Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tyler Cowen: Slave To The Rhythm Of Power

Tyler Cowen purports to analyze why the pay of CEOs has increased so much.
"It is useless to ask what is the source of natural inequality, because that question is answered by the simple definition of the word. Again, it is still more useless to inquire whether there is any essential connection between the two inequalities; for this would be only asking, in other words, whether those who command are necessarily better than those who obey, and if strength of body or of mind, wisdom or virtue are always found in particular individuals, in proportion to their power or wealth: a question fit perhaps to be discussed by slaves in the hearing of their masters, but highly unbecoming to reasonable and free men in search of the truth." -- Jean Jacques Rousseau, A Dissertation on the Origin and Foundation of the Inequality of Mankind (Trans. by G. D. H. Cole)
Of course, CEOs cannot receive their pay except through services provided to them by a society existing beforehand:
"The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were, perhaps, very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents.

As it is this disposition which forms that difference of talents, so remarkable among men of different professions, so it is this same disposition which renders that difference useful. Many tribes of animals acknowledged to be all of the same species, derive from nature a much more remarkable distinction of genious, than what, antecedent to custom and education, appears to take place among men. By nature a philosopher is not in genius and disposition half so different from a porter, as a mastiff is from a greyhound, or a greyhound from a spaniel, or this last from a shepherd's dog." -- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations


Shane Taylor said...

Propertarian may be less artful than libertarian, but it is more accurate.

Mike Beggs said...

Ha. Yes, I think I'll start using that, 'propertarian'.

Anonymous said...

That Rousseau quote has come to my mind many a time when I read right-"libertarian" comments over the years.

And genuine libertarians (i.e., anarchists and libertarian socialists like Chomsky, Bakunin, Goldman and so on) have been calling right-"libertarians" propertarians ever since they tried to appropriate the word "libertarian" for their ideology in the 1970s. Unfortunately, without much success (at least in the USA). Such is the power of money, I suppose.

I think Ursula le Guin used the term in her introduction to the short story "The day before the revolution" (about Odo, the founder of the anarchism of "The Dispossessed").

I also like this Rousseau quote, which is applicable to propertarian ideology:

"That a rich and powerful man, having acquired immense possessions in land, should impose laws on those who want to establish themselves there, and that he should only allow them to do so on condition that they accept his supreme authority and obey all his wishes; that, I can still conceive . . . Would not this tyrannical act contain a double usurpation: that on the ownership of the land and that on the liberty of the inhabitants?"

An Anarchist FAQ

Shane Taylor said...

Iain is right. It was either in writings by him or Murray Bookchin where I first read the term.

Robert Vienneau said...

I know the word "propertarian" from Le Guin. I have Chomsky's American Power and the New Mandarins, Guérin's Anarchism, and a few more works of anarchism at hand. But I don't recall the word in these.

Anonymous said...

I've seen Bookchin use it (in, I think, "The Modern Crisis" or "The Ecology of Freedom") but not in Guerin or Chomsky.

I doubt that Guerin would, as the book is from the 1960s and propertarian ideologues had not yet stolen "libertarian" yet -- and being French, he would have been even less likely to have come across them.

I think that most anarchists who come across right-wing "libertarians" quickly realise they are propertarians and call them that.

The problem that the right seek to appropriate "libertarian" seems to be North American based in the main, but it does seem to be spreading. Such is the power of money, unfortunately. I fear that as far as America goes, the left have lost "libertarian".