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Conservative voter's dilemma.

The dilemma:

[UPDATED 12:25 est.]

Candidate A is, very simply, an unrepentant socialist*. He is quite incapable of perceiving all that is good in the free enterprise system; and his exaggeration of its faults is glib and implacable.

Candidate A has this going for him, which is nice: he is a patriot, and he is a Christian. His socialism is an extension of his outrage at sin: and his love of his country is true, deep and unsophisticated. Let us say he is one of that dying breed the pro-life Democrat, and even voted for Reagan once.

But not even old Reagan could persuade Candidate A to see the virtues of Capitalism.

Candidate B is a carefully reasoned advocate of global Capitalism, and an old hand in the antique debate between Capitalism and Socialism. But he has lived too long in the bustling cradle of international civilization — Western and non-Western cities the world round — and his patriotism has atrophied. He is, in truth, a globalist — a functionary of the tutelary despotism of Tocqueville’s nightmare.

Who do you vote for?

Do not underestimate the damage that socialist economics can inflict on a commonwealth. But do not forget that Globalism may issue in the betrayal of the Republic.

* The back-and-forth in the comments inclines me to think that this label might be better rendered as “distributist.” I mean a man who is actively and openly hostile toward Capitalism. That does not mean to actually embraces the old nationalization agenda of a Socialist circa 1920.

Comments (59)

My inclination is to regard this choice as representative of the predicament that modernity has imposed upon the Christian patriot, for, confronted by a choice such as this, his nation is damned if he votes one way, and damned if he votes the other way. Should he vote for the patriotic Christian socialist, and should this candidate attain office, the resultant policies will aggrandize the central government, enervate the virtuous independence of the people, and so torment them with the futilities and sclerosis of a quasi-managed economy that they will fairly cry out to heaven to be delivered by the crass materialists. In the interim, something of the historic character of the nation might be preserved, and the Christian faith might linger on mechanically; but come the transition, the decline will not be simply precipitous - it will be immediate and absolute. Think Spain and Ireland.

On the other hand, should our conservative vote for the globalizer, his nation might enjoy a sort of prosperity, but at the cost of his nation's independence and, ultimately, its sovereignty, as evidenced by the evolution of the EU. Here too, its historic character and identity will ebb away, to be replaced by the market, through which the deracinated masses will have their identities mediated to them. He will see certain virtues preserved, but transmogrified into vices in many instances, and rendered futile in others - this, by the thwarting of the natural end of such virtues, the preservation of family and community.

Ironically, then, voting for the Christian socialist - assuming that such a creature is even a coherent entity - will be like voting for the GOP in modern America: something of the historic character of the nation will be preserved, but only for a time, as it is being hollowed out and rendered absurd. Going towards the cliff at 50 mph. Voting for the Capitalist will be like voting for the Democrats (there being very few of those conservative Democrats around to complete the original analogy, I'm afraid) in modern America. Headed for the cliff with the pedal pinned to the carpet.

The very fact that modernity requires of the traditionalist a choice between which aspects of the tradition to sacrifice, and when, with the inevitability of the entire tradition being offered up as a burnt offering to modernity's idols a final indignity to be endured, is reason enough for the Christian traditionalist to cultivate an antimodernist stance.

Your comment, Jeff, is as the doom-telling drums in Moria.

I might end up not voting for either. I don't think you always have to. But I'd certainly look for more information. I'd interrogate their records on all sorts of highly specific issues other than the economic ones, especially life issues. Betcha they wouldn't be equal on those. And let's not forget that our best example of a pro-life Democrat now elected, young Bob Casey, Jr., has been explicit that he will support his party in various matters in the legislature--such as committee control--regardless of the pro-life issue. Party comes first for him. I can find the link to the interview if wanted. So the pro-life Democrat doesn't end up being nearly so good in practice on life issues as some people thought.

I'd also want to find out what form the globalizing tendencies of B took. Is he looking for new places to intervene militarily around the globe? Is he soft on immigration? His just being a free-trader wouldn't be a deal-breaker for me, even if I felt he was too glib about some of the concerns there.

Truth is, we'd be rather lucky if this were our choice, especially if both candidates had some pro-life credentials. As things stand, we will be sailing into 08, I predict, with the prospect of total lovers of the culture of death in both candidate positions for President. Yet some people will foolishly call _that_ a conservative voter's dilemma. (As opposed to a no-brainer.)

I have not stipulated on which level this hypothetical election is taking place. Fortunately there are still real pro-life Dems at the state and local level. My father worked with a bunch of them when he was lobbying for the Denver Archdiocese.

I also deliberately left out information about the Capitalist's views on social issues. This seems fair, because oftentimes with this sort, we indeed don't know what he really thinks, or how committed he is to whatever statements he has made.

Your comment, Jeff, is as the doom-telling drums in Moria.


So you're taking it that we can assume the socialist is sincere in his views on life issues (for example) but that not only do we not know the capitalist's views on social issues, we don't know if we could believe him on whatever he said if he did make statements? That sounds a little prejudicial, as though the socialist is being treated as pretty definitely a sincere guy and the capitalist as at least plausibly untrustworthy. I don't mean to be difficult, but it seems to me there's perhaps a faint whiff here of the idea that socialists are sincere idealists and capitalists are cold-blooded, shifty cut-throats. Of course, if you have some _other_ reason to believe that A is a sincere idealist (hence his socialism) and B is the sort of person whose word you couldn't take even if he gave it on social issues, that difference in character is relevant in voting. I would be inclined, though, to consider A in that case to be probably a babe in the political arena and highly unlikely to be able to do anything helpful on the issues that most concern me.

Speaking for myself, I won't vote for anybody except perhaps for dog-catcher or drain commissioner unless I know something good about his stance on social issues. So I'd probably be sitting out this election. I'd be disinclined to vote for an outright socialist in any event unless I had strong reason to believe he could do something important and concrete in other areas of concern to me. And I wouldn't vote for B until and unless I knew more good stuff about his approach to other issues.


