Economics

The Left-Right Anti-Market Convergence

|

In its May 7, 2007 issue, the American Conservative excerpted Ben Barber's anti-market screed Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, a book, wrote Brink Lindsey in the WSJ, that sounded as if it was written "by the grumpiest of social conservatives," despite the author being a "proud progressive." Now Barber is winning plaudits from another figure on the right, Dallas Morning News columnist and Crunchy Cons author Rod Dreher. (Robert Stacey McCain reviewed Crunchy Cons for reason here)

Dreher, a former senior editor at National Review, thinks that conservatism's biggest enemy is not the government or the Democrats, but the free market:

What's the greatest challenge facing American conservatives today? Liberalism? Don't I wish. That would be relatively easy to defeat. No, it's capitalism.

You read that right. Conservatives have to come to terms with the fact that capitalism, in its current form, undermines not only the virtues necessary to the kind of society conservatives claim to want, but ultimately risks subverting itself.

….
In his new book, Consumed, political scientist Benjamin Barber writes that ours is the first society that acts as if its survival depends on keeping maturity – which involves learning to master one's impulses – at bay. There is little in American political, religious, social or economic life that prizes restraint and sacrifice for a higher purpose.

"This strategy makes good commercial sense," writes Mr. Barber, because of the market's need "to sell unnecessary goods to people whose adult judgment and tastes are obstacles.

Dreher thinks that the hyperconsumer cannot, alas, govern their dangerous spending habits, and is putting the entire US economy at risk:

Democracy requires virtue. So does a healthy capitalism. A nation that cannot govern its own appetites will, in time, be unable to govern itself. An economy that divorces economic activity from the restraining virtues that make for good stewardship will implode.

Full column here .

NEXT: Before I Continue, Let Me Just Say Bush Bush Bush

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. While not endorsing anti-consumerism, I do feel that there is too great a focus on consumption in America. But I believe that is due in large part to the fact that income and labor are taxed heavily, while consumption and waste are taxed relatively lightly. To put it simply, I’d rather have a 20% sales tax on consumer goods and a 0% income/payroll/capital gains tax.

  2. And like all critics of capitalism, he thinks things will only get better when we put him in charge of making all our decisions for us. For our own good of course.

  3. (Of course, I’d most rather have a 0% tax on everything, just to be clear.)

  4. This line of argument is hardly new. Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, and other influential pre-Revolution thinkers said essentially the same thing about American society in their time. Somehow, we have managed to survive.

  5. And like all critics of capitalism, he thinks things will only get better when we put him in charge of making all our decisions for us.

    That is so true. I think the working title of Ben Barber’s book was actually Put Me In Charge of Everything.

  6. I must assume that the author’s own consumption is virtuous and above reproach…or that he is seeking help by writing about his own problems.

    Nothing sadder than a reformed [insert whatever] on the path to save the rest of us from the temptations they could not resist.

  7. This shouldn’t be a surprise, Social Conservatives being anti-free market, to anybody who’s been paying attention to the anti-immigrant lobby.

  8. I haven’t read the book so I’m not sure if he has any policy proposals but what is the point? Does capitalism sometimes lead to undesirable results? Of course. The entire career of Adam Sandler is proof of that. But what is the alternative? Some gateway commission that will give thumbs up/thumbs down to whatever they think is “best” for Americans?

  9. Doesn’t this just point to the problem being the artificially low credit rates? If credit wasn’t so easily obtained, wouldn’t it reduce the consumerist tendencies of Americans?

  10. So, the Founders were wrong? It’s not that we’re born free and allowed to pursue our own happiness, we are born to become slaves for the rest of society. I see. This disgusting authoritarianism emerging on the right (which started a while ago) unsettles me. I don’t for a second believe that most Republicans still subscribe to liberty. As the neocons/theocrats have shown us, most of the conservatives just vote because there’s an R next to the candidate. And besides, for all the smears capitalism receives it’s not just another “ism” to be reigned by the few elite. Capitalism simply means freedom.

  11. There is little in American political, religious, social or economic life that prizes restraint and sacrifice for a higher purpose.

    Isn’t he really just pissed that people don’t want to willingly sacrifice for his higher purpose?

  12. Being that the Federal Reserve is intent on creating excess money and credit out of thin air, thereby creating massive inflation, why wouldn’t people want to spend everything they have? A TV looks just as good next week as it does today, so might as well get it than save the money which is virtually guaranteed to keep decreasing in value.

  13. But what is the alternative?

    Ooh! Ooh! Pick me!

    *stands up*

    Talking and writing about the issues that concern him to raise public awareness and influence people to make changes in their lives.

  14. In the end, we get the Britney we deserve.

  15. Uh, joe, that’s not an “alternative” to anything. That’s merely part of it. Now stop with the snarky, non-sensical responses or I won’t call on you again. 🙂

  16. Seriously, shouldn’t worship of the market be considered a religion? It appears that even the most reasonable and constrained criticism is considered blasphemy.

  17. It appears that even the most reasonable and constrained criticism is considered blasphemy.

    No dan, it’s just you.

  18. Capitalism simply means freedom.

    Give this man a cigar

    teh corporashuns blaming crowd – and now apparently the holier than thou types – are consistently unable to grasp that private property and free markets are the basis of individual liberty

  19. i think this book should but put in the front aisles of all supermarkets right next to the candy and impulse buys, i wonder how many people will choose the book.

  20. There is little in American political, religious, social or economic life that prizes restraint and sacrifice for a higher purpose.

    Sounds almost . . . .libertarian. Or as Rand might say, rationally self-interested.

    Resistance is futile.

  21. I’d also like to see someone do a breakdown of what people actually spend their money on. Sure, there’s some tacky knick-knack crap being purchased out there, but people overwhelmingly are spending their money to purchase housing, transportation, medical care, etc.

    And in any event, I think it’s very likely that people aren’t “restraining themselves” to sacrifice for a “higher purpose” because the higher purposes currently being offered to them as options suck ass. “Restrain yourself to sacrifice for the church I just built at this freeway exit!” “Restrain yourself to sacrifice by serving in this war being run by a stubborn moron!” Sorry, I gave at the office. Now go away while I play with my consumer electronics.

  22. What innate masochism must remain in human beings to attend to such a mere survivalist as Barber! How can anybody consider worthwhile a life committed to our minimal satiation and shelter?

  23. American political, religious, social and economic life are awash in restraint and sacrifice for a higher purpose.

    There fixed.

  24. So the tyranny of mustard (thanks, Radley!) is not only the source of our unhappiness, it’s the cause of our moral degradation?

    Who knew?

  25. So to break it down, the left thinks the problem with capitalism is that some people have less than others and the “right” thinks it’s bad because people have too many choices and make the wrong ones. Super. Everyone, leave me alone.

  26. Fluffy | July 11, 2007, 3:30pm | #
    I’d also like to see someone do a breakdown of what people actually spend their money on.

    Dude. We have this little thing called the Bureau of Labor Satistics

    http://www.bls.gov/cex/csxann05.pdf

    they arent great with executive summaries, so apologies – it’s the government.

  27. Another comment: enough of ‘higher purposes’ intended to empower those meglomaniacs who preach them! Believe in God, and obey the priests. Believe in solidarity, and submit to the bureaucrats. Tim wrote it best: “Leave me alone.”

  28. Fluffy | July 11, 2007, 3:30pm | #
    I’d also like to see someone do a breakdown of what people actually spend their money on.

    short executive summary
    2005
    Housing 32.7%
    Food 13%
    Transportation 18%
    Insurance 11%
    Healthcare 5.7%
    Entertainment 5%
    Booze 1%

  29. Consumers are buying more and more stuff we can’t afford. When bills come due, the whole pyramid scheme stands to collapse.

    Of course we are. But the flaw in the argument here is that who is going to let it fail? It’s in no one’s interest financial or otherwise to pop the bubble. Whether it’s no down payment morgatges or unsecured credit card debt.
    What company or CEO (who, when running a pubic company, make an average of $22 million/year these days?) is going to donate to a Republican (or to be fair any candidate) that espouses people should not spend, spend, spend. Oh – sorry – since the banks win either way – they are probably ok with it. It’s not that they would get punished in the polls as the article suggests – I would contend they are more likely to get punished in their fundraising.
    As far as the federal budget goes it’s clear now that there are 2 choices. Tax and spend Democrats – or the don’t tax but just spend Republicans.

  30. “Being that the Federal Reserve is intent on creating excess money and credit out of thin air, thereby creating massive inflation, why wouldn’t people want to spend everything they have? A TV looks just as good next week as it does today, so might as well get it than save the money which is virtually guaranteed to keep decreasing in value”

    There’s a slight problem with your thesis. Most consumer items & staples have shown consistent DEFLATION over the last several decades. Our decision to buy a new TV is overwhelmingly based on the conflict between wanting a better set today, and knowing that the same set will cost 30% less next year. This is such a pervasive issue with spending decisions, I think you’re 180 degrees off base.

  31. “Dude. We have this little thing called the Bureau of Labor Satistics.”

    I prefer the much more user-friendly Bureau of Gilmore Statistics.

    Thank you for your assistance.

    “Housing 32.7%
    Food 13%
    Transportation 18%
    Insurance 11%
    Healthcare 5.7%
    Entertainment 5%
    Booze 1%”

    Look at our outrageous frivolity! The critics are right!

  32. There’s a slight problem with your thesis. Most consumer items & staples have shown consistent DEFLATION over the last several decades. Our decision to buy a new TV is overwhelmingly based on the conflict between wanting a better set today, and knowing that the same set will cost 30% less next year. This is such a pervasive issue with spending decisions, I think you’re 180 degrees off base.

    It seems that you are unfamiliar with the government’s ridiculous practice of hedonic substitution. Real, actual inflation the way they measured it in the ’80s is about 5%-10% higher than the liars at the BLS would have you believe. Don’t believe me, see here, here, and here. Or just google Boskin commission or hedonic substitution.

  33. “short executive summary
    2005
    Housing 32.7%
    Food 13%
    Transportation 18%
    Insurance 11%
    Healthcare 5.7%
    Entertainment 5%
    Booze 1%”

    To add = the fastest growing segments are pensions and insurance (due to increasing# older farts), gasoline (duh), & education… biggest declines are food at home (shifting to eating out – Decadence!)… entertainment and booze basically flat.

    This of course doesnt show total $volume, just share, so amounts can be growing while share stays the same. Hard to say too much about a short time series like 2002-2005.

    Table 2 in that report i linked to has spending splits by age/income brackets as well. Thats probably where the meat is.

  34. Perhaps there’s something to be gleened from the idea that even conservatives are turned off by our super-mega-uber-corporate setup. We can argue all day whether it gives us more choices or efficiency in our day to day lives, and the merits of such trade-offs, but I’m just glad more people are starting to see the power exerted by corporations as something to be skeptical of as one would be skeptical of gov’t power.

  35. “ours is the first society that acts as if its survival depends on keeping maturity – which involves learning to master one’s impulses – at bay.”

    The AntiHumanist noticed the same thing I did. What does writing a great song or making a moving film have to do with national survival? If we drop all goals other than survival, policy becomes a lot simpler. Sparta comes to mind.

  36. Could it also be that the existence of income taxes and government interference into retirement, health care, drugs, education, food etc. have created disincentives for people to be smart consumers? Or maybe even, perhaps, savers?

    Of course not. Mr. Proud Progressive would never admit that the reason people aren’t fantastic at governing themselves is because they haven’t been allowed to.

    I’d be opposed to having the income tax abolished just so it can be dumped into the sales tax; however, that just might create more immediate incentives for saving and smarter consuming. It might also give people a greater incentive to produce more and earn more.

