When I listen to progressive socialists talk about morality, I first have to ask what is the bases of their moral position? When someone says a “bridge is immoral” I have to ask how can a thing be immoral. A person or idea can be immoral. Can a hamburger be immoral?
Thomas Aquinas defined the principles found in the Judeo-Christian tradition as first principles or first instances. They are the predicates of The Natural Law upon which all other laws are based in our American Society.
Socialist first principles as defined by Marx are grounded in the concept of the “common good”. There are no antecedent principles defining what exactly is the common good. In economics, the “common or public good” is strictly defined and has to meet three criteria that I have reviewed recently in another article:
- Non-exclusivity—the good or service is available to everyone and there is no increased or decreased price at the margins of consumption.
- Jointness of consumption—the good or service is not used up.
- A neighborhood effect makes the good of service consumed by one person benefit all persons equally.
Many times I hear on the news that “healthcare is a right” when what they are really saying is they believe it to be a common good—which it isn’t. The same thing can be said about minimum wage or the right to a job or a right to an education.
Capitalism and principles of liberty are joined at the hip. The Jewish and Christian traditions are based on a law given to us by our Creator. The most fundamental principle defining the relationship between the individual and God is the concept of “Free will” We are free to decide if we enter into a relationship with God and we can never be coerced to do so. The concept of free will is the predicate for liberty. Liberty is the gift that God gives us when he allows us to govern our own lives. Liberty is not a precondition for capitalism but it is a requirement for capitalism. Choosing to enter into an economic transaction cannot be coerced in an unfettered market place.
Capitalism is always in danger of becoming “Crony Capitalism” defined by Jonah Goldberg in his book “Liberal Fascism” as collusion between big government and Big Business destroying unfettered competition. “Crony Capitalism” is economic fascism allowing political and social institutions and big business to be the final determiners of supply and demand. This is different than the evolution toward “natural monopolies” which may or may not destroy competition, and may or may not hurt markets.
The moral bases for socialism is a moving target and is based on feelings or opinions that can change frequently regarding concepts of “the common good” and fairness. Because these discussions under a socialist political philosophy have no bases in “first instances” they can change. So what is “social justice” and can it be applied in an unbiased fashion? Is it just for people to come across our borders unchecked, and are the caravans “just” when they become the conduits for drug and human trafficking and so many people are physically and sexually abused during the trip? Should justice be applied differently when the interests of different factions are considered in the context of the same action?
Is what is just for one person just for another? A big difference between conservatives and progressives is how a justice standard is applied to groups of people by progressives and not to individuals. This process is used to create differences and those differences are used to exploit groups for political purposes. By applying principles of justice based on first principles conservatives encourage individuals to see equalities within themselves and not differences. This, in turn, facilitates cooperation both economically and politically. Progressives need to exploit differences. Conservatives emphasize commonalities.
So conservatives many times are at a disadvantage when arguing political theory or economic policy. Our “first principles” must always inform us and they don’t change. Conservatives argue about ideas. Progressive socialists argue about things—money and material goods and services. It is an easy argument to make that if you vote for me I will give you free food, free rent, free education free medical care, and free retirement. An easier argument to make is I will promise to keep your salary at a certain level, or I will guarantee your wage.
Pandering politicians who give free stuff away have an easy row to hoe. Vote for me and I will give you free stuff. But just looking at the history of our own country and the history of the world in the 20th and early 21st century we can see what has happened to societies that were controlled by politicians who promised free stuff. Any system that depends on a command and control top-down economic model will fail. Look at William Bradford’s experience with “communalism” the first two years that the Plymouth Bay Company was operating in the New World. One of the greatest and most drastic business decisions ever made in our country was when William Bradford changed from a common means of production to each individual farmer producing for his own family. Crop yields went up and by the fourth year, instead of starvation, there were surpluses. Any time workers are forced to work, when supply goals are set by a third party outside of the market place, efficiencies and productivity go down. Look at the former Soviet Union, Cuba, and today Venezuela.
But conservatives have to make the philosophical arguments. We don’t believe socialism allocates resources efficiently because we see without pricing and markets there are long waiting lines for medical care, gasoline, food, and toilet paper—and just about everything and anything. There is corn and wheat rotting in silos, and fields lying fallow because the commissars of government have through their 5-year plans produced too much of one thing and to enough of another. Individuals proceeding in their own self—not selfish interests, competing, inventing, investing, and making individual consumer choices produce societies that have a far better standard of living than those where there is no free market.
Thousands of people making economic decisions on a moment to moment bases regarding what is best for them and their business or families will always make better decisions than a few government agents with no skin in the game. A mother knows what kind of health care she needs for her children and together a mother and father know how best to plan for retirement or college for their kids. Pell Grants and Social Security and even Medicare have a far worse return on investment than if those monies could have been invested privately. Government programs invest short term. Families invest long term and get far better rates of return.
Look at unemployment rates where minimum wage laws are in effect. Compare teenage unemployment in Idaho and Washington State. Look at the price of gasoline in our country where for the past 65 years the price of a gallon of gasoline is almost on a par with the price of a liter in Europe—about one-fourth the volume.
I believe the real problem is not that there are too many liberals in the world who truly believe in socialism. I think that particularly in our State that has many small businesses, farms and ranches, and families who know how to budget there are still many more conservatives than there are liberals. What scares the heck out of me is the idea that there are many conservatives who understand in their hearts conservative principles, but who are more interested in getting re-elected or, more basically, they don’t want to make the difficult conservative arguments based on “first instances”. It is so much easier to go along with the crowd and the special interests that fund their campaigns.