People are the same in many ways and yet different people in different cultures can act very differently.  This class has made me begin to question whether or not it is academically honest to attempt to apply results from an economic study in the United States to people in very traditional eastern cultures for example.  While Americans are broadly known for our bravado, independence and individuality not all cultures are like that.  I question whether the same incentives that we have are truly applicable to those with different mind-sets and goals.  Perhaps this is a short run analysis rather than a long run analysis because it is possible that we are all the same in the long run and only act differently in the short run due to the barriers involved in changing your cultural requirements and duties.  I wonder perhaps if in a very duty driven society where duty to family and state come before self if it is possible for a socialistic economy to function or at least be more plausible than in a very independent land like the United States where the individual tends to have almost no cultural barrier to doing what is best for the individual. 

                I tend to believe that God created us with certain base drives which do not fluctuate based on nation or society but instead are simply suppressed by the pressures which some cultures or societies place upon us.  I think that basically all men long to be free to control their own destinies.  Some of the Greek philosophers where of the opinion that convention and nature where at odds with one another; I tend to concur in part. They would argue that convention allowed civilized society and therefore was not bad, from a normative standpoint, but was unnatural because mans base drives where suppressed by those conventions.  In the end convention would more likely be good, from a normative position, because man is better off in civilized society than in his natural state.

                I lean towards the conclusion that as economists we must differentiate between results which are based on the base drives of man independent of society and those results which occur due to the conventions that civilized society creates. There is the fallen nature of man, the conscience which reminds us of our normative self or how man should be and then there is the societal man who acts based not on how he wishes to act or should act but instead acts as he is expected to act.  We must always remember which of these often conflicting forces are at work in any given circumstance and be careful to understand that one of the forces is in flux while the other two are fixed.  Hobbs clearly lays out the “natural man” as the Greeks would have defined it.

                Perhaps human behavior is cyclical due to this.  Man creates convention because even the strongest know that there is no solidification of power for numbers can always be brought to prevail over the most powerful.  Man thus sacrifices his, as the Greeks would call it, “Natural” rights to take what he wishes by force because, while he would prefer to take from the weaker, he is more fearful of the stronger and thus sacrifices the lesser interest for the greater.  Convention is thus created which lasts and spreads until the cost of the ever broadening convention is so high and the memory of the risk of loss so vague that convention is thrown off.  The first generation creates the laws from firsthand knowledge; the second obeys the law without question due to secondhand knowledge they gain from their parents as to the need for the laws and the third questions and throws off the law. This is why I say that cultural impacts are perhaps in the short run rather than the long.  I suspect that the natural man is the floor and the normative man is the ceiling with convention fluctuating from generation to generation in a non-linear fashion much like a wave between the two limits.  Therefore in the long run the cultural impacts cancel each other out leaving us somewhere in between the two natural limits.   

 
 

Throughout history the single greatest problem with democracy has always been personal responsibility and morality.   Without personal responsibility and morality the masses will eventually realize the power they hold to benefit themselves at the cost of others.   Democracy, especially representative democracy, slips easily into cleptocracy.  It sits on a precipice with a slippery slope on one side.  Tyranny of the majority is a term associated with democracy in the past, with just cause.  Another great once said that democracy lasts only until the masses realize they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury; is this not true? 

                The United States experiment with democracy has lasted as long as it has because it was built around a culture, civilization and religion that supported individual rights, individual property, individual responsibility and individual morality.  This cultural norm set standards not codified in the law but adhered to by the masses and the elites alike.  The independence and self reliance allowed for government of the people and by the people to run relatively uncorrupted by privet interests. What happens if the majority of constituents loses the fundamental principles and instead develops an entitlement mindset?  When the many feel that the responsibility that their parents and grandparents welcomed as part of freedom is now the realm of government then we see the growth of government and codification and a decrease in personal morality and responsibility.   Democracy was not meant to function in such a world of excess and blame.  Democracy requires self government to function properly and cannot long survive when the people refuse to bind themselves to a moral code and solid work ethic. 

                Business, politics, religion these are things which cannot be viewed in a bubble.  Economics is not simply the study of how people make business transactions but in essence how they live their lives.  You cannot subscribe to beliefs of freedom and simultaneously acquiesce your risks and responsibility away to another.  You cannot enslave yourself for the comfort of living without responsibility and then not work and serve that master without freedom.  Physics will not be mocked and every action will have its reaction.   If you can separate your life and rationalize your behavior then you will never have to accept any responsibility.  If each aspect of life is its own sphere then there can be no black and white, no absolutes.  When man is free to do as he wishes without constraint; when morality is not binding and there is no higher standard then there is not code of laws and no enforcement agency that can maintain the rights of all.  Man naturally infringes on the rights of others unless he reveres their rights as essential for his own.  Respect for the rights of all as intertwined with your own is the glue of democracy that allows it to solidify and maintain itself as a viable government.  When men become complacent and no longer respect the value of their own rights and are willing to give them away for comfort or safety and when men fail to realize that their rights are only as sure as the rights of the weakest citizen in their society then they have lost the necessary knowledge and understand for democracy and it will not long survive.  Democracy is a delicate phenomenon and cannot endure the loss of structure which comes from an understanding of the fundamental principles and premises which allow it to operate.  To erode individual responsibility and morality is to undercut the very pillars on which our way of life stands.  To separate morality and religion; to separate our higher laws from our secular lives is to destroy a foundation of responsibility and control which cannot be synthesized and cannot be duplicated.  A free society cannot stand when its citizens do not understand the duties of free men.


~Larry Pounders

 

Liberty, power, philosophy, Freedom, Taxes, Government , Immigration, Corruption