky November 17, 2008 at 1:13 am

Of course, Sowell is an intellectual.

This is the problem with the argument. It's a hack of an argument that anybody could make, against any enemy. Naomi Klein has some choice words for egghead intellectuals like Friedman. As always, it only counts when the attack is lobbed against one's enemies.

I'm always disappointed at Sowell the columnist for being such a hack, knowing that Sowell the author can write such insightful books. Part of the GOP's problem is that it's up to it's ears in "anti-intellectual" posturing. So much so that the anti-intellectualists have come to run the show. And boy, how they've run it! If they keep it up, we'll not have a meaningful two party system for years to come.

Jacob Oost November 17, 2008 at 1:18 am

I do NOT call myself an intellectual and I quickly correct people whenever they call me that. And it's because the label has been hijacked by assorted morons who are more connected politically, culturally, and economically than intellectually.

I read Dickens, Dostoevsky, I study foreign countries and cultures, I follow world events and read history, I have more books than shelf space, I know my special theory of relativity from my general, I know what happens scientifically when bread bakes, I got beat up in school, I can write, act, quote from Shakespeare or Naked Lunch, watch foreign, silent, and b&w films, know Henri Cartier Bresson from Ansel Adams, neutrons from electrons, Tarkovsky from Eisenstein, and scoff at Larry the Cable Guy. Yet I'm still a right-wing pentecostal Christian who votes pro-life, eats biscuits and gravy, doesn't believe in evolution, and thinks global warming is a bunch of hoo-ha. Where do I fit in?

Maybe I should call myself a neo-intellectual. :-)

FreedomLover November 17, 2008 at 4:37 am

It's very simple why anti-intellectualism is running rampant in the GOP right now. The theocrat right-wing has taken over and bible-thumpers aren't known for their intellectual firepower. In fact they detest people who are trained in the Socratic method and who study real science for a living. If the GOP doesn't eject the Christian theocrats from the party immediately, it will be relegated to the dustbin of history VERY soon.

SaulOhio November 17, 2008 at 6:02 am

The whole point isbeing missed here. Can anyone rule a whole society, regulate its economy and tell people how to live their lives, wether or not they are labelled "intellectuals"?

Gil November 17, 2008 at 7:20 am

Since when did the term 'intellectual' mean 'someone who argues in favour of issues of the left-wing variety'? I thought an intellectual was someone who is basically a pen-pusher who constantly writes about issues – left or right.

Mind you criticising 'deaths by Socialism/Communism' is fraught with danger because the interpetration of statistics are given by Libertarians (likewise the similar to do with 'democide'). Lo and behold, since Socialism means 'anything but the true free market' the unnatural death rate from Socialism is 100% Or to ask a Libertarian how many deaths were by the free market – the reply will inevitably be "None, there has never been a true free market therefore the question is invalid.

What then stops a Communist from arguing "there's never been true Communism therefore the death toll is zilch, those who called themselves 'Communist leaders' were power-seekers hiding behind ideology while they killed their way to power, such brutality is Capitalist greed."

Randy November 17, 2008 at 8:30 am

I think we need to start by distinguishing between intellectual and rational. The two are not the same. Many of the largest and most complex tomes in history were written to rationalize the irrational.

muirgeo November 17, 2008 at 8:52 am

"Or to ask a Libertarian how many deaths were by the free market – the reply will inevitably be "None, there has never been a true free market therefore the question is invalid."

Gil

There are now certain questions that are taboo here. Certain lines of reasoning that can not be allowed on Cafe Hayek. You are crossing the line here… me too.. I suspect.

To reiterate. No discussing gross macro-economic trends and their potential relation to policy, no asking for an example of free markets and no pointing to the success of mixed economies.

Randy November 17, 2008 at 9:15 am

Gil,

"…the reply will inevitably be "None, there has never been a true free market…"

That's not the answer I give. There is a free market, as long as there has been human interaction there has always been a free market, and there can be no wealth creation without a free market. The fact that the political classes of past and present see and have always seen fit to profit at the expense of those who participate in the free market does not negate the existance of the free market. Two proofs that the free market exists; 1) there is wealth and wealth could not exist without the free market, 2) the political class exists and the political class could not exist without the ability to collect rent from the free market.

