the dawn of a Star Trek generation
June 22, 2012 5:43 AM   Subscribe

In Praise of Leisure - "Imagine a world in which most people worked only 15 hours a week. They would be paid as much as, or even more than, they now are, because the fruits of their labor would be distributed more evenly across society. Leisure would occupy far more of their waking hours than work. It was exactly this prospect that John Maynard Keynes conjured up in a little essay published in 1930 called 'Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren.' Its thesis was simple. As technological progress made possible an increase in the output of goods per hour worked, people would have to work less and less to satisfy their needs, until in the end they would have to work hardly at all... He thought this condition might be reached in about 100 years — that is, by 2030." (via)
Making money cannot be the permanent business of humanity, for the simple reason that there is nothing to do with money except spend it. And we cannot just go on spending. There will come a point when we will be satiated or disgusted or both. Or will we? ... Keynes thought that the motivational basis of capitalism was "an intense appeal to the money-making and money-loving instincts of individuals." He thought that with the coming of plenty, this motivational drive would lose its social approbation; that is, that capitalism would abolish itself when its work was done. But so accustomed have we become to regarding scarcity as the norm that few of us think about what motives and principles of conduct would, or should, prevail in a world of plenty...

Why, despite the surprising accuracy of his growth forecasts, are most of us, almost 100 years on, still working about as hard as we were when he wrote his futuristic essay? The answer is that a free-market economy both gives employers the power to dictate hours and terms of work and inflames our innate tendency toward competitive, status-driven consumption. Keynes was well aware of the evils of capitalism but assumed that they would wither away once their work of wealth creation was done. He did not foresee that they might become permanently entrenched, obscuring the very ideal they were initially intended to serve... The irony, however, is that now that we have at last achieved abundance, the habits bred into us by capitalism have left us incapable of enjoying it properly...

If scarcity is always with us, then efficiency, the optimal use of scarce resources, and economics, the science that teaches us efficiency, will always be necessary... scarcity, as most people understand it, has diminished greatly in most societies over the last 200 years. People in rich and even medium-rich countries no longer starve to death. All this implies that the social importance of efficiency has declined, and with it the utility of economics... the problem is that a competitive, monetized economy puts us under continual pressure to want more and more. The 'scarcity' discerned by economists is increasingly an artifact of this pressure. Considered in relation to our vital needs, our state is one not of scarcity but rather of extreme abundance.
How Much Is Enough? What Is It For? "It was the shift to a market-based philosophy of growth that inflamed the insatiability of wants -- by abandoning any interest in the social outcome of growth. The market was bound by the rule of law, but there was no longer any moral, political or cultural restraint on the individual pursuit of wealth. Keynes's notion of satiety had no place. Such a system cannot work according to plan. It is both economically and morally inefficient. The Anglo-American system of the past 30 years, dominated by the financial-services industry, has been retained for the benefit of a predatory plutocracy that creams off the riches in the name of freedom and globalization. So, what intellectual, moral and political resources still exist in Western societies to reverse the onslaught of insatiability and redirect our purposes toward the good life?"

Saving State Parks: The End Of Public Funding? "[A]cting one by one by one, they set into motion this dynamic... where suddenly we're not acting collaboratively or collectively as a public. We're acting individually as philanthropists to benefit the thing we're most passionate about. And suddenly we don't have a civic sphere anymore. We don't have political participation. We don't have an 'us.' We have a bunch of 'I's.' "
posted by kliuless (117 comments total) 119 users marked this as a favorite

 
I want to read all this (after work). It's something I've been thinking about lately after rereading Betrand Russell's "In Praise of Idleness" -- he uses the a hypothetical example of increased productivity in pin manufacturing to make his point. As you have increases in efficiency without increase in demand, do the same workers work less? No fewer workers work the same amount, and others are out of work.

There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?

See also, "Quitting the Paint Factory"

Stupid work, keeping me from reading up on idleness.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 5:57 AM on June 22, 2012 [15 favorites]


I'm actually reading this at work, so I think that

Shit. Sorry. The boss is watching. Gotta pretend to do something else.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:01 AM on June 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


And Bob Black, a "lifestyle anarchist" wrote something called The Abolition of Work...

I don't 100% agree with him (it's more ideological wish-thinking on his end) but I agree that the puritan work ethic has certainly gone too far in the US.
posted by symbioid at 6:04 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The answer is that a free-market economy both gives employers the power to dictate hours and terms of work and inflames our innate tendency toward competitive, status-driven consumption.

I wonder how much consumption is competitive and status-driven, and how much is just higher expectations of "normal." I mean, we could all probably get by working only a few hours a day if we were ok with a fourteenth century peasant's standard of living -- a tiny shack with no heating or running water, no medical care, one set of clothes...
posted by Forktine at 6:06 AM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I work 12 hour days 6 days a week. My father works the night shift, 6 days as well, as auditor at the hotel (a hotel he owns) so that we can save money on staffing. I really wish I had the time and the money to think about some other business or job opportunity with fewer work hours, but I can't. All our energy is focused on keeping an already struggling business from failing in a horrible economy.
posted by Fizz at 6:13 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately, the hidden requirement for at least this type of leisure-futurism (a trope space-age babies grew up with) turns out to have been effectively infinite supplies of energy, with, I might add, no significant environmental consequences. That's because economic growth tracks energy consumption with depressing exactitude.

The infinite-growth model of human economic activity is so deeply ingrained in us, that even now only a minority is trying to look past it.
posted by mondo dentro at 6:16 AM on June 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


I wonder how much consumption is competitive and status-driven, and how much is just higher expectations of "normal." I mean, we could all probably get by working only a few hours a day if we were ok with a fourteenth century peasant's standard of living -- a tiny shack with no heating or running water, no medical care, one set of clothes...

Isn't that making the assumption that the cost of our "normal" is commensurate with the amount of work we're performing to achieve it?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 6:19 AM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


the puritan work ethic has certainly gone too far in the US.

History would seem to disagree. The idea that it's possible to support one's self working less than 50-60 hours a week has never really been true, historically speaking.
posted by valkyryn at 6:22 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


...because the fruits of their labor would be distributed more evenly across society.

Boom.
posted by likeso at 6:28 AM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


The idea that it's possible to support one's self working less than 50-60 hours a week has never really been true, historically speaking.

This is an interesting point. I don't know the historical data on this, but I'm inclined to agree with it. The trick, though, is to understand what the parallel historical meaning of "work" has been. It seems to me that there's a big difference between working 70 hours a week as a subsistence farmer, or for "the Man", or for one's own business in the 1950's USA, or to maintain a contemporary off-the-grid habitat... among other options.
posted by mondo dentro at 6:30 AM on June 22, 2012


I used to think consumption was the root problem, but anymore it seems like overconsumption is the consolation prize we inadvertently award ourselves for maintaining a religious conception of work; one in which any time-consuming "work," no matter how pointless, redeems us from some original sin of idleness.
posted by postcommunism at 6:32 AM on June 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


The idea that it's possible to support one's self working less than 50-60 hours a week has never really been true, historically speaking.

It's true right now in most EU countries. I work 35-hour weeks here in France, and the sort of reasoning in the original post was behind the reduction to the legal work week. And yes, overtime is in fact paid, and there's also a limit to how many total hours/day&week and days/week you can work. I just looked them up: Durée du travail en France. You have to have at least 11 hours/day of rest (this is the repos quotidien), and 35 consecutive hours of rest once a week (repos hebdomadaire).
posted by fraula at 6:39 AM on June 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


something broke.
My grandfather was a hard worker, and ended his life (@90+) extolling the value of work. My Dad is a hard worker, but he retired from work at the age of 60 because he had enough money and wanted to do some other things like travel.
I started out with 40 hour a week until I convinced my employer to employ me full time with a few days at home. I don't attend my office more than 3 days a week now. It does't feel like I thought it would in 1980, but it is actually pretty close.
posted by bystander at 6:43 AM on June 22, 2012


I should probably add that I am indeed supporting myself: I live alone, and with my salary, can afford clean, pleasant, public transportation to and from work (half of it's refunded), the same subscription covers 95% of my transportation needs for personal life as well, a 450sq.ft (45sq.m) apartment with a 180sq.ft (18sq.m) patio in Nice, in a quiet, residential area just meters away from my bus stop and the tram, and of course health care is on a singlepayer system here so I basically don't have to worry about it. Been going like this for 8 years now alone, at 35 hours a week. Oh, and 28 (I think? I lose count, sorry...) paid vacation days per year. Plus practically-unlimited sick leave, because it has to be justified by a form your GP fills out; the "limit" is at two years but kind of not really, it's a long, tangential story.
posted by fraula at 6:45 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


What? Harumph! Improvements that reduce labor being used to pay people for the time saved in their days?!? Poppycock! Like the worker has done anything worth money. Look, one machine can do the work of twenty men! Lazy, all of them, each man only doing the work of 1/20th of a machine, and now expecting, since there's less work to be done and more money to go around, that they should somehow share in the success. I wonder why I ever paid them a living wage in the first place.

Oh, and: entitlements, austerity, socialism!

