Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Entrepreneurial State: The End Justifies the Means

Without the massive amount of public investment behind the computer and Internet revolutions, such attributes might have led only to the invention of a new toy – not to cutting-edge revolutionary products like the iPad and iPhone which have changed the way that people work and communicate. … The genius and 'foolishness' of Steve Jobs led to massive profits and success, largely because Apple was able to ride the wave of massive state investments in the 'revolutionary' technologies that underpinned the iPhone and iPad: the Internet, GPS, touch-screen displays and communication technologies. Without these publicly funded technologies, there would have been no wave to foolishly surf. (Mariana Mazzucato, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths)

I will not attempt to review The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths by Mariana Mazzucato; I have not read it. I have read only enough to be confident that I understand the main thesis: entrepreneurship by the State (the word is capitalized throughout the excerpts I have read) is morally legitimate because many if not all of the innovations that make life possible, from the green revolution to the iPad, though attributed by most people to private enterprise, were actually the work of the State. This is an updated version of an argument passed on to me in 1974 by my conservative college roommate to the effect that NASA was a good deal because it gave us Tang and microwave ovens.

Nor, tempted though I am, will I accuse her of post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning. For her to claim that there would be no Internet today had there been no ARPA in the 1960s seems strange to me: one of the first things I ever wanted to do with my first computer was to get it to talk directly to another computer, and the Internet seems like the result of many people smarter and more knowledgeable than I fulfilling that same desire; they may in fact have been government employees, but it seems to me that they would eventually have done the same thing had they been hobbyists or businessmen. But I could be wrong.

Nor will I make much of the fact that the green revolution and the Internet have been mixed blessings at best. The pesticides and fertilizers that have increased the production of commercial crops have been accompanied by environmental degradation, displacement of lower-income farmers, and mass starvation on scales unknown before it. The Internet has increased our ability to communicate with the masses, but it has also increased the social isolation of the people who use it.

I would simply like to point out that her thesis is based on the presupposition that the end justifies the means: in this case, such things as the green revolution and the Internet are good, they were brought about by State entrepreneurship, and this is evidence that State entrepreneurship is good.

Without questioning her evidence, let’s see where this leads us. The State she propounds as a proper entrepreneur—indeed society’s most important entrepreneur—is one group of people who achieve their goals by expropriating their neighbors: that is, whether a social anarchy, a monarchy, an oligarchy, a plutocracy, a republic, a democracy, or something else, the State depends on taxation for its very existence. In this sense “private citizens” who, for example, win a school levy election are also part of the state, entitled by right of conquest (i.e., electoral majority) to the tax money of those who lost the election, who are ipso facto their subjects.

It follows from Mazzucato’s thesis that expropriation of their neighbors is not only the privilege but the moral duty of the conquerors. Perhaps the book places limits on State expropriation, but if the end justifies the means, it would seem that the morality of any means can be judged only after the end has been achieved; therefore, any means can be justified if the stated end is noble enough, and if the stated end is not achieved, or if the end is achieved but “getting what ya want doesn’t get ya where ya wanna go,” the fault lies either with those who set the wrong end or with those who failed to achieve the end despite the means being implemented. That is, the means and those who enact them can never be faulted.

In the case of public education, then, the expropriation that pays for public schools can never be faulted. If the schools teach well, then school taxes are moral because the schools are good and they could not exist without taxation. If they teach poorly or not at all, the fault lies with the teachers or the administrators, but the taxation that makes even a bad system possible is legitimate because it would have been legitimized by the good schools had the system been good.

Put another way, if we concede that the end justifies the means, then we must also concede that the stated end also justifies the means. If the goal stated by those in power differs from their real goal, then they alone are at fault if the means are morally questionable; those who carry out the means sincerely believing in the stated goal are blameless. Again: the means, and thus those who carry them out, can never be faulted.

I said a moment ago that in an end-justifies-the-means moral system any means can be justified if the stated end is noble enough. Let’s put the Holocaust through that grid: if the end indeed can ever justify the means, some conceivable end that would justify the killing of six million beings created in God’s image must exist. My inability to conceive of such an end does not preclude its existence; therefore, we cannot say that the Holocaust itself was evil; at best we can only say that those who perpetrated it were evil because they did not set a noble enough end to be achieved by killing those people. Had they achieved a noble enough goal, the killing would have been justified; if the goal had not been attained, the fault would have lain with those who were in charge of attaining the goal after the Jews were all dead; and if attaining the goal had had an unanticipated and overall negative result, the fault would have been lack of imagination on the part of those who set the goal to begin with. In no case could those who actually did the killing be accused of immorality: the killing was not per se immoral.

This of course opens another line of questions: if some but not every end can justify a given means, how can we know that a given end does in fact justify a given means?

Given the stated goals of restoring prosperity to people who had known literal starvation, liberating the arguably oppressed German speakers in Poland and Czechoslovakia, fighting a Communism that had killed dozens of millions of innocent people less than a day’s airplane flight to the east, acquiring Lebensraum, and completing the mission of Christianity, would killing only six hundred thousand, or six thousand, or six innocent people have been OK?

I don’t know how a postmodern would answer that question, but I do know how a strict, exclusive reading of these Bible passages does: any end stated by the State is for our benefit and therefore justifies whatever means the State enacts to bring that end about.