  37. What “power” do corporations have over any of us? When have any of us HAD TO buy anything? I mean, we all HAVE TO pay taxes. The only problem that I have with corporations is that they have been successful at trading campaign contributions for subsidies. Eliminate the subsidies, eliminate the contributions–a real separation of boardroom and state of which even socialists could approve.

  38. when people talk about corporate power, i think of things like influencing governments, breaking the law, and the like. you know, bad things ™.

    not selling shit, though. even if its literally shit. (actually i have nothing against the fertilizer industry and withdraw my remarks)

  39. I’m just glad more people are starting to see the power exerted by corporations as something to be skeptical of as one would be skeptical of gov’t power…

    I think plenty of people already see it, and perhaps the most puzzling thing about libertarians is that they generally don’t. Note that limited liability is the one form of government welfare that nobody around here seems to complain about.

  40. Funny, a genuine free market society is the ultimate defender among socio-political constructs of virtue. It punishes immorality by making people poor when they give in too much to vice, it rewards hard work, punishes sloth, peacefully organizes society without coercion and reveals the naked truth about the moral state of society by allowing people to reveal where their desires really lay through their spending habits.

    Perhaps this is why capitalism with heavy emphasis on charity is the economic model advocated by the Bible…

    Virtually every great evil in the history of mankind has been committed by those who seek collective control. The broadest, deepest depravity has found itself home time and again in the middle of “the common good” and other such nonsense. Just look at all of the coercion of the 20th century for an example.

  41. “When have any of us HAD TO buy anything?”

    And you’re growing your own food, producing your own textiles to sew your own clothing and you built your own home out of materials you gathered? Get in the real fuggin’ world, man.

    Marginally related: Having crazy left-wing professors in college allows many of us to recognize idealistic bullshit, both from the left and right, and call it out. The idea that nobody has to buy anything is just such an assertion.

  42. Kevin,

    My intention was not to argue for “Sparta”: we should be proud of our civilized abundance and pursue our individual happiness, not merely our survival. I do agree with you that if government should do anything, it should not infringe legally on that pursuit of happiness and construct and maintain infrastructure that benefits all (I recently visited the New York City Public Library and could justify nothing against it).

  43. Lamar,

    Excellent rebuttal: in fact, I could harvest my own food and sow my own clothes, but I PREFER to pay others who are better at it.

  44. Perhaps this is why capitalism with heavy emphasis on charity is the economic model advocated by the Bible…

    I’m not sure about this one…doesn’t the Bible come out against usury?

  45. It seems that you are unfamiliar with the government’s ridiculous practice of hedonic substitution. Real, actual inflation the way they measured it in the ’80s is about 5%-10% higher than the liars at the BLS would have you believe. Don’t believe me, see here, here, and here. Or just google Boskin commission or hedonic substitution.

    dave b. your theories intrigue me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. But before I do consider this: Just the other day I found the receipt for the very first TV I ever bought, back in 1987. It was a 25″ GE, weighed about 250 pounds and took up most of the living room. It was $500 and died in 10 years. My next TV was a 32″ Toshiba that is still running great today. It too was $500 and that was 1997 money. My next TV will probably be $500 and be a 42″ flat panel. I fail to see how my standard of living is being destroyed by “massive inflation”. If anything CPI overestimates changes in price levels; they are barely budging even in nominal terms.

  46. we all HAVE TO pay taxes

    When have you ever HAD to pay taxes?

  47. The AntiHumanist,

    If you sow your clothes, I doubt you’ll harvest much food.

  48. Dan T.,

    When I last bought a pack of cigarettes.

  49. Gilmore: Thanks for the BLS link…interesting (I think) is that Cash Contributions have increased in Table A for both years and at some of the highest rates of all items reported…

    Cash contributions increased 18.1% 05 over 04…but I guess for some, even more is never enough.

  50. Dan,

    What does capitalism have to do with usury?

  51. Dan T.,

    When I last bought a pack of cigarettes.

    But you didn’t have to buy a pack of cigarettes…you just prefered to.

  52. AntiH, I wasn’t saying you were promoting neoSparta. Think I was agreeing with you–at least I tried to. 😉 As for certain infrastructure, I’m willing to postpone that debate until we end drug wars, debt in the trillions, elective war, subsidies, etc.

  53. So what we are saying is that people choosing how to generate wealth on their own terms and choosing with whom they will engage in free exchange results in an undesirable society in which people don’t delay gratification or see the glorious virtue of self sacrifice.

    I think I’m okay with that.

  54. Scooby,

    A time did exist when people farmed their food and fabrics, baked their bread and sewed their clothes–and had NO TIME FOR ANYTHING ELSE. My primary idea is that since we now don’t have to do these tasks required for survival, we shouldn’t be pining for them.

  55. Dan,

    What does capitalism have to do with usury?

    The ability to loan money at interest is a pretty fundamental aspect of capitalism.

  56. Dan T.,

    Nevertheless, I couldn’t buy the cigarettes without paying the tax. Yes, cigarettes aren’t necessary for my survival–but even on bread, I have to pay tax.

  57. You read that right. Conservatives have to come to terms with the fact that capitalism, in its current form, undermines not only the virtues necessary to the kind of society conservatives claim to want, but ultimately risks subverting itself.

    I guess we are all socialists now.

    Well, maybe not “socialism” per se. I’m sure the the staff at National Review will not want to part with their stock portfolios so the corporations will be allowed to keep running as long as they produce what the government says we need. Maybe we can throw in pointless military adventuring and the jingoistic worship of every dimwit who puts on a uniform as demi-gods; bloated military budgets, some anal retentive hypocrites lecturing everyone on “virtue, “honor,” and the necessities of “national pride;” repression of dissent and civil rights, xenophobia and a little racism…

    …we used to have a word for a system like that. What was it called? It started with a “F.” F… Fa… Fasc…

  58. Facsimile?

  59. jest kiddin’

  60. Wow, Lamar… Excellent bait and switch!

    First you imply that corporations that build their future income streams on providing crap that people don’t need somehow gives them power. Then, when called on it, you start talking about economic necessities.

