Friday, March 16, 2012

The Separation of State And Economics

In relation to politics and religion, a general belief is usually held with the slogan "The Separation of State and Church", which holds that a government should not be involved in the private life of citizens, and consequently should not endorse any religious affiliations, and should not regulate the religious life of private citizens. The resulting system is usually called "political secularism".

However, the concept that a government should not be involved in the private life of citizens is usually not applied to economics. A similar slogan can be introduced which can be expressed as "The Separation of State and Economics". This means that the government should not endorse any economic affiliations, and should not regulate the economic life of private citizens. The resulting system is usually called "laissez-faire capitalism".

Some might argue that such a system is actually promoting one form of economics over another, but nothing can be further from the truth, as I will try to explain in this post. What would most likely be confusing to most people is the difference between "state capitalism", and "laissez-faire capitalism". State capitalism is the form of capitalism that most people are familiar with, that is practiced in countries that advocate capitalism as an economic system do. And when people are thinking of capitalism they are usually thinking of state capitalism, because this is the system that is being implemented worldwide in the contemporary time.

To make an analogy with the more familiar concept of secularism, one of the basic tenets of secularism is freedom of religion. This means that private citizens have the right to choose their own religion and practice their religious views insofar that they do not abuse the rights of others to the freedom of religion. For example, in a secular society, the death penalty for apostasy (changing one's own religion) is an illegal practice. This is because penalizing apostasy restrains the religious freedoms. Similarly, laissez-faire capitalism does force individuals to participate in any economic system; It's only purpose is to protect the individuals from being coerced into adopting an economic system. The same cannot be said about state capitalism, which practices coercion in economic matters. In short, laissez-faire capitalism is a direct consequence of what might be called: "Freedom of Economics".

The major opponent of capitalism is communism. While state capitalism is a corrupt version of the ideals of capitalism which as previously discussed is embodied in laissez-faire capitalism, communism cannot be called anything except economic tyranny. It is a system where everybody is a slave. Of course, this claim does require explanation, and I will try to provide some explanations.

The basics of liberty and freedom rely on some concepts, these include: Autonomy, Individual Rights, Agency, and Responsibility. Let's touch these concepts briefly.

1- Autonomy:
Autonomy is defined as the capacity to choose, and act according to the will. This means that a person has the capacity to think and make choices (called: "Freedom of Thought"), and that they can act according to their will without coercion (called: "Freedom from Coercion", also related to the concept of "Freedom from Violence"). The only way that you can force any person to act in contradiction to their will is through aggression, usually in the form of physical threats and violence.

A liberal system would respect the autonomy of individuals.

2- Individual Rights:
The source of all individual rights is what is usually called "The Right to Life". The right to life can be defined as a moral principle that respects the right of the individual to live, and provide the means to sustain their life. This translates to that an individual has the right to take actions whose purpose is the support, furtherance, and enjoyment of one's own life.

Numerous supporting rights exist to protect the right to life. Those rights are usually called "individual rights". Examples are numerous, but to name a few: All the positive freedoms provided by society, such as freedom of religion, speech, and economics. And the negative freedoms that are advocated, such as freedom from violence, racism, and brutality. Some rights have emerged to protect the rights of individuals who are being systematically denied their rights, examples include: Women rights, gay rights, ...etc. Those rights exist to support the fundamental right to life that all humans are morally entitled to.

3- Agency:
Agency is defined as the capacity of an entity (usually, a person) to influence reality. This is a concept that is tightly connected with the concept of autonomy discussed earlier. Autonomy is the capacity of action according to the will. Agency is the idea that an action has observable consequences.

In philosophical context, agency is the opposite of the concept of fate. Fate is the idea that whatever actions happen, the outcome is the same. For example, if it was your fate to have an accident and die tomorrow, then no matter what actions you take, or any amount of precautions you make, the outcome will remain the same. [PS: Don't confuse the concept of fate with determinism.]

In personal and social contexts, the idea of social dynamics is the application of agency. Social dynamic means that a person can change their circumstances. For example, abandoning race-based slavery is an application of social agency. If a person was regarded a slave simply because that person has black skin, then that person lacks agency in his or her status as a slave. Numerous women's rights are also motivated by this social agency concept. If a woman is denied being an active member of society, holding a position of leadership, or work simply because she was born as a female, then that woman is being stripped of her social agency. Similarly, abandonment of bourgeois economics is an application of economic agency. In bourgeois societies, people are born into an economic class and they remain in that economic class. So, people who were in the working class had no means no change that, same applied to the middle class, and the ruling class. However, in capitalism, a person born in a poor family can make good economic decision and become rich. Rich people can make poor economic decisions and become poor or middle class, even sometimes go bankrupt. This phenomenon is called social class dynamic, and is a direct consequence of economic agency.

In short, in this context, agency means that the actions you take as an autonomous agent can and will affect your life.

4- Responsibility:
Responsibility is defined as the recognition that actions have consequences. With the assumption that an individual is an autonomous agent, the individual needs to accept that the actions they make based on their will and the choices they decide to make are going to affect their life due to their agency in their own life. Accepting that proposition is the basis of personal responsibility.

