Commerce and Manners in Edmund Burke’s Political Economy

This is a little strange, a post based on a book review. by Samuel Gregg, research director at the Acton Institute and published in Law and Liberty. And yes, I ordered the book yesterday.

It is however a long review so if you don’t read the link you won’t get even all the highlights, so read it! Here’s some with my comments appended.

If there is any moment which marks modern conservatism’s beginning, it is the publication of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Central to Burke’s critique of the events occurring across the Channel was his insistence that France’s revolutionaries were seeking to construct a new world based on abstractions deeply at variance with the hard-won wisdom of experience. That has become the standard interpretation of Burke offered by admirers and critics alike. It is, however, at variance with Burke’s most extensive economic treatise. His Thoughts and Details on Scarcity (1795), written as a private memorandum to Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, invokes many of the same highly-theoretical ideas articulated by eighteenth-century thinkers on both sides of the Channel in favor of economic liberalization and against the mercantilist systems which dominated the European world.

I do think it important to compare Burke’s comments on the French Revolution with his on the American Revolution, only`13 years prior, in which he supported the proto-Americans. Be that as it may, Reflections on the Revolution in France, foresaw all too clearly what was to befall France and affects its history to this day. And for that matter increasingly, ours.

Much of Collins’ analysis is framed by his exploration of this “Das Edmund Burke Problem.” It somewhat parallels what mid-nineteenth century German thinkers called the “Das Adam Smith Problem.” This alleged a contradiction between the moral philosophy underlying Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments and the economic thought expressed in his Wealth of Nations. Collins’ ultimate conclusion is that there is no essential conflict in Burke’s thought “between traditional virtue and modern economies that could not be integrated and reconciled.”

I’ve never really understood the problem per se. To me, it is the difference between long and short range perception. If you’re trying to get rich irregardless of those around you, you do one thing, if you intend to remain in the community as a respected member you do otherwise. But maybe that’s the German’s problem, I don’t know.

In the first place, Burke did not regard himself as a type of professional economist. Such a designation, Collins points out, hardly existed in the eighteenth century. More significantly, like most of the period’s leading minds, Burke was free of the excessive specialization that distorts much academic inquiry today. Second, Burke studied these questions with a view to understanding and critiquing prevailing practices and promoting reforms (Burke was, after all, a Whig) which facilitated what Enlightenment thinkers called “improvement.”

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Collins highlights how Burke recognized that the general principles underpinning the case for broadening commercial liberties were never applied in a political vacuum, a morality-free zone, or culturally-empty settings. Those who thought such considerations could be ignored when it came to policy design were the people that Burke had in mind when he used the word “oeconomists” negatively in his 1790 Reflections. Context was not everything to Burke, but it did matter. […]

On the one hand, Collins notes, Burke unambiguously affirmed the economic advantages and prosperity associated with a growing liberalization of commerce between nations. He made this point repeatedly: so much so that it brought him into direct conflict with those merchants who resented competition. Burke was deeply skeptical of mercantilist vehicles of empire like the East India Company which epitomized an unhealthy blending of the commercial and the political. They were, Burke believed, of little benefit to Britain and contributed significantly to the corruption of British politics. Burke was also remarkably free of the obsession with bullion that underpinned mercantilist conceptions of wealth and which had fueled the expansion of Spain’s empire in the Americas. […]

The following is what decided me to spend the $50 for the book:

There was, however, another dimension to Burke’s economic thought which Collins’ book brings into full focus. Burke insisted that commercial liberties needed to be embedded in what Collins calls “pre-commercial pillars of religious instruction, social affection, and aristocratic moderation.” Here we find what Collins calls the “manners” part of Burke’s political economy.

On one level, this implied the wealthy embracing the Jewish and Christian teaching that they had concrete responsibilities to the poor. In many places, Burke emphasized the political and economic dysfunctionalities associated with delegating these obligations to the state. But he also maintained that declining to privately assist those in genuine need was morally wrong and corroded those more-than-contractual bonds which bound communities together.