    Do you do bar mitzvahs?

  61. I said people should be skeptical of corporate power, I didn’t say they should boycott corporate goods. Then I said that people have to buy things, which is true. I’m not sure what your point is. People should be skeptical of all corporate power, regardless of whether that power is derived from dickwidgets or milk.

  62. dave b. your theories intrigue me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. But before I do consider this: Just the other day I found the receipt for the very first TV I ever bought, back in 1987. It was a 25″ GE, weighed about 250 pounds and took up most of the living room. It was $500 and died in 10 years. My next TV was a 32″ Toshiba that is still running great today. It too was $500 and that was 1997 money. My next TV will probably be $500 and be a 42″ flat panel. I fail to see how my standard of living is being destroyed by “massive inflation”. If anything CPI overestimates changes in price levels; they are barely budging even in nominal terms.

    Personal anecdotes don’t take away from the fact that inflation is much higher than what the officials state. They will do anything and everything to keep the official fake number under the magic 2%. Answer me this: if you take the aggregate purchases you made in either 1987 or 1997, and tried to make the exact same purchases today, would they cost more or less? And could you keep the exact same standard of living today if you were paid your 1985 or 1997 salary? The government tells us every day that prices are going down, yet we seem to pay more on average every single year.

  63. No one HAS TO follow the Clean Air Act.

    If they don’t like it, they are just a free to choose not to engage in that particular bit of economic activity. A corporation can shut down its operations just as freely as an individual can walk out of a grocery store. But they don’t – they CHOOSE to operate a manufacturing facility with a boiler. The fact that businesses keep operating despite the existence of the Clean Air Act is a demonstration of their revealed prefernce for emissions regulations, just as the fact that poor people keep buying at Wal Mart demonstrates that their revealed preference is for retailers with Wally’s World’s labor practices.

    When are people going to take some individual responsibility for their choices?

  64. And I’m assuming by “bar mitzvahs” you mean 13 year-old jewish girls. I have to take the 5th on that one.

  65. Lamar, enlighten me by naming one non-patented-pharmaceutical product I “have” to buy.

    The product itself, by brand name or trademark. Not a category of product, like “food” or “clothes”. I want the name of the product itself.

    Having to buy “food” gives no one individual or company any power over me to be skeptical of. If I “had” to buy Oreos, that might do the trick. But last time I checked, I don’t have to do any such thing.

  66. Or maybe, just maybe, the need to engage in economic activity to further one’s material well-being isn’t entirely elastic.

  67. Fluffy: electric service. Checkmate!!

  68. By the way, everyone, that last post by Joe isn’t snark. He literally doesn’t understand the difference between preference and extortion. Neither does Lamar. It’s all the same. Fuck it, who cares.

  69. An excellent point, Lamar. An electric service monopoly exists in my area due to a public-private conspiracy to exclude competitors. This has given a corporation power over me, and I am skeptical of it. Let’s get those motherfuckers!

  70. “The idea that nobody has to buy anything is just such an assertion.”…idealistic bullshit, etc.

    I think more important than the fact that self-sufficiency = poverty is the monopoly government has on force vs. the rarity of natural economic monopolies. Sure, we “have to” buy blue jeans if we want timeless sturdiness, but we don’t have to support any particular seller. There’s only one federal government–and changing city or state is a lot harder than shopping at a different store. The attempt to equate corporate power with government power is fatally flawed–except, of course, when business uses everybody’s favorite tactic. But now we’re back to government power.

  71. Fluffy: Are you allowed to choose between companies that deliver your electric service? Most building codes won’t even allow you to run your own generator. I’m simply providing you with a solid counterexample. Prove me wrong.

  72. Fluffy doesn’t understand the question.

    Anyone else care to take a shot?

  73. OK, disregard my last comment.


  74. Scooby | July 11, 2007, 4:27pm | #
    The AntiHumanist,

    If you sow your clothes, I doubt you’ll harvest much food.
    The AntiHumanist | July 11, 2007, 4:30pm | #
    Scooby,

    A time did exist when people farmed their food and fabrics, baked their bread and sewed their clothes–and had NO TIME FOR ANYTHING ELSE.

    Anti-Humanist-I think you are missing Scooby’s delicious pun re: sow/sew.

  75. Facsimile?

    Well, it’s not quite the word I was looking for, but when you look around at the United States today…. Let’s see…

    …pointless military adventuring…

    The war in Iraq. Check.

    …jingoistic worship of every dimwit who puts on a uniform as demi-gods…

    Ever listen to Tobey Keith?

    …bloated military budgets…

    How many tanks, aircraft carries, and planes do actually we need to defend the United States? And when I say US, I don’t mean military bases in Britain, Germany, Japan and the Middle East.

    …some anal retentive hypocrites lecturing everyone on “virtue, “honor,” and the necessities of “national pride…

    FOX news, most AM News-Talk stations, the MegaChurches, and the idiot in the piece above are good examples.

    …repression of dissent and civil rights…

    Hello? PATRIOT Act, War On Terror, War On Drugs…

    …xenophobia and a little racism…

    Explain to me again the difference between the Minutemen and the Klan. I just don’t see it.

    Anyway… 21st Century America, or 1930s Italy? You decide.

  76. AntiHumanist,

    Lighten up, Francis. It was a throwaway joke over your typo- you said you could “sow (sic) your own clothes” and “harvest your own food”. You could also grow your own tobacco (to dodge the cigarette taxes), but it probably wouldn’t be the most efficient use of your time.

    Dan,
    While the loaning of excess capital for interest is common in capitalist systems and improves their efficiency, it is by no means a fundamental nor necessary characteristic.

