As anyone who has read the bʘʘk knows, there’s not much politics in it -- at least nothing explicit. Regarding economics, I can only think of a single paragraph. And yet, it’s probably all you need to know about economics. On page 149 it reads,
“For millennia -- until quite recently -- human beings struggled to rise above subsistence because of a stubborn inability to recognize how wealth is created. Certainly into the late 18th century, people mistakenly believed that there was simply a fixed amount of wealth in the world, and that it was left to individuals and governments to fight over their share. Not until Adam Smith was it recognized that wealth can grow without limits, but obviously even now people have a hard time wrapping their minds around this idea.”
--In fact, Sowell says this is one of the four fallacies that bedevil economic -- or better, uneconomic -- thinking, the zero-sum fallacy. Why is this fallacy so persistent? Why is it so impervious to logical and especially empirical evidence? The answer may surprise you!
In my view, one of the central mechanisms that kept mankind in its rut of subsistence was the expression of constitutional envy ["constitutional envy" is a psychoanalytic term of art, essentially meaning inborn]. In past posts I have theorized that envy was actually selected by evolution because humans evolved in small groups where it functioned to create harmony between members.
Humans were group animals long before they ever became individuals. Like an anthill or beehive the group was the unit of survival, not the individual. Individuation is a very recent historical phenomenon [c.f. Inventing the Individual], at least on any kind of widespread scale. It is accompanied by a new type of mental disturbance, the neurosis, which is a “private culture,” so to speak. Conversely, cultural envy is like a public neurosis.
--For Klein, envy is innate; it is an attack on the good object because of its goodness; it is triggered by an intolerable awareness of being separate from the good object. Therefore, if I can't have it, no one can -- that is, I will destroy the good so as to eliminate my painful envy (which all occurs in unconscious fantasy). Think of an extreme case, such as Hitler. When it became increasingly evident that Germany would lose the war, he expressed an explicit desire to see Germany destroyed, because it had proved itself unworthy of him.
The further back in history we travel, the less individual neurosis we see. Instead, the whole group is nuts. But from the standpoint of the group, the “nut” is the one who will not or cannot conform to the crazy group -- like that decent Muslim who was kicked out of his mosque in Omaha last week for writing an editorial that was critical of Islam. To us, he is “sane,” but to his primitive co-religionists he is a “crazy” or “evil” apostate.
You see similar phenomena in other primitive groups such as the progressive nutroots vis-à-vis their treatment of Joe Lieberman. Here is a fellow who had a near perfect liberal voting record, but he took one forward step outside the closed circle of the liberal hivemind, so he was banished. [And now all it takes is a single stray joke.]
To further quote myself -- I’m almost done -- “One of the things that makes the creation of wealth possible is the accumulation of surplus capital to invest, but here again, for most of human history this was quite difficult to accomplish because of envious mind parasites that could not tolerate the idea of one person possessing more than another.” Thus, envy is "one of the psychological barriers to material development that humans have struggled to overcome.”
The tenured persist in their delusion that primitive groups were egalitarian and that their members got along beautifully. Actually, the opposite is true. Because of completely unregulated envy, individuals would rather part with their possessions than to live with the anxiety of the envious “evil eye” being directed at them. Thus, primitive groups are not envious because they are primitive, but primitive because they are envious.
--Note also how the left transforms its own envy into projected greed. Just the other day a commenter claimed that the "dominant conservative wealthy capitalists... show an utter lack of civic interest, hostility to the very ideas of democracy and human rights, love of hierarchy, fear of technology and progress, reliance on military and force to maintain 'order,' and with no concern of inequality, as if it were an order divinely ordained by God. Elites who dare to argue for increased investment in the common good, infrastructure, and believe that we should lay the groundwork for a better future, are regarded as just silly and soft-headed."
--It is quite impossible -- or pointless, anyway-- to respond to a fantasy, or to argue with a hallucination. "Conservative capitalists talk about 'losing liberty,' the loss of the ability to dominate the people and property under their control -- and, worse, the loss of status and the resulting risk of being held accountable for laws and taxes that they were once exempt from -- is what they're really talking about. Anything that gives more freedom, benefits, and rights to lower-status people can't help but viewed as a loss of capital and limiting the freedom of the wealthy to use the working class as they please. These type of wealthy conservative capitalists have come to dominate present day America."
--What an eery way to live, imagining oneself to be controlled and dominated by one's own projections.
Which brings up a fascinating irony about so-called progressives. Now, it is a truism that progressives are not just ignorant of economics, but that they confidently embrace and promulgate what can only be called economic innumeracy. Why is this? How can people be so confidently and yet demonstrably wrong?
