Anti-Capitalism on the Right
A common criticism of capitalism from the alt-right, traditionalist conservatives, and paleoconservatives goes something like this: capitalism creates a decadent and materialistic culture that paves the way for the degeneration of public morality and the erosion of local communities and organic nations. Capitalism, they argue, is connected to globalism, multiculturalism, and consumerism, and thus antithetical to the goals of the right-wing. While these people usually do not explicitly advocate for outright socialism, the economic policies they prefer tend to be quite socialistic in nature. They support trade protectionism, labor unions, anti-trust legislation, and the prohibition of usury and private banking in general, viewing such policies as a measure to counteract the globalist order and materialistic culture they condemn.
Unlike leftists, however, whose economic fallacies stem from their more fundamental commitment to Marxist egalitarian ideology, the economic misunderstandings of anti-capitalist right-wingers are rooted in their misguided analysis of the very real problems they observe about modern Western society. For instance, they have bought into certain aspects of Marxist class analysis that attribute “corporate greed” and a “fixation on material wealth” as the source of society’s ills, particularly moral and cultural degeneracy. One particular source of this anti-capitalist sentiment among the right is the economic ideology known as “distributism” that was developed and popularized by Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton, two Catholic philosophers that emerged in the late 19th/early 20th century. Unlike socialists, distributists do not believe in the total abolition of private property, but similarly to leftists, they believe that the concentration and accumulation of capital in the hands of a few is inherently problematic. In the words of Chesterton himself: “too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.” That is, he believed that the concentration of capital in the hands of a few prevents the majority of people from having access to the capital they need to escape “wage slavery” and attain a more fulfilling life for themselves. He, Belloc, and modern-day distributists envision the ideal world as one dominated by small family farmers, self-employed tradesmen, and other family-owned small businesses, along with the return of medieval-style guilds and the end of large corporations, private banks, and global trade in general. There is some disagreement among modern-day distributists as to the role of government redistribution in achieving a “distributist” social order, but many (like Belloc himself in his “Essay on the Restoration of Property”) seem to prefer avoiding outright redistribution and focusing on cultural changes in addition to other types of economic “reforms” like the policies listed above. Belloc writes:
No man attempting the restoration of property, or Distributism as it is sometimes called, can say, “Here is my cut and dried plan.” You cannot do it, because it is normal to man, organic; it is not mechanical, it is not theoretical. What we can do is to advance something on the way, to propagate the idea, to propagate its results, to insist upon it here and there, in this reform and that, by blocking this abuse and that, until there shall be established in society a certain growth which will lead ultimately towards better distribution of property. We do not want, and it would be folly to attempt, and it is not human to regard, and it is futile to desire the equal distribution of property. If you have a society in which the norm, it may not even be the majority, but the determining number of men are possessed of security in what they do, producing with their personality and with their production fully secured for the future, you have established a healthy state, you have reconstructed property; and if you will consider that, doing it organically, without revolution, you may, in spite of the enormous obstacles in front of you, do the trick.
Unfortunately, Belloc and Chesterton are often quite vague on the means they would employ to achieve a distributist social order, hence the debate among modern distributists regarding the role of government interventionism. (I will later discuss a few of the most common areas where distributists would find themselves at odds with libertarianism regarding their economic views. For now, however, it will be sufficient to simply describe the ends which they wish to achieve)
Accompanying this “distributist” economic system would be a return to traditional cultural values and norms like the biological nuclear family, gender roles, Christianity in the public square, and tight-knit local communities. Distributists claim that with the end of multinational corporations, private banks, and international trade, the power of the globalist elites would be neutered and they would no longer be able to suppress and erode their cherished traditions and culture. They argue it would also allow for a more decentralized political arrangement in general, bringing economic and political decision-making back to localities and families and away from federal bureaucrats in D.C. or EU commissars in Brussels. As the distributist economist Leopold Kohr and his student E.F. Schumacher argued, “small is beautiful.” This is perhaps the central theme behind distributism and paleoconservative/traditionalist ideology in general.
The Difference From The Left
Those of you who are economically informed probably rolled your eyes at my description above, recognizing (correctly) the numerous economic fallacies upon which distributism is based. Some might even view this as a perfect example of how the left and right are all exactly the same and why right-libertarians are unprincipled compromisers for trying to reach out to “right-wing socialists.” While it’s true that many on the non-libertarian right-wing exhibit a lot of severe misunderstandings of economic theory that leads them to support ideologies such as distributism, the basis for their views is fundamentally different from that of the left, and must be considered here in our evaluation of them.
