Thursday, December 02, 2004

Left-Wing Creationism

Don Boudreaux makes one of those points that's so good, and so clearly correct, that it prompts me to think, "Damn, I wish I'd said that first!"
When creationist thinking today is applied to the astrophysical, geophysical, and biological parts of the world, almost all members of the “reality-based community” (as modern American leftists are now fond of calling themselves) reject it as simplistic, baseless, and thoroughly at odds with scientific thought. “Only red-state yokels blinded by religion believe in creationism and reject natural selection!”

But the bluest blue-state left-“liberal” atheist oughtn’t be too quick with the self-congratulatory praise of his or her own rational faculties. Most left-liberals are pure creationists when it comes to society and social order. For them, government is the creator of order – of high wages, of safe working conditions, of safe food and drink, of fair prices, of good education, of trustworthy physicians, accountants, and butchers, of peace, commerce, culture, and civility itself.
The reality, as Boudreaux explains, is that all these things result from the spontaneous order of human action. The state can certainly affect the character and results of the order, but it does not create it.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the interesting comments and the link!

Because you are well-mannered and respectful of your elders (in spite of what the twits who think ill of your rebellious littering say), you didn't mention what prompted Mr. Boudreaux to write that piece which was his contempt for the new book about FDR and the New Deal by Prof. Cass Sunstein.

What gets me is not Mr. Boudreaux's (or your) politically beliefs, but the recent frequent attempts to blame FDR's moderate, conservative, incomplete attempts to get this country out of the Great Depression. I thought that most mainstream economists agree that the government "invested" too little in public works etc. which prolonged the persistent economic malaise. Massive government spending for WWII cliched the argument as to what created full-employment and economic renewal in most learned minds.

I can understand attacking FDR's New Deal at the margin but to tear the whole thing down completely sounds to me like historical revisionism. And, we know what historical revisionists say about the holocaust--it never happened!

--I'm still happening. (Sorry!)

Glen Whitman said...

ISH -- Sorry, but I have to side with Boudreaux and the "revisionists" on this one, especially since the revisionist version is pretty much the conventional wisdom among people with economics training. About the best than can be said of FDR is that he was a good "cheerleader" during the Depression, because his New Deal policies almost assuredly made it worse. Shutting down banks, creating industrial monopolies, paying farmers to grow less food, and driving up wages (and hence driving down employment) through government-sponsored unionization are *not* ways to get your country out of a depression. On the contrary, they are prescriptions for economic stagnation. Notice that the Depression lingered on for at least nine more years after FDR took office -- although, admittedly, a large chunk of the blame goes to the Federal Reserve as well. If a recession lasted nine years under any modern president (which is no longer possible because of terms limits, of course), he would be considered a disaster. As for infrastructure, yes, it's important, but no economist I know of has ever blamed the Depression on insufficient investment in infrastructure. The Depression resulted from really poor monetary policy combined with protectionist policies (the Smoot-Hawley tariff), and recovery was delayed by more bad monetary policy combined with the New Deal.

Anonymous said...

Um... I find this statement extremely bizarre, in light of well-documented cases of unsafe food, dangerous factories, and snake-oil medicine, followed by scandals and government regulation that to a large extent fixed the problems in question.

While the government is not exclusively responsible for these changes, and there are obviously complex social phenomena that affect and very often undermine government initiatives, it seems that this is a strawman argument hinging on stereotypes of "liberalism" that exist only in the minds of certain conservatives. I know of very few educated liberals that don't have a full appreciation of the complexities of government regulation.

One could just as easily replace "liberal" with "libertarian", and switch the places of "government" with "spontaneous order of human action" and you'd have a much better argument. I see a lot more fundamentalist naivite among libertarians than I do among liberals.

So, unlike you, I find this argument rather tired and pointless. To see you hold this up as a paragon of quality thought is rather disillusioning.

Anonymous said...

Yes, everything I've read agrees with you that the Smoot-Hawley tariff didn't help matters. You were talking over my head but that's not your fault. The funny thing is that when the federal government was far smaller than it is today, tariffs were the means by which the feds raised revenue because there was no income tax. Just for my edification, would you please explain how (economically trained)libertarians like you view how a limited government ought to be funded--a national lottery, perhaps?! Thanks, Glen.


Glen Whitman said...

Anon -- Hold on, I thought we were talking about the New Deal here! Now you're bringing up lots of other stuff, like food and drug regulation, workplace safety, etc. None of that -- or at least very little -- was part of the New Deal. The New Deal consisted of exactly the initiatives I mentioned earlier -- shutting down banks, paying farmers not to farm, forcing industries to monopolize, etc.

I'm willing to have a debate about those other topics (food, drugs, workplace safety), because I think there's a strong case against those gov't programs, too. But for the current topic, they're totally irrelevant. The New Deal was bad economics all around.

Anonymous said...

It's not my understanding that the liberals are 'creationists' when it comes to social order. We give policy makers 'power'(by voting) to institute certain laws to better serve society. I certainly am glad that the gov't plays a crucial part enforcing order as long as it doesn't step over the boundaries of individual liberty. Although I believe firmly in individual responsibility, I sure as am glad that certain laws are in place to protect and benefit citizens. For instance drug war; although i am in favor or legalizing marijuana, i am glad that cocaine is illegal. If it wasn't I(although doubtful) may want to just try it once and thus get addicted, as easily as I started drinking. And I sure am glad that there workplace safety laws in place and that the dark ages of horrible workplace is diminishing; as well as the FDA regulations on screening for harmful meds. I don't understand how people can benefit from this state and say privatise everyting--ie:education, when the public school has produced some mighty fine contributors of soceity as yourself and and many other greats of society (nobel prize winners etc).
And as far as liberals thinking the gov't as creators of high wages, fair wages, physicians, accountants, etc -- i don't think we think that gov't creates these, for the most part these are fairly independent of the gov't. I don't think that the liberals doubt that these are spontaenous order of human action. Liberals don't see gov't as creators either, but rather facilitators to bring order for the good of society b/c God knows how much we can trust human beings to retain fair practices.

Blar said...

I would hardly consider liberals to be "pure creationists" who see the government as an "uncaused cause" (to use Boudreaux's words). The government is very much a caused cause, and liberals try to make it a better government (according to their definitions of "better"). Liberals also realize that, historically speaking, government came to exist long after other forms of human interaction.

I don't think that many liberals claim that there would be no order, commerce, peace, culture, civility, trustworthy professionals, or safe products without government. I think that the common liberal belief is that, without proper government, there would be less peace, more untrustworthy professionals, more unsafe products, more disorder, etc. in our society. Good government can make all of these things better, though perhaps not perfect. There are certainly plenty of examples of these problems, and of the influence of the government on their severity. Some liberals may overestimate the efficacy of government and underestimate the success of spontaneous individual action, and some people may tend to judge erroneously in the opposite direction, but I think that most everyone recognizes that both are important.

I don't see a very close analogy with creationism, which denies an extremely well-supported scientific theory and posits a causal mechanism for which there is no evidence. Everyone has their illusions about what causes what. Creationists are a particularly egregious example, but I don't think that liberals stand out in that area.