In my last post, I mentioned (inter alia) that the Physiocrats gave us the phrase “Laissez Faire Economics” through their policy guiding advice against regulations of the trade in grains, flours & breads that were intended to stop hunger. Despite riots in the spring of 1774 and again, more notably, in the spring of 1775*1 (the latter of which*2 were both serious enough and of such obvious focus and origin that they were named Les Guerres des Farines), the Physiocrats argued against regulations and social services that would prevent flour shortages and, as a last resort, simply pass out food to the people when shortages did occur. An individualist capitalist analysis made the authors sure that the wealth of the nation – the wealth of the king – would be increased if only the government could see fit to scrap regulations of the agriculture trade and harden their hearts to the temporary consequences of their wealth-building policies. The Physiocrats didn’t want their gloriously perfect economic regime to be destroyed by such human failings as pity or empathy. Riots? Pshaw. “Laissez faire, laissez passer” they told the King’s government: “let them happen, let them pass by”.
Stabilization: bad. Unbridled self-interest: good.
I find it quite ironic that the people of France ultimately blamed their government’s attitudes on an Austrian. Still, wherever you put the blame, the policy is quite clear. And yet, the Physiocrats’ modern counterparts tend to rebel when others insist that their model society is that of early-90s Somalia which was dominated by a period without any internationally recognized government and where the social organization of regions (or even small, local areas) of Somalia was based on personal relationships without any written, coded powers, responsibilities, or limits for de factor governments/rulers. While in some of these areas daily life had a rhythm and order, no certainty existed, no stabilizing limits were actually codified. In practice local and regional governments/rulers may have been limited by the expectations of the populace (or the rulers’ understandings of those expectations), but any social contract was at best implied. Somalis experience of the early 1990s is as unstable as the experience of any people since at least World War 2.
This isn’t to say that other peoples haven’t lived through horrifying instability, however. Any time and place of war will of necessity be unstable, and the people of a region may be understandably uncomforted by the certainty that a government tens or hundreds of kilometers away insists on a consistent uniform for its troops or a consistent price be paid for the food it appropriates from citizens. Still, there is that little bit of consistency that provides important information to a people ordering their lives in the midst of systematized chaos and dispassionate murder. Even during a war, horrific as all wars must be, it is frequently at least possible for circumstances to be even worse.
Enter Donald Trump.
Trump wants credit for certain things in Syria. Certain very specific work he has done on behalf of Syrians. Sean Spicer, as always, is there to praise Trump with great praise:
I needed to make sure I clarify and not [be] any more of a distraction from the President’s decisive action in Syria and the attempts that he’s making to destabilize the region and rule out ISIS out of Syria. (emphasis mine)
Yes, this is what motivated Spicer’s clarifications and apologies after his Holocaust-denying comments on Monday. Oh, think I’m nitpicking, do you? Very well. More Sean Spicer:
The goal for both of them and the goal for the United States is twofold, as I stated: It is one, to make sure that we destabilize Syria, um, destabilize the conflict there, reduce the threat of ISIS, but then secondly … (remainder not relevant)
But the one that really got me? (No, twice wasn’t enough for Spicer.) It’s this:
President Trump deserves more credit for his efforts to destabilize [Syria].
Really? Well, I’m perfectly happy to give Trump great credit*3 for his efforts to destabilize Syria, but I’m thinking of a destabilized Syria and that image is making it hard for me to understand why proponents of an even-more-destabilized Syria would run away from the proposition that the society, the frequent, confusing and multi-factioned (though small) wars and uncodified, unlimited, unstable governance of early-90s Somalia might be held in high esteem by certain right-wing, laissez-fair, Austrian-influenced factions in the US.
*1: Spring is when northern-European bread riots traditionally happen as the winter stores have run out but new crops are not yet ready for harvest AND the weather isn’t so bad as to kill people by exposure when they try to protest. Apparently this seasonal dynamic is not quite as pronounced along the Mediterranean but is even more pronounced in Eastern Europe where the winters can be even harsher than in Normandy, Hauts France, l’Ile de France, & le Grand-Est – all places where les Guerres des Farines were notoriously bad.
*2: or possibly both of which, I’m not clear on that.
*3: Great meaning “in large magnitude” not “abundantly and exceptionally positive”
Thanks for the history lesson — I didn’t know the origins of the term.
This is what bugs me so much about libertarians. They always seem to be so utopian … “If only we were to try, as a social experiment, living with a weaker central government, things might be so great!” I can’t figure out how anyone could have enough historical blindness to fail to recognize how often weak central governments have taken place over and over throughout history, and what the inevitable result is (the poor get screwed, and possibly revolt).
I’ve been teaching Hard Times by Dickens, in which the same types of conservatives are making the same arguments that we have today, with the same predictable results.