Back to previous post: De Ægypto

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Bill of Whats?

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

January 30, 2011

…or assuredly we will all hang separately
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 05:35 AM * 92 comments

I could take over the universe with this army if I could ever get all their weapons pointed in the same direction.
—Aral Vorkosigan, Shards of Honor

Philip Pullman is angry. He’s angry about cuts to library funding, which the British government is instituting as part of its austerity measures. And he’s angry at the mitigation suggested: that local communities bid for funding and use volunteers to close the gap.

The first problem is that the communities with the spare resources (time, money, cars, computers) to organize the bids and provide the volunteers are the ones that need their libraries least. Employed people can buy books. People with spacious housing need fewer public places to take their children. People with cars can drive to a more distant branch.

But there’s a deeper problem, too: not everything should be fair game for market-style competition, for an approach where people can only win if others lose.

What I personally hate about this bidding culture is that it sets one community, one group, one school, against another. If one wins, the other loses. I’ve always hated it. It started coming in when I left the teaching profession 25 years ago, and I could see the way things were going then. In a way it’s an abdication of responsibility. We elect people to decide things, and they don’t really want to decide, so they set up this bidding nonsense and then they aren’t really responsible for the outcome. “Well, if the community really wanted it, they would have put in a better bid … Nothing I can do about it … My hands are tied …”

And it always results in victory for one side and defeat for the other. It’s set up to do that. It’s imported the worst excesses of market fundamentalism into the one arena that used to be safe from them, the one part of our public and social life that used to be free of the commercial pressure to win or to lose, to survive or to die, which is the very essence of the religion of the market. Like all fundamentalists who get their clammy hands on the levers of political power, the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life. I think that little by little we’re waking up to the truth about the market fanatics and their creed. We’re coming to see that old Karl Marx had his finger on the heart of the matter when he pointed out that the market in the end will destroy everything we know, everything we thought was safe and solid. It is the most powerful solvent known to history. “Everything solid melts into air,” he said. “All that is holy is profaned.”

Of course, Pullman is British, and socialism is not yet a dirty word in the UK; one can quote Marx without being mistaken for Mao.

But there are good grounds to critique the valorization of winner-take-all, loser-in-the-dust competitiveness, even within the rather constrained limits of acceptable economic discourse in America. Russell, one of my favorite bloggers on Obsidian Wings, made a lovely argument in the comment threads the other day:

The *normal operation* of economic markets makes some people poor. Not because they are lazy, or fail to take initiative, or lack foresight, or have insufficient gumption and moxie. Just because.

It’s just what happens. Ask Vilfredo Pareto.

Since *that is what happens* when free economic markets do their thing, and since we want more rather than less free markets, if we have any intelligence or basic sense of responsibility at all we will take steps to mitigate the harms that flow from that.

If we fail to do that, we are being irresponsible. If we fail to do that because we only like the upside of the free market, and are content to let other folks absorb the downside, then we are in fact the freeloaders. If “freeloader” is too harsh a word, feel free to read that as the more neutral economic term of art “free rider”.

I like it. Just as those who benefit from roads should pay for the costs of the roads (construction, maintenance, end of life), so those who benefit from the capitalist system should* pay for the costs of it. And one of those costs is the natural rate of unemployment. It’s not oppositional, any more than paying for the candy bar before you walk out of the supermarket is oppositional.

My own much less eloquent take on the matter is something I said recently about Left and Right in American politics. It is also true of rich and poor:

One of the lessons of many years of marriage is that there are no win-lose solutions, not in the long term. If one partner “loses”, in the end, the whole thing founders.

There are plenty of reasons for deep divisions within our societies. I know this. I know it’s not possible to make common cause with people who deny our humanity or our agency, and it’s not acceptable to throw others under the bus to work together. But there’s a further step that Pullman, and russell, and I are all reluctant to take: that it’s okay that we’re at loggerheads. That the arena is a good use of our energies and our joy. That this is how we do things.

Stuff that.


* This all depends, of course, on the belief that the way to “win” in life is to follow the rules, rather than break them and not get punished.

Comments on ...or assuredly we will all hang separately:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 09:07 AM:

Human beings form societies out of the obvious (to all of us) insight that living together makes sense. That when we pool our resources and create common goods for common purposes we all benefit. That selfishness, in the end, hurts us all. When we make a fetish of the market, as Marx warned, all that is solid does melt into air leaving us with nothing.

It seems to me that some people are eager to relearn this lesson, out of pure selfishness.

#2 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 09:49 AM:

And it always results in victory for one side and defeat for the other.

Actually, I'll argue with this point -- in that sort of "lets you and him fight" conflict, it's entirely possible for both sides to lose.

And this is exactly a "lets you and him fight" situation -- the people who actually control the resources are trying to fend off those who want a share, by turning them against each other.

#3 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 10:22 AM:

I was wondering when this would come up on Making Light (in fact, I was a bit surprised it hadn't been particled already).

Round where I grew up, we used to have a saying. 'Better to be at Loggerheads than to be at Woore'

#4 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 10:26 AM:

David, #2: Very good point. In fact, a better meta description of this issue would be "Let's you and him fight while I walk away with all the prize money... suckers."

#5 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 10:27 AM:

praisegod barebones @3:

I sent Patrick the Pullman speech when I got it off of Ken MacLeod's Twitter stream, with the suggestion that he sidelight it. But he didn't—I have no idea if he saw the email, read the link, or what—and when I read russell's comment, I saw a synergy that I wanted to blog.

#6 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 10:31 AM:

The free market is one of the most powerful tools that humanity has invented. Like physical tools like the internal combustion engine, the free market has brought tremendous prosperity to huge swathes of humanity.

But like the internal combustion engine, it is just a dumb machine. An engine can propel a car down a highway, but it can just as easily propel a car onto a crowded sidewalk. And if something goes wrong, the engine can set itself on fire and tear itself apart.

The scary thing is that so many policy makers seem to care more for the mechanism of the free market than for the work it does. They see it not as a tool for distributing goods and services in a way that fosters human flourishing, but as an end which is itself more important than human flourishing.

#7 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 11:07 AM:

I would argue that lots of the deification of the free market results from watching how people reach to mess with it at the slightest provocation, and the nasty messes that so frequently result. Rent controls leading to horrid housing shortages, wage and price controls pushing most of the economy into black markets, agricultural subsidies making farmers live on the edge, propping up failing companies so they can take their whole industry down with them, and so forth.

