Mishan impossible

There is money to be made supporting Trump, and all he stands for; and there is money to be made opposing Trump and all he stands for. As usual, I have found the “sweet point” in the middle, where there is no money to be made, and one is exposed to attacks from both parties. Vain creature that I am, I take pride in this position.

To be against “progress” is to be against “growth” (considered as some sort of public virtue). It is to be against “democracy,” “the peeple,” and all the rest of the moralizing bafflegab that shot Trump into space over the last three years, through which his enemies have done far more to boost him, than his friends.

Full employment at higher wages are not good things in themselves. A national income growing at four points a year (as opposed to say, two, or zero) is in many respects a nightmare of so-called “creative destruction.” To cheer on mere numbers is, strictly speaking, batshit insane, for the numbers do not speak to anything that might make life better or worse at the ontological level.

Example: a mother raising children has nothing, including her own life, improved by aborting all her bairns and working at a debilitating job, although that is exactly what she must do to push all the economic indicators the right way. Or on the plainest domestic level, it should be obvious by now that, above the level of subsistence, there is a nearly inverse relation between material wealth and inward contentment. Look around yourself if you doubt me.

(I am not a Republican anyway, as I’ve had to explain to several Natted States Merican friends; I am a Loyalist Canadian and therefore a Monarchist; and not a “conservative” but a “reactionary.” None of the ideologies currently on sale appeal to me.)

But here is a puzzle. The people who claim to be against Trump, whose frothing lends them some authenticity, also want full employment at higher wages, economic growth and the rest of it. The only difference is that the means to these things which they propose are rather less plausible.

On questions of “social policy,” the conflict is no more interesting. Democrats and Republicans alike, from presidents down, have pragmatically accepted essentially libertarian social, cultural, and moral ideals. All have been consciously “progressive” in the less-material, more-spiritual realms; none would stand, and lose, on a principle.

“Put not your faith in politicians” is one of my principles. Being an honest man, in that trade, is not compatible with winning. They can be more, or less, dishonest, however, and I do make individual distinctions. (Trump, for all his wild exaggerations, outright lies, and childish theatrics, strikes me as more honest than most.)

Within fading memory, the world — everyday human life — was stable and predictable, often even in war, or during natural catastrophes. It was also comprehensible, and quiet. E. J. Mishan (1917–2014) somewhere enumerated the very long list of daily anxieties that came with post-war discovery, invention, and economic growth; things that simply did not exist (or were exceedingly rare) in our world beforehand. Yes, it could be said, we were relatively poor, and sometimes close to starving; but generally unharried and at peace with the cosmos. Human decency was reinforced, and indecency punished, in reliable, unexperimental ways.

There were universal goods that today are almost impossible to remember, for they have been obviated by the rat race, in pursuit of affluence, gizmos, dubious pleasures. In the successive editions of his textbook on The Costs of Growth, and penetrating essays with titles like, “Making the world safe for pornography,” Mishan usefully supplied economic analysis of the serious moral and social questions that had been diverted into “morally neutral” technocratic channels; so that now even the “environmentalist” factotums think only in terms of statistics, proposing megaproject schemes that are as ugly and inhuman as any mass-industrial blight.

Reading Mishan again after a lapse of thirty years, I again recommend him for his insights into the economic and logical fallacies that guide us, which no mere election will ever turn around, or government programmes alter. For there are no environmental cures that do not require the spiritual cure of humans.


See also, perhaps, this Idlepost from six years ago.