… is from page 273 of Deirdre McCloskey’s excellent 2019 book, Why Liberalism Works: How True Liberal Values Produce a Freer, More Equal, Prosperous World for All:
It is a bad habit on the left. The left blames “capitalism” for the losses of some few people from progress that would take place under any political system if the system allowed betterment for all. And betterment is what saved us.
DBx: And what capitalism – the socio-economic order that Deirdre rightly prefers to call “innovism” – saved us from is the crushing, to-us-moderns-unimaginable, seemingly-unavoidable-except-by-the-elite poverty that was the lot of nearly all of our ancestors.
To escape such poverty requires that the world change. To escape mass poverty requires a move from familiar economic habits, arrangements, customs, and patterns to new economic habits, arrangements, customs, and patterns. And for the masses to continue to move further and further away from poverty – for the masses to continue to grow more prosperous – requires that such change continue.
There is no escaping this reality. Without change nothing changes.
Yet change at any moment requires adjustments by some particular persons and the willingness of all to adjust, for no individual can predict when change will require him or her to adjust.
For well over a century now, people on the political left have fancied – and continue to fancy – that the state can arrange for the creation of more prosperity without any ordinary people having to endure any downsides of change. The fallacious belief is either that the state can arrange for beneficial change without any immediate downsides, or that all the costs of change can be loaded onto those individuals who at the moment possess unusually large amounts of financial wealth (and thereby prove their ethical unworthiness).
The political left still beliefs that the working of such miracles is possible. The devout high priests of the left, in their campus sacristies, very cleverly spin accounts of such miracles and of how – if we only pray hard enough and evangelize with greater energy – more such miracles will happen. (Never mind that all serious attempts to work such miracles in the past have produced hells on earth.) And out on campaign trails, the stump preachers inspired by the left – or using leftist doctrine for venal purposes – retail this fantasy to gullible men and women who cannot resist believing in secular salvation through such miracle workers.
Sadly, this rejection of reality – this embrace of the belief in economic miracles – is evident increasingly on the political right. In the United States today, Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, and Daniel McCarthy are representatives of this new conservative insistence that it is possible for the state to arrange for economic change (specifically, for economic growth) for the masses without the masses having to experience economic change.
Of course, what I describe at the end of the previous paragraph is not what these “nationalist conservatives” consciously think of themselves as believing. They sincerely believe themselves to be supporters of policies – policies such as precision-timed tariffs and ingeniously implemented subsidies – that will create growth for the masses with no downside changes (or with the burdens of such changes imposed on whoever is among today’s economic elite).
As on the political left, each of the new miracle-believers on the political right mixes in to the above general account his or her own idiosyncratic twists – tales about strengthening national security, ensuring the dignity of work, furthering family values. But at base is always a belief in the miracle of change without change, or the belief in change the downsides of which government officials can and will (with the right party in office, of course) ensure fall only on individuals who can ‘afford’ to bear them or who, because of their past dastardly deeds, deserve to suffer them.
I continue to insist – for example, here – on the importance of distinguishing “losses” from “costs.”