Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

You know who agrees with the Pres. about who built “that”?

According to Adam Gopnik, Adam Smith does:…

As I had occasion to write in a long piece on Smith’s thought a year or so ago, the notion of Adam Smith as an apostle of laissez-faire who would have recoiled in horror, or even narrowed his eyes in suspicion, at the idea that a healthy state precedes and oversees a truly free market is not merely a caricature of his actual thought-it is in many ways the direct reverse of what he said and argued for length and with great lucidity.

Why is it that progressives so frequently abdicate both our political and our intellectual history to those who want to turn everything in the past into a caricature that supports their anachronistic fantasies of a lost golden age and the wisdom that it produced and produced it, which is now obscured and abandoned and urinated on by progressives?

I mean, come on.  Are we so afraid of appearing to be arrogant elitists that we refuse to wear the mantle of the Constitution and quote political theorists while the right wing hammers Smith, Paine, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and others into their flattened out molds?  

Here’s the gauntlet Gopnik throws down:

It isn’t just that a free market can survive regulation; it’s that the free market is the product of regulation, regulation designed to protect the public from the kind of arrangement that, let’s say, allows people with undue influence on the government to have a lower tax rate than people who don’t. This makes Smith, as I wrote, a firm believer in public goods: his state has an obligation to build roads and schools, establish an army, build bridges and highways, and do all the other things necessary for a sane polity in which the market can function naturally. Everyone should pay for them, and the rich should always pay more than others. “The rich should contribute to the public expense not only in proportion to their revenue,” Smith writes, “but something more than in that proportion.” (He also thought, Mitt, that taxes should be paid with joy, as a contribution to the well-being of all.)

It’s always easy, Smith knew, to provoke a cycle of exploitation, rage, and revolution; that’s what most of history has been. What’s hard is to replace it with one of “mildness”-of public decency, progressive reform, and shared prosperity. You couldn’t have a free market unless you had all the institutions of trust in place that only a sovereign state can guarantee. (If you want to know what capitalism looks like without those institutions, think of words like “Russia,” “oligarchs,” and “kleptocracy.”) Everything we mean by a free market depends on a functioning, sympathetic state-a state rooted not in selfish individualism but in a social sympathy so broadly articulated and institutionalized that every man is confident that he can make an honest deal with his fellow man.

So the view that the President was articulating the other day in the “that” speech wasn’t even a mild and “acceptable” form of social democratic reproach; it was the root foundational view of the free market as its greatest apostle imagined it. So don’t apologize, Mr. President, and don’t explain. Say it again! What you were articulating were the principles on which the free market, and with it this republic, is built. And that … is … that.

Bam!!!  Right there for everyone to read…if you read the New Yorker.  

We’ve got to lay our own claims to tradition and demonstrate how our progressive narratives express their affiliation with authoritative sources.  And we’ve got to do it in much more popular venues than the New Yorker and American Prospect and The Nation and even The New York Times.


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