I’ve started this post a few times, trying to get at some questions Sam has been poking at me with. I love Sam. I met him at an IHS conference where he one of the few non-libertarians in attendance. Actually we started chatting through facebook a few weeks before the conference. He really gets pissed at stupid politicians, particularly Republicans, but I don’t think he is idealistic about the Democrats. He aims at Libertarians often, too. We’re easy targets, and there’s a lot of people out there with just a little bit of knowledge each. It’s messy.
But I guess I’ve struggled to get to his points recently because my position is strung together in large part by my faith, which I usually want to leave out of intellectual discussions. But the bottom line is, I don’t know why anyone who doesn’t understand my position on theology would hold anything like my position.
I’m a Christian, pacifist, libertarian, anarcho-capitalist, anti-corporatist (in the current form), amillenial, voluntarist, employee of the Federal government. Heh.
The current discussion started over something about the increase in size of the wealth gap and a question about the effectiveness of welfare programs. Now, the wealth gap *per se* is not a problem to me. If the wealthy are my-kind-of-Christian and they are not sharing significantly of their wealth I don’t understand. By significantly I suppose I mean 20-50% of income. I also don’t understand if they are only sharing with Americans. Why should I care more about an American kid who only eats twice a day that a foreign kid who only eats once a day?
Sometimes people get rich by making other people’s lives better. That is, they invent something or provide a good or a service which people voluntarily pay for and get some satisfaction from. To whatever degree their satisfaction is above what they paid they enjoy “surplus”. There’s a lot of surplus out there. And people get rich by providing it.
Other times people get rich by getting some sort of privilege from the government. A lot of the anti-corporatist sentiment is directed against this sort of thing. I’m against that, too. I’m easily against all government privilege, because I’m against the state altogether.
But sometimes the Ayn Rand types get all defensive of corporations when talking to the anti-corporatists. In today’s climate it might be the case that every corporation in existence has to play the dirty game of politics just to stay in business. It’s quite likely I think. But there are a great many people who want to earn an honest buck by just helping people who get lost in the whole corporatist thing because there isn’t any other way. They go along with the system, and before they know it they can’t get along without it.
This is part of the reason why “corporate welfare” is an apt phrase.
Now, welfare sucks. I mean, it sucks if you have to be on welfare. We had medicaid for our kids when they were born. I’m not proud of that. But I’ve sucked at the teet of government healthcare. We stayed off WIC, but I have Federal Student Loans now. I get handouts.
I probably shouldn’t. I maybe shouldn’t work for the government. I have a hard time with it sometimes.
Oh yeah, wealth and corporations. One thing that happens when people get lots of wealth is that they like to spend some of it. Most of it gets invested back into corporations which do some good things. But some of it goes to pure foolishness. Extravagance and displays of excess and whatever are just ridiculous to me. If God wanted us to be peacocks He’d have given us feathers. Other money gets spent on politics. And there’s a real problem. If the wealthy have more money to spend on politics, they can steer policy in such a way that favors them and helps them to get more rich.
I agree completely that this is bad, and that it is a lot of what happens in politics today, and that a lot of people get rich this way, and that a lot of people try to get rich by using the government to get special privileges for themselves. And none of this is particularly new.
Sam usually suggests that some sort of regulation might help with these problems. Some regulations might. But regulations often get twisted around so that they are used by those who already have some power to get more. Libertarians talk about “regulatory capture.” If we could avoid regulatory capture and somehow use regulations to prevent corruption of politics, I’d be all for it. But I see regulation as mostly just making the beast stronger. I have yet to hear of a regulation that didn’t wind up being manipulated, often by the very people it was meant to curtail.
This is the point where Sam and I usually part ways then on regulatory issues.
And I understand a sense of urgency that says, “we need to do something, and a regulation is better than nothing.” I agree that something needs to be done, but I think that I’m the one who needs to do it. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do anything about it, too, but only if you want to.
But I don’t understand why anyone would want to.
What I have in mind is me taking some of my money and giving it directly to a person who needs it. Or me inviting illegal aliens to live in my home if they are facing deportation. Or me offering to pay a young woman to carry her child to term, and offering to adopt it, or to help support her if she wants to keep it. Or me volunteering to teach a class for free. Or me driving someone to the doctors. Or whatever. I’m talking about making sacrifices. I don’t know why people willingly make sacrifices for each other.
