Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Learning to Sail in High Winds

As someone who very gradually came to accept market mechanisms as a better way to organize society, I would say that along the way I had to let go of a certain type of passion for justice, a certain type of expectation that life outcomes would be based on desert or moral worth.

For instance, often people on the Left are for rent control because they are outraged that a retired person on limited income who has lived in a particular apartment her entire life suddenly has to move at an elderly age, leaving behind a rich life and community in her lifetime apartment. She has done nothing to deserve this sudden loss of well-being. Market forces (sometimes personalized in the form ofa "greedy landlord" who may or may not be "greedy") have changed the rent levels and she must leave.

At an intuitive level, I still find this narrative very compelling and would not wish for events like this to occur. At the same time, I now find the argument against rent control even more compelling: rent control reduces the quality and quantity of lodging available in an area and, ultimately, produces even greater corruption and injustices than do market forces. That said, if private philanthropies, municipalities, or FLOW entrepreneurs want to provide rent vouchers to help out such people, such actions might be considered laudable humanitarian acts.

MiltonFriedman has long made a sharp distinction between policies such as rent control or public schooling, on the one hand, in which government intervenes in the economy, and rent vouchers or education vouchers, on the other hand, in which the poor are assisted but markets are allowed to function properly. I would likewise make a sharp distinction between market-friendly welfare states, such as Finland, compared to highly interventionist anti-market governments, such as France.

But ultimately we want to create a world in which there exists a radical acceptance of choice and personal responsibility in all aspects of our life. Charles Murray suggested a libertarian idealism based on a folksy, American sort of respect for personalresponsibility. A recent op-ed in the WSJ suggests that this is the real sense in which "moral values" determined the recent election:http://www.opinionjournal.com/columnists/pdupont/?id=110005941

In addition to the traditional American respect for personal responsibility, the Cultural Creatives are often very serious about personal responsibility. Tibetan Buddhists such as Tarthang Tulkuand "New Age" spiritual writers such as Anthony de Mello and M.ScottPeck all state directly that each of us is responsible for our own happiness. If we are unhappy, we are not to blame others for our own happiness: We are strictly responsible for our own well-being. Indeed, these and other writers in the Cultural Creatives' canon would state clearly that acceptance of personal responsibility in ourlives is virtually identical with spiritual growth.

In a world in which each of us is responsible for our own well-being, we will not whine or complain about market forces. We will accept personal responsibility for our habits, for our character, for our personal and professional decisions, for our financial choices, for our purchases, etc. We won't complain about rent increases or jobs going over seas. We will realize that we will live our lives in a world which is undergoing an endless process of creative destruction and that change is productive. In the words of Leif Smith: "We must free ourselves of the hope that the sea will ever rest. We must learn to sail in high winds."

2 Comments:

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