great generation or greatest generation?
March 15, 2009 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Now is the time for a less selfish capitalism - "we should stop the worship of money and create a more humane society where the quality of human experience is the criterion... accelerated economic growth is not a goal for which we should make large sacrifices." Lord Layard challenges the orthodoxy; perhaps it's time to rein in the banks and try trickle-up bailouts? btw Richard Layard's 2003 LSE happiness lectures I think were pretty influential in reorienting economics back towards a more 'utility-based' approach in recent years, cf. Giddens on 'third way' politics re: Blair, New Labour and now Brown, viz. "to build tomorrow today..."

...which leads me to obama: third wayist of the hermeneutian order? from one part of his 'Q&A' at the business roundtable [transcript]
I think we have a moral obligation to make sure that, in a country this wealthy, you don’t have single moms not able to send their kids to a doctor because they just can’t afford it, and they don’t have insurance on their job... But having said that, I also just have a very hard-headed analysis about this, which is the path we’re on is unsustainable. If you have six, eight, 10 percent health care inflation every single year, at some point we are all broke... we can’t simply just add on a whole bunch of people to a broken system... because then you’ll just be broke that much faster...

So the cost issue is the thing that we actually think is the big driver in this whole debate... everybody agrees on this theoretically until you start getting into the specifics... resistance is not based on evidence, it’s based on people’s interests. Everybody is kind of dug in. They know that the system doesn’t work, but at least it kind of works for them in one particular aspect. And part of the reason that we did not simply design our own plan and try to jam it down the throats of Congress is we want them to see some of the contradictions in their own positions...

Not everything is going to be implemented now. And this, by the way, goes to a broader issue with respect to our budget... the budget document that we put forward is a 10-year document. We are, like any organization — just like all of yours, we have to do long-term planning even as we’re addressing short-term issues. If we don’t do the long-term planning, then we end up having more short-term issues again and again...

We’re not going to have instant health IT all next year. The same is true on the energy front... But if we don’t start now, if we wait until — to have the debate in 2012, and then suddenly it turns out that oil is at $150 a barrel again, and we say, oh, why is it that we didn’t start thinking about this and making some steps now to figure this out. Well, that’s what Washington does. You guys could not run your business that way. And so the notion that we are doing some long-term planning now and trying to get this town to think long term, that somehow that’s a distraction just defies every sound management practice that I’ve ever heard of.
amartya sen & stephen colbert

previously 1 2
posted by kliuless (14 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
we want them to see some of the contradictions in their own positions...

It is in their own best interest to not understand those contradictions, so good luck with that.
posted by DreamerFi at 9:33 AM on March 15, 2009

Related and along similar lines (discusses the problems of incentive-based systems): Barry Schwartz on our loss of wisdom (at TED).
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:47 AM on March 15, 2009

Ah, I see you had a link to that secreted away under "reorienting." My bad.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:53 AM on March 15, 2009

Capitalism is a racket, and by definition engenders greed and selfishness. This has never really changed. "We" were never wise, and the market is never free.

The only way to reign in capitalism's natural tendency towards excess, its boom-bust cyclical turns and speculative bubbles, is to vigorously implement and enforce new regulations/laws on banking and finance.

That, and to: a) fully investigate corruption, b) temporarily put into receivership any and all companies or financial institutions that receive federal money.
posted by ornate insect at 11:39 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

There can never be a "less selfish" capitalism, but you can have sensible government regulation that keeps it in check.

One regulation I would like to see would be to have large banks that don't do anything particularly risky, and that have tight restrictions on compensation. The reason is, in banking you don't really produce anything, you just move money around, and if you take too much money you've really become more of a parasite then anything.

Like a cell that's gone cancerous. Cells in the pancreas are important and needed to live, but if they grow to fast they become dangerous and can kill you. So maybe that's a good way to think of the banking failure, a necessary part of the economy that grew so large that it basically became a cancer.

Plus I wonder how much of the tasks that bankers do could be replaced with computers. So much of what high end bankers do involves computers, especially in the kind of "low-risk" bank I'd like to see. I think it would be easier to program a computer to accept a specific risk then it would be to tell a banker to do that and then hope they (and their boss) stick with it.

We also need real regulation to prevent bubbles from getting out of hand. That's going to be difficult, but we need to figure out a way to do it.
posted by delmoi at 12:15 PM on March 15, 2009

Oh and another option for dealing with banks: In the "safe" banks, bonuses would be paid based on broad economic health, not profits. So for example, if a bank made a loan that produced 10,000 middle class jobs, they'd get a bigger bonus then those who only managed to create 100 jobs.

Bankers could also be paid based on simple economic metrics so they would all have an incentive to keep things going well overall, not just in their own sphere of interest.

The basic idea is to use the incentive structure to ensure that the interests of the bankers are the same as average Americans.

We should consider using both the carrot and the stick, in other words.
posted by delmoi at 12:19 PM on March 15, 2009

The starting point is that, despite massive wealth creation, happiness has not risen since the 1950s in the US or Britain

As the Great Philosopher McCartney said, "Money can't buy me love."

