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Indeed, arguments emphasising the single lifetime interest of the entrepreneur, and urging venal submission on the part of the remaining population, are counterproductive since they stimulate exactly those spiteful reactions that even the most far-sighted amongst us struggle to suppress. By making such arguments, economists have not only signally failed to persuade people of the virtues of competition, they have contributed to the creation of a resistance demanding punitive, illiberal economic and other behavioural measures. Notwithstanding decades of well-publicised and cleverly engineered neo-classical short-run economic arguments, electorates all over the world, and even those populations only able to make their wishes felt through undemocratic systems, tend to press for a large element of social organisation determined by governmentally-assigned status, rather than permitting order to emerge spontaneously from the rough and tumble of experiment, observation, learning, and free contract between individuals. This reaction is largely spiteful, and so serves their short-term interests while harming the long-term future of their offspring by inhibiting growth and leaving these societies less robust than they would otherwise be. However, given the prevailing and mistaken rhetoric of economic liberalism, this otherwise incomprehensible preference for the common evil is not surprising. Free-market think-tankers have actually made things worse rather than better.

A different tack is needed, one grounded in immediate and extended family, in our reproductive futures rather than the personal, lifetime, hedonic interest which is at best a distant proxy for reproductive success. Medieval bestiarists supposed the pelican to tear its own breast to feed its young in time of hardship. We now know this to be more poetic license than good natural history, but it depicts an essential truth, for indeed all parents do this and not only in extremis. The restraint of self-interested spite, the sacrifice of the short-run interest to yield for their offspring a resilient society, would be just one more instance.

The points made here could be grounded, with revisions, in many, perhaps any of the world’s religious and ethical traditions. In making this case I have invoked only pragmatic concerns, and for me they are sufficient; but I would not be offended if others prefer them in a different structure, and find them stronger there. One widespread religion, for example, exhorts us to love our neighbours as ourselves. That is asking a lot of an offspring-rearing creature. Victors may be an intrinsic and unavoidable consequence of competition, but we will never become so habituated to their presence as to treat them with familial affection, nor should those victors expect or demand it. However, what we can realistically deliver is tolerance of our neighbour’s success, so that our heirs and successors may profit from the riches and security that a motivated, competing population of individuals produces.

This recognition can also be embodied in a naturalistic politics, one grounded, to invoke Mandeville once more, not in what we suppose people should be, but in what they actually are and what they already do. For human individuals are not the narrow hedonists egged on by one side of the political debate and scolded by the other. They are self-sacrificing mothers and fathers, grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and aunts. People are, and the evidence is on every hand, self-sacrificing family builders. It is true that our caritas diminishes in intensity as it reaches out over the extended web of relationship, reaching very fine grades indeed in the far distance, but it is actual even at those extreme distances and utterly authentic in its sincerity. This cannot be claimed for the absolutist and undiscounted versions sometimes urged upon us by politicians and welfare economists alike.

The Conservative Party is said to be searching its soul for a set of fresh principles fit for the new age. No exotic novelty, no sacrifice of principle, is required. Any and all policies that facilitate rather than as at present relentlessly inhibiting the transfer of wealth, the expression of love, within families and between generations, with a particular emphasis on those families currently poor, will also enhance the common good and so secure general public consent.
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Lawrence James
July 7th, 2018
5:07 PM
'Laws that restrain an individual's adventures' . . . eg the outlawing of the slave trade, the banning of the adulteration of food and legislation which insists upon safety in mines and factories. Victorian laws framed in the knowledge that adventurous capitalists could never be trusted.

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