“Everybody knows an ant, can’t, move a rubber tree plant.” – Frank Sinatra
When Lenin needed to describe a strategy for lifting the working classes into political consciousness, he wrote a pamphlet called What Is To Be Done. It makes sense really. A radical who intends to reengineer the the entire economic world, must of necessity be bold. The bitter antagonism, the chance of failure, the collateral damage, those are other people’s problems. As far as I know there is no analagous work What Can Be Done.
The same with the liberal-Leftist today. Certain possibilities for political economy and social affairs enter his imagination. He thinks for a while. This one is aesthetically or ethically superior to that one, and that one over there is the best of them all, therefore that’s the one we’re going with. The possibility that there is no way to get from here to there is irrelevant or even worse, a distraction. The more improbable the scenario, the harder the liberal must concentrate on it, otherwise the dream will surely vanish.
The rest of the world operates a little differently. We have lives, families, communities that we intend to be associated with, for better or worse. Whatever choices we make, we are going to live with the consequences. Therefore, just as the radical has to focus on what should be done first and what can be done second (if at all), the rest of us must approach things in the opposite order.
Let’s look at this a little deeper. When I was a debater back in high school, truth is I was pretty much horrible. Nonetheless, there is at least one thing I learned in forensic debate that’s relevant today. We live in a world of limited fiat. The idea of fiat, our ability to pretend that this or that has happened or is going to happen and consider the consequences, is an essential tool for any kind of analysis. Even so, it is still prone to abuses.
In general we should advocate for particular actions as opposed to a desired end state. If we advocate for a particular end state, it’s up to us to give a credible path to get there. If we advocate for an action, it should be pretty clear who is supposed to do it. And the smaller and more coherent, the better. It’s plausible to argue that Congress should do something. It’s ridiculous to think Americans in general will take some action on our say-so.
So let’s recap: if we can boil our preferred state of affairs into a few concrete actions to be performed by people accessible to us, then that’s a plausible thing to wish for. We should consider that state of affairs relative to other possibilities. If we can’t, we shouldn’t.
A great deal of the armchair economic analysis from the liberal-Left, including here, fails at exactly this level. One idea is that the economic product of America or society in general is a pie, and society gets to decide how the pie is divided among various people or groups. In some comments, I’ve called this idea folk Marxism. But a free economy doesn’t work that way. Individuals, corporations, partnerships and whatnot create this or that, based on multitudes of considerations. They are not strings on a harp for someone to pluck at will.
There have also been a number of discussions at the League centering around wage rates. Estimations of economic value, including the value of labor, compress lots of information into one or a few numbers. In general, you can’t raise the price of labor by political fiat because you can’t make buyers habitually pay substantially more for something than they perceive it to be worth. This has important consequences for labor unions, also a hot topic at the League. In particular, Erik views labor unions as important proxies for the restoration of the middle class. This illusion is only credible if we believe that all or nearly all the important parts comprising the economy are subject to our control.
We lose accountability if we can only concentrate on the object of our wishes. We get it back if we can concentrate just as well on our capabilities.