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Category — Capitalism vs. Collectivism

Can Green Energy be Demythologized? (Part 2)

“Capitalism has a built-in incapacity to generate legitimations of itself, and it is particularly deprived of mythic potency; consequently, it depends upon the legitimating effects of its sheer facticity or upon association with other, non-economic legitimating symbols.”

– Peter Berger, The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions about Prosperity, Equality and Liberty

In Part 1 of this two-part series, conventional, market-based electricity was described as inescapably lacking an overarching myth that gives it legitimacy against postmodern renewable energy, global-warming ideology, and energy regulation in California. This insight comes from sociologist Peter L. Berger’s 1986 book The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions about Prosperity, Equality and Liberty.

Given Capitalism’s mythic deprivation, what then can be done, if anything, to re-legitimate cheap, clean or cleaner conventional energy and demythologize renewable energy?

Can Anything Be Done?

Berger offers a central proposition in the quote above that suggests several ways to re-legitimate conventional rational electricity. First and foremost, for those who can be persuaded to accept it, there is the  utilitarian value standard that is conventional among economists. But we must recognize that it is only one value standard among many and not a provable truth. Therefore, it needs to be supplemented by a recognition of its limits; by association with other forms of legitimation; and by the de-legitimation or co-optation of its opponents’ standards.

Below are some corollary propositions borrowed from Berger and applied to the conventional electric industry’s ideological war with renewable energy.

Proposition 1 – Industrial capitalism and rational electricity has generated the most productive human power in history. As industrialized energy has become the “master resource” of Market Capitalism, it continues to generate the highest material standard of living for large masses of people in history.

The best pathway to a “low carbon future” is not wind and solar power. Policy incentives in California that are biased against large-scale hydro, nuclear and combined-cycle gas power—in favor of wind and solar power—are a very expensive, inefficient, and economically unsustainable way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, as even the liberal Brookings Institution concluded. This has huge implications for GDP and the U.S. standard of living. See below. (Click on chart for better resolution.) [Read more →]

June 6, 2014   3 Comments

Why Is Clean, Cheap, Conventional Energy a Hard Sell? (Part 1)

“Capitalism, as an institutional arrangement, has been singularly devoid of plausible myths; by contrast, socialism, its major alternative under modern conditions, has been singularly blessed with myth-generating potency. No theory of capitalism can bypass this, so to speak, mythological inequality between the two modern systems of socioeconomic organization.”

- Peter Berger, The Capitalist Revolution: Fifty Propositions About Prosperity, Equality, and Liberty.

Why is it so difficult for cheaper, cleaner electricity— from nuclear and hydroelectric power, to cheap, lower-polluting natural gas-fired power—to compete in the ideological culture wars against crony-capitalist, semi-socialized renewable energy?

We would offer that one of the most helpful frameworks for answering this question comes from one the most unlikely of disciplines: sociology. Sociology in general is, accurately, perceived as antagonistic to rational economic electricity. But we are here referring to Peter L. Berger’s sociology of economic systems, not the Marxians’ sociology of economics.

Many readers will mistake the word “sociology” as being synonymous with the word “social” (as opposed to “market”) or even with “socialism.” Yet Berger is an apologist for capitalism on empirical grounds, because of its “economic culture.” [Read more →]

June 5, 2014   9 Comments

“The Triumph of Capitalism” (Socialism is Intellectually Dead, but Central Planning in the Mixed Economy Lives On)

“Less than 75 years after it officially began, the contest between capitalism and socialism is over: capitalism has won… Capitalism organizes the material affairs of humankind more satisfactorily than socialism.”

- Robert Heilbroner, “The Triumph of Capitalism,” The New Yorker, January 23, 1989, p. 98.

A major event in the history of political economy thought occurred in 1989 when socialist economics writer Robert Heilbroner (1919–2005) renounced his belief in central planning in the pages of the New Yorker. For anti-market liberals, this made it official: socialism was out of the mainstream. Socialism could not plan a modern economy and was an open sesame for totalitarianism. Hayek said as much in his 1944 classic, The Road to Serfdom. A trusted voice on the Left confirmed it 45 years later.

David Boaz, the Cato Institute’s longtime scholar of liberty, wrote a tribute upon Heilbroner’s death nine years ago in Reason magazine. MasterResource, with permission, reprints Boaz’s essay for its lucidity and its relevance in today’s political economy debates where mainstream views about perilous man-made climate change and the sustainability of “green” energy are in intellectual trouble.

The Man Who Told the Truth: Robert Heilbroner fessed up to the failure of socialismReason, January 21, 2005. [Read more →]

February 7, 2014   3 Comments

Thanksgiving & Capitalism

In good economic times or bad, Thanksgiving is when Americans gather with their families and friends and enjoy the most special meal of the year. The event remembers those early Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the uncharted ocean from Europe to make a new start in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

What is less appreciated is that Thanksgiving also is a celebration of the birth of free enterprise in America.

The English Puritans, who left Great Britain and sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620, were not only escaping from religious persecution in their homeland. They also wanted to turn their back on what they viewed as the materialistic and greedy corruption of the Old World.

In the New World, they wanted to erect a New Jerusalem that would not only be religiously devout, but be built on a new foundation of communal sharing and social altruism. Their goal was the communism of Plato’s Republic, in which all would work and share in common, knowing neither private property nor self-interested acquisitiveness.

Collectivism Tried and Abandoned

What resulted is recorded in the diary of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. The colonists collectively cleared and worked land, but they brought forth neither the bountiful harvest they hoped for, nor did it create a spirit of shared and cheerful brotherhood. [Read more →]

November 22, 2012   4 Comments

Thanksgiving & Capitalism

“The true meaning of Thanksgiving … is the triumph of Capitalism over the failure of Collectivism in all its forms. In light of America’s current political debates over health care and energy, involving 25 percent of our economy, the message of Thanksgiving is more timely than ever.” – Professor Richard Ebeling

In good economic times or bad, Thanksgiving is when Americans gather with their families and friends and enjoy the most special meal of the year. The event remembers those early Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the uncharted ocean from Europe to make a new start in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

What is less appreciated is that Thanksgiving also is a celebration of the birth of free enterprise in America.

The English Puritans, who left Great Britain and sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620, were not only escaping from religious persecution in their homeland. They also wanted to turn their back on what they viewed as the materialistic and greedy corruption of the Old World.

In the New World, they wanted to erect a New Jerusalem that would not only be religiously devout, but be built on a new foundation of communal sharing and social altruism. Their goal was the communism of Plato’s Republic, in which all would work and share in common, knowing neither private property nor self-interested acquisitiveness.

Collectivism Tried and Abandoned

What resulted is recorded in the diary of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. The colonists collectively cleared and worked land, but they brought forth neither the bountiful harvest they hoped for, nor did it create a spirit of shared and cheerful brotherhood. [Read more →]

November 23, 2011   6 Comments

The True Meaning of Thanksgiving: Private Enterprise in America

[Editor’s Note: Richard Ebeling, a noted classical liberal scholar, teaches economics at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan. This post is reprinted with his permission from Northwood's blogsite, In Defense of Capitalism & Human Progress.]

This time of the year, whether in good economic times or bad, is when Americans gather with their families and friends and enjoy a Thanksgiving meal together. It marks a remembrance of those early Pilgrim Fathers who crossed the uncharted ocean from Europe to make a new start in Plymouth, Massachusetts. What is less appreciated is that Thanksgiving also is a celebration of the birth of free enterprise in America.

The English Puritans, who left Great Britain and sailed across the Atlantic on the Mayflower in 1620, were not only escaping from religious persecution in their homeland. They also wanted to turn their back on what they viewed as the materialistic and greedy corruption of the Old World.

In the New World, they wanted to erect a New Jerusalem that would not only be religiously devout, but be built on a new foundation of communal sharing and social altruism. Their goal was the communism of Plato’s Republic, in which all would work and share in common, knowing neither private property nor self-interested acquisitiveness.

What resulted is recorded in the diary of Governor William Bradford, the head of the colony. The colonists collectively cleared and worked land, but they brought forth neither the bountiful harvest they hoped for, nor did it create a spirit of shared and cheerful brotherhood.

The less industrious members of the colony came late to their work in the fields, and were slow and easy in their labors. Knowing that they and their families were to receive an equal share of whatever the group produced, they saw little reason to be more diligent in their efforts. The harder working among the colonists became resentful that their efforts would be redistributed to the more malingering members of the colony. Soon they, too, were coming late to work and were less energetic in the fields.

As Governor Bradford explained in his old English (though with the spelling modernized): [Read more →]

November 26, 2009   4 Comments