Among the Intellectualoids

Leftist Intelligentsia Dementia

Copenhagen was just the latest anti-capitalist thrust from liberal intellectuals.

By 1.5.10

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The Copenhagen Climate summit demonstrated once again the leftist intelligentsia's visceral anti-capitalism. First from global cooling then to global warming and now to climate change, like elitist bloodhounds they follow the trail relentlessly through tangled inconsistencies in hope of catching their prey. And the scent remains strong: the capitalist system. 

If you had a hard time getting your noggin around Copenhagen, don't worry. It is just the latest anti-capitalist thrust from liberal intellectuals. The next opportunity will come around soon enough. Their cavalcade of causes revolves like a carousel -- the Green Movement, the living wage, animal rights -- virtually every one an attempt to deny individuals' right to determine outcomes through free choice. The quarry never changes, only the backdrop to the chase.

Why does the leftist intelligentsia hate capitalism so much? It is a triumph of instinct over insight. 
Capitalism rests on the collective wisdom of society exercised in free exchanges. It relies on markets -- not experts -- for its decision-making. The collective wisdom of all, freely participating in markets, will determine optimal outcomes -- price, amount, timing, and location. 

In short, quantity produces what self-styled "quality” can not. Capitalism’s anonymous multiplicity produces information, expressed in prices, which directs the system.

In capitalism’s creative chaos, the leftist intelligentsia sees only chaos. And only a limited role for themselves. 

Therein lies the leftist intelligentsia’s first falling out with capitalism. They envision themselves a privileged group. Self-seen as the most capable, they find their elitist birthright frustrated by capitalism’s egalitarianism. 

Repelled by capitalism, liberal intellectuals are drawn to economic systems run by dictate. In command economies, they imagine themselves being the ones giving the commands. To their minds, this is their rightful place. 

Interestingly, their presumption has been prescient in the command economy’s most extreme form. Despite Marxism’s rhetorical elevation of the worker and the masses, communism in reality has been dominated, since Marx himself, by leftist intellectuals claiming to speak for workers.

The leftist intelligentsia is not only drawn to non-capitalist systems in search of advancement. They also seek escape from the threat capitalism poses them. 

Liberal intellectuals have imagined themselves immune from the increased productivity capitalism has injected into every other sector of society. Believing in a separation by superiority, they saw the demands for enhanced efficiency as not pertaining to them. A musician, a teacher, a doctor, an artist, a writer, could only personally serve so many. As the population expanded, their numbers had to expand at least proportionally, right? Wrong. 

Works once limited to in-person, or at least limited, consumption can now be distributed on a vast scale. The same productivity that has been applied to other occupations now extends to intellectual endeavors and professions as well. We can hear a symphony played flawlessly in our homes through a variety of media and never have need for a live musician beyond the initial performance. 

The best works and the best of their professions greatly benefit, as does the rest of society. But to the leftist intelligentsia, this is a threat. 

The comparable worth doctrine embodies the leftist intelligentsia’s posture to capitalism. The idea that remuneration should be set to compensate for the work (or education) that went into producing them is inherently compelling to the Left -- just as its inefficiency is inherently clear to the broader population. Capitalism does this -- only as the result of free competition between producers seeking consumers, not as a matter of guarantee. Where comparable worth is reward without risk, capitalism balances risk and reward.

The leftist intelligentsia’s professed interest in selflessness, through its myriad of causes, is no more than their own self-interest. They seek their aggrandizement on one hand and staving off their diminution on the other. Before we take their causes at face value, we should first recognize both their ultimate interest and goal. 

Their goal is not the piecemeal reform of capitalism but the piecemeal dismantling of a system they despise and fear. 

The leftist intelligentsia reject capitalism’s premise (collective wisdom over selective wisdom), its process (individuals’ free choice), and its products (unplanned and ever-changing). But in the final analysis they reject capitalism’s refusal to enthrone them and its ability to excel without them.

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About the Author

J.T. Young served in the Department of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget from 2001 to 2004 and as a Congressional staff member from 1987 to 2000.