Is Economics Destroying the World?

George Mason University English professor Robert Nadeau has a silly article in Scientific American in which he "proves" that economics is not a "science." Amusingly, Nadeau seems blissfully unaware of the fact that his preferred "science," i.e., ecology, is rife with metaphors stolen borrowed from economics, beginning with Darwin's use of Malthus in formulating the theory of natural selection. Darwin, in his Autobiography wrote:

In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement 'Malthus on Population,' and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work...

As it turns out, Malthus's description fit the natural world, but failed when it came to describing the activities of human beings.

In 1992, at the first Earth Summit in Brazil, I listened to environmentalist dim bulb, Hazel Henderson, declare to a crowd of activists that "economics is brain damage." Henderson went on to suggest to the hooting and hollering delight of the crowd that all economists be rounded up and put into re-education camps.

Another idea adopted by ecologists from economics is the tragedy of the commons. The concept was made famous in ecologist Garrett Hardin's 1968 article of the same name. But Hardin did not originate the concept-it goes all the way back to Thucydides. One modern economic formulation of the concept appeared in the 1949 treatise Human Action, by economist Ludwig von Mises, where he described the tragedy of the commons (and I maintain that all environmental problems occur in open access commons) in this way:

If land is not owned by anybody, although legal formalism may call it public property, it is used without any regard to the disadvantages resulting. Those who are in a position to appropriate to themselves the returns — lumber and game of the forests, fish of the water areas, and mineral deposits of the subsoil — do not bother about the later effects of their mode of exploitation. For them, erosion of the soil, depletion of the exhaustible resources and other impairments of the future utilization are external costs not entering into their calculation of input and output. They cut down trees without any regard for fresh shoots or reforestation. In hunting and fishing, they do not shrink from methods preventing the repopulation of the hunting and fishing grounds.

Of course, economics can and should be critiqued - that's how errors are corrected and new discoveries made. Nadeau's biggest error is that he fails to understand that economics is a positive sum game, not the negative sum evolutionary game played by most other creatures. In other words, Nadeau, like most ecologists, is still stuck with economic ideas that are over two centuries out of date. We now know that most of the human economy is in fact intangible.

In any case, I invite you to take a look at Nadeau's "critiques." From the article:

  • The market system is a closed circular flow between production and consumption, with no inlets or outlets.
  • Natural resources exist in a domain that is separate and distinct from a closed market system, and the economic value of these resources can be determined only by the dynamics that operate within this system.
  • The costs of damage to the external natural environment by economic activities must be treated as costs that lie outside the closed market system or as costs that cannot be included in the pricing mechanisms that operate within the system.
  • The external resources of nature are largely inexhaustible, and those that are not can be replaced by other resources or by technologies that minimize the use of the exhaustible resources or that rely on other resources.
  • There are no biophysical limits to the growth of market systems.

All of the above statements are false, or misleadingly incomplete at best. On the basis of them, Nadeau goes on to assert:

If the environmental crisis did not exist, the fact that neoclassical economic theory provides a coherent basis for managing economic activities in market systems could be viewed as sufficient justification for its widespread applications. But because the crisis does exist, this theory can no longer be regarded as useful even in pragmatic or utilitarian terms because it fails to meet what must now be viewed as a fundamental requirement of any economic theory—the extent to which this theory allows economic activities to be coordinated in environmentally responsible ways on a worldwide scale. Because neoclassical economics does not even acknowledge the costs of environmental problems and the limits to economic growth, it constitutes one of the greatest barriers to combating climate change and other threats to the planet. It is imperative that economists devise new theories that will take all the realities of our global system into account.

For some real information on economics see Stanford University economist Paul Romer's excellent article on economic growth. For my non-technical take on the alleged limits to growth see my article The Law of Increasing Returns. As for Nadeau, I hope that he will some day soon walk across campus and talk to some his colleagues at George Mason's excellent economics department.

Hat tip: Charles Masoner

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  • ||

    Ah, yes. When I want to know if a given discipline is a "science" or not, I always go straight to the English Department.

  • Peter||

    "Henderson went on to suggest to the hooting and hollering delight of the crowd that all economists be rounded up and put into re-education camps."

    And so it goes.

