Saviour of last resort

The quote of the day, adapted from Conrad Black, writing in the National Post:

We operate in the vortex created by three facts:

  1. Capitalism works better than any other economic system because it is based on self-interest;
  2. That self-interest eventually crowds out caution and leads to a crack-up [witness the current financial crisis]; and
  3. Governments are the only salvation, not because they have any aptitude for salvation, as the public sector is generally even less competent than the private sector, but because governments make and enforce laws and control the money supply.

In sum, government is the saviour of last resort:  “They are the last resort, ex officio, not from any natural vocation to make things better.”

Black’s low opinion of government is typical of right wing commenters. And I think even left-leaning folks would concede that government is not the most efficient instrument for getting things done. Thus we might ruefully acknowledge Black’s point:  that government is our saviour only because it has its hands on the key levers (laws, money supply), not because government is especially capable.

It would be nice if right wing commenters were able to acknowledge Black’s other two points.

First, the engine that drives capitalism is naked self-interest. That’s why capitalism succeeds. But surely people who value morality — not least, Christian morality — might concede that a system built on naked self-interest is problematic, from an ethical point of view.

Second:  self-interest, if it is not held in check (by government) eventually leads to a “crack-up” of the sort we are living through right now. Absolutely unfettered markets ultimately are not a good idea. But of course, right-leaning folks are loathe to acknowledge any such thing.

In sum:  government oversight of markets is necessary, because some actor must provide a check against naked self-interest. And yes, it’s true that government is inefficient and only semi-competent.

There is no shame in being a saviour of last resort. That’s when saviours are welcome:  when circumstances are desperate.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. billarends
    Oct 09, 2009 @ 10:39:20

    I disagree with point one that Capitalism works better than any other economic system because it is based on self-interest.

    Why? Because the logic is wrong. It could just as easily be argued that Capitalism fails “leads to a crack up,” because of self interest.. Capitalism may work better because there is no viable alternative, and because when capitalists behave ethically a “crack up” will not happen. When self interest “GREED” becomes the driving principle then a crack up is inevitable. Black is the worst offender so his position does not surprise me. Conrad Black to me is a prime example of the type of capitalist that has lead us to our current economic situation.

    The comment that the public sector is generally even less competent than the private sector, depends on how you perceive competence. How competent is a sector that relies on another to fix its mistakes. Which is more common the private sector bailing out the public sector or the public sector bailing out the private sector? (I know the right will call taxes a bail out but it is not it is a fee for services rendered)

    Taking out the competence jab, Black is saying “Governments are the only salvation, … because governments make and enforce laws and control the money supply. ”

    Just what is this last phrase describing? A socialist system.

    What is funny about this whole thing is that here you have a failed capitalist (Conrad Black – now in Jail) writing in a newspaper (the National Post) that is on the brink of bankruptcy talking about the virtues of capitalism, while admiting some form of social system is needed to make the whole thing work. It would be funny if people’s lives did not depend on this farce. But like all farces the ending is often a happy one.

    Reply

  2. Trackback: No Bankruptcy of Opinion or Wealth of Ethics « - EnViSiOn -

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