The reason for my limitless cynicism where the free-traders is concerned is that actually-existing free traders, as opposed to hypothetical free-traders and rationally-plausible intellectual constructs, seldom have any conception of the limits that must be placed upon free trade if the cultural and political integrity of a nation is to be upheld. Whether an indifference to the maintenance of an industrial base - self-evidently essential to national security and the provision of remunerative employment to the lower half of the Bell curve - or enthusiasm for mass immigration as an aspect of the free flow of all things, actual free-traders seem only to manifest concern for the perpetuation of national identity as a series of abstract propositions. If one values something, one must also value the limitations placed upon it, for this is the condition of the preservation of just about everything in this life.

Well hell. Lydia is reducing my little piece of bosh to ... well, bosh.

Perhaps my dilemma is indeed prejudicial to the poor Capitalist. Let us say that what you can glean from his statements and manner is that (1) he is sincerely and admirably attached to the free enterprise system, and exercised by its cheap detractors (like Can. A) but that (2) he has never shown the same enthusiasm for social issues, and tends to give the distinct impression that he wishes they'd just go away.

How, in these circumstances, can one vote for either, or even vote at all? If one votes for either, one is choosing evil, while if one votes for candidate C or D, neither of whom has the slightest chance of winning, one is ratifying the system that ensures that A or B will always win, and again choosing to do evil.

I do believe that Paul's dilemma is defensible as a composite image of a Republican tendency on the one hand, and a hypothetical Democrat possibility on the other. Let's face it, this is more or less the identity of the GOP at the highest levels, as evidenced not merely by the selection of candidates but by their actual governing strategies. And as for the Dem in Paul's scenario, well, such a candidate might never win the nomination for the presidency; but absent the thought experiment here, we're left with the choice between one head of the hydra and another. Big deal.

The value of third or fourth party candidates, Cyrus, is a question outside the framework of my dilemma, which may on that count perhaps be faulted for its restriction.

But as the two-party system is a clear American tradition (occasionally the parties shift allegiance and even titles, but historically, after these periods of flux, the tradition has reasserted itself), I do feel that there is a real authenticity to the hypothetical.

There is also this parallel: at the elite level the Democratic Party is quite as disproportionately pro-abortion as the Republican Party is globalist.

I have the feeling I'm misunderstanding something about this discussion, then. Both candidates are unacceptable. If I must vote, if I must distinguish between degrees of unacceptability, I suppose I could rationalize anything, and vote for either, and traditionally I'd vote for the man with (R) next to his name, but that is just a reflex, and one that is less and less defensible. You're right that the two party system is an enduring feature of American politics, and indeed it's probably an inevitable one, given the way the constitution is written. This means that voting for a third party, which is one of the usual ways out of the dilemma you pose, serves no function other than to record the voter's assent to, and indeed complicity in, the election of one of the two major party candidates. That is why I mentioned third parties - they're perhaps the last refuge of those who would have it both ways. Now, I've voted in most elections since reaching majority, usually for the Republican, and something in me rebels at the thought of not voting next time around, but the reasons for staying home seem better than the ones for going to the polls.

Zippy recommends going to mass instead of voting. That seems perfectly defensible to me.

But I think that when you get down to state and local elections, the responsibility to be a good citizens comes to bear in a stronger way. As Christians we cannot simply abandon the communities in which we are placed.

Now I am very far from saying that not voting equals "abandoning"; but it also seems to me that entering a symbolic third party vote for conscience's sake is a little more challenging position to hold when the political decisions to be decided by the winner will have immediate effect on you and yours.

Some of my friends here may be aware that I take a dim view of voting in every race. Voting in every race as a matter of course seems to me to be ritualistic moral proportionalism. Abstaining from at least some races is a sign of a healthy conscience.

In this particular dilemma neither choice seems to be an outright immoral one to make on its face. But then there is the matter of prudence: given a choice between putting a ten year old bully in charge of the Howitzer versus a six year old girl with her barbie dolls, it isn't entirely clear that positive assent to either is the way to go.

I'll say right here that I think voting for an outright socialist with large-scale centralizing plans is highly unlikely to be something I'd ever do. If the "socialist" in question is no more so than, say, President Bush was in 2000, I might swallow the No Child Left Behind Act, the farm bill, and the medicare drug expansion program and vote for him if he were really strongly pro-life. But if he has grander plans than that and any chance of implementing them, almost certainly not. I don't regard ruining the economy and material well-being of the country to be a small matter. I don't think I can just say, "Well, but that's just _material_ stuff." That's part of the proper concern of the ruler, and I won't say it's a small one. How many women will (just to take one matter) be driven into the workforce and have less time to teach their children important things if labor is increased, access to labor-saving devices decreased, and overall prosperity lessened?

But further, people who are stupid about the dangers of centralization and government power and the importance of freedom in one area tend to be stupid about it in others. Witness the fact that some pro-lifers with Catholic tendencies think socialized medicine is a good thing. They just don't "get" the rationing, the killing off of the helpless, and so forth that are an inevitable part of all of this and that should, if they knew it, conflict with their pro-life commitments. Consider the fact that (so I'm told) the Roman Catholic Church has formally endorsed, of all God-awful things, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is pretty much inexcusable foolishness. Any conservative parent should run screaming from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. But again, if you like centralization and think government involvement is benevolent and helps the helpless, you're likely not to see the incredible dangers in various areas beyond the economic.

In short, if free traders are overly sunny and careless about the dangers of free trade, this is true *in spades* about socialists--however nice and patriotic--when it comes to government centralization and power.

So I'd probably not vote in that race. Nor do I think (so here I disagree with Cyrus) that voting third-party ratifies something bad just because the third-party candidate is enormously unlikely to win. A vote for a person is a vote for a person. But perhaps Paul doesn't want us to debate that in this thread.

Debate whatever you like, Lydia!

I'll add that when I say "socialist," I don't mean some fullblown endorser of nationalized economies and the like. Are there any of those left? I mean a "Christian socialist" as George Gilder, perhaps the most interesting of our theorists of Capitalism, used the term: someone who is actively and openly hostile toward the Capitalist system, and makes this hostility a major part of his political posture. Our own Jeff Martin would probably qualify, if he will allow me to speak for him.

I probably should have clarified that.

Well, I'd disavow the socialist label, while acknowledging that in a binary discourse, and given a public that seems incapable of nuance, that it might stick. I'm more of the Chesterton/Belloc man, myself. Free enterprise is a wonderful thing, but like, say, my love for the brewer's craft, it requires limits if it is to be what it is.

