Paradise as a Peril
This will only state the obvious, which we are inclined to overlook. We like search for enlightenment by looking far from where we happen to be. Thereby we can miss what is in front of us.
The road from poverty to wealth is long, curvy and it is therefore missed in favor of the abyss. The road from wealth to poverty, on the other hand, is not only short but also abrupt. The analogy is a ski lift. The way to the top – after the struggle to beat the queues – is long, while the downward slide is short.
The reaction of societies to opportunities that allow their rise is constructive “hope.” It is expressed in “the pursuit of happiness.” The compatible sentiment that lets talents rise is put in the phrase, “the American dream.”
The Left resents such ideas. Enhanced is that disgust by the distrust of the place where those phrases were born. The Left reacts to the challenge of its dogmas in its own manner. The extremists of the Left – seconded by their analogy on the Right- gather the fallible by promising to recruits an instantly enjoyable “good life” that is divorced from output.
The threadbare idea has a tradition. Utopias that promise paradise, wrapped into an Eldorado that thrives in the Garden of Eden, have a long history.
At the same time, labor, which makes dreams possible, has a bad mythological reputation. It is seen as what it had been through centuries, as a misfortune. Work was a “punishment” that involved tedious effort and a suffering that would bring no escape from perennial poverty. The image is not accidental. In pre-industrial societies, work has been a cursed expression of inferiority.
Some utopias reduced freedom to freedom from work. They depicted abundance as an expression of unearned plenty accessed through good luck. Such as when a thankful genie granted wishes. Comparable present fantasies point into a dangerous direction. Nice guys that bring undeserved gifts deprive the recipients of their ability to forge their own durable luck. The Pacific’s “Cargo Cults” tell the story. So does Greece’s recent role in the Euro-zone on the way to bankruptcy and ruin.
From bedtime stories, daydreams have moved from castles in the sky, into the realm of political visions. After a rephrasing into modern terminology, they became the guiding star of movements that promised secular salvation.
The past’s conditions of “work” explain why, after the perfunctory acknowledgment of labor’s worth, a desire arose to avoid it. Thereby modern economic insights were ignored, and so the realities of production and consumption were bypassed.
Once the industrial revolution unfolded, the escape from historic poverty opened new vistas. One involved a break with the past and pointed to a course that emphasized a discovery. Earlier, this insight would not have been possible. It utilized expanding personal freedom that resulted in growing productivity, new products, knowledge, and new forms of enterprise put to use by novel forms of financing. Capitalism resulted when ingenuity and entrepreneurship were added.
Above the level of hunter-gatherers, all forms of production are “capitalistic.” Beyond propaganda, the question is who owns the capital. Often those that wish to abolish “capitalism” advocate a system in which capital held by individuals is replaced with “socialized capital.” The advocate of this tends to be the Guru who aspires to guide “society.” Initial confiscation will be followed by economic failure. Instead of admitting the fiasco, the elite will blame society’s immaturity. To correct that condition, “guidance” will be applied. Its expression will institutionalize terror. This converts, as we see in Venezuela, economically failing collectivism into systemic tyranny.
New tends hit us in waves. Unlike surfers, some will not be able to ride these because they perceive their energy not as a force to be harnessed, but as a threat to be fought. The reaction is avoidance, the mute suffering of the inundation, or fantasies about an alternative, a “better,” motionless ocean.
The expanding world of the industrial revolution’s opportunities produces the energy that spins the globe. Rejectionist resistance follows tradition. Only the present’s fantasies differ from classical fairy tales because they are sold as programs of instant salvation. If the picture is drawn in deep red, it is “Socialism.” Once the color is borrowed from frogs and the Marxist yarn has “natural” ways added, we find “Greens.”
The rejectionist reaction to the world of the forwardly oriented has a limitation. Those that believe the wrong theory wreck themselves. A land of plenty commanded by government fiat will do more than to prevent the emancipation of those that swallow the dope as fish do the hook. Paradise through redistribution collapses when its policies prevent the creation of what is to be handed out. An ignored news item from Venezuela tells that the tale about the tale is just that. The Benefactor ordered that electronics stores “sell” their wares at gift prizes. For a moment, something could be had for nothing. Once the curtain went up for the next act, the stores were empty. And, “surprise!” they stayed that way.
The lesson is that following impossible dreams leads us into a deep pit. Those that refuse to understand where wealth comes from because they think that property is theft, are condemned to remain beggars. One might add; as paupers, they will be permanently enslaved.
The good society is meritocratic, and as such, it fights inherited privilege. The good life is, as the millions that escape poverty every year attest, attainable through systems that reward performance according to its estimated social utility. The precondition of such a system is a government that guarantees planning stability and operates within the limits of reasonable and mandated regulations.
The antidote of the good society is a system that attempts to counteract those differences that arise when all men are allowed to proceed according to their talents in the pursuit of individually determined goals. Replacing equal opportunity with the equality of results corrupts the public order and undermines the forces that fuel personal and collective success. The free donations presented as entitlements due to those that have not earned them, have a quality that will ultimately prove that they were too expensive to accept.