One might have noticed in my description above that distributists actually share a number of goals in common with libertarians. They view government as far too centralized, and would like to devolve political power away from central bodies like the EU and the federal apparatus in D.C. back to localities and families. They are opposed to crony capitalism and top-down trade deals like NAFTA and TPP, as well as international governing and regulatory bodies like the UN, the EU, the IMF, and the WTO. And for those of us who recognize the dangers of cultural Marxism to a libertarian social order, the distributist commitment to cultural conservatism is commendable. In short, distributists are opposed to globalism and progressivism, and thus share common enemies with libertarians.
The same cannot be said of communists on the left. Unlike the distributists, leftists are not misguided at all regarding how they would achieve their political goals. They oppose secession, nullification, and any kind of political decentralization in general because such developments would decrease the size of their territorial monopolies on ultimate decision-making and thus would make their tax/regulatory regimes easier to escape and undermine. They support multiculturalism and counterculturalism because the erosion of traditional Western culture and the destruction of the nuclear family facilitate the erosion of resistance to their radical egalitarian agenda. They support the subsidized importation of third-world migrants for the political conquest of their right-wing opponents through mass democracy. And of course, the left is virulently opposed to private property rights, particularly freedom of association (at least for white people, that is).
So what is the difference between the distributists of the right and the communists of the left? It is quite simple – distributists have at least some noble goals which are compatible with libertarianism (i.e. the decentralization of political power, the preservation of western culture, and the enabling of common men to become capitalists), but a misguided vision of how to achieve them (i.e. statist/socialist economic policies). The goals of the left, on the other hand, are diametrically opposed to libertarianism and make leftists the irreconcilable enemies of anyone who values the institution of private property.
Where Distributism Goes Wrong
While not many people today explicitly identify themselves as distributists, I find that many distributist arguments against “unregulated capitalism” are common among the non-libertarian Right in general. Therefore, it would behoove libertarians interested in reaching out to other right-wingers to familiarize themselves with these arguments so as to better understand how to deal with them with sound economic principles. There are already a number of excellent resources that deal with some of these topics, but I will give a brief overview of just a few of the major points of disagreement that distributists have with radical capitalism.
Free Trade and Globalism:
What distributists correctly associate with globalism are the various political agreements like NAFTA and TPP which are often touted as “free trade deals.” What they fail to realize about these agreements is that they are really managed trade deals involving a slew of corporate subsidies, labor and environmental regulations, all sorts of supranational infringements on national and local sovereignty in the name of “harmonization,” and sometimes even outright coercive transfers of wealth between different countries. As Hans Hermann Hoppe once said in an interview, “a free trade agreement only requires two sentences: Whatever you want to ship out, you can ship out, and whatever you want to import, you can import.”
This is far from being the case with modern-day trade agreements, which are sometimes thousands of pages long, filled with many provisions like the ones mentioned above that have absolutely nothing to do with free trade, and everything to do with the centralization of political power into the hands of supranational governing committees. A clear and present example of this is the development of the European Union, which (supposedly) originally formed to establish a “free trade zone,” but has since morphed into a superstate centered in Brussels which exerts an increasing amount of influence on the internal policies of its member states, often backed up by threats of economic sanctions. The big-government/big-business complex which is strengthened by these managed trade deals is the true source of the internationalism and political centralization which distributists dread. As Murray Rothbard pointed out,
Thus the siren-song of NAFTA is the same seductive tune by which the socialistic Eurocrats have tried to get Europeans to surrender to the super-statism of the European Community: wouldn’t it be wonderful to have North America be one vast and mighty “free trade unit” like Europe? The reality is very different: socialistic intervention and planning by a super-national NAFTA Commission or Brussels bureaucrats accountable to no one.
And just as Brussels has forced low-tax European countries to raise their taxes to the Euro-average or to expand their welfare state in the name of “fairness,” a “level playing field,” and “upward harmonization,” so too NAFTA Commissions are to be empowered to “upwardly harmonize,” to ride roughshod over labor and other laws of American state governments.
