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Friday, September 26, 2014

Reviewing The Cultural Case Of Capitalism Part 11 Of 12

In this week's episode, Jonathan Witt revealss what he regards as the greatest freedom of all. It seems that he believes that economic freedom is the most important one. Why say this?

Note his first paragraph:
Economic freedom does generate certain challenges. The wealth that free economies are so effective at creating brings with it temptation. Wealth can tempt us to depend on our riches rather than on God. The temptation can be resisted, as we see with wealthy biblical characters like Abraham and Job. But it’s a challenge the church should be mindful of, helping its members cultivate a balanced view of money and of our responsibility and opportunities as stewards of the things God has given us.

We should then read the next paragraph about the challenges economic freedom presents to the community:
The free society also can be hard on communities, since the free enterprise system makes for such a mobile society. Michael Miller talks about this: the opportunities and demands generated by a complex market economy mean that people often end up moving far away from their childhood homes and the network of relationships that surrounded that home. In seeking to meet this challenge, we need to ask ourselves what strategies would effectively address the problem, and are there well-intended policies that are likely to make the problem worse. In essence, we need to exercise the virtue of prudence.

Note the interchangeability of terms between 'free society' and 'free enterprise system.' They are used synonymously.  In addition, note whose responsibility it is to adapt. We are to respond to the challenges that economic freedom presents to our lives but never the other way around. It is as if we live to serve the economy rather than the economy being there to serve all of the people. Martin Luther King Jr. would call this emphasis on the economy a part of a thing-oriented society.

And we should note what economic freedom actually means. Though not defined here, what economic freedom means is that, outside of avoiding corruption and the abuse of others, businesses have no social responsibilities. Economic freedom places business above democracy. Thus, people cannot use the democratic process to tell business how it should live in their communities and what social obligations it should have. And this is despite the fact that valid business activities have significant effects on the communities in which they reside. In addition, in many instances, business is given the privilege to define what is abuse. This is especially true when it comes to the Global Warming and the Climate Science debate. The most oft used objection to following the advice of vast majority of Climate Scientists is that it would lead to economic hardship. And what follows, though it shouldn't, is a denial of Global Warming because of the economic implications of an appropriate response.

So the brunt of the article is that we should adapt to economic freedom rather than making adaptation a two-way street. But there is something else we should note about economic freedom. The more wealth and property one has, the more freedom one has. We should note that the financial world has a one dollar-one vote relationship. There is no equality in this economic freedom. There is the ability to consolidate wealth and since power follows wealth, to consolidate power as well. So one wonders if we should be talking about economic privilege instead of economic freedom.

This brings us back to the first review in this series (click here). This blog stated that a primary indicator we have for measuring tyranny can be found in the presence or absence of democracy. The less democracy there is, the more elite centered rule we have  whether it is from the private or public sectors. A secondary indicator for tyranny can be found in how much individual ownership rights exist in the economy over and against collective ownership. Witt's view of economic freedom both consolidates power by consolidating wealth and denies collective ownership. And that denial is regardless of the interdependencies that exist in the system and society. So can we expect a growth in tyranny here?

A way to answer that question is to look at the facts on the ground. We still have quite a few freedoms. But these freedoms are mostly individual freedoms. What about the freedom of people to determine what kind of society we will live in. This freedom is a group freedom, not an individual freedom, and is commonly referred to as democracy. There we find that though we vote in our elected officials, these same officials obey the mandates of those who make the biggest contributions. As a result, banks and financial institutions can commit fraud and other felonies with criminal impunity while the rest of us cannot. We find that energy companies can also escape criminal prosecution when they harm the environment and they can sometimes even avoid impunity from civil suits too  regardless of the impact of their actions. We find that those with the most wealth have the most pull in writing the laws of this country. We find that many corporations can supplement their payroll with government assistance programs while not paying their fair share in taxes. And what about the foreign military aid where public funds are paid directly to our weapons manufacturers who in turn send equipment and weapons to foreign countries.

In the meantime, most of us comply because our remaining freedoms are found either in meaningless consumption or by vicariously living through the rich and famous. Many of us have given up on being able to experience group freedom (a.k.a., democracy). That last point is indicated by our passion for sports according to Noam Chomsky (click here). 

The facts on the ground show that we are called to make room for the economic freedom while economic freedom is not called recognize us. Perhaps this is why Witt calls on communities to do more of the patching up of problems. For he paraphrases Robert Nisbet saying:
greater centralized political authority and social safety net spending beyond a certain minimal level actually begin to undermine civil institutions and community, since people depend less and less on their family and community bonds and more and more on state-sponsored humanitarian assistance.

He adds that the solution is not found in big government, democratic or not. He cites Tocqueville in associating 'soft despotism' with too much government care resulting in the people becoming sheep with the government as their shepherd. 

But what Witt doesn't cover here is that community wounds can be deep enough so as to make any group of locals impotent in responding to the challenges of economic freedom. And it is in those unhealed wounds where we see real tyranny. In addition, by calling the people sheep and the government a shepherd, Witt divorces the government from the people regardless of how representative of the people the government is. This is a common approach of American Conservatives who are very individualistic. The problem with overemphasizing individualism, as Martin Luther King Jr. noted in his writings, is that it denies that life is social.

With Witt's divorcing of government from the people, not that government has not often tried to do that itself, we see that if there is to be a consolidation of power, it will be found in the private sector of wealthy elites where we go from a one person-one vote system to a one-dollar-one vote system. 

Finally, when Witt says that the answer is not found in government, since democracy can be a form of government, he is also saying that the answer is not found in democracy. Rather, according to Witt, the answer is to be found in individuals, civic groups, and communities, in other words volunteers, regardless of how they have been affected by economic freedom. Perhaps a reason why Witt thinks this way is because only democracy can have a chance at rivaling the power of economic freedom. Why? Because democracy includes the collection of communities working together rather than isolated communities working separately. What is the old saying? "United we stand, ...


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