Directly interfering with the market itself makes it less effective at allocating resources (and conveying information about how they should be allocated). Interference with the surrounding environment, by various regulations, to protect individual and collective rights, prevent the formation of monopolies, monetarize externalities like pollution, and so forth, constrains the space of solutions usefully without losing the basic benefits of the market.

#8 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 11:11 AM:

Chris W #6: I'd say, rather, that the partisans of the free market see it as the best available tool for distributing goods and services to themselves and their friends. (What, me cynical?)

#9 ::: Gerald Fnord ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 11:20 AM:

Chris W., you beat me to it---it's like one of my favourite analogies: 'The Market is a an amazing engine. Some people complain that the engine would run much more efficiently if it weren't hooked up to a transmission and a car, or if it MUST be so, weren't hindered by some damn driver's petty concerns about "where do I want to go" and "human decency".'

(Such a one also generally don't understand irreversibility---any damage to the engine or by the car can always be reversed. There's a reason why free-market utopiæ ['utopia'? 'utopias'?] tend to include uploading/cloning, so that even death....)

Of course, if the only 'driver' possible were a dictator, that would be worse than none...but please note that in democracies we at least de facto believe that our system is adequate to the task of picking people who will decide whether all human life on Earth will be extinguished or not.

As far as paying our way: I think of a variation on the Single Taxers' belief that since consistent property-in-land is (for all but a few potential war-lords) made possible by the State, and so the State's getting its revenue from land taxes is meet. I would add that under our current conditions of scarcity, any large accumulation of property, something far larger than (say) a savage's rude hut, coat, and match-lock, is generally impossible without a State to offer a dependable provider of whatever violence may be needed to defend it...and so an agent's fee is not unreasonable. And that goes double for transfers of estates---in the State of Nature, if you have a lot of property, generally the guards you've convinced to help protect it will divide it up after you're dead, usually along with your heirs (jointly and or severally).

#10 ::: Gerald Fnord ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 11:22 AM:

'generally don't understand' ---> 'generally doesn't understand'

Sorry.

#11 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 11:23 AM:

If one partner “loses”, in the end, the whole thing founders

I think the problem is that there is this sense, this hopefully false realization, that resources are finally and truly reaching their limits. For some people, the solution is to climb on top of everybody else while the boat is sinking because it buys them a few extra minutes of life.

#12 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 11:32 AM:

I've read Marx, and other books covering Victorian England, where he lived and when he saw what was happening; Dickens, for one, and also Henry Mayhew; and a lot of the sneers at Marx ignore that he was obviously driven to solve the problems he saw.

There's a logical fallacy here: A and B competed, B lost, and the proponents of A now regard everything not-A as being B.

Even things which were part of A when it was defeating B.

#13 ::: Ginger Weil ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 12:08 PM:

Looking at a different example of this type of thing a while back, I said to a friend that it was like setting up rules for a "fair race" in which one group of people was first allowed to steal the other group of people's sneakers. She answered, with more of an international perspective, that no, it was more like setting up rules for a "fair race" in which first one group of people was allowed to steal the other group of people's sneakers and shoot them in the kneecaps.

#14 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 12:23 PM:

But surely a better way of putting it is that:
The market, when supported by enforced laws, protected by other laws and the actions of the participants in the market and aided by further actions of the government in terms of the monetary system, common goods such as roads, schools etc,
is a really efficient method of creating prosperity.

But as we have seen, you can have a 'free' market which somehow brings despair (e.g. penetration of foreign goods into developing countries, US healthcare etc), a 'free' market which aids the formation of national debt and increased unemployment, a 'free' market in which the gains go to the owners not the workers (see the USA for the last decade for example).

Adam Smith was concerned about moral philosophy first, and free trade second. Markets are a tool, and should be treated as such.

#15 ::: Gerald Fnord ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 01:04 PM:

The Market is a technology for assigning value to goods, physical and otherwise. It comes to different conclusions than some other such---e.g., is it o.k. that a person starve in the midst of plenty---and there is a difference between throwing out the measuring instrument and confirming or questioning its result with the aid of another device.

A problem is that the Market tends to totalise---a world in which anything can be bought is a world in which everything is for sale---as it influences how people value other value-detectors. Sometimes this (in my arrogant, correct, opinion) is great (some businesses saw the end of racial segregation as being good for business, and so prejudice was if not ditched, at least deprecated), sometimes this is mixed (in "Hester Street", an ignorant man gets to feel at least momentarily superior to an ex-yeshiva student) but sometimes this is bad (codes not assigning human beings any sort of inalienable value lose out).


I guess what I'm saying is that the Free Market works better when it has competition.

#16 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 01:29 PM:

Attempting to write coherently of Benjamin Franklin's thinking regarding the North American British colonies' political economy, I am working my way through Marx's essay on Franklin's A Modest Inquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency.

BF was perhaps the first person to ever work out that money = labor, thus, regretably one must have slave labor, at least in these colonies. Not to mention a wife. Because, extracting the most production for the least costly labor is how wealth is produced. Marx's analysis is fascinating and illuminating.

Love, c.

#17 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 02:08 PM:

Gerald Fnord #15: ...the Free Market works better when it has competition.

I like this!

#18 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 03:01 PM:

Andrew Carnegie must be spinning in his grave.

#19 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 03:22 PM:

I think one of my basic problems with "the market" is that people think it assigns a single value to something. Different people value the same thing differently; the same person values something differently at different times. I know that there are some people out there who value certain paperbacks at several hundred dollars; for other people, those exact same books are literally trash.

Value is an illusion, and acting as if it's somehow real, much less constant, is a great way to get into problems. Hell, value isn't even commutative -- if A is worth more than B, and B is worth more than C, it's often the case that C is worth more than A to some set of people.

#20 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 04:38 PM:

Tom 19 Hell, value isn't even commutative -- if A is worth more than B, and B is worth more than C, it's often the case that C is worth more than A to some set of people.

Isn't that the transitive property?

#21 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 05:29 PM:

Tom #19: In fact, that point, the non-transitivity of value, represents an exploitable weakness everywhere it appears. If it appears in a single person (that is, a failure to prioritize their own values), that person can easily be cheated or otherwise manipulated; when it appears over the range of a market, it enables "Triangle Trades" where the trader can likewise exploit all three corners of the triangle.

