Posts Tagged coercive

From Contract to Cooperation: In Family and in Business

Love and Economics, Jennifer Roback Morse

The subject of contracts is not particularly sexy, which is part of the reason I’d like to talk about contracts—and how we might reach beyond them.

In one sense, we have come to ignore, downplay, or disregard the value of contracts. Across the world, we continuously see grand planners like Jeffrey Sachs trying to impose markets and social stability with the flick of their wands, paying little attention to cultural factors like trust and property rights or the institutions required to make contracts mean something. Similarly, here in America, our government seems increasingly bent on diluting or subverting our most fundamental agreements, whether between husband and wife or Foreclosed Billy and his bank.

Yet in other areas, we are overly contract-minded, particularly when it enables us to slack off or lead predictable, controllable lives. Our default setting as humans is to pursue the minimum amount of work for the maximum reward—to put in our 40 hours, shrug our shoulders, and say, “that’s that.” Take the recent union battles in Wisconsin, where protestors proudly insist that their gripes aren’t about the money, but rather, securing a specialized right to privilege and protection. If such an alarming display of entitlement and self-obsessed insulation-seeking isn’t adequate evidence of our new-found comfort level with legalistic, minimum-effort thinking and living, I don’t know what is.

Contracts certainly play an important role in ordering our affairs—as indicated in my preliminary jab at Mr. Sachs—but we mustn’t forget that they can only take us so far. We may indeed need to establish some minimums in our commitment-making (and enforce them accordingly), but that needn’t mean that the minimum is all we aim to achieve.

This is an issue that progressives, conservatives, and libertarians consistently get tied up with, with our discussions consistently centering on words like “coercion,” “obligation,” “voluntaryism,” and all the rest. Yet in trying to understand the dynamics of these features, we must recognize the limits of such categories, lest our aforementioned human tendencies to carve out rationalistic legalistic frameworks impede or limit our thinking about responsibility and commitment to only involve rationalistic legalistic frameworks.

Here’s where that tricky little thing called “love” comes into play, for it so comprehensively breaks such propensities, and, in doing so, shatters the type of line-item, pseudo-rationalistic entitlement and selfishness that ultimately holds individuals back and consequently drags entire families and societies down into the muck.

If there’s one person who understands this, its economist Jennifer Roback Morse, whose book, Love & Economics, argues that love, particularly as encountered in marriage and parenting, helps to show our convenient political-theory buckets for what they are and teach us crucial lessons about how we are to view people and progress. “Familial relationships are not coercive in the usual sense, nor are they voluntary in the usual sense,” argues Morse.

Marriage may be “contractual” in certain ways, but Morse prefers to see it as a “partnership”—one filled with what she calls “radical uncertainty.” “Will we both remain healthy?” she asks. “Will we both continue to be employed at our current level of income and status? Will our needs change in ways we cannot fully predict?”

As Morse notes, a partnership reaches beyond our preferred and overly nit-picky me-vs.-them comparisons (see also: “love keeps no record of wrongs”), focusing more heavily on the we aspect and thus transforming our efforts to be in service of someone and something higher than ourselves:

Partnerships feature ongoing, joint decision making during the life of the relationship. In purely contractual relationships by contrast, the parties negotiate most, if not all, of the significant decisions prior to entering into the contract. In a partnership, the partners share responsibilities, decision-making, and risks…

 …In a partnership, both partners have enough at stake in the relationship that they have an incentive to do all the unstated but necessary things that can be known on the spot and in the moment. The contract is neither the end of the relationship nor the method for how the parties relate to one another.

Orienting our perspectives around we-centered uncertainty requires us to reject the type of liberal, me-centered Read the rest of this entry »

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Conservatives and Coercion in Morality and Economics

One Way signOver at Public Discourse, Nathan Schlueter explains why he’s not a libertarian, providing concise conservative responses to 10 popular libertarian claims.

This week at Values & Capitalism, I look at two of those claims, related specifically to coercion and market intervention. Finding myself arguing alongside libertarians on most economics-related issues, I thought Schlueter’s points were helpful in illuminating a key distinguisher between conservatism and libertarianism, even if the policy outcome ends up looking similar.