'moonMan and I had an interesting conversation about "new capitalism" on Friday night. We were walking home through downtown Boston after watching a movie and noticed that for a Friday, there was just about NO ONE on the streets. We both commented that this is because no one has any money anymore.

Usually, he's the cynical one, especially when economics and politics are concerned, but he started waxing about how this economic decline might be awesome in that it could get people to reign in greed and start caring about things that actually matter. He really sounded like me there for a minute, thinking that people just might climb on board the magic bus. Someone had to do it, so I took up the more cynical/realist perspective that people aren't going to change their greedy habits unless it's actively encouraged by society, and society still wants us to all go BUY BUY BUY! The economic downfall is awesome because everything is ON SALE!

Don't get me wrong, if the revolution comes, I'll definitely be rounding up recruits for the magic bus, but I just don't see it happening. Maybe things haven't gotten bad enough or maybe we're just too entrenched in materialism, but something needs to change socially, not just economically, for us to give up on money as an end in and of itself.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:29 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Less selfish" is possible. Selfishness has been given a bad name by the actions of the "greed is good" capitalists, but the fact remains that self-interest is a great motivator for hard work, innovation, risk-taking and many other positive human traits.
The problem is that self-interest has been allowed to be narrowly defined as "I've got mine so fuck the rest", to the point where too many can't see that socially progressive ideas like improving education, minimizing poverty and homelessness, and improving access to health care is actually in everyone's self-interest - even the rich and the corporations.
Government's role is to enhance that altruistic connectedness, and in cases where it is weakened, to strengthen is through regulation and subtle redistribution mechanisms. They will also need to properly explain the motivations behind their actions so that opponents can see how these programs will, even indirectly, benefit them personally; and not scream "socialism" every time we try to raise the floor.
posted by rocket88 at 12:42 PM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Larry Summers talked the other day about how the twin engines of the system are greed on one hand and fear on the other. We whipsaw from one extreme to the other. It was not a revelation, but it was revelatory hearing one of their own actually admit it.

I ain't holding my breath, though. We're talking about humans, after all.
posted by Camofrog at 3:18 PM on March 15, 2009

grapefruitmoon: Maybe things haven't gotten bad enough or maybe we're just too entrenched in materialism, but something needs to change socially, not just economically, for us to give up on money as an end in and of itself.

This is exactly what I have been trying to say for some time. As i said in another post on another thread, we need to take responsibility for ourselves as individuals, and not buy into the concept of always keeping up with the Joneses. Every day we and our kids are assaulted by images and ideas of a "better life". Why is it that we need all of this excess stuff that we have? A personal example: I missed a payment on my electric bill over last summer and had to go two days without power. I survived. It made me think of a time when people did not have electricity, and they just lived. They survived. I realize it is not that simple, but we have to look at this as a bigger picture. We take so much for granted in this modern life. Boil it down to basic needs that we all have in our homes, and look at it that way.

Now, I understand that electricity is something that we as an industrialized nation, assume is a right, rather than a privilege. However, when that is taken away, people can still survive. But my point is that we can live without electricity for a couple of days, then we can certainly live without our BlackBerrys, our microwave ovens, our digital cable television, our 25 pairs of shoes, our iPods, our cars, etc. I think we need to change the way we LOOK at our daily lives. GFM uses the right word: entrenched.

I try to live my life as if all of these luxuries will be gone tomorrow. Would I survive? Yes, I believe I would. It wouldn't be pretty, but I know I would.

Again, JMO.
posted by mnb64 at 5:44 PM on March 15, 2009

And one more thought: we need to entrench our children in this. They must understand the basic concepts of living with respect for others, helping those who cannot help themselves, truly grasping the idea that we could lose all of this tomorrow. I'm not suggesting that we make them fearful, but to make them understand just how fortunate they really are, on a global plane.
posted by mnb64 at 5:50 PM on March 15, 2009

I tend to think things will have to get worse, a lot worse, before fundamental systemic change would occur rapidly. I I doubt we will see that soon. The changes Obama et al may make could be an adequate starting point if we had long term leadership that continued to think this way. Which is a weakness of our democracy, for all the benefits it gives us, it is a poor system for dealing with long term (think decades+) problems. It is poor because any long term problem requires some continuity of care and enough painful decisions that any politician that advocates for them will eventual lose an election as the electorate gets tired of needed reform, preferring the short-term bliss and ignorance. Eventually some drastic short term change will have to be implemented rather than gradual long term sea-changes (in the true sense of the word) that could smooth out society shattering ramifications.

But, as I said above, I don't think we are there quite yet.

(imagine what those who experienced the Depression thought the fate of the US was going to be?)
posted by edgeways at 6:07 PM on March 15, 2009

This post and its attendant links basically encapsulates my entire view of modern civilization. Thank you.
posted by sfts2 at 1:12 PM on March 16, 2009

« Older Verminology   |   The African-American Migration Experience Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments