22 December 2014

Some Grudging Admissions

I hope no one who has read my libertarian-doubting posts (a couple of recent ones here and here) has mistaken me for a statist. If you doubt the bona fides of my fears about how much damage civil government can do read one of my posts about the travails of Trinity Western University here.

Yet, at this Christmas season I am compelled by the force of James K.A. Smith's cogent arguments to acknowledge the value of the phenomenon of government regulation. Go here to read his blog post titled "Thank God for Bureaucracy." Per Smith, regulation "is the banal way that the modern, liberal, democratic state tries to secure some baseline of justice and flourishing." (Italics mine.) (Smith's post came in connection with a review of a book by Cass Sunstein on whom I have commented here.)

The banality of the modern regulatory state is clear to anyone who has waited in line at any Department of Motor Vehicles. And the limitations of the ability of regulation to get us to a life flourishing in the virtues is obvious enough. Yet as oppressive as life in a contemporary over-regulated regime may be, it stands in stark contrast to a world of anarcho-capitalism that indeed would be nasty, brutish and short for many people. The complexity of state regulation has increased along with the complexity of the interdependence of human life in an increasingly interconnected world.

Moves from local to national to global economies have seen the concomitant move from regulation by common law to regulation by legislation to regulation by administration. Repristination of a pre-regulatory world is fine if you're willing to live in such a world (e.g., Old-Order Amish) or one in which capital-rich entities rule the day (as is the case in much of the developing world). The question is not whether we will continue to swim in the regulatory sea of life but whether the burdens of regulation will be fairly shared. With respect to that question it seems neither American political party is up to the task. (Some earlier thoughts about that here and here.)

My second grudging admission comes courtesy of The Economist (here), which observes that by the end of a Christmas Carol even Scrooge realized there was more to life than ever-increasing GDP. As the writer observes, "this is the season when, for devout Christians at least, the ineffable supplants the material (and the other way around for most folk). That makes it a good time to ponder whether maximizing income should really be the be-all and end-all of economic policy." In short, this piece amounts to a surprisingly useful meditation on the some of implications of the Incarnation.

It thus turns out that a life freed from the constraints of limits on the market and oriented only toward the increase of individual welfare is the one to which we should say, "Bah, humbug."

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