CAPITALISM IN A FREE SOCIETY
For Your Country
When President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country," he was not proposing an American version of "Deutschland uber alles." His rather inane statement was a weak attempt to resurrect something that apparently has died in this country. He was trying to fan the last dying embers of something that Americans often feel is now passe, that is out of fashion with a "Me" generation, and that Milton Friedman lends his hand to snuffing out completely in his book, "Capitalism and Freedom." That something which is all but extinguished in this land is Love of Country. Not worship, but just an affection that will lead to action on behalf of one's native land, its people and its institutions.
yet, interestingly, the "love of country" line has been largely appropriated by conservatives (the farther right they go, the more they love their country). reminds me of a bumper sticker i saw: "i love my country; i fear my government". the idea of loving one's country has shifted from a general concern for the society's well-being to harboring a fear of the government--as well, fostering resentment of the united nations and other multi-national bodies.
Yes, but if it is a legitimate idea, I'm sure you would agree that we would not want to abandon it just because the conservatives embrace it. Nevertheless, there are some questions that arise connected with military service, etc. But that is treated in a later "implementation" chapter, and perhaps we should go into that there.
oh, i don't mean we should abandon it. on the contrary; i think the best route for progressives to take is direct encounter. steal the conservatives' buzzwords right out from under them. not only "love of country", but "family", "american way", etc. of course, progressives would have to be clear on what they mean by "love of country"; it should imply some sort of obligation of service (not military service, necessarily), some sort of healthy relationship to our fellow citizens, that sort of thing. not jingoistic, by any means. love our country, but don't hate what's beyond our borders, or some such.Eyler
Friedman says that the second half of Kennedy's statement "implies that government is the master or the deity, the citizen, the servant or the votary.John
what is this straw man doing here? isn't friedman supposed to be some sort of rational, logical being? apparently not. why argue when you can dismiss? there's no implication of subjugation or even selflessness; kennedy was promoting a volunteerist mindset.Eyler
It's almost like it is a plot to separate individuals from their country, to convince them that they have no interests in common.
"To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them." (p. 1) To Friedman, the country is nothing more than a bunch of individuals whose only concern is their individual self-interests. But in his lack of allegiance to his native land, Mr. Friedman is confused on at least two issues: The first is the difference between government and country. The second is the idea that the country is nothing more than "the collection of individuals who compose it."
pace, margaret thatcher! kind of like saying that a car is nothing more than its component parts. the analogy is weak in that the "parts" of country (i.e., individuals) are autonomous, while car parts are not; however, it remains true when we consider that for both a car and a country to operate, some guiding principle is necessary. in the case of one, it requires nothing more than a driver; in the case of the other, some administrative body. without the organizing principle, you only have a pile of car parts, you only have a spatially-delimited grouping of individuals (but are spatial boundaries really viable in friedman's conception of "country"? i think not). "country", in common parlance, refers more to geographic simultaneity; it implies a common history, common ideals, and common goals.
first thing friedman takes for granted: natural rights. without going into an argument over the nature of rights, it will suffice to say that our rights are not immutable and self-evident. rights are secured with power; in the united states this power is entrusted to the people (in order to check possible abuses of power by the state or other entities). apparently friedman thinks that because our rights are written down on a piece of parchment, they are necessarily eternal and inviolable. we have the constitution; what do we need government for? government serves as an organizing principle, which defends and supports our rights. do citizens have rights over corporations? of course; but what other body is capable of dealing with large corporations than the government (possibly a rival corporation, but profits will tend to replace principle as a motive). and so forth.
As a Jeffersonian, I would agree that our rights are not immutable and self-evident in practice. As Jefferson originally wrote the Declaration of Independence, he did not use the term, "self-evident." He wrote, "We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable..." and this was changed by Benjamin Franklin to "self-evident." But I think that this whole portion of the Declaration refers to an INTELLECTUAL recognition that our rights are an immutable part of our nature, like flight is an immutable part of an eagle's nature. Put the eagle in a cage, and flight may be a part of his nature, but it won't take him anywhere. Intellectually, we can say that our rights are self-evident and immutable; but it takes more than merely their recognition to secure their enjoyment. It takes the exertion of political power, just as political power can be used to prevent their enjoyment.John
worthwhile distinction. our views coincide, then; my emphasis is on the security of rights through power, and not so much on the ontological actuality of rights, natural or otherwise.