  • ||

    He's such an English professor!
    Why did anybody listen to him and print his article?
    Seriously, people need to take more philosophy classes before they go all ape shit all over the place.

  • Al Gore||

    The only true science is global warming.

  • ||

    A friend of my wife's recently related a story to me about a geology class he took as a senior in college. The professor, a tenured fossilized flower child, took them on a field trip, had the class pick up rocks, and then proceeded to "charge" the rocks with psychic energy in some kind of weird ceremony; the rocks would then, according to the professor, "talk" to the students.

    There are loons in the science department, too. :P

  • ||

    Damn, that's some scary shit.

    Even so, I'm not inclined to stick up for economists. None other than the late great Richard Feynman said, "There's only three things you need to know about economics:
    1. When prices go up, people buy less.
    2. People who sell things set prices to maximize their profit.
    3. Economists know very little

  • ed||

    You had me at the cartoon.

  • TallDave||

    Ronald, your shilling for Big Econ is just shameless.

    Why, I bet you used a free market several times just this week! Where is the disclosure??

  • J sub D||

    George Mason University English professor Robert Nadeau has a silly article in Scientific American in which he "proves" that economics is not a "science."


    Guffaw. Now I have to go RTFA.

  • Episiarch||

    it fails to meet what must now be viewed as a fundamental requirement of any economic theory-the extent to which this theory allows economic activities to be coordinated in environmentally responsible ways on a worldwide scale

    Huh? Whaaa? How does current economic theory not allow for environmental economic activity? It allows for Al Gore to make a shitload of money, right?

  • nobody special||

    Economics doesn't kill poeple.

    Economists kill people.

  • ||

    I can't even count the number of times I've heard people imply that classical or free-market or laissez-faire or whathaveyou economics means that as a consumer you are required to buy the cheapest version of a product you can find no matter what the social/environmental/human costs of producing it were, and that proponents of whatever economic system somehow think that by exhibiting THIS behavior we'll achieve the most desirable results.
    Freelz people, get a GRIP already!

  • Elemenope||

    The cartoon is friggin' great, but to go so far as to call Economics a science is pushing it.

    It's definitely an analytical discipline (at least in theory), and they do try to be rigorous, but to say there that in Economics there are testable statements with experimental models that control sufficiently for data noise would be wishful thinking.

  • ||

    I couldn't care less if economics is considered 'science' or not. It certainly isn't invalid no matter where it's taught on campus.
    If this guy's point is to diminish the importance of economics, then I'll go ahead and call him a dumbass. Judging by how economically ignorant many of our leaders are in this country, I'd say our education system needs to provide more focus on economics, not less.

  • ||

    We need less economics in our public schools! It's making me and my policies look stupid!

  • ||

    But because the crisis does exist, this theory can no longer be regarded as useful even in pragmatic or utilitarian terms because it fails to meet what must now be viewed as a fundamental requirement of any economic theory-the extent to which this theory allows economic activities to be coordinated in environmentally responsible ways on a worldwide scale.



    Correct me if I'm wrong, but is Nadeau saying "Since we have global warming, the theory that says command economies don't work must be discarded... so that we can have command economies that work?"

  • Fluffy||

    I think the definition of "science" has been perverted somewhat by positivist philosophy. At this point, the only science I can think of that completely fits into the "hypothesis, experiment" model is physics.

    Geology, biology, and the rest of the disciplines derided as "stamp collecting" by physicists don't really lend themselves perfectly to that model at all.

    A definition of "science" that only covers a tiny segment of the activities of scientists doesn't seem like a very useful definition.

  • ||

    Today on Hit & Run, we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange feeling we sometimes get that we've lived through something before.

  • Fluffy||

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but is Nadeau saying "Since we have global warming, the theory that says command economies don't work must be discarded... so that we can have command economies that work?"

    I think what he's saying is, "Command economies were judged to be failures because they did not perform as well as free economies. But the environmental crisis shows us that we should not judge economies based on their production of wealth, but rather by whether they provide sufficient opportunity to stomp out production in the name of helping the environment."

    Or, in an even shorter version: "Since we don't actually want production but want production to end, we should rank economic theories based on how poorly they produce and not how well."

  • ||

    PL: Caught me. :-) But I do think the cartoon is appropriate for this topic.

