Society first, says the sociologist

“It is important to realise that nothing comes easy, least of all in a democracy. We have to decide what kind of society we want before we let loose the market,” says JNU sociologist Dipankar Gupta. Then-

The political decision that North Europeans, and even Canadians, took was to first devise their society and then let the economy arrange itself around it. They never seriously contested America’s boast that its profit and productivity were higher than theirs. They may have objected to the ways Americans calculated unemployment figures, but even that was inconsequential. Scandinavian countries took a clear and conscious political decision that what mattered most was that mothers not neglect their children, that old people not lie in gutters and that the sick have medical care. Once these conditions were agreed upon, the market was allowed freedom.

While economic figures can be fiddled with, there is no fudging the fact that gun-related crimes in America topped 10,000 in 2006, whereas in Canada, with about the same number of weapons, the figure barely touched 83 that year. The big fat state south of the border does not look so good after all. This is why a political decision on the desired kind of society should come first. Only after that the market should be allowed in, provided moneymakers wipe their feet at the door.

Its a short piece, and makes “good” reading – I can’t paste the whole thing here, even if I want to.

Now, I don’t want mothers to neglect their children, or old people to lie in gutters, or deny medical care to the sick, or let people shoot and kill each other either. The question is, how does government intervention in these matters help? Without the market that Gupta hates, society wouldn’t exist – society is as much a creation of the market as the market is of society. I thought a sociologist would understand this basic fact. Or am I confusing anthropology with sociology? Well, whatever, that is how it is.

Unless doctors are treated as indentured labor, and employers are forced to allow working mothers a wide berth, and pay their full salaries at the same time, some one has to fund the health care and social security that Gupta’s “society” wants everyone to benefit from; the someone is the working individual. Gupta gives the example of Scandinavian countries with their punitive income tax rates, low corporate tax rates and a variety of programs run by the government. It might very well be true that those countries have better standards of living, though there are some who dispute that-

“Sweden and Norway and Finland and Denmark are still very rich countries. That’s not at issue here. The issue is what will happen to these countries and to the welfare state they have 10, 20, 30, 40 years down the line. And if you look at their economic performances [in the past 15 years], then you have to conclude that it should be very difficult for them to maintain the current rates of taxation and redistribution and financing of the welfare state while at the same time remain rich. And,” according to Tupy, “we can already see that. For example, the Timbro Institute in Sweden came up with a ranking of all countries of the E.U. vis-à-vis the 50 states of the American union [i.e., the United States]. And it is very interesting that all the Scandinavian countries come at the bottom of the league. In fact, Denmark is poorer than Kentucky.”

During the 1980s, Swedish income taxes ran as high as 90 percent. As a result, Swedish households accumulated almost no savings. This made them even more dependent on social programs when the economy soured in the early 1990s. Swedes revolted at the ballot box, electing a neo-liberal coalition led by Carl Bildt, who lowered taxes. And without those changes, many economists point out, Sweden’s economic rebirth in the late 1990s would have been impossible.
Most economists agree that the Scandinavian economic model is very hard to emulate, especially in poor nations that cannot afford to impose the high taxes needed to support an expensive welfare state. This model may work in small, rich countries with homogeneous and well-educated populations and a long history of income sharing. But some analysts argue not forever.

But I am not going to play the utilitarian comparison game of my nose is prettier than yours. Societies cannot be run on a system where those who don’t work get the same benefits as those who do. Free societies where people are free to do whatever it is they want to do with their money will probably develop their own private charity based social security system where the deserving or plain unlucky people will find help. People who question this should rethink their view of man and his nature. If their world view is that man is evil by birth and will always work in ways designed to injure everyone around him, then a socialist system with a strong government makes perfect sense, assuming those running the system are somehow less evil than those they govern. If not, a free society where man is not chained by arbitrary rules will produce the best outcome for all; even if it doesn’t, this system is still the moral one. Freedom is good in itself – it needs no other justification.

As for America, I am astounded as to the sheer number of people who think that America is a free market economy – you need to be a prize idiot or a clown to think that way; but most people who carry around such false beliefs are educated folks who probably wouldn’t think that a man in prison is a free man. Maybe they are simply unable to contrast the two ideas.

You cannot “plan for society”; we have seen what planned societies have achieved in the past – Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot. “They were dictators, we are not!” some will cry. The truth of that statement can be verified by the answer to the following question- In your system of government, does man have the absolute right to his life, his labor, his property, to free speech and expression? If the answer is no, the system is a dictatorship, if not of one man or party, then that of the mob. And no amount of obfuscation will change that fact.

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  • Terra  On October 26, 2008 at 2:43 am

    I don’t have time right now… But want to read what you said so I am making a comment as a way to bookmark this entry… Thanks – Terra

  • you12  On October 26, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    So true. The greatest political fallacy is the idea of common good.

    Although I still have my doubts about Free market,It is not fair for everyone. For example how can small store owners survive when there is a big retail giant next door?

  • Aristotle The Geek  On October 26, 2008 at 1:45 pm

    Fairness is not something that society can impose on everyone – that’s called egalitarianism. For example, its not fair that some people have to drive buses while others spend their time in air conditioned offices working sixteen hours a day; its not fair that some one who spends three years writing a book earns one hundredth of what a film star earns for one film – you earn according to your capabilities and people’s willingness to pay for your product.

    If the small store owner cannot innovate (some have started providing home deliveries of goods; others had always allowed extended credit), the giant store deserves all the customers it can get. In a free society however, a Walmart might be able squeeze their suppliers, pay a pittance to its employees and thus cut costs, but it no longer will have access to government subsidies like free land, health care costs taken care of by government programs and so on-

    Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said the group was “shooting itself in the foot” with the report.

    “We think the report in fact shows that the subsidies are a great thing for us. Do the math and you will see that every dollar invested with Wal-Mart has returned more than $30 for the community. We expect to see lots of other local governments will be asking for that $30 deal,” Williams said.

    The small store owner will not be subsidizing his competitor, regardless of what “common good justification” Walmart offers. Read the whole paper – Shopping for Subsidies: How Wal-Mart Uses Taxpayer Money to Finance its Never-Ending Growth(pdf).

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