I have been reading leftist literature lately to better understand why the Adam Smith stuff that seems so reasonable to me is so virulently attacked. I mean, there are a lot of these folks out there, including most of the press and a majority of our Arts and Letters establishment, and they clearly are NOT idiots, nor are they all disingenuous. Given that, I figured there must be some shift between our frames of reference.
I have longed used how people anger to good effect in business. The more inappropriate or out of scale it is, the closer the topic is to challenging someones closely held value. For instance I react more strongly than I should on issues of taxation and regulation. My tender parts are a product of an entrepreneurial nature and an independent streak a mile wide. I have always hated being told what do do or how to do it. So why do Leftists react equally vigorously against capitalism, free markets, and organized religion?
I picked up a book by Steve Almond called "Not That You Asked". Steve describes his background as Jewish and 2nd generation progeny of fellow travelers in the Amercan Communist Party, Steve is a good writer and really funny. He apparently really hates Reagan, Bush, and Republicans and cannot write about them without the equivalent of sputtering... you know,"Fascist", "Greedy", or "Hateful", and the like.
In his requiem for Kurt Vonnegut, another celebrated author who had a decidedly ambivalent... ok, malignant, view of the American experiment, I saw clearly the juxtaposition of the frames of reference.
The world view shared by Vonnegut, Almond, and presumably 10's of millions of other Americans is that the highest human value is the amelioration of human suffering. A moral or principaled individual, and by extension, society, should thus devote its resources primarily to "solving" human suffering, wherever it may exist.
At this juncture, although I am certain Vonnegut and Almond would disagree with me, I don't think Leftists and Righties are that far apart in their goals. The primary differences are in the mechanisms they choose to realize their goals.
Let me explain. The Righty thinks that Adam Smith outlined a pretty acceptable, workable vision of how everyone can work for each others good using the marketplace, tapping into "enlightened self interest". No one is doing anyone favors per se, they just seek to identify and provide to others what they want or need defined by what others are willing to exchange for those goods and services. This exchange could be direct exchange of goods for goods, services for services, or some combination of the two. It could even be a good or service now in return for a good or service later. We merely use money as a way to normalize this exchange, so that you wouldn't necessarily need to find that rare combination of someone who REALLY wants your pet wombat that coincidentally owns that 77 Chevy Vega you have dreamed about since you were 9.
The Leftist thinks that Karl Marx outlined a neat system ("in theory" they always say) where everyone worked for the benefit of everyone else... which, if you think about it, is wildly similar to Adam Smith's idea, except that they would do so for spiritual or charitable compensation rather than economic remuneration. Also, Marx called for the destruction of entities that provided TOO good of a value or service because it then got to big, and thus, presumably, unmanageable.
The problem with this system is that, unlike the exchange of goods and services for other goods and services or cash, you are left only with the HOPE that the recipient of your goodwill will somehow reciprocate to you or to others down the road. However, recipients of charity are often not as thankful for that charity as pure reason would suggest. Thus, the "currency" of charity is much less fungible, and thus less valuable. Why be a "From According to Their Ability" when you can be a "To According to Their Need". This is the reason, in a nutshell, why we you don't hear about the thriving commune that grew up from the 1960's. To deal with this bad artifact, we then need to invoke the power of the State.
A quick oilfield analogy. A Leftists major goal is to ensure that all oilfield workers are fully employed in a safe environment. that is the fundamental value. A noble and affirming value.
A Righty seeks to drill productive oil wells because the resulting commodity can be sold at a profit. If this can be done successfully, the byproduct of that profit motive is full employment on that rig. If the cost of accidents is appropriately high, then the byproduct of the Righty's profit motives are full employment AND a safe environment. Thus, the goals of the Leftist are easily satisfied as a byproduct of the efforts of the Righty to satisfy his or her "selfish" goals.
