What’s Wrong with the World

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Economics as Ideology vs. Economics as Humane Discipline

Via Rod Dreher, quoting Caleb Stegall's review of Bill McKibben's book, Deep Economy:

In 1947, two titans of 20th-century economic theory, Ludwig von Mises and Wilhelm Röpke, met in Röpke’s home of Geneva, Switzerland. During the war, the Genevan fathers coped with shortages by providing citizens with small garden allotments outside the city for growing vegtables. These citizen gardens became so popular with the people of Geneva that the practice was continued even after the war and the return to abundance. Röpke was particularly proud of these citizen farmers, and so he took Mises on a tour of the gardens. “A very inefficient way of producing foodstuffs!” Mises noted disapprovingly. “Perhaps so, but a very efficient way of producing human happiness” was Röpke’s rejoinder.

For the present, I'll restrict myself to observing that the efficient, centralized agricultural production so admired by Mises will be rendered obsolete by the gradual increase of the costs of the petroleum required for fertilization, pesticides, and transportation, and that smaller farms tend to produce greater yields per acre, while larger farms tend to produce greater yields per dollar. Oh, yes, one more thing - I've never yet known a child who thrills to the sight of heavy industry and suburban sprawl; virtually all of them, to the contrary, thrill to the sight of such ordinary features of the natural world as hills, fields, forests, ponds, cows, turtles, and so on. From the mouths of children, thou hast ordained wisdom, O God - or so I am inclined to say.

Comments (11)

I just don't get it. Why aren't you guys at the barricades alongside leftie hippies against the WTO?*

It really seems true that when it comes to the economic status quo, we're all on the same side: we think it sucks.

*Ok, they're "breaking the law." But surely you can support their intentions?

Well, I find myself conflicted as to their intentions. Much of their critique of the globalizing economy is valid, inasmuch as - unlike most right-wing encomiums to the new economy - it actually addresses concrete realities, facts. Unfortunately, many of them, like Jeff Faux, end up advocating accelerated international economic and political integration, qualified instead by international labour, welfare, and immigration accords and institutions (read: bureaucracies).

If the problem is the diminution of the capacity of a nation to provide for itself - the most fundamental form of self-governance - the logical solution would not seem to be - overt diminution of the nation's capacity to govern itself.

But yes, it does suck; it really is nothing more than international labour arbitrage - and this will even be admitted from time to time, or spoken quietly, between the lines.


The alliance between Conservatism and Capitalism was a fruitful and necessary one for quite a time, but it introduced some real problems -- like the fact that alot of people are now content to simply conflate the two.

In fact, as many older Conservatives -- Chesterton, Kendall and Kirk come to mind -- understood, these two are not the same; and Conservatism should maintain a healthy skepticism of Capitalism, because the latter shares with its antagonist Socialism a basically materialist perspective.

Now, this does not mean that Conservatism should entertain sympathies for Socialism. As Chesterton liked to put it, one of the problems with Capitalism is its monopolist tendency; and the Socialists offer to counter this by making the State the greatest of all monopolies. What we are looking for is a humane economics; one that respects the human person in his full nature -- a creature of animal passions, yet endowed with reason and with an immortal soul.

It will not be an easy project, but there are ample resources at hand.

State monopoly socialism isn't the only leftist-type alternative to big-business capitalism, though. Something like participatory economics is hardly intent on creating a leviathon government.

Be careful that you aren't rejecting potential allies in the name of ideological strawmen.

There are indeed alternatives, which I'll eventually come round to discussing; I'm only now learning of some of the alternative business/economic models in a book I'm reading (gradually, what with having two toddlers and all), The Vocation of Business.

Maximos -- Looks like an interesting book; I look forward to reading your thoughts about it. You might want to look into E.F. Schumacher as well. I read and blogged about his "Small is Beautiful" awhile back. Definitely worth reading.

Steve Sailer has shown that right-wingers are on the wrong side of the environmental debate at present. Less Mises, more Tolkien.


"Less Mises, more Tolkien."

Note that Roepke's book THE HUMANE ECONOMY is still in print and available from ISI.

I've never yet known a child who thrills to the sight of heavy industry...

What boy isn't fascinated by ships, airplanes, trucks, factories, dams, bridges, railroads, cranes, huge construction equipment, tall building construction, power plants?

Ah, yes, 'tis true, 'tis true. But few of them, I'd wager, would prefer to see their parts of the world covered by such things. Their fascination lies in their relative uniqueness. Trucks are no longer terribly interesting for my three-year old, on account of their commonness, and his recognition of their ubiquity. A pond teeming with fish, turtles, and frogs, on the other hand, suggests endless possibilities - however frequently it may be experienced.

Though Kirk distrusted Capitalism and Libertarianism he did really enjoy the work of Roepke and his Market Economy. Kirk's own book was very supportive of the free market.

What I love about Roepke is that he speaks the free market with a distributive accent.

It confuses me more and more why Roepke is not more well known among Catholics and conservatives. I hope there is a revivial and a re-birth of the Roepke Institute.


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