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Utility.... fetish

by ManfromMiddletown Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 09:21:04 AM EST

I wrote a long comment in yesterday's evening thread rambling on about the consequences of the utility fetish in modern politics.  The damage done by the inflitration of this concept is demonstrated most clearly by the tendency for even those of us on the Left to unwittingly reinforce the concept by framing our arguments in utilitarian terms.  I would even argue that the recognition that utility is not the the primary mover behind social phenomena, even transcends right and left.

Even Marxism is predicated to a certain extent on utlitarian methodology.  Back to what I wrote earlier.

Right-on diary from MfM - afew


One of the pecularities of the United States in the context of the industrialized world is that we have this (asinine) belief that class is no inherited and that through hard work all can own a million dollar mansion, etc, etc....

The irony again (it's that time in the morning, so everything is ironic) is that even though the concept of inherited class as a fundamental determinant of personal success or failure,  I.e. your father works in a factory, therefore so will you. (I was actually told this while in high school, as part of an explanation for why a teacher assumed I had cheated when she graded a paper of mine that she though I had plagarized.  Class is just as real as race in America, and far more blatant in the way it is used to discriminate, alas that's a whole other conversation.)

The irony again is that even though Americans don't acknowledge the existence of inherited class, that's the reality of our society. (Follow the link, it's a pdf of a report that shatters any illusion that America is a classless society.) Note the difference between the graphic on pg. 2 illustrating the American belief in social mobility, and the first graph one pg. 5 showing that in fact Europeans on whole (God bless the UK for breaking the rule) are far, far more socially mobile than Americans.  

I appreciate this section of the report:

relative mobility can occur regardless of what is happening to the society as a whole. Individuals can change their position relative to others, moving up or down within the ranks as one would expect in a true meritocracy. To illustrate the importance of relative mobility, consider three hypothetical societies with identical distributions of wealthy, poor, and middle-class citizens:

* The meritocratic society. Those who work the

hardest and have the greatest talent, regardless of

class, gender, race, or other characteristics, have the

highest income.

* The "fortune cookie" society. Where one ends

up bears no relation to talent or energy, and is purely

a matter of luck.

* The class-stratified society. Family background is

all-important -- children end up in the same relative

position as their parents. Mobility between classes is

little to nonexistent.

Americans sincerely believe that we live in a meritocratic society, where individuals get what they had coming.  Therefore, if you're 35 and trapped in working a job where you don't earn enough to support your family, it's clearly your fault.  Poverty, thus becomes a sign of moral failure.  (The complex interrelationship between religion and economics, thus become more important. And you have what are basically large businesses in these evangelical churches that preach a prosperity gospel.  God does good things for those who are faithful, so it you praise Jesus, and pass the collection plate, you too might one day be a rich man.)

Class is much more than income, it's about status in society. And the reduction of class to a matter of income in the United States is reflective to just how pervasive the market ethic is.  I'm fundamentally a believer in what Bordieu had to say about cultural capital.  Status comes in many forms.  It's something that even the most ardent neo-liberal will recognize.  Martin Wolf was in the FT about a month back saying that by allowing elites in industrialized countries from seeking distinction in terms of how much money they earn relative to "common" workers, we diffuse the tendency to seek distinction through cultural concerns that  may lead to ethnic conflict or war.....

Now he seemed to miss the flipside of this, which is that it seems entirely plausible that when the great masses of a nation are told that they are equal to all others but economic realities conflict with this, they might seek out distinction through religion and culture.  Hence, the United States, and the concurrent growth of inequality and relgious fundamentalism.

It's the "I may be poor, but at least I'm not a ......" (Insert your favorited racial or relgious epithet.)  Remeber that Americans are quite willing to question the status of the rich based upon moral matters.  (Hence the odd fascination with the latest antics of Paris Hilton.) It confirms in a sense that although Paris Hilton is wealthy without having worked for it, at least we know that when she dies (drug overdose anyone?) she will burn in hell.  Therefore, although she is rich in material terms, and I poor, in matters of status, I am wealth because I am morally superior to that blonde .....

I think I've made my point.  And you see, once you get to the bottom of it, it demolished alot of the sacred cows in Anglo-American popular discourse.  

Perhaps the most decieving aspect of utilitarianism is that assumes the individuals in maximizing their utility concern themselves only with themeselves.  Thus, we can operate from the assumption that individuals provide the basis from which we build our analysis of society.  Inherent to the utlity fetish is the belief that utility is absolute, unchanging, and therefore objective rather than subjective.  

Never was greater bullshit written.

If we are to accept this premise, than this means that more is always better, regardless of distribution.  The goal of the good society then is to increase the social good, to make more stuff for society.  So even if a few people are made destitute, so long as it creates more wealth for society as a whole, it's moral.  Distribution doesn't matter.

So let's talk about the often used pizza example.

Suppose that there's a special that if you buy two pizzas, you get one for free.  I only have enough money for one pizza, but luckily you plan to buy a pizza as well.  If we pool our money, we can have 3 pizzas between us, everyone is better off.  The situation is Pareto efficient.  

If an economic system is Pareto efficient, then it is the case that no individual can be made better off without another being made worse off. It is commonly accepted that outcomes that are not Pareto efficient are to be avoided, and therefore Pareto efficiency is an important criterion for evaluating economic systems and public policies.

If economic allocation in any system (in the real world or in a model) is not Pareto efficient, there is theoretical potential for a Pareto improvement - an increase in Pareto efficiency: through reallocation, improvements to at least one participant's well-being can be made without reducing any other participant's well-being.

Remember, we're both better off, we have 3 pizzas instead of 2 pizzas.  Now, I feel that I am due compensation in exchange for my initative in pooling my money with yours.  So we aren't going to split that third pizza equally.  You will take a slice, I will take the rest of the pizza.  Remember, you are still better off than on your own.  From the standpoint of absolute utility, you have no reason to bitch and moan about me being unfair.  My hard work got you that slice of pizza, and you being ungrateful, fault me for taking compensation for making us both better off.  You don't deserve even that one slice of pizza I tell you.

Now, we all know that this situation is not fair, yet orthodox economics teaches us that so long as we can emperically demonstrate that a given action means more pizza for all, the distribution of gains is not important.  It would be irrational for to willingly forego that additional slice of pizza just because they are upset that I took more of the extra pizza us buying together got us.  

In orthdox economics, distrbution of gains doesn't matter so long as all are at the least better off.

Never was greater bullshit written.

As Donne wrote, "No man is an island".  Utility cannot be calculated outside of the social context in which individuals operate.  Markets are thus socially embedded.  And the belief that there is something in the least bit natural about a system in which discussion of distribution is forbidden, goes out the window, when we start to experiment with giving individuals the opportunity to pay a price to make the wealthy more equal, without gaining anything themselves.

Behavioral economists at UC San Diego recently conducted a study in which tokens were distributed among experimental subjects, with a few getting a concentrated chunk of the wealth and a majority getting little. They offered the "poor" subjects the opportunity to pay a price to take money away from the rich. The catch was that rather than being redistributed, the money would simply disappear. Economic orthodoxy predicts that few would snap at the chance, since they'd be paying for something that would confer no direct benefit. But they did. In spades.

Though only one data point, it suggests that people have a profound sense of economic fairness, that we are all, more or less, intuitive socialists. As far back as Edmund Burke, conservatives have suspected as much and feared democracy for that very reason. Read James Madison in the Federalist Papers and it's clear that many of the Constitution's undemocratic elements were designed to prevent the expropriation of wealth from an outnumbered elite.

This central tension between laissez faire capitalism and the redistributive whims of a democratic electorate isn't discussed much. But it can poke through the surface during moments of clarity, such as the last election, when minimum wage increases passed in every state--red and blue--where they were on the ballot.

So people would rather a society be poorer and more equal, than (slightly) wealthier and unequal.  Hmmm.

Maybe, just maybe, there's more to social life, than this narrow fetishization of utlity that's driven social science since Democratic Socialism faltered in "the West."  Maybe what behavior we attribute to individuals seeking to maxmize their utility, in fact has a social basis.

We are all status seekers.  Money is but one form of status.

And perhaps, the concurrent rise of inequality, and forms of relgious fundamentalism and virulent ethnic ideologies is interrelated.  

I hate to call out Godwin, but remember that the the last great spate of economic liberalism that produced inequality ended in the Second World War.

Might it just be that status is better at explaining social phenomena than utility.

Poll
Would you rather live in a society...
. that is poor, but equal? 100%
. that is wealth, but unequal? 0%

Votes: 10
Results | Other Polls
Display:
Excellent diary, my main comment would be to point you to this which addresses your last point

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/GL15Dj01.html

As contradictory as it may seem, fascist dictatorship was made possible because of the flawed notion of freedom which held sway during the era of laissez-faire capitalism in the early twentieth century. It was the liberals of that era that clamored for unfettered personal and economic freedom, no matter what the cost to society. Such untrammeled freedom is not suitable to civilized humans. It is the freedom of the jungle. In other words, the strong have more of it than the weak. It is a notion of freedom which is inherently violent, because it is enjoyed at the expense of others. Such a notion of freedom legitimizes each and every increase in the wealth and power of those who are already powerful, regardless of the misery that will be suffered by others as a result. The use of the state to limit such "freedom" was denounced by the laissez-faire liberals of the early twentieth century. The use of the state to protect such "freedom" was fascism. Just as monopoly is the ruin of the free market, fascism is the ultimate degradation of liberal capitalism.



keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 02:41:27 PM EST
Superb diary!!!

Some friendly amendments from a Veblenian perspective.  

  1. Veblen taught that the most interesting class distinction was not between rich and poor but between the Leisure and Industrial classes.  He spent his life trying to explain what that meant.

  2. Veblen first learned economics from a professor at Carleton named John Bates Clarke.  Clarke was a plodding butt-kisser who spent his life trying to prove that theory of marginal utility could be applied to everything--not just how folks make purchase decisions.  Veblen thought this position was probably insane and wrote often to discredit it.  His 1909 essay on marginal utility in the Journal of Political Economy is a classic refutation of the utility fetishists--those super-dull "intellectual" children of the super-dull John Bates Clark.

It can be found here:
http://www.elegant-technology.com/resource/MARG_UT.PDF

3) Veblen wrote that the desire for status emulation was second only to the survival instinct in most folks--and sometime not even in second place.


"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 02:46:31 PM EST
I've tried to read through Veblen before.

Like Talcott Parson, I know he's making an important point, it's just that hacking through the mental undergrowth to get at it is difficult.  

About John Bates Clarke.  

I'm studying political science, there's this tacit, but very real competition going on right now about the extent rational choice paradigms have been allowed to choke out all other theory in the American sub-field.  

I worked as a research assistant for the principal instigator on the rational choice side.  

I find the intolerance which proponents of rational choice (utility maxmizing) paradigms show towards explanations that do not suppose utility maximization and individualist ontology to be behind political phenomena to be ironic given their presentation that they are the defenders of liberty and academic freedom.  

I think that unless we recognize that reduction of human life to the narrow construct of utility maximization was responsible for most of the horrors of the 20th century we are damned to repeat it.  And that is far more than an academic concern.


And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 03:14:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I ONLY bring up Veblen because you seem to have reached similar conclusions.  If you cannot cut through the 19th century language, I see your point.

As for the so-called "rational" choice crowd, I find their worldview less convincing than that of a Southern Baptist.  At least the Baptists know how to make music ;-)

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 03:47:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry if I sounded hostile.