President Clinton’s trade representative Mickey Kantor has crowed that, under NAFTA, “no country in the agreement can lower its environmental standards ever.” Under NAFTA, we will not be able to roll back or repeal the environmental and labor provisions of the welfare state because the treaty will have locked us in — forever.
The worst aspects of NAFTA are the Clintonian side agreements, which have converted an unfortunate Bush treaty into a horror of international statism. We have the side agreements to thank for the supranational Commissions and their coming “upward harmonization.” The side agreements also push the foreign aid aspect of the establishment’s “free trade” hoax. They provide for the U.S. to pour an estimated $20 billion into Mexico for an “environmental cleanup” along the U.S.-Mexican border. In addition, the United States has informally agreed to pour billions into Mexican government coffers through the World Bank when and if NAFTA is signed.
As with any policy that benefits the government and its connected interests, the establishment has gone all out in its propaganda efforts on behalf of NAFTA. Its allied intellectuals have even formed networks to champion the cause of government centralization. Even if NAFTA were a worthy treaty, this outpouring of effort by the government and its friends would raise suspicions.
But what about true free trade? Would that necessarily lead to the destruction of nations and local cultures and traditions that distributists ascribe to it? This is hardly the case, if free trade really is as simple as “whatever you want to ship out, you can ship out, and whatever you want to import, you can import.” All trade would consist purely of voluntary exchanges, with none of the coercive political arrangements involved in modern-day “trade deals” that erode local sovereignty in favor of globalism. Therefore, communities, where people had a genuine interest in preserving their own culture, would face no real threat from free trade, as their in-group preferences would lead them to prioritize cultural preservation over foreign trade (for example, choosing to patronize the local businesses run by their neighbors instead of importing cheap goods from China). As for the claim that free trade destroys jobs, Georgi Vuldzhev of the Mises Institute writes,
It is true that greater competition between domestic and foreign workers can lead to a decline in wage rates and possibly unemployment in some sectors of the economy. But this is only a short-term effect. Free competition between foreign and domestic producers also naturally leads to lower prices for the goods and services which can now be freely imported from abroad. So, while nominal wage rates are pushed down in some sectors, real wage rates rise overall for everyone in the economy because of the decline in prices.
Thanks to free trade, consumers spend less money on certain goods and services and this allows them to spend more money on others, which leads to rising demand and thus profits in the sectors providing the latter, and consequently leads also to more investment by entrepreneurs. This higher rate of investment naturally leads to the creation of more jobs in these sectors and thus offsets any original rise in unemployment that might have occurred.
The rise in real wages which is facilitated by free trade, therefore, results in a lowering of time preference rates which incentivizes increased saving and investment in productive enterprises that can then create more jobs. Also, the small, local family businesses cherished by distributists would likely become much more prominent without the competition-destroying subsidies and regulations that large corporations consistently lobby for and which are major features of the trade agreements of today. All of this would be conducive to the distributist goal of having the majority of common men possess enough capital to start their own small businesses, and to the libertarian goal of protecting private property rights.
Corporations, Monopolies, and Anti-Trust Laws:
“Free market capitalism will lead to corporations taking over the world!” is a typical objection that distributists bring up when discussing economic theory with laissez-faire advocates. This argument, is, of course, based on the myth of natural monopoly, the idea that without government, certain industries would be monopolized by greedy corporations who would extort everyone with ludicrously high prices. The fear of a situation like this is perhaps one of the driving motives behind distributism – the fear of the “big” becoming so big that it drowns out the small. Some of them even point to Google and Facebook as examples of the danger of corporate power, as these companies in recent years have been known for exerting their power as de facto monopolists by de-platforming right-wing voices. Therefore, they argue, these companies and other “natural monopolies” should be regulated as public utilities.
Aside from the obvious problem that would come with government regulation of social media platforms (i.e. do we really trust US government officials to be that much more sympathetic to right-wing figures than Mark Zuckerberg?) and the fact that Google and Facebook receive billions in government subsidies (making them anything but natural monopolies), the broader issue is with the very concept of natural monopoly itself. Thomas DiLorenzo explains the economic theory as well as an extensive historical account refuting the concept in this article, which I would highly recommend reading in full. In summary:
The theory of natural monopoly is an economic fiction. No such thing as a “natural” monopoly has ever existed. The history of the so-called public utility concept is that the late 19th and early 20th century “utilities” competed vigorously and, like all other industries, they did not like competition. They first secured government-sanctioned monopolies, and then, with the help of a few influential economists, constructed an expost rationalization for their monopoly power.
