Socializing Return, Privatizing Risk, and Gambling with Truth

A friend recently commented on Curtis Wright’s claim

At heart, I’m a Nietzschean. The world either does contribute to our capacity for being strong, healthy, self-creative human animals, or it doesn’t. Mostly it doesn’t. Mostly we live under one thumb or another, almost always multiple thumbs. Nietzsche’s attitude toward the thumb was honesty. My attitude toward capitalism is, Perhaps it is the best possible economic system, as you say Mr. Capitalist, but can we please stop being dishonest about it? Can we please stop telling all of the anxious lies we tell about how it is the apex of freedom? Can we please at least tell the truth about its human effects and its effects on nature?

As for hope, the philosopher Santayana talked about “animal faith.” Beyond religion, we have the faith of animals who enjoy the incredible privilege of being alive and conscious of the fact. I know that faith, and I try to be loyal to it. So working toward a condition where people know that this Nietzschean joy is their true “vocation” is important. As Fichte put it, You are free, so act like it. Hope is all in the act.

Truth is the bastion of the neo-Platonists, and I think does not serve Wright well here. The focus should not be on a some Golden Form, but on the Aristotelian formulation for happiness; the problem with the system that Wright decries is that it eschews the concept of ‘more for most and none for none’ that is in essence Aristotle’s starting point for his Ethics. Wright’s Capitalism is simply unconcerned about most, save through the Zombie Economics of supply-side macro theory (which views most of as a mice lucky to have the crumbs from the table.)

We are engaged in a “naming” battle; a linguistic version of counting coup which has gotten terribly out of hand. The concept of being able to buy and sell in market was with us long before anyone bandied about the term “capitalism”. What the rational find problematic, and the delusional worship, is the abstraction of the concept of markets until it becomes little more than an unregulated virtual gambling hall. Yes, there are those who argue that all commerce is at it’s core, a gamble, but in modern societies it is against the law to insure someone’s life and then murder them. Yet in the financial world we are not only engaged in just that, we have a significant portion of the population ignorantly celebrating that engagement.

Our laws, as Mr. Grieder and others suggested years ago, work to socialize risks and privatize returns, doubling down on the two inescapable pillars of what I call abstract capitalism: it is entirely unstable, and produces horribly inequitable results. The “libertarians” claim kinship of classical liberalism, but their positions are such a corruption of that philosophy that even neo-liberalism does the like of Locke a disservice (and can be confused with the virtually identical approach from the faux center, the Democratic Leadership Caucus extremism of Hillary et al). Better I think to call them Lotto Liberals, as they endorse little more than gaming.

There are as many societal mechanisms for addressing economic instability as their are societies, from the potlatch of the Tlingit to the financial regulations of the modern state;  some Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 11.15.01 AMof these mechanisms are more effective than others at the redistribution necessary to maintain a cohesive social network.  Unfortunately, Lotto Liberalism flatly rejects redistribution and puts its faith in the egoistic fallacy that  that one is wholly responsible for one’s own success, which like  a Bizarro counterfeit of Athena leaps from the forehead of its sire, Hubris.


Alright, maybe a pedantic rant equating Zeus with Saint Hubert is a stretch, but so are the myths that seem woven into the fabric of American “exceptionalism”.  We don’t need to surrender hope, but keeping hope alive does not we should wrap ourselves in the Emperor’s clothes. What we need to do is lend a hand, rediscover what E. J. Dionne calls the communitarian spirit, because as that aged sage Red Green puts it, “we are all in this together…”

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