Slavery and the footnotes

I came across this old essay on slavery by economist Gordon Tullock (h/t Tyler Cowen) and what struck me (aside from an excellent presentation of the economics of slavery) was this footnote on the inevitable dissolution of Marxism (this paper was written in 1967):

It may be that the dissolution is not the first step toward the total elimination of this powerful religion, but merely a breaking away of the talmudic encrustation of the true scribes and pharisees of the Second and Third Internationals. Such a development is not uncommon in the history of other religions. My personal opinion is that the disintegration which we now see is more fundamental, however, and I doubt that Marxism will survive the century as a living faith.

In my own experience in the classrooms of powerful and plebeian universities alike, Marxism has indeed disintegrated into virtually nothing. Marxism has, rather, become a sort of an embarrassing older uncle that professors chuckle about in a manner that is more reminiscing than bitter. They all realize that Marxism led to very bad things, but they are unable to acknowledge that capitalism – Marxism’s Other – has brought about peace and prosperity for untold billions.

It would be wise for us, therefore, to continue to focus on this dead religion. Deep-seated beliefs are hard to let go of, even after these beliefs have been shown – theoretically and empirically – to lead to horrors of the worst kind. “Yes,” the embarrassed former adherents grudgingly admit, “communism has failed miserably, but socialism has not. It has not even been tried, and besides, it is capitalism that is responsible for the world’s ills today.”

This is not obstinance. This is deceit, plain and simple.

So how do we go about combating obvious deceit (rather than the sophisticated theories of 20th century Marxists)?

I think the answer is to just debunk their examples on a case by case basis, in as public as a forum as you can muster. Famines in east and central Africa, for example, have often been attributed to capitalism because of the policies of the World Bank and IMF. Libertarians ought to agree with most of this, and then simply point out that the World Bank and the IMF are central planning agencies designed, created, and supported by governments in the West. Once this fact -which is not quite as simple as it appears – is acknowledged, you can go from there and take a public choice route, an Austrian route, or even a populist libertarian route to explain why capitalism is not responsible for famines.

Wars, genocides, ethnic cleansing campaigns, etc., can all be explained (and eliminated) if libertarians focus on the role of the State in all of these ills rather than on the theoretical or empirical weaknesses of socialist explanations and proposals.

4 thoughts on “Slavery and the footnotes

  1. I agree in changing the debate to focus on the state rather than on philosophies. I make it a point in my personal life to talk friends down from their hate of religion (which they blame for most of life’s woes) and instead on the coercive power of the state which allows corrupt religions to use a monopoly of force to execute their moral edicts upon the masses. I would like to iterate that I too am an atheist but realized when I discovered classical liberal thought that without the state, without the police and the law-makers, religion (like racism) is merely a red herring.

  2. I would like to offer a bit different perspective. I agree that Marxism is religion mascerading as economic philosophy. As a Christian, I do not see faith as a source of harm, but of healing. I see history showing the state using religious institutions to convince the faithful to approve sin even when it was clearly against God’s law. The last couple of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Nazification of the German churches – all were opposed by some faithful Christians, but made possible by state control of religious institutions.

  3. “Yes,” the embarrassed former adherents grudgingly admit, “communism has failed miserably, but socialism has not.”

    I think it’s important to remember that Marxism was only one variant of socialism. Other variants are still alive & kicking as social democratic parties.

    Click to access 2013-04-17-PolicyBook_E.pdf

    “I see history showing the state using religious institutions to convince the faithful to approve sin even when it was clearly against God’s law.”

    As an atheist, I find discussion’s of “God’s Law” alarming. Go argue Christian versus Muslim Sharia law with the Muslims. Even better, explain why eating shellfish is ok to Heredi Jews.

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