Monday, June 04, 2012

What Economic Man misses

I've often argued that right-liberalism ends up viewing people primarily as actors in the market. If you see society as made up of millions of atomised individuals each pursuing their own desires, then you need to explain how all these competing wills are to be harmonised. The right-liberal solution is to believe that if people rationally pursue their own self-interest in the market they end up benefiting both themselves and the larger society.

And so you get right-liberals who view people primarily as rational economic agents, i.e. as Economic Man. And here's a particularly crude example (I think made by an "objectivist" - a follower of Ayn Rand). The comment was made in the context of a discussion of Islamic vs Western morality:
A rational man neither sacrifices himself to others or others to himself; he produces and trades in the free market

So there you go. If you want to be moral, just get involved as a trader or producer in the market.

I don't quite know how that speaks to all the fathers out there. They're making sacrifices for others. So are the mothers. A lot of the mothers aren't even producers or traders in the market. What then does that say about them  - are we supposed to regard them as irrational?

Right liberals no doubt once saw themselves as liberating individuals from ancient ties. But their political philosophy is highly restrictive in its own way. In restricts our moral vision, for instance, to rational self-interest in the market. It denies or excludes personal character, the duties we have toward family or our larger tradition, and ideals of manhood or womanhood.

It diminishes what man is.


  1. Such statements,

    "A rational man neither sacrifices himself to others or others to himself; he produces and trades in the free market."

    Are usually said with the sort of glee a child may experience when stealing from the cookie jar and believing they'll get away with it.

  2. The right-liberals are sort of right within their own sphere of interest. Their problem is that they can't see that society is more than just the economy. They don't care about anything except the economy so they assume that anything else is unimportant.

    They also don't see that by ignoring non-economic issues they are in the long term cutting their own throats. They've allowed the poison of political correctness to be spread throughout society, failing to realise that once the left has dealt with traditionalists they, the right-liberals, will be next on the hit list. They fail to see that by not stopping leftist control of our schools for example they are aiding abetting the left's ultimate agenda which is socialism.

    They're either blind or stupid.

  3. Dfordoom said,

    "They're either blind or stupid"

    Or can't be bothered to resist.

  4. Does the market save you if another country militarily invades?

  5. Does the market save you if another country militarily invades?

    That's just the free market in action! ;-)

  6. I'd be interested to know, Mark, what a traditionalist would consider an ideal economic model? I'm someone who subsribes to "right-liberal" economic wisdom but who has traditionalist sympathies, and am interested to know whether someone like yourself believes the two can be reconciled. The Whig/Tory political conflict of the 19th Century in Britain was arguably between right-liberals and traditionalists (respectively).

  7. The economic man is a hollow man. A materialist creature who has no concept of the transcendent nor of the social.

  8. Npinkpanther,

    I don't think traditionalists have a set position on the issue.

    It's a bit complicated, because there are aspects of the free market that work well, but other aspects which can act to dissolve society.

    So I believe you have to find a way to harness the beneficial aspects whilst restraining the more negative ones.

    Here's an example of a negative aspect. One generation builds a beautiful garden suburb that's desirable to live in. So desirable that developers can make a profit buying a house, knocking it down and building a block of apartments.

    That process continues until there is so much congestion or until the garden aesthetic has been so undermined that the suburb is no longer deemed as desirable to live in.

    The answer in this instance is some kind of reasonable heritage controls.

  9. That example lays your objection out, Mr. Richardson, pretty clearly:

    Unrestrained, right-liberals end up killing the golden goose.