I would vote for Candidate A. I fear free traders more than I do socialists.

Okay, Jeff: If you're running for office as a distributist, why should I vote for you? :-) :-)

Seriously, if the worst thing you're going to do is implement protectionism in trade, that's not so bad, even from my semi-libertarian perspective. I'd have to know what other "distributist" plans you have in mind, though, before I vote for you. I've never been sure how committed you are to environmentalism, for example, so I'd want to know more about stuff like "wetlands" legislation, carbon taxes, various legislative ways of treating driving big cars as a sin or vice (grin), pushes to try to make everybody recycle, and the like. But I can't for worlds imagine you running as a Democrat, even a self-designated "pro-life Democrat." In any possible world I can conceive of where Jeff Martin runs for office, he's _definitely_ a third-party candidate. This, I might add, is intended as a compliment. And if you're not a Democrat, that gives me a lot less to worry about in the way of foolish ideas about government intervention.

The environment is a complicated issue, so I cannot really articulate a nice, clean, univocal approach. Though I'd certainly not seek to unduly penalize the drivers of large vehicles. I own a Yukon! I've got two kids, and would like to have more! And carbon taxes would be massively regressive; carbon credits perhaps still more so, with a lack of transparency. Some of the things I'd like to do would be on the order of ending the tax deductibility of fuel and transportation costs, particularly for large agricultural concerns, both conventional and organic, which enables them to undercut local producers at our collective expense. That sort of thing.

I'm not a scary sort. :))

I don't know that this hypothetical is all that useful, given that the choice between actual candidates will have other information to serve as a tie-breaker. Personally, I'll usually pick one on a "lesser of two evils" principle, and that means looking at more information than this.

I would also like to say that this comment...
I have not stipulated on which level this hypothetical election is taking place.
...is a matter of some significance to where I will locate the lesser evil. Other things being equal, Candidate A for local elections (where his anti-capitalism can do only limited harm) and Candidate B for national (where his ability to affect social trends is more limited than Candidate A's ability to institute harmful economic policies).

Not too bad, Jeff. You probably have my vote. :-)

More seriously, Paul, you ask if there are any real centralization socialists around. Well, yes and no. Probably there aren't a lot of people who would say, "Hey, I think the central government should plan the whole economy as in a communist state." But of admirers of some sort of European soft socialism, I think there are plenty. How many advocates among Democrats are there for a) increased government welfare and disability, b) cradle-to-grave nationalized healthcare, and/or c) government funded child care? Lots, is how many.

On the subject of European socialism, I read about a "family" (I use the term advisedly) in Belgium: One man, who claims to be "totally disabled," allowing him to draw full disability payments. He spends his days in his "study" watching TV and drinking beer. Three common-law wives (!!) and their umpteen children. Each of the wives, of course, draws an unemployment check. Because after all, they're unemployed!

Now, I can picture soft-hearted, well-intentioned, pro-life Democrats advocating policies that would at least lead to that kind of thing, plus nationalized health care and daycare. But I can't picture a conservative like Jeff _ever_ doing so.

So it makes a difference. If you're talking about a pro-life Democrat who even might be called a socialist, I have a lot of red flags that go up.

And here's a sort of sad thing: State officials affect our lives, I suspect, more than local officials. It didn't used to be so, of course. But as Craig says, it's for that very reason that I might not worry my head too much about voting for Candidate A for City Commission. He might help us get rid of the local porno joint, resist (if he's a social conservative) the addition of "sexual orientation" to the city's non-discrimination policy, and not be able to do too much in the way of economic harm.

The original question can be boiled down to, "which evil do you prefer?" I don't much like thought problems like this, because if I'm going to have to pick an evil with which to live, it needs to be a real situation facing me. Real situations, with particular places and people, might be answerable. A real person might be wrong on something but open to persuasion.

I actually like these kind of questions. The answers people give tell you what their greater fear is presently. Obviously folks here are afraid we are going to have national healthcare soon and maybe a few other things. I'm afraid of more agreements like CAFTA and WTO. I'm afraid of the monopolization that is occuring in the private sector.

It is interesting how people answer though. I should note that I read these questions in the context of present circumstance. It seems that there are a few folks who don't.

Obviously folks here are afraid we are going to have national healthcare soon and maybe a few other things. I'm afraid of more agreements like CAFTA and WTO.

I'm afraid that we're going to end up with both sets of evils! That's why a version of the dilemma really resonates with me: I have the luxury of selecting my poison, or perhaps abstaining altogether.

What the hell are the "doom-telling drums in Moria"?

Was Chesterton's distributism utterly hostile to the free-market, or just to a market with no moral underpinning? Maybe 're-distributist' would be closer to what you mean by socialist.

And just on the face of it, I ain't voting for any of the guys in the original hypothetical. That's because I watched part of the Republican debate last night and am now prejudiced against politicians in general.

One day Bill will treat us to his careful essay of Tolkien criticism, and we will all rest satisfied.

I, too, wd. be interested in what you more knowledgeable Chesterton fans wd. say his actual economic plans were. My impression is that he _was_ entirely hostile to the free market and was in fact quite radical about it. In the famous passage (which I love for other reasons) about the little girl's hair, he says expressly that there must be a revolution. He also says that the mother's landlord must be forced not to charge too much for rent. And we all know what a great success rent control has been for helping the poor!

In short, he comes across to my eye in the bits I've read as imagining (as a socialist would) an impersonal and benevolent Power, the specific workings of which he never bothers to consider (nor the wisdom of making it so strong a power), who makes everything "fair," taking away land and power from those who have "too much" of it and giving every man, from the common store, a home and little kingdom of his own. Whether this Power is then supposed to wither and die (as in Marx's system) or hang around to "distribute" again when things get once more unfair, when, for example, the lazier men lose their little kingdoms is, of course, left unclear. About the only less somewhat radical and concrete policy I can see that he endorses is a fairly high minimum wage requirement. I think that's fairly clear. But there, too, he has _no clue_ as to what anyone could possibly economically say against such things, seeming to believe in what I call the "Mr. Ford's mattress" idea according to which the evil capitalists are just squirreling away all those disgusting profits in a mattress somewhere and we would all be better off if they were forced to give out more of them to the poor wage slaves. I realize that some of y'all may also favor minimum wage laws, but I tend to believe that at this stage of the game you realize better than GKC appears to have done that it's not all just a simple matter.

