Posts Tagged arrogance

On Celebrating Bono’s Pro-Capitalism Conversion

Bono, ONE Campaign, capitalismI recently wrote about Bono’s recent comments on capitalism, arguing that although I’m not overly optimistic about the trajectory of his interventionist efforts, it marks a healthy development in any do-gooder’s evolution from hasty top-down planner to careful ground-up cultivator.

Over at the Hang Together blog, Greg Forster urges us to have more optimism about the Goggled One, arguing that even rhetorical developments are cause for encouragement:

Here’s my thinking. A big change has been slowly percolating for a while in the Christian international aid space. On-the-ground practice has not changed yet. But their social system of legitimization – the network of gatekeepers who anoint what’s good and what’s bad – are increasingly embracing the need for the kinds of changes we want. Bono is only the most recent example.

And it’s getting harder and harder to dismiss this as partisan rhetoric or libertarian ideology as more and more people who self-identify as progressives are getting on the bandwagon. Again, Bono is only the most recent example.

The big aid organizations have responded by adopting the rhetoric of change. I recall seeing promotional materials from World Vision that talked about helping people develop economic independence. Of course they’re not actually doing that, but the fact that they have to say they are is a canary in the coal mine for them.

It’s a little like how Democratic judicial nominees now have to clothe themselves in the rhetoric of judicial restraint in a way they never had to fifteen years ago. Or how the teachers’ unions have had to adopt the rhetoric of teacher performance and even choice. Or how President Obama has had to adopt the rhetoric of free enterprise and even pick up Arthur Brooks’ “earned success” language. As in those fields, so in this one: it’s an early sign that we’re winning. The gap between their words and their deeds will grow, and the pressure for real change is only going to get bigger.

They key for us now, as I see it, is to capitalize on this change without falling into either of two pitfalls. On the one hand, we don’t want to drive away our new friends. Joe Sunde’s skepticism in the post I linked above, while reasonable, needs to be tempered somewhat. We don’t want to punish people for moving in our direction, we want to reward them! (We believe that incentives affect behavior, right?)

Forster makes a good point about celebrating when there’s cause for celebration. I have no desire to punish folks like Bono for any movement they make in the direction of markets. My intent was merely to offer a cautionary qualification amidst the balloons and streamers. But perhaps I could’ve tooted my kazoo a bit louder up front.

I also think Forster’s point on rhetoric is a good one: “the gap between their words and their deeds will grow, and the pressure for real change is only going to get bigger.” School choice and judicial restraint are good examples of this, but I still think we need to call out mere rhetoric as mere rhetoric and guide people to an understanding of what real solutions look like beyond and before the rhetoric.

“Before the rhetoric?” you ask? Indeed, in my own thoughts on the matter, I was actually aiming to celebrate something preceding Bono’s words, particularly his new humbled attitude about the limitations of his own human hands, quite apart from any specific endorsement of this or that political or economic solution.

It’s no coincidence, of course, that this humbled approach to development and poverty alleviation has led him where it’s led him: to capitalism.

Read Forster’s full post here.

Also, read Ryan Anderson’s comments here.

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Bono Abandons Babel?

U2 singerThere’s been a bit of buzz over Bono’s recent remarks about the positive role of markets in reducing global poverty and spurring economic development (HT):

The Irish singer and co-founder of ONE, a campaigning group that fights poverty and disease in Africa, said it had been “a humbling thing for me” to realize the importance of capitalism and entrepreneurialism in philanthropy, particularly as someone who “got into this as a righteous anger activist with all the cliches.”

“Job creators and innovators are just the key, and aid is just a bridge,” he told an audience of 200 leading technology entrepreneurs and investors at the F.ounders tech conference in Dublin. “We see it as startup money, investment in new countries. A humbling thing was to learn the role of commerce.”

I’m a bit skeptical about the broader significance of these remarks on Bono’s activism, but I do think they’re illuminating. Over at the Acton Institute, I argue that Bono’s new humbled attitude is precisely what we need in our attempts to improve economic development:

Although I’m not overly confident that Bono’s sudden self-awareness is enough to radically shift his aid efforts away from fostering dependency, this small admission helps illuminate one of our key obstacles to doing good in the world: overzealousness paired with overconfidence.

Bono describes his realization as a “humbling thing,” and “humbling” is precisely what the foreign aid experts and economic planners could use. As Friedrich Hayek famously wrote, “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” As the story of the Tower of Babel well confirms, man has a natural disposition to think he knows more than he knows and can construct beyond what he can construct—all to make a name for himself. The juice of righteous anger is a powerful enabler, and once it’s pumping through our veins it takes even less time for our human tendencies to escalate. After all, we’re only out to deliver humanity to heaven’s doorstep.