i have, pretty much, a communitarian view of rights. so i still wouldn't insist on natural rights. this matter isn't very important though. we both agree that the protection of rights requires power. that's the important point.Eyler
As Jefferson states it,
"The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." --Thomas Jefferson: Rights of British America, 1774. Papers, 1:135John
another thing: individualism. individuals in this country (where the use of threats and brute force is frowned upon) can only succeed in strong social networks (sometimes through manipulation and deceit, sometimes through charm and rhetoric). the strength of the economy depends more on the great mass of consumers and workers than on the few CEO's and managers. certainly, the top brass serve to harmonize operations, and often are the driving force behind improvements in worker or production efficiency, but the simple fact remains that production and profit depend ultimately on the worker and consumer. further, such things as money, wealth, and status are social constructs; i needn't elaborate, though.
Yes! This recognition seemed to have been a long time in arriving, but it now seems to be fully recognized that there can be no thriving economy without thriving consumers. In fact, as we speak, there appears to be an economic trauma working itself out in those low-wage Asian countries that built their economies on supplying the American consumer market, but that did little to develop a market among their own workers.John
this goes beyond common sense. you don't even need to think to realize this fact. just need real-life experience. you do need to think a lot to rationalize this fact away, though.
It is, as they say, a "no-brainer." Even Henry Ford paid his workers the then-unheard-of wage of $5.00 per day so they would be able to buy his cars.John
yeah, but ford also had his negative points. supposedly, he kept such a close eye on his workers that they couldn't drink alcohol in their own homes without fear of being fired. i've got some references on this point, which i need to find again. this is basically what huxley's "brave new world" is about.Eyler
I wasn't trying to praise Ford; only to say that he recognized that it was necessary to pay workers a decent wage if they were to become active consumers.John
just additional information. like ford was also an anti-semite. it's just fun to point these things out.
this is how i see capitalism: to survive, capitalism requires a constant money growth; this means that a constant increase in both the number of consumers and the amount of consumption per consumer is needed; unfortunately for capitalists, consumer needs don't change (although the total number of consumers will of course increase--to a point); therefore it is up to the capitalists, who want to survive, to convince consumers that they have more and more needs; thus, advertising. economics is more about advertising, i think, than maximizing gains and minimizing expenditures, or some such. i can't remember the exact quote, but i agree that there are two routes to achieve happiness: we can either work hard for high expectations, or we can have low expectations. i pretty much prefer the second option. i don't see myself as "needing" a computer (when i can use the school's or a library's), a fancy car, fashionable clothing (notice how fashion changes constantly, ensuring the continual consumption of what is "fashionable"), fancy appliances, a big house, 200 cable channels, digital television, etc., etc. all i need is food, shelter, a means of transportation, books and music. i can live on $10,000 a year, no problem.Eyler
Hey! I'm pretty much the same. I am perfectly content, living on an income that most would consider near the poverty line. I don't have a car (live in an extremely convenient neighborhood), have a little TV, but mostly watch only Charlie Rose. I have a computer, because that is the only way I could have access to one.John
if i had more wants (and more expensive wants), then i'd "need" more money, and work more; this is precisely what allows capitalist economies to grow. the needs of a population will be filled relatively quickly (even with the constant influx of new consumers; in most capitalist countries, net population growth is close to zero), so capitalists have to focus on the wants. kind of a vicious cycle, and one i much prefer not being a part of.
take this as an example: what would happen to the us economy if americans stopped listening to advertisers, only took care of their needs (and ignored their wants--which in a large part are determined by advertisers), and resorted to self-sufficient farming and bartering? of course it would collapse--instantly. the "men of mind", the egoistic architects, the capitalists, would all suddenly find themselves without wealth, status, and superiority.Eyler
Exactly. We may be individuals, but as a nation, as a country, we are all interdependent. We can pretend that is not so, but we only fool ourselves. And this interdependence is the basis for such things as patriotism and love of country. As Macauley wrote:
"The feeling of patriotism, when society is in a healthful state, springs up, by a natural and inevitable association, in the minds of citizens who know that they owe all their comforts and pleasures to the bond which unites them in one community. But, under a partial and oppressive government, these associations cannot acquire that strength which they have in a better state of things." --Thomas Babington Macaulay, "Civil Disabilities of the Jews."