#22 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 05:31 PM:

And you could go on, further back in time, way back before recorded history. The ultimate source is probably the tendency in some of us, part of our psychological inheritance from our far-distant ancestors, the tendency to look for extreme solutions, absolute truths, abstract answers. All fanatics and fundamentalists share this tendency, which is so alien and unpleasing to the rest of us. The theory says they must do such-and-such, so they do it, never mind the human consequences, never mind the social cost, never mind the terrible damage to the fabric of everything decent and humane.

I'm underlining this bit from Pullman because I like it a lot, except that I'd rather call it ideology or possibly ideologism, and I think it takes a certain level of wealth in a society (at least primitive agriculture, and possibly more) before you get people saying that purity trumps obvious consequences.

In any case, it was a relief to see something on the subject which wasn't just about the wickedness of markets.

#23 ::: moe999 ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 05:31 PM:

http://www.salon.com/technology/how_the_world_works/2011/01/25/austerity_in_england_backfires

Probably too late for this fiscal year, but still excellent points.

#24 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 05:56 PM:

Xopher @20 -- you're quite right, brainfart on my part. Which is why I gave an example, to keep at least the right idea in peoples' minds when I use the wrong name.

#25 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 05:59 PM:

Me, #21: In fact, It occurs to me that the combined abortion, contraception, and sex-education debates, might represent a political Triangle Trade! At a guess, the corners are "protecting fetal life", "women's self-determination", and "discouraging sexual promiscuity". Any pair can be used to drive a wedge between groups which might otherwise find common cause on other issues.

#26 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 06:03 PM:

David Harmon #21, Tom Whitmore #19:

the non-transitivity of value, represents an exploitable weakness everywhere it appears.

It's not necessarily an exploitable weakness when happens with three different sets of people. Just like having different values for the same object, it's irrational within a person but it's an opportunity for improving your life through trade when it happens between people.

If you want a money-free version, consider kidney donor swaps: your second kidney is moderately valuable to you and immensely valuable to a matching recipient, but worthless to anyone else. Your close friend receiving a kidney is immensely valuable to you . A three-way swap saves three lives exactly because the preferences aren't transitive.

Turning a set of non-transitive preferences among people into a money pump requires that people's wants don't get satisfied. Again, the kidney swap is a good illustration. Your preferences change dramatically after the first swap, and no-one would want to go through a second swap.


For simple differences between people, the fact that a copy of, say, Among Others is much more valuable to me than to Tor (who already have sufficient) is what makes it possible for me to read the book, and what makes it possible for Tor to employ our hosts. It's a Good Thing and it's what makes the market work.


Even with the library cuts, if it were feasible to measure the value of public libraries to different communities, I think you'd like to give it to the communities who value it more. If two communities had equal resources, the bidding process would give you some idea which community valued the library more. The problem is, obviously, that any differences in the extent to which communities value the library will be swamped by differences in resources.

But in any case, the purpose of public libraries seems to be redistributive -- tax the rich and allow the poor to read -- so it's precisely the sort of service where this sort of bidding is insane. The communities that win the bids will be the sort of communities that could put together good oldfashioned subscription libraries.

#27 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 06:03 PM:

25
while actually not doing any of the three....

#28 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 06:34 PM:

thomas #26: Um, I don't think your kidney example does what you think, notably because the organs are not in fact swapped. (And saving your friend != saving yourself!) Maybe you can salvage the example, but I can't figure out what you actually intended to argue.

The problem is, obviously, that any differences in the extent to which communities value the library will be swamped by differences in resources.

Worse -- the value of the library to a given community is exactly inverse to the community's resources, for just the reason you note next. A library is a public good -- demanding that it be bought locally, at cost, is just a crude stratagem to destroy it as a public good.

#29 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 06:38 PM:

Gerald Fnord @ 15:

"If we always measure what we value, we will only value what we know how to measure." (I can't find an attribution for that quote, can anyone help?)

Likewise, deciding beforehand that a process is zero-sum is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Insisting that society is zero-sum because the "free market" is zero-sum is both incorrect (society consists of more than just a set of markets) and at least mildly insane (because it denies many of the purposes for which society is created and maintained). Society is clearly not zero-sum because over the course of prehistory and history we've drastically increased both the value available to all humans, and the productivity with which each human can create value, but none of that increase would have been possible to individual humans working in isolation. In fact, insisting that this is a zero-sum process makes it far less efficient at creating value than it might otherwise be; so much for the efficiency of markets.

#30 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 06:49 PM:

David Harmon: a library is a public good.

These libraries are public goods; libraries aren't intrinsically, the point of my link.

The fact that these libraries are more valuable to those with less money is at least partly separate. NPR radio is also a public good, but my guess is that the people it's most valuable to are better-off than average.

Public libraries aren't just a public good, they are also a way to redistribute wealth, and that's a stronger argument against bidding wars.

#31 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 06:57 PM:

True, I should have said "a public library system is a public good".

#32 ::: Thomas ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 07:08 PM:

David Harmon #28

Three pairs of close friends: (A, a), (B, b), (C, c)
You value your close friend's health and happiness greatly, though not as highly as your own.

A needs a kidney and can get one from b, B needs a kidney and can get one from c, C needs a kidney and can get one from a.

(A,a) value (B,b)'s spare kidney very highly. They value (A,a)'s spare kidney moderately highly -- it's useful as a spare, and the operation to remove it isn't completely trivial. They don't put any value on (B,b)'s spare kidney.

Similarly (B,b) value c''s spare kidney highly, b's own spare kidney moderately, and a's spare kidney not at all.

Between them, they have preferences that lead to a triangular trade in kidneys between the pairs. The pairs matter, because people rarely (sometimes, but rarely) donate kidneys to complete strangers. Everyone benefits.

Everyone's individual preferences are transitive, but the preferences differ in a way that allows three-way trade, but not two-way trade.

if a single individual had preferences that allowed a three-way trade their preferences would be non-transitive and could be exploited, but different individuals or groups having preferences that allow a triangular trade is perfectly normal and desirable.

it would be easier to do this with a standard example such as a farmer, a miller, and a blacksmith, but the kidney example (if I explain it right) is a version that doesn't get simpler when you introduce money, which I think is significant in this context.

#33 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 07:43 PM:

Tom Whitmore @19: I think one of my basic problems with "the market" is that people think it assigns a single value to something. Different people value the same thing differently; the same person values something differently at different times.

Far from being a problem with market-based thought, this is instead (according to currently dominant economic theories) the fundamental basis for all trade. If everyone valued everything the same, nobody would ever bother expending the effort to trade. (Unless, I suppose, they found the act of trading itself had value.)

