December 4, 2005

"withdrawing what we value from the market"

There's a good interview with Roger Scruton in Right Reason...

...MG: What deleterious consequences result from the "free market ideology" you mention? Are there particular economic arrangements that conservatives ought to prefer?

Scruton: The free market is a necessary part of any stable community, and the arguments for maintaining it as the core of economic life were unanswerably set out by Ludwig von Mises. Hayek developed the arguments further, in order to offer a general defence of "spontaneous order", as the means to produce and maintain socially necessary knowledge. As Hayek points out, there are many varieties of spontaneous order that exemplify the epistemic virtues that he values: the common law is one of them, so too is ordinary morality.

The problem for conservatism is to reconcile the many and often conflicting demands that these various forms of life impose on us. The free-market ideologues take one instance of spontaneous order, and erect it into a prescription for all the others. They ask us to believe that the free exchange of commodities is the model for all social interaction. But many of our most important forms of life involve withdrawing what we value from the market: sexual morality is an obvious instance, city planning another. (America has failed abysmally in both those respects, of course.)

Looked at from the anthropological point of view religion can be seen as an elaborate (and spontaneous) way in which communities remove what is most precious to them (i.e. all that concerns the creation and reproduction of community) from the erosion of the market. A cultural conservative, such as I am, supports that enterprise. I would put the point in terms that echo Burke and Chesterton: the free market provides the optimal solution to the competition among the living for scarce resources; but when applied to the goods in which the dead and the unborn have an interest (sex, for instance) it wastes what must be saved....

As I learned long ago from Peter Drucker, there are only two ways that developed societies can make their decisions; either they are made by the state, or by the marketplace. And this is a Procrustean bed we are always miserable in, because the state is oppressive and inefficient, but the market is corrosive, and denies our hunger for equality. There is no way to avoid this dilemma, and no easy way to shield even a little of our existence from it. Scruton expresses the same perplexity in slightly different words.

Conservatives should make it a goal to preserve and encourage all intermediate institutions, private and public, as windbreaks that may temper the storm blasts of state and market. Sort of like the"checks and balances," of our Constitution, that were deliberately created to hamper change and activity. Which is hard, because we now have power in our hands after a long hiatus, and there are all sorts of horrid problems that need solving...

Posted by John Weidner at December 4, 2005 8:46 PM
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