The biggest problem I have with Veblen is that he takes 20 big words to convey something that could have been said with two small words.

I really hate rational choice.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 04:05:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK!  Here is my short summation of Veblen on utility.

When confronted with the "what do YOU propose?" question, Veblen came up with three motivations he thought more economically important than utility:

  1. The Parental Instinct
  2. The Instinct of Idle Curiosity, and my favorite
  3. The Instinct of Workmanship

All three can be EASILY demonstrated, yet we still have to listen to the utility extremists because IMHO, it gives a "scientific" luster to naked greed.  The Alchemy of Neo-Classical economics is turning a vice into a "virtue".  Not surprisingly, it doesn't work well.

Not only are the utility extremists batshit insane, they cause GREAT harm to both people and the biosphere.  Our only hope is to ridicule them out of the legitimate debate on our economic future.

And as you know, utility extremists lie thick on the ground throughout the Anglo-American academic world.  In fact, an unquestioned belief in utility is one of the boundary maintaining mechanisms of the profession.  We have lost a whole generation of economists to the cult of utility.  The damage has literally been incalculable.


"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 05:46:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great diary, MfM. You've got a lot down here, it all makes sense, and it's exactly what I think.

What astounds me is how potent the influence of this tacky nonsense about rational individual choice and maximum utility has been for two centuries now. Life is infinitely more complex. And less "free" (in the sense "liberty"). But there perhaps lies the appeal - simple faith de-stresses and fills with hope a situation that, for most people, would give rise to anxiety and depression if recognized for what it is.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 04:00:11 PM EST
If you like these types of discussions you might want to check out economist Mark Thoma's blog:

http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/

The experiment mentioned above was discussed a couple of weeks ago, but I don't have the exact link.

He mostly finds interesting news or commentary items with an economic angle and excerpts them and sometimes frames them as well.

He seldom argues with those who comment, but the regulars manage to generate enough heat amongst themselves.

There are a few other economists who have also started blogs and they are now starting to quote one another, so his site will also lead you to others.

There are a few people from outside the US who contribute and I think if a few more participated it could only be a good thing.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 04:56:44 PM EST
You know I'm American, right...

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg
by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 05:29:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yup, but you seem Ok despite that... ;-)

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 06:25:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is one that closely resembles you pizza mind experiment:

Two students pair up. The first one is given 10$. He has to give a number of dollars to the second student; if the second student accepts, they both keep what the first student allocated each of them; if the second student refuses, they get nothing.

Economic theory would suggest that as long as the second student gets one dollar, he is better off, and will accept any split. Practice, again, shows that students were willing to forego their dollars if they felt the split was too unfair.

Can't find the references right now, but it's quite famous.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jul 17th, 2007 at 06:26:30 PM EST
There's a problem of asymmetric information here: if the second student knows the rules (which stipulate that the first must give him money), he will not as easily reason that one dollar is all the same better than no dollar. He will hold out for a 50-50 split.

The experiment seems based on the condition that the second student doesn't know the first is under obligation. The kind of asymmetric information that is encountered everywhere, every day, in real life, and is one of the reasons why reality is much more complicated than hocus-pocus economic theory.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 01:34:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Though, of course, I'm arguing against economic theory here. The second part of what you say is often cited as an example of the sense of "fairness".
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 01:37:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is indeed about information. In the first example, the guy who knows about the pizza deal could essentially say that that it his knowledge of the deal that deserves the extra slice vis a vis the guy without the knowledge.

You could extend the example and say that the guy stands outside the pizza place asking people going in if they want a third pizza very very cheap?

They give him the money, he tells them about the offer.

THAT'S the knowledge economy...

Question.

Is the guy "productive" or is the knowledge "productive" ?