This does mean that talking about "the market value" of something is sort of like talking about the position of a sub-atomic particle -- it's not so much a measurement as an estimate based on averaging a bunch of measurements, and it has less meaning as the rate of change increases.

#34 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 07:46 PM:

Thomas #32: That's not a "triangle trade" in my sense -- partly because it's a one-time deal, but also because the loop is accidental (the accident being the various compatibilities). Essentially, they're really forming a "kitty" for common benefit. Also, the relation of needs doesn't persist after the single transaction, which prevents exploitation.

The farmer/miller/blacksmith pattern you allude to is closer, but the key point is that in the "fable" version, the three cooperate directly with each other. A "triangle trade" in the classic sense would appear if, say, they were too distant to deal directly with each other, and an outside trade was making their mint by arranging the sales with his profit taken from all three. Indeed, it's just that sort of thing which gave merchants a bad name in medieval times -- even when they provided genuine services of transport and "marketing", they were also in a position to extract "undue" profit from arbitrage.

#35 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 07:49 PM:

thomas: I can't speak to NPR, but I recall a study some years ago which found the greatest users of PBS were lower middle class families.

#36 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 08:35 PM:

#26 thomas

In our parts of the world it is the wealthy communities only who are getting new libraries, and these are gorgeous, state-of-the-art facilities.

The communities who have a major percentage of population who can't subscribe to digital services, own their own computers or buy books -- well the libraries in their communities are being closed down.

Love, c.

#37 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 08:57 PM:

Terry Karney #35. A 2009 profile of NPR listener demographics (which I got from WQUB, but I think is national), says:

Income. NPR households tend to be more affluent than other households, primarily as a result of their educational attainment. The median household income of an NPR News listener is about $86,000, compared to the national average of about $55,000.

Constance
In our parts of the world it is the wealthy communities only who are getting new libraries, and these are gorgeous, state-of-the-art facilities.

Well, yes. That* being exactly the problem. I still maintain that the major reason for having publically-funded libraries should be redistributive because otherwise a private subscription system could be a perfectly good substitute. It's probably good to include wealthy areas in the system if you can afford it, both to make the system more popular and to support reading by kids whose parents don't read, but that's secondary.

Taxing people who don't like to read to support people who do like to read isn't very appealing, but taxing people who can afford books to support those who can't afford books is the sort of thing governments should be useful for.


* not that they are gorgeous and state-of-the-art, which is a Good Thing, but that they are going only to the wealthy communities.

#38 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 09:47 PM:

I would expect PBS and NPR to have different listening demographics, due to PBS having lots of children's programming.

#39 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 10:06 PM:

Serge, #11: The End of the Ship.. Some people do get it; unfortunately, none of them are the ones running the show.

#40 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 03:29 AM:

Tim Walters: It was specifically the evening programming, the shows like Cosmos, Masterpiece Theater, Nova, National Geographic.

#41 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 03:32 AM:

moe999 @ 23: Putting tens or hundreds of thousands of people, who thought thet they had secure jobs, if not particurly high-paying ones, out of work - yes, thet's going to encourage people to stop worrying and spend more, isn't it? The institute of Higher Education where my husband works has to cut 10% of jobs, and the same is happening all over. So more people will be unemployed, and more people will be having to claim benefits - that's going to reduce government spending how, exactly? They've cut the allowance for young people staying on in further education after the age of 16 - which many of these young people have been relying on in order to be able to afford to catch the bus to get to their college, because they can't find work which doesn't clash with their courses - that's really going to encourage people from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds to remain in education, isn't it? Yeah, right. And putting young people into tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt to go to university, to come out and earn little if any more than their peers without that debt burden (which they're not going to be allowed to pay off quickly even if they want to and can somehow afford to), is going to encourage people from non-university backgrounds to go to university, and their families to give them (general, rather than financial) support to go, rather than get a job right now, isn't it? /sarcasm

#42 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 04:18 AM:

dcb, that is all bad, but unfortunately nobody* has offered, yet, a structural solution to the fact that most of these secure jobs had come to be paid for with a combination of trickle-down taxes from loosely regulated financial capital, and money borrowed from international capital markets. Neither of those things was good for people and other living things. What we should be thinking about is how a different government could start over, once the now-inevitable carnage has passed, reconstructing the idea of 'public goods' from the ground up, rather than treating them as a sort of side-effect of kow-towing to speculators.

*For values of 'nobody' that exclude people who think that violently destroying a social system in which millions of people depend on what 'trickles down' for their day-today survival is a good idea.

#43 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 07:03 AM:

Alex @42.

You use the phrase "not good for the markets"

I could care less about the markets: they got us into the mess, and made a bunch of people stinking rich.

You don't even have a market if nobody can afford to buy.

"Think of the markets" is the same sort of iddiocy as the cries of "Think of the children", when the same law is applied to pictures of infants, and pictures of teenagers old enough to marry and bonk their brains out.

It's blunt instrument policy making.

#44 ::: Greg Gerrand ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 07:22 AM:

"like the fanatical Bishop Theophilus in the year 391 laying waste to the Library of Alexandria and its hundreds of thousands of books of learning and scholarship."

Oh dear.

It's a worth cause (I'm a librarian myself) but need Pullman open his argument by shooting himself in the foot?

Perhaps his local librarian could draw his attention to some historically accurate works on the Library of Alexandria.

#45 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 08:36 AM:

Dave @43: No I don't. Have you read my paragraph all the way to the end? My point is that the money that paid for all those good things came from obeisance to 'the markets', in your phrase, and that was a Bad Thing.

#46 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 10:29 AM:

Lee @ 39... What's that line about people who won't 'get' something if it might endanger their income flow?

#47 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 10:50 AM:

The current devotion to the market is the lamp-post problem gone metastatic like some mutant fungus filmed in time-lapse. It started when economists (tautologically) defined everything in terms of utility. Then they realized they couldn't define utility, so they said it was a function of money. Then it got too complicated to work things out with just any function of money (even if logarithmic seems best for a first cut) so they decided utility was best (!) defined as just a constant times the amount of money you had, or gained, or lost.

And since popular culture is so slow on the uptake, just at the point where people actually have the computational, mathematical and methodological tools to define utility properly and work out the right consequences from there, the idea that money is the only true measure has (backed, of course by propaganda paid for with lots of money) won the competition in the marketplace of ideas.

And yeah, although something having more value to one person than to another is the fundamental basis of trade, that only works when the people it has more value to don't also have guns.

#48 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 11:21 AM:

It's worth noting that as far as Marx is concerned, "all that is solid melting into air, all that is holy being profaned" is actually a good thing--one must remember that what comes before capitalism is feudalism, and the only thing Marx loathed more completely than capitalism was the long millenia of stagnation and rigidity embodied in feudalism. Capitalism, at least, swallows itself and sets the stage for something better. In theory, anyway.

The rest of the quote: "All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind."

#49 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 11:30 AM:

heresiarch @ 49... as far as Marx is concerned

...outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read.
:-)

#50 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 11:31 AM:

This "let the free market decide" attitude has made it over to the US. Just yesterday, Obama's Chief of Staff was on one of the morning talk shows commenting that they would soon be proposing privatising the US' highways and bridges. He said that since no politician wanted to raise gasoline taxes to pay for the infrastructure, they were going to make the operation and maintenance of these roads available to domestic and foreign investors.

As someone who has worked in the highway industry for nearly 30 years, I saw this coming years ago. No one in a political office has the nerve to sit down and explain to the populace why the cost of building roads and keeping them safe and well maintained keeps going up. The gas tax's buying power has dropped every year since the 80's, so now the idea is "let the free market decide".

Except, that means tolls on previously untolled roads, and often contracts with states prohibiting parallel (and untolled) routes not be improved, and if a certain level of traffic isn't reached, the state pays the difference. All those have happened in Virginia, now they're about to take place everywhere.

#51 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 12:18 PM:

A basic problem here is that providing for the public good is almost always done with some specific set of intended beneficiaries, which doesn't include everyone on Earth[0]. Communities that have more money have an easier time, in general, funding libraries, arts centers, etc. On a larger scale, wealthier states and countries can afford more generous social welfare benefits.

The alternative to this is not, alas, building the library in the nearby poor county. If we expanded our goals to maximize the well-being of everyone on Earth, I suppose the library money would instead go to building safe water supplies and buying vaccines and antiparasite drugs in very poor countries.

A core of all sorts of social/political questions amounts to "which people should we care about?" That question is implicit in discussions about foreign policy (if making ourselves 1% safer requires the death of a million foreigners, should we do it?), foreign aid, immigration, and all sorts of domestic politics (Should we care about the poor in our country? Should we be more worried about the poor in our own town? Should we care about members of other races as much as members of our own? How about our/other religions?)

And answering that question is much harder than it looks, because you can't just answer it as an individual, you must answer it in the framework of some collective decisionmaking mechanism--a church hierarchy, a county government, the management of a federal agency, the board of directors of a charity, a democratic election. Among those groups, it's overwhelmingly easier to get help for "us" than "them," and outside a few extremely focused people, everyone uses multiple definitions for "us" and "them" that change by context.

Expanding our definitions of "us" spreads the wealth around, but also makes people less cooperative with spreading the wealth around. And alongside the us/them motivations, we're also probably more likely to be able to help people who are closer to "us" by whatever definition. Social welfare policies often don't work out how we'd like in our own country, but we're far more likely to be able to do them well in the US than in Haiti or Sudan.

[0] It's often, but not always, done by governments who have access to tax money.

#52 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 01:26 PM:

albatross@52: Given that what you say has always been true, do you think there's something in particular that's led in more recent times to an activist "us" composed in significant part of selfish rich people, and a more alienated "us" composed in significant part of less-selfish rich people and poor people of undetermined selfishness?

I think that part of this discussion is hidden in the fact that it's Abi who made the post, that is, someone who lives in an explicitly communitarian country. Sitting in the US, I see a bunch of people who don't seem to buy the premise in the title. Or, using the metaphor of the post, seem to think that win/lose is a perfectly good model for a marriage, and if it ends in divorce there are always more pretty young things out there.

#53 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 01:37 PM:

paul @53:

Without disagreeing with your questions, which are good ones, it's worth pondering whether my choice of place to live is the source of, or a product of, my communitarian beliefs. I was raised in a country that founded by dodgy collaborative fellows like the one I quote in the post title, and spent much of my adulthood in Mr Pullman's neck of the woods, but here, as they say, I stand.

I would love to move back to either of my homelands. I don't see it any time soon, and this post is a piece of why.

#54 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 01:57 PM:

albatross @52:

I agree that the question of "who is my neighbor"? comes up a lot in these discussions. My starter for 10 is generally, "who can become me? whom can I become?" Though I think we should help in a wider circle than that, this is where funding decisions like this should begin.

I cannot become (without a set of changes even more improbable than the ones that have led me to where I now sit) a campesina in Mexico. Nor is a farmer's daughter from rural China hugely likely to move in down the street and work at the next desk over.

But I could lose my job and my prosperity and find myself in a small flat somewhere unappealing in Noord-Holland, and the children who currently live in such circumstances could easily grow up to be my peers, or those of my kids. And on this continent of free movement, so could the poor of Warsaw or Wigan, Naples or Nice. So there's a certain self-interest in making sure that life in those places is decent, and produces decent people.

Not that I think you disagree with this. But I think that the fact that our societies are losing their collective handle on it, and aren't being dragged back into awareness of it, is not simply a timeless problem with no timely solution.

#55 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 02:13 PM:

Maybe some people got the idea that 'community' sounds too much like 'communism'. Darn etymology.

#56 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 02:21 PM:

"If we always measure what we value, we will only value what we know how to measure." (I can't find an attribution for that quote, can anyone help?)

Sounds like a rebuttal of Tom DeMarco's "You can't control what you can't measure."

[brief search engine moment]

Dan Ariely ?

#57 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 02:25 PM:

abi #54:

On rereading, I think what you're talking about is an implicit economy of abundance and nonrival goods. Traditional economics is (see the can-opener joke) built on questions about the allocation of insufficient resources and the telling of stories that make any finite quantity of resources by definition insufficient. But of course what we find is that many of the best things happen when people act as if that isn't true.

#58 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 02:50 PM:

paul #58:

Public funds raised by taxes are always scarce in the economics sense, I think. There are always many choices about what to do with the money, possibly to include paying down debt or lowering taxes, and somehow someone must choose. There is not an unlimited pot of money for libraries, schools, county social services, roads, police, firemen, parks, etc.

