Are things not as bad as we think?

| February 12 2013
Christopher Cook

optimism |ˈäptəˌmizəm|
hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something

pessimism |ˈpesəˌmizəm|
a tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen; a lack of hope or confidence in the future

meliorism |ˈmēlēəˌrizəm|
the belief that the world can be made better by human effort.

pollyannaism |ˌpälēˈanizəm|
an excessively or unrealistically positive  view of  the future or the successful outcome of something

Which one are you? I am a meliorist. This generally means that on a day to day basis, I will sometimes feel optimistic, and other times pessimistic, but I will always be compelled to keep working hard to make things better.

In my optimistic moments, for example, I have this profound feeling that the relative human freedom* that finally began to flourish “in the period from Waterloo to the First World War”—which was trodden under the boot-heel of the 20th century’s lurch towards statism—will be returning in the 21st. I have written of this belief on more than one occasion. In my pessimistic moments, I see a lot of pain before we get there.

In my optimistic moments, I see the collapse of welfare-state “capitalism,” and the glorious future that might lie beyond. In my pessimistic moments, I see the left blaming the collapse on capitalism, successfully deflecting the blame away from the state (where it properly belongs), and ushering a new era of statist darkness.

I see a potential sunrise in every issue, and I perceive the shadow that is cast by obstacles that stand in the field blocking its light. And I am fueled by both—by the desire to see the good come to pass, and by an urgent need to prevent the bad. It is a stressful—though highly purposive—existence.

For those of you who are optimists by nature, or for those who are craving a bit of optimism right now, I commend the following article to you. You may not agree with every single word (I didn’t), but it is a window into the views of someone with a forcefully positive outlook, and there is a fair amount of truth in it.

Liberty Is Making the World Richer. You’re Included.

Reality Check

“The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk.” I came across that phrase many times over 45 years ago, when I was writing my first book, Marx’s Religion of Revolution (1968). (You can download it for free here.) What does it mean? Wikipedia explains.

The nineteenth-century idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel famously noted that “the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk”–meaning that philosophy comes to understand a historical condition just as it passes away. Philosophy cannot be prescriptive because it understands only in hindsight.

“One more word about giving instruction as to what the world ought to be. Philosophy in any case always comes on the scene too late to give it… When philosophy paints its gloomy picture then a form of life has grown old. It cannot be rejuvenated by the gloomy picture, but only understood. Only when the dusk starts to fall does the owl of Minerva spread its wings and fly.” –G.W.F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right (1820), “Preface”

Keynesian ideas are dominant in government and academia today. Keynesianism is the owl of Minerva.

Keynesians think there will never be another Great Depression. They have faith in government deficits and central bank inflation. They’re wrong. Those who listen to them will get hammered during the Great Default, when the Federal Reserve ceases to inflate — as it will, either after mass inflation (likely) or hyperinflation.

In contrast, a lot of Tea Party members think the economy will collapse and wipe out everything for decades. They’re equally wrong.

THERE’S GOOD NEWS TONIGHT!”

The radio news commentator Gabriel Heatter used to begin every broadcast with that announcement, beginning in the late 1930s, when news was often bad. I can recall his introduction in the late 1940s, when news was mostly good. He is forgotten today, but he helped change America. An alcoholic, he introduced Americans to Alcoholics Anonymous in a broadcast in April 1939, four years after its founding. For him, withdrawal was very good news. It still is.

This report is about withdrawal and its aftermath.

The world is going through withdrawal. This began in late 1978 in China, when Deng freed up agriculture. That began the withdrawal from Marxist Communism. The USSR followed suit in December of 1991. The withdrawal from Fabian socialism began in earnest in India in the mid-1990s. These events have re-shaped the world. The aftermath has only just begun.

In China and India, the pain has been minimal. That is because the economic effects of the earlier systems created such devastation. Think of the phrase, “I’ve been down so long, it looks like up to me.” Think of China today and China in 1973 under Mao. The positive change has been greater than any seen in recorded history, and on a scale that was inconceivable in 1980. Every month, urban living space sufficient to house the population of Philadelphia gets built: 1.5 million people.

From 1945 until today, the American Right has decried Communism and Fabian socialism. Both are dead ideologies today. They have almost no defenders. Inside the elite, they have no defenders outside of English departments. Yet the reality of this overwhelming institutional and ideological victory has failed to register inside the Right.

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*Inherited aberrations such as slavery notwithstanding, of course. Tho’ it must be noticed that this was the period during which an ancient, universal, and, till that point, seemingly permanent human institution was finally undone.

 

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