 

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 03:40:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems the second student must know about the rules... After all, if the first one were under no obligations to share at all, there would be little reason not to accept the free dollar, handed to the second, just like that... There is a question of the exact rules of the game. One could imagine several possible ones, assuming both participants know all the rules:
  1. Student 1 makes a one off offer to student 2, which student 2 must accept or reject, with the consequences provided by the game
  2. Student 1 makes and offer, and may make additional offers if the first one is rejected, i.e. we have some situation involving negotiation...

Ideas of 'fairness', 'personal gain' and 'utility' should play out under both scenarios, with the second one probably resulting in more deals and a fairer distribution. This is the situation in isolation. If we start considering 'external' factors, outcomes may shift, however. As in, suppose student 2 is really poor, and can normally only afford to eat every other day. In this case, we might expect he would more readily accept even 1 dollar because he would use it to feed himself. Thus, it is a question not just of asymmetric information, the two students may very well both have access to all available data, but also a question of relative (economic) power, and what the two participants know about each other in this area. That's when it starts to get 'interesting'... When the first student know the second cannot afford to reject 1 dollar.

Related to a recent comment on asymmetric power in games:

Jerome a Paris:
A game of bluff and bluster for extravagant reward
Your chances in this world are proportional to the size of your bankroll: the house wins by virtue of being the house.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:07:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Going to do some armchair evolutionary psych here. The theory (which gets support from this experiment) is that as a social species (ie, we work together to solve problems) we have built in mechanisms to punish cheaters, and we will often engage in punishment even when that punishment comes at a personal cost to us. That's what happens in this case - when the person is offered only one dollar, they rarely take it in order to deny (punish) the "offender" for being too greedy, despite the monetary cost to themselves.

Again this is why I wish leftists would take the field more seriously - holding on to the blank slate means that the conservatives get to misinterpret the data in their own image. In this case I think it helps demonstrate that the level effort required to indoctrinate people into believing that CEO's deserve $100 million a year is even higher than believed.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 08:02:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
worth underlining.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 03:32:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's called the ultimatum game.

One person offers a share of a known quantity, say, $100, to a second.  The second person knows that they can accept or reject the offer.  If player 2 accepts, both receive the reward in the agreed proportion.  If the second player rejects the offer, both receive nothing.

Just because I know you love graphs...

From Gamelab, Harvard:

Number of players: 30 (15 games)
Mean proposal: 39 ± 10.7
Distribution of proposals:

Notes
The vast majority (73%) offers 40 or 50 points.
Surprisingly one offer of 40 is rejected
Comments
The rational strategy is to offer 1 point, and to accept everything. In reality, offers below 30% get mostly rejected. In a vast majority of studies conducted with different incentives in different countries, some 60-80% of proposers offer between 40% and 50% of the total sum, and only 3% of proposers offer less than 20%. Conversely, some 50% of responders reject offers below 30% of the total.

The 'rational',  material, utility-maximising response for the proposee is to accept anything offered, even one unit out of 100.

People don't.  There appears to be a payoff in depriving the maker of an unfair offer of his/her share, even at cost to oneself.

by Sassafras on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 03:14:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How do the "rational" strategies change when the game is played repeatedly and the players know that they will face off again?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:07:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Sassafras on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:47:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, yes, that's exactly why I'm asking. The optimal strategy in the iterated prisoner's dilemma is suspected to be tit for tat. Applying tit for tat to the ultimatum game, if player 1 says "fuck you" to player 2 ("I give you 1 unit, take it or leave it") player 2 feels betrayed and so decides to betray back (tit for tat: "fuck you back, I won't take my 1 so you lose 99").

So I suspect the experimental result is consistent with people playing as if they were playing an iterated version of the ultimatum game, even if they are aware the rules say the game is a one-off thing.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:53:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Might it just be that status is better at explaining social phenomena than utility.

Yes.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 04:03:49 AM EST
It would be an interesting experiment to crosspost this diary to OpenLeft.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 10:02:44 AM EST
That's the plan.

