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I think there's a lot in this, but it's only half the story.

The missing element is that economic theory is set up to account for positional transactions while hiding environmental and social costs.

This might seem obvious, but it's the reason why costs are hidden that defines what's really happening.

Let's say I buy a new MacBook Pro. I get instant kudos for its shininess, and my status rises - people will assume I am a person of taste and discernment because I'm not running Windows on a crappy old Dell, and this makes give me a sip of social nectar I wouldn't get otherwise. (Especially  if I couldn't even afford the Dell, and had to buy the even more crappy laptop on special offer in the local Woolworths.)

But I pay no penalty for the environmental and social costs involved in producing my shiny new toy.

Is this bad? No - it's good. I get the benefits in return for some token fiat symbol shuffling. Smeone else pays the real costs. And I get twice the positional boost.

Not only is my laptop shiny and refined and modern, yet also elegant and functional and expensive (by implication, just like me) but I've successfully offloaded the physical consequences of my choice to some other location, where I don't even have to think about them, never mind live with them.

So - the real basis of positional calculus isn't status defined by material goods, but status defined by freedom from consequences. The more my positional status increases, the more freedom I have to act like a self-absorbed narcissist.

The goods I own aren't a cause of that - they're the social signal which marks the extent of my irresponsibility.

This is usually called 'freedom' - and it's the Randian freedom to act like a teenager who doesn't want to deal with anything or anyone who says 'No, you can't do that.'

The inevitable result is the kind of monster we can see everywhere now - largely, but not exclusively, on the right. Because if the real social aim is that kind of 'freedom', their behaviour is rewarded, and they can't help but prosper.

Positional economics won't change until explicit, socially signalled irresponsibility stops being a core value.

Unfortunately we don't have any narratives for personal or collective responsibility that have real maturity or nuance. (Middle class guilt doesn't count, I think.)

So to make a change we'll need a new economic system which quantifies consequences, and a new social narrative which turns responsibility into a positional value.

This might sound impossible, but a good first step is better child rearing, with wide social mixing, and explicit lessons in the morality of consequences and responsibility.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 08:13:10 PM EST
beautifully said, tbg...

but a good first step is better child rearing

this brings up something i wanted to share here for a while...has anyone here seen a show on bbc called 'little angels'?

i cannot say enough good about this show, it is sheer brilliance, should be mandatory viewing for every parent, heck for every human being!

i watch it religiously, and find it never short of riveting.

the premise is that a camera team observes and records a dysfunctional family in full tilt disaster mode. budding little hitlers trashing families left and right...we've all seen this, i'm sure.

enter stage left...a child psychologist who sits down with the parents and watches the previous week's footage alongside them, in their own living room.

frequently this reduces them to tears as they watch their ignorance acted out, seeing the ugliness that has become their daily narrative.

then the psychologist, with indefatigably sensitive and diplomatic tact, analyses the dynamics, concisely and with profound accuracy, suggesting the necessary modulations in their methods to achieve their goals.

and then the fun begins...

what happens then upon the screen, time period elapsing over two weeks or so, foreshortened into the program format, is nothing short of what used to called exorcism!!

i was raised with no successful strategies on my parents' part, so this show resonates very deeply, leaving me always with my heart expanding and cheeks wet, as i see how intelligent the psychologists are, how low-key and perceptive they are, and most of all what incredibly valuable work they are doing, with little fanfare.

the immense ignorance of human - and especially children's - psychology is leaving so many wrecked people, who then go on to be easily inveigled into voting for mean, evil rabblerousers, or smooth talking idiots, because they are so messed up they don't know any better.

if these psychologists were diffused throughout any and every space where children are educated, we would have the world we dream of in very few generations.

if you watched any horror movies featuring exorcism scenes, these are the real thing, and the effect is like watching a long deep thorn being removed from the heart of the family, one that would otherwise have festered and gone on to who knows what devilry and social dismemberment?

ot...larry king is interviewing eric clapton about his new autobiography, pretty cool...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 09:10:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
melo, you describe it so well, I barely recognize it!  

There´s a Spanish copy of that show (and one for teenagers) and it drives me straight up the wall that adults become parents with such absolute ignorance about such life basics.  I know I hated the strict, rigid upbringing I had, but parents now have gone to the other extreme with no rules, no expectations and ´no thinking´.

You have a great concept there:  Let´s raise the ´market´ and social value of psychologists above brokers, lawyers, economists...  The world would improve a lot.  

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.

by metavision on Sun Oct 21st, 2007 at 05:19:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
yup ignorance is drilled in early and often, so the stagnant loop goes on.

so glad you liked that show too, it holds the keys to so much of the human race's problems and solutions.

You have a great concept there:  Let´s raise the ´market´ and social value of psychologists above brokers, lawyers, economists...  The world would improve a lot.

you sure got that right!  


'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Oct 21st, 2007 at 07:44:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed.
Another good step is useful education in asking and answering good questions, as described by Neil Postman in his book, "Teaching as a Subversive Activity", or some similar iteration.
Parrotpeople are defenseless in the face of relentless pressures to adopt uncritically the idea of positional goods as a life's objective.

(One fruit fly to another)"Say, George (munch, munch)--aint it getting a little crowded in  here? (munch, munch)And, --could you please stop standing on my head? It's a big bottle--just move over a bit, dude.(munch, munch).

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sat Oct 20th, 2007 at 11:07:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
TBG, that´s a 10.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Sun Oct 21st, 2007 at 04:58:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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