Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Cultural Etatism (part 2)

When referring to goods for sale, prices reflect subjective valuations that take into account a bundle of information regarding what people expect to receive for what they must give up. If deciding to trade a shell for a coconut, I must consider the past uses of coconuts, my present need for coconuts, as well as any possible future uses of coconuts. If I expect to gain from trading a shell for a coconut, I will establish a price, the shell. If one thousand people establish a market for shells and coconuts and the going rate for one coconut is 1.25 shells, we can infer what people in general think about the relative value of those two goods. I do not need to poll all one thousand people to confirm the price of the coconut established by free exchange; and, likewise, I can not quantify all the various purposes, experiences and beliefs about uncertainty which are included in the price of the coconut. Suffice to say that price entails a lot more information than some objective rate of exchange.

Cultures, too, represent valuations, but along more metaphysical lines: cultures develop to determine what shared ends a people will acquiesce to striving towards and the acceptable means for striving towards them. All cultures say something about what a people respect with regard to property, family, law and religion. While we are raised in a culture, we often don't stop to consider the various costs of maintaining our participation in that culture. Some means are given up to respect the cultural boundaries set for relationships and laws, and some ends are given precedent over others such as the various bans on polygamy, assault and smoking in public places. While the price of goods and services allocate capital in ways that tend to increase overall capital, then the price of culture generates a system of interacting that is conducive to the long-term furtherance of shared ends.

The prices established by a culture are thus a sort of self-censorship or impulse discrimination, and, like the prices of goods and services, is established over time. As the individual process of valuation coalesces around a definite set of ideas, a coherent culture begins to take shape.

As governments pry into a market, either by regulation, tariff, monopoly or otherwise, the information provided by prices in that market is distorted to reflect an arbitrary set of information. Instead of prices reflecting the preferences and valuations of everybody, they reflect the goals and orientations of just a few people whose use of force to implement their own valuations disrupts the information transmitted by otherwise unhindered prices. Most economists understand the general effects to be expected from price floors and ceilings; and, it is generally understood that banning substances simply moves the market for the illicit items underground. So to with cultures.

When government regulates cultures as in anti-discrimination laws or by inhibiting certain forms of speech, they are suppressing the cultural prices established by otherwise voluntary interactions. Anti-discrimination cases does not eradicate discriminatory thoughts any more than banning cannabis has resulted in the disappearance of that drug from an accessible market.

Much like the government depends on the wealth extracted from the accumulated capital of its people, it also depends on the culture of those people to acquiesce to those ever greater intrusions on voluntary interactions. From the perspective of the politically-oriented bureaucrat or anyone supported more by government action than what would be offered voluntarily, culture is an impedance to the continuing growth and influence of government.

In the last 100 years of Western culture, governments have substituted legislation for voluntary interaction and have maintained these programs through force of law or subsidized them by taxation and monetary inflation. It is no longer enough that marriage is sacred because it was arrived at by generations of people learning to live and prosper together; today, it is sacred only by decree of the tax benefit derived and established by a license granted by the state (and taxed). Language used to be inhibited by good sense. Today, we find laws against various forms of speech, especially as related to various minority groups. Egalitarianism is the justification for force in the marketplace of culture, but it is a theory of justice that no marketplace of thought has agreed to.

As cultural bonds are replaced by interventionism, the movement of political and cultural thought will become more and more reactionary. As the grounds for implementing new legislation is based more on a historicist view of progress, the whole foundation of classical liberal ideas on which so much wealth has been created will be destroyed by the whims of short-sighted ego-maniacs and the support received from a people devoid of a sense of their own history.


  1. I read part one, and part two. I'd say these things were well put. There are a lot of things that you phrased in a way I hadn't considered before that makes the conversation easier to follow, and puts the conversation in terms and language libertarians are already familiar with.

    I'll be coming back to read more!