First I want to proofread, and maybe edit a little.

I expect that it will start a vigorous discussion, and that the utilitarians (the libertarians being the most virulent strain thereof) will come out in force.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 01:07:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I recommend emphasis on the debasement of utilitarianism, ridiculing the needless and idiotic interpretation of "utility" as something that omits most of what people actually value. The strongest attack, I think, will be one that uses their own principles against their conclusions.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 03:16:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is just debasement--there is overuse.

Folks who hope to explain everything with a few simple rules tend to omit a LOT if the situation is complex.  The desire for economics to find ONE economic motivation for human behavior is why Neo-Classical economics can be most accurately described as a lame theology.

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:21:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is NOT just debasement

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"
by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:22:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The one-dimensionality and compartmentalisation of economic models is really depressing. It would seem that they come up with toy models that can be represented neatly on a two-dimensional graph for pedagogical purposes, and then they forget to progress to more realistic models. And that's being charitable.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 07:00:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great!

then it will become apparent if the site is worth getting involved with.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 11:15:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There was some rumour recently in the Netherlands about this chap who had graduated from his secondary school cum laude. So many nines, so many tens on his final degree (a ten being the highest). What did he want to become?

A bus driver.

When this diary talks about social mobility, the underlying assumption is that people want to go up the social ladders, and not down. Of course going down is generally easier and with less blockades hence we don't talk about it too much.

Not being anymore in the Netherlands I didn't really experience the whole ruckus around the Dutch future-bus driver - but the fact that there was ruckus and I read about it made we wonder. What was so puzzling that someone wanted to become a bus driver? Clearly this guy's talent could be put to work on other places but perhaps he sees no difference in, say, becoming a politician or a bus driver. A politician is supposed to take responsibility of the people of its country; a bus driver takes responsibility of the people inside its bus. Difference in quantity - but different in utility? Both professions are responsible for people. I hope the guy just picked what he thinks makes him happy. Perhaps within 5 years time he's going bonkers behind the steering wheel, but that's then.

But this is how I'd like my society to be: no one should look up estranged that someone wants to climb down.

by Nomad on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 10:08:18 AM EST
That's an interesting point.  

My main point is that when we focus on utility, we see poverty as the social problem.  

When we focus on status, we see inequality as the social problem.  

And when we apply the tenets of democracy and "libery" we get different results.

I don't see anything wrong with this guy who wanted to be a bus driver.

I'll be honest, there are days I wish I had become a carpenter like my father did.

About status, I would say that if we recognize that the problem of class in society is something deeper than income and wealth, we make a giant leap towards creating a society where the principals of equality that we apply to persons as citizens, to person as workers as well.  

I intended this to be a rant against inequality, I'm not sure I entirely succeeded.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 01:17:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The thing is - most people could be bus drivers, whereas not everybody can be [insert job which requires complex training or skills, such as doctor]. So it would be better for society that those that can do the rare jobs do these instead of sticking to most substitutable tasks.

Or, to paraphrase Spiderman, "with great capacities comes greater responsibility"

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 05:47:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So it is best for the group to burn out the people with rare skills.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:09:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
stretching my words.

;-)


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:14:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, and you're taking a marketista approach to vocation.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:17:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yes, because it's utility based
no, because it's utility for the group that I look at here

But optimisatin of the use of any resource is not necessarily marketistic. It can also simply be good hygiene.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:49:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's economic, but does the creation of economies that provide the material needs for the sustenance of society by necessity involve utility maximization?

What about ancient economies like the Greek oikos, or the manorial system?

And is utility maxmization fundamentally an emperical matter or a normative matter?

If the latter, are not the illusions of economics to be a natural science rather than social philosophy misguided?

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:54:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're saying people should do what they have a comparative advantage at, for the benefit of society, regardless of their personal preference. Taking this to the extreme you end up with people who are unhappy because they are required to take on more responsibility than they wish to. It is possible for people to feel like they prefer to do something else than that which will give them (and society) the most material wellbeing.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 06:57:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It seems that we should question the notion put forward by neo-classical economics that more is always better than less, and that without price restraints demand is essentially infinite.