  • ||

    The driving force behind economics is personal choice. This guy's main problem with economics seems to be that it does not automatically take into account the needs of the environment. That doesn't mean the market isn't incapable of benefiting the natural environment, just that the tendency isn't built in. So instead of damning the economy because it isn't exactly what he wishes it was, why doesn't he just work to manipulate the market by directly working on it's main force (personal choice). If you convince enough people to take your pet cause into account when they make personal choices, than the economy could do what you want it to.

  • ||

    Jake Boon,
    You are wrong. What he's saying is, "I'm a communist. The free market is incompatible with communism. Therefor all free market theories of economics must be discarded because... Global warming!"

  • ||

    e

  • Dave B.||

    Fluffy-

    You obviously don't know much about chemistry and biology if you think physicists are the only people testing hypotheses with experiments. And if economists and psychologists aren't testing hypotheses with experiments, why do they keep paying undergrads to humiliate themselves?

  • Elemenope||

    I think the definition of "science" has been perverted somewhat by positivist philosophy.

    Certainly in the popular mind, but none of the Philosophers of Science I can think of that anyone still takes seriously (Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend, and probably Chalmers and Putnam) are positivists.

  • ed||

    Ah, yes. When I want to know if a given discipline is a "science" or not, I always go straight to the English Department.

    That English Department could have advised you, R C, that "or not" is superfluous.

  • Zeb||

    The cartoon leaves out: "We are covered in shit, we starve for half of the year and we think disease is caused by evil spirits".

  • ||

    Ron,

    I hope you disclosed your previous relationship with this cartoon. Tsk, tsk.

    It's funny and apropos, so I forgive you for making me do a violent double take ☺

  • ||

    Pinette -
    I think you've just about got it right. I agree with your assessment of how to work the free market economy (again, something we don't have) to benefit the environment.

    I think he's confusing the study of economics with economic policy. A study of economics, for example, cannot automatically make a system that takes environmental costs into account unless it creates a set of policies.

    Also, do people not understand that when they put emotionally charged, ignorant statements into published articles that they look stupid?

  • Brandybuck||

    One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Austrian School of economics, is its methodology which specifically rejects scientific positivism. Which is to say, they don't try to make it a science. While I don't wholly agree with them on this, they do hit upon an important truth.

    Contrast this to the neoclassicists, who obsess with mathematics to the point of ignoring human action. They want to make economics a hard science like physics, yet they end up making econ nothing more than sociology with calculus.

    Economics is a science in that it is an attempt to explain something by testing theories arrived at through observation. But it is a "soft" science. It's folly to try to distill human action down to a rigid formula.

  • ||

    It is imperative that economists devise new theories that will take all the realities of our global system into account make me look like I know what I'm talking about.

  • ||

    should read

    "Also, do people not understand that they look stupid when they put emotionally charged, ignorant statements into published articles?"

  • ||

    I think the definition of "science" has been perverted somewhat by positivist philosophy. At this point, the only science I can think of that completely fits into the "hypothesis, experiment" model is physics.

    Really, Fluffy? I think Gregor Mendel would beg to differ.

  • alan||

    Zeb | April 11, 2008, 1:24pm | #
    The cartoon leaves out: "We are covered in shit, we starve for half of the year and we think disease is caused by evil spirits".


    Superstitious* cave dwellers, sounds like they have more in common with environmentalist than would appear at first glance.

    (Cloned live stock, genetically altered produce, food irradiation, nuclear power, Gaea, etc.)

  • Brandybuck||

    I think he's confusing the study of economics with economic policy.



    Of course he is, he's an English professor! As such it is nearly impossible for him to conceive of objective value-free scholarship.

  • Rimfax||

    Uh, doesn't the command economy of the Soviet Union disprove the assumption that command economies are good for the environment? Isn't Lake Baikal, the largest lake in the world by volume, polluted far worse than the Great Lakes ever were, thanks to a command economy?


    Isn't there some kind of virtual medal we can give to PL for pulling that cartoon out of the memory hole like that? That was excellent.

  • ||

    I accept Visa and Mastercard.

  • ||

    Today on Hit & Run, we examine the phenomenon of déjà vu, that strange feeling we sometimes get that we've lived through something before.



