Gridlock 1932

It would have been easy to feel in 1932 that paralysis in the Reichstag would have tipped support away from the extreme parties back toward the center. It did the opposite. For those of us giddy over Republican inability to govern, Germany may bring a note of caution. Inaction would only push voters back to the center if their move to the right had been reasonable in the first place. A more likely scenario is for voters to want a dictator who can get things done without politics getting in the way. Sobering. 

Carl Schmitt Today

As I have for almost ten years, today I finished my semester with Carl Schmitt’s Concept of the Political (1928/32). When I last taught Schmitt we were gearing up for the presidential elections last fall. He is even more appropriate today than he was then.

For those not familiar with Schmitt or why his thought has proved so enduring, consider this. Let us suppose that you are a political entity that wishes to reach a compromise with other political entities with whose principles you differ. Now let us suppose that among the entities with which you must compromise is a political entity committed to the principle of never compromising. Which of you will win?

Carl Schmitt is well worth the read, so don’t take this summary as sufficient. Nevertheless the logic holds infallibly.

When Barrack Hussein Obama was elected in 2008, the Republican leadership staked its future on the principle: never compromise. And they won. Moreover, even should voters punish them in 2018 for sticking by this principle, their electoral defeat will itself reinforce the principle of no compromise. They will have lost. But their principle will remain intact. When, by contrast, Alisha Kramer beat Jon Ossoff in the Georgia special election, it prompted Democrats everywhere to nod their heads in agreement with Tim Ryan (D-OH): “Our brand is worse than Trump.” Representative Ryan, in essence, was declaring: “I am ready to compromise. I am ready to boot Nancy Pelosi. I am ready to concede defeat. And more.” Thus the brilliance of “never compromise.”

On a less polemical more inquisitive level, we can ask how we have reached a point — politically, institutionally — where a sufficient number of voters no longer trust in the validity of the U.S. Constitution. We knew — we have known for some time — that the U.S. Constitution does not command universal allegiance. Indeed, upon its first publication it generated a groundswell of opposition: the anti-Federalists. These anti-Federalists have never disappeared. Indeed, in 1861 they provoked a bloody and costly war. They were defeated not by compromise, but by guns and ammunition. They objected again in 1939 — see yesterday’s blog — and, again, they were defeated (see WWII). They objected again — in 1964 and 1965. And, again, they were defeated: not with arguments, but with force. The anti-Federalists — those fundamentally opposed, in principle, to the 1783 U.S. Constitution — are now in the majority. And this was Carl Schmitt’s point. The “political” — those opposed to compromise — always win in the end.

Let us suppose, however, that we spread our wealth out with sufficient breadth and depth. Let us suppose that all of those workers made redundant by innovation were not simply retrained — because, in most instances, this is not possible — but were instead sustained; because their memory, experience, know-how, their lives are not redundant. Let us suppose that they are free to enroll in courses at their local community college or university; to continue to learn and grow. And let us suppose that they are relieved of the fear that so many of the feel.

This is not a natural process. The market will not produce it on its own. It must be won through hard work. And, while it undeniably generates huge efficiencies, it is not for the efficiencies that we value it.

When we redraw our strategic outline for the next decade, we must not ignore “the political”; these folks will not ever be placated. But we also must not forget the overall goal. We believe in life; they don’t. We believe in growth; they don’t. We believe in the future; they don’t. Tim Ryan is wrong. We are right. That is the political.

Religion and Economics

I have just concluded my penultimate lecture in the History of Economic Thought: Adam Smith to Lord Keynes. And, as I have for almost a decade, I devoted the lecture to Jacob Viner and Frank H Knight, both University of Chicago economics professors, neither specially fond of Lord Keynes. Clearly, however, did I conclude with Lord Keynes, without reference to the emerging Chicago School, that could give the impression that we had already reached 1944, the Bretton Woods Agreement, and three decades of neo-Keynesian fiscal and monetary policy. We are not in 1944. We are in 1937. Before us looms a horrible war. And so it is important that we listen to and hear what the Chicago School is telling us on the eve of this horrible disaster.

It may seem odd to the chorus of libertarians and tea-partiers now packing the Republican delegation, but, to a person, your pre-war heroes — and many of your post-war heroes as well — held nothing but contempt for your political base. They were all atheists; not agnostics. They were atheists. They felt that any intrusion of ethics or morals into perfect markets yielded only distortions, moral hazard, misallocation of resources, and — if that was not enough — the end of western civilization itself. So clear was it to Professors Viner and Knight that western civilization did not rest on Christianity — that it was a science — that neither deemed it worth mentioning; until, that is, Christians began in large numbers to denounce the capitalist social formation; prompting Professor Knight to pen his now-famous third article in “Ethics and Social Reform” published in 1939 on the pages of Economica.

Professor Knight scarcely concealed his fury. In 1931, the Roman Catholic Church issued its infamous Quadragesimo Anno, its declaration opposing capitalism and demanding a living wage for all families. Five years later the world-wide Protestant churches added their voice at the Oxford Conference on Christianity and the Economic Order.