For Burke, commercial societies needed to embody decidedly non-commercial imperatives, many of which stemmed from what we would call pre-modern ideas and institutions. If they didn’t, Burke feared, people’s horizons would become degraded and enfeebled by the single-minded pursuit of lucre. Such moral and intellectual corruption could not be magically confined to the private sphere. There was no way to cordon it off from public life.

Part of Burke’s complaint against mercantilism was how it had facilitated widespread venality in British political life. Members of Parliament and the King’s ministers became very susceptible to undue influence from merchants seeking the monopolies and privileges which were integral to mercantilist policies. He also understood, Collins illustrates, that what was denoted as “economy in government” reduced incentives for such behavior.

Unless people also behaved in accordance with what the eighteenth-century Anglo-American world associated with what Burke called “the gentleman,” commercial societies would come undone. By “gentleman,” Burke had more than mind than noblesse oblige; it also involved civility, cultivation of the virtues, generosity, a commitment to improvement, and “a fidelity to helping others.” This idea of the gentleman and the mixture of pre-modern and Enlightenment expectations which Burke invested in it will seem quaint to some people today. For others, it smacks of paternalism. Nonetheless it was indispensable, to Burke’s mind, for the long-term sustainability of commercial societies.

I, for one, agree.

As do I, wholeheartedly, and the two centuries of experience that we have since Burke wrote these thoughts, only emphasizes them, for we have seen what happens when they are disregarded.

This is long enough to give the flavor of the review and a taste (I hope) of the book. I hope many of you will read one or both because unless we know where we think we should be going, we’ll never get there, and Edmund Burke is one of our best guides.

 

Sunday Funnies; No Holds Barred

And so this week, AG Barr testified, or at least tried to, since the Demonrats wouldn’t let him speak.

The more things change…

Ahead of the curve

Write your own caption

And, of course

Four Things and they’re All Important

Several things today starting with Governor Kristi Noem on reopening schools.

Doing governance as it should be done.


Rachel Bovard at The Federalist has some thoughts about Big Tech and Monopolies.

Conservatives have alleged for years that these companies exhibit a bias against conservative points of view despite the fact that entities like Facebook and Google constitute a “global town square” and see themselves as key facilitators of free expression. This allegation has only grown louder as conservative members of Congress were shadow-banned. […]

In a January field hearing, the antitrust subcommittee heard testimony from small tech businesses who recounted in detail how Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon were “wielding their massive footprints as weapons, allegedly copying smaller competitors’s features or tweaking their algorithms in ways that put new companies at a costly disadvantage.” Or, in the words of Patrick Spence, head of the speaker company Sonos, the platforms “leverage dominance in one market to conquer or destroy adjacent markets, especially markets that may one day pose a threat to their dominance.”

Amazon, in particular, is dealing with discrepancies between what they told Congress — that they do not use third-party sales data to set prices for Amazon-branded products — and what their employees told the Wall Street Journal. Amazon is also facing allegations that they met with startups about investing, only to swipe other companies’ ideas for their own product lines.

Google has faced allegations that it self-preferences its search results, demoting non-Google results even when the information contained therein was more relevant to an individual’s search. The Wall Street Journal reported that Google has altered its search algorithm on behalf of big businesses like eBay while modifying search results for terms like “abortion” and “immigration.”

None of this would matter so much if these companies didn’t wield such unprecedented amounts of power. But when Google constitutes 92 percent of worldwide internet searches, the opaque, unaccountable ways the company decides to filter information has tremendous consequences for business, human behavior, and independent thought.

Conservatives are rightly skeptical of government interference in the marketplace. But violations of existing antitrust law in the form of anticompetitive behavior isn’t regulation, it’s law enforcement. As the supposed champions of small entrepreneurs, conservatives should want to ensure that the field of commerce and innovation is fair and equally accessible.

