We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The three way argument

Reading this piece, linked to by Instapundit today, we see that politics in the USA, and in fact everywhere, is a trialogue rather than a dialogue. All parties to the trialogue (definitely including me) believe that the other two camps are wrong, and many in each camp believe that the other two camps are actually one camp.

The three camps are:

Camp 1: Capitalism is fine, so long as the government stays in charge of it and does a few more of the right things and a few less of the wrong things. The mixed economy is fine, if only we can just mix it right, and meanwhile preserve confidence that all will be well. No need for radical change. Trust us. No, we’re not convinced that’ll work either. Camp 1 is very powerful, very clever, very unwise. For now.

Camp 2: Capitalism is an evil mess. This crisis was caused by capitalism – naked, unregulated, unrestrained – being let loose by neo-liberal fanatics. What should be a poodle has become a wolf. Do whatever it takes to make capitalism a poodle again. Yeah, yeah, we need a bit of capitalism, to make stuff, but not nearly as much as we’ve been having lately. Anyone who gets in the way … boo! We hate you! No, we don’t think that’ll really work either, even if the people were willing to give it a go. They won’t, so boo! And if they did, it would fail horribly, and we’d have to blame capitalism even more. So … boooooo. Camp 2 is very stupid, but horribly numerous.

Camp 3: Capitalism would be great, but what we’ve had has not been capitalism – unregulated, unrestrained, as hoped for by us neo-liberal fanatics – but capitalism mixed with statism in a truly horrible way. What we’ve seen in the last few decades has been crony capitalism, capitalism with politicians in its pocket, so that whenever a big chunk of capitalism looks like failing, most notably a big bank, the politicians squirt more money at it. Which ain’t proper capitalism. Meanwhile, capitalism even of the crony sort makes better stuff. Capitalism, the real thing, should also be allowed to make better money, the kind that is allowed to fail if it does fail. The adjustment process will be horrific. No, we’re not sure that will work either. If we could do it, it would work great. But will we ever be allowed to do it? Camp 3 is right. But maybe not numerous enough or clever enough (maybe not wise enough) to win, and prove itself right. Like all such glib divisions of reality into this, this, and this, this is an oversimplification. Many swither from one camp to another, and quite a few, I surmise, find themselves in all three camps in one day, depending only on their mood and on the last thing they read. Those who do know which camp they’re in still swither about which of the other two is more stupid and more evil, and therefore how to handle the other two. Try to smash them both? Or join with the less worst to smash the most worst, and then win the victorious coalition spat with the less worst? But if the latter, which is the less worst and which the most worst? Or maybe combine with the most worst against the less worst, because that might work better? Pardon my grammar but these are grammar-straining times.

President Obama, as described in the piece linked to above, is a classic Camp 2-er, who is using Camp 1 to try to contrive a victory for Camp 2 which he could not contrive if he merely did Camp 2 stuff over and over again. Camp 1 uses Camp 2 all the time, and no doubt still reckons that it is using Camp 2 man Obama. It may well be right.

My inclination is to shout as loud as I can for my camp, Camp 3, and bugger the other two. They are both wrong, and will both fail. Camp 1 is creating a catastrophe, which it has no idea how to even stop creating let alone clean up after. Camp 2 is catastrophe pure and simple. But, catastrophically, it may well soon combine more publicly with Camp 1 to ruin everything and keep it ruined.

Camp 3 is the right one. It has to win. How it can win, I don’t fully understand. But we have to contrive that. My method for contriving victory will be to shout as loud as I can that Camp 3 is right right right. Luckily, others in Camp 3 are cleverer and more subtle than me. They are good Obamas, you might say, adept at using Camps 1 and 2 to contrive steps in the right direction for Camp 3. But are my righteous Obamas numerous enough and cunning enough? It doesn’t now feel like it. But maybe they may yet prevail.

16 comments to The three way argument

  • Jay Thomas

    Great article Brian.
    One of the problems facing the adherents of camp 3, is that both camp 1 and 2 are narratives that revolve around heroes. REALLY smart or REALLY stupid individuals that can help or harm society by virtue of their wise/foolish/smart/stupid/compassionate/callous/good/evil decision making. That’s your story right there with its heroes and villains. People make sense of the world as story and dramatic stories demand incredibly influential individual decision makers. Camp 3’s advocates mainly believe in humility in the face of complexity and leaving people alone. Its hardly Moses-leading-his-people-out-of-Egypt stuff. How can camp 3 manufacture an emotionally satisfying narrative without the larger than life decision makers that humanity is so tragically in love with?

  • CaptDMO

    Capitalism is fine, so long as the government stays in charge of it…

    then we can call it Facism, Kleptocracy, ergo #3?

  • Tedd

    What Jay said. O’Rourke’s “millions and millions of Americans not descending on the nation’s capital to demand nothing from the U.S. government” just isn’t an inspiring image for most people, unfortunately.

  • Actually the Tea Party folks with their Stop the spending message was pretty close to O Rourke’s Demand Nothing idea.