This has to be one of the greatest corporate public relations coups of all time. “By a soothing process of rationalization,” wrote Horace M. Gray more than 50 years ago, “men are able to oppose monopolies in general but to approve certain types of monopolies. … Since these monopolies were ‘natural’ and since nature is beneficent, it followed that they were ‘good’ monopolies. … Government was therefore justified in establishing ‘good’ monopolies.”
As DiLorenzo retells in detail throughout the rest of the article, monopolies in electric utilities, cable television, and telephone services did not exist until the rise of government-granted monopolies to certain favored companies, as we continue to see today with the government’s ever-increasing role in picking winners and losers in the marketplace. But the real refutation of natural monopoly theory is not ultimately to be found in historical data (although history certainly helps to illustrate it) but in deductive economic reasoning which tells us that in the absence of aggressive barriers to competition, there is no way for any company to truly enforce a monopoly in its industry unless it truly is capable of satisfying customers to such a degree that it enjoys their unwavering loyalty even with competitors being able to freely enter the market. Chase Rachels explains and illustrates this argument in A Spontaneous Order:
Some commonly cited examples of these “natural monopolies” include utility providers such as gas, water, or electricity companies. The concern regarding the manifestation of such “monopolies” is that they may charge exorbitant prices with economic impunity. Should they take advantage of their position, however, there always exists potential competition which may serve to temper their behavior. For the sake of argument, however, let us assume that a single provider of a given good or service does arise. As the absence of aggressive barriers to entry into any industry is inherent in free markets, the threat of a potential competitor will be much stronger relative to the case in which the State imposes artificial barriers, and sometimes even prohibitions, on competition in various industries.
Let’s entertain the worst case scenario: A water company decides to triple its rates without a corresponding increase in the cost of production, how do market participants respond? In the first place, future, potential customers would be deterred from moving to this town due to these exorbitant rates, and current residents are incentivized to move elsewhere. This would, of course, result in a loss of business for the water company. Moreover, the consumer will be incentivized to act more conservatively with his water. Perhaps husbands and wives will take showers together, decrease how often they water the lawn, or install rainwater collectors in their backyard. How the conservation is accomplished is irrelevant. Less water will be used, and a decrease in the usage of water translates into a decrease of revenue for the water company. Worse yet, even if the water company decides to revert back to its original rates, its customers may have grown fond of these water conservation efforts and continue their practices nonetheless, thereby permanently lowering the income of this water company. However, if the water company maintains these exorbitant prices despite the preceding events, then a competing water company from the next town over may decide to move in and start operations if the benefit of an alternate provider outweighed the costs and inefficiencies of establishing redundant infrastructure. If, in response to the presence of a new competitor, the old water company decides to return to its lower rates, the customers’ trust in it will have nevertheless been undermined. Consumers may choose to switch over their services to the new water company even if it does charge marginally higher prices, so long as it can demonstrate a long history of stable and predictable prices. Furthermore, a common practice before developing any land in an area is to make contractual agreements with surrounding utility companies regarding fixed pricing. This type of reassurance will incentivize prospective developers to build homes and businesses on this land. Finally, for a water or electric company to have achieved a “monopoly” status in the first place, it would have first been required to gain the trust of their customers and to have provided a more satisfying service than their actual or potential competitors. The likelihood of this company fundamentally changing business practices that made it successful in the first place is relatively low. This is all, of course, speculative to some degree, but hopefully the hypothetical may demonstrate the means by which men and women in the market may effectively deter, prevent, and mitigate all activity that is harmful to the consumer. This same line of reasoning may be applied to any other firm that enjoys a large share of a given industry.
