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What error of cognition causes a person to blame problems caused by government on the free market? Since we obviously have a mixed economy, not capitalism, it seems that this misconception must result from having a distorted perception of reality. My best observation is that the thought process of a typical leftist often substitutes people for facts, which mentality Ayn Rand discussed in her essay "The Missing Link." Since the typical leftist associates Republicans with capitalism, he conflates Republican political leadership with having a capitalist economy. Is this correct, or is there a better explanation?

Edited by iflyboats
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Or more generally, it could simply be a rejection of reality. Most people are mentally conservative. That is, most individuals cling to ideas they find favorable, and deny, to varying degrees, subversive ideas. And, when ingrained from birth the nobleness of government, that sharing--for its own sake--is a virtue, and that individuals owe society in some form, is it really a surprise that such a large faction of people would become "Leftist?"

Of course, Hollywood, historical depictions of labor unions, corporations, and the like don't certainly improve the situation.

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What error of cognition causes a person to blame problems caused by government on the free market? Since we obviously have a mixed economy, it seems that this misconception must result from a distorted perception of reality. My best observation is that the thought process of a typical leftist often substitutes people for facts, which mentality Ayn Rand discussed in her essay "The Missing Link." Since the typical leftist associates Republicans with capitalism, he conflates Republican political leadership with having a capitalist economy. Is this correct, or is there a better explanation?

I do not think, for most people, it is an error of cognition. They are simply misinformed from an early age by the media and the school system. For example, they are taught that the 1800s were a horrible time of slums, child labor, bad working conditions, and long hours caused by unrestrained capitalism letting loose the greed of the rich and allowing them to exploit the poor. They are taught that unions and government officials were responsible for ending these things by restricting the capitalists. Now, of course, they are also taught the horrors of communism in some form, so they are opposed to that, as well. Therefore, when you combine that with our cultural love of "moderation", the natural conclusion is that since too much of anything is bad in general, we need to strike a balance between the free market and socialism, hence a mixed economy.

Thus, I think the average person is simply factually mistaken about the nature of the problems of the 1800s and who was responsible for solving them (and, of course, they think business is evil because of altruism, which can't be ignored).

As for the intellectuals who are responsible for putting these errors in the textbooks, they are mostly driven by bad economic theories such as consumptionism (Keynesianism is a variant of this), which in turn are derived from bad philosophic premises and (to a greater or lesser degree) naked evasion. I do not think there is much intentional malice or stupidity on the part of anyone involved.

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Also, what error of cognition causes Republicans to believe that they support the free market even as they push for larger and larger government?

Again, for the common man, I think it is largely errors of fact. They are told that what we have now is a "free market" or at least as free as markets can get without horrible exploitation happening. They believe that there are two kinds of freedom: "social freedom" and "economic freedom" and that it is possible to restrict one and advance the other with no contradiction. They are taught that gay marriage, abortion, and atheism are grave threats to "social integrity", and they are repeatedly told by politicians that we have a moral duty to help other countries in war and that endless war is necessary for American defense. They believe what the politicians tell them, that illegal immigrants are dangerous criminals who are here for welfare and to "steal their jobs", that government must provide "incentives" for businesses to stay in this country because it is better to "buy American". They believe that "the free market is good, but..." that they need to be "compassionate" and make sure that everyone has "equality of opportunity" if not "equality of outcome" (there is in fact no difference between the two).

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What error of cognition causes a person to blame problems caused by government on the free market? Since we obviously have a mixed economy, not capitalism, it seems that this misconception must result from having a distorted perception of reality. My best observation is that the thought process of a typical leftist often substitutes people for facts, which mentality Ayn Rand discussed in her essay "The Missing Link." Since the typical leftist associates Republicans with capitalism, he conflates Republican political leadership with having a capitalist economy. Is this correct, or is there a better explanation?

Also, what error of cognition causes Republicans to believe that they support the free market even as they push for larger and larger government?

Just throwing out a couple of suggestions:

1. Most people do not engage in detailed critical analysis of political philosophy. Concepts like "the free market," "capitalism," "rights," and so forth are floating abstractions to the average person. That is, they are concepts taken from, or learned from, other people without having grounded them upon a foundation first-hand. They come associated with various context clues, emotional connotations, tones, and packaged with other concepts, but the person hasn't actually asked what facts in reality give rise to the need for these concepts.

And so it's actually not all that "obvious" that we have a mixed-economy as differentiated from the free market, or a purely capitalist society. I remember there was some poll where people were asked for their opinions on capitalism, including what it means, and the majority defined it as something like "whatever that system America has is called." So I don't think it's that they just are totally blind to the facts, but that they see certain things going on that they don't like: they see people being pushed around that they want to protect them, they see massive corporations with seemingly unaccountable power, they see massive economic problems, massive amounts of oppression and abuse from an unaccountable and privileged plutocracy, groups being victimized, etc. Couple this together with massive jumbles of fallacies from a long line of statists throughout the centuries and their use of floating abstractions, it's not hard to see why they come to some of the conclusions that they do against capitalism.

Of course, this generally applies to the sort of leftist that might be classified as "anti-authoritarian" in some sense, and not the kind of leftist that genuinely has a blueprint for utopia and is willing to pile up a mountain of skulls to make it happen. Those people, I think, just actually hate the idea of freedom, or conceive of freedom in such a way as to mean obedience to doing what they want you to do.

This might also serve to explain why it is that conservatives are so bad. From what I can see, there seems to be a certain range of "acceptable opinion" for conservatives, and that they claim freedom and liberty as merely slogans disconnected from any rigorous meaning. Which brings us to the next point:

2. Given the above, there is a certain amount of cognitive dissonance involved. Kuhn cites an example of a study done on people perceiving what they expect to perceive, based on accepted notions of things. "[A] mind accustomed to functioning within a certain conceptual framework will have trouble recognizing deviations from the categories of such a framework... even if contrary evidence is detected, it will be dismissed as inessential."

In an experiment, people were shown various flash cards that had like a red ace of spades and a black 2 of hearts or whatever, and most of the people didn't even register or notice this. So if we transfix this on this context, it doesn't matter if Republicans support various statist measures indistinguishable from Obama's policies, or if Democrats support various corporatist and plutocratic measures, various wars, and champion the police state. If one expects Republicans to be "against big government" and Democrats to be "against war, big business, and pro-civil liberties" that is what one will see because to see otherwise would go against vital notions of things and force one to rethink a whole lot of crap, basically.

Even if they recognize some of the same facts as anyone else, they will interpret it vastly differently so as to fit in their framework. People will tend not to see a government decision as what it is. Obama will be called a "Marxist" even though he does some of the same exact things that Bush Republicans were doing, and "that was different, we were in a crisis, we were told it would be done right, it was necessary," etc. Most people are against violence and beating people. If I would ask a lot of leftists if they would think it to be okay to go hit someone on the head, they would probably say "no of course not." They just won't see the government as hitting people over the head then, they will interpret it differently. They would simply not recognize the government hitting someone on the head and doing the same exact thing that would otherwise violate widely accepted moral principles, because having government do this is necessary. Which brings us to the next point:

3. Largely the opposite of floating abstractions, there is also what Rand called the concrete-bound mentality (also in PWNI.) The case for liberty and capitalism depends entirely upon one's ability to see beyond the immediate particulars and abstract out to the principles involved. Bastiat and Hazlitt also made this distinction in the context of economics between the "seen" and the "unseen." A lot of things we have to point to are "unseen" and require long chains of reasoning and abstracting from abstractions. You see the glazier hard at work thanks to the spending injected in the economy due to the broken window, but it takes an act of abstraction and counterfactual reasoning to see the things that the baker cannot now do with the resources that he otherwise would have had. You don't want the government to do X? Then you must be against X. The government does Y. If the government would not do this, then we will not have Y.

Roderick Long wrote a paper and gave a talk at the Austrian Scholars Conference earlier this year on this type of thing, though maybe not dealing with exactly with the question at hand, but it's interesting nonetheless:

paper: Invisible Hands and Incantations: The Mystification of State Power

talk:

see also:

and see our very own Eiuol: The Process Of Deliberation and getting others to change their mind

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