"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Talking Gibberish: A Look at Statist Rhetoric
Column by Cristian Gherasim.
Exclusive to STR
The rhetoric of statism fosters a cult of experts, of wise, all-knowing politicians and government bureaucrats able to identify exactly what the public wants, even when the public remains silent. They are the real life action men of our time. Nothing’s too complicated for them. They have their charts and numbers telling how to run even the most unpredictable of human activities: the economy. The language of statism works most effectively when it can channel concerns into what state officials label as policy. These public policies are preached as panaceas for everything: from fighting racism to bank regulation, and from monetary policy to linguistic guidelines. They are the tools of political pragmatism and efficiency.
This is how bureaucrats, the press and sadly many of us have come to understand the role of government. Economic competence has come to define not only what businessmen strive for but also what politicians hope to achieve, erasing the difference between two opposed areas of activity: politics, with law enforcing as its only purpose; and the economy--with individual wealth supply on its agenda. Welding the two together gave way to crazy expressions like economic policy and economic recovery plan. What made this political rhetoric possible?
It started with the first Marxists. They envisaged a world in which the non-economic features of society are seen as being an outgrowth of its economic activity. Politics is merely a derivative, conditioned entirely by the forces and relations of production. Society is but a workshop, and those governing it are simply nothing more than managers. If pragmatism and productivity define good management, then expect nothing less from politicians. But it’s hardly their fault alone. In fact, when Election Day comes, they will be measured by how well they planed, regulated and managed the economy. Tricked into thinking that this is the only way to go, people are likely to accept and encourage this political behavior. Many of us become quite enthusiastic by the politics and economy fusion on the principle of good governance.
And nobody seems to be more enthusiastic by this old belief than the US president. On September 23, Barack Obama addressed the United Nations on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. In his speech, the president spelled out a general principle upon which all social progress depends: good government. What President Obama understands by good government is how public institutions conduct economic planning and manage public resources in order to guarantee the social well-being of all. I have to say that those in Washington will have a hard nut to crack in the coming years determining what each of the 300 million Americans consider to be his/her own well-being.
The politician has come to resemble a bad copy of a businessman. Far from this being an unintended consequence, socialists believe that there should be no difference between a factory supervisor and a political man. They argue that every person is a homo economicus, and society is determined by economic factors alone. All that decision makers have to do is to enable a program for economic development, much like a project manager does. And that shouldn’t be too hard either, as you can’t go wrong keeping with the laws of Marxist materialism. According to them, the economy becomes as predictable as any given law of science. Also, individual economic behavior holds no mystery, as economic forecasting is enabled by the understanding of Marxist laws. The scenario put in place leaves no room for uncertainty or bounded rationality. This is the ideological framework upon which Big Government was created. Bounded by the laws of progress, decision makers act and speak as if running a country and managing a workshop are one and the same.
This reminds me of something I saw a couple of months ago on CNBC, which organized a town hall with an individual they dubbed “Our nation’s CEO.” Those who didn’t see the program might be inclined to think CNBC bestowed this title upon one of the US’s great businessmen or entrepreneurs. Sadly, it was referring not to a great entrepreneur but to President Barack Obama. This is how CNBC advertised the show: With the country's confidence shattered, and the American Dream slipping away, our nation's CEO, President Barack Obama goes face to face with his shareholders (you) from Wall Street to Main Street.
The confusion between politics and economics has never been greater. We are no longer citizens but shareholders. This is precisely how American politics works for some time. Instead of buying shares, politicians buy votes. Money and efficiency now define a system never intended to deal with such things. And there’s no sign that this madness will stop anytime soon. In fact, politicians are advocating wholeheartedly the need for a positive approach towards the economy. What does that mean? It means exercising political monopoly over society and every economic activity deemed in need of correction. This monopoly came to be seen as a rather convenient solution: If the whole world is nothing more than a workshop, as socialists pictured it to be, then leaders should act with the utmost pragmatism, proving that they are good managers. With the help of enlightened bureaucrats, they will organize and coordinate each and every section of society as if it were a gigantic factory. For a better world, namely a more efficient one, they require absolute control and intense planning. Instead of a free society in which passions and interests spontaneously coordinate, we get a bunch of bureaucrats, allegedly rational and completely obedient to a handful of top government officials. The outcomes of these practices are truly disastrous: crushing free enterprise and generating economic isolationism and protectionism. The role of state monopoly remains unchanged: stifling open markets, muzzling free societies, enriching well-connected firms, and benefiting politicians.
Long story short, the political man is solely judged on the economic efficiency of his actions. We have become so used to this, we fail to react each time a politician parades his accomplishments in terms of fiscal regulations, inflation control, and remedying market failure.Nobody seems to find inappropriate, to say the least, the coagulation in the public conscience of this double role as both politician and businessman. This probably explains why, when things like limited government and separation of economy and state seldom arise in public speech, the general belief is that such ideas can only pose a threat to progress and should be ignored in favor of proactive state policies.