The King is mighty, he [not sometimes, not usually, but apparently always] loves justice. (Ps 99:4)

By [wisdom] kings reign and rulers make laws that are [not sometimes, not usually, but apparently always] just. (Prov 8:15)

Kings [not sometimes, not usually, but apparently always] detest wrongdoing, for a throne is established through righteousness. Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth. (Prov 16:12–13)

He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend. (Prov 22:11)

As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable. (Prov 25:3)

Obey the government, for God is the one who put it there. All governments have been placed in power by God. So those who refuse to obey the laws of the land are refusing to obey God, and punishment will follow. For the authorities do not frighten people who are doing right, but they frighten those who do wrong. So do what they say, and you will get along well. The authorities are sent by God to help you. But if you are doing something wrong, of course you should be afraid, for you will be punished. The authorities are established by God for that very purpose, to punish those who do wrong. So you must obey the government for two reasons: to keep from being punished and to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid so they can keep on doing the work God intended them to do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honor to all to whom it is due. (Rom 13:1–7)

For the Lord's sake, accept all authority—the king as head of state, and the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish all who do wrong and to honor those who do right. (1 Pet 2:13–14)

I see no refutation in those passages of end-justifies-the-means morality. Every State I know of was established by some form of might makes right (excepting the kingdom of Saul son of Kish; pace David and Solomon; see 2 Sam 2 and 1 Kgs 2:13–25, respectively), so I can only infer that we know whom God has chosen to rule after the battle is over, at which point we can know that God chose the winner (Rom 13:1). Because God endows rulers with wisdom, the ends they set will be just (Prov 8:15), and the means they establish to meet those ends will be just also.

(This puts quislings in an interesting position. The Third Reich conquers Belgium, so a Christian cites Rom 13 and takes a job with the Reich harassing Belgians and sending Jews to their deaths. The Allies come, and the Christian cites Rom 13 and fights against the Allies. The Allies win, and where does that leave the quisling?)

I can square might-makes-right morality with contemporary US conservatism, but I’m not sure how to square it with the Great Commission. Conservatives, even confessing Christians, happily vote my money away indirectly for the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, public transportation, and you name it, and directly for public school levies, and consider me somewhere between curmudgeonly and apostate for calling them immoral for doing so. Their argument can rest only on the presupposition that what the State ordains is right because God has allowed those in power to attain that power, and their stated ends are God’s true ends.

The War on Terror involves only God knows how much “collateral damage,” the killing of innocent people, but what might otherwise be classed as murder is somehow OK now because the stated end is to kill off all the terrorists. Because this stated end is so noble, not only the taxation but also the killing is legitimate. Best of all, from the Christian conservative’s point of view, we don’t have to worry that the killing might alienate people from the gospel message or that the money we give in taxes might better have gone to supporting missionaries: ours is only to submit and obey.

Similarly, the War on Drugs puts what we grow in our gardens and trade with our neighbors, to say nothing of what we put in our bodies, within the purview of those who have won the struggle for power, giving them the right not only to tax us but to spy on us, lie to us in sting operations, break into our houses, sell or give weapons to murderous gangs in other countries, put us in cages, and even kill us, all because of the stated goal of keeping some substances out of circulation. Again, because we are to consider those who rule us as God’s vicars, to ask how effective their actions are at achieving the stated goal or in bringing people to Jesus, or even how their actions accord with biblical ethics, is to impugn the holiness of God.

Mariana Mazzucato is no conservative, but The Entrepreneurial State accords very well with contemporary conservative might-makes-right, end-justifies-the-means ethics. And so if they are all correct, Christians need to learn the lessons to be drawn from her work:

There are at least three lessons vital for effective institutionalization of innovation that stem from Mariana Mazzucato’s analysis. There is a need to strengthen the funding source of public R&D; a need to increase public commitment to ‘green’ technology innovation and direction setting; and a need to update the Keynesian responses to modern economic crises. (From the forward by Carlota Perez)

In short, we need to give more of our resources to the State so it can do more for us. Christians can then trust that God will fulfill the Great Commission through the State he has ordained, and out of gratitude we need to fly the State’s flag literally and figuratively.

The alternative is to begin with the Bible, which states that we will be judged on the basis of all our works, which in turn will be judged on their own merits.

 For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in our bodies. (2 Cor 5:10)

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows. (Isa 1:17)

Seeking justice and helping the oppressed by definition involve opposing the State, since injustice and oppression are by definition State malfeasance: even a common assault or theft in an isolated area of a state is evidence that the State is not doing its job adequately and will usually be followed by calls for the State to change a putative deficient policy. If God through Isaiah calls his people to question State actions, it follows that injustice and oppression are what they are irrespective of the stated ends of the unjust and the oppressors, and not least those who act as their agents: Christians cannot use State policy to defend their own unjust actions.

If we really want to take the Great Commission seriously, we need to get beyond the supposed difference between liberals and conservatives and make the kingdom of God, not some mythological America of yore, the object of our labors. Justice is just, not because it will “restore America” or bring prosperity, but because it is just. It is God’s nature, and we are to partake of it as deeply as we can; whether we end up with iPads or even an improved food supply is secondary. We can expect, however, that if the process is what God calls just, the result will be what he calls good—and his is the only opinion that really matters.

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