Similar arguments can be made to counter the case for anti-trust laws, which is also refuted by the historical record demonstrating the competition-destroying effects of these laws. Anti-trust legislation is largely based on the myth of “perfect competition,” a prime example of the Nirvana fallacy. The true nature of competition, as Austrian economists have observed, is that of a dynamic process where producers and consumers are constantly adapting to changing market signals. But the “perfect competition” model, which assumes identical products being sold by an infinite number of sellers and bought by an infinite number of buyers with each firm and customer having access to perfect information, does not reflect this at all. Instead, it reflects an imaginary world into which mainstream economists attempt to shoehorn the real world through State tinkering. As it turns out, true, dynamic market competition does not require any of the idealistic conditions of “perfect competition.” It simply requires private property rights and contracts to be well-enforced and for there to be no aggressive barriers to market entry. Therefore, large firms that form as a result of mergers pose no real threat to the survival of small businesses. Rachels explains again:
The common claim is that a large firm will take advantage of its economies of scale and lower its prices to a level that its smaller competitors cannot afford to maintain, thereby running them out of business. This “cutthroat” firm will then proceed to raise its own prices to exorbitant levels that were previously tempered by the presence of competitive forces. Without State support of monopoly privileges, however, there is always competition, whether between firms in other industries or from potential future competition. It is never possible to price one’s goods or services without taking into consideration, at the very least, the potential of future competing producers being attracted by higher selling prices.
Furthermore, the smaller businesses who can’t afford to sell their goods or services at such a low price, even temporarily, could cease operations and buy up its competitors’ now cheap goods. A smaller firm could then sit on the inventory until the larger firm decides to raise its prices back to normal levels, thus defeating the purpose of starving the small firms. This “predatory price cutting” would also allow the consumer, at least temporarily, to enjoy a discount bonanza. The money the consumer saves could then be used to satisfy various other desires, increasing his standard of living. This large “predatory” firm would, in the long run, be shooting itself in the foot by using such a foolish method to attempt to secure a greater share of the market. Moreover, even if the firm is able to offer these prices without suffering any losses then so much the better. The other businesses which fail and liquidate will free up resources to be used by more efficient firms, in either the same or a different industry. Once again, the result of this would be an overall increase in the standard of living for all consumers.
In a free market, large corporations can never truly attain the status of a monopoly, and thus can never be the threat to the small businesses, family farms, and independent tradesmen that distributists make them out to be. Rather, the dominance of these corporations that we see today can be attributed to the various government interventions in the marketplace that cripple competition to the benefit of those with the connections to influence government policy. Distributists, therefore, should not oppose large corporations in general, but rather the State-imposed barriers to market entry that stifle the efforts of entrepreneurs and small business owners. The true monopoly, after all, is the State. (Please read the “Monopolies and Cartels” and “The Corporation” chapters from A Spontaneous Order for a more detailed analysis)
For a discussion on banking and “usury,” another common area of disagreement between distributists and capitalists, see Jared Howe’s “The Alt-Right Needs To Jettison National-Socialism“.
The True Culprit: High Societal Time Preferences
So if free-market capitalism is not to blame for the ills of modern society, then what is? As was already discussed, a large portion of the blame can be attributed to the trend of political centralization which distributists rightfully condemn but wrongfully attribute to free trade and “unregulated capitalism.” However, there is another trend worth noting (and one related to the discussion on banks and interest rates in Howe’s article). Modern society in the West has seen an increasing frequency of particular social trends that reflect high rates of time preference among the general population. This is the source of what cultural conservatives recognize as degeneracy – destructive behavior motivated by the insatiable desire for instant gratification and, conversely, an unwillingness to defer gratification through productive, long-term focused, wealth-creating behavior.
What causes these institutionalized high time preferences? One obvious cause would be taxation, which is essentially a form of institutionalized theft. A “normal” case of theft by a petty criminal merely interrupts one’s time preference schedule, as it only reduces one’s present wealth without necessarily creating the expectation that one’s future wealth will be extorted on a regular basis. However, because taxation occurs regularly and legally, it does not merely interrupt one’s time preference schedule but actually changes its trajectory. Individuals under such circumstances will not only have less incentive to save in the present due to their reduced wealth, they will also be less willing to engage in wealth-creating activities in the future due to the expected return on such activities being diminished by the expectation of government extortion. Taxation, therefore, by decreasing one’s current wealth and also one’s expected future income, ends up raising one’s time preference rate and diminishing one’s capacity and incentive to save for the future. This should worry distributists greatly, because without the accumulation of savings being a common practice within the general population, how will they achieve their desired social order where the majority of individuals are able to own their own enterprises? For it is not government “stimulus” or wealth redistribution that creates economic growth, but the process of capital accumulation and investment in capital goods that allows civilization to develop, and it was this process which created the Western civilization in particular that distributists wish to preserve.