If we look to those countries that have been most successful in creating equality, the Scandanavians, we find that they all possess this cultural concept of lagom, enough, which means that economies exist only to provide enough so that we are comfortable.

It gives real meaning to the question, "Live to work, or work to live?"

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 07:05:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Other absurdities underpinning neoclassical economics are that supply creates its own demand, and that there's no such thing as involuntary unemployment.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 07:23:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At least the British gave the word two words with which to respond when reality fails to reach the latter day disciples of Smith and Bentham.

Fuck off.

I feel much better now.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 07:31:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
this is also about managing rarity, and husbanding resources properly.

Efficiency is also about avoiding waste, which is a concept that is needed if you take sustainability seriously.

I think that nature is actually a lot more ruthless than any neo-lib when it comes to not wasting resources, or "putting them to use".

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 03:37:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That which is not used is not wasted.

People are not (human) resources.

Paraphrasing Kant, the foundation of ethics is that people are ends unto themselves, not means.

Sorry.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 03:43:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the movie Will Hunting Ben Affleck (the working class guy) tells Matt Damon (his mathematicla genius buddy) that if he still is doing construction work when he is [25 or some other age], he will perosnally kill him, because he owes it to him not to waste his talent like that.

Is that just Hollywood propaganda?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 05:23:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Matt Damon's character also burns out and destroys his relationship with his girlfriend by the end of the movie. Remove the Hollywood happy ending and it's a pretty depressing movie.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 05:26:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and the happy ending involves Will refusing lucrative work offers.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 05:29:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm. Another way the word is used is in the sense that you should put your candle under a bushel, if it's a better or brighter candle than your neighbor has.
So the preference where I come from is that everyone is equally poor and equally stupid. Fuck lagom.

(Obviously I'm exaggerating and the use you mention is entirely correct. It's just that the equality comes at a price.)


-----
sapere aude

by Number 6 on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 06:28:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The globe can't sustain 6 billion people living a 'First World' lifestyle.  The globe can't sustain the people currently living a 'First World' lifestyle living a 'First World' lifestyle.  We need to greatly expand the available resources, especially power, see that some form of lagom becomes culturally operative, or a whole lot people will die over the next century.

Note: the OR is Inclusive.

"Equality comes at a price."  True and I do not disagree.  I submit rampant individualism also comes at a price.  Sweden, if I may, is the poster child for the Price of Equality while the US is the shining example of the Price of Rampant Individualism.  Having had my fill of the latter I wouldn't mind, at all, a goodly dollop of the former.  Given what you, and others, have posted it is apparent Your Mileage most certainly Does Vary.  Once again, I do not take issue with that.  I would maintain there is much to admire in the 'Scandinavian Model' but neither do I have any illusions about it.  As much as I detest the 'US Model' I still recognize there are good things about it as well.

Over the next 50 years, or so, tho' I fully expect these two systems to be challenged.  I further expect the 'Swedish Model' to be the superior system and the basis of that superiority is lagom.  What I don't expect is innovative methods for dealing with the challenges to come from a Swedish Model but I do expect them from the US Model.  

But the general level of pain and suffering will be greater under the US Model.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 02:31:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's the right combination of Equality and Equity that is needed to arrive at an optimal form of "Cooperative Individualism".

And I agree that the solution lies nearer the "Swedish" model than the US one.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Jul 21st, 2007 at 06:37:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds like Spiderman was quoting the New Testament

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.

Luke 12:48

"Remember the I35W bridge--who needs terrorists when there are Republicans"

by techno (reply@elegant-technology.com) on Wed Jul 18th, 2007 at 08:57:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With great power comes great responsibility, etc.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 19th, 2007 at 03:47:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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