Saturday, September 27, 2008

T Hobbes, J Locke, JC Rousseau vs Ayn Rand

Dave's Observation
I don't find the usual attribution of the US financial meltdown to greed to be particularly helpful.
By and large people were just trying to maximize their sales, hit their targets or whatever. There is greed there but I don' t know that it expressed itself in a different way than in normal times. One wonders if it is even useful to ascribe a human vice to something like a financial system.

My Response

The word "Greed" clearly reflects the anger and resentment of a public who feel betrayed and exploited by a collapsing financial system. It's true, as you point out, that the people involved were simply maximizing their performance as they have always been inclined to do, but you have to accept that free of constraints, self interest inevitably leads to excesses. This is what has happened.

The belief that dismantling regulations would free the entrepreneurial spirit and thereby benefit humanity has proved to be utterly naive. The philosophers,Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau who profoundly influenced Western thinking and the formation of our governments understood that man is driven by self interest and by necessity had to enter into a social contract with his fellow man to control his behaviour by establishing governments for societies protection.

Ayn Rand took the opposite view that self interest should be the foundation of morality. Since all participants are acting selfishly the market is self correcting. She chose to be blind to the fact you could harm others while pursuing your self interest. The Chicago School and Greenspan were captivated by this ideology and thus the disaster we have today. In short, you need rules of the road to prevent disasters; regulations to restore our confidence in the integrity of the fiscal system

Yes, there is a moral element in all this. A social contract saves us from ourselves and makes for a fairer society. A world run by corporate interests is unlikely to have any collective moral compass.

The neo-conservatives and their Republican friends really believe that no government is good government and by starving tax revenues all public effort to set a social agenda and offer regulatory controls will be starved into extinction. Thus man can again be restored to his "noble savage" state of freedom.

I think the answer to "what does it all mean and what needs to be resolved" will only be found by America shifting politically to the radical left. Leftist values invariably respect intellect and education, and demand a fair redistribution of the nation's wealth through universal health coverage, adequate minimum wage policies, taxation commensurate with earnings, arts subsidies and the list goes on. It is fair to say that this sense of fairness eventually becomes a universal public value and spills over into international relationships.

Would it happily end there? Obviously not. Our world changes, our environment is threatened, in the absence of any weapons agreement the proliferation of atomic weaponry goes on, and our vastly expanded global trade has us tripping over each other. The social contract to manage the pursuit of self interest becomes increasingly a vital global concern. It is now self evident that the US role of "The World's Policeman" by necessity must give way in an increasingly multipolar world.