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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

White Collar Conservative Flashing Down the Street--Not!

Not a plastic finger to be found in this bunch. Jesse Walker recently tipped me off to the CrunchyCon blog; since I'm probably the last of six billion to have heard of it, I guess we're all present and accounted for now. The godfather of the movement, Rod Dreher, apparently started it with an article on "Granola Conservatives" in National Review (followed up by this one). Since then he's written a book on Crunchy Cons to promote the idea; you can pretty much get the idea from the subtitle (How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America....).

Dreher says, in an interview, that Crunchy Cons object to the "free market" and to mainstream conservatism's emphasis on "economic liberty" (Hat tip to Ken Gregg on LeftLibertarian). He continues:

Beauty is more important than efficiency. Small, local, old and particular are almost always better than big, global, new and abstract.

He ignores the possibility that "big, global, new and abstract" might owe more to the "free market" than to the free market. And that mainstream conservatives are fonder of the version of "free markets" in quotation marks than of the real thing. It might be that the "small, local, old and particular" weren't driven out by the superior "efficiency" of big government and big business, but because their inefficiency was subsidized.

Dreher goes on to say:

I'd also add that we've gotten to a point in our politics today where the left and the right are too quick to slap a negative label on a challenging or unfamiliar idea, so they don't have to deal with it.

You mean like free markets? Like Thomas Frank, the Crunchy Cons use the term "free market" as a devil-term, when I suspect what they really hate is not free markets, but the kind of people who (unfortunately) talk the most about them. If I thought what Thatcher and Reagan were for was "free markets," man, I'd hate them too!

Consider this CrunchyCon post that Jesse sent me a link to:

The claim that trads and crunchy cons are “liberal” for valuing families and local associations is based in the myth (at best) that destructive big business “just happens” because it is “efficient.”

....[M]y point is historical. The government intentionally went after states and localities during the nineteenth century in the name of “national markets.” The state, not some magical creature called “the market” destroyed the ability of families, towns, small companies, and other local, human associations to control their own destinies.

Well, as Ross Perot would say, I'm with him so far. So how does he get from the astute observation above to referring to such government action as "libertarian"?!!

The old liberals/libertarians of the late nineteenth century undermined local associations in the name of freedom of contract; now the new liberals do it in the name of individual choice. But it’s all of a piece — hostility toward any kind of community, any association that gets in the way of the state organizing society to maximize individual (and only individual) choice. One of the serious challenges we face is showing people how markets are no less social artifacts (they are institutions, after all) than towns and families. Markets are created and regulated by laws (what is an enforceable contract? Laws and government define and enforce them). So we should treat them as what they are, merely parts of an overall society made up of many, many institutions and communities, each of which is worthy of respect and protection—but families most of all.

There's no point even getting into the utter perversity of referring to government promotion of Robber Baron capitalism as "libertarian." As Limbaugh says, "words mean things." But aside from that, let's see....

First of all, the only way that "individual choice" could undermine local associations is if their survival depended on the coercion of unwilling members. If the Burkean stuff can't cut it under those conditions, so much the worse for it.

Second, exactly what does "social artifact" mean? For the stereotypical atomist libertarian who takes methodological individualism to the point of saying "society doesn't exist," I guess that phrase is supposed to be like waving a crucifix in Dracula's face. But for anyone with even a minimum of common sense, there's plenty of room for an understanding of "society" as a pattern of voluntary interactions between individuals. Markets, like towns and families, are created by voluntary association. As far as I'm concerned, that's another way of saying they're "social artifacts." But it's a far cry from saying they're necessarily creations of the state. There's no reason I can think of that contracts can't be enforced by voluntary association. That's especially true when the parties live in the same community and depend on repeat business and word of mouth for their livelihoods. And there's no reason that making arrangements for enforcement, perhaps by some agreed-upon third party, shouldn't be part of negotiating a contract. Contracts may be enforced by "society," in the sense of the realm of voluntary association, but do they necessarily have to be enforced by a body that claims the right to initiate force?

Third, if we take "market" in the broad sense of the realm of voluntary association, rather than coercion, then the family and community are a perfectly natural part of a free market order. As I argued in my earlier post, the problem is the tendency to identify the market narrowly as being coextensive with the cash nexus.

Like the distributists, apparently no small influence on their philosophy, the Crunch Cons appear, mistakenly, to view the evils they object to in present-day corporate capitalism as results of the free market, rather than of state intervention in the market. If they would actually stop to think about the implications of what they're saying, they might decide the free market is an ally rather than an enemy.

7 Comments:

Blogger Vache Folle said...

I have to confess that I am not entirely sure what the right wing granola eaters want. There are ways in which freedom can undermine associations, but I am not sure that anyone ought to care much of the time. For example, certain family structures predicated on economic or social necessity may be eroded if individuals or smaller groups within them find that they can live without them. Many families dominated by patriarchs see a shift in power dynamics when family members start to earn their own wages. Do we sit around and cry about the good old days when grandpas had the power of life and death over the clan? Only if you're a grandpa, I suppose.

