June 2, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (III): The False Disjunction of “Statism” versus “Greed”

We gratuitously ignore Mr. Ferrara’s assertion regarding the fortunes of the marketplace during and after Christendom. He will eventually offer something like support for it, but we consent to getting bogged down in it only then, and not a minute sooner than we have to. Disentangling his conceptual and evaluative issues from each other is tedious enough, but to attempt to do so while entertaining his scattershot causal story is a fool’s errand.
Mr. Ferrara continues his practice of frontloading his presentation of Austro-libertarianism with his own biases:
Austro-libertarians are prepared to admit the long historical development of “corporate welfare” and “crony capitalism,” while attributing it entirely to “statism” rather than the sheer greed of the entrepreneurs who demanded favors from the State. (12)
Mr. Ferrara does not cite any writers dumb enough to attribute the rise of this phenomenon entirely to one factor, like “statism” (undefined). But then, we do not expect him to make his adversaries case intelligible before mocking it. We expect him to exaggerate, to put his adversaries in the worst possible light, and he does not disappoint.
He opposes the Austrians of his imagination, not over the silliness of assigning one cause for a complex historical phenomenon, but only over the identity of that fictive sole cause. They allegedly indict an ideology (“statism”), whereas Mr. Ferrara unabashedly imputes it to a grave moral defect, indeed, one of the seven Capital Sins (“greed”), thereby betraying a narrow understanding of the ways sinners can express their various moral defects.
Greedy persons do indeed transact on the marketplace, whose norm is peaceful cooperation. There is no shortage of them at any time in history. They also, however, walk the corridors of power where, unlike in the marketplace, they are in their element. Statism, which Mr. Ferrara characteristically holds up for ridicule in scare quotes, is the modern rationalization of the libido dominandi, the perverse desire for the power to coerce others. (See Saint Augustine's The City of God, Book I.) Those who wield great coercive power can influence the scope of greed by removing natural checks on its expression, like fear (e.g., by central bank credit expansion encouraging unsound investment).
Jesus commanded his disciples to resist the temptation to push others around (Matt. 20:25). This warrants a serious examination, rather than a contemptuous dismissal, of the anarcho-Catholic's claim that the State per se as a moral hazard. If the market can supply all the goods and services that the marketplace's peaceful cooperators need, including the means of dealing with violent non-cooperators, then there is no need for a State of which sheerly greedy capitalists can demand any favors.