Monetary and Social Pretenses to Progressive Tyranny


Here’s how James Grant ends his recent Wall Street Journal essay:

As for the campaign for zero cash in the service of negative interest rates, [Ken] Rogoff’s [essay, “The Curse of Cash”] is best seen not as detached scientific analysis but as a kind of left-wing crotchet. Strip away the technical pretense and what you have is politics. The author wants the government to control your money. It’s as simple as that.

“The Curse of Cash” is nothing other than the curse of freedom — the curse of allowing people to make their own decisions about how to handle their wealth, even if the government can’t track it and even if it doesn’t move the economy in the direction that the likes of Rogoff would prefer.  Rod Dreher uses the term “epistocracy” for the system that such people really desire, which Georgetown Professor Jason Brennan defines as follows:

In an epistocracy, political power is to some degree apportioned according to knowledge. … in an epistocracy, not everyone has equal basic political power. An epistocracy might grant some people additional voting power, or might restrict the right to vote only to those that could pass a very basic test of political knowledge.

Addressing this argument is certainly tempting, but for this short morning post, let’s limit ourselves to the observation of a common thread, albeit working on different human materials, so to speak.  In the first case, those who insist they deserve enhanced power owing to their (self-perceived) enhanced knowledge want to stop people from doing things with their own money that the individuals believe to be in their own interest, but that the pointy heads don’t believe to be in the social interest (which is to say, ultimately, their own).

In the second case, the pointy heads object to democracy’s enabling people to make decisions “on a whim, on the basis of prejudice or wishful thinking,” as Brennan puts it.  “The deplorables” as Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton calls them.  Of course, one person’s “whim” is another’s “calculated risk,” one person’s “wishful thinking” is another’s aspirational optimism, and nobody is free of prejudice of one form or another, just with a different set of principles and priorities.

The complaint of both Rogoff and Brennan is that freedom allows other people to make decisions that affect them.  Brennan likens democracy to choosing a doctor who makes wild decisions and can force you, “at gunpoint, to accept the treatment.”  Note that neither of them addresses the more obvious solution:  Allow people to see different doctors.  Allow decisions to be made at such a local level that it’s relatively easy to sort for political and social preference, and at higher levels, keep government small.  That’s because they actually like the feature of small groups’ being able to force others to do things “literally… at gunpoint”; they just want to be the small group.  (And they intuit that other places will then affect them by being more successful.)

A claim to greater virtue or intellect is little more than a pretense to impose one’s own values on others.  One suspects Rogoff, Brennan, and Clinton would all be aghast at the possibility that people who meet their intellectual tests and yet continue to hold “deplorable” views might gain control over the enhanced powers.  Keeping with my running theme, the claim of special expertise in controlling society is simply an attempt to put the gloss of objectivity on an ideological case, because those who make the statement believe that, at this moment in history, they’ll have greater advantage if the fight is limited in that way.

So, they’ll take your money and they’ll take your cash because then they can make you do what they want you to do because it pleases them for reasons that are no more pure than the reasons you want to do differently (and probably very much less pure).  If the government can monitor every financial transaction, it can implement Operation Choke Point on an exponentially larger scale, and more subtly.  If they can disenfranchise people whom they don’t believe should count as full citizens, then they can more easily put artisans out of business for the crime of holding different opinions on social issues.

Odd, isn’t it, that as central planning and progressive policies fail the world over, some people see the solution as even more centralized planning and progressivism?