The libertarian political ideology seems intent on undermining this bond which unites us all into one community, and which is ultimately responsible for the life that we as individuals are able to enjoy.John
just like a species. our successes or failures as individuals have little impact on the success or failure of our species; however, if our species should fail, then we all will. same with nations. if i go bankrupt or win the lottery or something, it won't have any effect on the country. but if the country goes bankrupt (which it can't, but this is just an example), all my $$$, my bonds, etc., would be worth nothing.
now, of course the success of the species or nation will depend on a certain minimum number of its component individual members succeeding. so, nation depends on individuals; individuals depend on nation. pretty simple. but remember that it relies on a mass of individuals--a certain critical number--and not on individuals per se.
Government is the administration arm of the country, responsible to its people. Country is far more than the government that manages its affairs. It is what our Founding Fathers made great sacrifices for. It is what millions of men and women have died for. It is what Jefferson referred to when he wrote:
"Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than life." --Thomas Jefferson to T. J. Grotjan, 1824.
sounds like a good rule in general. i personally have problems with loving anything more than my own life (unless it's someone else's life, but i don't have to worry about that right now); it's easy to transcend "love of country" for some sort of fetishism. country-fetishism turns into nationalism; i think the problem lies in the wording "your country". depending on who reads this, they might think "your" refers specifically to white, christian males. "country" becomes less a reality than a transcendental ideal, or some remote yet achievable paradise (once we get rid of all the immigrants, atheists, and so on). it's like saying "a real man will defend his property with his life". i suppose, but then i'm driven to ask: if a man is willing to die for his property, which is the real "owner"? see below, though:Eyler
Jefferson did not write, "Love your government more than life," and the shallowness and poverty of Friedman's view is revealed when we make the same substitution of "government" for "country" in Jefferson's statement that Friedman made in his own. Country refers to the whole that government is supposed to serve.
but for friedman, there is no country--no society, no collective in any sense of the term. there are only individuals (but, we may assume, corporations as well). to love one's country, "more than life" itself, then, is a form of sacrifice (for friedman) to an imaginary ideal. that sort of sentiment, even coming from jefferson, won't do anything to sway friedman's beliefs; all we can do is go after his underlying principles, show where he's wrong, and then perhaps we can introduce sentiment.Eyler
What Friedman refuses to see is that our country is much more than the collection of component egos that live here, just as the whole is so often more than just a collection of parts. But with any organic whole, its functioning is of an entirely different order than that of the separate parts.John
this is a primal problem. it stems from the western tradition towards reductionism. it's been with us from the beginning. first, you had teleology; everything could be reduced to god. now, everything can (supposedly) be reduced to physics. i think hierarchical theories of reality come closer to the truth, though. certainly, everything humans do is dependent, ultimately, on physics, but can physical laws alone explain our politics, art, or culture? i don't think so. why? a simple reason: there are more "laws" in biology than in physics. certainly, biological laws are based on physical laws, but contingency (necessary and sufficient conditions) change from world of physics to the world of biology. plus, biological systems are more complex than physics systems; a human being constitutes more than the sum of its quarks. on top of that, humans are considered to be "plastic"; i.e., we are capable of learning from our experiences and applying that knowledge to decision-making. this means humans are not completely deterministic, though they may be in part. this extends to country. just as humans are more than the subatomic particles of which we are built, countries are more than the individual humans; just as humans are plastic, so are countries, though at a greater scale. and, of course, it's a given that large bodies of people have definite abilities that individual people do not.Eyler
There is a sentiment prevalent in this nation that takes for granted all the benefits we enjoy from our mutual association, that may recognize our heritage of freedom and may enjoy the progress and mode of existence that America represents, but that says "It is here only for my taking -- I owe it nothing, except to get for myself whatever I need or want."John
here we return to taking things for granted. how easily we forget that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. freedom is not guaranteed, no matter what the constitution says; it would be a relatively simply matter to turn this country into a military autocracy (first step: congress adds an amendment to the constitution stating that only former military personnel may hold seats in government, and that only military personnel may vote. the general populace might disagree with this, but what can they do? come next election, only the military may vote). it's little more than a lack of historical appreciation. americans today take for granted their place in history.Eyler
What you cite is a theoretical possibility, but I think we would be saved from such an outcome by the balance of powers, i.e., the necessity to have amendments approved by the States. Nevertheless, there are less drastic changes in government that can be introduced and that are before the Congress this very moment! Things like the Flag Desecration Amendment and the Religious Freedom Amendment would introduce incremental changes aimed at destroying the First Amendment liberties we now enjoy.