Many on the political right have said for years that people unhappy with social media platforms should just “build their own.” So shouldn’t those same people want to make sure they still can?

The Threat to Individual Privacy

As an industry that makes money from the commoditization of hyper-individualized data, Big Tech knows more about us than any industry in human history. Indeed, Big Tech’s business model is based on knowing where we go (physically and virtually), what we say in our emails and text messages, what we buy, and even what our voices sound like.

This presents huge policy ramifications around what is “ours” and what is “theirs.” Do human beings have a property right to their data trail? Should there be limits on the type of data companies collect, what Big Tech can do with our data, or who they can share it with?

Consider that under a provision of HIPAA, hospital chains have shared the names, dates of birth, and medical histories of up to 50 million Americans with Google without the knowledge or consent of the patients or doctors. Google won’t say what they’re doing with the data, or the data they’ve recently acquired on 28 million users of Fitbit. In this bizarre legal landscape, Google has a right to your medical record, but you don’t.

These companies are also serial violators of individual privacy, despite presenting themselves as the opposite. Google reads our emails. Facebook reads our texts. Google still tracks the location of users who turn off geolocation services.

There quite a lot more and you should read and understand what she is saying.

Here is my take: I’m basically libertarian on economic policy, which most of you know BUT and its a big but: When the founder’s set up our government they endowed it with checks and balances against any branch becoming all-powerful. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 28:

Power being almost always the rival of power, the general government will at all times stand ready to check the usurpations of the state governments, and these will have the same disposition towards the general government. The people, by throwing themselves into either scale, will infallibly make it preponderate. If their rights are invaded by either, they can make use of the other as the instrument of redress. How wise will it be in them by cherishing the union to preserve to themselves an advantage which can never be too highly prized!

This has worked reasonably well over the years, but as business grew so large it became a power center in its own right, as we see now in Big Tech, where Google, for instance, will not cooperate with the US Department of Defense but is readily willing to work with the Chinese military. There are plenty of other examples. So, it seems that the government must be the check on unchecked business, because no other entity is large enough to do so, especially including other businesses. Here too it is as Madison said in Federalist 51

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.


Via CNN:

Herman Cain, the former presidential candidate and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has died from coronavirus, according to an obituary sent from his verified Twitter account and Newsmax, where he was launching a television show.

May he rest in peace having fought the good fight.


And finally, Sgt Joe Friday has some words for Antifa and Black Live matters that ring as true today as they did when written in 1968.

 

 

Not Polls

I’ve written about polls and why I don’t pay attention to them. The information they provide does not include the thousands of folks who won’t take a poll survey.

We’ve always known that the Silent Majority exists so this video was very interesting to me. I sort of like Tim Pool but I can’t watch a lot of his videos – I have trouble getting through one – because he talks too much. He exhausts my ears. Ben Shapiro talks a lot as well but he does it so quickly, he’s done before my ears complain about assault.

So the title of this video surprised me and I watched it. I fast forward when I need a break from him talking. In an instance like this, where he is sharing an article, moving the red bar allows me to get past him and into the purpose of what he is talking about.

I did a piece for NEO awhile back about the art of glass blowing and a Netflix program about that. I was sort of on a rant and after censoring myself (on my own, no coercion), the point of the piece was misdirected and the piece itself was weaker than my intention. I sent an email to NEO and basically apologized because I had self-censored and it damaged the article. Neo replied that I didn’t have to censor but then I’d have to take the flack that might have ensued and simply mentioned that going too far out of bounds might possibly put the site at risk.

Until I had written – and then watered down – that article, I didn’t realize that I censor myself a lot. The Cato article that Tim Pool shares in the above video was reinforcement of how far the Left has won on the use of words, and how even someone like me, with no particular axe to grind, moderates themselves just because we don’t want people ‘in our faces’. There is another aspect as well, I believe.