In all seriousness, I always enjoyed how utopian books from the late 19th century and early 20th century figured this was the obvious direction the industrial revolution was going. Overproduction would mean plenty to go around; automation would mean nobody would have to work very hard for it. It was a match made in heaven, and the arts, sciences, and philosophy would thrive in this world of reduced threats to health and home. I still like to think it could happen; looking around, though, makes me think it's much farther off the horizon than any of them had imagined.
posted by AzraelBrown at 6:49 AM on June 22, 2012 [11 favorites]


Well, once white-collar jobs are automated or computerized out of existence the way a lot of blue collar jobs already have been, there will be lots of people working 15 hours a week or less.
posted by DJ 3000 at 6:50 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


History would seem to disagree. The idea that it's possible to support one's self working less than 50-60 hours a week has never really been true, historically speaking.

What? You need to read Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work.
posted by limeonaire at 6:51 AM on June 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


History would seem to disagree.

Great link, valkyryn. The results of the paper seems in keeping with the linked articles: the mean hours worked per week dropped precipitously from the second half of the 19th century until just after World War II, and then the trend stops sharply and the work hours remain almost precisely constant for seventy years. That's exactly the phenomenon that people are trying to explain.

The idea that it's possible to support one's self working less than 50-60 hours a week has never really been true, historically speaking.

Unless I'm reading the tables wrong, it's been possible to support yourself with under 45 hours a week of paid work since the mid-1940s.

Also, from the link:

"Because of the decline in the length of the workweek and the declining portion of a lifetime that is spent in paid work (due largely to lengthening periods of education and retirement) the fraction of the typical American's lifetime devoted to work has become remarkably small. Based on these trends Fogel estimates that four decades from now less than one-fourth of our discretionary time (time not needed for sleep, meals, and hygiene) will be devoted to paid work -- over three-fourths will be available for doing what we wish."

"Don't worry, hard-working young people, you'll have a remarkably large amount of time for your hobbies between the ages of 100 and 120" is not a message that's likely to gain a lot of traction. People want extra time with their kids, not extra time in the nursing home.

Actually, I looked this up, and their data is taken from economist Robert Fogel, who does indeed believe, with Keynes, that a short work week will become an option for everyone as productivity increases. Wow, 1998's future was awesome:
Consider a typical new American household established in 1995 with the head aged 20 and with the spouse earning 36 percent of the income of the head (part-time work). Such a household could accumulate the savings necessary to retire at age 55, with a pension paying 60 percent of its peak life-cycle earnings, by putting aside 14.7 percent of annual earning from the year that the couple enters the labor force. That pension would permit retirees at age 55 to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living, with a real income that would rank them among the richest quarter of households today.

By putting aside an additional 9.4 percent of income the household can buy high-quality medical insurance that will cover the entire family -- assuming the couple has two children -- until the two enter the labor force and will also cover the parents' medical needs between the time they retire and age 83 (assumed to be the average age of death in their generation). Saving an additional 7.8 percent of income will permit parents to finance the education of their children for 16 years, through the bachelor's degree at a good university.

The point of the example is that prospective real resources are adequate to finance early retirement, expanded high-quality education, and an increasing level of high-quality medical care (Assuming that US medical expenditures will increase to about 20 percent of GDP by 2040). The typical working household will still have 68 percent of a substantially larger income than is typical today to spend on other forms of consumption. Current levels of food, clothing and shelter will require a decreasing number of hours of work during the family's life cycle -- dropping to about 300 hours of work annually for the typical household by 2040. Families nearing retirement will face several new options: increase their rate of accumulation of consumer goods and housing; increase spending on travel, entertainment and education; further reduce their hours of work; or retire earlier than age 55.
(relevant datum 1: Fogel is a Nobel Prize-winning economist.)
(relevant datum 2: He's famous in part for his theory that slaves had it much better than the Northern blacks who didn't have kindly masters looking after their needs.)
posted by escabeche at 6:55 AM on June 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


It isn't necessarily how long you work, it's also a matter of what the work is you do.

If I could meet my financial needs by working only 15 hours a week, I would gladly spend another 25 -- or even 30, or a full 40, or more -- doing stage managing work again, the way I want to. That's my vocation, that's what I really should be doing; the only reason I'm not is because it pays jack-shit, and putting in a full 40 hours doing that and a full 40 hours doing the day job is just not possible.

I'd be thrilled to work 60 hours a week, if 40 hours of those were doing something I actually liked.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:57 AM on June 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


Well, once white-collar jobs are automated or computerized out of existence the way a lot of blue collar jobs already have been, there will be lots of people working 15 hours a week or less.

I doubt it. As in Russell's pin factory example, we'll just have fewer people employed overall. Employment as it works for the most part isn't a sort of buy-in thing, where you put in as much work as you like and get back a commensurate amount of money. You're generally either employed or your not, or you have seasonal or otherwise patchy employment and have trouble building anything sustainable. This model stayed true even with the automation of a lot of physical labor, so I see no reason it won't stay true even after the automation of a lot of mental labor.
posted by postcommunism at 6:58 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The idea that it's possible to support one's self working less than 50-60 hours a week has never really been true, historically speaking.

"Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?"

posted by gerryblog at 7:05 AM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


> The boss is watching. Gotta pretend to do something else.

I can't tell you what game this was because I didn't have it, but at one point there was a game with a "Somebody's Coming" mode. A hotkey paused the game and popped up a tiny word processer fullscreen that had just enough muscle to edit a business letter or something else that size. Hit the hotkey--shazam, you're working. Attn. Mr. Henneberger, concerning that shipment of widgets that had the very high return rate...

I do wonder whether the age of abundant leisure isn't already here, if you take the time you're formally supposed to be working and subtract the time you spend physically sitting at your desk but actually dawdling on the intertubes. (Like, uh, right now.)
posted by jfuller at 7:06 AM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


I do wonder whether the age of abundant leisure isn't already here, if you take the time you're formally supposed to be working and subtract the time you spend physically sitting at your desk but actually dawdling on the intertubes. (Like, uh, right now.)

I don't know about you, but my code's compiling.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:08 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


> I doubt it. As in Russell's pin factory example, we'll just have fewer people employed overall.

My apologies, I was unclear. I agree; that's why I said "15 hours or less." "Less" in this case includes everything down to "zero."
posted by DJ 3000 at 7:15 AM on June 22, 2012


(relevant datum 2: He's famous in part for his theory that slaves had it much better than the Northern blacks who didn't have kindly masters looking after their needs.)

This is not precisely true. The argument was that the slave owners had incentives to feed and care for their slaves so that they would be productive workers. It had nothing to do with "kindly master" narrative. And if I recall correctly, the comparison was not to freed blacks in the North, but workers in the North in general.
posted by nolnacs at 7:17 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


AzraelBrown: I still like to think it could happen; looking around, though, makes me think it's much farther off the horizon than any of them had imagined.

Yeah. In addition to most humans not quite realizing how much "progress" has depended on our (temporary) access to a huge cache of stinky black stuff in the ground, there's this: primate social organization is an uncomfortable mix of empathetic collaboration and vicious hiearchical striving.

Equality and fair resource distribution is not an attractor. Aristocracy is.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:21 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Azraelbrown, your comment is precisely what I'm talking about. I listen to my mother who is past retirement age, still working herself, when it's clear she's tired and sore, and she claims she needs to work (and for some people that's absolutely true - and I don't begrudge them that)... the problem is she then conversely gets the tea party "everyone is thinks they're entitled" when I say she shouldn't *have* to work her fingers to the bone until she hits the grave.

It pisses me off this goddamned slave mentality.

Personally, if we had a Basic Guaranteed Income + Universal Single-Payer Health Care (and a Basic Income that's actually worth something, not the kind that Nixon proposed that's just on the edge of poverty or below poverty)... One that lets you have the basic necessities... I would be able to go out and take the risk to do what I dream of... It isn't a system that enables entrepreneurship, it makes it harder to do so. Just because I don't want to "work for the man" doesn't mean I don't want to work.

I also think it would be beneficial if in return for the BGI, you worked for society for x days a year. But of course all this goes against our "free market" and "freedom loving" ways in America.
posted by symbioid at 7:28 AM on June 22, 2012 [13 favorites]


Anyways, I guess the other thing is - it's not good - it's a bad trend when the inevitable consequence of technology is to reduce the workforce leaving a vast untapped labor pool with nothing to do (except feed endless bubbles ever since the 70s) and demanding the 40+ hour week from the ones who are currently employed... All the while castigating those who get shit on by the system and blaming them for not having the job. This is what I mean by the Puritan Work Ethic still ruling the joint. It's clearly got traction, when you have all this middle age white folks (and younger idiot libertarians) running around saying shit against the Occupy Movement and calling them "lazy unemployed bums" and that sort of thing... This is a huge narrative on the right side of the spectrum.
posted by symbioid at 7:31 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


See also, "Quitting the Paint Factory"

Thanks for posting this - looks like I've got a new writer to read up on.
posted by postcommunism at 7:50 AM on June 22, 2012


I recently changed my contract from a 12 month one to a 10.5 month one and went from what most similarly educated Americans here would consider total shit pay to even less than shit pay. Some of my coworkers bemoan the fact that they cannot "afford" to do this. They can't because they're more addicted to consumption than I am.

Time is more important to me than money, time to spend with family and friends, time to sleep more, time to read more, time to daydream, time to play, time to create.
posted by mareli at 8:16 AM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


Unfortunately, the hidden requirement for at least this type of leisure-futurism (a trope space-age babies grew up with) turns out to have been effectively infinite supplies of energy, with, I might add, no significant environmental consequences. That's because economic growth tracks energy consumption with depressing exactitude.

The infinite-growth model of human economic activity is so deeply ingrained in us, that even now only a minority is trying to look past it.