    Actually in the 1980s we had at least some space for Camp 3 to operate , particularly in the glory days of silicon valley. Shrinking government power is probably the sort of thing that can only be done during an extraordinary crisis and/or with extraordinary leadership.

  • veryretired

    By accepting the definition of the battle as revolving around capitalism, you have accepted the battlespace framing of the collectivist side in the conflict, and severely handicapped yourself right from the beginning.

    The issue is individual freedom, always has been individual freedom, and always will be.

    Capitalism is merely a descriptive term for a form of association. It is an expression of freedom, which is why it is so hated by the collective, but only an element of the totality of human life, even if it is a very significant one.

    Collectivism thrives when its advocates can define themselves as the protectors of ordinary citizens from distant, impersonal forces which threaten them, especially if some malevolent group of scapegoats can be found to assume the “Snidely Whiplash” role as the personification of evil.

    Currently it’s the bankers, as part of the evil rich, just as in past eras it was jews, or kulaks, or wreckers. The list goes on as far back as humanity.

    Politics is the art of forming a tribe which identifies with the goals and purposes of the group, and will work to accomplish those goals. In a world already composed of tribes, clans, and extended families, such a task is much easier than in the modern world of transnationalism and mixed allegiences.

    One of the fundamental tasks of collectivist ideology over the past century has been to undermine the allegience of those in the west to their own cultural and national inheritances, and substitute ideology instead.

    Control of how basic elements in our society are defined is a major part of that task. If economic activity is part of some mysterious system called capitalism, and somehow seperated from the rest of our lives, instead of a fundamental part of it, then it is much easier to pursuade people to give control of that activity to an elite group who claim to act in everyone’s interests.

    It’s much easier to frighten people with “evil corporations” or “greedy bankers”, especially when they’re part of some evil capitalist system, than it is to try to tell them they are somehow threatened by too much individual freedom.

    Many of the repressive social and political controls that once were an accepted part of life in the west have been discredited and thrown off, whether partially or totally. It seems as though the next main battle in the endless confict between those who desire freedom and those who desire control must, once again, be fought on the battlefield of economic life.

    It would be beneficial for the forces of liberty to march under the flag of individual freedom, rather than the banner of Walmart. Allowing the collective to assign the badges identifying each side is self-defeating.

  • Midwesterner

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to say what VR just said so well. “Capitalism” sounds like it is part of the Cloward and Piven strategy to isolate and attack targets. Take one activity (capitalism) that free people engage in . . . a fundamental activity that is essential to their independence as individuals, isolate that activity, attack and destroy it. VR said it so well.

    The issue is individual freedom, always has been individual freedom, and always will be.

  • David Roberts

    The Greek people are showing the way. See http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/
    In the end government is not possible without the consent of the people. The trick is to minimise the bitterness of that end.

  • Harry

    Obama anti-capitalist. You don’t seriously believe that anyone anti-capitaist would be allowed to become President, do you? The media works hard day-in and day-out to convince the electorate that being anti-capitalist is anti-American.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Obama is definitely a #1, not a #2. Look at the coterie of billionaires that support him. Rhetorically, he and some other Democrats sympathize with #2, but they don’t think of themselves or their rich buddies as “evil capitalists”.

    Therefore, the OWSers’ denunciations of capitalism somehow don’t apply to them.

  • libertarian

    As someone who is far less clever and wise than the people who contribute to this blog and therefore probably see myself as a fairly typical person I think the issue for us in camp 3 is also that as a group interested in personal freedom and liberty we don’t relate well to top down control and rallying around a leader. Funnily enough I really think that what needs to happen is for Libertarians to steal the rhetoric of the left. After all our real message is Power To The People, the enemy must be the new bourgeoisie ( the controlling political elite) and direct local democracy ought to be our aim for freedom. What we need is to congregate around many local leaders.

  • Paul Marks

    My view of camp two is a darker one (I see it as fully collectivist) than the piece (not do I see their leaders as stupid), but I agree that Barack Obama is a member of camp 2 – although he pretends to be a member of camp 1.

    And I agree that members of camp 1 (such as Warren Buffet and his zillionaire chums) think they can control (manipulate) camp 2 (including Obama) – but they are wrong.

    “How can such rich people be wrong” – because they think in terms of money, whereas the minds of some other people are dominated by the lust for power. Power to put their desires of blood soaked hatred into practrice.

    Such a “mindset” is not understood by someone like Warren B. (he thinks in terms of getting government favours to allow him to make X amount of money – in return for public support for higher taxes and so that would cost him X divided by two, or whatever). His father could have understood the present situation (indeed he predicted it) – but Warren (under the dishonest mask of saying, endlessly, how he “loved” his father) thinks his father was a paranoid fool – who did not understand that anyone can be bought and that all things are measured in money. Even one’s place in history – which can be assured, not by creating a great productive enterprise, but by pileing up huge sums of money (via often political means) and then GIVING IT AWAY when one is too old to enjoy it.

    Cape 3 is right – but the account is not good enough.

    Even if one considers the credit money financial system (even the specific housing part of it), it is not just a matter of “crony capitalism”.