Now, I can understand some sacrifices. I understand sympathy. I understand that someone might care for someone else if they can see themselves in that other person’s shoes. Adam Smith talks a lot about sympathy, and I get it. I understand how a mother, brother, lover or friend can place their futures in another person until they are willing to die for them.
What I have a hard time understanding is willingness to sacrifice for total strangers, or for one’s enemies. But Jesus did that.
And I claim to know Jesus, and to have been changed by Him, so I want to imitate Him.
And I can understand if other people think that’s stupid or crazy or sentimental, but that’s where I am.
And I would never expect the same of you or anyone else. So if you want to take care of other people that’s great, but I don’t know why you would want to apart from sympathy. And I really think sympathy is just a sort of second order of selfishness. That is, sympathy is effective mostly when we put ourselves into another person’s shoes. Adam Smith says this happens when we become impartial spectators of others. We judge what is occurring to them as if it were happening to us, and experience a common-feeling with them: sympathy. And we don’t like to see others hurting or suffering or uncomfortable because when we sympathize with them it brings us pain and discomfort, and we don’t like to feel those ways. So, out of selfishness, to relieve our discomfort, we behave somewhat altruistically to care for others.
But you see, anyone can do this. We do it a lot, too, but not quite enough, because there are still a lot of needy people around.
What I want to live out is more than sympathy, though. I want to live sacrificially. That is, sympathy has its limits. Sympathy might motivate me to put some part of my life or limb at risk, but at some point I will say “it’s not worth it.” This indicates a rational calculation going on in my mind. What I am saying is that at some point the cost to me of altruism is greater than the sympathetic feeling I have for the other person. At that point I turn my head while they go on suffering.
It is precisely at that point, just past what is humanly rationally altruistic, where I feel like the divine has to rise up within me. When it is no longer worth it to me it is often still worth it to God. And so I make a real sacrifice. Not a trade-off “this for that” but “this for nothing”. This sort of thing is irrational. I wouldn’t expect it of anyone. But I expect it of myself. And if enough people who claim to know Jesus adopted this ethic, welfare would be over in a jiffy. Abortion wouldn’t be a profitable option if Christians offered to pay women to keep their babies. Inequality wouldn’t be an issue.
But these things are problems. I don’t blame the big corporations first. I blame me first, and others who claim to believe like I do but do nothing about it.
And when Christians spend an enormous amount of time and money on politics, I see it all as a waste. I see attempts to manipulate the political mechanism as a form of idolatry. The only thing good to do with an idol is to break it. I’d like the entire political machinery to be broken. I see politics as the source of power-over actions.
Now, corporations get money which they use to buy power-over privileges. But if there were no government, or perhaps a teensie weensie government not vulnerable to bribes, then the problem of corporations would go away. Indeed, a lot of corporations would go away. All those which in one way or another depend upon a privilege granted to them by the state would disappear. Maybe the average size of a firm would get smaller. Maybe it would get bigger. Maybe profits would go up or down. We can’t know really. The market, devoid of power influences, would reward people who make or do things other people like and those other people would pay.
I see “the market mechanism” as a pure process which devoid of political influence has myriad good consequences. The market has no mechanism for caring for people whom it has no use for. I need to sacrifice to care for them. I see the political mechanism as the way people try to free ride on other people, or basically try to enforce morality on others, or attempts to get power over other people. This is what the political process means to me.
I can’t see democracy as a better political process, one of discussion or otherwise. It is majority rule. It just says “this is how we will decide to use power.” It fails to say, “we will not use power at all.” Only the latter is acceptable to me.
I don’t like republicanism, either. Factions form, favors get granted. Power is implicit.
I’m not naive, though. I know we will never have an anarchist society. There will always be people using power against others. My fight will always be to destroy those institutions which create power, to sacrifice to free those that power oppresses, and to argue for this peculiar ethic.
The cry goes up, but people will be suffering in the meantime!
Ah, this is the hardest part I think:
Yes, people are suffering. It’s nothing new. I think that most attempts to help the suffering through political means lead to more suffering.