A more subtle and insidious form of institutionalized theft is monetary inflation. When the state artificially increases the money supply of its fiat currency, the value of the currency eventually decreases. Those who receive the new money first (usually commercial banks and other financial institutions) benefit the most from it because they are allowed to spend the money before prices can rise in adjustment to the increased money supply. Everyone else suffers, particularly the poor and middle-class who see the value of their savings eviscerated over time. This perhaps exerts an even stronger upward pressure on time preference rates because one actively becomes poorer under an inflationary regime if one chooses to “sit” on his resources. Thus, not only is one discouraged from saving for future productive endeavors, but he is also encouraged to engage in short-term consumption, leading to the decadent, materialistic culture bemoaned by distributists – or invest in the stock market, which in the absence of sound money cannot accurately provide market signals, thus posing a significant risk to investors. Furthermore, inflation encourages people to make riskier investments because if they’re not getting a high enough return on their investment, then they will become poorer over time due to the depreciation of the currency. This in turn likewise contributes to a more materialistic culture because it forces people to be constantly thinking about and watching the value of their stocks. Under a sound-money regime, however, where the currency is commodity-backed and cannot be inflated into oblivion, people will be more confident in their ability to retain the value of what they are saving and will have both a greater incentive to save and will also be less inclined to think about their wealth constantly, leading to a more frugal and less materialistic culture. If distributists are truly concerned about materialism, their true enemies are the central banks whose inflationary policies create the conditions that artificially encourage it.
A third source of this institutionalized high time preference is democracy. While most distributists oppose democracy and support traditional Christian monarchies, they tend to do so purely based on their devotion to historical Western tradition and do not understand the economic reasons for the failure of democracy. For a full explanation of the economic theory behind this, Hans Hermann Hoppe’s “Democracy: the God That Failed” is an absolute must-read. Hoppe explains in the first few chapters how democratically elected leaders exhibit higher time preferences than monarchs due to their role as “temporary caretakers” of the government estate rather than permanent, dynastic owners like monarchs are. Monarchs, therefore, will have a stronger incentive to look after the long term good of the country. This is especially true given the knowledge that his throne will be passed onto his chosen heir (typically his firstborn son), as this causes the monarch to extend his time-preference schedule beyond the span of his own lifetime. Democratic rulers, on the other hand, operate under a much shorter time preference schedule with their constant need to pander to voting blocs for election and reelection. As Thomas Sowell once said,
No one will really understand politics until they understand that politicians are not trying to solve our problems. They are trying to solve their own problems — of which getting elected and re-elected are number one and number two. Whatever is number three is far behind.
The democratic ruler, therefore, will tend to favor policies that will make him popular in the short run (e.g. promising free stuff by looting the productive members of society) without much regard to long-term consequences. (If you doubt this, ask yourself how the US government has ended up twenty trillion dollars in debt. Was there ever a monarchy in history that has accrued this much debt?) Not only does democracy encourage higher time preferences in politicians, but also in the general population. The whole concept of democracy, after all, is to allow everyone to participate in government. After all, monopolies are bad, and we wouldn’t want a monopoly on government access, would we? Sounds reasonable, unless one realizes the true implications of this. Hoppe explains in an article:
Free entry and competition in the production of goods is good, but free competition in the production of bads is not. Free entry into the business of torturing and killing innocents, or free competition in counterfeiting or swindling, for instance, is not good; it is worse than bad. So what sort of “business” is government? Answer: it is not a customary producer of goods sold to voluntary consumers. Rather, it is a “business” engaged in theft and expropriation — by means of taxes and counterfeiting — and the fencing of stolen goods. Hence, free entry into government does not improve something good. Indeed, it makes matters worse than bad, i.e., it improves evil.
Since man is as man is, in every society people who covet others’ property exist. Some people are more afflicted by this sentiment than others, but individuals usually learn not to act on such feelings or even feel ashamed for entertaining them. Generally only a few individuals are unable to successfully suppress their desire for others’ property, and they are treated as criminals by their fellow men and repressed by the threat of physical punishment. Under princely government, only one single person — the prince — can legally act on the desire for another man’s property, and it is this which makes him a potential danger and a “bad.”