certainly, it was just a hypothetical example. simply pointing out how easy it would be for something like that to occur--even employing the democratic process! and it only requires 2/3 of the states to pass amendments, correct?Eyler
2/3 of the House and Senate, 3/4 of the States.John
i don't think it would be too hard to accomplish, but it would require a great deal of planning and organization. someone would likely expose it before it got too far. the point is that it requires "constant vigilance" to prevent such abuses of power from happening. "the people" can't just rely on our elected officials to look out for our interests; we have to show them that we are paying attention to what is going on, and that they'd better act in our interests if they want to get re-elected.
the problem is complacency. people get the sense that they can't do anything to influence what happens in D.C., so of course they don't get involved (except when something like a presidential sex scandal breaks out). i don't think it's defeatism; people would of course start acting up if a war began or the economy started to falter. but, in general, under prosperous, peaceful conditions, the great mass of people don't see any need to be active.Eyler
It reminds me of union activity, which I studied for a college course once. Ordinary, routine union meetings are attended by a half-dozen or so of the members. But when a strike vote is to be taken, 98% of the work force shows up.
Friedman is the spokesman for the individualistic view, the underminer of any attachment that goes beyond personal interests. To him, the country has no goals and no purposes outside those which are the common denominator of the goals and purposes of this bunch of alienated individuals that call themselves Americans. The functioning of the whole, and the contributions that each individual part makes toward that functioning, are not a part of Friedman's system.
well of course the country has goals and purposes. the country, like any entity, is inherently self-interested and motivated by self-preservation. same thing with corporations (does friedman claim that they don't exist?). these are nodes of power; power is a gravitational force (meaning that larger bodies of power draw smaller bodies into their center). it's not a bad or good thing; that's just the way it is. monopolies are a naturally tendency in economics; bureaucracy is a natural tendency in politics. interestingly, though, the rise of bureaucracy is really tied to the rise of monopoly, and not to self-serving politicians (who, in order to be really self-serving, must also serve the interests of the powerful). industries have a tenuous grip on their power; hence, they enlist the powers of the state to strengthen that grip. why is the tax code so complicated? is it so the IRS can get more money from the average taxpayer? no; it's because of the number of loopholes that have been written into it.Eyler
Kennedy was not trying to turn citizens into servants or worshipers of a Nation-God; he was merely trying to say that you should love your country enough to ask what you can do to help it prosper and flourish, and not think in terms that Friedman would have you think: that the only thing that counts is what you can get out of it for yourself, that the only benefits that matter are what you can extract from this association with your fellow inhabitants for your own personal good. He was appealing to his fellow Americans to adopt a broader view: to enlarge their self- concerns to include those of their fellow man and their fellow citizen, and to ask, "What can I do for the whole community?" It is this concern that is the measure of union and community and nationhood.
exactly: a volunteerist mindset. friedman's tactic is apparent: he can lie outright, misrepresent kennedy's position, in order to gain supporters. this is no objective analysis on friedman's part; he obviously has interests at stake, and in order to defend those interests he must resort to the manipulation of other people's arguments. it's pretty typical, really. it's done all the time, by people of all political colors, when it comes to the words of our "founding fathers".
interesting how you find alexander hamilton in both conservative and liberal political readers. the issue here is simplification and differentiation. friedman needs an "us vs. them" paradigm to make his system appealing. paint "them" as statists, bureaucrats, nation-gods, etc., and who wouldn't want to be a part of "us"? you see this all the time; be wary of anyone who starts their argument with "the liberals" or "the conservatives" (i think this is more acceptable for libertarians and communists, as they tend to be more consistent in their beliefs).