Martin Brock November 17, 2008 at 10:00 am

Two proofs that the free market exists; 1) there is wealth and wealth could not exist without the free market, …

This reasoning is obviously circular.

Randy November 17, 2008 at 10:08 am

How is it "obviously circular" Martin? How can wealth be created if people don't choose to create it?

vidyohs November 17, 2008 at 10:11 am

"What then stops a Communist from arguing "there's never been true Communism therefore the death toll is zilch,"

Cute, but not true.

The Pilgrims tried it and damned near killed thwmselves off before they got their stupid turned off and their smart turned on.

Various hippie communes tried in in the 60s and 70s, and rapidly dissolved, fortunately without death because no one was forcing them to do it.

The Rooskies and the Chinese tried it in all sincereity and the closer they got to the real thing the more of their own people starved or were killed for refusing to starve quietly.

The reason Thomas Sowell was able to use the example of the Russians in the 30s to good effect is that it demonstrates exactly what happens when pointy head intellectuals try to take an esoteric, irrational, and unnatural theory directly into practice without first performing real experiments to find out if it will work. They could have skipped the experiment if they had just done an honest study and evaluation of history.

The kind of intellectual Dr. Sowell diminishes in his opinion is the kind that have the unflinching conviction that their idea will work simply, and foremost, because it is their idea; and, they are willing to kill however many of those lesser creatures, in "fly-over" country, it takes to impose it on that unwilling populace.

That is the epitome of true evil.

There is no anti-intellectualism in the right, that is the label that the left has assigned and the the media imposed. Conservatives have the better grasp of intellectualism because conservatives are unwilling to squander resources (people or things) on unproven ideas, so they take the intellectual process and use it rationally.

President Bush, for instance, was called anti-intellectual because he stated he didn't read newspapers. The media pounced on him like a duck on a Junebug, and people like muirduck and Gill ridiculed him in knee jerk response.

Those powerful left-wing intellectuals could not grasp that Bush had no need of newspapers. First thing every morning, no matter where he is, he gets a briefing prepared from the intelligence gathered by all of the various intelligence branches of government, then briefings on domestic issues, etc, everything and more that a newspaper could bring him. So, he should sit back and read a newspaper when he has more important things to be doing? Only a left-wing fool could expect that.

Dr. Sowell is dead on when he writes about the left caring more about the form of being an intellectual as opposed to the fact of being one. It simply reflects the same view held by the left that dealing with issues is best done from the emotion rather than from thought. It is appearances that matter most to the left.

Martin Brock November 17, 2008 at 11:08 am

How is it "obviously circular" Martin? How can wealth be created if people don't choose to create it?

1) allegedly is a "proof" that "the free market" exists.

Wealth requires a free market.
Wealth exists.
Therefore a free market exists.

The circular reasoning is in the first assertion, that wealth requires a free market. The assertion is simply a tautology here, constructed to make the syllogism hold. What creates wealth? The answer is "a free market", by definition. What is wealth? The answer must be "the output of a free market."

I can imagine some purely fascistic system in which we all strictly follow orders from people strictly following orders from other people strictly following orders, ultimately following some Supreme Leader directing all of us to create wealth.

I don't imagine this system scaling well beyond a few people, and I expect this system on a large scale to create less wealth than other systems I can imagine, and I expect the authorities in this rigid hierarchy to consume the lion's share of the wealth produced, but I don't expect nothing at all to be produced. Why do you expect this?

People will follow orders. People will march to their own deaths in concentration camps, if they lack other attractive options in the short term. We know this from the historical record. Organizing labor this way is terrible to imagine, but the terrible characteristics do not imply that fascism produces nothing at all.

The problem with the syllogism is its reversal. I observe any wealth at all, and I may conclude that a free market exists. No matter how limited the opportunity, no matter how impoverished people become, if we aren't all dead of starvation already, a free market still exists.

I prefer a narrower definition of "free market". This one is incredibly vague. It's political bullshit.

Martin Brock November 17, 2008 at 11:37 am

"In our state the individual is not deprived of freedom. In fact, he has greater liberty than an isolated man, because the state protects him and he is part of the State. Isolated man is without defence."