  77. And since MikeP wants to talk about non-essential products let’s do so. I tend to be skeptical (and outright hostile to) the power of the RIAA-affiliated labels and especially the big 5. I don’t have to buy their products, and I could choose to not listen to music at all. But I love music, and I choose to be skeptical of and hostile to a power structure that I believe has a detrimental effect on the art I love. Call me whatever you want, it won’t be the first time.

  78. If you have enough capital to build a manufacturing plant, actually building and operating it is non-essential, too.

  79. joe,

    Neat. Nothing is mandatory.

    Chinese folks don’t have to follow the Clean Speech Act, or anti-Counterrevolutionary Act, or whatever their law against political speech is called.

    If they don’t like it, they are free to choose not to engage in that particular bit of polemic activity. A person can shut his or her mouth just as freely as an individual can walk out of a grocery store. But they don’t – they CHOOSE to operate a web site with an opinion. The fact that people keep opining despite the existence of the Clean Speech Act is a demonstration of their revealed preference for expressions regulations.

  80. Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole,

    Wait, I’m confrused. Shouldn’t the word “Markets” be replaced with “Governments”?

  81. from Dave b.:

    “Personal anecdotes don’t take away from the fact that inflation is much higher than what the officials state.”

    Ironically, Dave b., the only anecdote that has been offered here is the purchase of televisions, which is the anecdote that YOU introduced to support your claim that inflation is out of control. We pointed out that your anecdote was poor, since televisions have most certainly been an example of extreme deflation.

  82. No, joe, I understand the question quite well. I’m just refusing to coddle you.

    If the government put a requirement in place that said that in order to be allowed to continue having something to eat, you had to blow a bureaucrat every day, a certain number of people would do it. This would not be the same as expressing an economic preference by shopping in one store or another store when multiple stores are available.

    You are right that “need to engage in economic activity to further one’s material well-being isn’t entirely elastic.” This is not relevant to the question of power. Anyone who has ever been self-employed knows that the need to satisfy customers means that you are not perfectly free to act in every instance exactly as you would wish. This is not the same as granting the customers “power” over you, because at any moment in time you can tell any one customer to go fuck himself. The ability to tell someone who wants to control your behavior to go fuck themselves is pretty much the core of liberty. I cannot, on the other hand, simply tell government bureaucrats to go fuck themselves.

  83. And since MikeP wants to talk about non-essential products let’s do so.

    It wasn’t I that wanted to talk about non-essential products. It’s the Dreher weasel whose article this whole thread is about. You chimed in that it was nice that someone on the conservative side was pointing out that people are driven to extraneous ends by market forces.

    Now that I have seen that you have the same issue with market forces and necessities, your position is much clearer to me. Sorry for the confusion.

  84. Incidentally, I do not know what reason’s policy is regarding what I am about to do, but please visit my blog, http://www.theantihumanist.blogspot.com. If I am prevented from posting here, again, because of my action. it has been a pleasure.

  85. “please visit my blog”

    Do I have to? 😉

  86. Ironically, Dave b., the only anecdote that has been offered here is the purchase of televisions, which is the anecdote that YOU introduced to support your claim that inflation is out of control. We pointed out that your anecdote was poor, since televisions have most certainly been an example of extreme deflation.

    Televisions, like computers and other tech devices, are by no means examples of deflation. If I go to buy a 2007 model television right now and then on this exact date next year, I buy a brand new 2008 television, will the price be lower? Of course not. The 2007 model that has been collecting dust for 364 days will undoubtedly be cheaper (or a newly manufactured one of the same model but year old technology), but comparing year-over-year inflation means comparing the price of a brand new state-of-the-art item in one year against the price of the same brand new state-of-the-art item in the next year. People of course get great deals on televisions and computers by buying older technology, but do you rush out and buy a brand new tv or computer the second it’s released? Of course not, because the damned thing is too expensive. You instead wait on it for six months until the prices fall. This is not deflation. It costs the manufacturer more every year to produce the product and for you to consume it. Don’t confuse the rapid technology cycle with deflation.

  87. Dave B.,

    Why does the fact that pommegranites bought 10 years from now will cost more than apples purchased today demonstrate that inflation is out of control?


  88. Incidentally, I do not know what reason’s policy is regarding what I am about to do

    reason will make love to your neck stump

  89. “apples purchased today”

    Not to mention Apples purchased in 1984…

    http://www.redcoat.net/pics/applead.gif

  90. Dan T. is right. You don’t have to pay any taxes. Just don’t ever buy anything, have any income, or own any property. So, no, if you’re a freegan, you don’t have to pay taxes.

  91. The AntiHumanist | July 11, 2007, 5:19pm | #
    Incidentally, I do not know what reason’s policy is regarding what I am about to do, but please visit my blog, http://www.theantihumanist.blogspot.com. If I am prevented from posting here, again, because of my action. it has been a pleasure.

    You’ve obviously never seen any of Guy Montag’s posts, nor seen any of LoneWacko’sPosts.

  92. 1. The system as is exists today is in no way capitalistic (or barely).
    2. Of course capitalism is a danger to conservatives. One of its main theses is social liberalism. It’s also dangerous to liberals because the other thesis is fiscal conservatism.

  93. Oh, I get it now, dave b. Sorry I was slow to get your point. So, a television sitting on the store shelf loses value against the dollar at an astounding annual rate, while new even better televisions are continually made available to us at prices equal to or slightly higher than the original television. And, this is your example of how hyper-inflationary monetary policies are driving us all down the road to destruction. This is what hyper-inflation looks like.

    I guess we are in big trouble. How can we go on like this?

  94. Why does the fact that pommegranites bought 10 years from now will cost more than apples purchased today demonstrate that inflation is out of control?

    Nowhere did I say out of control (although I did say massive). The point is that the article discusses consumer spending habits, to which I said that unless your wages and investments are increasing every single year at the same rate or higher than the rate of inflation, then you are losing money. Being that prices are increasing, and real wages are decreasing, then why save when your savings are eaten away by inflation, but your non-perishable goods still provide the same benefits in the future as today? Sugar is just as sweet next week (or month, or year) as it is today, so why wait until it costs more to purchase? If it makes you feel any better, food prices are up 21% from last year.

