Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Socialism is Reactionary (2)

For all their Ivy League education, the leading lights of Progressive thought seem to have no sense of history. They criticize Capitalism – that extended system of human interaction that spontaneously evolves whenever people are at liberty to freely exchange their labor, talents, and property – for creating poverty amid plenty (the more thoughtful may speak of allowing poverty amid plenty) and causing vastly unequal distribution of the world’s wealth. As if all of humanity was wealthy before capitalism.

One would think these free-market critics accepted Archbishop Ussher’s calculation that creation happened on the night of 26 October 4004BC and humanity sprang forth 6 days later, eventually emerging from Eden endowed with agriculture, domestic animals, metal technology, written language, an emerging civilization, and a comfortable standard of living for all. Then, they seem to think, some time later this simple and fair world was spoiled by Capitalism which took wealth from and impoverished the many, giving it to the few.

Imagine: these anti-free-market intellectuals mock Christian fundamentalists and Biblical literalists.

Abject poverty was universal before trade

Anthropology tells a slightly different story. Twenty thousand years ago, all humans were poor, poorer than all but maybe a few thousand people living today. Life for all was brutal, parasite-ridden, and short.

This was the time of the Noble Savage, whose lifestyle Rousseau so admired and extolled.

Between ten and twenty thousand years ago, people began to trade things they had (or made) in surplus for things that improved their lives but weren’t available locally. They traded for salt, flints and stone tools, antlers and horns, pottery, dies, maybe even pretty stones and feathers for decoration. Trade, for those who could participate in it, made lives easier and allowed more people to live – increasing populations.

Extended trade isn’t practical without some amount of private property. The whole tribe can’t lug a basket of flints somewhere to be traded for a basket of salt, then haul the salt back. The trade goods had to be consigned to somebody who would undertake the arduous and hazardous trade journeys. Since the trader might abandon the goods en route (by accident or because it was safer and more convenient to leave the goods and return), those providing the trade goods would want compensation before the trader left the camp. The goods became the private property of the trader – the guy who trudged over mountains and across rivers hoping to make contact with someone or some village to trade with. The guy who faced the perils of travelling alone or with only a few companions owned the goods and took the risks.

Free enterprise (free exchange of goods and labor for mutual benefit) was born.

There were, of course, other kinds of trade such as when nomadic tribes periodically gathered for mass exchanges. Perhaps this kind of trading could be communal, without individual property. But only a saint would trudge hundreds of miles to trade communal goods, and few people are saints.

Agriculture advanced individuality, liberty, and private ownership

Sometime around ten thousand years ago, people began to domesticate plants and animals. Agriculture and animal husbandry further increased the wealth – and ability to sustain larger populations – of farmers and, through trade, would have increased wealth of hunter-gatherer societies who traded with farmers. Seeds, food stuffs, and animals would become trade goods. Human population grew, civilization began.

Societies that experimented with individual ownership of land tended to become wealthier and grew faster than those still holding everything in common. How else would the novel tradition of private property emerge but from evolutionary trial-and-error by human societies?

Of course, everyone was unbelievably poor by the standards of 21st century America or Europe. Poor, in fact, by the standards of most of today’s third world. Yet, most people were better off than anyone had been ten thousand years earlier.

Individual liberty and free exchange enable creation of wealth

Fast forward another ten thousand years
Despite fits and starts and interruptions by rulers, philosophers, and religious prophets who figured they were smarter or more virtuous than everybody else (many of whom did steal from or enslave others), voluntary exchange of goods and services for mutual benefit – the free market – has increased wealth to the point where only 2/3 of humanity is poor, and even those poor are wealthier than anybody was before the extended order of mutual trade got started.

By the way, those 4 billion poor live in societies that have yet to try individual liberty, secure private property, and full participation in the extended economic order. The poor generally live in countries run by smart people educated in European collectivist thinking - an elite that knows better than others how people should live. People are poor because their social traditions or their rulers won't let them create wealth, not because of some “exploitation” a hundred years ago.

Don't believe it? The experiment has been run many times, always with the same result: liberal economies (capitalistic) reduce poverty faster than communal or planned economies. For one experiment, consider the two Koreas. Both were equally devastated in 1953. Both had wealthier sponsors to get them started. Even then, South Korea didn't really take off until it more fully liberalized its economy.

To eliminate poverty, encourage creation of wealth
In 20 thousand years, capitalism has reduced human poverty from 100% abject misery to 33% comfortable or wealthy and the rest better off than anyone was before trade and individual (private) property.

Progressives want to try something other than capitalism, usually reverting to the ancient communal social/economic systems (socialism) humanity began moving away from over 10 thousand years ago. Capitalism evidently has failed because things aren’t perfect yet: capitalism isn’t done and hasn’t yet worked for those who haven’t tried it. Better get rid of it.

That’s real bright. Sort of like disinheriting a 10-year-old child because she hasn’t yet received a bachelor’s degree.

Either that or Progressives really think, like Bishop Ussher, the world began in October 4004 BC, and everybody lived comfortably until they moved away from socialism.

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