Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't like the current situation, compare it to the fall of the Roman Empire

Last week I wrote a supportive note to Froma Harrop's column on how conservatives and right wingers are calling everything socialism or communism. Shortly after that, a local columnist, Arthur Foulkes, wrote a column with this lurid title: "Political, government takeover of economy a disaster for the United States" He has been writing a series of articles that have riled up some of the locals, especially some members of our Economics department, citing the Austrian School of Economics as if it were gospel. In short, he is treating the Austrians the way marxists treat Marx. Be that as it may.

In this installment, he compares the current situation with the fall of the Roman Empire. I recall these comparisons to the US in the late 60s and early 70s, only then, it seemed to me, it was the liberals who were doing the comparing.

I find it amusing that a conservative would admit to the comparison of an empire to us (we are not an empire, after all, the empire is a lefty claim).

A couple of excerpts and some commentary: (you really should read the column, my excerpting will take things our of context)

Things are the opposite in an economy controlled by the state. In a
government-directed economy, all enterprises become hierarchical bureaucracies.
Production and income are no longer based on voluntary exchange but on politics,
planning, regulation and compulsion.

Any large business becomes a hierarchical bureaucracy...look at GM, or IBM, or how about a huge conglomerate like ConAgra foods. Those entities aren't reading the Austrians, I can promise you that. They work very hard to use the State to their advantage. Now, if Mr. Foulkes were not an ideologue he would not only provide examles of the growth of education:

This is what happened to the Romans and what is happening in America today.
Government control of schools and most universities means educators are often
employees of the state and have every incentive to defend it and look to it for
their support. Government control over more and more of the once private sector
means less and less innovation, growth and prosperity. It also means less civil,
voluntary economic cooperation.

Right wingers always use selective examples of the growth of the government. Education is a favorite one to show. yet, in today's annual Parade Magazine (a terrific source of pop knoweldge) among the fastest growing occupations in the immediate future: police officers. yes, right-wingers don't lament the growth of the state using examples like police officers, prison guards, or the military. Indeed, the largest socialist enterprise, I'd argue, in the US anyway, is the US military. Those are never examples of the growing spectre of government control, never mind that all three are in the coercion business. and the military, prison guards, and police never vote in their self-interest.

Many people believe capitalism, private property and individual liberty are
code words for selfishness. This is completely backward. Capitalism and economic
freedom force people to consider the wishes of others in order to make a living.
To become rich in a truly free economy, it is necessary to provide something for
which other people will voluntarily pay.

Indeed, all those military contractors out there who couldn't survive of their favorite congressman didn't ignore the military brass and demand that a weapon's system that doesn't work still be produced or a base which no longer serves any good military purpose is kept open due to the influence of powerful senators. The same principal applies, but doesn't serve the interests of the right wing ideologue.

The growth of the Roman welfare state also killed the ethic of
self-reliance that allowed Rome to prosper.

It is indeed the government with its free trade policies which is ushering manufacturing out of the US where people have no choice but to work for a dollar day to produce $100 a pair sneakers. In fact, the US continues to rely more and more on the financial side of the capitalist equation, just providing money and no work or interest in self-reliance (oil, future technologies, important industries) we will just buy it cheaper elsewhere. But, those other countries are more efficient with their low wages and coercive governments (China, Mexico, Singapore, Vietnam). Absolutely. There are so many disincentives to work today, the high taxes on income compared to stock market bingo, declining benefits (at least on welfare you get medicaid), there is no question, the morality of our people is suspect (except for the Austrian adherents).

Mr. Foulkes must see the world in a very simplistic way. The educators I know, probably more than he does, are mostly in favor of education (tax them, pay me) but are not in favor of more, tax them, pay me, but cut them). No doubt, the police are suspect of the liberal symps in the universities so they say, tax them, pay me, but cut them. And on and on. The goofy idea that everyone who works for "the state' automatically views the state as all good and all beneficial is ridiculous. Just like everyone else, they will protect their interests at the cost of others' interests.

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