In short, I would hesitate very much to trust to GKC's economic ideas and plans, which have always appeared to me from the little I've seen ill-thought-out, economically uninformed, and highly naive.

...seeming to believe in what I call the "Mr. Ford's mattress" idea according to which the evil capitalists are just squirreling away all those disgusting profits in a mattress somewhere and we would all be better off if they were forced to give out more of them to the poor wage slaves.

In my experience many people - often even businessmen - make a fundamental mistake about business. We look at financial statements and the arithmetic relationships between the numbers on them, and we think that this actually tells us something about how the business operates: that e.g. finding a way to reduce the expense line would increase the profit number, or that because the profit number is $X that means we could dividend out $X if we chose to. But that is total balderdash. Financial results are results, a very crude form of report card: they are not a mathematical model of what actually happens in the operating business.

"Capitalism" and "socialism" are abstractions, it seems to me, representing extreme idealized endpoints of a modern economy; endpoints which will never be actualized in any actual economy. So at the end of the day we (again) aren't arguing about whether management should be able to make decisions or whether business will operate in a regulatory framework. We are just arguing over what specific and concrete degrees of freedom and constraint ought to be actualized in law.

There is no such thing as "capitalism" or "socialism".

He also says that the mother's landlord must be forced not to charge too much for rent. And we all know what a great success rent control has been for helping the poor!

One simply must understand the historical background to rhetorical flourishes such as the one to which you refer. Over the course of three centuries or so of English and Irish history, it became entirely commonplace for landlords in the countryside to acquire title to virtually all of the tracts of land and the majority of the domiciles. There is quite a fascinating history behind all of this, the story of the emergence of modern capitalism, more or less; but it is dubious in the extreme to imagine that it is somehow naive, socialist, or morally perverse to question the justice of such arrangements. The imbalance of power, political and economic, coupled with the servility this breeds in the unfortunates deprived of real property are hardly matters to be waved aside with references to rent control - which, indeed, does not really 'work'. Perhaps such situations should be forbidden outright, such that they never arise?

In short, he comes across to my eye in the bits I've read as imagining (as a socialist would) an impersonal and benevolent Power, the specific workings of which he never bothers to consider (nor the wisdom of making it so strong a power), who makes everything "fair," taking away land and power from those who have "too much" of it and giving every man, from the common store, a home and little kingdom of his own.

It is true that distributists tend to ambiguity on this score. But it ought to be borne in mind that the present arrangement was as much the product of a politically-driven alteration of existing states of affairs as any hypothetical redistribution of property nowadays would be. The legal order of pre-modern England, like that of certain regions of France even into the Nineteenth century, secured smallholders in their possessions, and ensured access to some common lands where additional animals might be permitted to graze, and so on. Beginning in the Sixteenth century in England, around the time of Henry VIII's "reforms" of the Church, landed aristocrats and improvers in the countryside began altering the rules governing the use of the commons and imposing new regulations concerning the payment of feudal dues, the upshot of which was to unleash a dynamic of consolidation. The newer arrangements incentivized efficiency by mandating cash rents, as opposed to in-kind payments, and so forth. Now, one might well read all of this and respond that such is the price of modernization; but the fact remains that this involved a shift in the legal and social order - and this is where things become historically fascinating. You see, all of those disfavoured by the new arrangements had a legal case, and plead those cases before the courts of law; yet they received no satisfaction, the judges having accepted the argument that the increase in efficiency and the generation of greater exchange value was sufficient to override established legal practice. The implications are more profound than most recognize.

But I digress. My point here is the simple one that if an entire social order can be overthrown at one point in order effectuate what the so-called great and good of that society consider an improvement, then this can not only occur again (not that I am saying that it should occur along the somewhat hyperbolic lines you suggest), but that the heirs and beneficiaries of that original 'primitive accumulation' have less standing than might be supposed to protest such renovations. We must not confuse the contingent for the necessary. My other point would be that the modern economic order has always been justified primarily by means of appeals to efficiency and prosperity, and that from the time of those transitions in England forward, and that this amounts to answering a philosophical question about how we ought to order our affairs with a pot of money. It not only misses the point; it is just vulgar.

Chesterton repeatedly argued that Socialism is an obvious evil. In The Outline of Sanity he wrote, "Those of us who study the papers and the parliamentary speeches with proper attention must have by this time a fairly precise idea of the nature of the evil of Socialism. It is a remote Utopian dream impossible of fulfilment and also an overwhelming practical danger that threatens us at every moment."

But he also argued repeatedly that (again from The Outline of Sanity) "The Socialist State is exceedingly like the Capitalist State."

This last was crucial to his critique of modern political economy. He and the other distributists (Belloc in The Servile State, for instance) generally held the opinion that both Socialism and Capitalism tended toward concentration and plutocracy, an aristocracy of wealth. And on those grounds they regarded both as hostile to liberty.

I agree with Mr. Cella and Maximos in describing distributism. To go at it from another angle, distributism seeks to retain the relationahip of product and labor. Taking a step back, distributism principal criticism against socialism and capitalism is the seperation of capital and labor. This is the criticism that eminates from encyclicals such as Rerum Novarum. One of the most fundamental relationships is between man and his use of the provision of God.

To break the philosophical mode, take one of capitalism's arguments. Sometimes a capitalist will claim that we grow Hondas in Iowa. They will say that we grow wheat in Iowa that is traded with Japan for Hondas. They will claim that it is unimportant that Iowa farmer doesn't knwo that he is producing Hondas. The socialist would claim as well that it is unimportant how the food comes on his table or the roof is placed over his head, merely that one is provided.

The distributist would find such offensive. He would claim that the farmer has become nothing more than a wage slave. His creativity has been crushed in service of another. He has been placed in a faux communion.

