Sunday, July 9, 2017

One great idea and two bad ones

Nationalism and Socialism Are Very Bad Ideas - - Deirdre Nansen McCloskey, Reason:

February 2017 - "Between the Great Lisbon Earthquake [1755] and the revolutionary year of 1848 the European chattering classes had three big ideas. One was very, very good. The other two were very, very bad. We're still paying.

"The good one, flowing from the pens of such members of the clerisy as Voltaire, Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, and above all the Blessed Adam Smith, is what Smith described in 1776 as the shocking idea of 'allowing every man [or woman, dear] to pursue his own interest in his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice'....

"The boldness of commoners pursuing their own interests resulted in a Great Enrichment — a rise in Europe and the Anglosphere of real, inflation-corrected incomes per head, from 1800 to the present, by a factor, conservatively measured, of about 30. That is, class, about 3,000 percent.... And now, despite the best efforts of governments and international agencies to bungle the job, liberalism is spreading to the world, from Hong Kong to Botswana....

"The two bad ideas of 1755–1848 were nationalism and socialism.... Nationalism, when first theorized in the early 19th century, was entwined with the Romantic movement, though of course in England it was already hundreds of years old.

"What is bad about nationalism, aside from its intrinsic collective coercion, is that it inspires conflict. The 800 U.S. military bases around the world keep the peace by waging endless war, bombing civilians to protect Americans from non-threats on the other side of the world. In July 2016, we of the Anglosphere 'celebrated,' if that is quite the word, the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, a fruit of nationalism, which by its conclusion three and a half months later had cost the Allies and the Central Powers combined over a million casualties, most of them dismembered by artillery....

"The other bad idea of the era was socialism, which can also be linked to Romanticism, and to a secularized Christianity.... What's bad about socialism, aside from its own intrinsic collective coercion, is that it leads to poverty. Even in its purest forms — within the confines of a sweet family, say — it kills initiative and encourages free riding.... The not-so-sweet forms of socialism, especially those paired with nationalism, are a lot worse. Thus North Korea, Cuba, and other workers' paradises. As the joke goes, 'Under capitalism man exploits man; under socialism it's the other way around.'

"What to do? Revive liberalism, as the astonishing successes of China and India have. Take back the word from our friends on the American left. They can keep progressive, if they don't mind being associated with the Progressive movement of the early 20th century, and its eugenic enthusiasms for forced sterilization and for using the minimum wage to drive immigrants, blacks, and women out of the labor force.....

"Read Adam Smith, slowly — not just the prudential Wealth of Nations, but its temperate sister The Theory of Moral Sentiments. And return in spirit to the dawn of 1776, when the radical idea was not nationalism or socialism or national socialism, but 'the obvious and simple system of natural liberty' that allows all men and women to pursue their interests in their own ways."

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