The One Law That Could Save the World would be to make it a policy for every nation to slow human population growth. I'm not talking about Chinese style enforcement, but doing things like giving huge tax breaks to any family that sticks with two children or less could probably make a good dent in the problem. A guaranteed median income for families that doesn't grow with family size would help us transition to an economic system not based on interest and inflation.

If we could limit the growth of the human population, everything else becomes solvable, and I think it would eventually stop wars as people become less worried about expansionism from growing nations. The obsession with growth in investment markets would also disappear.

Without the need for growth, all mining could stop today. We could eliminate the clear cutting of forests and jungles and further damage to biospheres everywhere. We've dug enough resources out of the earth to survive on recycling and mining landfills for what we could need for the next hundred years. Prioritizing renewable energy sources would be the next step. Germany has already generated 50% of their electrical needs with renewable sources this year, so it can be done. We could create millions of jobs overnight retrofitting or recycling cars to move off of oil, and making building systems more sustainable. We could also tackle the problem of making ethanol a reliable fuel source for aircraft (if that's possible, just a guess on that.)

We need to step out of this quarterly growth paradigm, and stop acting as if we know the planet can sustain more and more humans. There is a finite limit to the population the world can support, and I don't think it helps any culture or nation to see how close to the edge we can get without falling off. If we don't stop our addiction to these shared illusions of money and growth and profit, we will eventually destroy the only world we have.
posted by deanklear at 8:23 AM on June 22, 2012 [22 favorites]


I can't tell you what game this was because I didn't have it, but at one point there was a game with a "Somebody's Coming" mode. A hotkey paused the game and popped up a tiny word processer fullscreen that had just enough muscle to edit a business letter or something else that size. Hit the hotkey--shazam, you're working. Attn. Mr. Henneberger, concerning that shipment of widgets that had the very high return rate...
A number of games had this feature. Wikipedia discusses, and a cursory Googling indicates that the idea is coming back into vogue with browser plugins and whatnot.
posted by lumensimus at 8:25 AM on June 22, 2012


The idea that it's possible to support one's self working less than 50-60 hours a week has never really been true, historically speaking.

Historically speaking, a great many people have been able to support themselves, their families, and many servants while working less than 50-60 hours a week: landowners, slave owners, factory owners, aristocracies of all manner, etc. Of course, we recognize that they had other people working for them: tenants, slaves, wage labourers, etc. In premodern periods, each person's labour produced much less and only a relatively small proportion of a society (though still many people) could be "idle" (or work at non-necessary work, like fighting skills, worship or scholarship).

If we really want to know how much work is ACTUALLY required to produce the necessities of life, the historic division of labour is a red herring. What you would need to do is to figure out how much total labour is required to produce necessary things (after, of course, figuring out what is "necessary), and don't forget unpaid "reproductive" labour (cooking, cleaning, child and eldercare) -- and then divide that by the adult/working-capable population. That will tell you how much labour our society requires to keep going.

of course, things are complicated by the fact that, really, we'd have to do it on a world scale, because even if labour is not mobile, the products of labour are. And then we'd have to take into account that technology/capital are very unevenly spread around the world, such that more labour is required in one place to produce thing x than in another place.

A much simpler question to answer would be: "What is the historic trend of the proportion of profits that has gone to labour versus capital (or aristocrats or land owners or whoever is receiving profit other than labour)?" That would show whether increases in productivity per hour of work have actually been paid out to labour -- which is what would be required for people to work less and still support themselves and their families.
posted by jb at 8:27 AM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


> I recently changed my contract from a 12 month one to a 10.5 month one and went from what most similarly educated Americans here would consider total shit pay to even less than shit pay.

My girlfriend and I have carefully arranged our lives in such a way that we can live (comfortably but not extravagantly) on part-time wages. It requires sacrifices to be sure, but on the other hand when I go fishing or to the movies or on a picnic with her on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon, things like buying secondhand clothes and waiting for our 15 year-old TV to die before buying a new one don't seem like much of a "sacrifice."
posted by DJ 3000 at 8:40 AM on June 22, 2012 [17 favorites]


Symboid, exactly!

All the work that was done prior to the thirties to get the Fair Labor Standards Act implemented--down the drain. How much healthier would our society would be if we could all work 35-40 hours a week, for decent wages, acceptable healthcare, and a chance at a satisfying life both at work and at home? People unemployed could be employed, people overemployed could take a break, families wouldn't have to struggle--all to the good. The only downside is that corporate profits might take a hit and OMG, too much like socialism!!

There's a reason the rich started the smear campaign to make socialism a filthy dirty word.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:44 AM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


I just quit my job so I could fuck off down to central america for 6 months. I hadn't taken a vacation for something like 8 years before that, though.
posted by empath at 8:50 AM on June 22, 2012


'The One Law That Could Save the World would be to make it a policy for every nation to slow human population growth. ... Without the need for growth, all mining could stop today. We could eliminate the clear cutting of forests and jungles and further damage to biospheres everywhere. We've dug enough resources out of the earth to survive on recycling and mining landfills for what we could need for the next hundred years."


Growth solves all of those problems and more. It is pretty evident that people stop making babies as they accumulate wealth.

If you want to continue drilling for oil indefinitely, then keep prices low by reducing demand. Nobody needs a hybrid when gas costs $2.50/gallon. Energy is a need. Clean energy is a want. The needs of a billion Chinese people have to be fulfilled before they can contemplate their wants. Growth means the needs are fulfilled sooner rather than later.

Alternatively, the Mefi way of wishing away the market, might work.
posted by otto42 at 9:01 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Growth solves all of those problems and more.

So does Malthusian collapse.

Energy is a need. Clean energy is a want.

Oh, so not drowning in our own toxic waste is a luxury item... I get the Maslow's hiearchy angle you're referring too, but you can't take it that far given the current state of the Earth.

...wishing away the market...

What is this "market" of which you speak? What do you think its ontological status is? Or, perhaps, you think of it metaphysically? For me it is clear: this idea is a human construct. We can construct different markets with very different properties. The ones that our current ruling elites favor are not "true" in the way that physical law is, so we should stop talking about them as if they were.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:13 AM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


The idea of the Basic Guaranteed Income is the solution. Just tie it to the overall growth and contraction of the economy.

A rising tide would lift all boats, but the ocean has a giant hole in it: the pockets of the super-rich. I have nothing against money, I plan to have some myself one day. But once it gets to a level of concentration that hurts everyone else, society certainly has a right to step in.

With the BGI idea, when we do better, we all do better. It would reignite the ability for more and more people to do less and less to survive, while the overall productive capacity of the country continues to grow.

On a related note, I've worked office jobs all my life, and I haven't worked one yet where we couldn't accomplish the same in 32 hours as we do in 40. Under the pressure of outside forces, capitalism selects for efficiency. We would ditch some meetings, ditch some standing around yakking it up, and ditch some web surfing. Then we'd all go home to a 3-day weekend.
posted by BeeDo at 9:22 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is not precisely true. The argument was that the slave owners had incentives to feed and care for their slaves so that they would be productive workers. It had nothing to do with "kindly master" narrative.

You're right, sorry, I was being unfair for the sake of the snark.
posted by escabeche at 9:24 AM on June 22, 2012


I think one big reason that the reduced-work-schedule lifestyle didn't take off is that so much of what people buy is really just status. Status is competitive, so there's no limit at which people start maxing out at status and not wanting any more. So there is no point at which a wealthy industrialist will say "Well, I think this yacht is big enough for what I need it for, so I guess I can pass on more profit to the workers". The yacht was never the point, it was just a marker for his success, and that marker can always get bigger. He'll keep exploiting everyone to make that marker look better as long as he can, because status is a very powerful motivator.

This is also one of the reasons I'm all for taxing the hell out of the uber-wealthy; if they are just burning money to compete over status, then taking money away from all of them doesn't hurt them at all. They don't actually need or benefit materially from the stuff they are buying, and any effect that reduces everyone's wealth will still keep the playing field level and not affect their status competition. So everyone wins, really.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:28 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Q: How Much Is Enough? What Is It For?

A: Larry Ellison to Buy Island in Hawaii
Larry Ellison, billionaire CEO of Oracle, has struck a deal to buy to buy 98% of the 141-square-mile Hawaiian island of Lanai. The Maui News reported that the asking price for the property was between $500 million and $600 million.

[Lanai] has long been controlled by billionaire David Murdock—who also controls Castle & Cooke and who is known for closing the island's original pineapple plantations to make way for development. The island boasts resorts and golf courses.

Mr. Ellison is the third-richest person in the U.S., according to Forbes, with a fortune estimated at more than $30 billion.

He isn't shy about spending his money. Mr. Ellison has bankrolled a sailing team. . . owns several opulent houses, including a traditional Japanese-style estate in Woodside, Calif. . . and is known for purchases including a yacht large enough for a basketball court, a fighter jet, and a tennis tournament. More recently he has sought to buy a professional basketball team.
(Big Time!) I've got to make it show, yeah
(Big Time!) so much larger than life
(Big Time!) my car is getting bigger
(Big Time!) my house getting bigger
(Big Time!) my eyes getting bigger
(Big Time!) And my mouth
(Big Time!) my dinner's getting bigger
(Big Time!) and my bank account
(Big Time!) look at my circumstance
(Big Time!) and the bulge in my BIG BIG BIG BIG big big big big big big big big big big big
posted by Herodios at 9:29 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


What is this "market" of which you speak? What do you think its ontological status is? Or, perhaps, you think of it metaphysically? For me it is clear: this idea is a human construct. We can construct different markets with very different properties. The ones that our current ruling elites favor are not "true" in the way that physical law is, so we should stop talking about them as if they were.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:13 AM on June 22 [+] [!]