However, a prince is restricted in his redistributive desires because all members of society have learned to regard the taking and redistributing of another man’s property as shameful and immoral. Accordingly, they watch a prince’s every action with utmost suspicion. In distinct contrast, by opening entry into government, anyone is permitted to freely express his desire for others’ property. What formerly was regarded as immoral and accordingly was suppressed is now considered a legitimate sentiment. Everyone may openly covet everyone else’s property in the name of democracy; and everyone may act on this desire for another’s property, provided that he finds entrance into government. Hence, under democracy everyone becomes a threat.
Consequently, under democratic conditions the popular though immoral and anti-social desire for another man’s property is systematically strengthened. Every demand is legitimate if it is proclaimed publicly under the special protection of “freedom of speech.” Everything can be said and claimed, and everything is up for grabs. Not even the seemingly most secure private property right is exempt from redistributive demands. Worse, subject to mass elections, those members of society with little or no inhibitions against taking another man’s property, that is, habitual a-moralists who are most talented in assembling majorities from a multitude of morally uninhibited and mutually incompatible popular demands (efficient demagogues) will tend to gain entrance in and rise to the top of government. Hence, a bad situation becomes even worse.
That is, democracy reinforces the immoral and anti-social desire for other people’s property. This desire is reflective of a more basic desire for instant gratification and the unwillingness to acquire property ethically, which usually requires one to defer gratification through hard work and prudent saving. Thus, with democracy, we see the gradual degeneration of a society of upright, diligent, and frugal individuals into a society of indolent, lazy, entitled, and consumeristic individuals, with all the accompanying social and political maladies, as Hoppe explains in detail here in the first chapter of “Democracy: the God That Failed”:
From the perspective of economic theory, the end of World War I can be identified as the point in time at which private government ownership [i.e. monarchy] was completely replaced by public government ownership [i.e. democracy], and from which a tendency toward rising degrees of social time preference, government growth, and an attending process of decivilization should be expected to have taken off. Indeed, as indicated in detail above, such has been the grand underlying theme of twentieth century Western history. Since 1918, practically all indicators of high or rising time preferences have exhibited a systematic upward tendency: as far as government is concerned, democratic republicanism produced communism (and with this public slavery and government sponsored mass murder even in peacetime), fascism, national socialism and, lastly and most enduringly, social democracy (‘liberalism”). Compulsory military service has become almost universal, foreign and civil wars have increased in frequency and in brutality, and the process of political centralization has advanced further than ever. Internally, democratic republicanism has led to permanently rising taxes, debts, and public employment. It has led to the destruction of the gold standard, unparalleled paper-money inflation, and increased protectionism and migration controls. Even the most fundamental private law provisions have been perverted by an unabating flood of legislation and regulation. Simultaneously, as regards civil society, the institutions of marriage and family have been increasingly weakened, the number of children has declined, and the rates of divorce, illegitimacy, single parenthood, singledom, and abortion have increased. Rather than rising with rising incomes, savings rates have been stagnating or even falling. In comparison to the nineteenth century, the cognitive prowess of the political and intellectual elites and the quality of public education have declined. And the rates of crime, structural unemployment, welfare dependency, parasitism, negligence, recklessness, incivility, psychopathy, and hedonism have increased.
The trends which Hoppe describes here, of course, should be familiar to distributists. Like most cultural conservatives in general, they recognize the symptoms, but not the cause of society’s ills. Cultural Marxism and degeneracy are very real problems that threaten to destroy civilization as we know it. But until their root cause – the institutionalization of high societal time preferences – is dealt with, society and culture will continue to decay, and the process of civilization will be reversed into the process of decivilization – that is, if that reversal has not occurred already.
Free trade, free markets, and even large corporations are not inherent enemies of cultural preservation and tradition, contrary to what distributists believe. At the same time, the goals of distributists are not necessarily antithetical to the private property norms embraced by libertarians. Ultimately, the greatest obstacle preventing the right-wing social order desired by both distributists and right-libertarians is the state, and its market-stifling, property-violating, time preference-raising policies. Culturally conservative libertarians who wish to undermine the state would do well to educate fellow right-wingers on the true causes of societal degeneracy and how private property norms can remedy them.
Right-wing ends, through libertarian means.