Viciously Darwinian Totalitarian Fascism in One Lesson

Jeff of “A Banner Coward” cannot fathom while Obama’s anti-globalization rhetoric bothered Megan and me:

Let’s take, say, an assembly line worker who has just been laid off so the factory he worked in can open up shop in India. Is he expected to look upon the economic immolation of his family and community and say to himself, “Well, at least it’s raising the living standards of those poor sods in Bangladesh?” Given Wilkinson’s accusation that Obama is failing to extend a philosophy of mutuality beyond American borders, and that he ignores “the very real, yet non-American people who gain immensely from outsourcing,” it must be assumed that this is precisely what he means. But good God! What an impersonal — and, indeed, totalitarian — philosophy. What a gross subservience of the individual to the good of the collective. In case Wilkinson is curious, this is the kind of thing leftists are referring to when they (rather sloppily, I’ll admit) describe capitalism as “fascistic.”

The weirdest part is that, a while back, Wilkinson cast aspersions on the idea that a sense of community or sharing norms could be applied to something as big as the nation-state. Now here he is asserting not only that a sense of mutuality and interdependence can be applied to the entire globe (and yes, interdependence, mutuality, community and sharing norms are all basically the same thing), but that this application can be brought about by something as impersonal and viciously darwinian as the global marketplace of corporate-capitalism. You have to wonder exactly what planet the man is living on.

Except for “totalitarian,” “fascistic,” and “viciously Darwinian,” I’m afraid none of this makes any sense. It seems Jeff missed the point I made about having one’s job outsourced to another part of the U.S. or being replaced by a machine. The point was: from the point of view of the person out of a job, or the community out of a factory, the “economic immolation” is exactly the same. Suppose you thought the widget plant at which you were foreman got moved to India. Damn those corporate Bendict Arnold CEOs! But then you find it out got moved to South Dakota. What does it matter to you? (“Damn those South Dakotans and their tax incentives!”) The only reason to pick on shipping jobs “overseas” is to provoke anti-trade animus. That’s it. And that’s not unifying.

It also seems that Jeff does not understand that, as a rule, trade is a positive-sum game and redistributive politics is not. High levels of redistribution tend to require a good deal of solidarity to maintain because redistribution is negative-sum. Some people give (voluntarily or not), some people get, and some is lost on the way. Deadweight losses from taxation and transactions costs from administration reduce average wealth. Those who bear the costs of transfers therefore tend to require a solid sense of fellowship with those who receive them. That’s one reason why ethnically and culturally heterogeneous nation-states are a bit less inclined to support high levels of redistribution.

When speaking of Obama and positive-sum mutuality, I was not talking about the solidarity required to support really high levels of taxes and transfers. The ur-liberal ideal is global peace and prosperity through migration and trade, not Denmark with twenty-four time zones. The mutuality I had in mind was mutual benefit, which is what trade delivers, not a sense of mutual obligation. When you’re part of a system of exchange, you and the other participants are in it together, whether or not you have any positive or negative sentiments toward each other either way. That’s why I’ve elsewhere contrasted “the system of solidarity”– the market order of mutually advantageous cooperation — from the “sentiment of solidarity,” the feeling of commonality needed to induce altruistic cooperation.

Solidarity is tricky. There is a feeling of solidarity, fraternity, and belonging that can pervade the gut and bring a tear to the eye. There is also a system of solidarity in which we can be embedded and enmeshed. As joint participants in the market, relying constantly on far-flung partners in a mind-boggling network of specialization, vying to cooperate with one another on increasingly beneficial terms, we are, in fact, in it together. We are part of the system of solidarity, whether we know it or not. One of the paradoxes of modern life is that the system of solidarity does not necessarily produce or even encourage the feeling of solidarity. I need not feel warmth for, or even recognize the existence of, the Chinese laborers running the machine that made my socks (nor they for me) in order for us to be participants in a needful common enterprise — to be related parts of an interdependent whole.

One of the things that is so enticing about Obama is that, unlike most politicians, he shows glimmers of a fairly deep understanding of the possibility of mutual gain through the system of solidarity. That’s why I find it frustrating when he ruins it by appealing to the sentiment of solidarity in a way that threatens the already existing international system of market cooperation. I think I’ll just quote myself some more:

We should beware the temptations of the feeling, which so often serves to solidify the barriers against those outside the charmed circle of our sentiments, and reorient ourselves toward the system. The system of solidarity pushes us past our tribal commitments to class, creed, and nation into real relations of mutual advantage with our fellow human beings.

Perhaps in time we will become civilized and our feelings of solidarity, expanding to encompass all those embedded in the worldwide web of cooperation, will catch up to the reality.

Such is the rhetoric of global unity we viciously Darwinian, totalitarian fascists are so drawn to.