For example, some people think its a good idea to tax citizens and use the pooled money to pay for health care. I think this is a bad idea. People will use more health care than they need. Taxing one person to give it to another who needs it is like saying, “You have to care about that person.” “You have to love them.”
My response is: no. I need to love them. I need to care about them. I need to sacrifice to pay for what they need. But I can never tell anyone else that they need to sacrifice for the person who is in need.
But again, not all of those who are in need will be cared for, then.
If you read the Bible, Jesus will piss you off. He had the power to heal people, but he walked past many sick, hurt, and dying without healing them.
Why would He do that?
Why would He allow suffering?
Maybe because its not the end of the story. Maybe He will give those who suffered on earth a better place in heaven. Maybe the trade-off will be worth it. If He is God, and He is sovereign, then the sick and hurting and oppressed of the world have hope in the next life.
And if you don’t believe in a next life, what I have just said is offensive.
Thank God. At least I didn’t offend you by saying that I hate gays, or that pregnant girls shouldn’t be allowed to get abortions, but should have to keep their babies and “pay for their mistakes.” At least I haven’t offended you by promoting a conservative or progressive agenda. These are the ways Christians are usually offensive. And its because they are engaged in something that is not very Christ-like. They are manipulating power to try to make the world the way they think it should be. But power is not manipulated without consequence. It strips the virtue from the intended action, and leaves only force, violation, and evil.
I see the only appropriate action for a Christian as sacrifice. Now Christians should get jobs and go to work and make money. Then they should give a good portion of that money away. Then they should make more money to give away. Making honest money only happens when we help people meet their wants and needs. So making honest money to give away to others helps two sets of people.
But I don’t blame the people who find themselves having to compromise. People like me, who work for the government. I don’t think I could ever serve in the military, but I find my position currently useful. At my job in an independent agency I help to provide neutral research to policymakers. Just the facts and the science and analysis. I think that helps the government not to do worse things. Maybe I’m just justifying myself, though. I need others to criticize this for me, I’m too close to it.
And I have my federal loans. I’m more sheepish about that. I had a scholarship to school but I blew it by getting a bad grade in econometrics my first year. I see this as my fault.
Oh, Sam had been talking about how the wages for the wealthy are going up, but the wages for the poor are going down.
This might be true. If it is, it is not because of markets, but because of politics. Elites who have favors from those in power are protected while others suffer.
But I’m optimistic. That’s because I’ve seen the numbers about growth over the long run. I’ve seen major innovations. I know that trade is becoming more free everyday, and that more open borders is an inevitability. When people can move more freely governments will have to behave better and wealth will grow rapidly. In general I have seen everyone get richer, only the rich more so. This only can bother me because of the problem of influencing government, my solution for which was to further constrain government, not markets.
But I don’t mind people getting rich honestly. And I don’t believe all the poor need to be rescued. I believe I need to rescue those God calls me to.
Oh yeah, that’s an offensive part, too. I believe God talks to me. Through His Holy Spirit, He directs me when to perform acts of mercy. That’s pretty wacky. But its what I believe Jesus was doing. I believe He only did what He saw His Father in Heaven doing, and He did those things through the power of the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit I have in me. And Jesus didn’t heal or save everyone, so neither do I feel like I have to. But if I am living a life of selfishness, and pure luxury, or even relative comfort, then I am not really sacrificing, which is easy enough evidence that I have not been paying attention to God. And that’s on me.
Now, if sympathetic people want to get together to form clubs to take care of each other, or even form insurance co-ops, well that makes sense to me. And if somehow everyone decides to get together and join the same insurance co-op I’d think that was great. But it has to be a voluntary sign-up, not compulsory. The same goes for all sorts of other kinds of public goods. Schools, protective services, courts, fire departments, etc. The anarcho-capitalists have written about all of these things. They have good ideas. But usually they leave out the catalyst which makes the ideas of their world possible, those sacrificial altruists which generate the first spark of trust.
And that’s where get arrogant again. I really do think that it is those few good people who make sacrifices which sustain all of society to the extent to which society is sustained. Fewer good people, worse society. I want to be one of the good people, but I won’t force anyone else to be.