Such overconfidence in our own designs can be particularly destructive in the realm of economics, a science that’s in a constant battle over whether it should seek to explain human action, control it, or bypass it altogether. Such planners find a perfect match in eager activists such as Bono. “We can build your tower to heaven,” they’ll say, “and you can make a name for yourself. If only the right policy buttons are pushed and the right economic equilibrium is arranged, the world can be set to rights.”

Of all people, Christians should be aware of the deeper spiritual questions we should be asking, cautious not to be wise in our own eyes:

The economic engineer’s intrusion goes well beyond barging into more natural and effective social institutions. For in doing so, he treats dignified man and the unpredictable, invaluable relationships in which he engages as the mere mingling of predictable pieces in a larger static game. Such an intrusion should cause great alarm for those of us seeking restoration among the suffering. For how can we hope to improve conditions for the human person if we skip past what it means to be a human person? For the Christian in particular, God instructs each of us to do what the Lord wills. Are we really to Read the rest of this entry »

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Returning to Duty: Three Recommendations for Occupy Wall Street

Where's My BailoutIn my critique of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I noted that what really needs to happen is what John Witherspoon once called a “return to duty” — an introspective moment that leads us to “hearken the rod” rather than disdain it, to return to individual moral uprightness, and to reject the seductive idol of material security.

The sentiment is pulled from a sermon Witherspoon delivered to Princeton in 1776, containing stern counsel for how to recover from cultural erosion and pull the weight that liberty demands. The solution, Witherspoon explains, requires much more of the individual than a secular, materialistic worldview can invigorate.

Granted, today’s “occupiers” are propelled by a more serious, more pampered sense of entitlement than Witherspoon could have ever imagined. Yet this simply means our task is more difficult. (e.g. “Yes, I know you have air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, expensive fair-trade groceries, and a bottomless credit card to pay for it all, but someday you’ll have to face the real world, hunker down, and…you know, actually persevere.”)

Here’s Witherspoon’s diagnosis:

Both nations in general, and private persons, are apt to grow remiss and lax in a time of prosperity and seeming security; but when their earthly comforts are endangered or withdrawn, it lays them under a kind of necessity to seek for something better in their place. Men must have comfort from one quarter or another. When earthly things are in a pleasing and promising condition, too many are apt to find their rest, and be satisfied with them as their only portion. But when the vanity and passing nature of all created comfort is discovered, they are compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable. What therefore, can be more to the praise of God, than that when a whole people have forgotten their resting place, when they have abused their privileges, and despised their mercies, they should by distress and suffering be made to hearken to the rod, and return to their duty?

Exceptions abound, but on the whole, this seems very close to what we’re witnessing — a society that has grown “remiss and lax in a time of prosperity,” and is finally being “compelled to look for something more durable as well as valuable.”

Our workers grew up in a less globalized world, insulated from the rising competition of today’s (rapidly) developing nations. Up until recently, we were privileged with a virtual monopoly on freedom, allowing it to spoil our attitudes and outlooks toward ourselves, our neighbors, and economics in general. Our kids went to schools with inflated tuition costs, all the while thinking they were guaranteed a $50,000-per-year job in post-colonial gender studies — a myth solidly affirmed by parents, school counselors, and political leaders, themselves beneficiaries of a post-war boom made possible (in part) by an otherwise war-ravaged economic stage.

The recent expansion of freedom and prosperity has been a good thing, to be sure, but it doesn’t look so hot if you Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Bad Machines: Economic Myths, Western Arrogance and Indian Textiles

In my most recent post at Common Sense Concept, I examine a recent attempt to prop up India’s handmade textile industry.

The IOU Project recently released an ad chock-full of economic myths and Western arrogance, urging us to buy their products and resist the almighty, domineering force of industrialization.

According to the ad, if we lose the battle against the machines, we will quickly descend into poverty, unemployment, and sameness. (LOL)

This is typical fair-trade manipulation: flooding markets that would naturally subside, retract, or level out, resulting in long-term stagnation, price confusion, and plenty of other things.

In my post, I take a look at six of the ad’s main assertions, arguing that more machinery, freedom, and energy consumption is exactly what India needs.

Here’s an excerpt of my response to the anti-machinery talk:

According to the theories in this video, we [industrialized] Westerners should be helplessly enslaved by now, forced to do the bidding of modern machinery. But perhaps we have been! Here we are, destined to work in high-rise buildings and air-conditioned offices, pining away on the internet and dabbling in ideas when we could be sewing our own clothes, hand-washing our own laundry, growing our own food, and thatching our own huts. Dang machinery!

Here’s my response on the handmade industry being (supposedly) emission free:

The cavemen of yore were certainly more environmentally friendly than we are, but they filled their days hunting for food, trying to stay warm in the winter, and hoping they’d have time to come up with a written language. Such a life might sound like paradise to the idealist sitting in the front row of Eco-Imperialism 101, but at what point are we willing to Read the rest of this entry »

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