For my part, I would like to have more direct human relations with the people with whom I trade. I am nostalgic for local producers and stronger community bonds which have been undermined in part by improvements in communication, transportation, etc. that permit farflung and anonymous trading relations. But I wouldn't force these on anyone. Rather, I choose to spend my money locally and go to the effort of seeking out local farmers' markets and the like. I go to local stores instead of buying on line when I can because I wantto have human contact. I shop small local outfits when I can rather than national chains. But I would not force this on anyone else.

Are the rightie granola heads looking to force us all to have closer families and such?

March 10, 2006 7:09 AM  
Blogger Adem D. Kupi said...

something like that, yes.

Admittedly, I'm a decentralist myself, but my approach to that isn't to forcibly destroy long-distance, large scale association.
Rather, it's to take away subsidization of those large-scale endeavors and to eliminate obstacles to local organization. If someone wants to create a global institution, let them do it on their own coin and without bullying their smaller competitors into the ground.

Ideally, actually, I'd like to see spontaneous global networks of innumerable small organizations.

In some ways, the Crunchy Cons are the dark mirror image of decentralist libertarians.

March 10, 2006 11:44 AM  
Blogger Adem D. Kupi said...

Also, interestingly, one of the quotes in this post brings up one of the major intellectual stumbling blocks I run across when talking about liberty with most people.

And that is the idea of a "market" as a thing. That it is an institution separate from everything else. This poison concept pollutes a lot of thought, even by people ostensibly pro-free-market. I think it may contribute to the development of "vulgar libertarians", as young people confuse liberty with the institutionalised structures bounding trade.

I'm starting to lean more and more toward phrasing it as "there's no such thing as a 'market', or even an 'economy'" as such. There's just trading. 'A market' is just a convenient way of describing trading in the aggregate, it's a sort of gerund, rather than a noun.

March 10, 2006 11:51 AM  
Anonymous LoganFerree said...

The Crunchy Cons blog (http://crunchycon.nationalreview.com/) has some interesting banter back and forth between those that seem to 'get' Crunchy Cons and a bunch of Conservatives who just seem to be fundamentally confused by it. Homer Simpson and Hank Hill as Crunchy Cons? Come on! I don't think these people have even bothered to read the book's cover, let alone the book (which I'm reading right now). In many ways they remind me of how Hans-Hermann Hoppe and many other Austrian libertarians can be so anti-government in outlook but are so supportive of a strong tradition of social conservatism that respects non-governmental sources of authority such as the church and the family. There is no doubt that Crunchy Cons are social conservatives that demand government intervenes in such affairs as banning abortion, limiting the rights of gays, outlawing cloning, and supporting school prayer and faith based initiatives. But if you actually focus on those that "get" Crunchy Conservatism it seems that their support of the economic freedom is based on building a market that in many ways reflects a decentralized, agrarian, organic, and 'left-wing' vision that typically comes from Vermont hippies. They do sometimes seem to go off course by attacking corporations, consumerism, materialism, and other ills of the free market. But I don't think their prescription is for a greater reliance on government intervention in the market. Instead it seems to be based on changing how they live and encouraging others to do the same.

March 10, 2006 1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I flipped through this book at work a couple of days ago, and recall the Crunchy Con author being "just as suspicious of big business as of big government". This is fine as far as it goes, but he unfortunately took claims of "free market" at face value. The author, former (current?) writer for National Review, had obviously bought into the rhetoric of the neo-liberal, pro-corporate types and since had a change of heart. Unfortunately he doesn't go further down the rabbit hole of "free markets" to discover free markets, but instead simply switches sides and joins the mushy middle Dems who "believe in capitalism", but feel it must be tempered.

As for the Crunchy Con lifestyle, going vegetarian while applying the rod and whip is hardly a step in the right direction. (Well, maybe the "right" direction after all.) Don't most of the world's current conservatives live a relatively hand to mouth existence and rely on the small and local?

-Dain

March 10, 2006 6:00 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Thanks to everyone for the insightful comments. I think it boils down to what Vache Folle said--most of them think the stuff they object to originates in a "free market," and they need some sort of state intervention to protect small-scale local associations from being broken up. My own opinion is that if you stop subsidizing transportation and let the economy decentralize, local demographics will be much more stable over time, with extended families and multi-generational neighborhoods coming back.

I contacted the Cruncy Con blog about Dreher's misuse of "free market."

March 10, 2006 6:18 PM  
Anonymous P.M.Lawrence said...

On that "grandpa" thing, there are several things to be said.

One, there's an investment here; even grandpas were on the receiving end once. That tends to make it stable and in a certain sense "fair".

Two, the usual case in systems like this was that only the very youngest were "paying out"; the bulk had made their investment and weren't paying, but were awate of their investment and wanted to protect the system to get paid back - that improved the stability (see French protests against the abolition of conscription).

Three, there's the dirty jobs problem that was known at least as far back as Aristotle; he used it to explain the necessity of slavery. Without slaves, how would these jobs get done? Our modern approach only bypasses this by imposing it on some people via wage slavery. A partial answer was suggested by Aristotle himself, machinery.

However that has its limits, and making it part of the younger generation's duties does seem to be as "fair" a solution as can be found - assuming that the needs cannot be eliminated in the first place, of course. And it doesn't help when efficiency imposes a need for long term careers in certain kinds of dirty work, or when it eats too much into preparing for later life activities.

March 12, 2006 5:37 AM  

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