The idea that I can use the weakest, most gentle words to describe someone or something to which I may take exception, and those words could be used to support someone’s claim that I verbally abused them or a group. I am a full-grown adult; I take full responsibility for the things I say, do, and write.

In today’s climate, where does that leave me? Who do I talk to? Who do I share my opinions with? I proudly belong to a site in the United Kingdom that shares my views and right here, at our beloved National Energy Observer, I can share my thoughts and insights. That’s two places – only two places – where I feel safe enough to take a shot at airing my outlook on life and politics. In the whole big world. Two places.

This place, NEO, is my ‘not poll’.

 

The Media’s Political Suicide

Daniel Greenfield writing in Frontpage Mag has some thoughts about how the media is committing suicide. They’re good thoughts.

McClatchy had bought Knight Ridder for $4.4 billion to create the second largest news company. After going into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, McClatchy was won in an auction by a hedge fund, which also owns the National Enquirer, in a secret bidding which started with $30 million cash and $270 million in debt.

None of this says anything good about the future of its D.C. bureau, or the Miami Herald, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Sacramento Bee, the Kansas City Star, and other hollowed out husks of major urban papers carrying huge loads of pension debt and even bigger loads of radical left-wing politics.

Earlier this year, Warren Buffett had dumped 30 newspapers that he had bought for $344 million for $140 million. The Newseum, a $450 million media museum, backed by Gannett, was sold off last year.

Gannett, the biggest newspaper chain in the country, lost $80 million in the first quarter of the year even after a merger in which it slashed jobs at some of the hundreds of newspapers which it controls.

Over 20,000 media jobs have been wiped out in the previous two years and it’s just getting started.

Just breaks your heart, doesn’t it? Yeah, no, mine either. But in a way it should. The press has been a driver of freedom since the modern world began, and I daresay we are already missing it. Still, it’s become a hollowed-out shell with little to recommend it.

Local papers are dying. Formerly influential national news magazines are irrelevant. When was the last time you heard anything from Time except around its annual Cause of the Year publicity stunt?

And it’s not just the dead tree media that’s in trouble. Digital darlings like the Huffington PostVice and Vox have been cutting jobs because clickbait doesn’t win over subscribers who will pay for content. Network television and cable news are on their last legs as cable subscribers cut the cord and content providers set up their own Netflix rivals. What happens to NBC News or CNN in a marketplace defined by Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Peacock, HBO Max, CBS All Access, and whatever other platforms will pop up?

The media hasn’t had a viable business model in a long while. It’s a zombie that kills even as it dies. […]

The transformation of the media from for-profits to non-profits sheds any commitment to the marketplace, to a community of readers who pay for its services, and instead puts it at the service of dot com tycoons who want to invest in left-wing causes. The experience of reading or watching the media’s content also changes from information to indoctrination. As is the case with so many of the dot com giants which finance the media and on whose platforms the media depends, the reader and the viewer are no longer consumers, they are the product that is being sold to the media’s political backers.

Even as the non-profit media claims that it’s now free to pursue journalism as a public service, it’s not providing a service to the public, it’s serving a small class of donors by trying to influence the public.

All pretty obvious when you look at it but who wants to look at a looming zombie, soon to be a corpse.

“Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times. But Twitter has become its ultimate editor,” Bari Weiss wrote in her resignation letter to the New York Times.

Twitter is the media’s editor. Its platform provides the content that fills the media, but it also makes the infrastructure of the media surplus to requirements. The medium is the message and the medium of Twitter is 280 characters. As Weiss notes, “the ethics and mores of that platform have become those of the paper, the paper itself has increasingly become a kind of performance space.”

But the real performance space is on Twitter where content is consumed and debated much more rapidly in short form than in the long form pages of the New York Times. As the media transforms into a pure instrument of political advocacy whose antics play out on social media, there’s less and less use for the expensive billion-dollar operations, the newspapers, channels, and even the sites of the media. […]

The media has been killing cities and the country to buy a little more time for its existence. But it is becoming a zombie that is killing the basis for its own existence and then the very thing that it does.

