Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Strange Parallel Worlds of Fundamentalism and State-Owned Banks

Technology-minded fiscal conservatives are often puzzled that the most vociferous of laissez faire capitalism in the United States today are also the most unfriendly to secular thinking and church-state separation. If you understand and even celebrate the principle survival of the fittest and evolution in an economic sense, why insist that the same principles in other areas?

No less a capitalist than Adam Smith recognized that natural selection applies not only within economics, but to economic systems as a whole. In other words, if capitalism was a bad system, then it would be outcompeted by another system that would rise to replace it. Writing as Jane Galt, Megan McArdle paraphrased this by saying that capitalism is the the system to find the best system. On the other side of the issue we have William Jennings Bryant, who prosecuted a Mr. Scopes for teaching evolution in public schools. Do you know what one of Bryant's big arguments was for outlawing evolution? That it was teaching children to be more capitalistic. Guess what? He was dead right! If you're going to be consistent, you have to pick whether you want to be a creationist OR a capitalist.

The reason that we tech-minded fiscal conservatives can't just let the social conservatives have their fun is that, when the chips are down and they're forced to make a decision about which is more important - capitalism or Scripture - the social cons usually throw out capitalism, and with it, America's business and technological edge.

Foreign Policy Magazine has an interesting article on 2009's top dead thinkers, and the focus is on economists - specifically on Austrian school economists whose prophetic writings about our current financial woes have been misunderstood through modern-day cheerleaders (capitalists wrecking capitalism) rather than by people genuinely trying to understand economic theory and make decisions that are rational in terms of material betterment. And the connections to Darwin are clear in the article. The money-line is the last sentence:

"This economic system," Schumpeter wrote in his earlier The Theory of Economic Development, "cannot do without the ultima ratio [final argument] of the complete destruction of those existences which are irretrievably associated with the hopelessly unadapted." Indeed, he saw that the economy remained saddled with too many of "those firms that are unfit to live." That could serve as a painfully accurate description of the Western financial system today. [Moreso China's banks, but that's another article. - Tom]

Yet all those allusions to evolution and fitness to live serve as a reminder of the dead thinker we should all have spent at least part of 2009 venerating: Charles Darwin (1809-1882). This year was not only his bicentennial but the 150th birthday of his paradigm-shifting On the Origin of Species. Just reflect on these sentences from Darwin's seminal work:

"All organic beings are exposed to severe competition."

"As more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence."

"Each organic being ... has to struggle for life and to suffer great destruction.... The vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply."

Thanks in no small measure to the efforts of his modern heirs, notably Richard Dawkins, we are all Darwinians now -- except in the strange parallel worlds of fundamentalist Christianity and state-guaranteed finance.

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