As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the principal way in which people today can be fully productive members of society (and the economy) is to own capital as well as labor. Of course, that only matters if you view all people as fully human instead of lesser beings or things to be taken care of.
Thus, G.K. Chesterton could maintain that capital ownership and private property are important because it is by owning capital instead of, or in addition to labor that people can become productive and take care of themselves through their own efforts. Power follows property, and power is what you need to be able to exercise your rights and become more fully human.
At least if you view all people as having an equal capacity to become more fully human. . . .
George Bernard Shaw did not. Of course, he paid lip service to equality . . . as he defined it. As he said in Fabian Tract No. 18, What Is Socialism? (1890), “Socialism means equal rights and opportunities for all,” and then proceeded to demand that everyone be forced to work for a guaranteed wage income or receive a guaranteed welfare handout.
In other words, where Chesterton demanded an equal opportunity for everyone to be an owner (although he never really said anything about the means except to insist that he did not mean redistribution), Shaw demanded an equality of results, specifically of income. As he asserted in his final “debate” in 1927 with Chesterton,
“My main activity as an economist of late has been to try to concentrate the attention of my party on the fact not only that they must distribute income, but that there is nothing else to distribute.”
Hilaire Belloc protested that Shaw’s approach — which was that of the Fabian Society, Shaw’s “party” — was simply a way to turn most people into slaves, either of the State or of private sector employers. He embodied his argument in The Servile State (1912), and lived to see both Great Britain and the United States adopt Keynesian economics and the Fabian vision as the form of society and the economy, and completely reject the idea that people should be able to take care of themselves, with only a helping hand from other people or the State when necessary.
|Louis O. Kelso|
The fact is that had the Fabian vision not overtaken the world, and instead that of Kelso and Adler had been given a chance, there is a distinct possibility that the world would not be in the chaotic state it is in today. Of course, there’s still time to turn things around IF some world leader opens his or her eyes and sees what’s been going on.
This brings us to the point of today’s posting. What is the meaning and purpose of life? The quick answer is, to become more fully human — that is, virtuous, which is what “virtue” means, i.e., “human-ness.” We do this by practicing Aristotle's “temporal” or “cardinal” (or “natural”) virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude and, above all, justice.
To practice virtue, of course, we need the power to do so, and that means under ordinary circumstances that we must have capital ownership. That, not income, was the main reason Chesterton said that what he was talking about was power. Chesterton was concerned with people becoming virtuous, and to do that they need power, and to get power, they need ownership.
Shaw defined virtue differently than Chesterton. To Chesterton, virtue meant becoming more fully human by conforming to your own nature. To Shaw, virtue meant refraining from doing evil: “Virtue consists, not in abstaining from vice, but in not desiring it.”
Put more simply, to Chesterton virtue meant doing good. To Shaw, virtue meant not doing wrong. To Chesterton, therefore, power was all-important, for to become more fully human — virtuous — required doing something. Give people power — that is, capital ownership — and they can become virtuous.
To Shaw, power was completely irrelevant, for to become more fully human in his understanding required doing nothing at all. Give people enough income to meet their needs without desiring anything else and they need only exist, doing nothing.
What if someone still insists on doing wrong? To Chesterton, the obvious thing to do would be to punish him, preferably in such a way as to help that person learn a lesson and want to do good in the future. To Shaw, the obvious thing to do was not to punish (or so he seemed to be saying), but to ensure that no one would do wrong in the first place because all his needs were met . . . which begs the question: What do you do when someone does wrong?
To Chesterton, then, you cannot legislate morality but you can — and should — legislate morally. To Shaw, there is no such thing as right or wrong in the first place, except for being in material want when there is enough for all, making selfishness and greed (as he defined them) the only real crimes or sins.
If the only thing that matters is income, then it soon happens that redistribution and make-work take the place of genuinely productive activity. Most people become powerless and thus unable to become virtuous (in the Aristotelian sense) in the ordinary course of events. They tend to drift away from anything, such as traditional education, religion, or family life, that does not offer immediate or measurable results or gratification. Higher education becomes job training, churches become social service agencies and cultural centers, and marriage and family are redefined to satisfy individual demands and political agendas.
Out of frustration or concern, old leaders start giving heed to proposals that will mandate that people do as they ought so they will be virtuous again, or new leaders arise, promising to restore the old order or bring about a better new one. The problem is that virtue cannot be mandated or coerced, and someone’s romantic vision of the old order or ideal new one might not match that of anyone else or even conform to reality.
That, then, is the big problem with the Great Reset and similar proposals. Proponents all take as a starting point some abstract ideal and compound the error by assuming that their vision can be imposed by universal fiat.
Proponents also forget as a matter of course that measures that may be essential in the short run, such as stimulus payments, redistribution, job creation, full employment, and so on, are not solutions. Not even the most essential programs can be sustained, financially or economically, as solutions indefinitely, although they can and often must be maintained as adjuncts to an otherwise sound economic and social system. After all, if everyone is receiving a Universal Basic Income without having to produce marketable goods or services by means of their capital or labor, who produces the goods and services to be purchased with the UBI?
Merely providing people with income so they can consume is not sufficient. As should be obvious — and what the Great Reset ignores and Shaw never considered — if people are to consume, as a rule they must first produce.