Monday, April 3, 2006

Class warfare - Confusing the Water with the Hole

All effective lies have a kernel of truth in them, that makes them so attractive. This is also the case with the communist theory of class warfare.

Communists see the domain of politics as the arena for an eternal battle between "the workers" (people who do not own "means of production") and "the bourgeoisie" (people who own "means of production"). Eventually, or so believe followers of this primitive belief system, capitalism will become intolerable, "the workers" will rise up, slaughter their bourgeois oppressors (as they did so nobly in Russia and China) and use the means of production under their benevolent representant, the omnipotent state. Eventually this omnipotent state will fade away (maybe they get bored or something) and we will all live in a Communist Paradise.

Well, this is a nice fairy tale, but it has nothing to do with reality. There is no magical recipe that can transform human beings into angels. In reality, there does exist a parasitic, oppressive class, but it's not the "bourgeoisie". It is the ruling class - whether kings, dictators, or democratic government.

Typically, people who own more resources do tend to be opposed to the freedom of the masses, because they can influence the power of the state to further their own ends. This can be observed all throughout history, but in our modern societies more specifically as corporate interest groups, campaign financing, corporatist law-making, protectionism and subsidies, and so on.

So we must be careful not to confuse capitalism and corporatism. This is a very common mistake. Corporatism is a system by which economic power can be translated into political power (or its use). In fact, the purest expression of corporatism, is the belief system of Communism, where economic power IS political power. Capitalism, on the other hand, demands that all individuals be equal to the law regardless of their wealth, fame or trade.

The sub-title of this entry is "Confusing the Water with the Hole". What I mean by this, is that we must be careful not to blame the effects of the inherent evil of government on private individuals, such as people who represent corporations. If people exploit the inherent evil of government for their own advantage, we should no doubt recognize them as morally dubious, but we should rightly blame the existence of the incentives purely on the unjustifiable existence of government.

If you have a pipe transporting water, and this pipe is fractured, spilling water, would you blame the water for leaking ? Or would you rather recognize the fracture as a flaw and fix it ? What created the problem - the fracture or the water ?

Now suppose you are extremely powerful, so important for the government that you get it to pass a law for you. The law says that you are allowed to kill as many vagrants and prostitutes as you want. You take this as a go-ahead, grab the nearest gun, and start shooting. Are you personally to blame for your own actions ? Certainly. But would you have had the incentive to kill if the government hadn't passed that law ? Of course not. So even in this extreme example, we would blame you as a criminal, but blame the government first for using its tremendous and unjustified political power to give you that much political power. We would say that, in a free society, such a thing would be unthinkable.

People who own or preside over corporations exploit bad laws all the time, and sometimes lobby for their own. Is that morally reprehensible ? Yes ! Is it corporatism ? Yes ! But should we blame these individuals for choosing such a path ? No, rather we should first blame government, which makes such corporatism possible. Should we blame the corporations who go in third-world countries and exploit their workers, or the third-world dictatorships that allow such exploitation to exist ? The dictatorships first !

Contrary to what the law says, a corporation is not a person. It is composed of individuals, who come to work together because they have common values. They have more resources precisely because they agree to cooperate with each other. There is no coercion in the concept of corporation in and of itself. All coercion begins, and can be traced to, government.

I imagine some statists may argue that I'm arguing that corporations are blameless in the same way that rapists argue that they blameless - because "she deserved it !". Do we deserve the government we have ? No, I don't think anyone deserves government. But more importantly, in this political dynamic we have not one but two evil parties. A better analogy would be to compare government with a kidnapper who supplies a child molester with a completely secret supply of little girls.

In the end, everyone acts on his incentives. That is the only fundamental constant you can rely on in order to understand human behaviour. People do things because they have incentives (internal or external) to do them, and they don't do things because they don't have any incentive to do them. Politicians exploit the masses and serve the rich and powerful, because it's the best way they have to keep and expand their power. The rich and powerful use political power to expand their own wealth and power, because it's the best way they have to do so.

In a free society, incentives are completely changed : because of the absence of political power, it becomes in everyone's interest to trade with others on a non-coercive basis, simply because coercion is too costly. Government, in this perspective, can simply be seen as a machine which, due to its monopoly on force, makes coercion cheap.

1 comment:

Andrew Greve said...

"Politicians exploit the masses and serve the rich and powerful, because it's the best way they have to keep and expand their power. The rich and powerful use political power to expand their own wealth and power, because it's the best way they have to do so."

i think you raise a great point here franc. as exploiters, the only way government officials can increase their own power is to increase violence. in a free society, exactly the opposite scenario takes place. those who produce things of value will be rewarded by having "power" in the form of dollar votes.

if you'll notice, i put power in quotes when talking about a free society and not in quotes when talking about goverment. i think its important to draw the distinction between the two concepts.