The dominant struggle in the 20th century was to find a way to integrate command economies and decentralized ones, like free markets.
After the aristocracy was gradually deposed, leading up to near-complete irrelevance after WWI, society faced a difficult question: its mercantilism and colonialism had brought it vast wealth, but its societies were becoming increasingly corrupted. This was because commerce puts the individual in command of choices that affect others because the individual is the purchasing agent.
One side suggested that, as under aristocracy, individuals needed a guiding hand or their demands would re-shape society in a corrupt manner. The other side suggested that any form of rule would be oppressive, and therefore that the free market was a better ruler than any leader. This latter view spawned modern neoconservatism, liberalism and anarchism.
As time went on, liberalism however was forced to acknowledge that free markets do not reward equality. As a result, liberalism allied itself with the idea of a command economy under control of a strong centralized government. This tendency peaked in Stalinism, which remained the Soviet system until their economy collapsed in 1991.
Now we have a long list of deposed forms of government:
Some are telling us that this recent recession heralds the end of the free market. Like many other conservatives, I find that unlikely. First, the free market is the default of human activities. Without government, people tend to cluster into small communities and interact through commerce. Second, I find it to be a highly useful system if applied in the right context; just as most governments now adopt some methods of socialism, where resources or control is centralized to make it more efficient, governments of the future will always incorporate some large aspect of free market design. The end of the Soviet Union showed us that command economies find it difficult to compete with free markets, in part because command economies can be derailed by dogma and are not able to react as quickly as more granular, responsive free markets.
Two decades past the fall of the Soviet Union, and six decades past the fall of National Socialism, we are still struggling to find the idea method of governing our countries — the 20th century question persists, with a 21st century pessimism about capitalism.
Yet as we’re finding out, there are limited variations on the idea of government (and non-government). Whether we make the church, a bureaucracy, aristocrats or a lawless mob our masters, we will need leadership and hierarchy to be able to sustain the needs of permanent civilization. Backing down the history tree, and trying to become hunter-gatherers or divide into small autonomous states, is no longer possible or even likely.
What is likely is that we’ll see a variation on the past that incorporates more of a command economy into its mixed free market and socialist system. But this may take the form of a values consensus, or leaders less timid than our democratic societies with their encrustations of checks and balances will permit. And this will be a delicate task: just like the extreme of socialism is Stalinist Russia, the extreme of free market systems is McDonald’s and anal midget porn in the 7-11.
In the meantime, we’re also seeing a problem here in the West: as we have further liberated ourselves from the past, we have started to focus on anything but reality. Morality, social thinking, and aesthetics have all become disconnected from an idea of cause and effect, where effect is important. Now we just focus on mental cause, and try to be friends with everyone and not tell anything what not to do, so that way we’re popular and no one rocks the boat.
This detachment from reality has brought huge social decline, but since it coincided with our great wealth, we also have bred up a bumper crop of homegrown lazy and confused, and now are importing people to replace our declining native people. It’s unlikely that importation will work, as whatever laid the original group out will deck the newcomers too.
Because this large group of homegrown and lazy likes to agitate for political change, we are seeing a case that Plato predicted: the productive middle class is rebelling against the drones (unskilled laborers and chronically unemployed) and the artisans (hip, urban, educated people who work in media). They’re doing that because the productive middle class recognizes that turning our government into an entitlement engine will sap enough middle class wealth that re-investment in the future will not be possible for middle class families.
David Brooks as always has a lucid view:
Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.
Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.
The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage. – NYT
Any revolution based on the individual always creates a stronger centralized state, because the more different directions we have going on in our population, the more we need a guardian figure to keep them in line. Organic consensus like culture and heritage is the exception. Most unity comes through forced dogma.
Like dogma, excessive socialization causes a problem in that people start gaming the system, instead of using it for rational ends, because they have deferred the costs they incur. It’s like free money, right? And so then the socialist system becomes a centralized control authority, trying to guard the giving away of a supposedly “free” resource:
Once the health-care markets are put through Mr. Obama’s de facto nationalization, costs will further explode. The Congressional Budget Office estimates ObamaCare will cost taxpayers $200 billion per year when fully implemented and grow annually at 8%, even under low-ball assumptions. Soon the public will reach its taxing limit, and then something will have to give on the care side. In short, medicine will be rationed by politics, no doubt with the same subtlety and wisdom as Congress’s final madcap dash toward 216 votes.
As in the Western European and Canadian welfare states, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies will over time become public utilities. Government will set the cost-minded priorities and determine what kinds of treatment options patients are allowed to receive. Medicare’s price controls will be exported to the remnants of the private sector.
All bureaucratized systems also restrict access to specialists and surgeries, leading to shortages and delays of months or years. This will be especially the case for the elderly and grievously ill, and for innovation in procedures, technologies and pharmaceuticals.
Eventually, quality and choiceâ€”the best attributes of American medicine in spite of its dysfunctionsâ€”will severely decline. – WSJ
We run the risk of assuming the healthcare debate is about healthcare. It’s not; it’s about type of government, and the underlying attitude of our country. The old American attitude was closer to natural selection, in that good people always found a way to make it work; the new way is a cross between gift-giver and babysitter. It’s no wonder this has been such a divisive issue in American politics.