Sunday, December 31, 2006

Of Aristocracy and Markets

My wife and I watched Emma together the other night. We have seen Pride and Prejudice several times already, but this was the first time she had seen this of Jane Austin's classics. I then headed over to Librivox to download the audiobook (for free!).
In one of the early chapters Emma and her "project" Harriet are discussing a farmer whom has shown interest in Harriet. Emma's disdain for this farmer's activity in the market - his seeking after profits- etc. is telling. As an aristocrat she sees all activity in the market as "dirty" and "low."
Why this distaste for the market?
Emma later acknowledges that the farmer may do well in the market, and even become wealthy, despite his illiteracy.
So, it isn't the wealth.
Rather, it is the source of that wealth.
The aristocracy inherit their wealth. They have land. Who granted them these lands? The king. Hence, nobility enjoys the derrivatives of a government grant of monopoly on land. The nobility are privileged, and quite frequently without merit.
People are always more protective of their privileges than their rights. When the privileged observe others enjoying some of the same things formerly available only to themselves due to their privileged status they become indignant. The market provides just such an opportunity to those of lower classes. Hence, the disdain for the market and those that profit from it.
Today's nobility are those who enjoy status and wealth outside of the market. These include those who have received monopoly privilege in one way or another. The rest of this class are those intellectuals whose learning is of limited practicality on the market, especially those in the social sciences and humanities. These intellectuals seek out positions within the government bureaucracy. They seek access to the privy (private) rooms of the king - hence privilege. They know that they have what they have unfairly. But they do not want it taken away from them.

These also have a static view of the world. Because their lives are consumed with aquiring the very limited access to the king, they constantly concerned about appearances, and favor, and position. All of their competing is done outside of the marketplace. It is all political competition. There is only a limited amount of time in a king's day, and there is a limited amount of wealth. Thus the two most important measures of wealth to these individuals are static and unchanging. They see the marketplace's creation of wealth as a threat to their wealth. They do not understand that the market creates new wealth which does not threaten old wealth in any way. The market tries to provide for more with less. Landed aristocracy has the result of providing fewer people with more. These two institutions are diametrically opposed, both in the historical context and in the modern context.
This helps to explain why government officials want to control and restrict the market.

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