Here’s Schlueter’s sixth point/response:

6. Virtue cannot be coerced, therefore government should not legislate morality. Coercive law cannot make people virtuous. But it can assist or thwart individuals in making themselves virtuous. Law is both coercive and expressive. Not only does it shape behavior by attaching to it penalties or rewards; it also helps shape attitudes, understandings, and character … The law, both by prohibition and by silence, is a powerful signal of acceptable behavior, and thus a powerful influence on character. When the behavior in question involves moral norms that are consequential for the rest of society, it is a proper object of law.

This is not to say that the law must prohibit every vice or mandate every virtue, as libertarians often suggest. Aristotle, Aquinas, the Declaration itself all make clear that “prudence will dictate” whether the costs outweigh the benefits in concrete circumstances (e.g., difficulty of enforcement; more pressing needs with scarce resources; the danger of encouraging underground crime, etc.). But this is prudence in the service of principle, not mere pragmatism. (emphasis added)

The question for conservatives, I argue, seems to be that we think coercion may sometimes be justified and/or helpful. We certainly don’t think it should be in play to the extent progressives do—who seem to pursue centralized control as an ideal—but conservatives recognize that certain features of human nature demand it.

In the end, I argue—piggy-backing on Schlueter—that much of this comes down to realism:

This hits at the deeper level of why conservatives think coercion in economics is sometimes necessary to preserve order. It is here, I believe, that conservatives find themselves fighting between two forms of utopianism: one which actively pursues coercion with little regard for real-life liberty, and one which actively pursues so-called liberty with little regard for real-life humans (or the real extent of certain real-life consequences).

Schlueter points out this distinguisher in his #9 response, which I believe draws the clearest line between both orientations. Conservatism’s “true realism,” as Schlueter notes, is summed up aptly by James Madison, in a line from Federalist No. 57 containing plenty for both libertarians and progressives to detest:

‘The aim of every political constitution is first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust.’

Read the full post here.

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“Anti-Poor!” – More Demagoguery from the Evangelical Left

In a recent post at the Washington Post, Rev. Richard Cizik joins a growing chorus of progressive evangelicals in accusing conservative Christians of showing little concern for the poor.

This week at AEI’s Values and Capitalism, I offer my critique, noting that Cizik relies on the same demagogic straw-man argument that progressive evangelicals utilize time and time again: that conservative Christians oppose progressive policies not because we find them ineffective or counterproductive, but because we hate the poor and love corporations.

First, I try to examine the false assumptions underlying Cizik’s approach to socio-economic engagement:

What Cizik so clearly misses is that a proper view of collective responsibility cannot exist without a proper view of individual responsibility. It’s not about “embracing” one and “rejecting” the other, as most conservatives well understand. It’s about starting in the right place and achieving collective virtue authentically rather than forcibly.

If you doubt the need for such an integrated approach, look no further than the “Occupy” movement, in which masses of unproductive, self-absorbed blame-shifters assume radical, collective-centric poses so narrow that the “community” has become nothing more than a means for avoiding individual duties and fulfilling a lust for material security. Without a grasp of where responsibility begins, “promoting the common good” quickly diminishes into a short-sighted pig-out at the communal feeding trough.

Next, I move on to Cizik’s claims that conservative Christians are apathetic toward the poor (and the Bible?), as well as calculating political power-grabbers:

It’s not that we think supply side economics create strong economies and benefit everyone across the economic spectrum (including, ahem, the poor). It’s not that we think free exchange and accurate prices create opportunities for real, sustainable growth and economy recovery. It’s not that we think the modern public education system hurts the poor and minimum wage laws lead to poverty traps. It’s not that we think most progressive social programs lead to dehumanization, dependency and economic slavery.

No. It’s because we have a fetish for fat cats and we’re brainwashed by clever marketing. Obviously.

If Cizik is truly interested in a constructive conversation, he should recognize that it gets him nowhere to sideline our concerns about his “pro-poor” policies and elevate his progressive approach as the obvious fulfillment of the Sermon on the Mount. If he is really interested in persuading us toward his supposedly Christian outlook, he should start by explaining why and how these programs are, in fact, “pro-poor,” and how a proper Christian anthropology starts with coercion and manipulation. Instead of claiming our reasons to be purely political, he should explain how exactly his blatant desire to increase political power is somehow less so.

Read the full post here.

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What Would Jesus Take: The Fundamental Confusion of the Christian Left

With embarrassing clarity, Lawrence O’Donnell recently illuminated the fundamental confusion among many left-leaning Christians: the belief that God is a God of coercion.

