Self-Delusions of Statists
There is a provocative recent comment attributed to Harvard University and Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen in The Philosopher's Magazine (3rd Quarter 2010, p. 12 and taken from what he reported wrote in the New Statesman magazine). It is that "The nature of the present economic crisis illustrates very clearly the need for departures from unmitigated and unrestrained self-seeking in order to have a decent society" and it is extremely disappointing.
Sen, who used to co-teach courses at Harvard University with the libertarian political philosopher Robert Nozick and therefore must have a pretty clear grasp of free market ideas and of libertarianis, must also know that no one who defends the free market advocates any sort of system he is caricaturing here, not Milton Friedman, not F. A. Hayek, and not even the late Ayn Rand.
Moreover, even those who do talk of market agents' self-interest as the driving force in a free market economic system, such as a good many economists, mostly mean nothing more by that than that free market agents would seek to do what they want to do, leaving it entirely open what that would be (if they really did operate in such a system rather than in the mixed economy where they do work and where the financial fiasco occurred recently).
In many cases, so called self-interested conduct in fact would promote various causes, objectives, goals that have absolutely nothing to do with self-enrichment. Moreover, even self-enrichment would often serve the function of enabling one to pursue goals that are generous, philanthropic, and focused on the arts, sciences, culture, and so forth. Even blatantly, overtly self-interested conduct often promotes one's very useful skills and abilities which get translated into very valuable and, yes, socially beneficial actions. Self-interested conduct is what leads one to go to college, to major in some preferred discipline, to graduate with honors, etc., and all this has many desirable side-effects for those other than the agent of such self-interestedness.
If, indeed, people did pay heed to their bona fide self-interest, this world would be far more decent than it is with all the meddlers running around, pace Amartya Sen. The free market, if that is what is the target in Sen's comment, merely leaves the decision as to what goals should be advanced to the ones who own the resources – including their own time and skills – instead of to politicians and bureaucrats who would regiment them. And that is nearly always a good policy.
One reason statists – and sadly Professor Sen has joined them wholeheartedly (it appears from the above quote form him) – use the language management so readily is that they pretend, in contrast to what a free market embodies, that it is the job of politicians and bureaucrats to regiment the country like one might manage a football team or a company or in the role of a life-trainer. Such managerial jobs usually voluntarily authorize the managers to move around personnel and resources as if they owned these or had power of attorney to do so. It doesn't matter to them that they are actually pushing people and resources around without this authority. To evade this, they have persuaded themselves that the bloated democratic process is natural and to protest what they are doing could at best amount to professional criticism, mostly a matter of technicalities, never of the proper scope of their authority which, to them, is limitless. They do not believe in a government that's firmly limited in its role in our lives. They are like runaway dentists who, once hired to fix teeth, mistake this as having been hired to take over the management of one's life.
It's malpractice, of course, but with their self-delusion they can block out that fact easily enough, especially given that their academic cheerleaders, like Professor Sen, keep encouraging them in these delusions.
In the end they need a fundamental reorientation – a revolution – in their thinking. This shows up, also, in how readily these academic cheerleaders make fun of the Tea Party, missing its central point and focusing on how the party members dress, what food they eat, and their manner of speech.
What is needed is a revitalization of individualism, the idea that one's life is one's own and one's actions must be left to the person to govern and may only be governed – "mitigated and restrained" – by others with full consent, not via the democratic process.
Posted by Paul Weber on 06/14/10 05:45 PM
An interesting commentary by Dr. Machan.
There is a certain false method of argumentation regarding both Austrianism and libertarianism, in which the opponents of these schools of thought posit an actor we might call Homo Economicus.
This creature is self-interested and amoral. H. Economicus sees no difference between getting rich through productive effort, and getting rich through theft or trickery. H. Economicus does not engage in charity. H. Economicus does not like paying taxes.
The trouble is, H. Economicus, in the real world, is quite rare. Most rich people have a moral code. It may be an inconsistent or false moral code, but they do have a moral code. Interestingly, most rich people do give to charities, probably because they have the financial ability to do so, as well as the desire to be moral.
There is no moral inconsistency in being a free market advocate, and also being a Christian or a Buddhist. In fact, I would argue that, to be a consistent follower of those faiths, one would HAVE to argue for the freedom to pursue one's own well-being, as well as the freedom to help one's fellow man in whatever manner possible.
