Against commerce

It would be useful if all those who are opposed to capitalism, or commercialism, would declare themselves. Hypocrisy requires them to retire from economic activity, and its consequences, such as eating. It happens that most of the material features of our society, and all known previous societies, depended upon commercial activities, and can be described as “capitalist” even when they insist upon describing themselves as “socialist” or “communist.”

The differences come not from buying and selling things, but from what a military man would call “command.” Certain persons (mostly non-military) are elevated in law, to a position where they acquire command of resources, and decide arbitrarily who gets what, based on an equally arbitrary moral system of reward and punishment.

No system of “free market capitalism” is perfect, because no such system has yet to exist, nor could exist given a world that is finite, and in most of its details, consistently real. Indeed, the more “free market” it is declared, the more its operation is interfered with by agencies of the government, in more complicated and unpredictable ways. Taxation is only one of the impositions; and yet substantial, compound taxation is imposed even in sectors of the national economy that are publicly called tax-free.

The issue is not complicated; whereas politicians and the self-interested political or bureaucratic class must pretend that it is. “The world is too complicated to survive without regulations.” Our schools are designed to drive this message home, and thus deprive our infants of even the possibility of freedom; they manufacture the evidence of complication. Except, some children nevertheless instinctively learn to experience freedom as the gift of God.

In my mind, “the economy” has some purposes besides the creation of paperwork, and prison sentences, but its consequences are always tediously economic. For instance, how is it that everyday, necessary objects of food, clothing, and shelter are, if they are not consciously made to an extravagant, luxury standard (which often involves bad taste), are still no match for military goods, which typically may be used only once; if that.

At the Sally Anne and similar institutions, the junk of our culture may be cheaply obtained; it is almost given away. But as we see in Afghanistan, the most potent weapons tend to be distributed absolutely without charge (to our most repulsive enemies). And these are made to an incomparably high standard of reliability, and even beauty.

I am seldom offended by the injustice of our various commercial arrangements — on a good day when the sun comes out, and there are not too many biting insects. Instead, I am uncomprehending.

What chiefly mystifies me about the economy is the common belief in the universal existence of entirely imaginary things; when the universal non-existence of them is fairly clear. This is the case with “capitalism,” or “commercialism” (to maintain a higher standard of politeness. The latter is perhaps more innocent because it is merely comparative; nevertheless it is also rude).

Military items are made to the standard to which religious objects once often answered, or weapons intended for almost purely aesthetic display. Cost is not an issue, whether in manufacture nor in giving the goods away (or sometimes, wantonly destroying them in an act reminiscent of iconoclasm). Whereas, cost/benefit seems always to be calculated, and usually the determinant, in goods available to “the free market.”

That a high proportion of military goods don’t work, when they come to be tested, may be taken for granted; for the cost of testing is a necessary contributor to the theatre of government waste. That is a universal truth — most things don’t work, or don’t work for long — but that is an entirely different issue.