Reflections of Neoconservative - Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Essays discuss censorship, American intellectual life, urban civilization, politics, socialism, economic theory, diploma

366 89 46MB

English Pages 340 Year 1983

Report DMCA / Copyright

DOWNLOAD FILE

Polecaj historie

Reflections of Neoconservative - Looking Back, Looking Ahead

Table of contents :
1. In the beginning ... --
2. The culture of democratic capitalism --
3. The political philosophy of neoconservatism --
4. The political economy of neoconservatism --
5. Neoconservatism and foreign policy --
6. Religion and the Jews.

Citation preview

Reflections of

a

Neoconservative Looking Back, Looking Ahead

IRVING

KRI
;.iir.st

theory

tru

radical economists point

economic analysis of

the

id

and an equally powerful

is

that political philosophy

and

icademic disciplines, in

th.

become transformed

into p

.

alue-free," sci-

ences, while theology has practically ceased to be a respectable form

of intellectual activity. So the

young economist with moral

having nowhere to go, turns upon

devour

Above

all,

what radical econ key human motive

he basic idea that

self-interest, the

human

economics,

in

—not necessarily

nature

to

an inexpungible

is

be admired, but always to

be respected and ultimately to be channeled into constructive (or harmless) activity.

Once you deny

economics into moral and

and Lux

Maslow, needs

is

to

substance.

its

aspect of

passions,

and proceeds

itself

i

politic al

this premise,

philosophy.

it is

The

tactic

used by Lutz

derived from the psychological theories ot the late

who

—not

posited

subjective

hierarchy

universal

a

wants,

but

objective

Abraham human

natural

of

needs

at least

easy to dissolve

—and

perceived

human development as a progressive process of "self-actualization," whereby human beings become mature and most "human" as they subordinate their particular satisfaction produces a self -regarding



selfish

wants

community

of

to

deeper "needs" whose

autonomous

— but

no longer

persons.



Maslow's distinction between wants and needs a distinction which no mere economist is in a position to make frees economics from the tyranny of the consumer and gives it refuge under the benign sovereignty of the philosopher king, now transmuted into a "humanis-



tic

economist." As Lutz and Lux put Humanistic economics standing

is

a scientific

it

framework

for the theoretical under-

of, as well as the design of appropriate institutional arrangements pertaining

the processes of production, distribution, and consumption that will enable optimal satisfaction of the hierarchy of human needs. (Emphasis

to,

added.)

191

The Political Economy of Neoconservatism The Maslovian

distinction

between wants and needs

more

is little

than a secularized and pseudoscientific version of the ancient distinction

between our "higher" and "lower" selves



a distinction that

is at

the

core of both classical philosophy and the Judeo-Christian moral tradition

It

is

a distinction that

Adam

Smith, author of The Theory of Moral

would never have dreamed of repudiating. Nor would RicarMalthus, Mill, Jevons, Walras, or Keynes. What they would have

Sentiments,

do,

said (and did say)

is

that such a distinction

is

outside the scope of eco-

nomics, which deals only with the "wants" of our "lower selves."

assumption of those economists was that

it

was

The

utterly Utopian to think

that these lower parts of ourselves could ever be successfully repressed,

and that the virtue of

or completely transcended, or utterly nullified, free

commercial transactions between consenting adults was that

willv nilly directed our self-interested impulses

limited)

common As

condition >."

it

toward a simple (but

good: the general improvement of humanity's material the preservation and cultivation of our "higher

for

economics leaves that

to

philosophy and

religion.

The vision of radical economics today is that of a democratic equallt.iruin community in which individual self-interest would be rendered I negligible force through education, peer-group pressure, community festivals and a constant flow of elevating rhetoric. It is a romantic

Utopian

vision

in

its

its

modern academic

dress That

nomics profession profession,

is

substance,

articulation

lar-rationalist in

itself,

it

It

though in truth,

is,

scrupulously

secu-

Utopian socialism in

should find expression within the eco-

instead of inciting a mass exodus from that

but one more testimonial to the intellectual confusion of

our age

So economics today does seem

The dominant

scientistic

something

like

an impasse.

to drift ever further

away from

to be at

model tends

economic policy are ever more ambiguous and baffling. But the three main schools of thought that have arisen through dissociation from this excessively rationalistic model are

economic

reality, so that inferences for

themselves infused with varieties of rationalism that lead to their

own

kinds of impasses. Their criticisms of the status quo in economic theory are often well-taken, but the alternatives they propose are unconvincing.

