Monday, June 25, 2007

Compared to What?

Tibor R. Machan

In yet another so called book review in The New York Review of Books, the author unleashes some pretty vindictive remarks at capitalism, or what is left of it in America. James Lardner, a senior fellow at Demos, which is dubbed a center for public policy—for my money, read “partisan Leftist propaganda”—in New York City (and author of Inequality Matters: The Growing Economic Divide in America and Its Poisonous Consequences), uses three books to advance his own poisonous views, The Disposable American, The Great American Jobs Scam, and The Battle of the Soul of Capitalism. As is not difficult to figure out, these are all attacks on the free market—never mind that no such thing even exists in America!

I am not going to go through the entire “review” but merely quote the final paragraph, which will suffice here as a vehicle for illustrating how writers like Lardner use any means to distort what free markets are about.

“Most Americans are troubled by the culture of dealmaking and financial engineering and insider self-enrichment that [one of the authors] deplores; by the callous treatment of communities and community institutions that [another] examines. Not very far below the political surface, most of us feel some version of the same vexed ambivalence toward corporate American—dazzled by the conveniences and comforts it delivers, yet resentful of the tradeoffs that it continually demands; few Americans would be anything but grateful if our corporations and financial institutions could develop some respect for our non-material and non-individualistic selves. It is hard to imagine such a fundamental transformation of these giant institutions. It is even harder to imagine a better world in which they remain essentially what they are.” (TNYR, 6/14/07, p. 65)

Where to begin? Let’s start with some problems of journalism—where is the data about Americans being “troubled by the culture of dealmaking”? Most Americans I know are diligent dealmakers themselves, as they shop in stores, on line, or when they purchase homes and look for apartments to rent. Very few consider themselves guilty for practicing the prudence involved in looking for good deals. So why would they begrudge others doing so, including the financial professionals who care for their wealth? Where is the beef, Mr. Lardner?

Are corporations callous toward their communities? I live in Orange County, California, where corporations fund universities, art centers, and museums, among other “community institutions,” to the tune of multiple millions of dollars. Day after day the local newspaper reports on these gifts, many of them anonymous! Where are all those Americans who are “resentful of the tradeoffs” that corporate America allegedly demands? Again, there is no data here, nothing, just a brazen allegation. Never mind that of all the developed countries in the world, America is the most generous when it comes to voluntary contributions to institutions that seek corporate and individual support.

So then what about corporations addressing “our non-material and non-individualistic selves”? Again, there is no clarification here—is the enrichment of stockholders who use their wealth to fund their children’s education, health care, and vacations something “material”? What on earth amounts to “material” stuff anyway, when even a simple wristwatch is practically a work of art these days? Where are all those Americans to are hooked a sheer matter instead of matter formed and shaped into artifacts that are infused, through and through, with aesthetic and utilitarian attributes? Very few of them are of this sort, by all reasonable observation of ourselves and our fellows.

What, also, is so glorious about our non-individualist selves? An individualist is someone who claims the right to make his or her own judgments as to what to do in life, whom to associate with, what goals to pursue, and so forth. An individualist is not some hermit in the wilderness pretending to be self-sufficient but someone who insist that he or she is better qualified to run his or her life than are politicians, bureaucrats, and their cheerleaders, such as Mr. Lardner! (It is not too farfetched to speculate that these folks desire us to give up our individualist selves mostly so they can step in and order us about as they would wish us to be, never mind our consent. Not very far, by the way, from the dreams of the Nazis, Fascists, and Communists, all of whom hated individualism!)

Finally, it is not at all that difficult to imagine “a fundamental transformation of these giant institutions” nor an allegedly “better world in which they remain essentially what they are.” The world has seen the attempts at grand transformations, thank you. What is needed is for things to change not in the direction of greater influence by the likes of Mr. Lardner but by F. A Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and a host of others who love liberty instead of top-down social engineering.

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