Alternatively, the goals of the Righty is NOT insured in the efforts to gain full employment and safety. Drilling successful oilwells is only one outcome of an infinite number of outcomes. A more likely result would be workers sleeping on soft furs all day in a risk free environment. This describes the basic imbalance in these trains of thought.
Given that in the history of human civilization, an industrialized, moderately capitalistic country has been the most successful in meeting the goals of reducing human suffering as a byproduct of its efforts, why then the angst against the method?
Is the motive of the giver really that much more important than the result? Does the act of receiving, and the expectations for more derived from that, erode the capability to appreciate charity? Should a constant level of existential angst be directed towards less and less human suffering? Should this angst result in increasingly expensive efforts that have a lower associated probability of succeeding? When Bono urged O'Neill to spend a larger percentage of US GDP to ameliorate African pain, is the principal of the matter the most important thing? Should the ACT of giving away bigger chunks of our GDP in methods tried and true to enrich bureaucrats or despots and relieve very little pain be celebrated rather than the efficiency of the effort? In other words, is it more Noble to give away a hundred dollars to solve hunger by using the bills as toilet paper than to give away a dollar that buys and delivers foodstuffs? Is it more Noble to give money to those less fortunate or to hire them to make goods that you can sell for a profit?
This concept of charitable "nobility" seems pretty restrictive to me. Wouldn't the recipient prefer cash to food or formula? The right to choose whether to buy a beer or feed the baby? By stripping the fungibility from your charity, you merely restrict choice. You are imposing your values on the recipient, regardless of whether the recipient shares your values. It seems to me that that is no longer charity. You are exchanging goods and services in exchange for an adoption of your values. Take this baby formula instead of cash because I think it is more important for you to feed your baby than to buy a beer. Of course, this depends that there is not a black market formula for beer exchange where you can get one beer for twenty cases of formula. Of course, getting back to Adam Smith, that exchange WILL exist and the market will decide the appropriate rate of exchange regardless of what you yourself think it should be.
So why would you want to impose your values on someone? Because you don't feel that they are smart enough to make the "right" choice? No wonder the left has such a problem with organized religion. In the battle of values, it uses a twisted interpretation of an amendment that prohibits the establishment of a national religion to ensure that values that purport to represent or stem from a supernatural source be excised altogether from the Commoosn altogether. That is one way of advancing your values. Make sure the other guy can't talk.
In the end, there is an endless supply of human suffering, and finite supplies of goods, services, and time to devote to it. Worldwide, we certainly devote a monstrous amount of resource to help lessen misery. We spend more today on charity than what comprised the whole world economy in the 1700's. It is the perfect issue because it can never be enough. Someone is always suffering. The more we create, the more we need to give away to help the chronic needy. In a great story I heard, the United Nations announced its efforts to combat worldwide poverty. A western diplomat (read American Republican) said "Great! We can finally teach the world about capitalism". The UN functionary said "No, this is not a political effort, it is a humanitarian effort". The western diplomat said "Pity, then, that you won't teach the most tested and true method to combat poverty as part of your anti-poverty program".
The 20th Century has seen the expansion of Leftist concerns for the human condition to regions outside our country's borders... the human misery in the undeveloped world, and laying blame exclusively on the doorstep of wealthy capitalist societies who presumably "stole" the patrimony of the poor country. Never mind the nearly universally corrupt and unstable governments and systems in place in these countries that highly restrict ownership of property or business. This is usually altogether ignored as a causative factor in human misery.
Unfortunately, we then find ourselves unable to change broken infrastructure to ensure that our charity, largess, or blood atonement as per your particular point of view is spent with the most return and the least waste. We are currently nearly guranteed to throw money away enriching martinets.
Of course the Nobel Prize in Leftist Thinking was awarded recently to Al Gore for his role in helping anthropormorphize the Environment and discussing how we make it suffer... This is powerful stuff because the "victim" cannot contradict us in real time, and we are limited only by our imaginations how to describe its "pain".