I disagree. The market is not a construct. It is natural and efficient. It's basic principals can not be rescinded so you should stop trying. Price always effects supply and demand, unless you would like to construct a scenario when it doesn't.
posted by otto42 at 9:40 AM on June 22, 2012


"a yacht large enough for a basketball court, a fighter jet, and a tennis tournament."

That is a really big yacht. Or once it starts carrying aircraft, does it become an aircraft carrier?
posted by BeeDo at 9:42 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Price always effects supply and demand, unless you would like to construct a scenario when it doesn't.

I'm pretty sure that only has to do with markets where actual things are being traded. Once you get into CDSs and CDOs and other advanced financial instruments, those concepts start to break down.

(We'd actually do a lot to help our economy if we demanded that market trading were related to actual goods and services, not derivative financial instruments, IMO. That would keep people with money actually using their money to make things to make money, rather than simply using their money to make money through black box games. Once you establish a derivative market, you're effectively no longer participating in manufacture, service, or employment in any way that benefits society.)
posted by hippybear at 9:55 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do wonder whether the age of abundant leisure isn't already here, if you take the time you're formally supposed to be working and subtract the time you spend physically sitting at your desk but actually dawdling on the intertubes.

Even if you set aside procrastination, how many of us have jobs that our great-grandparents would not have recognized as "work"?

"What, you just sit around all day, reading stuff, writing, talking to people? And you get *paid* for this? Did you marry into the aristocracy or something?"
posted by straight at 9:59 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I disagree. The market is not a construct. It is natural and efficient. It's basic principals can not be rescinded so you should stop trying. Price always effects supply and demand, unless you would like to construct a scenario when it doesn't.
It's a nice little creed you've got there, one you could put right next to the Nicene Creed or the Apostle's Creed. The difference, though, between your Creed and those other two is that every last sentence of yours is provably wrong.

and I'm speaking as a non-Christian here.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:07 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


"I'm pretty sure that only has to do with markets where actual things are being traded. Once you get into CDSs and CDOs and other advanced financial instruments, those concepts start to break down.

(We'd actually do a lot to help our economy if we demanded that market trading were related to actual goods and services, not derivative financial instruments, IMO. That would keep people with money actually using their money to make things to make money, rather than simply using their money to make money through black box games. Once you establish a derivative market, you're effectively no longer participating in manufacture, service, or employment in any way that benefits society.)
posted by hippybear at 9:55 AM on June 22 [+] [!]"


Certainty is not an actual thing, but it is traded all the time, and its price is determined by supply and demand, likely more efficiently than any actual thing that is traded.

A farmer buys certainty when he agrees to sell his crop at a certain price at a certain time in the future. The farmers futures contract is intangible but it has value. The advanced financial contracts exist to provide a certainty for at least one of the parties involved. The economic value is real and supply/demand still determine price, no matter how complex.
posted by otto42 at 10:30 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The argument was that the slave owners had incentives to feed and care for their slaves so that they would be productive workers. It had nothing to do with "kindly master" narrative.

It doesn't sound like a very good argument, either way, since the historical research on chattal slavery finds that slaves hated their condition in many places so much that they refused to have children, because they didn't want their children to live like them. Through most of the history of slavery in the Americas, slave populations were not self-replacing -- unlike northern labourers, who were happy to have children.

Well-being isn't just about food. (Also, most of the historical research finds that slaveowners did not put their "economic" interest first, but their own racism, and treated slaves very harshly with no enough food - slaves had to grow extra to survive - , beatings, rapes and out-right murders.)
posted by jb at 10:36 AM on June 22, 2012


otto42 said:

The market is not a construct. It is natural and efficient.

The test for your theory is the same test that religion gets - if all information was destroyed, would markets form the same way with the same rules?

It is highly unlikely. Supply and demand are the only concepts that could possibly remain constant that I can think of.

Supply and demand are unlikely by themselves to give birth to our version of markets (I see this birth as some demented, tainted Athena, being shat from Zeus' face).

I was told by a congressional staffer once (recently) that markets are ruled by 'natural laws.' I called bullshit on him and I call bullshit on your comment.
posted by Fuka at 10:39 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I do wonder whether the age of abundant leisure isn't already here, if you take the time you're formally supposed to be working and subtract the time you spend physically sitting at your desk but actually dawdling on the intertubes.

Many of us - myself included - are in elite jobs with large amounts of autonomy. If we get our work done, no one cares how we spend the rest of the time.

This is not true for a great many people, even in the first world. I know people with RSI from not having enough breaks in their extremely repetitive work.
posted by jb at 10:39 AM on June 22, 2012


It's a nice little creed you've got there, one you could put right next to the Nicene Creed or the Apostle's Creed. The difference, though, between your Creed and those other two is that every last sentence of yours is provably wrong.

and I'm speaking as a non-Christian here.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:07 AM on June 22 [+] [!]


Is the market a construct?

If the answer is yes, then construct another one. Alternatively point me to where one has already been constructed.
posted by otto42 at 10:40 AM on June 22, 2012


A farmer buys certainty when he agrees to sell his crop at a certain price at a certain time in the future.

Farm market futures are not at all the same thing as a credit default swap or a collateralized debt obligation. Really. Like, not the same thing at all.
posted by hippybear at 10:43 AM on June 22, 2012


Heavens, you're arguing that the market has existed throughout history? Is that what you're arguing?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:44 AM on June 22, 2012


Markets are social constructs. We don't really allow for free markets - we don't allow people to sell untested food, we don't allow people to sell medications that don't do what they say. We require that manufacturers identify the materials used in many products. We set a minimum wage and mandatory holidays.

All of these are things our society has decided is important. Other societies have done such things as set maximum wages or fixed food prices or forbidden the export of food or forbidden the import of food -- the things they thought were important for social stability and economic security.
posted by jb at 10:44 AM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


the historical research on chattal slavery finds that slaves hated their condition in many places so much that they refused to have children, because they didn't want their children to live like them. Through most of the history of slavery in the Americas, slave populations were not self-replacing.

Footnote? Importing slaves to the US was outlawed in 1808, so if this is true, there would hardly have been any slaves to free by 1863.

Not saying you're flat out wrong, but we need a little more information here. Well, I do, at any rate.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:47 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


We can construct different markets with very different properties.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:13 AM on June 22 [1 favorite +] [!]

…every last sentence of yours is provably wrong.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:07 AM on June 22 [+] [!]

…I call bullshit on your comment.
posted by Fuka at 10:39 AM on June 22 [+] [!]




I would love to here about the construction of different markets that are not provably wrong or just bullshit.

Construct me a market where a change in price does not change supply and demand. Or maybe it would be easier to construct a market where changing demand does not change price and supply.
posted by otto42 at 10:52 AM on June 22, 2012


otto42, markets aren't so simple as a balance of supply and demand. How the product is made matters, as if the raw materials + hours required to make the product cannot go below a certain pricepoint, demand no longer plays a role in the price at a certain point. Supply can be artificially limited (see: diamonds), where something that is generally abundant is made valuable by an artificial bottleneck.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:58 AM on June 22, 2012


And more to the point, the existence of a market requires certain conditions that are remarkably difficult to set up. For one thing, participation in a market relation with another person requires something like formal equality between participants — as I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong here) a market can't really happen when some people or groups within the potential market can just take things from others.

If this is natural, it's natural in the same way a hothouse flower is natural. It takes a lot of hard fucking work to establish the situation of formal equality. The market is a truly remarkable innovation.

That said, the critique of market capitalism that's resonated the most with me, personally, is the one that notes that the condition of formal, abstract equality within the market (the condition that allows the market to exist in the first place) becomes meaningless in situations where concrete, specific inequalities run rampant. If all you have left to sell on the market is your hide, it's not much of a market to you anymore.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:58 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mitrovarr: " So there is no point at which a wealthy industrialist will say "Well, I think this yacht is big enough for what I need it for, so I guess I can pass on more profit to the workers". The yacht was never the point, it was just a marker for his success, and that marker can always get bigger. "

I know the title of this post is about Star Trek, but now I think I understand the origins of the DEATH STAR.
posted by symbioid at 11:02 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that the exercise of describing a market without regards to supply and demand would be fruitful because the term market is not well defined in this discussion to start with. I could say that bread in Senegal is one such market, because thought demand and supply fluctuate, price is fixed by the government. But you could then argue that what I am describing is not really a market at all. Or that quality fluctuates in place of price. The point that some are trying to make is that there is a lot that goes into how markets work in addition to supply and demand. Or, if you prefer to look at it this way: that supply and demand are vague terms which mean little else besides things which affect price (is a government subsidy an artifical increase in supply? An artificial demand? Both? What is a tax? What is a minimum price, such as some countries have in place for alcoholic beverages?) and as such, it is circular to define price by them.
posted by Nothing at 11:06 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think I've been referring to David Foster Wallace a bit too much lately, but even so I'm reminded of the little joke he related in that commencement speech he gave shortly before his suicide, the one that goes roughly like this: Two young fish are out swimming one day when an old fish swims by and says "nice water today, isn't it kids?" The young fish are confused and turn to each other; one says "... what's water?"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:07 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Construct me a market where a change in price does not change supply and demand. Or maybe it would be easier to construct a market where changing demand does not change price and supply.