There

doubt

is

not the slightest reason to think

—and

many

reasons to

— that post-Keynesians, fiddling with their cybernetic model, can

do any better than Keynesians with

their

Newtonian-mechanical

model. The neo-Austrians end up insisting that the best of

all

possible

worlds would be one populated by rationalist-utilitarian individuals

whose pursuit

of self-interest (as defined

192

by the individuals themselves)

Ra:

would be

left

undisturbed hv ItatC

cal (or libertarian)

world

And

ist-utopian vision. their

own

It is

is

judgment

01

their

whatever

the radical economist! have,

mM

has vanished along with a fair

church

an anauhi

| construct

rationalist-utop U

have so transcended self

01

that

world

I

in

.is

counterpart

which individuals

interested inclinations that

its

of 1 rational

economics

that COflUIIOfl to

three ot these

til

ways

ot

the impassioned hope (1) that economic theory can give us

absolute understanding of realitv than

economic

reality

it-

detestable incarnation, the marketplace

thought a

more

possiblv tan, and/or (2) that

it

can give us more bv v\j\

oi

human

"fulfillment" and

happiness than U possibly can

And

yet economic theory lives on, surviving

or suprareasonable

demands

that bedrock of truths about the

prehensively enunciated in The Wealth (1)

all

the unreasonable

made on it It survives because of human condition that were first com-

that are

The overwhelming majority

of

of Nations

Among these truths are:

men and women

are naturally

and

incorrigibly interested in improving their material conditions; (2) efforts to repress this natural desire lead only ities; (3)

when

this natural desire

if

!

giver

t

and impoverished pol-

»uffi< ient

iatitude so that

com-

mercial transactions are not discouraged, economic growth does take place; (4) as a result of such growth,

everyone does eventually indeed

however unequally in extent or time; (5) such economic growth results in a huge expansion of the property-owning improve

his condition,



middle classes

a necessary

(though not

sufficient) condition for a lib-

which individual rights are respected This is not all we need to know, but it is what we do know, and it is surely not asking too much of economic theory that in its passion for sophisticated methodology it not leave this knowledge behind. eral society in

1980

193

14 Some

Personal Reflections

on Economic Well-Being

and Income Distribution

I

-T

veying various studies of trends St.itts

is

my

understanding, from sur-

income distribution

in the

United

over the past three decades, that economists have found very nificanf

a slight

change

to

have taken

place.

a slight

by the

decrease in the proportion received by the very rich.

goes on in between

ysis can tease

lit—

There does seem to have been

increase in the proportion of national income received

very poor,

What

in

is

such

a

complex muddle that economic anal-

few unquestionable inferences from the

data.

Moreover,

the very methodology of studying income distribution has, over these

decades, in the

become ever more

controversial. Just

concept of "income" becomes

mental "entitlement" program

is

housing, medicine, or whatever). that in order to take account of

less clear

what

launched (whether

And

it

is

to

every time a it

be included

new govern-

involves food,

has become ever more apparent

normal age

differentials in earnings, of

changing demographies, and of economic mobility (both up and down), the distribution of "lifetime earnings"

194

would give us

a far

more

valid

Some

Reflections on

Economic Well- Being and Income Distribution

at a moment in time The trouble up with any accepted procedure for measuring any such distribution of lifetime earnings, and there are even some grounds for thinking they never will. Does it matter? What, precisely, is the point of all of these studies

report than

is

any cross-sectional survey

that economists

have not

CMM

and of the interminable controversies they generate?

When

one

raises this issue

they tend to feel that, in some to

have

among economists, one discovers that way or other, income inequalities ought

stability or instability, or

historical

we vaguely call astonishing how little by

even that sense of well-being

And

yet

it

is

of any such relationships economic and social research has

up with. Increases and decreases ally

and

stability or instability, social

"happiness" or "contentment."

way

such as the rate of

a significant relation to other larger issues

economic growth, economic

in

income

come

inequalities, as convention-

measured, appear to be indifferently compatible with social turbu-

lence as with social stability, with economic decline as with economic

growth, with political order as with individual and social pathologies tion, crime) as

alcoholism, drug addic-

with a decrease. Inequality, one gets the impression,

an important issue for today's social scientists

importance escapes

all

further,

any

the concept of economic well-being believe.

is

in

not so unambiguous as

in (actual or potential)

buy). But this brute statistical fact it is

that ultimately determine the

is

(i.e.,

pur-

the goods that

always "processed"

the ideas and attitudes in these minds

meaning we give

to

any brute

statistical

Fortunately for the science of economics, those ideas and attitudes

are not utterly disparate, incoherent, say,

in-

economic well-being can

chasing power over the material goods of this world

through people's minds, and

income

plagued by the fact that

is

itself

An improvement

be quite rigorously defined as an increase

fact.

is

the fact that such

effort to relate

equality even to strictly economic well-being

some economists

despite

empirical verification.