I might well agree, were I to look into it in detail, that the changes mentioned in the 16th century and onward were wrongful takings of the legal rights of the smallholders and that they did damage. But it seems to me that there's a danger in looking two centuries back and saying something like this: "Joe Big-holder wouldn't have all this land under his control and the power to charge rents which I think too high were it not for the legally and morally wrongful undermining of the smallholder's rights two hundred years ago and more, gradually, over the ensuing two hundred years. Hence, Joe Bigholder doesn't have the standing to keep his property that he would have if...[what? his family had owned all this same land since the Battle of Hastings? But that was also a wrongful taking of land from the Saxons...]. So it's really not objectionable if we set up some plan whereby Joe's land is either gradually or suddenly, somehow, distributed more widely. And that would be a better arrangement, anyway."

Sometimes, many times, water under the bridge is water under the bridge. It seems to me that, fascinating though the history of all of this is (and I do not mean that with sarcasm), if Joe did nothing wrong or shady himself to acquire the land in question, it is his. To say that he has less title because the nature of the present "system" was set up wrongfully long ago in the first place smacks to me of the same reasoning that would, consistently followed, require us to say that people living now on lands from which the federal troops drove the Indians, wrongfully to be sure, in the 19th century have a less strong title to their homes and businesses than they would have if so sordid a past event were not causally bound up with the availability of that property to them.

Sometimes, many times, water under the bridge is water under the bridge.

Oftentimes, as in the case of broad-scale land transfers such as that from the Indians to the American, the flow of the river is irreversible. But my argument is not that every one of the deliverances of our history must be rationally justified or be subjected to reformation in the present. It is, on the contrary, narrower and more focused: apologists for the present societal order, dubious though it is in certain respects, are not warranted in ascribing authority to every jot and tittle of contemporary capitalism and invoking the spectre of The Road to Serfdom every time someone suggests that this or that policy or arrangement ought to be other than it is. These are matters of historical contingency, for the natural law itself is not so specific as to place all of our jots and tittles beyond rational and moral critique (that's just not the nature of the natural law, if you will); this being the case, those defending the system owe critics, you know, an actual justification, as opposed to appeals to our fears of collectivism. In other words, an argument to the effect that economic consolidation is just, rather than merely productive of certain efficiencies and economies of scale, such that even modest, piecemeal reforms intended to redress the resultant imbalances must be rejected precisely as they now assure me that they must.

A pot of gold is never an answer to a philosophical question.

MZ, my question would always be, "What do you propose?" Concretely. Specifically. I'm familiar with "third option" rhetoric to the effect that socialism's bad, capitalism's bad, we need something that is neither. Somehow, the concrete ideas always end up sounding an awful lot like...socialism. I have no objection to our disdaining silly talk of the sort you describe about "growing Hondas in Iowa." Well and good. But when we start making proposals to "distribute," because the present system was set up in a wrong way and concentrates wealth and the means of production too much, I get very uncomfortable, and I suspect that something wrong is going to be done. Retaining the property of actual property owners who aren't themselves thieves isn't just sort of "one regulatory option." "Hmmm. We could leave Joe Bigholder in possession or we could set up a _different_ regulatory system in which all his renters have automatic title to the land they live on after living there ten years [or whatever]. These are at least equally legitimate. The latter might even be _more_ the rightful prerogative of government. Let's decide which to do." And that's where the distributist might be as unlikely to get any vote of mine as the free trader. More unlikely, if the free trader were really good in other ways (as B in the example apparently isn't).

Lydia, here is an essay I wrote a while back touching on your questions.

The broad sweep of my "proposals" is that the Free Market and Private Property are not always in accord, and that we should privilege the latter principle over the former.

I don't think you have to argue that consolidation is just in order to say that it is unjust to take Joe Bigholder's land away from him and redistribute it. I'd want to know what the modest reforms to "redress imbalance" are. And I might consider it legitimate to object to them simply on the grounds that they represent unwarranted government intrusion. And in many cases I actually believe that such intrusion is likely to harm the people it's intended to help in the long run, anyway.

Look, I agree as much as anyone that you don't have the right to do whatever you want with your property. I'm all over that one. But when it comes to simply saying, "Gee, you *shouldn't have* that much property. Justify for me why it's _just_ for you to have that much property. I want to redress the imbalance and give other people some of it unless you can show me that it's just for you to have all of it," I'm completely unsympathetic. There isn't something inherently wrong about someone's having X amount of property.

What I would do:

1) Revoke LLCs.
2) I would set a minimum wage for employees of corporations around $14 an hour.
3) I would eliminate the federal funding of airport, seaport, and highway maintenance and contruction.
4) I would raise the gas tax by $1/gal and place the tax in general revenues.
5) I would exempt the first $100K of income from income taxes.
6) I would place 30%-40% import tariff on all goods.

At the State Level,
1) I would deed the freeway system to the counties.
2) I would allow counties to lease any freeway to a private corporation contingent to an agreement upon tolls.
3) I would give cities the right to lease rights to the freeway. The county (or private) owner could demand payment access. (For example, Milwaukee would be in a position to charge fees whereas Port Washington would probably have to pay for access.)

This would be a start.

There isn't something inherently wrong about someone's having X amount of property. In the abstract, this is perfectly true, provided we are not discussing an hypothetical in which someone owns 98% of all of the world's property; then again, reality is not a transcript of such abstract statements.

The 'wrongness' of any given arrangement of property relations is a matter of circumstances - that is, of contingencies, just as are the origins of such relations themselves - such as circumstances in which a factory has become the sole employer within a community and employs its leverage to reduce the people to a low level of subsistence, and of tendencies, as in the tendency of certain systems to deprive people of the opportunity to realize goods of human nature (sorry, it simply is objectively better to be a craftsman than a factory line worker performing repetitive tasks for eight hours each day).

One would expect capitalists and defenders of free markets to possess some appreciation of these points, inasmuch as it was the radical imbalance between the privileges of capital and the circumstances of poor labourers that facilitated the spread of socialist doctrines and led, in the United States, to the rise of Progressivism and the welfare state. Conservatives too often err in their analysis of the epoch, as though the credulity and corruption of human nature sufficed to explain such phenomena; what they neglect is that the credulity of our nature is free-standing, and can attach itself to any reductive, ideological, and leveling doctrine, even that of the free market, as libertarians so often demonstrate for us. For my part, I should like to observe that circumstances which render more probable the embrace of such errors are more often than not themselves the products of other, and opposite, errors. Man is a reactive being.

Mr. Forrest,

At the State Level,
1) I would deed the freeway system to the counties.
2) I would allow counties to lease any freeway to a private corporation contingent to an agreement upon tolls.
3) I would give cities the right to lease rights to the freeway. The county (or private) owner could demand payment access. (For example, Milwaukee would be in a position to charge fees whereas Port Washington would probably have to pay for access.)

The benefits of ceding to local governments authority and control of the freeways are obvious enough. What is less clear, to my mind at least, is the benefit of authorizing the sale of lease rights for highways and roads to private operators. Were the highways under the purview of the local government, and were it commonly felt that they were being mismanaged, or that tolls were exorbitant, the normal course of elections might be counted on to bring some satisfaction. I'm not so certain that the same conditions would obtain were they under private administration; at least here in the Philly suburbs, most roads are, more or less, monopolies of certain routes of travel: if you need to reach x, you've got to take roads a, b, and c. Were a private operator to overcharge, the incentive mechanism by which this could be corrected is not immediately clear.

I know I'm opposed to Mr. Forrest's #2 and #4. To #4 most of all. Why the dickens is gasoline treated like a vice and to be taxed as such? Heaven knows we have high gas taxes already. I'd like to see the ANWR opened and far more of the resources we have there used. There is no reason that drivers should be treated as a deep-pocket source of government revenue to have the heck taxed out of them for government revenues any more than the consumers of, oh, I don't know, scented candles. Shoe leather. Any other type of goods and services.

#5 looks very interesting. As in, maybe good. Do they get an exemption from Social Security tax for that first $100 K as well?

I don't have strong opinions on highway control.

Paul, I gather (from a _very_ quick skim) that your essay is proposing some form of trust-busting, big-business-busting policies? Like what? My major point about such things is that, when they break up existing large businesses (as opposed to preventing the rise of more), they are strictly speaking radical and will doubtless have lots of unforeseen and not-necessarily-good consequences. Leaving a set of stock owners in possession of their business just _isn't_ a "policy move" on a par with breaking up their business. I would be quite determined not to treat the passive government and the active break-up government in such a case as both "doing something" in public policy. The prima facie case is to leave people, including stock owners of corporations, in possession of the property they have acquired without themselves doing evil or breaking laws. If you want to do something different, that's what has to be justified and has to be approached in a cautious frame of mind.

I'm of the opinion that freeways could be operated like railroads, regulated but under private ownership. This has more to do with financing than anything else. For example, Indiana sold the Indiana Toll Road about 2 years ago. ( http://www.tollroadforsale.com/day3bid.php ) There is some sense to centralization, and if it makes sense for the counties to sell their rights to the road for a time, then so be it. The Indiana Toll Road is a perfect example where an individual county might not want to face the burden of maintaining the road, but the road is beneficial to the county.

There may well be something to the idea of regulating and administering highways in this fashion. I'd add a caveat, though, inspired by the proposal of my governor, Fast Eddie Rendell, that the PA Turnpike be leased, potentially to a foreign company: it would be preferable by far for the revenues generated by such arrangements to remain within the country, as opposed to being shipped overseas. At least under the present arrangement, the revenues from the Turnpike tolls are actually disbursed within the state.

Lydia: Would the prima facie case regarding a nation with a sclerotic dirigiste economy, such as France, for example, be that its economy ought not be reformed hastily and radically, given that generations of Frenchmen have come to depend upon the structures of that system, and have had their expectations shaped by it, however perverse certain incentive structures might be? In other words, is this prima facie case a conservative, gradualist one that always cautions moderation, or does it only operate in one direction: in favour of capitalism? Radicalism in the reform of socialist economies, or socialist-trending economies, can occasion as much hardship - or more - than radical reform of imbalanced capitalist economies, as the example of Russia under the "shock therapy" regimen of Western neoliberals demonstrates. Speaking personally, I've little patience for the notion that radical reforms are evil in one instance and wondrous in the other, knowing the hardships my own future wife and in-laws endured. Hunger for the sake of capital is still hunger. It seems to me that gradualist reforms should be recommended all round..


Since immunity, which is basically what limited liability is, is a right of the State, the State has a reasonable claim that those operating under the immunity make full provision for their employees. We may not be able to get rid of aid to families who can't afford healthcare, but we shouldn't offer such a right to an entity that enjoys the privelege of immunity.

In regards to gas taxes, we are one of the few countries that segregates fuel tax revenues exclusively for road improvements and maintenance. Removing this exclusivity would address the externalities of road building. We may find ourselves with real cities again.

Both candidates would be limited, to some extent, by the will of the people (since we don't live in a dictatorship). For readers who think both candidates espouse a negative ideology, then one might choose the candidate who is less likely to get his agenda fully enacted. The appetite of Americans, it seems, is stronger towards socialism than towards globalism, based on the fact that most people desire government benefits (entitlements have never been touched; non-military spending never gets touched) but are less thrilled about, say, losing their jobs to lower paying ones overseas or illegal immigration or a world gov't or what have you.

Europe has obviously become much less nationalistic and patriotic as globalism has progressed but I'm not sure we've seen much diminution in the U.S...In the near term socialism seems more dangerous but in the longer term the loss of patriotism, if globalism does undermine it.

So if Candidate B were pro-life then he would get my vote.


You don't have to raise the total amount of the gas tax by $1/gallon in order to stop segregating its use, though, do you?

I'm afraid I don't "get" the connection between limited liability and a requirement for "full provision for employees." I just don't see any connection. Why say that rather than that the state has some totally different prerogative w.r.t. such organizations: E.g. That those receiving such immunity must require that their employees dress nicely at work and never serve fatty foods on-site? I mean, the minimum wage thing--and such a high one, too--just seems arbitrarily connected to limited liability. And what "right" is it that we're "offering" to corporations right now? The "right" to pay their employees less than $14/hr? That seems a very strange way to look at it. Am I also being given by a generous state the "right" to pay a baby-sitter less than $14/hr? I don't see that refraining from requiring a high minimum wage is the same thing as positively granting a right. At all. I could see a problem if such corporations were being granted exemptions to minimum wage laws that applied to smaller employers. But that's not what you're talking about. Rather, you're talking about a specially high minimum wage requirement for corporations and seem to be saying that not having it amounts to "giving them aid."

Besides, if I'm understanding correctly, you'd abolish limited liability anyway, which would seem to undermine your rationale (however that rationale works) for the $14 minimum wage.

Maximos, I don't have strong opinions of the sort you're guessing I have. In fact, I can see your point about gradualism in abolishing government programs. Heck, I'd _phase out_ Social Security, not abolish it in one fell swoop. The difference is that, from my perspective, socialist welfare programs are a sort of poisonous drug that the people of a country are addicted to. I can't find anything comparably nasty I'd be willing to say about the mere existence of very large companies that own (I think this was one of Paul's examples) 200 banks, as if we really _ought_ to get rid of them, as if they are a social poison, but we should do so carefully and slowly. Still, at least I don't automatically fall into the one-side category you were describing.

One day Bill will treat us to his careful essay of Tolkien criticism, and we will all rest satisfied.

I'd have to read him first.

Heck, I'd _phase out_ Social Security, not abolish it in one fell swoop. The difference is that, from my perspective, socialist welfare programs are a sort of poisonous drug that the people of a country are addicted to. I can't find anything comparably nasty I'd be willing to say about the mere existence of very large companies that own (I think this was one of Paul's examples) 200 banks, as if we really _ought_ to get rid of them, as if they are a social poison, but we should do so carefully and slowly. Still, at least I don't automatically fall into the one-side category you were describing.

I heartily concur in the judgment that welfare programs are, more often than not, a poisonous drug causing many virtues and relationships to atrophy. However, one of the cardinal failures of American conservatism is a blindness to the manner in which large corporations, and the economic logic they instantiate, introduce equal and opposite poisons, and sometimes even poisons of the same genus, into the body politic. Large corporations, by crowding out or subsuming smaller ones, sap initiative and responsibility no less than the welfare state; our difference in perceptions owes everything to the differences between the welfare queens of yore and people reduced to wage earners, who approach work - something that ought to be a calling - as a mere means of amassing the finances with which to consume. The economic ethos of bigness, with its large corporations and emphasis upon efficiency, justified by those low, low prices, inculcates a mentality of entitlement and acquisitiveness, a sense that everything is disposable, the frivolity of the momentary. Most portentously, a consumption-oriented economy causes a withering of true public-spiritedness, of true concern for the common good; man-as-consumer is passive, and as he is passive in his private life, so also is he largely passive in his public life, this essential passivity masked by the egoism of so much of what passes for private life. Man-as-consumer is passive because, as the classical and republican traditions would have it, he lacks independence, save perhaps as the mere assertion of ego.

Then again, those same traditions of thought would be unanimous in holding that unlimited accumulation - the foundation of modern political economy - is utterly inconsistent with republican self-government, a fact with which we even now make our reluctant acquaintance.

The thing to remember about Distributism is that it seeks the widest possible distribution of productive property. Not in the form of stock certificates, but in the form of independent small businessmen and women, family farms, and other smallholders. Distributism is not an agenda created by policy wonks, but a goal with many legitimate versions of how to get there.

The real point of fear when discussing Distributism with Americans and Conservatives is they always think we are talking about redistributing accumulations of property. This is (for most Distributists) far from the truth. Instead, what most would like is to remove the structures that have been put in place by the holders of accumulated capital to protect their entrenched position, and to give themselves advantage over smallholders. Corporate subsidies, the farm bill, irrational damages awards in personal injury cases and our insane tax structure are all on that list, as well as laws regarding corporations. In their place we would put structures that encourage small businesses, business co-operatives and employee-owned enterprises.

Interesting. I asked a similar question recently on Conservative Times. It must be in the air.

My question was:

If you had to choose to live in one of the following countries, which would it be:

(1) a socially conservative, closed-border, anti-third-world immigration, socialist state


(2) a socially liberal, open-border, pro-third-world immigration, libertarian state?


The smallholder still will need access to capital to make effective use of his property, and he will find himself beholden to the providers of capital. It will simply be that he will be beholden to the bank who has a mortgage on it, instead of being an employee of a large owner. And to a great extent the bank will treat him as an employee, bank staff experts will tell him how to run his business, and if he balks he will run the risk of being cut off from capital.

There may be some moderate increases in dignity as a result, but then again, personal bankruptcy caused by your business failing rarely feels dignified. Similarly, taking orders from the bank on what to do with your property is not clearly less injurious to dignity than taking an employer's orders on what to do with his property.

The first alternative to having the control of accumulated capital reside in the control of the people able to accumulate it in the market is to put the capital, or at least the decisions on how to apply the capital, in the hands of an agency other than the accumulators. That is, the government. Handing the capital to the agency gives you "traditional" central planning; just having the government (or a body set up by the government) give orders as to how the capital may be spent gives you Mussolini's original attempt at constructing a "third way". It gives you more tyranny than private capital (since control is ultimately centralized at the government level) and adds the lack of discipline in the market.

The second is to have an agency seizing and redistributing accumulations of capital to prevent any accumulation (again, the government). Which is socialist redistributivism, eliminating capital. Even if private property is not entirely abolished, the elimination of any "too big" piles of capital limits the ability of the smallholders to get money to adapt to changing conditions and adopt new methods. Frequent smallholder bankruptcies are the result.

Now, of course, one can reject any of these in their pure form. But when you mix them, you will note that any reductions in the flaws of one by the introduction of the other is mirrored by a reduction in the original's virtues and the addition of new flaws. Since people are hardly omniscient, it will be largely impossible to determine when you have the ideal balance, if, indeed, such a balance even exists. And that's assuming perfect goodwill and brotherhood among all the people indirectly or directly involved in making policy.

So, yes, the current situation has defects. That's inherent in the way the world works, the situation will always have defects, because none of the three approaches lacks them, and all "alternatives" are just mixtures of them. Pointing that the defects exist is not going to help fix them, any more than pointing out that the Sahara is too dry for wheat farming is any aid to anyone.

