Negative Liberty

What a concept. Perhaps, over the past several years, you’ve heard of ZIRP. Lately, this is (quickly) evolving toward NIRP, which might be expected to definitely shift monetary policy tools from the carrot to the stick, (or hammer, as the case might be).

It is in such concepts that the full and over-arching Orwellian mind might be considered. We might start with, Keynes’ own quote on the notion of the “zero interest bound” (as he called it in – possibly – the most cherished of progressive scriptures) To wit:

Thus it is to our best advantage to reduce the rate of interest to that point relatively to the schedule of the marginal efficiency of capital at which there is full employment. There can be no doubt that this criterion will lead to a much lower rate of interest than has ruled hitherto; and, so far as one can guess at the schedules of the marginal efficiency of capital corresponding to increasing amounts of capital, the rate of interest is likely to fall steadily, if it should be practicable to maintain conditions of more or less continuous full employment—unless, indeed, there is an excessive change in the aggregate propensity to consume (including the State)…. Now, though this state of affairs would be quite compatible with some measure of individualism (emphasis mine), yet it would mean the euthanasia of the rentier, and, consequently, the euthanasia of the cumulative oppressive power of the capitalist to exploit the scarcity-value of capital.

The point being, perhaps for the sake of discussion only, that the price (as a measure of value) of anything depends on both its scarcity and its utility. As we move steadily from a condition in which the price of capital (for those with proximal access to the printing press) is, in effect, negligible, to one in which it is a curse held in abeyance of prescribed consumption, we might imagine the consequences. Keynes euphemism – euthanasia of the rentier – is merely one, albeit one whereby the free market mechanisms that motivate and reward most constructive economic behavior are quietly “put down”. How this state of affairs might be the least bit compatible with “some measure of individualism” escapes me.

Orwellian – (From Wikipedia) Orwellian” is an adjective describing the situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society. It connotes an attitude and a brutal policy of draconian control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past….as practiced by modern repressive governments.

So, as it happens, negative liberty, roundabout, is antithetical to negative interest. As noted by Hobbes: “a free man is he that in those things which by his strength and wit he is able to do is not hindered to do what he hath the will to do.” Negative liberty, you see, is – simply enough – merely the freedom to be left alone. It is, I’m convinced, the last refuge of moral agency. Were it cherished by the political forces at work in our nation as the equal to the Arctic Wildlife refuge, any attempts to blot the slightest part of it would meet rather ardent opposition.

Those who care to study the matter should, I would hope, come to discover the true root of both economic and political inequality. It is, simply enough, the degree to which we exercise the will to punish the most basic human desire for self-determination, to choose to be useful, or productive, or charitable, understanding full-well the natural and likely consequences of alternative choices. To reward bad behavior is but one step on the path towards compelling bad behavior.

It has become the seductive, and now rote, belief of the modern collectivist that individualism is inherently dangerous, leading as it might, to acts of selfishness and greed. Rather, we’ve simply substituted, in neat Orwellian fashion, the manner and power by which selfishness and greed is expressed. With the wholesale manipulation of entire classes of people, of course, those few who might rise to the very pinnacle of power have waning restraint against their own avarice. More the pity, those manipulated classes, have less still, having lost all means of self-determination.

One more from the Keynesian bible: “Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”



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