Friday, October 30, 2015

Community Vs Communism

hbd chick's long essay Community Vs Communism has her usual thoroughness and wit.  My own off-the-cuff thought was that socialism established itself in places that already had voluntary non-kin associations of support, such as Scandinavia; communism may be more of an attempt to shortcut the long slow development of such cultural supports by force.

However that socialism is limited to the nation only, and in those instances, the nation is essentially a tribe, an attenuated family where everyone looks like second cousins.  You will note that those in even (now) socialist countries who don't look like second-cousins - gypsies, Jews, Saami - did not fare well in the 20th C.  And the difficulties continue now, with different non-kin groups.  The Great Tent of Sharing may only be able to remain erect so broadly given the current state of mankind.

It is good for us to try and be better, certainly, and a Christian thing to share more.  Yet when things reach a certain stretch there seems to be a snapback response which may not be immediately visible but contains as much prejudice. I certainly see it in people who would cut their tongues out before they would make a racist or sexist comment, yet let drop amazing bigotries when speaking of their  competitor cultures in America.  Or also, who show off their superior morality by skipping over natural categories of caritas to visibly and obviously show that they love the unlovable more than you do.  CS Lewis wrote of this in Screwtape, of Christians who would make a show of forgiving Hitler while acting spitefully to the circle of friends and relatives they actually encounter every day.

With such snapbacks, the net result is more strife and hatred in the world, not less, because the hatred is invisible to the hater. The unforgivable sin, I think, is the one that cannot be confessed, because we have become so hardened in our own conscience that we cannot see it.


james_lopez said...
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Texan99 said...

Perhaps economies work well only if they're structured to reflect the preferences workers actually have for who will benefit directly from their labor, not the preferences we wish they had. Most of us find it fairly natural to work extra hard for ourselves, our spouses, our children, etc. Some of us, like AVI, expand that charmed circle dramatically by adopting multiple children, or in other cases simply by having scads of kids and grandkids and friends who move in or otherwise are taken under our wings, and so on. But whatever that charmed circle is, that's the people for whom we'll put in an extra crop this year, or work more hours at the factory so we can produce an extra car every week, or go to night school so we can get a good job as an RN. That the motivation behind increases in productivity.

If the society and/or government tries to tell us that the whole country is now in our charmed circle, experience tells us it doesn't work out the same. We won't work extra hard for strangers, or at least the economic performance data tell us clearly that most people won't on average. The economy booms when incentives are tied to our productivity, but our incentives are what they are, not what someone tells us they ought to be. It doesn't matter whether it's an Uncle Sam poster telling us, or Michelle Obama, or Edmund Burke, or the church: unless we not only hear the message but actually take it to heart, then a system that makes us share the product of our work with those people is not a system in which we'll push the envelope on how much valuable work we put out.

An economic system that pools resources because we have a conviction that as Christians we should share more puts the cart before the horse. If people are persuaded in their hearts that they should share more, then they will. If they're not, then neither an economic nor a legal system can solve the problem that forced sharing leads to lower production and therefore a poorer economy. We may be able to solve a different problem: we may be able to substitute an economy with greater equality of wealth, if we think that's more important, but we'll do it at the cost of total wealth per capita.

It seems to me we have to figure out what's the important societal goal here. Is it to maximize the material wealth a culture can produce? Is it to alleviate the material poverty of our least fortunate members, ones who not only can't produce for themselves but don't have anyone who cares enough for them to share with them? Is it to reduce invidious distinctions among neighbors and citizens? It is to convert as many souls as possible to the virtuous habit of generosity? The economy is a useful tool for many things, but I'd argue it's the wrong tool for the last three of the projects just listed. The right tools for the last three projects are political, ethical, or religious.

Imagine if all our productive workers genuinely were as motivated to improve the standard of living for the non-kin groups living on the other side of the tracks as they were to benefit their own kids. Suddenly we'd find that the free-market system was every bit as capable of harnessing that desire as it currently is of inducing people to take second jobs so their grandkids can go to Harvard.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Very well thought, and very well put. I suggest you do a similar post on your own site.

Sam L. said...

Off topic, but Althouse posted this, referencing ABBA: "4. The Mirror: "On 40th anniversary of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody enjoy 40 fascinating facts about Freddie Mercury hit": "The 120 overdubbed tracks in Bohemian Rhapsody took more than 70 hours to complete. The tape had almost disintegrated by the time they were perfected.... It was knocked off the top spot by Abba’s Mamma Mia – a song which echoed the famous line 'mamma mia let me go' from ­Bohemian Rhapsody’s chorus.... Some think 'Galileo' is a reference to Brian May, who holds a PhD in astrophysics....""