– April 4, 2019

The number one problem of all public debate about politics and economics is the failure to name the state. If this would change, so would public opinion.

There is no shortage of examples. People talk about health care for all, solving climate change, providing security in old age, universal educational access, boosting wages, ending discrimination, and you can add to the list without end.

That’s one side.

The other speaks of national identity, protecting jobs, making us more moral, forming cultural cohesion, providing security against the foreign enemy, and so on.

Obfuscation

All of this, no matter how fancy the language, is obfuscation. What all of this really means is: put the state in charge. What’s strange is the unwillingness to say it outright. This is for a reason. The plans the politicians have for our lives would come across as far less compelling if they admitted the following brutal truth.

There really are only two ways to allocate goods and services in society: the markets (which rely on individual choice) and the state (which runs on compulsion). No one has ever found a third way. You can mix the two — some markets and some state-run operations — but there always is and always will be a toggling between the two. If you replace markets, the result will be more force via the state, which means bureaucratic administration and rule by force. If you reduce the role of the state, you rely more on markets. This is the logic of political choice, and there is no escaping it.

The above paragraph is the great truth of political economy. I’ve never seen any evidence to dispute it. And yet it is the great unsayable truth. Seasons of political rhetoric fly by with no frank discussion of what precisely this or that proposal would require of the state and how that will affect our lives, much less a serious analysis of the risks of making a problem worse by replacing market forces.

Brexit Smexit, Why we should all be feelin the bern and the UK referendum on EU is of no consequence in or out.

Brexit Smexit, Why we should all be feeling the Bern and the UK referendum on EU is of no consequence in or out.

alis…mihi uidetur, rex, vita hominum praesens in terris, ad conparationem eius, quod nobis incertum est, temporis, quale cum te residente ad caenam cum ducibus ac ministris tuis tempore brumali, accenso quidem foco in medio, et calido effecto caenaculo, furentibus autem foris per omnia turbinibus hiemalium pluviarum vel nivium, adveniens unus passeium domum citissime pervolaverit; qui cum per unum ostium ingrediens, mox per aliud exierit. Ipso quidem tempore, quo intus est, hiemis tempestate non tangitur, sed tamen parvissimo spatio serenitatis ad momentum excurso, mox de hieme in hiemem regrediens, tuis oculis elabitur. Ita haec vita hominum ad modicum apparet; quid autem sequatur, quidue praecesserit, prorsus ignoramus. Unde si haec nova doctrina certius aliquid attulit, merito esse sequenda videtur.

  • Translation: The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.
  • Book II, chapter 13
  • This, Bede tells us, was the advice given to Edwin, King of Northumbria by one of his chief men, at a meeting where the king proposed that he and his followers should convert to Christianity. It followed a speech by the chief priest Coifi, who also spoke in favour of conversion.