  95. JasonC | July 11, 2007, 5:34pm | #

    Incidentally, I do not know what reason’s policy is regarding what I am about to do
    reason will make love to your neck stump

    WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!! Freakin fargin frakkin awesome!

  96. > Does capitalism sometimes lead to undesirable results? Of course. The entire career of Adam Sandler is proof of that. But what is the alternative? Some gateway commission that will give thumbs up/thumbs down to whatever they think is “best” for Americans?

    Bryan Caplan’s new book “The Myth of the Rational Voter” basically says the same thing about economics and democracy, concluding that there should be some gatekeeping body (such as the Council of Economic Advisers), that has Supreme-Court like power to shoot down legislation that doesn’t make economic sense (i.e. protectionist legislation).

    So, my question is this: if voters are irrational when it comes to making choices about elected officials, why aren’t consumers irrational when it comes to making choices about goods and services?

  97. “why aren’t consumers irrational when it comes to making choices about goods and services?”

    Local knowledge?

  98. Why does the fact that pommegranites bought 10 years from now will cost more than apples purchased today demonstrate that inflation is out of control?

    I will gladly pay you Thursday, June 18, 2043 for a hamburger today.

  99. if voters are irrational when it comes to making choices about elected officials, why aren’t consumers irrational when it comes to making choices about goods and services?

    They may well be. But there are a laundry list of reasons it is less of an issue than irrationality in the political arena.

    Just to start…

    1. The choice a consumer makes affects the consumer immediately. Whether it was a good choice becomes rapidly apparent.

    2. The choice a consumer makes affects the consumer almost entirely. It does not automatically impinge itself on others.

    3. Even if a majority of consumers are irrational, rational consumers can still get a different choice themselves.

    4. A consumer spending resources to make a choice reduces his future resources, meaning that other consumers who would make different choices have more of a chance in repeated choosings. A voter “spending” a vote does not giver more of a chance to other voters the next time: He can spend the same vote tomorrow.

    Add on top a market the consumer is choosing from that responds to all these choices, signals, and niches, and the political arena pales in its ability to optimize anything whatsoever.

  100. The choice a consumer makes affects the consumer immediately. Whether it was a good choice becomes rapidly apparent.

    You’ve never bought a dog, have you? Who knew fifty years ago that cigarettes cause cancer? Many products–drugs, for example–have downsides that come to light only with the passage of time.

  101. I don’t understand. If dogs were provided by the government they would be less of something bad than those provided by the market at the price you are willing to pay? Does it take longer to figure out that a dog is a bad purchase than to figure out that George Bush is going to get the US mired in a long occupation of Iraq? What is your point?

    There is no doubt that some consumer choices have bad effects that take a long time to discover. So does Social Security.

  102. Kebko write, “Most consumer items & staples have shown consistent DEFLATION over the last several decades. Our decision to buy a new TV is overwhelmingly based on the conflict between wanting a better set today, and knowing that the same set will cost 30% less next year. This is such a pervasive issue with spending decisions…”

    What kind of runaway inflation is necessary to mask the strong deflationary effect of free-market forces? We think inflation has ravaged the dollar so far, looking back at prices from 1960, say, but during the same interval the market’s pressure to make production and distribution more efficient has been driving real costs down for a broad variety of goods and services. Maybe a candy bar that was “nickel size” in the 1960s costs 50c or more today. But what would it cost if free-market deflation hadn’t been steadily lowering costs? A dollar? Two dollars?

    My point is that the amount of inflation that has entered our economy in the past several decades is really not “manageable,” as our drovers keep telling us, but seems truly, outrageously extreme. We need to get a handle on it. The government stooges who impair our abilities as citizens to comprehend and evaluate the situation need, at least, to be replaced. I could think of better punishments for them and others, whose inflationary activities siphon value out of the dollar.

  103. Oh, I get it now, dave b. Sorry I was slow to get your point. So, a television sitting on the store shelf loses value against the dollar at an astounding annual rate, while new even better televisions are continually made available to us at prices equal to or slightly higher than the original television. And, this is your example of how hyper-inflationary monetary policies are driving us all down the road to destruction. This is what hyper-inflation looks like.

    Great way to be obtuse. Hyper-inflationary policies are driving us down the road to destruction, but since televisions aren’t essential, maybe you don’t or refuse to get it. The same policies are behind the housing burst, as well as the 21% increase in food prices I posted earlier. Do you need more examples?
    Here’s one from the May ’07 CPI summary: “During the first five months of 2007, the CPI-U rose at a 5.5 percent seasonally adjusted annual rate (SAAR)”, “The index for energy advanced at a 36.0 percent SAAR in the first five months of 2007.” or “Petroleum-based energy costs increased at a 63.9 percent annual rate and charges for energy services rose at a 6.8 percent annual rate.” Take a look at the Producer Price Index and tell me that anything, including televisions is becoming cheaper when almost each of those numbers is rising, and that’s after the hedonically-adjusted crap the BLS makes up to hide the true numbers. You mean to tell me that it costs producers ever more to make the same products, and that price inflation somehow doesn’t trickle down to the CPI? Every single PPI monthly inflation statistic will extrapolate to over 2% per year (the prices of All Commodities were up 1.3% in May alone), yet the official numbers somehow indicate otherwise. My point is that people know things are getting more expensive, so there is no motive to save when you get the same or close to the same benefit by buying something today and holding it than waiting until it will cost you more to purchase it.

  104. Kevin Parker,

    Exactly.

    And employees of the X Corporation don’t have to put up with Manager McGrabbyhands. They can just not have a job, not earn money, not pay the mortgage and not live in a house. I think you’ve got it.

    Fluffy,

    The core of your argument is “…when multiple stores are available.”