Posted by Lance E. Schultz on 06/14/10 11:21 AM
Life by choice versus life by force. Independence versus dependence. Justice versus injustice. The "delusion" being hocked by modern statism is to "deny" the white blinding light of the law of identity, which Rand rightly observed.
An indispensable construct of the statists regime is to slowly and methodically destroy mankind's ability to reason. To undermine his mind's ability to evaluate his observations of nature and make logical determinations about them. They achieve such by reorganizing, redefining and denying the laws of identity.
Once an -A become an -A again, their game will be up.
Posted by Bill Ross on 06/14/10 08:44 AM
In other words, the "Self-Delusions of Statists" is that they do and can possess the knowledge required for control and maintaining their dominance. Reality (relationship between action and consequence by physical laws of nature, including human nature) itself denies any mere mortal or group of mortals the ability to be everywhere and know everything. They are invariably bushwhacked and fail their graspings and enslaving of their fellows by what they do not and cannot know.
Posted by Bill Ross on 06/14/10 08:14 AM
The basic confusion (intentional, by those who seek rationalizations for their control) is semantic, by muddying the clear, factual distinction between self-interest and selfishness.
Self-interest springs from will to live (have time and energy to seek goals required for survival). Rationally applied, it is obvious that it is in your self-interest NOT to negatively interfere with the survival of others, else, your life (time and energy) will be at risk and consumed with defense (a major cost) from the victims of your predations. This leads to the concept of common interest and survival by peaceful honest trade (quid quo pro) and civilization (the rules by which we cooperate for MUTUAL self-interest).
Selfishness is the seeking of goals with zero consideration of and at the expense of unwilling others. Under the regime of natural law, selfishness is rapidly corrected by victims defensively dealing with their predators (assigning consequences to those who do the actions). Under statist forcefully imposed artificial "reality" (controllers coercing unnatural outcomes), the collective power of "we, the people" is used to defend controllers from the defensive consequences of their provocations, initiations of aggressions, general predations and subversion of peaceful coexistence.
The equating and confusion of self-interest versus selfish manipulative "arguments" has been with us for all of philosophical history. It was not until the advent of Darwin and Evolution that we actually had the factual and objective knowledge to sort this crucial (to collective survival) distinction out. Darwin was not terrified to publish his work (Delayed 30 years) for idle reasons. Knowledge can be very dangerous, especially if it thwarts the goals of powerful criminals:
Neglecting the moral aspects of these matters, central controllers are doomed to fail, since they do not live in the environments of those they attempt to control, leaving them with zero facts upon which to base accurate choice, dooming them to failure, as we now observe. THINK about it:
Posted by Liberty666 on 06/14/10 06:34 AM
The morality inherent in capitalism is that by helping others, aka being successful in a free market, you help yourself, because your success is rewarded with profit. The opposite of this is by not helping others you dont help yourself, aka failure in a free market economic system.
Posted by Christopher D. Wentzel on 06/14/10 03:05 AM
Dr. Machan, I think you may have it wrong here and could be misinterpreting Sen's central point.
Although I have not read Sen's essay, and therefore I lack the context in which his comment was stated, I do believe he might have defined "self-seeking" as an action in which the underlying value driver and motivator is purely self-interest with a total disregard for society at large.
In other words, the pursuit of self-seeking activities with the objective to advance mankind whilst for the betterment of one's self are congruous and promotes stablilty and harmony in society.
On the otherhand, "unrestrained" "self-seeking" activities that fail to consider society at large will in fact promote the opposite; encouraging systemic fragmentation and instability as one's "self-seeking" actions impede on the ability of others to do the same, thus fostering conflict and deeper societal divisions.
I am for fair-free markets, a concept which I have yet to define more elaborately, but I understand there must be social element which balances one's self seeking and interested actions against the needs and benefits of the community for the sake of sustainability.
Posted by John Danforth on 06/14/10 01:59 AM
I have always enjoyed Dr. Machan's insights.
I would gently suggest that it's not the statists that need a reorientation in their thinking. Rather it's the people they push around and treat as resources who really need an education.
The only way a statist is going to see anything differently is the day we prove to him that he doesn't have enough force to carry through his authority.
Further, I carry no hope for any substantive help from academia. Its funding mechanism guarantees a structure that precludes anything other than its present state.