The members of the media began by killing their ethics and morals. They tossed away the truth as a value and a goal. They turned on their colleagues, incited mobs, celebrated violence and terror. And then they set out to destroy the organizations they worked for and the country that they live in.

Their final act of political suicide will be to kill their own writing.

As sad as that may be, well, they chose their own fate. The world can get by without the New York Times, the Washington Post, the various broadcast propaganda organizations, without The Telegraph and the Guardian, and even without the BBC. We will find the information somewhere as we always have. The media is no longer the message, the message is the message, as it always should have been.

An Education in Fraud

Daniel Greenfield at Frontpage Mag.

The Los Angeles Unified School District spends $18,788 per student. Its goal is to up that spending to $20,000. The mammoth LA school district is 7th in urban spending and has around half a million students. And the costs only went up after a United Teachers strike extracted a 6 percent raise.

Last year, LAUSD approved a $7.8 billion budget.

Governor Newsom demanded federal aid during the coronavirus and proposed moving over $4 billion in federal pandemic relief to the non-functioning schools.

“Cuts to funding at schools will forever impact the lives of children,” Superintendent Austin Beutner warned. “The harm children are facing is just as real a threat to them as is the coronavirus.”

Apparently cutting the budgets of closed schools is just as lethal as a pandemic.

“The notion that schools can continue to operate safely in the fall with a decreased state budget is not realistic,” deputy superintendent Megan Reilly complained after a proposed 7% budget cut.

This is what passes for sense in school administration.

It’s bad enough when taxpayers and parents were stuck with billion-dollar bills when there were at least functioning schools. Now struggling families are paying a fortune to subsidize Democrat activists who make their own schedules and might condescend to spend a few hours handing out class projects.

Don’t ask them to turn on their video or actually monitor the students they’re “teaching”.

“If schools aren’t going to reopen, we’re not suggesting pulling funding from education, but instead allowing families … take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools are going to refuse to open,” Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos suggested.

That suggestion has been met with howls of outrage from the teachers’ unions. How dare the country’s top education official suggest that education funding should be used to teach children.

They apparently missed that class at Screw U that taught the rest of us that there is no free lunch, somebody pays for it all. In this case, the taxpayer, and taxpayers, black, white, and Hispanic, are voting with their feet to get out of these places just as quick as they can. Why? Gee, I don’t know, maybe they’d like to get something for all that tax money, like an education for their kids.

Parents have the right to pull that money from school districts and use it to educate their children.

That can mean finding private schools that are willing to open up for in-person learning, it can mean competitive distance learning at private and public schools around the country, or it can mean homeschooling through pods. Or any learning that meets curriculum requirements.

The public education system was broken badly before. Now it effectively doesn’t exist.

The system, at every level from elementary through college, has shed what few standards it had, while maintaining ridiculously inflated expenses of tens of thousands per student for teaching zoom classes.

Competitive alternatives could easily offer individual students more instruction time, more access to teachers, and more personalized instruction for a fraction of the money that is being spent today.

School districts react hysterically to both budget cuts and proposals to reopen. But they can’t have it both ways. They protest that the infrastructure must be maintained, even as they insist that they have no idea when they’re going to be able to use it again. They argue that, unlike every other profession, it’s vital to keep teachers employed, even when they’re really not doing anything useful.

My opinion? the average big-city school and teacher is worth just as little as his blood-sucking cousin the malaria-carrying mosquito, and should be treated the exact same way.

What they are doing as teachers and school districts has a name. That name is fraud. Since a lot of it is Federal taxpayer’s money, maybe the US attorney’s could take a few minutes and indict the obvious guilty ones, maybe some of the rest might straighten up and fly a bit less crooked, straight is probably out of the question.

%d bloggers like this: