There exists in the country now — and there has existed for some time — an appreciable readiness to, if you will, suspend disbelief when it comes to the claims of politicians. An eagle-eyed professor of politics describes a detail of this picture in America:
“We carry in our heads this image of economic markets made up of small producers and rational and fully informed consumers, and we tell ourselves that this is perfect competition and an ideal world. But actually it is a fantasy world.”
A fantasy it is, one naturally far more easily comestible than its dark alternative: The truth.
This readiness itself hints at something worrisome, something deeply rooted in the political psychology of the nation. Fundamental things, big questions at the core of what seem to be unsolvable social and political problems, beyond or behind the mania of Donkey versus Elephant — these are not to be hounded. Red herrings are scattered to throw us off the scent, send us on the wrong track. And do we ever suppose that our definitions themselves — of apparently fixed notions like private property, trade, money, and competition — are properly to be subject to strict scrutiny?
In allowing the archists, the emissaries of authority and rulership, to decide what these things mean, we have already lost anything that we might hope to win by, say, voting. But, to be sure, slogans like “free market” mean different things to different people. The capitalists teach us early and often that centralization and expansion are natural and necessary as considered within the logic of economies of scale. Further and further integration of production processes within the firm are, they assure us, obligatory given the demands of efficiency.
But then, of course, the capitalists, these impassioned adulators of freedom and competition, never do introduce the fact that their claims about streamlining and concentration would, if carried out to their apogee, mean the embrace of all production within a single monopoly. I cannot imagine that — at such a point — it would matter whether that monopoly were administered by business suit-clad capitalists or by the mandarins of some “classless” total state.
Professor Coates pleads that the twentieth century American economy was no free market. Indeed, but it probably was and still is capitalism. Notwithstanding the contest that has dominated the past months, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney alike stand for it, and yet as a matter of fact the victor Obama has very little control as an individual over how capitalism will continue to function during the next four or forty years.
To hazard a guess, capitalism will likely appear how it has: Vast stretches of land will be penned in by fictitious claims of right; copyright and patent statutes will prohibit access to ideas, techniques, processes which a free and competitive market makes open to all; licenses, permissions, certifications, and credentials will limit competition to the anguish of the laboring classes and consumers; tax revenues will be withdrawn and then poured gratuitously into the miasmal megafirms of the capitalists.
Really, there will be nothing very competitive about the scene, but surely it will be approved by the political footmen of the men who own the nation. Still, let us at least remember that there have always been in this country free market sorts of a rather different branding. The Anarchists have long been of the mind that a fully liberated competitive system of economics would, simply by its operation, make equal exchange on the basis of cost the expected norm. Such economies could not intelligibly go by the family name of capitalism: They are of a very different pedigree to be sure.
Over the weeks to follow Tuesday’s election, do scrutinize the definitions of these men who pursue office. Test them and see if they fit those suggested by conscience and critical thought. If they do not, consider spending the next election day to come thinking about those core questions that the people listed on the ballot have so ignored.