One of the underappreciated aspects of liberal democracy is that it always pits morality versus objective facts, always creating a false choice. Every public debate is between one camp that demand we do “the right thing” and another camp that insist on doing “the correct thing”. The right thing is defined as the moral thing while the correct thing is the factually accurate or effective thing. The choice is failure while on the moral high ground or succeed and be seen and inhumane or indifferent.
This false choice predates the rise and spread of liberal democracy, so it is not accurate to lay the blame there. The debate that evolved over economics that grew up out of the industrial revolution is the origin. The Marxists were never making an economic argument back in the 19th century. They started with a moral claim that capitalism is built on exploitation of the workers. This was inherently immoral so it must lead to class struggle, crisis and then revolution.
This lack of an economic plan of any sort should have been obvious, but the followers and Marx were not interested in practical matters. The appeal was always the morality of the program. It was the chief selling point. This was made manifest in Russia when the Bolsheviks seized control of the state. Suddenly they were faced with solving the sorts of problem governments are tasked with doing. They had no economic platform from which to work, just gobs of Marxist theory.
The reaction to Marxism was Austrian School economics. Unlike the Marxists, the Austrians had a very detailed analysis of economics. Their model explained the basics of how goods and services flowed through an economy. This factual accuracy made it possible to form public policy and test the result. Over the course of the Cold War, Austrian economics became the primary weapon against Marxism. It stripped communist economics of the claim to empirical authority.
The trouble with Austrian School economics is it also striped morality and group preference from public debate. Every want and desire had to be justified by an economic argument. Rotten results that may make sense according to the laws of economic could not be contested. The out of control consumerism we see, for example, just has to be tolerated. The spread of degeneracy cannot be opposed, because the market dictates what is right in society.
American society has been squeezed in this vice for a long time. One side makes arguments that make some sense from a moral perspective but are completely unworkable as a practical matter. The other side counters with what appear to be factually correct arguments, the results of which are unsustainable. Worse still, neither side has a way to counter the other. The result of this dynamic is a system that is morally indefensible but shaking to pieces by moral fervor.
Ironically, both jaws of this vice are built on false assumptions. The Marxists fall victim to Hume’s guillotine. The value of a good or service is no doubt the sum of the labor it requires to produce it. It does not follow that anyone in society or society as a whole should agree. The other jaw makes a different error, assuming that human beings act from economic self-interest. They can, but they more often act from biological reasons, especially group biological reasons.
The dynamic resulting from this false choice seems to be reaching an end point, where neither side is sustainable. The moral claims made by what is called the Left have veered so far into the ridiculous that it looks like satire. A century ago, it was easy to sympathize with the groups the Left claimed to champion. Workers being ripped off by unscrupulous employers had a strong claim. Men is bizarre outfits claiming to be a third sex are clowns no one can take seriously.
A similar fate has befallen the so-called Right. When massive global corporations are stripping people of their lights, often by funding street gangs to assaults people going about their business, it is laughable to defend the “free market” system that produced these companies. When state sponsored financial concerns are buying up houses to create new renters, in the name of capitalism, the so-called free market is just as ridiculous as the men in dresses.
Liberal democracy has become an octopus with its tentacles wrapped around various parts of society. One tentacle is the moralizers assaulting us with the latest fads from corporate HR. Another tentacle is consumerism strip mining the traditions and history, the social capital, that are the foundation stones of society. Another tentacle is finance capital skimming a bit from every transaction without adding anything back. Every tentacle has a corresponding one to help it fight off attacks.
That is the primary defense of the system. All critics are herded into this set of false choices the system maintains. If you do not like that state-sponsored hedge funds are hoovering up single family homes, you have two choices. One is you can throw in with the loons and their bizarre defense of bourgeoise decadence. The other is you can waste your time making an economic argument claiming that the “market” will solve the problem if we worship it more.
The point of democratic systems is for the public to have a say in how public policy is formulated and a veto over the final result. In reality, it offers false choices controlled by a narrow elite. The narrow elite hides in the shadows of a mythical beast called the general will or the invisible hand of the market. It is a curtain behind which stands the ruling class. In the end, it is looking like what Marxism and liberal democracy have always claimed to oppose.
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