To complicate matters even

money can

with an increase in

political chaos,

(e.g., suicide,

and inconstant.

One

can therefore

with some confidence, that most people, most of the time, and most

anywhere, wish

when

to see their purchasing

that occurs.

Having

said that,

power increase and

are pleased

however, one must also go on to

say that particular circumstances can modify or even overwhelm any

purely

statistical

measure of economic well-being. Both poverty and

af-

fluence can have ambiguities that escape the strictly economic perspective. It is an observable fact that not all people who are statistically poor everywhere equally miserable or have an equal sense of being "badly off." The past and the future always shape our sense of the pres-

are

195

The Political Economy of Neoconservatism much,

ent So

depends on the hopes one may have for one's

therefore,

one may have

children, the faith

dimly,

felt.



human terms costs Anyone who has seen Fiddler on costs in

its

may

"fair-

derive from

dehumanize, and relative affluence

traditions Poverty does not always

can have

and

in the ultimate benignity

ness" of Providence, on the assurance and solace one

that are actually, the

Roof

often

if

and contrasted the

portrayed there with the lives of Jews in Long Island's Great

lives

today will appreciate the immense

difficulties

Neck

involved in disentangling

economic well-being from other kinds of well-being. Similarly,

on the

street

where

nese family, recent immigrants,

I

lived until recently there

who

was a ChiThe par-

ran a basement laundry.

two tiny rooms at the back of what this family did to our official

ents and their five children shared the

the tiny store, and

I

poverty

Still,

statistics

shudder

to think

those parents expressed great confidence that



would "get ahead" and, in fact, all five ended up as college graduates Ought not one to incorporate that prospect in any estimate of the family's economic well-being? In contrast, on that same street there were several welfare families whose incomes, in cash and kind and their children

es, may well have been larger than that of our Chinese family, who were in various stages of a dependency-induced corruption,

but

with

little

family stability and with the children involved in drugs and

Would an

delinquency

increase in their welfare receipts really have im-

proved their economic well-being?

how would

moralization,

Or,

at

had merely accelerated

If it

their de-

economic well-being?

that relate to

the other extreme, take the case of a statistically affluent sub-

urban child

who

has every advantage, as

we

say, but

who comes

perience those advantages as bars in a "gilded cage," to use

to ex-

Max

Weber's prescient phrase. He perceives the improbability of his surpassing his successful father in either economic or professional terms. finds family

and community

tracting bore.

comes

a

we

after?

empty

a

pseudobohemian, or



off

a drifter, living

handouts and odd

to ascribe to the statistics of his

When

He

of meaning, and school a dis-

So he "drops out" of the world he was born into and be-

"bohemian,"

placidly, perhaps miserably

are

life

jobs.

—perhaps

What meaning

economic well-being, before and

affluence can demoralize as vigorously as poverty, can

we

take the statistics on economic well-being with the solemnity that econ-

omists are naturally inclined to do?

And, of course, if

we

try

somehow

this

matter becomes infinitely more complicated

to incorporate the idea of

the idea of economic well-being, as so

economic equality into

many economists

think proper.

Here, ordinary people seem to have an intuitive respect for existential

complexities that economists often seem to lack.

196

The

intensity with

Some

Reflect:

which economist* work V which they measure Kno ulation. is matched so

J the lubtlety with

American

of the average is

of the pop

lies



the utter lack oJ

!

Inl

perh*pf, thil

I |

because those finding-

seems

to give rise to an

Mich



.merits

soon unravel into micros the average person interested in

it

is

think

far less into

in quite a

is

it

bcCAUM

inequality

i

01

is

d

scientist.

Why? One

reason,

would

I

k

ientisl links the

issue of inequality to the issue

the average person. affluent, the

It is

certain

usly than doet I

more

\

"poverty line," as popular lv |

ward. Today, for example, no one would sence of private, indoor

would have found not

the fact that the ab-

toilet facility

indparents

shocking

at all

ire

sign of poverty.

the other hand, the average pe;

;ua economist,

prohibited from doing. People

minimally adequate food, not as

shelter,

wh

as poor,

under 10 percent.

A

lute" definition of poverty

who

qualify as poor

might

arbitrary

is

as

Bw

terms of relative income

retort that

can

is

it

will

— well

a definition

question to which

>ely linked to a t

the degree that poverty

permanent condition,

small

:hve answer.

pow

«•

perception of opportunity

To

is

any such "abso-

compared with this

'.

