When The Hands That Build Betray The Mind That Plans
June 6, 2011 2 Comments
For whatever reason, out of the approximately 7.39 vigintillion blog posts that Matthew Yglesias posted on June 3, 2011, the one that caught my eye was Automakers Repay Obama Administration Rescue Of Car Industry By Battling Fuel Economy Standards. Or at least the blog post’s title caught my eye (as with virtually all of Matthew Yglesiases’es output, I didn’t actually read the post itself, but now I guess I’m going to have to.)
Having read it (well sort of; mostly skimmed, really), I think I’ve figured out what bothered me about it. It seems to me that it betrays a somewhat favor-based conception of the economy. Actual economic rules such as supply and demand, and rational profit-seeking, play no role in this conception of the world. Notice that no actual argument for why there should be higher CAFE standards is even proferred – in fact, Yglesias seems to be against them, all things considered! But that doesn’t matter. All that seemed to matter to Matthew Yglesias here was that The Obama Administration did car companies a favor, and so now they’re supposed to do one back. Or at least, he considered it post-worthy that they didn’t. (Not that what is ‘post-worthy’ to Matthew Yglesias is any sort of high bar, but I digress.)
The point is that this is a pretty instructive case study in left-wing economic thinking. The economy consists of a bunch of quasi-autonomous large actors (‘workers/unions’, ‘car companies’, ‘the rich’, ‘the government’…) and their interactions. And the main concern of the lefty is that the interactions should obey a sort of morality: If actor X does such-and-such then actor Y should do such-and-such back. To lefty economic thinkers, it is this morality that is their primary concern, and the level on which they seek to produce economic outcomes.
So take the issue of, say, unemployment. An economic liberal (i.e. ‘conservative’) such as myself might cite the high burden of taxes and regulation on would-be employers and suggest that the direct route to increasing employment would be to reduce this burden. Leftists, on the other hand, see employment in terms of this morality, so their focus is on simply stating that private firms – regardless of actual economic considerations – ‘should’ hire more people. Hence the standard critiques we’ve been hearing, such as that corporations are ‘sitting on piles of cash’.
In this moral-based view, the only imperative is to just berate and nag and shame private companies until they Do The Right Thing and take those piles of cash they’re supposedly ‘sitting on’, and use it to invent a bunch of jobs to hire people into. Not, mind you, because it makes any economic sense to do so. (It may or may not, but leftists aren’t even attempting to make that argument in the first place.) Simply because it’s the right thing to do, because it will restore a sense of balance to the Force if you will, i.e. to the relationship because The Workers and The Companies.
Roughly speaking: The Workers bailed out and TARP’ed and stimulus’ed The Companies, so now The Companies are supposed to return the favor and hire The Workers. Similarly: The Obama Administration bailed out The Car Companies, and so now The Car Companies aren’t supposed to oppose whatever regulations he wants (regardless of their merits).
Fans of Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi classic Metropolis will be quite familiar with this super-advanced style of economic thinking:
Having conceived Babel, yet unable to build it themselves, they had thousands to build it for them. But those who toiled knew nothing of the dreams of those who planned. And the minds that planned the Tower of Babel cared nothing for the workers who built it. The hymns of praise of the few became the curses of the many – BABEL! BABEL! BABEL! – Between the mind that plans and the hands that build there must be a Mediator, and this must be the heart.
Personally, I’m not a fan of Fritz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi classic Metropolis. Or of any piece of art that is a propagandistic ode to economic fascism, for that matter.