#59 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 02:58 PM:

Chris W. @6: The scary thing is that so many policy makers seem to care more for the mechanism of the free market than for the work it does. They see it not as a tool for distributing goods and services in a way that fosters human flourishing, but as an end which is itself more important than human flourishing.

Oh, this is very good.

#60 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 03:40 PM:

abi:

Yeah, that's exactly the question. Larger governments, better transportation and media, better ways of organizing larger efforts--all those make it possible for *anyone* to be our neighbor in the sense of the Gospel. I mean, I took from the Gospel story that you're supposed to be a neighbor to (and show mercy to) people you're in a position to help. But at least in terms of donating money, or campaigning for foreign aid, we can definitely be neighbors to very poor people far away. Think Childreach or UNICEF or Doctors Without Borders.

The other question is, what happens when the organizations that could be used to help your neighbors are designed for rather different purposes? We establish governments to provide for good things (public order, maintenance of commons, defense from outsiders, provision of public goods) within some limited area, for some limited set of people. We tax the presumed beneficiaries of this, and often try to tax the wealthy more and the poor less, to avoid taking anyone's eating money. We put the leadership of our governments at all levels up for a vote periodically, to ensure that the set of people ruled over and taxed and living with the decisions of these governments have the power to change their direction. All this supports the notion that, to a government, "my neighbor" looks a hell of a lot like "my citizens," perhaps with some special-case exceptions for helping out other cities/counties/states/nations in emergencies.

But that still leaves us with more and better libraries in rich counties than in poor ones.

#61 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 04:44 PM:

albatross @61:

I probably should have used a different question, actually.

I think that the question of "who is my neighbor?" in the Christian sense is a question about charity, about the things I do to render unto God. And then, if the answer isn't "everyone," it very rapidly becomes "no one". We choose on other bases than whether someone counts as a valid recipient.

When it comes to civic obligations, to rendering unto Caesar, we need a basis that's agreed for secular reasons, of course.

My first line of argument there is that people with the freedom to move to and work in the places I do are part of my economic engine. And, following russell's argument, it's my obligation, as someone who benefits from this particular economic engine, to mitigate the cost of it to the people who are paying, in terms of poverty or suffering, for the engine.

(Then we get into the global economy, and the ripples spread wide again. It's not really simple, but for the purposes of this, I simplify.)

Another argument about drawing the line to include any people who can move and mix with me and mine is that I want them to be the kind of people I want around. Most of the mitigations of poverty have that effect: giving people health and dignity, education and enlightenment.

Furthermore, where they are, any of us could end up. Surely it makes sense, in a purely secular way, to ensure that that isn't too wretched a state to be in? It's a kind of insurance policy.

And last of all, even if I remain financially comfortable all of my life, one day I will be elderly, frail, and vulnerable. Who will I want then for carers, for neighbors, and companions on the sidewalk? People who resent me and are only after what they can hoard? People who are narrow in their interests and their understanding? Or wise, educated, generous folk, both those who have professional obligations to me (let them be educated!) and those who simply help me across the street without stealing my purse.

#62 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 04:59 PM:

I just want to point out another way in which the Conservative government is operating according to a different, community denying paradigm, and how Pullman is correct.
This report:
http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/groups/dh_digitalassets/documents/digitalasset/dh_123582.pdf
is the impact assessments for their insane proposals regarding the NHS.
On page 43 is a section about distortions of the fair playing field in healthcare provision. Needless to say, they are all distortions that allegedly disadvantage private firms, by such nasty tricks as paying your staff decent pensions, making use of the gvt ability to borrow cheaper than private companies, and *gasp* not having to pay corporation tax.
Which all totally ignores that the NHS is not a machine made for maximising the profit of its owners (Which is I think an acceptable definition of a private healthcare company) but a system built with the aim of the best possible healthcare for all the population of the country.

These two aims are mutually exclusive. But the gvt doesn't see it that way. I totally agree with his sentence:
"the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life."

Ok, maybe the NHS isn't always humane, decent or generous, but it's an important part of what makes living in the UK something civilised, rather than dog eat dog. People like their local hospitals, they spend important parts of their lives in them, they get irrationally attached to them in ways which it is rather hard to see occuring with private for profit institutions, and I am convinced that many people just don't realise what is being done behind the scenes and what it will mean for them.

#63 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 05:05 PM:

Then I came across this wee comment on the commercial pressures in universities and how they are under attack:
http://publicsphere.ssrc.org/burawoy-a-new-vision-of-the-public-university/

The author writes:
"We face enormous pressures of instrumentalization, turning the university into a means for someone’s else’s end. These pressures come in two forms – commodification and regulation."

I think that both tendencies are not exactly what universities were set up for. Granted, there has always been a strong desire to interact with the world, but that was based upon a desire for intellectual execellence first so as to then be able to deal with other things such as commmercial desires. Now, as with my previous example, the commercialism has become primary in every field, from libraries to road building to education. In all these situations, the institutions udner attack shift from their original purposes to one focused solely upon money. Which seems odd given how much there is slopping about out there. But when you change focus like that, you lose the ability to do things well, such as decent intellectual work of lasting importance.

#64 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 05:12 PM:

And if you'll excuse me meandering along here, this bit from Russell:
"The *normal operation* of economic markets makes some people poor. Not because they are lazy, or fail to take initiative, or lack foresight, or have insufficient gumption and moxie. Just because."

Also resonates with me. The problem with concentrating on commercialism and money first is that it means the rewards and power go to those who can succeed at these things. As you've probably noticed, an ability to climb to the top of the corporate hierarchy, destroy the financial systems of the world, and dominate politics, isn't exactly available for all people. Some of us just want a quiet life. But then it turns out that centralisation, globalisation and increased commercialisation take away all the structures which we have gotten used to in our lives. Simply because we have not the brains/ drive/ health/ desire to get rich or famous, we are dumped to the bottom of the heap.

Am I a little mad about this? You bet. Right now it seems to me the insane people are winning, because everything is focused about their needs and wants, which is, a world in which they can maximise their rewards and likes and dislikes.
So, back to the feudal era for us then...

#65 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 06:25 PM:

guthrie, #63: a machine made for maximising the profit of its owners (Which is I think an acceptable definition of a private healthcare company)

Dingdingding! You've put your finger on the core of the problem. Any privately-owned company is about maximizing profit for its owners; the goods or services it provides are a means to that end, not the end in and of themselves. Somebody thinks that there's money to be made in providing those goods or services. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless and until the goods and services in question are critical to people's lives.

