One of the most amusing things about living in Western Massachusetts, perhaps the least freedom friendly place in the United States, is how serious people take their politics. It is a way of life here, something by which people define themselves. Deval Patrick wins the governorship – people literally dance in the streets; George Bush is reelected, people are devastated – as if it matters.
One way to see how important it is to everyone here to be a member of the socially conscious, morally upright, superior left wing political parties is to simply look around at people’s bumper stickers. They are hilarious. Not a car in Berkshire County is seen without a bumper sticker that says something like, “1-20-09 … Thank God” or “GWB … WTF?” I might question what these things actually prove beyond being infantile, but that is not the point of my post. The point of this post is that these people have a view and will adhere to it in the face of any and all evidence which might suggest they are mistaken. That view of course is the repulsion and moral aversion to capitalism, freedom and liberty. Their repulsion can be seen in the responses folks get when they support markets explicitly. Make the case for school choice – and we must be capitalist devils looking to hurt children for our own economic gain. Make the case for innovation in medicine delivery – and we must be capitalist devils looking to hurt children for our own economic gain. And so it goes.
I am reminded of something Joseph Schumpeter wrote a long time ago, “Capitalism stands its trial before judges who have the death sentence in their pockets. The only success a victorious defense can possibly produce is a change in the indictment.” And this is where my point is. Thinking back to the socialists of the mid-19th century, capitalism was attacked as being unable to deliver the goods and for worsening the lot of the “average Joe.” This was proved spectacularly wrong. Then in the late 1890s the socialists attacked the capitalist system because it produced imperialists and monopolists. This was proved spectacularly wrong for anyone who took the care to look (for example, how many of the big bad monopolists of 100 years ago are still around, much less big and bad?). Then in the post-WWII era, the socialists again found another indictment against capitalism – that it ultimately alienated the mass of society. Once again refuted, we come to modern day attacks on freedom and markets – that it encourages “too much” consumption (whatever that means) and that is encourages a rapacious devastation of the planet. Julian Simon’s work is well on its way to thumping this attack as well.
And thus we have come full circle – capitalism is morally horrific because it cannot deliver the goods, but it is also horrific because it is delivering the goods. I half-expect to see a new book written by a socialist called “Goldi-locks Corporatist Utopia!”
The reality is that many people have an emotional attachment to a social order (I cannot even begin to speculate why) that smacks of hilarious inconsistency and elitism. People want to be in control, they want to feel that they are in control, and the spontanaity of the market process terrifies and humiliates these people. To think that there is no one best way which can be managed? Oh the horror. To think that they might not have a direct say in how their world is orderd? Oh the horror. And so we must endure this nonsense.
So, what does your bumper sticker say?