July 12, 2011

The Eminently Real Free Market (XV): Sketchy Stories (4)

In tabloid-style Mr. Ferrara wraps his conflation of the complex topics of land seizure and land enclosure in an insinuation of guilt by association.
The theft and later enclosure of former Church properties in England, the cradle of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution (roughly 1760-1830), is preeminently illustrative of the process. (14)
What is preeminently illustrative here is Mr. Ferrara’s propagandistic approach to history. His reference to “capitalism and the Industrial Revolution” is a muddle: England may have been the “cradle” of the latter, but certainly not the former. “Capitalism” has a broader reference, one that expands or contracts depending on one’s theoretical framework, scientific purpose, or ideological interest.
Capital accumulated on more or less free markets in Catholic Europe for centuries before the Industrial Revolution. That the Catholic worldview was a vital, indispensable spiritual component of the success of markets in Europe (their having been stymied everywhere else in the world) is the thesis of Rodney Stark’s The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Science. We encourage our readers to read Tom Woods’s review of it in The Independent Review.
Ontologically, markets are networks, which consist of nodes and ties. The nodes of the market are Good Life-seeking persons, and their mutual ties are offers of goods and services and responses thereto. Free persons—strictly speaking, persons to the degree that they are free from the coercion of others—spontaneously generate markets, which are as real as they are. This is the reality Mr. Ferrara systematically obscures with his baseless suggestion that Austro-libertarians are apologists for mercantilism and its variants. Mr. Ferrara’s failure to show that Austro-libertarians support such interference renders his gallery of “illustrations” utterly off-topic and useless to his polemical purpose.
His omission of evidence of explicit and long-standing Austro-libertarian opposition to mercantilism, however, is a more serious ethical lapse. (His citing of Kevin Carson’s diagnosis of ideologically inspired “forgetfulness” hardly discharges Mr. Ferrara’s duties in this regard.) In our current mini-series, “Sketchy Stories,” we are merely pointing this out over and over. We are under no illusion, however, that our efforts will have any effect on Mr. Ferrara’s future writings.
Austro-libertarians—that is, supporters or practitioners of Austrian economics on their anti-political side—are morally opposed to interference in markets wherever or by whose agency it has occurred. Contemplated interference with markets, however, with or without the assistance of the state, presupposes markets that are already in operation. Markets form the natural order of producers offering goods and customers responding to those offers; the exploitation of market participants, unnatural disorder. Historically those traders were from different countries, speaking different languages, using different currencies, and taking varying amounts of time to fulfill contracts. These flesh-and-blood historical actors generated the distinctive ethical problems (the just price, the charging of interest on a loan, etc.) that Catholic casuists, preeminently the scholastics of the School of Salamanca, addressed. In the eighth chapter of his How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, Tom Woods traces theoretical differences in economic understanding, from the Fourteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries, to divergent theological ideas of the nature and purpose of human labor. Unfortunately for Mr. Ferrara’s project, they divide along Catholic and Protestant lines, with his own labor-glorifying emphasis clearly aligned with the latter. But let us not get ahead of our story.
To Be Continued