01 March 2017

Carlson on Capitalism

LPR's Issues Etc. usually frustrates me but this segment was a pleasant surprise, although I'm not sure if the host or most of the audience was equally enthused.

While it is very likely that I would still differ with Mr. Carlson on various points (considering his paleo-conservative ties), overall I found his discussion on Capitalism and the family to be of great interest, even refreshing. He also provided some political context that despite its historical truth will irritate not a few of the listeners and certainly help to smash some of the false party narratives that have become so rampant as to take on a life all their own.
We could go even further and include not only Christian attitudes with regard to Capitalism but extend that to the question of patriotism and war. I won't pretend that my own views have ever been a majority but it's interesting how the 19th and early 20th centuries drove many Christians to re-think the normative positions on these issues and not a few came to question American cultural standards regarding violence, the state, money and the nature of citizenship. Alas that legacy and much of its history have been lost, forgotten or deliberately destroyed. So it is with the political parties and much of their past.
Carlson rightly argues that Capitalism contains within it elements which actually lead to the destruction of the family. As I have continually pointed out the conservative 1950s were not so conservative. While they may have seemed like a return to old values when it came to marriage and the family when compared with the wild 1920s, the embrace of consumerism invited a new and different type of corrupting and cancerous values. This genesis of a new cycle led the culture right back to the decadence of the 1920s but as is usually the case, a much worse and more extreme expression of the same tendency.
Carlson is right to question the influence of the Industrial era and the profound changes it brought to culture and certainly the family. While the effects cannot be wholly undone, he offers at least a mindset that can lead us as Christians to challenge some of the assumptions.
The vision it must said is atomistic and limited to individuals and families. If applied on a congregational level, the ideas he's putting forth would quickly succumb to legalism. And in terms of applying them to the whole of society, it simply cannot be. You're never going to get a majority of people to give up their technology and affluence even though it poisons and enslaves them.
I appreciate what he says about the local, family or even cottage-style economy. The world is unlikely to return to such a model but there are a host of ethical and clearly practical concerns and issues that must be wrestled with when we reckon with the nature of techno-industrial life. I've wrestled with these issues for years and continually vacillate. The fact that Carlson seems to want people to grapple with such questions is to me something of an encouragement.
What he's calling local, family or small business capitalism is understood but there's such an inherent dynamic that even thinking in these terms is problematic. I have a feeling he would grant the point.
Local or cottage-type familial economy really isn't properly capitalistic. I think what many people mean to emphasise at this point is a lack of regulation and something less than total devotion to the cult of hyper-profit and efficiency. Capitalism as a system built upon usury-based investment returns is not really the point here. This model tends to be more about working with your hands and getting paid for an honest day's work. Questions of risk and reward aren't really the focus nor do they provide the foundation of the economic model.
There's also something to be said about earning your money producing something tangible as opposed to a finance-based economic model which is at the heart of modern Capitalism.
Small-businesses sit astride this fence. Some are of more the cottage variety but many are miniaturised versions of the larger publicly traded corporations he criticises. It was so refreshing for someone to finally say the values of Wall Street are not conducive to strong families.
Shout it from the rooftops.
Of course all too often what starts out as a small family business grows into a 'small business' with employees. The successful and aggressive versions continue to expand. The whole idea of progress, advancement, profit and improvement are deeply seated in Protestant Post-millennialism, the Enlightenment and certainly Capitalism the offspring of the latter.
I'm not sure where Carlson is at, but I think all these notions need to be questioned in light of the New Testament. Once this reality is grasped these questions can be approached in a very different fashion.
Capitalism itself needs to be questioned in light of Scripture. The subsequent questions regarding local vs. national, cottage vs. publicly traded, risk/reward and additional issues like so-called 'crony' capitalism can then be viewed through that spectrum. To be honest I think most of these dilemmas are essentially false and actually represent tensions within the various stages of development. Only by questioning the model, part and parcel, can we hope to know how to live in our present cultural setting.

The Industrial Revolution cannot be undone but Carlson has identified something that many people seem to miss. It's moral component. Figures like Hardy, Dickens and others understood this all too well. Today it has become so normalised that we take it all for granted. Carlson is correct to challenge that assumption. What can be done? Probably not much but embracing a different way of thinking can prove somewhat liberating, change your outlook and affect how you interact with the world.

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