Mussolini, The Doctrine of Fascism

This fascistic formulation of "freedom" confuses liberty with property. Classical liberalism did not confuse liberty with property; otherwise, "life, liberty and property" is redundant. Property is the limitation of freedom that a minarchist accepts. Propriety is the rule of law organizing a market and other civil, social interaction.

Liberty is the freedom remaining within the bounds of propriety. A classical liberal is not an anarchist, but he is not a fascist either, because he advocates a state also confined by the bounds of propriety. The precise boundaries must be debatable, but that standards of propriety also bind officers of the state is not debatable. Precisely who constitutes an "officer of the state" must also be debatable; otherwise, statesmen may avoid their proper restraints simply by declaring themselves "not statesmen".

colson November 17, 2008 at 11:46 am

I'm late to the tea party but I found Atlee's discussion of a GMU intellectual profound:

"He insisted that I was an unthinking radical who couldn't understand the complexity of the situation he was dealing with –"

My point back to the intellectual would be: if I can't comprehend the complexity of the situation, what makes you think you can fully comprehend the complexity of the situation and the series of unintended consequences that arise from attempting to pretend you can and do comprehend such complexity.

Danial November 17, 2008 at 11:48 am

What do you take as evidence that people are blindly following Obama?

Posted by Muiregeo

I find it almost silly to answer this question as the majority of Obama supports have attached themselves to Obama's key principle of change as if it is the silver bullet to all of america's current troubles. Obama has become a dominus e dues in the eyes of the American people who have become so enthralled with this abstract ideal of change they no longer care in where it comes from or how it is administered.

FreedomLover November 17, 2008 at 12:33 pm

I have to agree with Martin, Communist nations can create unlimited wealth too. It's just that it all flows up to the commissars.

Gustavo November 17, 2008 at 12:34 pm

Well, I define myself as an anti-intlectual, here are two essays, one by Nozick and the other one from prawfsblawg which I find wery ilumintating about the dangers of relying only on intelectuals for if you want to read about it

prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2008/06/why-i-am-an-ant.html
http://www.cato.org/pubs/policy_report/cpr-20n1-1.html

Marcus November 17, 2008 at 12:34 pm

"How is it "obviously circular" Martin? How can wealth be created if people don't choose to create it?"
– Posted by: Randy | Nov 17, 2008 10:08:01 AM

It's like arguing that God must exist because the universe couldn't exist without him. It's a circular argument.

You have to give explanation of why wealth can only be created in a free-market. I believe you are wrong on that point. The market is about allocating resources but there are other ways to allocate resources.

The argument for free-market allocation is that it allocates resources according to what individuals actually want and need as individuals rather than by what some small group of authorities decide people should want or need.

As such, assuming liberty is important, it generates the most wealth.

boqueronman November 17, 2008 at 1:19 pm

Let me add another book to the list of must reads on this subject, historian Paul Johnson's "Intellectuals." After giving an acerbic mini-biographies of some of the more well known late XIXth-XXth century intellectuals, Dr. Johnson summarizes with this statement we should all take to heart: "For intellectuals, far from being highly individualistic and non-conformist people, follow certain regular patterns of behaviour. Taken as a group, they are often ultra-conformist within the circles formed by those whose approval they seek and value. That is what makes the, en masse, so dangerous, for it enables them to create climates of opinion and prevailing orthodoxies…" So far we know very little about the substance of the new President. However, the overwhelming dominance of hard left thinkers in his inner circle may prove to be a sign that he will find it difficult to see any wisdom in what "non-believers" may propose as alternative ideas and proposals.

MnM November 17, 2008 at 1:39 pm

I will once again point to Hong Kong as an example of a free market.

Back on topic, it occurs to me that many people are missing the point of Sowell's column. He's not arguing in favor of "anti-intellectualism" but rather against the tendency of self-described intellectuals to believe in ideas that ultimately lead to death and misery.

Randy November 17, 2008 at 2:48 pm

Marcus,

"You have to give explanation of why wealth can only be created in a free-market."

True enough. I usually leave out that part because it seems so obvious to me. Okay, I make something you want, you make something I want, we trade, and both of us profit from the exchange. Wealth is created, even if it is only a small bit of free time in each separate transaction.

I should also include another assumption that I usually leave out; that the government, to the extent, and only to the extent, that it participates in voluntary value for value exchanges like the above, is also part of the part of the free market and part of the wealth creation. To simplify; the free market exists wherever there is a free exchange of value for value. Wealth is created in the process. And if there is another way to create wealth, I am not aware of it.*

*I suppose we could refer to the transformation of natural resources into useful materials as "wealth creation", but this would have to be limited to specific individuals (hunters and gatherers) and would account for very, very little of the wealth that exists.

vidyohs November 17, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Theoretically just about anything is possible I suppose. That no pigs fly is not proof that they never will in some far distant future when pigs have been altered.

"I have to agree with Martin, Communist nations can create unlimited wealth too."

It is pretty telling though that no examples exist of Communist nations, communist societies, or communist groups creating any wealth, much less unlimited wealth.

Typically communism/socialism collapses after the wealth they seize has been consumed.

But, I suppose, when pigs fly.

Martin Brock November 17, 2008 at 6:45 pm

I make something you want, you make something I want, we trade, and both of us profit from the exchange. Wealth is created, even if it is only a small bit of free time in each separate transaction.

Here, you simply define "wealth" as the product of this free exchange of value for value. That's why a "proof" of a "free market", based on the existence of "wealth", is circular.

So here's another definition of "wealth". "Wealth" is something, like food, that keeps me alive. If I'm alive, I must have wealth. "Wealth" is not limited to things keeping me alive, but "wealth" includes these things.

Now, if I purport to "prove" that life exists because wealth exists, I'm also arguing in circles. I'm not "proving" anything, because life is implicit in my definition of "wealth" a priori.

With this definition of "wealth", if I'm a slave on a plantation, my master might give me four options. I can work in the field gathering his crops, and if I do, I get enough water and turnips in the evening to keep me alive. My master gets a lot of wealth, and I get a little wealth. That's my first option.

My second option is to climb the barbed wire fence surrounding the field and search for greener pastures. In this scenario, guards positioned along the fence with shotguns will shoot me. It's not a very attractive option, but it's an option.

My third option is a few hours with the overseer's whip.

My fourth option is a hangman, because the master is too humane to watch me starve to death when I refuse to earn my water and turnips by picking his crops even after many hours with the overseer.

Now, I suppose this plantation system might generate some "wealth", as defined above, but I don't call it a "free market", so I don't identify "wealth" with "free market" as you do.

What I call a "free market" generates more wealth, in my way of thinking, but that's a separate issue.

Randy November 17, 2008 at 6:55 pm

vidyohs,

The way I see it, free markets proved capable of creating some wealth even in Communist nations. But the Communist political class survived by pillaging. They enslaved their human resources and produced nothing but weapons – useful perhaps for seizing or enslaving more resources – but not for creating wealth.

Randy November 17, 2008 at 7:06 pm

Martin,

"Here, you simply define "wealth" as the product of this free exchange of value for value."

The free market is the transaction. Wealth is the product of the the transaction.

Slavery does not create wealth – it simply transfers it by turning people into a consumeable product.

vidyohs November 17, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Randy,

I understood your position.

If by free markets in a communist nation, such as Russia, you mean the black market then yes tiny individual free markets created some wealth for some people. However, that would hardly be unlimited wealth.

By definition there are no free markets in a communist nation/society, all means of production are owned and controlled "by the workers", therefore there was no you and I in the equation. The equation was supposedly we and them (whoever them might have been).

I am fully aware that "wealth" is a subjective term and means different things to different people; but if we limit our discussion of wealth to just common mediums of exchange and acknowledge that income can't be wealth until it exceeds necessary spending then I see no way that anyone can make a case that a communist nation can create wealth much less "unlimited wealth" (which BTW is the topic of discussion – the unlimited wealth part).

The nation of Russia was staggering along consuming itself and the only thing that kept it from collapse were loans from more prosperous nations, ours included. With WWII that increased, so that coming out of WWII and even to today I am not sure that we aren't still floating the new Russia, I certainly know that the USA, England, Canada, Austrailia, and some others floated the old Soviet Union.

Summation: Highly unlikely that any kind of case can be made for communism creating anything but misery, poverty, starvation, black markets, and eventual collapse and division.

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