Monday, November 20, 2006

When markets aren't enough

Property developer Harry Triguboff is one of the ten richest men in Australia. He recently told a journalist that Sydney has "too many forests and parks". He thinks that national parks should be developed for housing:

You go north and we have all these reserves and you go south and you have all the reserves and they are the best part of the coast. That is crazy. We should be building on this area. If they want to see trees, they can go to Katoomba, there are plenty of trees there.

Triguboff also believes in open borders. He thinks that Australia should admit 130 million immigrants by 2050, and that Sydney's ideal population by this time would be 20 million.

He doesn't care if these immigrants speak English or not:

What's more important for me - a guy who can fix my tap or a guy who can speak English.

It's easy to see why Triguboff would think that such measures are in his economic interest. If you're making a fortune building city apartments then having ever larger quantities of both land and people would seem to be a good way to increase your profits.

So if all that we were to follow was a free market mentality, then Triguboff might appear to be a reasonable man.

I don't think, though, that anyone who follows the free market alone can accurately describe themselves as a conservative.

After all, the logic of Triguboff's position is not to conserve the natural environment, but to develop for profit even the national parks fringing Sydney.

Similarly, the logic of his position is to overwhelm the existing population with so many immigrants that the established Australian people, culture and tradition would not be conserved.

What this means is that to be a real conservative it's not enough to follow the free market alone. The slogan of freedom and the market won't do by itself.

There must be other 'goods' we seek to conserve which aren't derived from individual profit seeking within a market.

It is a hollow rendering of our nature to see the market alone as constituting the good in human experience.

Most real conservatives, for instance, will be responsive enough to nature to want to live close to it - closer, anyway, than an occasional visit to Katoomba to see a tree.

And most real conservatives will feel connected to their own tradition and want to protect it, even if this means placing some limits on profit seeking within the market.

This is not to say that conservatives must be anti-market. My own position is that an intelligently regulated market is the best option. The ideal is to harness the power of the market so that it drives economic growth and provides a ground for healthy competition, without undermining other more important goods within a society.


  1. "Intelligently regulated market" begs the question of who gets to define what "intelligently regulated" means.

    I'm a big believer in the efficacy and morality of free markets. Anything less than a free market is a form of confiscation of someone else's wealth.

    But I am also a big believer in homogenous, exclusive nation-states. The way I reconcile the two beliefs is to argue that a nation should be for one people only, and that within that state, a free market system is the most just and effective way of organizing economic matters. But this would not allow open borders immigration, just open borders movement of goods.

  2. Mark, in a way you're proving my point.

    You're a conservative because you recognise something outside of a free market which you want to conserve.

    You're willing to place a simple restriction on the free market (limiting the free movement of labour across national borders) to conserve the existence of your own ethny.

    Does such a restriction destroy the operation of capitalism? No, it doesn't. It allows market competition to continue, but within certain conditions.

  3. Mark, just one further point. Regulating the market doesn't have to mean confiscating wealth, but rather establishing rules applying to all players in which profit is pursued.

    For instance, in a regulated market there might be rules establishing business hours for shops; there might be environmental laws aimed at waste management; there might be housing industry rules establishing setbacks and density and so on.

    As long as such rules are applied to all players in the market, and as long as they don't become too burdensome for business, I don't see why they should be rejected.

    As to who gets to set the rules, it's a job for a legitimately constituted government.

  4. Whenever I hear this free market uber alles blather I can't help but think of a poem by Richard Wilbur.

    Matthew VIII,28 ff.

    Rabbi, we Gadarenes
    Are not ascetics; we are fond of wealth and possessions.
    Love, as You call it, we obviate by means
    Of the planned release of aggressions.

    We have deep faith in prosperity.
    Soon, it is hoped, we will reach our full potential.
    In the light of our gross product, the practice of charity
    Is palpably non-essential.

    It is true that we go insane;
    That for no good reason we are possessed by devils;
    That we suffer, despite the amenities which obtain
    At all but the lowest levels.

    We shall not, however, resign
    Our trust in the high-heaped table and the full trough.
    If You cannot cure us without destroying our swine,
    We had rather You shoved off.

  5. Mark,

    Why do you assiduously avoid the 800 pound gorilla in the room? May we not even consider that the Jewish Triguboff might be advancing the ethnic genetic interests of his people.

    Harry Oscar Triguboff A.O (born March 3, 1933) is an Australian property developer and billionaire. He was born in Darien, China on March 3, 1933, son of Moishe and Freda Triguboff. He spent his early childhood in the white Russian Jewish community in Tients in south of Beijing.

    As Mr Green, Member for Kalgoorlie, explained to Parliament on June 15 1939:

    "I desire to discuss what many honourable members might regard as a ticklish subject, namely, the policy of admitting 15 000 Jewish refugees to Australia during the next three years. I do not wish to be misunderstood. My opposition to this proposal is far stronger than if the immigrants were of the Nordic race, and came from Northern European countries, from the north of Italy or from Jugo-Slavia. People from those places would help to develop Australia."

