Tag: freedom

How the West Was Won

Deirdre McCloskey has an outstanding article in the WSJ this weekend asking how America and other countries got rich. I hate to quote as the whole thing is worth your time, but here’s a few choice selections:

Nothing like the Great Enrichment of the past two centuries had ever happened before. Doublings of income—mere 100% betterments in the human condition—had happened often, during the glory of Greece and the grandeur of Rome, in Song China and Mughal India. But people soon fell back to the miserable routine of Afghanistan’s income nowadays, $3 or worse. A revolutionary betterment of 10,000%, taking into account everything from canned goods to antidepressants, was out of the question. Until it happened.

McCloskey asks how this happened, dispenses with the usual explanations and focus on this:

What enriched the modern world wasn’t capital stolen from workers or capital virtuously saved, nor was it institutions for routinely accumulating it. Capital and the rule of law were necessary, of course, but so was a labor force and liquid water and the arrow of time.

The capital became productive because of ideas for betterment—ideas enacted by a country carpenter or a boy telegrapher or a teenage Seattle computer whiz. As Matt Ridley put it in his book “The Rational Optimist” (2010), what happened over the past two centuries is that “ideas started having sex.” The idea of a railroad was a coupling of high-pressure steam engines with cars running on coal-mining rails. The idea for a lawn mower coupled a miniature gasoline engine with a miniature mechanical reaper. And so on, through every imaginable sort of invention. The coupling of ideas in the heads of the common people yielded an explosion of betterments.

OK. But then why did that happen? Why did human ideas, which had been basically celibate for a hundred millennia, suddenly start “having sex”? Well, something we’ve been on about in these very pages:

The answer, in a word, is “liberty.” Liberated people, it turns out, are ingenious. Slaves, serfs, subordinated women, people frozen in a hierarchy of lords or bureaucrats are not. By certain accidents of European politics, having nothing to do with deep European virtue, more and more Europeans were liberated. From Luther’s reformation through the Dutch revolt against Spain after 1568 and England’s turmoil in the Civil War of the 1640s, down to the American and French revolutions, Europeans came to believe that common people should be liberated to have a go. You might call it: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To use another big concept, what came—slowly, imperfectly—was equality. It was not an equality of outcome, which might be labeled “French” in honor of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Piketty. It was, so to speak, “Scottish,” in honor of David Hume and Adam Smith: equality before the law and equality of social dignity. It made people bold to pursue betterments on their own account. It was, as Smith put it, “allowing every man to pursue his own interest his own way, upon the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.”

I would particularly focus on freedom of speech and property rights. Freedom of speech allowed ideas to be communicated, now at literally the speed of light. And property rights removed the fear that communicating your ideas would deprive you of their benefits.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth rehashing: my dad did the War College in the 1980’s. He argued that classifying military technology to protect us from Soviet spies was actually a bad idea. Ideas flourish under communication; progress flourishes when ideas “have sex”. The freedom of the United States meant that we could publish our military tech secrets on the front page of Pravda and the Soviet Union would still not be able to keep up. We would always be steps ahead of them technologically because our people were free to develop and exploit those ideas while the Soviets were not. And since the Cold War ended, we’ve seen our technological progress only speed up.

Anyway, the article is worth your time. It’s inspiring. And it suggests that the way to get of our two-decade long economic doldrum is more freedom, not more regulation and redistribution.

Post-Scriptum: McCloskey, incidentally, is a trans woman. She had some great thoughts on the whole bathroom kerfuffle:

The bathroom “issue” is entirely phony. It has never been a problem. Anyway, if men wanted to sneak in (they don’t), they could always have done so, with or without North Carolina’s law. How is it to be enforced? DNA testing by the TSA at every bathroom door? Anyway, your house has a unisex bathroom, I presume, and in Europe they are not entirely uncommon—after all, the stalls have doors. Etc, etc. On both sides it is just a club to beat up the other side in the silly Cultural Wars, and to make people hate and disdain each other. Adam Smith would not have approved.

Again, the link is worth a clickthrough. Anything McCloskey writes, including grocery lists, is usually worth your time.

