Friday, December 23, 2011

An Undeniable Asymmetry

The inestimable Don Boudreaux had this piece An Undeniable Asymmetry, the substance of which is this:

But let’s be clear about one indisputable fact: capitalism vigorously pursued has never produced the atrocities – starvation, tyranny, and genocide – that are produced by statism vigorously pursued. Nothing remotely close.

Capitalism vigorously pursued might produce trade cycles and long periods of high unemployment; it might produce anxiety in yesterday’s successful entrepreneurs who now face competition from today’s upstart entrepreneurs; it might cause too many people to become obese; it might kill off animal species in unusually high numbers; it might cause the earth’s climate to change; it might create asset bubbles; it might spark envy and over-work in the Smiths who are trying to keep up with their neighbors, the Joneses. It might do these things and others that reasonable people might regard as unfortunate in comparison with some imaginable paradise.

But we must never lose sight of this important asymmetry: complete or near-complete state control of the economy has proven to be a sure recipe for deep impoverishment and brutal tyranny, while historical periods that have been close to laissez faire – that is, much closer to laissez faire than is America at the dawn of 2012 – have produced nothing remotely of the sort. Indeed, whatever problems might be caused by more and more reliance upon laissez faire capitalism are always accompanied by – and are at least partially (and arguably more than completely) off-set by – unambiguous benefits of capitalism such as the elimination of starvation, more abundant supplies of clothing, and better housing.

Any problems promoted by greater and greater reliance upon capitalism, in short, are first-world problems (which isn’t to say that these problems should be tolerated); they are problems incomparably more tolerable than are the horrors promoted by the elimination of capitalism.

In the United States we have a group of well-fed, generally well-educated people, faux representatives of the mythical 99%, who took up residence in various public parks in high quality gore-tex tents, sleeping bags and possessed other high-quality and in some cases high cost, equipment like iPads, smart phones and laptops served by Wi-fi to protest one perceived excess of capitalism--income inequality. In short the children and grandchildren of capitalism railed against capitalism because they envied successful people.

Yet at no time did they see the irony of their position. Through the capitalism of Steve Jobs (a very rich man at his death) and Bill Gates (a phenomenally rich man) and thousands of others who have brought, health, security, comfort, cheap useful technology and, yes, that dreaded wealth, to America, these protesters were able to attempt to affect change though a Constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech, assembly and to petition for redress of grievances to the government. The change they wanted to affect was, in essence, give us more. What more do they want?

Time Magazine has named The Protestor as the Time Person of the Year. Make no mistake, the Protesters in Egypt, Syria and other of the Middle East risked far more that some Occupy Wall Street Protestor. Middle East protestors risked life, liberty and limb to affect change. A Occupy protester risked possible arrest (not not likely prosecution), maybe some pepper spray by overzealous police officers, and maybe some discomfort if the local Starbucks's Wi-fi went down or ran out of vanilla syrup for their lattes. A protester in Syria could get arrested an indefinitely detained without due process of the law, or worse yet, shot and possibly killed. You don't hear of protests in North Korea do you--because of the aforementioned arrest without due process and summary execution.

The fact of the matter is, discomfort and displacement is a part of the capitalist system. That same system that produced Chelsea Elliot (a 2008 college graduate who grew up, literally, in the womb-like embrace of one of the greatest economic booms in history), also produces the unemployment and disenchantment we see today. The difference is, in a capitalist society, a disenchanted protestor is well-clothed, well-fed, protected by due process of the law and afforded the Constitutional right to act as they do.

So while the protesters have a right to assemble and turn places like Zucotti Park into a human garbage dump without consequence---we should take with a huge grain of salt their protest of capitalism. In fact, the Occupy Wall Street movement should have a tag line associated with it:

The Protest Made Possible by Capitalism.

How's that for asymmetry.

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