I can easily show you an existing market where none of these rules apply because of the existence of a middleman -- the US health care market and insurance industry.

If health care were subject to actual market pressures, then individuals seeking care could research specific procedures and what they cost and the quality of what was provided, and they could choose the best product for the lowest price and market forces would be in play.

But that isn't how it works. There's this middleman, the insurance industry, which artificially sets a low price to the consumer (the co-pay) plus a subscription (the insurance premium), and which also artificially sets prices with care providers via a black box system into which the consumer typically cannot look.

How much does a colonoscopy cost? How much does an office visit cost? Can you even find this out? If you can, is there any way that market forces are applying to these prices for services?

Furthermore, can you buy insurance on the open market? You can, but it's far too expensive for most who wish to participate, because the market isn't functioning for health insurance. It's based on something else entirely, the concept of risk pools, and a pool of one represents too much "risk" for a company which is far removed from how such a company should be working the market, which is to view their entire set of subscriptions as a giant risk pool and allow individuals to participate at will in that pool based on cost and services provided. Instead, companies split up their giant base of subscribers into little mini-pools, usually associated with contracts with businesses, and rates are established within these smaller groups, and often vary vastly between groups even of similar size.

I lived without insurance for nearly 20 years, and had to have a couple of reasonably common yet not routine procedures (a barium enema to look at the condition of my large intestine, for example). But was it possible for me to call around to providers and find the best price? No. I called the three places in my area which do these, only one of them could give me a price for the procedure, and even that wasn't a real price. ("Oh, we might charge you this, and we might charge you that, based on specific factors we cannot share with you.")

We all lament the high cost of health care and skyrocketing insurance costs. But there is no functioning market (as you seem to mean it) functioning there to work to drive down prices and drive up quality (as market fundamentalists such as you think is the norm). If there was, there wouldn't be all these people I know (literally 4 of them I can think of off the top of my head, and that's without ruminating on it much) who have recently graduated with health care industry degrees of various types which they cannot put to use because nobody will hire them. The supply is there, the demand is there, the industry is not responding, thus there is no "market" there, not in the way fundamentalists would recognize or espouse with their rhetoric.
posted by hippybear at 11:15 AM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


and furthermore, are you nuts? "If the market is a construct, then construct another one?" Are you kidding?

One day you and I meet at 34th and 5th in Manhattan — maybe we're attending one of David Harvey's classes at CUNY. Before we go in, we pause in front of the Empire State building and admire it for a few minutes. "Wow, this is great... and to think, it's totally natural!" I say. You look at me like I've dropped in from Mars and remind me that the Empire State building isn't natural, but constructed by people. I laugh. "If that's a construct, why don't you go out and build one of your own?"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


"Other societies have done such things as set maximum wages or fixed food prices or forbidden the export of food or forbidden the import of food -- the things they thought were important for social stability and economic security.
posted by jb at 10:44 AM on June 22 [1 favorite +] [!]"

These are not constructs, these are futile attempts. The underlying and natural tendencies of the market ultimately win out. Workers who top out at the maximum wage reduce their production. That is the markets reaction to the construct. Fixing food prices too high produces surpluses or too low produces shortages. Nice construct. Forbid the export of food and farmers stop farming. Forbid the import of food and farmers get rich as the rest of society gets poor. Each time the construct creates an inefficient outcome.
posted by otto42 at 11:22 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Workers who top out at the maximum wage reduce their production.

Good!

Then that means that other workers will be hired to increase production, rather than trying to milk the already-employed workers for yet more output.

That solves two problems, that of the 60 hour work week plus stagnant wages plus ever increasing output without new hiring, and of unemployment.

I find no problem with this at all.
posted by hippybear at 11:26 AM on June 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Construct me a market where a change in price does not change supply and demand. Or maybe it would be easier to construct a market where changing demand does not change price and supply.

Sure. For hundreds of thousands of years, societies have existed by living off of the excess their environment was able to provide. No prices, no markets, no need for anything but cultivating and saving enough food and seed to make it to the next growing season. What could saved was saved, and what was not returned to the earth.

What they were missing was the scientific method that has enabled the lifestyle we have today. There's no reason we can't move to a resources-available economy with a similar setup, except for people who insist that the same markets that were invented in a time of extraordinary ignorance must continue to exist for our society today. Markets aren't based on laws of physics. They are based on ideas from back when the most complicated machine you could create had less moving parts than is found in a modern refrigerator. They come from an age when China wasn't a threat to British industry because it was months and years away by transport on horseback or wind powered boats.

There obviously has to be a transition period, but we don't need to keep a 20th Century lifestyle to survive. In fact, if we wanted everyone to use the same resources as the average American, we would not have enough arable land to make that happen. Subtract a few resources we've become completely dependent upon, and we're not going to have a choice about the lifestyle change.

We need a new economic construct to move us into the future with what we know today in the same way we moved from believing in the four humors to knowing and applying germ theory. We have enough automation to feed everyone, right now, today. We're just stuck with hierarchal institutions run by people who would rather see people starve than give up their own lavish lifestyles.

If the markets had anything to do with transparency and equity I'd fully support them, but modern capitalism is devolving into simple feudalism. The owners hold corporations and the direction of society just as the Lords owned land and directed their cultivation. Anyone who thinks a billionaire and a hundredaire have the same rights and choices in any of today's markets is a slave to ideology instead of a student of reality.
posted by deanklear at 11:26 AM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


*What could be saved was saved.
edit windowwwwwwwwwww
posted by deanklear at 11:28 AM on June 22, 2012


Footnote? Importing slaves to the US was outlawed in 1808, so if this is true, there would hardly have been any slaves to free by 1863.

Not saying you're flat out wrong, but we need a little more information here. Well, I do, at any rate.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:47 PM on June 22 [+] [!]


I am wrong about the US, sorry. I had gotten my information on population from Crown of Glory, Tears of Blood about the 1823 Demerara slave rebellion - and at that point, slave populations in Demerara were not self-replacing.

but as wikipedia notes:
About 600,000 slaves were imported into the U.S., or 5% of the 12 million slaves brought across from Africa. The great majority went to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil, where life expectancy was short and the numbers had to be continually replenished. Life expectancy was much higher in the U.S. (because of better food, less disease, lighter work loads, and better medical care) so the numbers grew rapidly by excesses of births over deaths, reaching 4 million by the 1860 Census. From 1770 until 1860, the rate of natural growth of North American slaves was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England. [11]
That said, there was still a great deal of cruelty and killing of slaves, and gross human rights abuse -- and human rights (freedom of marriage and family formation, protection from violence and sexual assault, etc) are as much a part of quality of life as food. Freed slaves did not ask to return to slavery -- and a great many slaves risked their lives to escape it before the Emancipation. People don't run away from good situations.
posted by jb at 11:35 AM on June 22, 2012


and furthermore, are you nuts? "If the market is a construct, then construct another one?" Are you kidding?

One day you and I meet at 34th and 5th in Manhattan — maybe we're attending one of David Harvey's classes at CUNY. Before we go in, we pause in front of the Empire State building and admire it for a few minutes. "Wow, this is great... and to think, it's totally natural!" I say. You look at me like I've dropped in from Mars and remind me that the Empire State building isn't natural, but constructed by people. I laugh. "If that's a construct, why don't you go out and build one of your own?"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:18 AM on June 22 [+] [!]


Conceivably I could construct the Empire State Building, or even a market (a farmers market in an empty lot might be easy) but neither you or I can construct The Market.

That is, I can not construct a rule or law that rescinds the natural rule or law.
posted by otto42 at 11:43 AM on June 22, 2012


I can easily show you an existing market where none of these rules apply because of the existence of a middleman -- the US health care market and insurance industry.

I agree with your middleman issue, but the big reason healthcare -- and to a certain extent, food -- fails as a supply-and-demand market is that people can't decline to participate in the transaction. It's difficult for people to price-compare and choose who to buy from or to pick a different product when they need medical care, and the option to "hey, let's just wait a couple months and see how the market goes" doesn't work; got diabetes? You're going to have to get your prescription for insulin from somebody, and before you run out. Broken leg? Arthritis? Heatstroke? Pregnancy? You are going to make a medical care purchase, no matter what, and you will pay whatever they say you have to pay. When you buy a car or a stereo or a home, the seller has to be very aware of the fact that you may just decide, no, I'm just not going to buy a car at this time, not from anybody. It is entirely possible for there to be time when nobody's buying cars or houses. Not so with food; people must continually purchase food to eat, even farmers. With things like medical care, your broken leg means you're going to be buying medical care from somebody, whatever the cost. Doctors don't have to worry that, if somebody broke their leg, they're just going to wait until the market improves. Who cares what you charge? They'll be back.
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:45 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


How, exactly, did we manage to evade this natural law mandating market capitalism for so many millennia? I'm just not clear on that at all.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:47 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


My girlfriend and I have carefully arranged our lives in such a way that we can live (comfortably but not extravagantly) on part-time wages

Several postings like this make me wonder what sort of stress resistance such lifestyles afford their participants.

(Then again, as I type this I'm surrounded by people who make household incomes up to the quarter million dollars a year range many of whom who are living paycheck to paycheck - private schools, BMWs, bay area houses, ...)
posted by rr at 11:58 AM on June 22, 2012


The Market has gone from being an aspect of modern life to it's defining feature. Modern life does not exist and cannot even be conceived of in anything other than hyper-capitalist ideology.