Comes now an article forwarded to me by reader Brian that breaks it all down for One Cosmonauts. Entitled The Economy Revealed: Why Understanding Economics is Hard [link no longer linking], the article reveals.... why understanding economics is hard: “It's not because of complexity. The rules of supply and demand aren't inherently more difficult to fathom than those that apply to, say, politics, or cooking, or sports. Yet while most people have no trouble wrapping their brains around these subjects... few have a similar appetite for economics.”
Cassell refers to a theory by anthropologist Alan Fiske, to the effect that the deep structure of human relations involves only four kinds of interactions which he calls 1) communal sharing, 2) equality matching, 3) authority ranking, and 4) market pricing:
“Communal sharing is how you treat your immediate family: All for one and one for all. Or as Marx put it: From each according to ability, to each according to need.
“Equality matching, by contrast, means we all take turns. From kindergarten to the town meeting, it's all about fair shares, reciprocity, doing your part.
“Authority ranking is how tribes function, not to mention armies, corporations and governments. Know your place, obey orders, and hail to the chief.
“Market pricing, of course, is the basis of economics. It's what we do whenever we weigh costs and benefits, trade up (or down), save or invest.”
Economic conflicts arise when one group or person is operating under a different type of interaction than another. For example, if you are a primitive progressive operating under the aegis of small group “communal sharing,” you may well believe that college, healthcare, housing, infertility treatment, counter-fertility treatment (abortion), tattoos, tattoo removal, and gender reassignment surgery should all be granted to you by the government free of charge.
The problem -- as I touched on in the book -- is that the primitive progressive is operating under an economic theory that is not so much cognitive as genetic. In a way, it’s deeper than thought, since it was programmed into us for survival in small groups (obviously, natural selection did not anticipate a high tech, competitive, free market global economy). Thus, Fiske confirms my speculation that the logic of market pricing was a very late development which is not at all “hard wired” -- and even goes against our genetic programming.
Cassell agrees that this “makes sense. For hunter-gatherers in small bands, sharing, matching and ranking were probably as fundamental to survival as eating and breeding. But market pricing involves complex choices based on mathematical ratios.... Commerce and global trade, of course, require a finely honed version of the market-pricing model. But if humans developed this model relatively late, it might well be less than universal, even today.”
The money money quote:
"In other words, to have an intuitive grasp of economics, you might just need to take a step or two up the evolutionary ladder."
Ho! Progressives need to stop living in the genetic past and evolve into the post-biological world of economic abundance.
In short, to cure oneself of progressivism, one must grow and evolve. This is exactly the problem we are facing in the Islamic world, for if we cannot even lift our own tragically backward progressives out of economic magic and superstition, imagine the difficulty of doing so with an explicitly tribal and authoritarian mindset. Imagine flying over dailykos headquarters and dropping thousands of copies of the works of Friedman or Hayek. Would it help? Probably not. Genes are powerful things.
Brian emailed me a related article, Progressives Come Out! Against Progress! It too reaffirms what I wrote in the book. Like me, the author once thought of freedom "as being something that people... naturally want, which accounts for my tendency to dismiss Marxism and socialism as abnormal systems which have to be imposed by external authorities (generally called 'the government') upon people who only desire to be Left Alone.” But there exist billions of people "who find the idea of being left alone to be culturally repugnant.”
“Even now, the word ‘progressive’ is often used in praise of backward economic systems.... If we use the evolutionary model, I wonder whether the emotional appeal of Communism might have represented an evolutionary step backwards, repackaged rhetorically so that its proponents could pat themselves on the back and maintain they were moving forward.”
The author brings up the recent example of a student who had applied to MIT with a perfect SAT score of 2400. Nevertheless, an admissions expert was quoted as saying that “I am not convinced she's a shoo-in -- I'd want to see more evidence that she's giving back to the community."
The author acknowledges that the communal sharing mindset naturally has its place. "But to inject the idea of ‘giving back’ in the case of a person whose obvious merit has been earned is another example of human progress being attacked by backward thinking primitivism -- smugly masquerading as modern sophistication. Progressives who place primitive principles first tend to be consumed by childish notions of what is ‘fair’ -- which they cannot keep to themselves, but which they must project onto other people. In their minds, success in anything (even at math) means ‘taking’ from someone else.”
From there, it is but “a small step from saying that a person should ‘give back’ to saying that ‘we’ should ‘take it back’ from him.”
Yup, if the most advanced people "are those with a concept of market economics, one of the great tragedies of the modern age has been their systematic destruction by less progressive people who call themselves the most progressive.... I'm wondering whether there might be a basic, persistent inability to distinguish forward from backward. I used to think that ‘progressives’ imagined themselves to be forward in their thinking, but I'm now thinking that ‘scientific Marxism' might have been grounded in an unacknowledged need for primitivism.”
Would this explain how leftist economic theory functions as a sort of seductive door through which all sorts of other barbarisms rush in? To put the answer in the form of a bumper snicker, “Come for equality, stay for the tyranny.”