Friday, 10 January 2014

The Marketplace and High Toryism

How much of a conservative force is the market?  I have blogged on this for Conservative Home here:

There is more to say on this though, because the market is undoubtedly an organic institution that has arisen naturally.  Its virtue is that it has not been centrally planned according to abstract theory.  It is rather the cumulative effect of individuals trading together, leading to a consequential price from demand and supply that regulates scarcity very efficiently. 

The market then must be defended and recognised as a part of the tried and tested human interactions that have created society.  It achieves what no central planner can in that it overcomes the partial and limited viewpoint of individuals.  Just as much as bureaucrats with fallible and limited knowledge cannot plan for a whole economy without disastrous results, so the market unconsciously regulates scarcity through prices set by no planner but through a natural process of reaching equilibrium.

Friedrich Hayek, that most liberal of philosophers, made the very Burkean point that in our historical origins civilization occurred when society began to rely on accumulated wisdom and knowledge that no individual comprehends or possesses.  So it is, he rightly argues, with the market.  The consequent result of lots of individuals transacting with each other is an unintentional regulation of scarcity.  This is why markets work and why, although Socialist governments in this country nationalised many industries, they would never have risked nationalising the provision of food.

The market is a valid and valuable institution that came about through historic evolution rather than the illegitimate process of political revolution.  The problem with politics today is not so much that it is pro or anti-market as that it regards the market as explaining everything about human interactions.

Rather like the more extreme enlightenment philosophers, particularly French empiricists, who regarded science as explaining everything about our race, this is a myopic outlook.  It ignores so many other important aspects of being human – religious faith, family love, romantic love, patriotism, appreciation of art and beauty, love of our countryside.  It is acceptance of that false Whig cliché that “every man has his price” first coined by our first prime minister, the corrupt Sir Robert Walpole. 

The market is an inadequate explanation for all aspects of human life.  To paraphrase G K Chesterton once you introduce to conversation with a Tory the Armed Forces and what motivates them, the Tory no longer talks of self interest and profit, but patriotism. 

That is exactly the point.  Surely conservatism is a rejection of the idea that human life can be explained in its entirety from one scientific or even one economic perspective.  It is my concern that the modern Conservative Party is in danger of acting as though the market explains all behaviour and is the most efficient way to get the best out of people in other aspects of life apart from trade and industry.  That is an ideological rather than a Tory perspective in the view of this blogger.  

In effect it is no different in its approach from the social Darwinist, the Socialist or any other ideologue who attempts to reduce the complicated nature of humanity to a materialist or pseudo-scientific theory. 

It is the argument here that just as patriotism drives the soldier, sailor or airman, so a notion of public service rather than self interest can drive the civil servant and indeed the politician.  The vicar is moved to his vocation by his faith not profit. Royalty serve us through the values of tradition and duty.  We must recognise that the market has its place, but to try and treat profit as the only motivator for human action will have a corrosive effect on society and if we succeed in reducing our world to one where it is the only motivation, we will be living in a degraded and cynical place. 

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