When it's pointed out (repeatedly) that infinite exponential economic growth is impossible without infinite sources of energy, it is asserted by very intelligent people that The Market will find a way to provide for our infinite thirst for energy and that no other solutions to our problems (now and in the future) are desirable or even possible.

This, in a nutshell, is the ultimate destination of capitalist ideology: that capitalism, or The Market, is not just a natural law, but actually transcends natural laws, breaks them, and takes it's place as being superior to mere natural laws. That capitalism can, in the very real sense, do away with math and physics and replace them with credit default swaps.

That capitalism is, in some sense, literally supernatural.
posted by Avenger at 12:01 PM on June 22, 2012 [9 favorites]


Sure. For hundreds of thousands of years, societies have existed by living off of the excess their environment was able to provide. No prices, no markets, no need for anything but cultivating and saving enough food and seed to make it to the next growing season. What could saved was saved, and what was not returned to the earth.

For hundreds of thousands of years, societies have existed by living off of the excess their environment was able to provide.

Since an excess was never assured, life or death was dependent on who had the bigger club or who had something to trade. A daughter for a cow. Price; one daughter = one cow. There's your market. A straight up even trade only determined by the market and its two participants, with each caveman convinced they got the better end of the deal, with both being right.
posted by otto42 at 12:04 PM on June 22, 2012


"Imagine a world in which most people worked only 15 hours a week."
The elephant in the room here is population growth. Does the 15 hours a week cover raising a couple of kids? Then why not work 30 hours a week and raise a couple more? It's obviously unsustainable, and one of the reasons it hasn't played out as Keynes imagined is that there are so many more people than there used to be.
posted by fivebells at 12:05 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Construct me a market where a change in price does not change supply and demand. Or maybe it would be easier to construct a market where changing demand does not change price and supply.
posted by otto42 at 1:52 PM on June 22 [+] [!]


- diamonds (as noted above)
- electrical power in places that don't have differential power (greater demand at some times of the day, but the price doesn't change)

- medieval/early modern - fixed by law
- medieval/early modern piecework prices - fixed by guilds (see awesome Planet Money( podcast with Sheila Ogilvie)

etc
posted by jb at 12:06 PM on June 22, 2012


Since an excess was never assured, life or death was dependent on who had the bigger club or who had something to trade. A daughter for a cow. Price; one daughter = one cow. There's your market. A straight up even trade only determined by the market and its two participants, with each caveman convinced they got the better end of the deal, with both being right.
So we agree then. Market conditions only obtain in situations where there is abstract formal equality between participants, and those situations are devilishly hard to set up and maintain.

I love how your defense of the naturalness of markets has a subordinate clause in it that explains how markets aren't natural. You're kinda violating the first rule of holes, dude.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:11 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Other societies have done such things as set maximum wages or fixed food prices or forbidden the export of food or forbidden the import of food -- the things they thought were important for social stability and economic security.
posted by jb at 10:44 AM on June 22 [1 favorite +] [!]"

These are not constructs, these are futile attempts. The underlying and natural tendencies of the market ultimately win out. Workers who top out at the maximum wage reduce their production. That is the markets reaction to the construct. Fixing food prices too high produces surpluses or too low produces shortages. Nice construct. Forbid the export of food and farmers stop farming. Forbid the import of food and farmers get rich as the rest of society gets poor. Each time the construct creates an inefficient outcome.


I never said that it was a GOOD constructed market. Of course, farmers got rich when the importation of food was banned. Well, not farmers -- their landlords were the ones who got the richest, by charging high rents for farmland, and those landlords were also the majority people with the vote at the time (pre-182 Britain), so that's why the Corn Laws persisted until after the Reform Act of 1832.

The point is that this market did not work by the same rules as ours do, because it was shaped by what they (or rather, the elites of the time) valued.
posted by jb at 12:12 PM on June 22, 2012


I agree with your middleman issue, but the big reason healthcare -- and to a certain extent, food -- fails as a supply-and-demand market is that people can't decline to participate in the transaction.

To which you can also add housing, clothing and any other absolute necessity of life -- they have an inelastic demand. When housing supply is limited and thus the price goes up, true need does not go down. People either a) pay more than they can afford and give up other things, like food, b) crowd in and live in poorer conditions or c) do without entirely. None of these choices have an impact on the cost of housing -- and there is no market incentive for anyone to create more affordable housing.
posted by jb at 12:15 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Y'all aren't going to win against Otto on this market stuff. The Market is a name for an aspect of the ecosystem in which we live and as such is governed certain laws. The problem isn't that there are laws, it's that some people take them as an excuse to reject the application of human ingenuity, creativity and compassion to social change. It's also a great way to never be wrong because you never have to come with any concrete ideas about how we should actually live.

Surely gravity is a law but birds and beavers have been doing fine in spite of and because of it.
posted by klanawa at 12:17 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


As I grow older I need less and less of things and want more and more time. The time I spent homeless was stressful during cold wet winters but I didn't have to commute or subject myself to the indignity of being a wage slave. No mortgage to worry about, no energy bills, no insurance payments, no income tax to pay used open hot spots to continue to keep up with the world. My net worth of 0 or close to it was higher than a good number of middle class families who were so far in debt they are living pay check to pay check. You learn how much you don't need living out of a pack for an extended period. Now that I have come back to the world I can satisfy my needs by working a few hours a week. My income varies but it doesn't take me more than $800 a month to keep body and soul together, granted I am on my own and living rent free in exchange for some cooking and cleaning and driving but that doesn't amount to much more than two hours a day. A senior citizen remains "independent", I make use of a structure on her property with all the leisure time I could want to read and explore.
posted by pdxpogo at 12:25 PM on June 22, 2012


klanawa: Brilliantly stated. I think of it as an assayers scale, but instead of 2 axes it has hundreds. It is all about where to put weight to create the desired balance.
posted by BeeDo at 12:29 PM on June 22, 2012


And certainly there are some laws that obtain from certain sets of constructed social relations. Most of these are more about geometry, broadly construed, than anything else. For example, in a situation where people are free to allocate a resource that can be used to get more of that resource, they'll collectively tend to allocate that resource such that a few parties end up with the bulk of it. This is one reason why the income distribution curve in the United States closely resembles the curve you get when you measure the number of incoming links that websites get. If you have a lot of money, it's significantly easier to get more, just like it's almost infinitely easier to get the second million links to your website, or views on your youtube video than it is to get the first.

Now, just because this is the situation that obtains when people are free to allocate that resource as they choose, based on the information available to them, does not mean that this allocation of resources is natural, and it certainly doesn't mean that this allocation of resources is good. Left to itself, systems that allocate resources this way tend to do great for a while and then collapse messily.

Taking a truly random detour into one of the other things I nerdily beanplate for fun, most of the older board games that people don't enjoy (Monopoly, Risk, and so forth) tend to have the "it's easy to get a big lead once you have a little lead" feature. I've heard games designers call games with this feature "slope games". Good board games tend to have various "anti-slope" features that help thwart the natural tendency toward slope.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:34 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Perhaps otto would like to analyze the potlatch, a system of economics based on giving things away, as an example of the inevitability of market capitalism. There was enough perceived difference by the imperial power of the day that the potlatch was outlawed; it must have seemed fairly natural to the people who engaged in it for thousands of years though.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 12:39 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had to go do some work, so I missed out on some of the fun.

otto42: That is, I can not construct a rule or law that rescinds the natural rule or law.

This is a metaphysical statement. Markets are not "natural" the way, say, general relativity is. The belief that they are is doing tremendous damage to the world.

The idea of "market" in the abstract may be universal, like the idea of a game is. But, just as each game is different because of the rules used to set it up, markets can be different.

What does it mean to say that markets are "optimal"? Optimality is a concept that depends intrinsically on a cost function. If one talks to a person who is impressed with something they've conceived of as being "optimal", but in discussion you realize that they do not understand they they have selected a particular cost function, then that person does not understand what optimality actually means! While we can have an abstract and somewhat universal understanding of optimality (from variational calculus, for example), the specific nature of a given optimality depends on the cost function.

So, for example, right now there are various externalities that we do not consider in setting up our markets--environmental destruction comes to mind, or, more generally, the "tragedy of the commons". These things do not enter into our cost functions, so the markets do not "see" them. Unfortunately, the actual "natural law", the nature of the world we live in, is not impressed by this, and so we may suffer severe consequences, such as global climate change that ends up destroying coastal cities.
posted by mondo dentro at 12:40 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


- diamonds (as noted above)

Restricted Supply = Higher Price

- electrical power in places that don't have differential power (greater demand at some times of the day, but the price doesn't change)

This is not a construct. The market determines the price the utility can charge without going dark. It is somewhere between the peak demand price and the trough demand price.

- medieval/early modern - fixed by law

Fixing prices by law creates a surplus or a shortage.
Fixing supply by law raises/lowers prices.
Fixing demand by law raises/lowers prices.

The market ignores the law. It is black.


- medieval/early modern piecework prices - fixed by guilds (see awesome Planet Money( podcast with Sheila Ogilvie)

Shortage or surplus of Guild goods

The point of all of this is that that a market can not be constructed where price does not change demand and/or supply. Therefore the market is natural it is not a construct.

Show me something that has value to more than one person.
Adjust its price.
Tell me why the supply or demand does not change.
posted by otto42 at 12:43 PM on June 22, 2012


The point of all of this is that that a market can not be constructed where price does not change demand and/or supply. Therefore the market is natural it is not a construct.

