Saturday, July 23, 2011

Interesting times

I don't know about you, but I was very taken aback by this remarkable column - "I'm starting to think that the left might actually be right" - from Charles Moore (yes, really, that Charles Moore). He seems to be making exactly the same points as Tim Garton Ash did - noted here)

About the only point I'd disagree with him is in his characterisation of the trades union movement - one that has all of the hallmarks of someone refusing to bring any empathy to the analysis of a subject that he instinctively dislikes. You'd think that unions were inflexible and pusillanimous in a vacuum of their own making?

Anyway, happy days. And then this post from Umair Haque, asking if the finance sector is simply a cult further brightens a Saturday morning.

I doubt if there's an intelligent and reflective right winger anywhere today who isn't reviewing the main line of attack levelled at non-capitalist modes of collective action: That, without market mechanisms, organisations of all kinds are rapidly captured by the bureaucrats that run them - budget maximising bureaucrats who enrich themselves, award themselves unearned status, doing their job badly and inefficiently and crowding out the dynamic entrepreneurs who would solve the problem without troubling the taxpayer.

Remember, this is probably the central argument in modern politics - one where radical conservatives line up against practically everybody else. I'd suggest that this explains why Chris is wrong here - the imbalance in media ownership is much more than a court-politics distraction.

Everything else is largely a side-show or a proxy for a debate we shouldn't even be having (in Universities, it's labelled as public choice theory but really, anyone who has read a newspaper in the last 35 years will be fully familiar with it). And, over the past few years, we've seen the right comprehensively lost it.

There is no budget maximising bureaucrat as larcenous as the finance sector have been. When someone like Charles Moore is prepared to concede this, it must be seen as an opportunity.

5 comments:

Tim Worstall said...

I think you're getting a bit confused here.

"I doubt if there's an intelligent and reflective right winger anywhere today who isn't reviewing the main line of attack levelled at non-capitalist modes of collective action: That, without market mechanisms, organisations of all kinds are rapidly captured by the bureaucrats that run them"

"Markets" and "capitalism" are not in any manner synonymous. One is a method of exchange, a source of competition, a calculating engine for relative prices. The other is a description of a form of ownership.

Using non-capitalist methods of collective action (co-ops, mutuals, whatever)tells us absolutely nothing at all about the desirability of those things the market brings us.

And the reason I leap upon this is because I have a very strong feeling that it's something that the "British left" (in so far as there is such a thing) ignores (or is ignorant of) to the detriment of the solutions they propose.

Waitrose, Building Societies, the Co-Op, all "non-capitalist" in different ways do just fine in a market economy. The Soviet Union (more of a State Capialist economy than communist) was an entire fuck up because of the absence of markets.

I've said many a time that if push came to shove I'd give up the capitalism part in a heartbeat if we kept the markets. Which is one reason why I keep banging on about the vital distinction.

Paulie said...

Tim,

Yes - I'd partly concede that point. I should have said "without capitalist mechanisms..."

I'd still say that markets are not the only way to make rational decisions though. Rather than conjure up my own clumsy wording for this argument, I'll nick Chris' line from here:

http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2011/07/left-right-state-power.html

"“Market forces” are a domain in which power relations play out - and a combination of globalization and technical change in recent years has further enhanced the power of capital over labour. One of the great intellectual failures of classical liberalism has been the inability to see this, a failure to see that power exists in markets, as well as the state."

Tim Worstall said...

And as I commented on Chirs' post. Given the Adam Smith bit about "businessmen seldom gather together" without trying to screw the consumer I don't see that classical liberalism is blind to this point.

Indeed, I take it as one of the defining points about classical liberalism that it's saying "they're all bastards" adn that thus none should have the power.

Not business, not unions, not bureaucracies and Dear God, not politicians.

Becausxe they are all bastards who will rip off whoever they get power over.

The diffrentiation between and anarchist (who might well agree with that basic analysis) and a classical liberal is that even while this is true, the classical liberal agrees that some government, some taxation, is actually necessary. Sadly so, but we should keep it to the minimum we must have.

"I'd still say that markets are not the only way to make rational decisions though."

I would never say they are. Only that they're the only way to handle certain decisions. We don't need a market to tell us whether we should have capital punishment, nor whether the earth wire should be blue or brown.

We do need to use markets to decide how many vanilla ice creams to make, how many of what size of shirts and how many houses.

The Plump said...

If you want to get where Charles Moore is coming from, you need to read this from the Adam Smith Institute:

http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/economics/free-market-anti%11corporatism/

Paulie said...

It's a bit weird isn't it? Reading that it's like some huge post-hoc rationalisation: 'Of course, we've *always* been saying that the problem with capitalism is that capitalists capture governmental institutions and distort the market'