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1 (I Stand By What I Said Whatever It Was)  Sun, Nov 27, 2011 11:09:29am
So where’s the problem? The problem is that it’s all lip service on the right! Those who most-loudly proclaim Faith In Blind Markets (FIBM) are generally also those proclaiming idolatry of private property as a pure, platonic essence, a tenet to be clutched with religious tenacity, as it was in feudal societies. Obdurate, they refuse to see that they are conflating two very different things.

Private property - as Adam Smith made clear - is a means for encouraging the thing he really wanted: fair and open competition.  Indeed, the propertarian reforms that Peru instituted under the guidance of Hernando de Soto, vesting the poor in the land they had always farmed, resulted in a boom that delighted both libertarians and socialists.  Safe and secure property rights are a boon... up to a point.

But anyone who actually reads Adam Smith also knows that he went on and on about that "fair and open" part! Especially how excessive disparities of wealth and income destroy competition. Unlike today's conservatives, who grew up in a post-WWII flattened social order without major wealth-castes, Smith lived immersed in class-rooted oligarchy, of the kind that ruined markets, freedom and science across nearly 99% of human history. He knew the real enemy, first hand and denounced it in terms that he never used for mere bureaucrats.

When today's libertarians praise the creative power of competition, then ignore the unlimited propertarianism that poisoned it across the ages, we are witnessing historical myopia and dogmatic illogic, of staggering magnitude.

I don't think that there is an "idolatry of property" on the Right, as Brin suggests in the headline. It's more an idolatry of the "private" part of the "private property" notion (and an implicit understanding that this privation shall only be legimitately held by a group that they prefer).

(By the by: The reference to feudalism is misleading, since the existence of property was extremely limited in feudal society, and the various questions of wealth distribution were very much not a matter of faith back then – more one of philosophical debate, like with Huguccio, William of Ockham, Thomas of Aquinus, Hostiensis, Bonagratia of Bergamo etc. even though the debate is often sketchy at best)
(Another by the by: Brin's charge of "essentialism" is ridiculous, given that his own argument is essentialist)

The article of faith is the dichotomy of good private individual versus evil collectivist state (or, in the extreme Paulian version the sovereign citizen against the corporatist New World Order). The economic notion of property is reduced to this political dichotomy and thereby almost completely misunderstood. I fear, btw, that Brin is also susceptible to this because he seems to reduce economic activity to any kind of decision-making.

The only grain of truth in this right-wing paradigm is that from a very limited point of view, any sort of welfare or social safety net will neccessarily include a wealth transfer from the wealthier to the poorer, will neccessarily somehow have to be deducted from the available net property. Of course, this view conveniently ignores that the installation, implementation and maintenance of a reasonable safety net is a prudent way of preventing the state from eventually collapsing under the weight of poverty or from taking over completely to avoid its own collapse. And in this I agree with Brin, namely that wealth disparity is a bad because it tends to make things worse, while a periodic economic egalitarianism tends to make things better.

On a related note, "safe and secure property rights" are not just a "boon", they are absolutely essential. Markets do not exist without prior establishment of property (i.e. that which is traded on markets); markets are a secondary phenomenon, macro-economically speaking. (By the by, I think it's of limited use to try and claim Adam Smith for neoclassical thought circling around markets and optimal allocation)

2 (I Stand By What I Said Whatever It Was)  Sun, Nov 27, 2011 11:16:49am

Just another comment:

the unlimited propertarianism that poisoned [competition] across the ages

I don't get what Brin means by "propertarianism". If he wanted to, for instance, refer to feudalism: Again, there was very little property at all then, if any, simply because very few people could be considered to have been free enough to have been actual proprietors, having been able to make use of the full scope of economic operations in relation to property (sell, buy, borrow, lease, rent, encumber, etc.). Strong property rights under a law that applies equally to all instead of a sovereign commanding arbitrarily and interacting with other sovereigns anarchically are a very recent development.

3 windsagio  Sun, Nov 27, 2011 1:00:55pm

by the way juante, I think it was you who linked to Brin's blog a few weeks back, with his Miller rebuttal.

Thanks for reminding me that blog exists, its always a really good read :D

4 (I Stand By What I Said Whatever It Was)  Thu, Dec 1, 2011 3:18:10am

This major premise by Brin is fundamentaly flawed btw:

That something is the most creative force in the universe. The principle that propels evolution, in nature, and that brought humanity into existence. It is --

Competition.

And what is the most competitive enterprise humans can engage in?

War


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I'm not going to be Bill Clinton and say I never inhaled. I did inhale. I liked tobacco a lot better.