March 15, 2010
Pelosi and Marx on 'Freedom'
Nancy Pelosi wants to give birth to a new kind of freedom in America -- the freedom from being "job-locked."
In an interview with Rachel Maddow Thursday evening, Pelosi asked Americans to "think" about a bright, new, liberating kind of utopia:
Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer, a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance. Or that people could start a business and be entrepreneurial and take risks, but not be job-locked because a child has a child has asthma or diabetes or someone in the family is bipolar. You name it, any condition is job-locking.
Maddow was so overwhelmed and smitten with Pelosi's remarks that she posted the interview on her website under the following title: "Finally! Pelosi frames health reform for the win. (Hint: It's about freedom.)"
The problem with Pelosi's remarks, however, is that from hindsight, they are not bright, new, or liberating. On the contrary, almost identical words were penned over a hundred years ago by another champion of economic "freedom": Karl Marx. Marx criticized the private economy because it led to the "renunciation of life and of human needs."
Like Pelosi, Marx was deeply troubled by an economic system that left most people job-locked and unable to satisfy their "human need" to become more authentic. In other words, the more you have to work, said Marx, "the less you eat, drink, buy books, go to the theater or to balls, or to the public house, and the less you think, love, theorize, sing, paint, fence, etc."
Marx chastised the middle class in England for being "so incurably debased by self-interest" and thirsty for a "quick profit" that they were incapable of recognizing the alienation from their true selves. Communist society, then, was the cure that could liberate us from our false selves and usher in a new kind of creativity and authenticity. Says Marx:
[C]ommunist society ... regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, as the spirit moves me ..."
This kind of sheer lunacy could have been hatched only by an unemployed academic and journalist like Marx, who, by the way, was supported financially in his authentically job-liberated struggle against capitalism by his wealthy colleague Friedrich Engels. What's most disturbing is the number of wild-eyed crusaders, both then and now, who have fallen for Marx's creative definition of "freedom."
As for that nagging issue of just how "communist society" will "regulate the general production" after the socialist revolution, Engels had this to say:
The community will have to calculate what it can produce with the means at its disposal; and in accordance with the relationship of this productive power to the mass of consumers it will determine how far it has to raise or lower production.
In other words, leave it to the "community" (government) to worry about levels of production and consumption in order for the newly liberated and formerly "job-locked" citizens to pursue their lifelong dreams of being artists, writers, or photographers.
Friedrich Hayek wrote about this subtle shift in the word "freedom" over sixty years ago. He argued that as socialists began coming under fire for promoting servitude and control, they made the creative decision to harness to their "cart the strongest of all political motives -- the craving for freedom." For Hayek,
The subtle change in meaning to which the word ‘freedom' was subjected in order that this argument sound plausible is important. To the great apostles of political freedom the word had meant freedom from coercion, freedom from the arbitrary power of other men, release from the ties which left the individual no choice but obedience to the orders of a superior to whom he was attached.
For the socialists, however, "before man could be truly free, the 'despotism of physical want' had to be broken, the ‘restraints of the economic system' relaxed." For Hayek, this new definition of freedom was simply "another name for the old demand for an equal distribution of wealth."
Hayek asks a fascinating question that each and every American needs to consider before deciding whether to return any Obamacare-supporting politician to power this fall:
Who can seriously doubt ... that the power which a multi-millionaire, who may be my neighbor and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest [bureaucrat] possess who wields the coercive power of the state and on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work?
Nancy Pelosi's theory of "economic freedom," you see, requires legions of new bureaucrats wielding the power of the state so that you can be liberated from your inauthentic, job-locked selves. If we take freedom in its true meaning -- as freedom from coercion -- we see instantly, however, that indeed, I am less coerced by a neighboring millionaire than by the tiniest government bureaucrat deciding where and when I can see a doctor, go to school, or become job-locked.
Years ago, before he died, I asked my father what he liked most about working in the home-building industry. After having been "job-locked" in the housing industry for over twenty years, he told me the following: "For me, the best thing of all is seeing a new family move into one of our homes."
My father wasn't a writer or an artist, but he was a kind, decent, hardworking man who loved his job and his family. Rather than struggle against the system and neglect his children like Marx did, my father felt it was part of his job, not the government's, to take care of his family -- including our health care.
Sounds pretty authentic to me.