Before commenting on what he has to say, I want to present a preliminary model of thought which I will use to look at Witt's defense of Capitalism. The drawing below provides a picture of the model I will be using.
|American Capitalism Today|
The above grid does not show a function as much as a 2-dimensional model of where America's capitalist movements are today with regard to Individual Rights and Collective Consciousness and Democracy and Elite Centered governance. Both axes deal with distribution. The horizontal axis is an economic one that measures the distribution of ownership and thus the claim to wealth. The more we acknowledge the role that others play in or the more others are impacted by the creation of our wealth, the stronger will be our notion of a Collective Consciousness. The more individuals take credit for their wealth or the less responsibility they acknowledge for how their wealth affects others, the more emphasis will be placed on Individual Rights.
The vertical axis is a political-economic one that measures the distribution of power noting that having power is not necessarily the same as having authority. So the vertical axis measures the degree to which power is shared. The more that power is distributed and shared by all of the people, the more Democracy holds sway. But the more that power consolidated and centralized, the more rule over people is Elite Centered.
Contrary to the expectation of some Conservatives, Elite Centered rule or power, can come regardless of whether one overemphasizes either Individual Rights or a Collective Consciousness. What can also surprise Conservatives is that Elite Centered rule can come from the private sector as well as the public sector. The reason? Again, it is because having power is not necessarily the same has having authority and that power follows wealth.
Finally, we should note concerning the two axes that the vertical plays a primary role in determining the degree to which tyranny or freedom will exist. Meanwhile, the horizontal axis plays a primary role in determining the degree to which wealth disparity should be expected. It will also play a secondary role in determining the degree of tyranny or freedom that exists. Here, we will repeat that power follows wealth, and because of that the greater the accumulation and consolidation of wealth, which is most commonly associated with emphasizing Individual Rights, the greater the potential for tyranny to exist.
The quadrants in the above model are as follows. Quadrant I, that is the upper right quadrant, is where Democracy is favored over Elite Centered rule and where a Collective Consciousness trumps, in varying degrees, Individual Rights. What is recommended by this blog is a flexibly small to moderate predominance of a Collective Consciousness over Individual Rights with a strong favoring of Democracy over Elite Centered rule. Why? We limit our favoring of Collective Consciousness because, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, we can forget that "life is individual." And we somewhat favor a Collective Consciousness over Individual liberty because, in an ever growing interdependent society, others have more connections to our wealth by either participation or impact and thus they have a legitimate claim to the possession and/or use of our wealth. Those who occupy the recommended portion of this quadrant tend not to be Capitalists
In Quadrant II, that is the upper left hand quadrant, we have an emphasis on Democracy over Elite Centered rule and Individual Rights over a Collective Consciousness. This is where the society freely chooses to lessen the restraints that the ramifications of interdependency have on individuals seeking their fortune by denying that interdependency exists. This blog predicts that this quadrant is self-limiting. That is because the more a system emphasizes Individual Rights over Collective Consciousness, the greater the wealth disparity that will exist. And the only way to allow a growing wealth disparity to continue is to limit or continually reduce Democracy.
Quadrant III is the home for our political-economic, right-leaning advocates of Capitalism from Conservatives to Anarcho-Capitalists. The key difference between those in this quadrant can be seen in the degree to which they favor Individual Rights over a Collective Consciousness. In this quadrant the more one favors Individual Rights, the more one must depend on an ever increasing Elite Centered rule to keep the growing number of financially displaced in line. Here Conservatives are to be preferred to the others in the quadrant. And just as Martin Luther King Jr. had a word for those who overemphasized the collective, he told the Capitalists of his day, whom he saw as overemphasizing the individual, that they forget that "life is social."
Quadrant IV consists of a growing enforced collectivism by Elite Centered rule. Its mild form can be seen in America's political liberals who wish to save Capitalism by offering those who are displaced some bones to gnaw at. But note that these liberals show that they lean more toward Elite Centered rule than toward Democracy. Also, America's liberals share this quadrant with leaders from the late Soviet Union who exercised great power and forced collectivism on all others but themselves, fellow elites, and favored individuals. The primary difference between America's liberals and many of the those leaders of the Soviet Union is in the degree of Elite Centered control they favor.
Of course, this model does not address the specifics of the article being reviewed here, but it will provide a backdrop for how all parts of the series will be analyzed.
Witt starts the post linked to above with the good and ugly of Western culture and there seems to be an inconsistency in how he does that. For while our cultural strengths include some positive changes in society, such as that which the Civil Rights movement brought, the ugly was almost totally concerned with personal sins such as how girls dress, boys looking at pornography, drug use, a high divorce rate, and families without fathers. What was missing in Witt's ugly part of today's culture and society included the environmental damage our way of life and commerce are causing, the current wealth disparity, financial crimes such as fraudulent foreclosures and money laundering, the exploitation and abuse of both workers and prisoners, a renewed arms race, and an ever growing authoritarianism as seen in both our foreign policy and domestic law enforcement. What is pertinent here is that his ugly list leaves out the sins of the financial elites. At the same time, many conservatives like Witt emphasize a need for almost boundless economic, individual liberty including for the aforementioned financial elites, a liberty that should almost only be restrained by moral standards.
Some Conservatives would argue that addressing individual morals by itself is sufficient to fix the abuses that occur in quadrant III. But how would fixing the problems Witt listed address the societal problems he failed to mention? In addition, we should note that personal moral values leave important questions unanswered. For example, we know that we are not to pollute the environment. But what constitutes polluting the environment? We also know that stealing is wrong but what about poverty wages? See, the answers to some of these question are not addressed by simply focusing on personal morals. This is especially true when the desire to increase profits can corrupt our perception and personal morals. Sometimes, one must rely on input from others rather than one's self or religion. And that input from others can come from Democracy and a Collective Consciousness. Why? Because such input comes from the communities in which we live and act and what we do there often has an effect on them. But since relying on others seems to be an anathema to those stressing individualism, the stress on moral standards by such people becomes understandable.
Using the model above, this blog predicts that in trying to make the "cultural case for Capitalism," Witt will put himself squarely into quadrant III. And in quadrant III, while trying to pose as a champion for individual liberty, he will pose as an enemy of the liberty practiced in Democracy. Thus Witt, however inadvertently, will promote Elite Centered rule. In addition, in trying to be a champion for individual liberty, Witt, however inadvertently, will promote practices that increase wealth disparity. Thus he will be supporting the increase in wealth disparity because this is what happens when one minimizes one's own or a group's Collective Consciousness.
So for the next whatever number of Fridays, we will be reviewing Witt's cultural apologetic for Capitalism.