Here in the US, we do not have a health care system at all; we have a medical-profits system which is driven by the health-insurance industry. Health insurance companies are publicly traded on the stock exchange, which means that their primary fiduciary duty is to provide dividends to the stockholders. In this business model, the company's actual clients are liabilities -- potential sources of money loss -- and it becomes imperative to deny paying claims by any means possible, in many cases at the expense of ethics. Hence the refusal to insure anyone with a "pre-existing condition", because that person is guaranteed to have claims to file; hence "out-of-pocket deductibles" that the average person will never exceed, combined with "lifetime caps" for catastrophic coverage, so that even people who are paying for coverage don't actually get it; hence "recission", the practice of summarily dropping clients as soon as they actually get hurt or sick. The purpose of the company is no longer to provide services to the clients; it's to collect premiums and (insofar as possible) make NO payments, and dump that money into top-management salaries and stockholder dividends.

This is why we need a public health care system. The government doesn't have to make a profit for stockholders, which removes a lot of the incentive for immoral and unethical behavior right there.

#66 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 10:05 PM:

"the market fanatics are going to kill off every humane, life-enhancing, generous, imaginative and decent corner of our public life."

The U.S. neocons have been working away at that for decades now. :-(

#67 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 10:09 PM:

Lee @ 66

Lifetime caps and rescissions (except in cases of clear fraud) are both now illegal under Health Care Reform. So are pre-existing condition requirements on children.

It's still not a perfect system, but it's not quite that bad anymore.

#68 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 10:15 PM:

#37 thomas

"In our parts of the world it is the wealthy communities only who are getting new libraries, and these are gorgeous, state-of-the-art facilities.

Well, yes. That* being exactly the problem. I still maintain that the major reason for having publically-funded libraries should be redistributive because otherwise a private subscription system could be a perfectly good substitute. It's probably good to include wealthy areas in the system if you can afford it, both to make the system more popular and to support reading by kids whose parents don't read, but that's secondary.

Taxing people who don't like to read to support people who do like to read isn't very appealing, but taxing people who can afford books to support those who can't afford books is the sort of thing governments should be useful for."

Exactly the opposite is what is happening. Poor people's taxes are building rich people public libraries, while the public libraries in the communities whose use of them is so heavy there are waits, extensive waits, and not anywhere near enough of anything including hours the facility is open -- these are shut down.

This is how wealth is being re-distributed, which has been going on for decades, but at an ever-accelerating rate, until now even the so-far insulated middle class not only feels itself, but IS affected.

Love, c.

#69 ::: Noah Fect ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 02:18 AM:

I'm always amused by criticisms of market economics that were written on someone's very own 3000 MHz computer.

#70 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 03:14 AM:

Well, Noah Fect @70, if you personally want to use a website (technology invented at CERN, a European government institution) on the Internet (tech invented by the US government) to go preach about how supposed "market" solutions are superior to all other forms of human organization, you're free to do so, on your own site. If you want to keep commenting here, however, you're going to have to actually engage with what people say, and not be a drive-by snarky asshole.

#71 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 03:30 AM:

we are all very rich; implausibly rich, compared to the average human over time. Market mechanisms have played a significant role in making that happen. But prior to the last generation, there was never a time in modern history when economic operations outweighed political objectives in the life of communities and nations. We have no idea what the outcome of moving in that direction will be - except to note that many authors have explored it imaginatively, both in fiction and in academic theory, and only a small minority of them have posited healthy outcomes.

Meanwhile, as we continue to consume resources faster than we make them [and boy, does it take a long time to make oil], the implausibility of our collective wealth will only grow more glaring, and we may face a correction not in the markets, but in physical reality.

#72 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 03:35 AM:

#68 KayTei Lifetime caps and rescissions (except in cases of clear fraud) are both now illegal under Health Care Reform. So are pre-existing condition requirements on children.

Which is why the Republicans made repealing Health Care Reform their very first order of business.

#73 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 05:28 AM:

And the transistor in its modern sense was invented at Bell labs, a place shielded from market forces by monopolies inherent in the telephone system of the time.
Nevertheless, the point we are making is that single minded application of the market to everything is bad. As I said above it is a tool, the point being that there is no discussion now at the level of affecting things, as you might expect in a so called democracy, about how far to go, what is expected of the market and so on.

As Alex puts it, market economic considerations now override everything else.

#74 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 06:42 AM:

Alex #72: I beg to differ on the "market economic considerations now override everything else."

I put it to you that, much like "think of the children", the "market forces" argument is being used falsely and selectively, to cover private agendas.

Specifically, what Teresa once called a "blowout scam"... and which is continuing despite the offenders being unable to push the election of their preferred Executive.

#75 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 07:31 AM:

#71 ::: Avram :::

Language, please.

Instead of "..and not be a drive-by snarky asshole."

try "..and not be a drive-by, snarky, willfully-ignorant tool".

OK?

#76 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 07:37 AM:

And, for the record, I'm typing this on a 1.5 GHz machine that is about 6 years old.

And I am reminded that the prime factors that enable the "free market" to push technology along are the patent and court systems, both of which are government-funded institutions, and the government funding of research to universities.

#77 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 07:59 AM:

What is this, Misquote alex Week? Twice in one thread respondents have asserted I said something I didn't. It's obviously not the case that X overrides everything else. There's a lot of everything. You can argue that the war in Afghanistan is being fought for access to central Asian oil, but you have to work pretty hard at it; and if you did a cost/benefit analysis on it like a good little capitalist, you'd conclude it wasn't worth it. So there must be at least some other considerations - wounded national pride, delight in slaughter, the mindless pursuit of cultural superiority; or perhaps anguished inability to see another way out of a pre-existing moral and political morass. Who knows what keeps President Obama up at night?

#78 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 09:53 AM:

"But it was only that you were an honest man of business!"
"BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business!"

#79 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 11:06 AM:

Today's New York Times has an editorial praising Pullamn's speech. It reads in part,

This is a speech worth pondering for its defense not just of the value of reading but of “the open democratic space” enshrined in public libraries. Libraries, he said, remind us that “there are things above profit, things that profit knows nothing about ... things that stand for civic decency and public respect for imagination and knowledge and the value of simple delight.”
Mr. Pullman is most brilliant in his attack on what he calls “the greedy ghost of market fundamentalism.” What he registers so forcibly is the fact that a hidebound, conservative approach to deficit reduction creates a social austerity far more harmful than the deficit itself.