    Instead of stores, how about jobs? How available is available? If you don’t realistically have an alternative – if the consequence of disobeying your boss is the loss of your home – that sounds like a power relationship to me. You can come back with some convoluted story about finding another job and living on soup kitchen food, but then I can come up with a convoluted story about changing the law.

    You are right that “need to engage in economic activity to further one’s material well-being isn’t entirely elastic.” This is not relevant to the question of power.

    Yes, it is – if you are forced to conform to someone else’s wishes or face harm, he has power over you.

    I cannot, on the other hand, simply tell government bureaucrats to go fuck themselves.

    Sure you can. You would just face harms if you did so – probably economic harms, just as if you told your boss to fuck himself.

    All you’re doing is calling one form of power “power” and another by some other term, based on whether you personally think it appropriate for one person to be able to boss another around.

  105. lunchstealer,

    If you’re a freegan, you don’t have to do what your boss tells you, either.

  106. The ability to loan money at interest is a pretty fundamental aspect of capitalism.

    It is, however the biblical law regarding charging of interest is between individual coreligionists. Here it is, Deuteronomy 23:19:

    19 Do not charge your brother interest, whether on money or food or anything else that may earn interest. 20 You may charge a foreigner interest, but not a brother Israelite, so that the LORD your God may bless you in everything you put your hand to in the land you are entering to possess.

    Corporations are modern legal abstractions not covered by the Mosaic Law because they are not people. A corporation cannot have a covenant relationship with Yaweh, therefore it is automatically a “foreigner” for the purposes of the law. By that fact, it is not bound by any part of the covenant.

  107. I’m not sure about this one…doesn’t the Bible come out against usury? … the ability to loan money at interest …

    No. At least not under the economic conditions of the New Testament. Remember the Parable of the Talents? The servants who invested their master’s money and got a good return for it (interest) were praised and rewarded. The other servant who failed to invest his master’s money and did not earn any interest got the shit kicked out of him for being an idiot.

    Later, Christians in medieval Europe got negative about charging interest, but for different reasons having to do with economy of that time and place (which caused them to confuse charging interest and acquiring capital with taking unjust advantage of those in need, and hoarding). There is an interesting discussion of this in the book The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Michael Novak.

    Also, the Parable of the Vinyard (I think it’s in Matthew) is a defense of property rights and the employer’s right to pay whatever wages he can get an employee to freely agree to as fair.

    The Bible urges charity and sometimes the forgiveness of debts, but not necessarily at the expense of capitalistic enterprise. The wealth you share with the less fortunate has to be generated somehow.

  108. Seriously, shouldn’t worship of the market be considered a religion? It appears that even the most reasonable and constrained criticism is considered blasphemy.

    I forget is Dan T. the one saying stuff intended to piss us off…not really his opinion?

    Or does he actually believe this crap.

  109. Instead of stores, how about jobs? How available is available?

    5% unemployment is available. If you want any lower you will have to lower capital gains and corporate taxes.

    Next

  110. Hookers and coke 138%
    Housing 0%
    Food 0%
    Transportation 0%
    Insurance 0%
    Healthcare 0%
    Entertainment 0%
    Booze 0%”

    Fuck…I think I got a problem.

    joe give me your money!

  111. I think plenty of people already see it, and perhaps the most puzzling thing about libertarians is that they generally don’t.

    I notice that you and joe do this a lot: when you can’t hunt up a libertarian to argue with on some thread, you just make up a libertarian in your head with whom you can argue.

  112. Note that limited liability is the one form of government welfare that nobody around here seems to complain about.

    Actually, the classic, hardcore libertarian stance is to be very much against limited liability. Your criticisms of libertarianism would be so much more interesting if you made an effort to understand the philosophy.

  113. Note that limited liability is the one form of government welfare that nobody around here seems to complain about.

    The price of any loan that an LLC might get is already priced into the market.

    Banks supposedly would get screwed by this…but for some magical reason they don’t complain about it….

    I wonder why?

  114. joe,

    Dystopville certainly has a crappy job market (or lead in the water, perhaps dumped by X Corp) if there’s only one place where a local can produce value. Grabbyhands are not, perchance, in the job description? Contract breach?

    Anyhow, an employee’s dire circumstances are not created by X Corp–unless they were…your example. And government (real) force is not limited in its scope to the permanently optionless unskilled. Even Russian oligarchs are “moved” by its potential.

  115. Note that limited liability is the one form of government welfare that nobody around here seems to complain about.

    If you’re going to throw that out there you might at least make an attempt to explain how think limited liability is a form of welfare.

    Of course, I’m sure you understand that limited liability does not mean that a corporation is somehow shielded from being completely liable for any and all torts and crimes it commits. You realize that it is purely a limitation on the individual shareholders risk, and only shareholders that do not have any managerial control. It certainly didn’t limit anyone from going after Enron’s executives and anyone else that activiely participated in the fraud, for pretty much everything they had.

    So, do you really think we’d all be better off if every retiree with a couple shares of Boeing was individually on the hook for billions of dollars should the 787 turn out to be a bust?

  116. The crunchy cons are correct that money beyond subsistence level doesn’t buy happiness. I think most people would be happier if they bought fewer things and spent more time involved in their communities, friendships, and families instead. However, no one has the right to force that choice.

    What no one on the thread, or Dreher himself, pointed out is that the mass-market consumertopia is not a product of free markets. Long distance supply chain management, and the mass markets it supports, is heavily subsidized by the state, particularly in the realms of communication and transportation. Media conglomerates are formed in heavily-regulated, often state-rationed communications media. This is the Triumph of Conservatism, so to speak, and the reason why big government liberals have been the biggest running dogs for the capitalist elite.

