Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Billionaires and Supermen

Interesting essay by Corey Robin arguing that modern right-wing economics is rooted in Nietzsche's desire to create a new master class. According to Robin, the basic political point of Hayek, Mises and their followers is to crush the workers, which Nietzsche certainly supported; the basic philosophical point is that economic life creates value by forcing us to make choices:
While progressives often view this discourse of choice as either dime-store morality or fabricated scarcity, the Austrians saw the economy as the disciplining agent of all ethical action, a moment of—and opportunity for—moral artistry. Freud thought the compressions of the dream world made every man an artist; these other Austrians thought the compulsions of the economy made every man a moralist. It is only when we are navigating its narrow channels—where every decision to expend some quantum of energy requires us to make a calculation about the desirability of its posited end—that we are brought face to face with ourselves and compelled to answer the questions: What do I believe? What do I want in this world? From this life?
The man who takes the greatest advantage of this opportunity to create value, in every sense, is the entrepreneur. He is thus the new hero of our age, the new aristocrat, and thus parallel to Nietzsche's superman, who also creates his own values. As Schumpeter put it,
There is the dream and the will to found a private kingdom, usually, though not necessarily, also a dynasty. The modern world really does not know any such positions, but what may be attained by industrial and commercial success is still the nearest approach to medieval lordship possible to modern man.
I find the connection of economic thought to Nietzsche intriguing if not entirely convincing. Lots of people have played with the notions of economic and moral "value," sliding back and forth between the two conceptions. But maybe both Nietzsche's musings about the superman and heroic economics derive from something older and simpler, our basic admiration for leaders.

But I will say this: free market economics does not lead to equality. It leads to billionaires and paupers. The middle class society of the contemporary world is the creation of politics, through labor unions and state intervention. It puzzles me that so many Americans say they want a more equal, more middle class society while also opposing unions, taxation and regulation. Those are the only instruments we know of through which capitalism can be made to produce a middle class society.

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