This popular perception

of poverty

but

in the

overty in this way, then the

social scientist

economics can never hope

they are

one

if

percentage of the American people

in

rived to be

and

problematically poor, regardless

income distribution. And

On

Vitinguish between

needs and wants in ways that u is

move up

will also

is

out

nut viewed as a necessarily

em And

l

popular

move

unity to

the average Ameri-

strongly of the opinion that, leaving the physically handicapped

iliy is no reason which one would include the elder anyone in the lowest quintile of tht distribution to interpret pportunities tor bettering one's his condition as permanent condition" will and do e*ist It may be recalled that Adam Smith had

(in

for

earlier

suggested that the modu*

economic well

mobility

—would of

society.

— and

the

a certainty

The reason

for this

be is

Sfl

eventual less

market economy

is

distribution

income

unequal than

in

of

such that as

any other kind of

that the talents requisite for sue

such an economy are so mundane, and the role of sheer luck

197

is

so great,

The Political Economy of Neoconservatism economic mobility should be

that

and eventual economic

greater,

whole tend trast,

to accept this thesis as a fact of

think

in-

Americans on the

equalities less significant, than in noncapitalist orders.

Social scientists, in con-

life.

important either to prove or disprove this thesis by re-

it

search.

carefully say "social scientists" because sociologists are perhaps

I

even more prominent

in this

endeavor than economists.

It is

they

who

more technical literature on the question of "social mobility/' of which income mobility is the major component It is an open question whether this literature provides more enlightenment than obfuscation. We do know, without benefit of research, that if economic growth tends to create new and better-paying have created

a sizable library

of ever

and occupations and professions

jobi

(as

it

does), then the statistics will

obviously reveal considerable upward social and economic mobility (as

But what sociologists appear to be worried most about

they do)

whether everyone benefits to be especially

top decile

concerned as to whether those

manage

to

bile

who

statistical

are already in the

procedures of sociolo-

a rigorously egalitarian definition

which the children of upper-class parents

mobility, one in

downwardly

The

in there.

one begins with

ich that ..il

hang

is

from these changes, and they do seem

equally

mobile, while their places are taken by the upwardly

are

mo-

— a world turned upside-down indeed! — and then measures the ac-

tuality in the light of this "ideal "

such surd,

somehow

It is

is

who have

sociologists, too, is

supposed

own economic well-being are equality Now, there certainly it

why

is

such

a thing as a sense of relative depri-

more intimately

related to the idea of justice

tacitly

society

over the chief executive

assume is

have been innumerable

among workers

the United States over pay differentials

("equal pay for equal work!"), yet a strike

people's views of their

inextricably intertwined with the idea of

turns out to have only a limited connection with the larger

idea of equality and to be

in

inherently ab-

is

popularized the concept of "relative

to explain

or fairness ("to each his due"). Thus, there strikes

has never been

fact that there

lost sight of.

deprivation," which

vation, but

The

or that the very idea of such a society

a society,

— as

practically

I

do not

officer's

all

seem

very high salary. to

being

recall a case of there

do

— that

If

more

a

sociologists

egalitarian

(and will be perceived to be) a more just society, that

is

an

assumption which derives from ideology, not from history or contemporary experience.

And much

the

same

is

the intensity with which

true,

I

would

say, for the

way

—economists study income

begins blandly with the premise that absolute equality

198

in

which

—and

inequalities. is

One

the ideal state

Some

Reflect:.

and then one measures there

merely

lequality

measurement!

all

odd

o

ethical

lemains true that there

h | thing as business ethus and that business activity does

this

is

is

bankruptcy

what businessmen often seem expand its

inevitably inviting government to

220

to

therefore morally

nic

Man

code of prohibitions An:

men have come nomic" and

to thin^

judgfl

activity, to be

ri

.

lhat moral

b)

religious tradit:

perh •

Sn

new

not a

is

\

••

affair

i

all,

-like sexual b been among the most oODim

And around

life a

huge

bmincaa

or peculiar!

ihvayi

that exper;«

library of moral

ill

world's religions That businessnv



the

this tradi

:ndable,

most

part, itself qui*'

pernxial "ti

,

learning

.men wr

Still

n from

this deprivatio:

ail

the

subjects of moral d

The value and bnpofl their subtlety

duct

and

cific

and complexity

vital



ippl

t


ish joke

will

nostalgia of merely hearing them.

seems to be content

we have no

humor

ker jokes, luftmentsh

old folkways are disappearing and Yid ing a dead language.

is

they involve the

ial

jo)

clear that a

it is

provide results from the

int