Worth Reading - 9/8

1. Life in our digital, social media age has changed drastically. One area is in our ability to be anonymous and to even make mistakes publicly without being hunted down and pilloried. This account of a man who was doxxed and then financially destroyed due to an admittedly stupid moment is worth considering as we evaluate the consequences of our age.

That single instance of reckless fan exuberance turned Pagan’s life upside down. It led to public humiliation, loss of employment, a nine-month court case and a temporary ban from every stadium in Major League Baseball.

But there’s a disconnect here, because the Ken Pagan who threw that can seems to have almost nothing in common with the actual man.

The first thing that strikes you about Pagan in real life is his politeness and mild manner. He speaks with a calm, measured voice that barely rises above a whisper, and in the hours I spent with him, I never once heard him curse (even when talking about this year’s Blue Jays).

When you meet him and look back on the life he has led, you can’t help but come to one conclusion: This is no hooligan.

2. The cruelties of capitalism are being heralded by the rising socialist tide, but many of the concerns the Left raises have already been addressed by advocates for a socially oriented capitalism. One example is of the German economist, Wilhelm Röpke:

Though conservatives are often portrayed as strong supporters of the free market, not all of them are. Now and in the past, many individuals have happily embraced the conservative label while expressing strong reservations about, if not outright rejection of, market economies.

Even so I’ve noticed, as someone who identifies very much as a conservative, that skepticism of markets among conservatives has swelled in recent years. The financial crisis of late 2007 to 2009 and the subsequent recession have hardened an attitude—including among conservatives— that free markets are essentially unfair, facilitate unhealthy cultural trends, and leave many people on life’s economic margins.

It would be unwise to dismiss the conservative critique of capitalism as resulting solely from either insufficient knowledge of economics and economic history, or from the embrace of romantic visions of pre-industrial life. Certainly, these and other elements play a role. So too, I suspect, does personal experience of the turmoil associated with recent economic upheavals, invariably blamed as they are on allegedly unfettered markets.

But surely another cause of this rising anti-market sentiment is many free marketers’ inadequate responses to these and other concerns. Rejoinders like, “If you only understood economics, you’d just know that everyone’s better off in the long-term” may be true—if one is primarily thinking in aggregate terms about material prosperity, lifespans, and overall levels of human health. It is a reckless soul who would trivialize such things. Such reasoning, however, fails to answer legitimate questions that many conservatives have long pondered, such as where markets fit into accounts of the good life that go beyond an emphasis on individual autonomy.

3. The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics republished an article I wrote a few years ago about the internal problem with consumerism:

Free markets have the potential to lead to consumerism. In fact, all economic systems do because consumerism is an attitude.

To be fair, consumerism is more likely to be visible in a relatively free market. In systems where prosperity is less prevalent, consumerism is less visible.

The attitude may still exist, but if goods and services are not available or discretionary resources are more limited there is less opportunity for obvious demonstrations of greed.

A relatively free market allows for the demand for varied shoe styles to result in customers buying them. There is nothing inherently wrong with purchasing or wearing a pair of shoes that fits.

There is, however, something wrong with buying an excessive number of shoes and disposing of shoes before they are worn out; this is consumerism, which is a form of idolatry.

4. A Venezuelan man writes an Op-Ed for the New York Times about being a political prisoner due to his resistance to the dictatorial socialism of the Venezuelan government. If you wonder where economic tyranny (like socialism) leads, this is a prime example.

I write this from my cell in the dungeons of the Venezuelan secret police. I’m 32 and I’ve been a democratic activist for 12 years. I have two children, 8 and 5, who are my sun and moon. I have a wife whom I love and who now has to carry the burden of being married to a political prisoner.

One year ago, while I was going to speak at a news conference on behalf of the Popular Will political party, of which I am a member, I was intercepted by 10 or 15 undercover secret police vehicles. A couple of dozen armed agents tied my hands and covered my head with a black cloth. They transported me to the prison from which I now write, where I was locked in a cell without light or natural ventilation.

When I stretched my arms, I could touch two opposite walls. The door was blocked with black garbage bags, leaving the room in total darkness. There was rotten, worm-infested food on the floor alongside scraps of clothing covered in feces. It felt as if I had been buried alive.

I was denied any communication with the outside world and could speak with my lawyers only when I was taken to court. After 10 days, I was transferred to an administrative office inside the jail, where for the next seven months I slept on a mat on the floor. I have finally been moved to a cell with a bed, though one with no windows. I can see the sun only one hour a week.

5. Jay Richards gave a helpful lecture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary a few years ago on why capitalism is the answer, not the problem: