The Work of the Government

One thing I don't think many people realize is that our economy is not and never has been a natural creation. Our economy is the result of hundreds and hundreds of accumulated decisions by government and individuals over hundreds of years. There is no such thing as a corporation in the wild. There have never been ditties sung about watching the corporations and the antelopes play and not because that phrase doesn't scan.

There is no reason to think that changing the particular features of our economy is in itself wrong. There is no reason to privilege the decisions made 50 or 100 years ago over decisions that could be made today. Today a self styled Burkian conservative would say that the decisions made 100 years ago have obviously sustained themselves in a way that isn't too bad and we have no idea what the totality of effects will be on decisions made today. To which I say, ok we'll think hard before acting. But it doesn't take years of thinking in order to decide that something doesn't work. Burkeians also says that because the information flow is asymmetric, we know and can know more about the effects of an action taken 100 hundred years ago then we do and can about the future effects of an action taken today, that we should be very, very careful about taking action.

That argument though is generally used to say that we should do very little to change our world. That we should be paralyzed by our inability to "know" the future. Andrew Sullivan normally describes himself as a Burkeian conservative. As a gay man though he has a personal interest in changing marriage to include him. He is very quick to make arguments that the change that would happen would be a good change. His arguments and his quickness to believe that the changes would not be horrible while at the same time arguing that we should be very careful to the point of inaction on other issues seems to point to self interest as the deciding factor in actually believing what gets to change and what we need to keep the same. Of course this is true about most of humanity. If something benefits me then I don't want it to change. As the Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." Or in other words a person will very quickly say that his personal interest and his inclination agree. It is no great shock to see that the constituency for the government doing very little greatly increased during the civil rights movement. What the government was doing was not in the perceived interest of a lot of white people. Feminism was and is not in the perceived interest of men. Why is the republican parties largest constituency white men? Because government action to increase the power of black people and women is fundamentally against the perceived self interest of white men. They comfort themselves by saying that they are not against equality for women and black people they just don't want the government to do anything about it.

People don't generally like change unless they can see how that change helps them. Even people who might be substantively helped by a particular change will argue against that change if it changes their relation to people lower then them in power. People like to say that economics isn't zero sum. Power actually is zero sum.

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