Capitalism is local

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The Article

In my recent Sunday natterings on “what is to be done”—my attempt to think positively, about the direction we should take as the bankrupt Nanny State collapses over us—I have stressed the need to start with education. In the longer run, but even in the shorter, recovery means overcoming the power of state indoctrination; means learning to think independently again.

It is the moral order we must first reclaim, if we are to stand as the grand Ponzi scheme of the welfare state comes tumbling down. This begins with re-instilling the classical virtues in our children; with preparing them to assume personal responsibility. For in a system which no longer offers to infantilize the citizen from “cradle to grave,” they must be prepared to take adult responsibilities. They will need the moral stamina to cope, directly and personally, with the fallout from the long “progressive” project of turning the moral order upside down; to overcome “fair is foul and foul is fair.”

This view makes me a “social conservative.” We are naturally allied with economic libertarians, for we share one large ambition: getting big government out of our faces. There is an instinctive belief on both sides, that with freedom a society will self-organize; that the natural order of things never required central planning. It does require moral spine, however.

My own concerns are thus more spiritual than material; I think we should seek “the good, the true, the beautiful,” in civic life. Libertarians tend to yawn at these, and move directly to: what is good for business? (Of course this is a generalization; there are many kinds of libertarians.)

But “business interests” cannot be what we live for. The primary purpose of life cannot be the accumulation of wealth—every other end being some hobby we are welcome to indulge in our spare time.

“The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God,” but money.

Still, wealth trumps penury. And, capitalism feeds, whereas socialism starves. I don’t think anyone who has looked over the history of the last century can doubt that. Scope must be provided for the trial and error of individual enterprise.

Capitalism tends to open society, socialism to close it. There is no reason to wonder why those who lust for power are drawn to the left; or why the left has been consistently “chic” among the intellectuals, continuously for much more than a century. Socialism may impoverish and enslave, but it is the means by which

the intellectual can hope to become the enslaver: through the creation of bureaucracies to advance and perpetuate fashionable progressive agendas.

Free markets create conditions of plenty, in which starvation does not become an issue; socialism imposes material constraints and dysfunctions which finally necessitate “population control.”

Indeed, the idea of phasing out the human race entirely is at the cutting edge of current environmentalist thinking; and in the end the issue is life or death.

Yet the critique of capitalism is not without merit. Free markets are also, in the strictest sense of the word, a “de-moralizing” force; and big business, like big government, is a levelling agent of extraordinary power.

Moreover, under present conditions in the Nanny State, big business and big government are mutually enabling. They are essentially allied, through the phenomena of “regulatory capture.” That is to say, the government regulates all aspects of the economy, but does so under intensive lobbying from the biggest commercial interests, which claim in turn to tell them what will create “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Small enterprise, including all family businesses, confront a Kafkaesque field of bureaucratic requirements which only very large enterprises have the resources to deal with.

To the tax department, small businesses are flies that need swatting down; and the individual taxpayer is just a source of protein.

We learn this constantly at first hand. To the mere consumer, who wishes to make a complaint, or get something fixed, there is little difference between a corporate and government bureaucracy: one is the mirror of the other. “One size fits all,” and the smallest individual request leaves you on the phone hearing messages like, “Your call is important to us.” Followed by lectures on “company policy.”

I am not against restricting business activities. I am, however, generally opposed to regulation by vast central authorities. I think a much more effective way to make business responsive to individual and local needs, is to invert the entire regulatory order; to make it work from the ground up, instead of from the sky down.

Let multinational corporations negotiate for position with a million tiny local authorities, adapting their services to each. Let their franchise operations compete on a “level playing field” with local service providers, everywhere they land. Open the gates to “market entry.”

This, anyway, is my general idea: to deregulate nationally and provincially, but allow regulation at the municipal level—where the results of decisions can be seen, and where actual human beings get to choose what will be good for themselves, their family, their neighbourhood.

David Warren
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