Tell me, instead, what you specifically want done, and then we can consider what the costs are and what negative consequences will come with the change, just as we could evaluate any plan for making the Sahara suitable for wheat cultivation. (And know we'll be wrong, because we are not omniscient; and know any implementation will not be enacted just as you envision it anyway, because men are not angels.)


Now, on to two specifics proposed above:

1) Revoke LLCs.

Are we simultaneously going to outlaw limited liability clauses in contracts, and provisions in loans for oversight? If not, you'll massively disrupt the current economy -- and find in ten years you've got a nation run by de facto limited liability corporations where all contracts have a clause exempting the personal assets of the sole proprietor and the actual control of the company rests with boards of bondholders and bankers.

Without it, you'll see the country owned by foreigners. No American would dare buy equities in any speculative venture, but foreign-based LLCs for investment would, since they'd allow the equity holders to hide behind their nations' limited liability laws. If the extent of "Jurgen Holdings GmbH"'s assets are 1,000 shares of SpeculativeVentureA's stock, and that company goes belly-up, well, the German investor is safe because his stock is in a German limited-liability corporation, and German law will stop you from going after his other assets.

2) I would set a minimum wage for employees of corporations around $14 an hour.

At which point, corporations sell off facilities employing persons making less than $14 an hour to sole proprietors, said proprietors' purchases being financed by the corporation itself and bound by long-term contracts to the corporations.

Alternatively, you rework the laws to prevent such setups, and simply see everyone whose work adds less than $14/hour worth of added value to the company be fired. High unemployment results, followed by deflation, followed by another round of firings. Welcome to a real depression.

Or you fail to index the $14 for inflation, and you see the dollar drop precipitously over a few years and real wages return to the old levels.

Lunatic: Fascinating points. I hadn't thought about the one concerning borrowing from the bank. The 14/hr just sounds, well, _crazy_ to me, for the sorts of reasons you've outlined. It's wildly implausible that this money is just sitting in a pot somewhere waiting to be doled out and that the workers won't in some way *that is not the employer's fault* be harmed by such a radical change. And of course, the inflation and higher prices are relevant, too, but no one has answered my references to those.

Your comments on eliminating LLC's are useful, as well.

I think Danby may have a good idea about problems with the farm bill and high personal damage suit awards, though. I don't see why a free-marketer should object to those.

Be sure to check out the "which freedom" thread, where we're debating "living wage" requirements--moral or legal.

I think MZ's point with the $14/hour for corporate employees is precisely what Lunatic posits as the outcome. The corporation will fob off their low-wage jobs to either outsourcers (who will all be sole proprietorships) or spin them off as closely-bound partnerships. There's nothing new here, corporations do this all the time. Call centers, IT services, janitorial, payroll, mailroom, purchasing, receptionists, graphic design and printing services are all commonly outsourced. It would be tough on a corporation like one of my former employers, that does $4billion/yr outsourcing technical support services. They'd have to give everybody a 20% wage hike or go out of business. But for most companies, it would just be another outsourcing deal. This is commonly called "focusing on our core business."

Once that's done, why would a corp bind itself to a spun-off division? Better for the shareholders to get your outsourcers to compete for your business, or to spread it out amongst several competitors. And as a secondary result, lots of small businesses get created along the way.

I'm not saying I would do this, but I can see the logic. I tend more toward exempting smaller businesses from the onerous regulatory and tax burdens that put them at a serious disadvantage against large business.

Regarding banks, In my experience, banks don't spend much time telling you how to run your business. Instead, they're trying to sell you their "financial products". They assume you are the expert on your business. Many small-business oriented banks do offer consulting services, but that's voluntary. It's not until you're in financial trouble that they're going to come knocking on the door, as well they should.

Lunatic et al,

One could easily form an S-Corp or a Limited Partnership for a speculative venture. Converting to a C-Corp would not be an issue. Limited Liability is necessary in society. We should not however extend it to the individual. Unfortunatley the tendency of LLCs is to indemnify an individual in common transactions.

The big word you are looking for is indemnity. There is clear case law on the issue, and one of the issues is that to transfer indemnity, consideration has to be offered. So I don't believe such operations could continue but only under contract.

danby is correct in that my goal would be for corporations to sell off such assets. To put it better, my concern is not how the corporation perpetuates so much as it is that the corporation provide a public benefit. When employees of Wal-Mart are the largest receivers of state welfare benefits in a given State, we have a problem. If you protest that we will not have decently priced goods, then I will answer that you are paying for it regardless. There is no free lunch. I would be shocked if any municipality in the country commonly had its employees on welfare. Why should we allow another creation of the State to do so?

My expectation under such an arrangement is that indeed many corporations would get out of the retail business. Several more would probably be out of the wholesaling business. Say what you will about Ford or GM, but their employees (as opposed to their former employees) are not in welfare lines. The Fords and the DuPonts of the world made themselves spectacularly wealthy and made the States they conducted business better places. The same cannot be said for the Walton's who have left decimated downtown after decimated downtown throughout the country.

Or how about this: Corporations, as employers must provide health insurance to their employees, at least equivalent to Medicaid, with the employee carrying no more than 10% of the cost. That's something I could get behind.

We could try eliminating welfare...

(I'm ducking, now, before the missiles start flying.)

Requiring employers to provide a health benefit would accomplish my goal. I'm less inclined because that requires the State defining what a health benefit is - is abortion a health benefit? - and I'm not keen on deferred compensation being included in a minimum wage.

We could try eliminating welfare...
That's exactly what I'm proposing except I'm proposing eliminating demand for welfare as opposed to most people focusing on supply. I openly question whether State sponsered welfare should be eliminated, but more importantly I'm doubtful any scheme to do so will succeed in the presence of real demand. Equally troubling to me is that there are so many people asserting an entity created by the State has a right to the labor of a man insufficient to ensure his human dignity.

So I propose mandating that coporations provide health coverage for all their workers, and what news greets me today? In a few months I won't be working for a corporation anymore.

M.Z., I too believe that a goal to be worked for is that everybody can support himself, everybody has medical care, there are no hungry children, and evil is abolished. I just don't believe that putting a mandate on employers is either a good way to bring this about nor particularly just. Nobody has a right to man's labor. That's why he gets to say "no."

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