Sunday, October 09, 2011

the trouble with ron paul

The biggest difference between modern times and premodern times is that before about 1750 there were no efficient sources of energy.

Everywhere before 1800 and in some places until after 1900, production was limited by the available energy sources -- mostly the muscles either of humans or domesticated animals. So premodern economies were regimes of low productivity. Ninety percent or more of people living in premodern societies were engaged directly in food production, and their primitive methods generated a small food surplus which supported the society's ten percent who were specialists -- rulers, priests, artisans, scribes, soldiers, and so forth.

Think of what life was like in colonial America in 1750, what transportation was available, how goods were made and marketed, and how people communicated. It is readily apparent that in terms of production and consumption, colonial America was more similar to ancient Egypt of 4,500 years ago than to 21st-century America.

Modern forms of production surpass archaic methods hundreds of times over, due to the kinds of energy sources available to modern societies. In addition, modern production is centralized and concentrated.

Instead of being spread out over the land in thousands of artisans' workshops, modern production takes place in huge factories and the products are distributed world-wide. Building factories, in turn, concentrates capital in amounts that would have been unthinkable 200 years ago.

Exponentially increased productivity increases wealth exponentially. But how is this explosion of wealth to be distributed within modern societies? Since the entire society must be mobilized for modern production to occur, it seems logical that everyone who makes a contribution to the growing pile of wealth ought to be rewarded.

But with some exceptions in various eras and in various places, the history of modern times is mostly a catalog of grotesque social deformity, due to the tendency of the factory owner and the banker-capitalist to keep almost all of the wealth that's generated for themselves, as if it belonged only to them. This is why the industrial slums of Manchester in the 1830's, where starvation-level poverty among the workers was only a mile or two from the factory owner's palace, gave rise to early Communism.

The world we inhabit today is so different from the premodern world of just 250 years ago because modern times have literally transformed the physical, social, moral, and intellectual landscape, demolishing all that went before and creating a new world. The modern era began so recently that we still do not generally acknowledge or understand what it means, so we cling to premodern, archaic theories and ideals, such as the laissez-faire economics model so beloved of the premodern economist, Adam Smith.

If I'm not mistaken, the Libertarian Mr. Paul subscribes to this ancient, barnacle-encrusted view of the world, and believes that if only "the markets" are "free" to operate unrestrained, that a naturally just and equitable distribution of the rewards of production will follow. But the history of the last 200 years shows that "freedom" means first that the factory owner and the banker-capitalist who enables him will be free to seize all the wealth that's produced along with all those microwave ovens and color TV's.

The only remedy for that gross injustice is for the people of modern societies to acquire power equal to that of the owner and capitalist, by the society's establishment of a people's government, i.e. democracy. Such a government regulates production and will work to ensure a just distribution of rewards through such measures as a graduated income tax, Social Security, and universal health care.

Ron Paul is an unusual politician -- uncompromisingly honest, and possessed of great integrity and unimpeachable character. He'd be perfect if he hadn't been born 150 years too late.

1 comment:

Joe said...

Today's post is a good economic overview of a couple of centuries.