Capitalism — both bodies concluded — was anti-Christian.

Thus Professor Knight’s fury. In summary, Professor Knight responded that (1) Christianity, an ethical religion, has nothing whatsoever to contribute either to institutional, or economic, or political policy. It is ignorant of the contemporary issues. But (2) where it does contribute to the contemporary issues, its counsel is to obey authority. Therefore, when the Pope or the Protestants seek to leverage their faith against capitalism, they are both wrong and deluded.

Now. Self-evidently, this is not a message that would sell to contemporary voters; and therefore it is not a message that would sell to contemporary vote-seekers.

But here is where it gets weird. A student in my class — an alum — approaches me after class to remind me about the less than wholesome investments of the Roman church. True. So true. And about the contradiction between their holdings and their public position. Yes?

And, then I realize. OMG, my students — even my alumnae students —  believe that my recounting of a position aligns me with that position. OMG.

The same Pope that issued the Quadragesimo Anno also supported the Nazi solution to this problem; not the Holocaust, but the totalitarian state formation of the Nazis.

Economic analysis is difficult because students may be inclined to see in your analysis solutions that you did not intend. So, for example, we discussed K Marx at length. I like K Marx. But I do not believe that the answer to our current problems rests in the working classes. (Nor do I believe did K Marx.) Pope John criticizes capitalism. (So do I.) But I do not believe that Rome’s analysis of capitalism is adequate. Nor, in fact, am I entirely in sympathy with the Protestant’s 1931 Conference. I think they were wrong.

What strikes me, however, is that we need to renew the capacity to read those with whose views we may disagree sympathetically, not only because we want to counter them more effectively, but because they may have something to say to us. There is no point any of us occupy outside the event horizon. Listening and understanding does not entail consent.

We have a problem here, a very serious problem. This problem may lead to the end of the Earth. It is therefore imperative that we understand it. I believe the Roman Church, in 1936, grasped a piece of what was wrong. So, too, did the Conference at Oxford in 1931. Yet, Professor Knight was so transfixed by the beauty of equilibrium that he could not see what was just around the corner: the invasion of Austria; the invasion of Poland; the Final Solution. He just didn’t see it. He couldn’t see it.

A Cardinal today was charged with sexual abuse in Australia. We will all today think of Rome. We will think of the bodily mortification entailed by contemporary Roman priesthood and we will all shake our heads in wonder. But sexual abuse does not arise from theology. It arises from the misuse of power. If Rome is abusing power, we need to know this. We need to address this.

The Roman Church owns much property and much wealth. We might wish to know how it uses this wealth.

But these issues are, in some sense, beside the point. They are surely not economic issues. It is 1939. Hitler is poised to enter Austria; to enter Poland. He is poised to initiate the Final Solution. And we are writing an article about how Protestants and Catholics are collaborating with Marxists to subvert the economic order.

Professor Knight. You missed the moment. Have we?

Worse than Trump?

Ok. I will admit it. Go ahead and gloat. Although he is a tad right of Richard Milhouse Nixon, I was hoping that Jon Ossoff would beat Alisha Kramer. Prompting Tim Ryan (D-OH) to blurt out: “Our brand is worse than Trump.” Well. Yea. So?

I will not lay into Rep. Ryan, as so many have, for thinking in terms of “brands.” Wake up. This is the 2010s. If you are looking for substance, you missed it by (oh, I don’t know) about a half century minus a year or two. Branding is everything. Substance is nothing.

What is remarkable — really worth noting — is that Mr. Ryan associates this misbranding with Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the house minority leader, who now, tragically, represents the center of the Democratic Party. Which means . . .

That Democrats should not be so quick to embrace the macroeconomic theory of Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, even Chicago and USC. Really? Or does it mean that Democrats should pull back from support for equal human rights for all classes of citizens? Mr. Ryan can you help us here?

But, of course, we know exactly what Mr. Ryan means. (No need to respond to this blog Mr. Ryan. I understand completely.) Mr. Ryan knows that political fortunes rise and fall as parties calibrate their messages to the culture industry’s carefully massaged nodes, out of which survey respondents develop their opinions. Short-sighted politicians — I am led to believe that Mr. Ryan has Ms. Pelosi in mind — allow their principles to fall out of step with the nodes conveyed by popular media.

An older generation — a generation that lived through two horrendous world wars — felt otherwise. They felt that this economic and human carnage might have been avoided had leaders led. (Let me wait a moment while Mr. Ryan shakes his head, which a thought has just clumsily entered.)

We press forward, Mr. Ryan, with human rights and with full access to the full array of health and education choices spread before us for all citizens in our land, because we recognize that only when they are performing at their best can they make the best decisions, politically, socially, culturally, and economically. You want mediocrity Mr. Ryan. I am sure that mediocrity has rewarded you richly. We want something else.

So, yes, the Democrat brand may be worse than Trump. But, no. You are mistaken. Ms. Pelosi is not our problem.