    The increase in the money supply was not just to make people like Warren Buffet (or even the crowd at J.P. Morgan Chase or Goldman Sachs) more money – although it has this effect.

    “Monetary expansion” (whether under Greenspan or under B.B.) was partly done out of genuine idealism – although of the camp 1 sort.

    Creating more money (from nothing) is just part of the function of government – and is for the good of all.

    People of camp 1 really do believe that – they are eduated to believe that.

    Also the specific putting-the-money-in-housing stuff has a lot of camp 2 about it.

    When Clinton changed the (already terrible) “Community Reinvestment Act” (that curse from the Carter years) who was there being honoured at the signing ceremony?

    Francis Fox Piven – veteran Marxist (one hopes that Clinton either did not know or did not care who he was dealing with) who along with her husband created the “Cloward and Piven” method of destroying “capitalism”back in the 1960s.

    And also remember that banking (in relation to the “needs of the community” as defined by ACORN thugs and other “Community Organizers”) is only a late part of that method.

    The older part was straightforward use-the-new-Welfare-State-to-bankrupt-the-country stuff.

    Press for “entitlement programs” not because (like stupid establishment people) one does not know they will expand without limit (till bankruptcy is achieved) but BECAUSE one knows they will expand without limit – especially if one makes great efforts to make sure this is so (for example by sending out professional activists to inform people about their welfare “rights” and to press them to claim all of them.

    Of course Francis would deny that her aim is to turn society into burned ashes floating in a sea of blood.

    That is just the tactic (bankruptcy, and then economic and social breakdown) – the aim is different.

    The aim is a wonderful society of total freedom where goods and services just appear (as if by magic) for “society will organize production” (as Karl Marx put in the “German Ideology” 1845).

    A bit like “Star Trek” or most of the other (positive) visions of the future produced by Hollywood.

    A society that has been “fundementally transformed”.

    And, I repeat, pushing the credit bubble financial system to breaking point is only part of the method (although one can trace it back to the Italian Marxist P. Straffa – who adviced that Marxists stop laughing at the obvious absurdities of Keynesianism, instead using it to their advantage).

    The other part (the “fiscal” part – by pressing for entitlement programs and pushing them to the max) is just as, if not even more, important.

  • Snorri Godhi

    This trialogue goes back to at least the French Revolution: the Right was Camp 1, while the “Left” was an incoherent coalition of Camp 2 and Camp 3: those who wanted to replace the ruling class by another ruling class even more oppressive, and those who wanted to reduce the power of whatever ruling class happened to be in power. Most history since then (and possibly before) has been, in my view, the history of the struggle between 3 classes: the ruling class, the OWS class, and the Tea Party class.

    Ultimately, I believed that Darwinism will ensure the success of “capitalism” (if that is the right word): societies that adopt the views of Camp 3 will survive and prosper, other societies will collapse under the weight of the State. My main concern is not to be in a country that is about to collapse — not an easy task nowadays.

    On a personal note, in high school I sometime engaged in rather animated trialogues with a fascist and a communist. We all thought that the positions of our 2 opponents were pretty much the same. Of course, I was right and they were wrong, in the sense that they were both in Camp 2, and I wasn’t.

  • RRS

    I really wish I knew more about how to work within this site. If so, I would copy out all of BW’s “Camp 3” here and insert italic comments.

    What Camp 3 says sort of confirms my earlier post that what we have as an economic “system” as part of our over-all social organization (and tend to label Capitalism) is a resulting condition, shaped by various factors.

    Brian seems to be saying that if certain of those factors (e.g., the economic powers of “politicians”) were not extant the economic “system” resulting would be closer to the generally accepted concept of (pure) Capitalism, basically free exchange by free choice.

    So, a question arises, why do we have the “economic power of politicians?” Is it a reactive force, generated from those members of society whose level of relative productivity requires something to be added to achieve a desired level of participation in the distributions?

    How do politicians attain economic powers? Who gives it to them; what kinds of persons seek it?

    In the U.S., we hear constantly about “getting the money out of politics.” From the views here, the cry should be “get the politics out of money.”

  • I agree that the banner should be liberty. We are obviously not going to convince people with dusty economic arguments, if we were, we would have done so already.
    To pick a few things just recently from this site:
    Government and opposition agreeing to do things the majority do not support
    and to these you could probably add (depending on your audience) drug laws, health interference, over-zealous social workers, doctors who nag rather than treat, smoking bans, the list goes on. We CAN win the argument based upon the manifold and great injustices and humiliations each and every one of us has either witnessed or been subjected to by the government of camps 1 and 2.
    We may never need to convince people of the sound economics of our case.

  • A very good post.

    What is necessary is to change public opinion. If a government practices laissez-faire when the public demand intervention and protectionism, then the government will be kicked out and replaced with a more maleable set of politicians.

    Speaking from the London side of the Atlantic, what I think must be done is to reclaim liberalism. Free trade, laissez-faire liberals have been wandering around with no place to call their own, ever since they allowed their name to be misappropriated by the so-called progressives. It is time to return in the manner of Odysseus.