Political Idolatry

Politics of envy, politics of guilt and now the politics of simplicity. If we wanted to use an evolutionary analogy, I would suggest that a branch of Homo Sapiens Libertarius had "evolved" into Homo Sapiens Socialisticus. The trouble is that this is what they call an evolutionary “dead-end” (no further progress possible) and they allegedly attribute such a status to insects, for example. But, if we leave the insects aside and look closer at the taxonomy of Homo Sapiens Socialisticus, the reason for his dead-end status is that he is a species of immaturity and shielded in a fatal way from the driving forces of socio-economic evolution. He is a Chihuahua instead of a Wolf, doomed to die outside of his cosseted cage. Why should this be so?

It seems a strange aspect of the human condition that, in times past, he needed to incarnate the natural forces which flowed about him in seeming caprice to his desires and goals. The need for God, we are assured, was to actualise and focus forces beyond men’s control. That is not quite how it panned out. Men didn’t so much want an invisible God to account for invisible forces. They wanted a diversity of tangible gods before their very eyes to placate and petition. Thus, the touchy-feely idols of the pagan world came into being, but the ancient Hebrews bucked the trend when they went intangibly monotheistic. Nevertheless, old habits died hard and the admixture of a Jehovah-Baal synthesis occasionally reared its ugly head. The invisible was acknowledged, but the visible stood alongside it in the oxymoronic manner of a mixed economy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no objections about having a visible leader or owning statues, but it is when we enter the realms of fiscal politics that this actualisation process becomes rather ridiculous. In ancient times, the storm god, Baal was devised to petition the whirling maelstrom of wind and rain above them (or lack of it). Now switch to modern times and behold men gazing with wonder and bewilderment at the forces of the free market swirling and whirling around them. Like the storm, it seems chaotic, unpredictable and they fear it and wish to control it. It will not be controlled; neither will it respond to men’s prayers. They need a modern pagan god, a Baal, a visible entity they can relate to and come before with their petitions and pleas.

Enter Socialism and its god, the Party Leader. He stands aloft like some demi-god and receives the earnest petitions of men. In a treaty of servitude, he offers them economic stability and prosperity in return for the worship of votes and taxes at his sacrificial altar. He offers to plant his footsteps in the sea of capitalism and ride upon the storm of market forces. He claims he will place a bit in the mouth of the unbroken steed and steer it for the public good. He will be that visible incarnation of invisible forces.

In return, the masses get a face, a friendly face. A face, which responds to their cries and says, “I feel your pain!” (Or is it their wallet?). Likewise, the apostates can blaspheme the last elected god when they hurl their beer cans at the TV and bring in Osiris for Baal when the rain doesn’t appear. Furthermore, this god can give them fiscal numbers, pie charts and budgets they can understand, discuss and debate. After all, they say, you cannot see or touch the Free Market. You cannot order a pound of it; you cannot assassinate it or shake its hand, it does not commiserate with you. They want something that they can reach out to and kiss … or strangle. However, like Baal on Mount Carmel, they may find that the invisible triumphs over the visible when they set to their plans.

The god of the Chinese Communists decreed a decree. His name was Mao Tse-Tung and, by all accounts, he was pig ignorant of the forces around him but the people loved him to a fault, a fatal fault. The rice crops needed to be increased. No doubt the evil capitalist yields were walking all over them (again). One semi-demi-god suggested it was because the sparrows were eating up all the rice. Kill the sparrows and the crop yields shoot up. So, thus saith the Lord Mao,

“If ye will hearken unto my commandments and kill those counter-revolutionary sparrows, I will bless thee with an abundance of rice!"

The ardent followers went forth with their weapons of warfare and set about those little flying enemies of the Revolution. This consisted of banging saucepan lids for days and nights until the critters fell down dead from exhaustion. Millions were killed, the rice crops went up and there was much rejoicing … until the insect population the sparrows were keeping in check exploded like an atom bomb and devoured more crops than the sparrows had ever managed (see broadband video clip).

Undeterred by this less than convincing display of god-like wisdom, Lord Mao proceeded with his Great Leap Backwards and set about increasing steel output. After all, iron is a vital material for economic growth. This is true, but only if the product is in demand and of sufficient quality. So, once again, the followers of pretended divinity set about their economic self-destruction with even greater zeal than our previous tale. Backyard furnaces of inadequate design were set up all over China. Forests were stripped for fuel as tin pots, cans and then farming tools were insanely thrown into something which bore little resemblance to a smelter. The end product was iron only fit for tin pots, cans and farming tools.

The forces of economic reality impersonally and impassively watched on and then unemotionally let that reality have its devastating way. Time spent on furnaces led to neglect of crop maintenance. Time spent on reducing farm tools to scrap metal ensured renewed crop maintenance would be far less efficient. Time spent removing forests ensured topsoil erosion and eventual dustbowl conditions. Famine set in and people were reduced to eating tree bark. Some say it was the worst ever famine in human history, certainly it was the worst ever piece of economic planning in human history (I am open to suggestions on that one).

Lord Mao was not available for comment, as he tried to make sure there was no Osiris waiting in the ranks. The invisible hand had broken the hand of the visible yet again, for the pretended gods of this economic underworld do not comprehend the silent way of forces which impinge between men and nature. They cannot compute the next move or how it will react to their comic book economics. They are children before it and they act like it when they don't do as they are told. The situation today is much like the ancient Hebrew accommodation of Jehovah and Baal as a mixed economy prevails over Western Europe, the invisible and the visible in unredeemable conflict. The invisible market forces adjust and adapt economic society to the innumerable transactions between men whilst the visible idols of men pontificate like King Canute and command the waves to go back.

But some would say it takes something akin to a faith to trust one’s economic well being to such invisibility. That seems agreeable to me, for, just as the Invisible One of Judaeo-Christianity prevailed over the idols of the pagan world, Free Market Capitalism has delivered the wealth and prosperity that the gods of Communism failed to do. But, this Homo Sapiens Socialisticus, in capitulating his economic genome to mere men, has reached his dead end. He will proceed no further. Like the gods of pagan old, he will be weighed in the balance and found wanting.

Men of future freedom will dig up their remains and discuss them in the dusty, academic, paleoeconomic tomes of the future. Then, they too will join the other failed gods of millennia past. Pagan gods and economics gods together at last in the museum displays of tomorrow.

July 17, 2002