On The Night Liberty Died, I Held Her Hand…..

This is tangentially about the SCOTUS hearing on ObamaCare that’s coming up in the first quarter of next year, but it’s not the crux of the subject I wish to comment on.

On March 20 – 22 of last year, I was in Washington D.C. for the vote to pass the health care bill. I had heard a few people suggest a gathering of some sort. Bachmann and some Tea Party notables mostly. For me it was different though. It wasn’t at anyone’s behest that I went, it was an irresistible draw. Think: Richard Dreyfuss in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” as he, along with all the others who had been affected by some extraterrestrial force, somehow knew that their presence was required at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, and nothing was going to stop them from getting there. I woke up on Friday, March 19th, and told my wife I had to go. She got it, and gave me her blessing (and started making food that would keep in a cooler to try to save money – I was unemployed at the time).

I have no idea if the old regulars here at Right Thinking had any fellow members who went to D.C. that weekend, who could provide you with a first-hand account of the event, but I do know that I was either the only one, or one of only a couple who went, on the other sites I frequented at the time. As I hear the punditry about the upcoming SCOTUS challenge, I keep getting a familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach that many commentators just aren’t/weren’t getting what this was all about. Which Justices are going to recuse themselves, will SCOTUS uphold or overturn or some compromise in-between, will certain politicians’ careers rise or fall on the outcome of the case……blah blah.

It is my firm belief that ObamaCare goes well beyond a simple debate over the finer points of constitutional law. It’s about what force of nature will triumph, the natural yearning of humans for freedom, or the raw evil of despotism and tyranny. While it is my belief that if America falls to the latter, so too will follow the entire world, that belief doesn’t really influence my committment to dedicate what remains of my life to preserving the former. The forces of the latter are global in nature, while the mindset that created the former is still, generally-speaking, only found here in America as a collective force to be reckoned with, diminished and weaker than needed though that force may be.

On the day I got back in town from the health care vote, I posted my take on where we stood as a country at Survivalist Forums, and you could see the epiphany that occurred within me that the above articulates in its first incarnation in that post. After giving my take, I summarized it thusly, which I used a part of to title this post:

“That’s why I went. I watched the grandmother I was raised with die. I watched my favorite aunt die. I watched my mother die. I held all of their hands in their final death throes and witnessed their final breaths. Last night I did the same thing with American Liberty. And I did it with a family of about 2,000 or 3,000 Brother & Sister Patriots who stayed till the end. Last night wasn’t about politics. It was about the death of American Liberty.”

I feel stronger about it now than I did then, some 20 months hence. This SCOTUS ruling will tell us, The People, if the rule of law, wholly inspired by the aforementioned natural yearning for human freedom, still holds any sway against the forces of despotism. And even if it does and the ruling goes against ObamaCare, will this chapter in American jurisprudence be enough to wake The People up to the fact that the fight is never-ending? Or will they give a collective sigh, saying to their collective self, “Shwew! That was close!” and go on about their work-a-daddy lives taking for granted the freedoms and immunities from government intrusion that court victories over highly controversial, important issues tend to mask as even being threatened? Are we collectively peering through the eye-holes of that mask? I think not.

Win or lose at SCOTUS on ObamaCare, it, in and of itself, is not the threat to our liberties that many describe it as. Apathy, complacency, and lack of civic participation are much more deadly enemies to freedom, that allow the rich environment in which travesties to liberty such as ObamaCare, the Patriot Act, and myriad examples of constitutional usurpations that have riddled this country for decades without so much as a whimper from the masses to proliferate, than any one piece of legislation even has the potential to be, no matter how egregious against liberty its provisions are.

So that’s what I felt compelled to say. Of course I hope ObamaCare is overturned, but I implore my readers not to take it as the end-all, be-all of victories over tyranny if it is. The American Revolution started in 1776, but it is a never-ending struggle, and neither the ratification of the Constitution itself, nor the passage, or upholding, or overturning of ObamaCare, can or will portend its conclusion. The precepts of the American Revolution can only be maintained and nurtured, never concluded. But it can be defeated. One entity can prevent its defeat; We, The People. Your participation is required.

CC