Autonomy and agency are not the same concept, although they are connected. Responsibility only arises when both autonomy and agency are in place. For example, a robot that is remotely controlled by an operator is an agent. But it is not autonomous. It is not autonomous because it does not make choices or decisions. However, this robot can make actions that affect reality, and hence it is an agent. A remotely controlled robot has no responsibility if it's operator directed it to commit murder [it is an the agent of murder in this case]. The responsibility lies with the autonomous agent; Which in this case is the operator of the robot.

On the other hand, if we imagine the existence of an invisible ghost, such ghost can be thought of as an autonomous non-agent. It is autonomous if it can make decisions about various things, for example, it's whereabouts. But, assuming that this ghost has no capacity to actually change anything in reality, this ghost has no agency. This should clarify the distinction between autonomy and agency.

Obviously, as stated earlier, responsibility is a necessity that arises from the recognition that humans posses the qualities of autonomy and agency at the same time. Hence, such humans would be autonomous agents. They are responsible because they can make their own decisions and act on them (ie. autonomous), and their actions have observable consequences on their reality (ie. agents), and recognize the relationship between their actions and it's consequences (ie. responsible). Denying any of those propositions means that person lacks liberty.

From the four principles that we just discussed in relation to liberty, let's see how those concepts apply to a communist economic system. Karl Marx devised a slogan in support of his economic system that states: "From each according to their ability, to each according to their needs." It is obvious that such a slogan contradicts every principle of liberty that we have discussed. If this isn't obvious, let us try and analyze how this principle relates to the economic freedom of the individuals.

First, let's look at the autonomy of individuals in the light of that statement. "From each according to their ability", this implies an obligation of the individual to provide everything they can if they are able to provide it. This denies every concept of autonomy that an individual has. What exactly is the individual ability?! And more importantly, who or what is the arbiter of an individual's ability?! Such a slogan strips humans of their decision making process. They have no choices. You cannot expect a person to do everything that he can do. I can (ie. posses the ability) to take a knife and stab the next person I see. Fortunately, I choose not to act on that ability. I am an autonomous person, I am not a controlled robot. Therefore, the actions I make are based on a process of knowing what I can do, and then deciding if I want to do them or not.

Additionally, as an autonomous person, I can try to make actions that are outside of my ability. I can try to lift a block of steel that weights a ton. I most certainly will fail at that task, because it is outside of my ability, but the important thing here is that I can try to test the limits of my ability.

Therefore, an autonomous person has no obligation to act based on his ability. He might be able to do things, but choose not to do them. And he might be unable to do things, yet choose to make an attempt. It is clear here, that this slogan denies a person his autonomy.

What about need?! "To each according to their needs". Once again, autonomous agents should have the choice of deciding what they need. Do I as an autonomous agent need a big mansion?! Or is a humble cottage enough for my needs?! Again, an autonomous agent should be the one to decide what they need. They are the arbiters of their needs. A liberal government would not prescribe the needs of the individuals, the individuals must decide what their needs are.

Secondly, let's address agency. "To each according to their needs" is a direct violation of agency. Just as claiming that a person with black skin must be a slave, and nothing they can do will change that (hence taking away his social agency), this proposed system means that what you get is predetermined by one's needs. Hence, we are denying the agency of people as to what they can get, by defining what they get by what they need. What if someone has the desire to get something they don't need?! What if someone decides that they don't want to get something that they do need?! Both of these individuals are being stripped of their agency, because regardless of their actions they will get things that have been predefined as their personal needs. Obviously, such a system can be only called absolute tyranny.

Third, let's address responsibility. The primary motive of a welfare state or a communist society is the denial of responsibility. Individuals who advocate welfare states or communism would rather not make any economical decisions, and leave all the decisions onto the government to regulate their economic life. Naturally, no liberty can ever be achieved by individuals who deny their responsibility towards their life, including among others their economic life. Communism strives to create a classless society where all people are of the same economic standing. No rich and poor individuals, all people are of the same economic standing.

Obviously, such desire is based on the desire to eliminate the social and economic dynamics. However, it is ignored that those dynamics are a direct result of social and economic agency. Actions matter. Actions creates change and dynamics. An individual who accepts their own agency, recognized that their actions have consequences. Acting while denying consequences of one's actions is the very definition of irresponsibility. Such irresponsibility is devastating to society, and comes at direct contradiction with the principles of liberty.

Capitalism advocates economic agency. Individuals are responsible for their own economic well-being. The consequences of an individual's actions and economic decisions are what makes them rich or poor. It is a great responsibility, but denying the individual responsibility has devastating effects.

Finally, the issue of individual rights is a vast and complicated issue. It will not be addressed in this entry, hopefully it will have it's own entry in a future post because it would require enormous amounts of explanation. However, to put it in a nutshell, some of the supporting rights relating to the right to life are the right to productivity and the right to property [whose purpose is to support the right to productivity]. The reasons for those rights need further explanations, but it is reasonably understood that in a communist society, the government has a monopoly on productivity and ownership. Such monopoly is devastating to any liberal system, and denies individuals their right to life.

In conclusion, I believe that anyone who proclaims to value liberty needs to think and address the problems raised, and realize that protecting liberty and individual rights has to be accompanied by the principle of separation of state and economics. State intervention in economics is undesirable and contradicts every principle of a liberal society.

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