This is false, because the the mere existence of supply and demand is not sufficient to define a market.
posted by mondo dentro at 12:52 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


so as I understand it, otto, when you say "the market is natural," you mean "when two people who consider each other equal and respect each others' claims to property meet, sometimes they exchange things, and the details of the exchange come down to how easy it is to make or get things and how much people want them." Is this correct?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:53 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The point of all of this is that that a market can not be constructed where price does not change demand and/or supply.

Seems like you're talking past other people and that, in fact, is not everyone else's point.
posted by jsturgill at 1:06 PM on June 22, 2012


Since an excess was never assured, life or death was dependent on who had the bigger club or who had something to trade. A daughter for a cow. Price; one daughter = one cow. There's your market. A straight up even trade only determined by the market and its two participants, with each caveman convinced they got the better end of the deal, with both being right.

You are basing your entire argument on caveman ethics, and thus making your argument about the nature of markets based on your assumptions about the nature of man. Biases are not physical laws. Even if I concede the argument that mankind is just a bunch of apes beating each other to death for scarce resources, that doesn't mean that people couldn't decide to stop acting like primates.
posted by deanklear at 1:12 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a metaphysical statement. Markets are not "natural" the way, say, general relativity is. The belief that they are is doing tremendous damage to the world.

The idea of "market" in the abstract may be universal, like the idea of a game is. But, just as each game is different because of the rules used to set it up, markets can be different.
posted by mondo dentro at 12:40 PM on June 22 [+] [!]


You can have all kinds of different games. However each game must be defined by a universal definition that applies to every game, or else it is not a game. For the sake of the argument we will say that a game results in a winner and/or a loser. If the activity does not result in either a winner and/or a loser, then it can not be called a game. (Alternatively, not all activities that meet this criteria is a game); a dual with pistols would not be a game.

Similarly, a market can only be called a market if the change in price also changes either supply or demand or both. If that core component does not exist, then you don't have a market.

If you have a game, and you add new rules, you have a different game. If you change the rules to have two winners, you don't have a game.

If you have a market, and you add new rules, you have a different market. If you change the rules so that price does not effect supply/demand, you don't have a market.
posted by otto42 at 1:21 PM on June 22, 2012


there's actually deeper problems with otto42's parable of the daughter, the cow, and the two polite cavemen. There's three human parties involved; only two of them get to participate in market relations as active players rather than as commodities. Why is it "natural" that the polite cavemen who have put down their clubs exchange things based on their desires and the resources that are recognized as theirs? Why is it natural that the daughter (and other players who are included in the market as commodities rather than as traders) be excluded from this system of decision making?

I think the implied answer is "when forces are equal, market relations decide," but I'm not certain Otto has thought his own words through that far yet, and I don't think I'm qualified to speak for him.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:21 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


You can have all kinds of different games. However each game must be defined by a universal definition that applies to every game, or else it is not a game.

I agree. So, one ingredient of a market is that some idea of supply, and some idea of demand must be operative. But what we mean by these two terms must be spelled out in specific cases, and there must also be many other things that define and regulate the permissable "parties" and how they may carry out "exchanges".

This is very different than natural law.
posted by mondo dentro at 1:29 PM on June 22, 2012


Show me something that has value to more than one person.
Adjust its price.
Tell me why the supply or demand does not change.


Water. As the minutes and days pass, the increasing demand to any particular consumer has little to do with the price. At no point will demand reach zero, if the market holds the only controls over who does and does not have water.
posted by AzraelBrown at 1:31 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, this had been interesting but now it's boring. It's like someone came along and changed the rules.
posted by hippybear at 1:31 PM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Surprised no one in the "Are the laws of supply and demand as inescapable as the laws of nature" discussion has mentioned digital goods / intellectual property yet. Infinite supply really breaks the laws of supply and demand.
posted by OnceUponATime at 1:32 PM on June 22, 2012


This is false, because the the mere existence of supply and demand is not sufficient to define a market.
posted by mondo dentro at 12:52 PM on June 22 [+] [!]


You are correct. This only applies to goods and services. I have a family. They are not for sale. Neither is the dog. Make a bid on the cat, pick-up only.
posted by otto42 at 1:33 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I mean, there are entire civilizations where "price" is not even a meaningful concept, as the distribution of goods was not conducted on a "market" but rather by other social customs. (Potlaches above, but plenty of other examples too, including autocratic regimes) If we accept those civilizations existed, and it seems we must, either they or the market is "unnatural".

And more importantly, if markets are a natural phenomenon (again this is increasingly nebulous in meaning), they still have to be explained as culturally and historically specific: the modern economy, as we understand it, is very different from what came before it, and capitalism more generally didn't exist for 99.9999% of natural history.

Basically, saying markets are natural is basically meaningless unless you define away natural to the point where it's irrelevant to what is being argued.
posted by mek at 1:34 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


there's actually deeper problems with otto42's parable of the daughter, the cow, and the two polite cavemen. There's three human parties involved; only two of them get to participate in market relations as active players rather than as commodities. Why is it "natural" that the polite cavemen who have put down their clubs exchange things based on their desires and the resources that are recognized as theirs? Why is it natural that the daughter (and other players who are included in the market as commodities rather than as traders) be excluded from this system of decision making?

I think the implied answer is "when forces are equal, market relations decide," but I'm not certain Otto has thought his own words through that far yet, and I don't think I'm qualified to speak for him.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 1:21 PM on June 22 [1 favorite +] [!]


I didn't qualify the desires of the daughter or the circumstances of the father. To make this a happy story, say the man with the cow was the daughters fiance. She wants to get married but dear old dad would miss her greatly, plus, he is not in the best of health. Daughter tells her fiance to at least give him the cow so he doesn't starve, then I'll marry you. A happy ending for all.
posted by otto42 at 1:39 PM on June 22, 2012


Water. As the minutes and days pass, the increasing demand to any particular consumer has little to do with the price. At no point will demand reach zero, if the market holds the only controls over who does and does not have water.

No. Supply is so great and demand is so small relative to supply, there is no impact on price. Eventually there will be. This only applies in places where there is a lot of water. Presumably, in places with not much water, prices are more sensitive to reductions in supply.

In the Caribbean, where fresh water is scare, the hotel owners are conscious enough of how much their water bills are to request that guests "let mellow if its yellow."
posted by otto42 at 1:55 PM on June 22, 2012


Well, this had been interesting but now it's boring. It's like someone came along and changed the rules.
posted by hippybear at 1:31 PM on June 22 [+] [!]


How do you mean?
posted by otto42 at 1:56 PM on June 22, 2012


I said above that infinite supply, as with digital goods, breaks markets, but I also wanted to say that infinite demand breaks breaks them too -- so I agree that health care can never be a rational market. People will give anything and everything they have if their life or the life of someone they love is at stake. They will promise whatever you ask, and more than they can ever give. There is no elasticity at all, so the price could rise infinitely if not regulated.

I also agree that hunter-gatherer cultures and feudal cultures do not have functional "markets" except in a sense so broad as to be meaningless. It seems to me that historically unfettered capitalism leads to robber barons leads to feudalism. (Because the labor market is also subject to this "infinite demand" problem -- you can get people to work for almost nothing, if their only alternative is nothing at all, because they don't have the ability to just say "screw it, I won't eat today.")

I think pure socialism as practiced by humans might also lead to feudalism, as the functionaries who allocate resources allocate more and more to themselves and theirs. Seems to me that markets are only really functional when there is a kind of regulatory balance, with the forces of supply and demand modulated by forces representing the public interest.

Mathematically I think that many markets, like the stock market, have positive feedback loops built into them. The more the market rises the more people want to buy in, the more it rises... We talk about "bubbles" in economics and act as if we're surprised when they happen, but in electrical engineering we know that positive feedback generally leads to wild oscillations and to broken behavior like the "feedback" squeal of an amplifier placed too close to a microphone. I think this is why markets destroy themselves if those oscillations aren't damped out by some kind of external intervention. (I bet there are lots of economists who have already written out the differential equations modelling this behavior and showing its formal similarity to a feedback system, but that kind of economist doesn't get interviewed on the TV news.) Again I think that argues that the freest market, in the long run, is a wisely regulated one.
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:00 PM on June 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Didn't BF Skinner propose something similar (20hr work week) in Walden II?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 2:15 PM on June 22, 2012


No. Supply is so great and demand is so small relative to supply, there is no impact on price.

Now you're including cases where the free market isn't involved? Just walk outside -- there's rain and puddles! No, you requested a free market example: somebody has water, other people have to buy it from them. You wanted an example where price changes do not affect supply and demand, and here it is. As time passes for a human without water, price has absolutely nothing to do with the demand or whether or not the supplier produces more or less water. Humans need water, that demand is built into our ability to live. Here's what you wanted:

Adjust its price.
Tell me why the supply or demand does not change.


Acting like there's suddenly a guaranteed free or cheap option to transactions in your market-driven world is incredulous. Can't just go pick some insulin from the Insulin Tree to get all better when the cost from retailers is too high or there's a shortage of insulin. If you need insulin to live, your demand is not affected by whether or not the supplier has enough, or whether it's cheap enough for you. You need it. That demand is inherent in simply continuing to exist. Demand for certain things is entirely independent of price and supply, which is counter to your assertions.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:23 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's much nicer, Otto. So the takeaway is that markets are natural because it's possible to imagine fair trades conducted by equals who recognize each others' rights to property, and it's likewise possible to imagine that these trades can be arranged so that they benefit all parties involved.