    Further reading

  117. one of the values issues here, quite broadly, is that some of us privilege physical violence over economic harm in terms of being a “worse” kind of power.

    personally, i don’t think the power of the irs to put you in jail – or legally murder you if you resist – is on the same tier of abuse that being fired or otherwise economically deprived. and generally speaking, i find it hard not to find a point where a corporation takes abusive actions due to their power that doesn’t involve government bribery.

    at the same time, scumfuckery is scumfuckery. that’s sometimes lost here because the gub’mint scumfuckery – though generally more vile and long-reaching – is given privilege over private scumfuckery.

  118. Joe, I’ll make it really easy for you to understand.

    Say I own a store that sells a single product. That product is foie gras.

    Person #1 comes in to my store and says, “I don’t like foie gras, so I’m not going to buy any of your foie gras.” That person is not exercising any power over me whatsoever. You may, in your childish way, attempt to tell me that this is a harm that I am suffering, but it’s not.

    Person #2 comes in to my store and says, “I am a government bureaucrat. I don’t like the fact that you’re selling foie gras, and I am going to prevent you from selling any foie gras at all. If you resist, you will be fined. If you refuse to pay the fines, you will be imprisoned.” Person #2 IS exercising power over me.

    And you know what else? It doesn’t matter if the product in question is foie gras, or labor. I don’t get to claim that Person #1 has power over me if they don’t like my foie gras, and I don’t get to claim power over me if they don’t like my labor. Period.

    Your definition – that anyone who doesn’t give me some benefit I want at the moment I want it is exercising power over me – means that all women who aren’t giving me a blowjob at this exact second are oppressing me.

    I frankly don’t really care how many employment opportunities someone has available. They’re selling something. People will buy it or they won’t. No one is exercising power over them by buying it, or refraining from buying it. I am not oppressing GM when I buy a BMW. I am not exercising power over Tropicana when I buy apple juice.

    You want to make the definition of power “any time anyone else gets to make a decision about how to spend their money” and that’s just not the same as being able to put people in fucking jail. It’s moronic to claim that it is. And fuck the “little guy” who wants to claim that because he’s put himself in a position where he can’t support himself without working hand to mouth for someone else, it’s somehow the same as sending someone to jail.

  119. Entertainment 5%

    So this, ultimately, is what the jerks at AdBusters are all upset about?

    This is exactly like people complaining about the trade deficit and “lost jobs” to other countries, when imports and foreign investments make up, say, about 12 percent of GDP.

  120. Further proof that there is no true commonality between conservatives and libertarians.

  121. What’s the greatest challenge facing American conservatives today? Liberalism? Don’t I wish. That would be relatively easy to defeat. No, it’s capitalism.

    You read that right. Conservatives have to come to terms with the fact that capitalism, in its current form, undermines not only the virtues necessary to the kind of society conservatives claim to want, but ultimately risks subverting itself.

    Well, in a sense he’s right. That’s what I don’t like about the label “conservative”. It offers no useful picture of what is worth conserving. What Mr. Dreher thinks is worth conserving, and what I think is worth conserving, are very, very different things. While Mr. Dreher and I could both be called “conservative”, the things we find worth conserving are ultimately mutually exclusive. Mr. Dreher prefers to conserve his concept of virtue at the cost of free markets and individual liberty.

    I prefer to conserve free markets and individual liberty, and to hell with Mr. Dreher’s concept of virture.

  122. Fluffy,

    You don’t evey have to make anything easy for me to understand.

    I’ve already understood and responded to all of those points. You just don’t have a comeback, because you only debate with people who already agree with you, so you’re reduced to repeating yourself.

    Buh bye.

  123. joshua corning,

    5% unemployment is available. If you want any lower you will have to lower capital gains and corporate taxes.

    How high does unemployment have to be, then? And can we look at local or statement employment markets, are we just going to assume free plane tickets and moving vans?

  124. How high does unemployment have to be, then?

    Well i would have to say higher then the current historical lows…

    But i think the only time “Jobs are a right” legislation ever really got good traction was during FDR’s prolonged depression. So a good measure would be say the mean unemployment levels of 1932-1939.

    And can we look at local or statement employment markets, are we just going to assume free plane tickets and moving vans?

    So at what time would moving to your job be your responsibility rather then the states? Will government have to pay for instantaneous teleportation as well?

    The reality that you are ignoring Joe is the most efficient and just way to insure employment is to lower taxes…if you actually did something stupid like forced employers to pay for moving, higher unemployment insurance rates what in essence you would be doing is making it harder for employers to fire people…this ultimately leads much higher unemployment.

    I am sorry the world works that way….we will just have to live in an unjust cruel world where employment is not a right….and we can cry all the way to the bank and wallow unhappily in our post-scarcity opportunity rich utopia of historically low unemployment, historically low inflation and historically low interest rates.

  125. Those intrepid few who have read this man’s writing with a critical eye have coined a term to describe his scribblings: “Dreherrhea.”

    It’s on full display in that article, as he conflates capitalism — economic freedom — with consumerism, a particular way some people exercise that freedom. He writes that our economy “depends on people’s inability to discipline their consumption,” as if the whole thing would somehow suddenly collapse if people dared to invest rather than spend. In insisting that socialism isn’t the answer — gosh, no — he has either forgotten or hopes the reader never noticed this editorial, written March 4th of this year, in which he argues that social conservatives should make common cause with Democrats on issues like “economic security” and “universal health coverage”.

    And he closes his article with this bit of nonsense regurgitated from his book, Crunchy Cons:

    “When it comes to defending the things traditional conservatives cherish, big business is as much a threat as big government.”

    Maybe he’s hoping no one notices or cares that his own little book was published by an imprint of “the world’s largest English-language general trade book publisher.” He apparently had no problem working with big business both to publish and to distribute his own product, and I doubt he felt remorse about the possibility that some BoBo in a Borders bought his book as (gasp!) an impulse buy. At least I doubt he was so troubled by the idea that he didn’t cash the royalty check.

    But let us not forget the greatest line from his book, quoted here:

    “What kind of economy should we have, then? I don’t know; I’m a writer, not an economist.”

    He doesn’t know? Well, then, on matters economic, he should sit down and shut up.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.