Watch this:

The attack is centered around a rant by Rush Limbaugh, who recently accused the Left of using Jesus as a prop for defending specific progressive policies and pet projects. Jim Wallis has demonstrated such a tendency with his legalistic “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign, but for Rush, it all comes down to a different question: “What Would Jesus Take?”

O’Donnell’s answer is as clear as can be: “Everything. Not 35%. Not 39.6%. 100%.” Jesus did not come to make a way. He came to make you pay up.

Although Rush lacks plenty of tact in his delivery (surprise, surprise), his conclusion is spot on: Jesus did not come to force us into submission — not with an elbow, a fist, or a bolt of lightening. His love is 100% coercion-free.

To prove it isn’t, O’Donnell trots out the Read the rest of this entry »

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Socialist Jesus: Stephen Colbert on a Coercive Christ

Stephen Colbert, Jesus Was a Liberal DemocratIn my latest post at Common Sense Concept, I use a recent Stephen Colbert sketch to respond to some common misunderstandings about Jesus.

The video in question can be seen here, and involves Colbert joking about how Jesus is really a liberal democrat. The underlying sentiment: Conservatives and libertarians are “anti-poor people.”

The Colbert Show is obviously a comedy show (and is indeed reliably funny), but I felt compelled to respond to the video because (1) such an activity is fun in and of itself, and (2) plenty of Christian liberals take its underlying messages seriously.

As a sample, here’s an excerpt of my response to one of Colbert’s jokes about the frightening possibility of a “socialist deity redistributing my loves and fishes”:

Jesus saw the loaves and fishes like any good capitalist would: as an opportunity for creativity and production. It is precisely because Jesus did not rely on a materialistic, mechanistic system of redistribution (*cough* socialism! *cough*) that he was able to accomplish so much good for the poor (not to mention this wretched sinner). Let’s not forget; if ever there was someone who knew how to overcome scarcity, it was Jesus’ Dad.

To read the full post, click here. Read the rest of this entry »

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John D. Rockefeller: Lover of Money or Enterprise?

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

When people talk about John D. Rockefeller they all seem to say something different. Some talk about Rockefeller the innovative entrepreneur, some talk about Rockefeller the back-dealing monopolist, and some talk about Rockefeller the charitable do-gooder.

From being derided as the devil of modern industry to being hailed as the saint of modern philanthropy, Rockefeller always was, and still remains, a controversial figure.

It’s no surprise then that Ron Chernow’s biography of the man (aptly titled Titan) paints a picture no less diverse. Chernow takes us chronologically from Rockefeller’s backwater beginnings to his astounding rise to wealth, focusing all the while on what made the man tick.

Sounds all too familiar, right? A man with humble beginnings overcomes all odds to become a happy and successful family man. But what is so unique about Rockefeller is the extent to which he did not change despite his rapid rise to fame. Certainly he evolved in many regards, but as a father, as a husband, as a worker, and as a tither, we see the same moral framework from beginning to end.

That’s right. There is no “Bathsheba moment” of weakness, no interlude of repentant exile, and no climactic epiphany that “money doesn’t buy happiness.” In a way, what is most boring about Rockefeller’s life is also what is so fascinating about it.

Some people believe that money can change you, but for Rockefeller, the key to success was not letting that happen.

John D. Rockefeller at age 18.

Rockefeller’s childhood was not a dainty one. His father, William A. Rockefeller, was known around town as “Wild Bill” for being a notorious liar, thief, and scam artist. He was also a womanizer and a bigamist. When Rockefeller was eighteen, Wild Bill permanently ditched the family for his other wife under the pretense of cross-country “business.” Before leaving, he told the young Rockefeller, “I shall be away and must rely on your judgment.”

Whether his father knew it or not (and Chernow thinks he did), Rockefeller’s judgment could definitely be trusted, and from that day forward, young John flourished as the new “paterfamilias” of his mother’s home. This triggered similar success in the business world, as Rockefeller worked hard to fill the gaps his father left. Chernow calls it an “exquisite” irony that Bill “turned his back on his family just as his eldest son began to amass the largest fortune in history.”

Plainly put, Rockefeller was not intimidated by crummy circumstances; he was inspired by them. Life was about opportunities, not disadvantages.

As the story goes on, plenty of Read the rest of this entry »

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