Is that what you're saying? I'm just trying to get a handle on where you're coming from, here...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:23 PM on June 22, 2012


The stock market is a bit weird because the things it trades (stocks) have no necessary relation to any actual physical quantity, they're immaterial tokens. Although theoretically a stock gives you a vote in company affairs, and may return dividends, in practice the only thing you can do with a stock is sell it again. They're like trading cards for companies. In contrast, if you buy coal futures (one of those greatly maligned derivatives), you could (if you really wanted) take delivery on your contract and end up with a bunch of real coal.
posted by Pyry at 2:28 PM on June 22, 2012


wait, wait. you're saying that bride prices exist, therefore the market is natural.

I'm with hippybear. I think everyone on this thread has been giving your ideas more of the benefit of the doubt than they warrant.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:35 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want to extent my analogy a bit, now that I have access to a keyboard...

Gravity is a law. Any organism that attempts to raise itself from the earth is using energy, so the most efficient thing to do is to sit on the ground. How is it, then, that Aves, one of earth's most successful classes, managed to become so by opposing such a fundamental law? The answer is twofold:

First, from the bird's perspective, there are dividends paid by "wasting" energy on flight, in terms of escaping predators, accessing resources, etc. It is an investment.

Second, to the extent that life has a purpose, it is to waste energy. The energy that reaches from the earth from the sun (of from its core) and is not radiated or reflected is available to do work. Life does nothing except consume this energy. What would happen if life became "efficient" and used less energy? It would proliferate to consume the excess.

So, what does this have to do with the Market?

Time and time again I see liberals on internet forums getting trolled with smashing success by libertarians who speak about fundamental laws of the Market, and the impossibility of structuring a long-lived, humane society that opposes the natural tendency towards efficiency.

It's a complete non-sequitur.

If earth, or society, were a closed system, an inefficient market would use up resources more quickly than an inefficient one given some outcome. Given two parallel universes, maybe an economy that more efficiently achieves the same ends would be preferable. But the earth is not a closed system and the notion that we should not try to structure a society solely in order to maximize efficiency doesn't follow. As with flight, there are huge dividends to be paid by social organisations that do the kinds of superficially-inefficient things that market-fetishists hate. In fact everyone who lives in any sort of organized society now lives under just such an organization.

So, for example, why shouldn't we have living wage legislation? So what if it's not efficient according to some fundamental law? If we can do it, and we think it's worth it, regardless of how much energy we "waste" keeping it going, why not? Just because some activity requires the input of significant effort doesn't mean it's not worth doing. Just because, should that effort cease the activity would naturally also cease, doesn't mean it's not worth doing.

Opposing fundamental laws of the universe is OK. We do it every time we stand up.
posted by klanawa at 2:37 PM on June 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think a market fundamentalist would argue that if your goal is to ensure that everyone makes a livable income, then directly subsidizing people a the better way to do than enforcing a minimum wage, because the latter introduces more market distortions.
posted by Pyry at 2:48 PM on June 22, 2012


I think the article that this post linked to was a really good read, and caused me to think a lot on the subject of leisure as a goal in life, and even to redefine how I think of leisure.

I did not think the same about the asinine back and forth about the natural laws of the market between otto and whoever would contradict him. What a subtly effective thread derail it was though.
posted by mcstayinskool at 3:05 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


We could all be the 100%!!
posted by shortyJBot at 3:20 PM on June 22, 2012


You know what else can creat huge market distortions, Pyry? Hordes of accumulated capital, but I don't hear libertarians arguing we need policies that discourage generational wealth-hording and massive, market distorting income inequality. No, then it's about the principles at stake--property rights uber alles--forget about the coomon good.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:24 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oops. Obviously, I meant the cumin good (thanks again auto-correct!).
posted by saulgoodman at 4:26 PM on June 22, 2012


Sure. For hundreds of thousands of years, societies have existed by living off of the excess their environment was able to provide. No prices, no markets, no need for anything but cultivating and saving enough food and seed to make it to the next growing season. What could saved was saved, and what was not returned to the earth.

I don't think this is true. I would assume some form of "price" would necessarily exist anytime a trade occurs, and there is evidence of trade going far back in human history over surprisingly long distances.

Wikipedia History of Trade:

Trade originated with the start of communication in prehistoric times. Trading was the main facility of prehistoric people, who bartered goods and services from each other before the innovation of the modern day currency. Peter Watson dates the history of long-distance commerce from circa 150,000 years ago.[3]

There is evidence of the exchange of obsidian and flint during the stone age.

posted by Golden Eternity at 4:53 PM on June 22, 2012


Most of this discussion has been about elasticity. Elasticity affects the relationship between supply, demand and the resulting price. I'll pay any price I must to keep myself and my family from dying of thirst or starving. I won't pay a nickel more per gallon at one gas station than the one across the street is charging. These are very different relationships between supply, demand and price.

I see a lot of libertarians talk about efficiency of the market. The market works best without regulation and so on. I always wonder: works best for whom? If the market was actually transactions between actors of equal standing and took all of the costs of each transaction into account, then maybe I could better evaluate whether that market is good for everyone. However, in the real world, participants are rarely equals and the true costs are not considered.

I'm especially galled by arguments about the peril of the shared commons. Isn't our environment, the very one that so many libertarians insist is doing just fine, a perfect example of the shared commons that is abused by all but maintained by none?
posted by double block and bleed at 5:33 PM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


i think the pricing of public goods (with varying degrees of rivalry and excludability) is probably incommensurate like in the graeber link (that homunculus had but disappeared): "Reasonableness for me is the ability to make compromises between formally incommensurable values, which is exactly that which escapes classic models of rationality. And it's what most of what life is actually about."

viz. Paycheck Fairness and Market Failure

also btw...
We live in an age of combinatorial innovation. There have been other such periods before: In the 19th century, standardized mechanical parts -- wheels, pulleys, belts, and gears -- were combined and recombined to create new innovations. In the 20th century, the components were internal combustion engines, electricity, electronics, and (eventually) microelectronic chips.

Today, a substantial amount of software development on the web involves connecting standardized components in novel ways. The Linux operating system, the Apache web server, the MySQL database, and the Python programming language are prominent examples: the LAMP components that serve as basic building blocks for much of the web. Once your application is developed, the cloud computing model offered by Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and others changes fixed costs for data centers into variable costs for data services, lowering barriers to entry and increasing the pace of innovation.

Just as the mechanical innovations of the 19th century led to dramatic changes in our way of life, the still-evolving computing and communication innovations of the early 21st century will have a profound impact on the world's economy and culture. For example, even the smallest company can now afford a communications and computational infrastructure that would have been the envy of a large corporation 15 years ago. If the late 20th century was the age of the multinational company, the early 21st will be the age of the micromultinational: small companies that operate globally...

The Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been funding autonomous-vehicle research at engineering schools for more than a decade, and that research has produced several highly functional prototypes that are now being commercialized.

Why should cars sit idle for 22 hours a day -- as most do -- when they could be robotic taxis, plugging themselves into an electrical outlet when not needed? Driverless cars could revolutionize transit and housing patterns; with traffic jams a thing of the past, their owners could enjoy an extra hour a day for work, conversation, or entertainment (or maybe just sleep).

And cars are only the beginning. Among other things, cheap robotics will have a huge impact on medicine. Many routine operations can now be conducted by robots, making for less invasive and less error-prone procedures. The technological challenges facing such innovations can be overcome. The real barriers to their deployment are cultural, legal, and regulatory...
The End of Finance As We Know It
Over the past twenty years or so we've seen a remarkable change in the way a lot of business is conducted... their economics completely upturned by the interconnectivity of the internet, cheap, distributed processing power and the power of peer review. Yet this hasn't impacted the financial industry in anything like the way it might have... Now, though, the race is on to disintermediate the middle men: the financial industry is on the cusp of a revolution, and most of the intended victims haven't got a clue that they're already an endangered species.

Disintermediation – the idea that supply chains between producer and consumer can be shrunk to reduce costs and improve responsiveness – has been the mantra of the internet age... One of the miracles of this process is they can provide ways of people signalling feedback... This is the effect of free-market economics writ large: competition between multiple vendors, assessed by customers with their feedback determining popularity and commercial success. Screw your customers and the world will know about it: try and defend yourself using corporate bullshit on Facebook or Twitter and you'll simply fan the flames. But there's one digital industry which is noticeably absent from this revolution: finance.

As Robleh Ali, Andrew Haldane and Paul Nahai-Williamson relate Towards a Common Financial Language the problem is that there is no equivalent of html for financial products. This lack of standardization lies behind the ability of higher cost producers to flog inappropriate product to gullible and behaviorally compromised consumers. This is a market where the Law of One Price doesn't work because it's virtually, and deliberately, impossible to compare like for like... If a financial product has to be defined using a common language format you can't use weasel words to indicate that it's somehow better than the cheaper, more applicable product from just down the road...

As the paper describes, non-standard open network financial products are already out there and working: "With open access to borrower information, held centrally and virtually, there is no reason why end-savers and end-investors cannot connect directly. The banking middle men may in time become the surplus links in the chain..." The future of finance is going to be written in the language of technology.
cf. The Resilience Approach & A Proposal for A New Way to Stabilize the National Economy
posted by kliuless at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


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