#80 ::: Henry Troup ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 12:43 PM:

#74 - There was an interesting quid pro quo on Bell Labs - the Bell System gave up patent rights, putting the transistor and all subsequent uses of those principles into the same arena as government-funded research.

A pretty massive win all round, it turned out.

#81 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 01:20 PM:

You're obviously a popular person, Alex.
I did rather like the summary sentece:
"But prior to the last generation, there was never a time in modern history when economic operations outweighed political objectives in the life of communities and nations"

Of course, it doesn't go into detail about how politics was intertwined with economics, e.g. in medieval period conflicts between merchants and guilds which obviously directly impacted upon people's economic wellbeing.

David Harmon is also correct, insofar as I agree that 'the market' is being used as an excuse for activities which benefit only the few. But then I see that as an inevitable occurrence given the structure we now have in place.

The problem is that to fully address this I feel I'd need to write several thousand words, and I don't feel up to that right now.

#82 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 02:39 PM:

" "But prior to the last generation, there was never a time in modern history when economic operations outweighed political objectives in the life of communities and nations" "

Somebody wrote that, OK. Did the writer actually, you know, believe that?

Love, c.

#83 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2011, 06:41 AM:

But prior to the last generation, there was never a time in modern history when economic operations outweighed political objectives in the life of communities and nations.

A sentence which could have been written at any point in the last 800 years. (The dominance of the money economy was being deplored by religious authors before Dante was born.)

#84 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2011, 09:07 AM:

James @ 73

I tend to chalk it up to a cynical desire to deny the Democrats what would otherwise be a singular domestic policy victory.

It was fine, as long as it was Romneycare...

#85 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2011, 12:13 PM:

alex @ 78: "What is this, Misquote alex Week?"

Getting angry at people who misunderstand you rarely leads to either increased understanding or increased sympathy. If your intent is to communicate and others are consistently misunderstanding you, then one way or another you need to clarify. If your intent is otherwise--well.

#86 ::: paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2011, 08:39 PM:

It's a weird focus on market economics that leads to demonstrably lower GDP than doing it the other way round. No, this is the same kind of focus on the supposed market that the victorian business leaders had: redistribution red in tooth and claw. With a side of cronyism. (I mean really, where in a true market mechanism would people personally responsible for destroying tens of billions of dollars of their employers' assets end up with huge bonuses? No invisible hand there.)

#87 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 01:03 AM:

paul @ 87:

That's precisely the problem: a completely free and unregulated market is guaranteed to turn into an oligopoly over time because of all the positive feedback cycles that occur naturally. Without the negative feedback of regulation the market will be captured by the first set of players to attain enough control of the system to prevent others from reaching that level. The invisible hand turns into a handout every time.

#88 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 02:11 AM:

Bruce C., #88: AKA "an unregulated free market isn't free".

#89 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 09:01 AM:

@86: what, me, angry, where? Overinterpretation, dude.

@83, 84 - no, you are wrong. Purely 'economic' motivations, to just get rich, outwith questions of social prestige, dynastic grandeur, national unity, and so forth, are extremely unusual [not least because they subject people, in less modernist, individualist societies, to severe countervailing pressures of social disapproval]; and, particularly, do not represent, in historical reality, overriding driving-forces of large-scale, public, political action.

One might cite, as a single example, British imperialism in India. Unquestionably, certain individuals partook of the activities of the East India Company with an overwhelming personal desire to get rich, and very frequently succeeded. But the relationshiop between the HEIC and the British state and people was not predicated on the idea that just getting rich was good - see the speeches of Edmund Burke in the trial of Warren Hastings.

Moreover, by the late C19, the balance of political and economic forces engaged in maintaining the British Raj was such that it was an overall drain on the exchequer, justified far more in terms of the necessity of maintaining global power than for profit: because, for the state footing the bill, there was no profit. Now, you may say that many people were still getting rich out of India, but people would have been getting rich out of India without imperial rule - many British people got very rich out of Latin America in the C19, where the UK maintained the barest marginal toehold of actual political power, and where, unlike say China, there was not even the spectre of the use of force.

So. unless of course you believe, as some do, that beneath all political surfaces there is and has always been the reality of a conspiracy by the rich to get richer, come what may, then, no, your rejection of my point is not merited. And if you do believe that, well then, hey-ho, we have nothing to say to each other.

#90 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 09:53 AM:

"It's all beginning to make sense. Mr.Tyson owns the sugarcane. You own the formula for the plastics. And I'm supposed to be offered up as a human sacrifice on the altar of the industrial progress. Is that it?"
"You make it sound so vulgar, David, as if the son of hot dog dynasty were being offered in marriage to the daughter of the mustard king. Surely, surely you don't object to Elizabeth Tyson just because her father happens to have twenty million dollars? That's very narrow minded of you, David."

On top of that, Bogart gets to marry Audrey Hepburn.

#91 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 07:47 PM:

Lee @ 89:

The version I usually quote is TANSTAAFM: "There ain't no such thing as a free market."

#92 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 09:09 PM:

abi @ 62: "My first line of argument there is that people with the freedom to move to and work in the places I do are part of my economic engine."

"Another argument about drawing the line to include any people who can move and mix with me and mine is that I want them to be the kind of people I want around."

The problem with these arguments as a first approximation of social justice (and forgive me, I know you know this) is that they very rapidly become the basis for the very opposite of social justice. Because our economic engines are not, in any coherent sense, limited only to those who live and work near us; our economy is entangled with the third world's at such an intimate level that regarding it as an isolated entity is as foolish as describing a computer only in terms of the monitor without regard to the CPU or the motherboard or the ethernet card. Doubly foolish if the intent is to encompass the suffering inherent in the system: it is those most distant, those with the least hope of ever walking our streets, that bear the brunt of that burden.

That spatial separation is no accident but a direct result of the demand on the part of the populace that those who are close to me be (something like) as prosperous and secure as me: as some degree of suffering is inevitable*, it becomes imperative to segregate those who prosper from those who suffer. But by the same token, keeping the whole system moving smoothly becomes as easy as ensuring that those who are suffering can't move and mix with me and mine. Shut them out with laws, with language, with learning; with race, religion and class; as I do not see them so will I happily enjoy the fruits of their exploitation. The relative comfort and security of those who might cross our paths becomes the coin used to buy our complicity in the oppression of the rest of the world.

The most terribly thing, I feel, is that not even in that requirement are we satisfied.

* and a higher degree of it is more profitable

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.