    Desmond Jones

  6. Mark, your point is well-taken.

    I am hypersensitive to suggestions that the free market needs to be "intelligently regulated" because for my entire adult life those have pretty much been the liberal code words for "we're going to work some more socialism into the system." That's how liberals always seem to talk - about "intelligent" or "sensible" regulation. Which in their minds means things like progressive income taxes, high gas taxes to discourage consumption, and so on. Basically, collectivist social engineering. And I despise that.

    For the same reason I find myself having to suppress a knee-jerk feeling of antagonism every time you talk about how freedom should not be the ultimate value. That is something the left says too - how we must prostrate ourselves before the needs of the majority, before the "common good".

    I may choose of my own free will to give up my money or even my life for my people. But I will never accept someone else telling me that I have an obligation to give up my freedom to choose how to control my life and my property for the good of other people. I belong to me. I am an independent consciousness with a right to freedom from the tyranny of others' will to control me. Of course I cannot impose my will on others, either. But with that single caveat, I do not accept any other man's declarations about what freedom I may or may not have over my own life.

    I am not talking about freedom with respect to genetically-determined gender or ethnic or other biological behaviors or instincts. I am talking about freedom from other human beings' attempts to impose their will upon me.

    That's the problem with using the word "freedom". It's too general.

  7. There's a lot to respond to in the comments. I'll do it a bit at a time.

    Shane, I'm not sure about distributism. In general, I think that having owner operators is a good thing. It's not easy, though, to envisage how the idea could be applied in practice in all sections of a modern economy (e.g. in large scale manufacturing enterprises).

    It's an interesting field, but I'm just not confident enough about the specifics to have a firm opinion.

    Mild Colonial Boy, thanks for the poem, I enjoyed it. Let me return the favour by reproducing below a poem (from the very late 1800s? early 1900s?) by a fellow Queenslander of yours, George Essex Evans (a settler in colonial Toowoomba).


    Earth's mightiest isle. She stands alone.
    The wide seas wash around Her throne,
    Crowned by the red sun as his own.

    The world's grey page lies bare today -
    The rise of nations - the decay.
    Will She, too, rise - and fall as they?

    The trust is ours - to us alone.
    We are the strong foundation-stone,
    The seed from which the flower is grown.

    What shall it profit Her if we
    Make gold our God, and strength our plea,
    And call wild licence Liberty?

    If, in our scorn of creed and king,
    All reverence to the winds we fling,
    And fall before a baser thing?

    What though her sword unconquered be,
    Her armoured navies sweep the sea,
    If still Her people are not free?

    To be a people proved and strong -
    True freemen of the Poet's song
    For whom the world has waited long.

  8. 130 million immigrants? Is this guy serious, does he want to live in a sewer?
    Whatever the merits of opening up parks for development, that second opionion of his is scary and stupid.
    The point you make is right, conservatives are suspicious of change for change sake, this guy sounds like an anarchist.
    I read an interesting essay on Marxism and Corporations, the gist goes like this, Corporations were an ally of conservatives, when marxists wanted to overturn society, but they are the marxists best friends nowadays when it comes to political correctness and other hairbrained leftist ideals, as long, that is, as they dont demand all that companies money! Behold the 'diversity training' in the private sector, the lip service to lefist ideas!
    People like this tend now to support the left, look at the British Labour part's funders, or the Democratic party's funders, they are millionaires nay even billionaires funding lefies!!!
    The free market has always been and will always be only a means to an end, it is the only way to ensure growth and economic stability, but multi national corporations with no loyalty to any nation will have to be looked upon suspiciously.

  9. Where is Australia going to get the water from for 130 million people?

    Hasn't he heard about the recent drought.

    What is Australia going to produce to maintain a high income for such a number of people, given every western country is wilting under intense Asian economic competition?

    Why will people want to live in Australia when its quality of life is no better than anywhere else?

    Extreme economic libertarians just aren't living in the real world.


    Written by a REAL conservative,
    Samuel Francis.

    "Conservatives -- real conservatives, at least, not classical liberals or neoconservatives -- should not be surprised. Capitalism, an economic system driven only, according to its own theory, by the accumulation of profit, is at least as much the enemy of tradition as the NAACP or communism, and those on the "right" who make a fetish of capitalism generally understand this and applaud it. The hostility of capitalism toward tradition is clear enough in its reduction of all social issues to economic ones. Moreover, like communism, capitalism is based on an essential egalitarianism that refuses to distinguish between one consumer's dollar and another. The reductionism and egalitarianism inherent in capitalism explains its destructive impact on social institutions. On the issue of immigration, capitalism is notorious for demanding cheap labor to undercut the cost of native workers. But it is not only in America that it has done so."

  11. Water is not a realistic constraint on migration. Australia actually has ten times more water per person than any other developed country (the USA is next). We just fail to allocate it efficiently and need to build more dams etc to harness it.

    If the chief constraint on immigration is our ability to assimilate migrants into our society, then an increase in the native birth rate would increase our capacity to absorb further migrants as well, by ensuring that migrants are complementing, not replacing existing Australians.