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But I didn't talk about the subjective utility of tapwater to a single consumer at the margin, I talked about its objective value, and it is clear that it is objectively more valuable. Compare Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the share of income poor people spend on food, water and housing vs. that of rich people, for starters.
As we move up the hierarchy to lower priority items, the priorities of individuals will show greater diversity ... pose the question, for example, of giving up cable television and giving up access to the web, and priorities will differ.
But there are basic needs where the priority is far more uniform.
I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
Does water exist? Yes, it does: here's a river made up of it.
Does value exist? Yeah, of course, it's, er ... what do you mean by value?
Some things can be said to exist or not, and we can go about trying to prove it one way or the other using the language. Other things, such as the abstract, cannot be said to exist or not, and usually existence is not what is interesting them. Those are philosophical concepts, not scientific ones, and "value" belongs to that domain of thinking, while water belongs to the scientific.
The only way you can try to make an objective proposition about the value of water is to first engage in a philosophical discourse -- not a scientific one -- about what water ought to be worth to everyone. And that's a political discussion as well since we're talking about more than just one person.
You do not have reliable access to clean fresh water: You fall ill more often and die earlier.
Now, unless you want to go all po-mo on us and claim that harbouring serious reservations about illness and death is a cultural myth and/or personal economic decision, I see a pretty good basis for an objective value system there.
Until all the world is an affluent society. Then a subsistence-based value system breaks down. But come the happy day when we manage to give everyone reliable access to clean fresh water, sound food, health care, education and so on, then figuring out what to do with any consequent (or remaining) abundance is going to be a comparatively unimportant problem.
Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.
To illustrate, does it really make sense for people in Iowa, USA to be forced to give up going to movies in order to pack up their water and ship it to people rashly settled in southern California and Arizona and who now find themselves thirsty because they moved to a desert?
In order to get where you are, you have to assume, philosophically and politically, that people who happen to live in regions of water overabundance have a moral responsibility to collect and distribute water to people who don't live in such regions,
I have to assume no such thing. Serious water shortages are almost never due to a lack of water, just as serious famines are rarely due to a lack of crops. Water shortage is ordinarily caused by a lack of clean water (which can be solved by making relatively cheap modifications to the local water collection and distribution systems) and/or an oligarchy that monopolises water to sell it for profit (whether directly to the people of the region or to other countries through cash cropping).
True, there are cases of industrial mass insanity, where large numbers of people have moved to regions where there simply isn't very much water. But that is a minority of cases, and usually take place in comparatively affluent countries, where people can afford to move around casually.
So pretending that solving the world's water problems involves building aqueducts to Africa is a cheap rhetorical gimmick, nothing more.
It is, of course, a political contention to claim that it is more important to fulfil all universally necessary conditions for well-being for all people, than to give one person access to luxury or positional goods.
In the same sense and to the same extent that "equality before the law" is a political statement.
(I knew a philosophy professor who was once asked by grad student if it was actually a requirement to read the large amount of material assigned before class every week. He responded, after thinking for a moment, "No, it isn't, because a lot of people find it easier to participate in discussions when unencumbered by the facts.)
It is likely that rather fewer numbers of people think they can speak so authoritatively about natural sciences or are even interested in the natural sciences, so in economics it might simply be a case of there being just too many wise fools with which to contend.
In which case you really, really need to go talk to the people at the NCSE. Trust me, creos feel completely qualified to talk about a wide range of scientific issues based on Kent Hovind seminars.
Psuedoscience occurs when people use scientific language to assert moral truths rather than to help organize thoughts about moral truths. It happens as well outside of economics, but there are fewer opportunities to do so compared to what economics offers. For example, it is not uncommon among biologists to assert that observable evidence regarding evolution means there is no God. That, however, is pseudoscience in the same way that occurs with economics. Lack of naturally observable evidence for God depends entirely upon moral abstractions and assumptions about what "God" means, but that does not stop people from making such straw-man assumptions and then arguing the lack of evidence for them. A similar thing occurs in economics with moral assumptions about justice and a good society and the kinds of evidence or lack thereof to support or refute claims about such abstractions.
This is further complicated by the fact that science itself has been given in current discourse a moral superiority that it shouldn't have. If you can say something mathematically -- the language of science -- it provides credibility in discourse today that it really shouldn't have if the discourse were more about truth than about politics -- about who get what, and how. The fact that economics uses the language of science to organize thinking about precisely the question of who gets what and how, makes it much more easy to abuse for discursive strategy rather than for truth telling than can be done with natural sciences.
The only way you can try to make an objective proposition about the value of water is to first engage in a philosophical discourse -- not a scientific one -- about what water ought to be worth to everyone. And that's a political discussion as well since we're talking about more than just one person. (My bold.)
It's pure newspeak. It makes it possible to pretend that movie tickets are as valuable as water when a significant proportion of the world's population is dying from thirst, or from illness created by contaminated water supply.
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