THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Obamanomics: Close — But No Cigar

The Portsmouth Sinfonia was an orchestra in England founded by a group of students at Portsmouth School of Art in Portsmouth, England in 1970. The group made a number of recordings and, although they never officially disbanded, gave their last performance in 1979. What made the group a unique cultural phenomenon was its unusual entrance requirement: members were either non-musicians, or (if musicians) using an instrument that was completely unfamiliar to them. The result was a somewhat oxymoronic "community of individuals," each going his or her own way within an incompletely understood or totally misunderstood structure.

A friend of this writer had a collection of all the group's recordings, which we listened to frequently. Because of the group's composition, concerts tended to give vague impressions of the works being performed, rather than completely accurate (or even generally accurate) renditions. The surreal outcome of this otherwise harmless pastime was that after listening to the recordings over an extended period, we noticed that correct performances of the pieces started to sound wrong. We had been listening to the more-than-slightly-off performances for so long that they had started to sound correct.

We see the same thing today in many areas of thought, for example, economics and social justice. People have been listening to, say, Keynesian assumptions and socialism for so long that they now sound like the correct, even only versions of reality. In actuality, however, Keynesian assumptions no more reflect economic reality than socialism is a form of social justice.

Just because so many people have been effectively brainwashed into thinking that existing accumulations of savings are necessary to finance the formation of capital doesn't make it so — especially when the exact opposite can be proven, as Dr. Harold Moulton did in 1935 with his publication of The Formation of Capital. Keynes' assumption about savings and investment has led to the crippling assumption that we need the rich to finance capital formation . . . and to the equally erroneous claim that the only way to obtain anything is to take it from the rich.

Similarly, the belief that having the State take care of each person's individual good somehow takes care of the common good is a profound distortion of the proper role of the State. In concrete form, the common good consists of that network of institutions within which we as "political animals" acquire and develop the virtue, the capacity for which defines us as human beings. We acquire and develop virtue not by having everything handed to us or taken care of by the State, but by working to acquire habits of doing good — virtue, or (literally) "human-ness."

Thus, the State's proper role is to protect individual rights and their carefully defined exercise. The State carries out this role by preserving equality of opportunity, not equality of results, and by policing abuses of the system by people who misuse common institutions or commit crimes as individual acts. The State thereby confirms and maintains the institutions that organized individuals have, through "acts of social justice," formed or reformed to meet their needs, the greatest need being the acquisition and development of virtue.

All of this sounds alien to people who for decades, even centuries have been hearing political and economic theories that sound as if they might be correct, but which fall apart when contrasted to a precisely-defined and well-understood reality. To get a basic understanding of social justice, a good place to start is the 1948 pamphlet by Father William J. Ferree, Introduction to Social Justice, available as a free download from the website of the Center for Economic and Social Justice. To start learning about the "economics of reality," a relatively short book with a misleading title by Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler is available as a free download from the Kelso Institute: The New Capitalists: How to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of Savings (1961).

Either of these short works would help Mr. Obama and the rest of the administration to develop a more realistic approach to the massive problems the United States and the world face. Taken together, Introduction to Social Justice and The New Capitalists have the potential to help Mr. Obama and his administration orchestrate a coherent solution, and to stop playing around with a very serious set of problems when they can't even read music.