27 May 2010

Distinctions with a Difference

"Capitalism" and the "free market" has come in for a lot of criticism recently. Thomas Frank in the WSJ, for example, calls our recent economic problems "a cataclysmic series of market failures." But a proper prescription first requires a proper diagnosis; similarly, one should properly identify what capitalism and the free market are before undertaking to criticize them. Frank's analysis, as well as that of many others, indicates that there are some important distinctions to be drawn.


vick said...

wow! that was tricky for an old schooler(i had to figure out how to use "blogger" to participate).i came to know of your thought through having read actual ethics,which(sad commentary,eh?)i found in a deep discount book clearinghouse. i wrote to you gushing about your book,and you asked me if i had written any"treatises". given my typing skills,the answer must be self evident.
anyway,that was months ago,and i've written a zillion in my head since then.(sorry about the into. blah blah...i just wanted to sort of identify myself,as this is my first time). as for the gross misunderstandings about capitalism and its misrepresentation by somany different people out there-this is a huge problem in making even the most nominal stab at arresting the detour of yet another civilization to the black hole of collectivist utopia chasing.
i may suffer tortured syntax and eternal sentences,but at least i'm not held hostage by this good-guys/bad-guys,black-or white kind of analysis that so many are dispensing to poor us,the citizens.as i understand it,we haven't had a free market in a long time(if at all in the purest sense). what we have is collusion between powerful entities in the private and public sectors. just as they collude to write "regulation" and "serve" customers/constituents,they are well served by the public's general ignorance of just how incestuous they are. if some of us believe that"more government oversight" and more "transparency" will do the job(and where i ask will the ethically untarnished people come from who will be needed to write and execute said reforms without a one iota of favoritism or self interest creeping in to influence the outcomes...and would all the innocent citizens meekly tread this new road of perfect fairness?),others just blame "greed". (check this out..believe it or not,i graduated from choate rosemary hall many moons ago.if you're not familiar with this prep school,it is one of the toniest circuits on the path to power and influence out there. in my alumni bulletin an '03 grad who had gone into the financial industry actually stated that he agreed with the idea of salary caps within his own and other professions because lower salaries will supposedly redirect these humbled recipients of formerly explosive pay to focus more on community,rather than aquisition. hmmm..so paying someone less makes him less greedy. yes,this towering product of higher education publically made this assertion. i was under the impression that one's character,one's ethical construct was what dictated how he made use of the goods at his disposal. presumably a good person who has alot of goods can do a lot of good.) why are so many otherwise intelligent people so ready to believe what this young idealist suggests(that we shouldn't allow our society to allow people to get rich..lest they become greedy an corrupt)yet they fail to see that power(as in,for example, the kind amassed by a huge,centralised govt.)is every bit as dangerous.
i'm exploding in every direction like a volcano,so i'll stop..but to put it succinctly,misunderstanding capitalism is part and parcel of misunderstanding human nature

James R. Otteson PhD said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Vick! (Thank you also for persevering through the computer difficulties!)

You make lots of good points and interesting observations. I hope you will continue to grace my site with your comments.