Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Somebody is misunderstanding what laissez faire means...

...and it's either me or these guys.

So this morning, I picked up a copy of the newly released second edition of The Moral Imagination by Gertrude Himmelfarb. The second edition of this book includes new chapters on Adam Smith, Lord Acton, and Alfred Marshall. I just want to take a moment, dear reader, to assure you that just because I have this book, that does not necessarily prove that I am cooler than you. Although it is pretty suggestive.

Anyway, something I read in his opening chapter on Adam Smith made me do a double take. Consider this statement.
His opposition to mercantilism is generally read as a criticism of government regulation and a defense of laissez faire. It is that, and much more, for his objection to mercantilism is not only that it inhibits a progressive economy by interfering with the natural process of the market; it is also unjustly biased against workers.
Now, wait just a minute. Why is thinking mercantilism is bad for workers taken to be separate from a defense of lassiez faire? Why isn't it part of a defense of laissez faire?

Monday, September 3, 2012

You Didn't Build That...Reloaded.

 The term "target rich environment" is a very context specific phrase. In my previous line of work, it rarely referred to a chance to explore the rhetoric of politics, but that's what it means tonight. Just in case anyone out there thinks that the now infamous You-Didn't-Build-That-Gate hasn't yet reached critical mass, allow me to toss in my thoughts.

 First, the full speech can be found here. I'll quote what I think is the most relevant section.
There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me -- because they want to give something back.  They know they didn’t -- look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.  You didn’t get there on your own.  I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart.  There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something -- there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.  (Applause.)
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business -- you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.  The Internet didn’t get invented on its own.  Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.
The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.  Somewhere, lurking on the internet, is a humorous list of Men's Rules for Women. One of my favorites on that list is "If we say something that can be interpreted in two different ways, and one of those ways makes you sad or angry, we meant the other one." Anyone who has ever met me knows instantly why I would like this rule. But let's not get off topic - I do have an actual reason for bringing up this obscure bit of internet humor. In any discussion, if someone says something that can be interpreted in different ways, it's best to assume a charitable interpretation of their words. This seems particularly difficult to accomplish when discussing political issues.