    But, is it actually déjà vu if you actually have lived through that thing before?

  • ||

    The idea that a command economy would be better for the environment hangs one flawed assumption: that the needs of the environment would remain high on the list of priorities/interest of the government, or whatever centralized controlling body was in place. This is assumption is completely retarded. Nadueu likely envisions himself as the sole 'decider' in his hypothetical ideal economy. The reason free markets work better isn't because the personal choices of individuals are always perfect or correct, but because of positive tendencies that occur when you have millions of individuals making personal choices. Their priorities compounded are better than the priorities of any bureaucracy.

  • ||

    Uh, doesn't the command economy of the Soviet Union disprove the assumption that command economies are good for the environment?

    But it wasn't the right KIND of command economy! Besides, we don't want a command economy, we want "smart management" of the economy so that everyone's "needs" are taken into account! If only we had the right people in charge...

  • ||

    Something's not right here. We have no environmental regulations, no taxes, no Social Security, and we still lose half the tribe to famine every few years.

  • ||

    Seems to me that just about everyone who says, "the market has failed" is actually saying, "the market has produced a result that makes me unhappy."

  • ||

    I'm surprised to hear (assuming it's true) Bailey's statement about the 1992 Earth Summmit, since that was where the concept of "sustainable development" was popularized.

    Sustainable development is the idea that environmental protection requires economic development, just as economic development requires a healthy ecosystem. This idea basically refuted and replaces the misleading "Pollution = Wealth X Population X Technology" concept that had previously driven environmental thought.

  • ||

    Whereas everyone who says "the market has worked" is saying "the market has produced an outcome that makes me happy."

    so?

  • Elemenope||

    I think Gregor Mendel would beg to differ.

    Yeah, but like Kepler, he cheated, so he doesn't count.

  • MattXIV||

    That was quite simply the most stupid and uninformed article about anything I've read in a LONG time. This guy's grasp of econ makes Young Earth Creationists' grasp of evolutionary biology look enviable.

  • Al Gore||

    But it wasn't the right KIND of command economy!

    Of course, because I wasn't in command. Any fool can see that.

    I have a Nobel Peace Prize for making peace by, um, talking about global warming. Or something. Anyway, you lesser peons must all do as I command now.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Seems to me that just about everyone who says, "the market has failed" is actually saying, "the market has produced a result that makes me unhappy."



    I'm not sleeping with Jeri Ryan.

    Market Failure!! I demand legislation!

  • Zeb||

    Rimfax | April 11, 2008, 1:38pm | #
    Uh, doesn't the command economy of the Soviet Union disprove the assumption that command economies are good for the environment?

    No that only proves that not command economies CAN be bad for the environment.

  • ||

    Geology, biology, and the rest of the disciplines derided as "stamp collecting" by physicists
    sputter...#$%&! sputter...
    stamp collectors!!! I didn't memorize 900 genera of beetles to be called a stamp collector... go down to the species level and there are far more types of beetles than stamps! and beetlemania, er, beetleology is a science... and valuable too!
    And string theory is WORSE than wrong

  • Jeri Ryan||

    I must submit myself to BakedPenguin, for the good of the collective.

    Command me, master.

  • Deja joe||

    I don't get it. There are no environmental regulations, no zoning regulations, no subsidized industries, no anti-poverty programs, no Social Security, and yet I'm squatting on a dirt floor and my teeth are rotting.

  • ||

    Anyone else notice how he totally admitted to the backdoor socialism of global warming?

  • robc||

    joe,

    Whereas everyone who says "the market has worked" is saying "the market has produced an outcome that makes me happy."

    Nope. When I say "the market has worked", I am saying "a result occurred."

  • ||

    I knew that Scientific American had gone downhill in recent years (e.g. their treatment of Bjørn Lomborg), but this is pretty embarrassing.

  • Jeri Ryan||

    Whereas everyone who says "the market has worked" is saying "the market has produced an outcome that makes me happy."

    People seem a lot happier in South Korea than in North Korea.

  • MattXIV||

    I also take issue with that dumbass comic. Average life expectancies were lower because people tended to die as children or adolescents. It was never particualarly uncommon for people to live to a fairly old age if they managed to avoid or survive infectious diseases when young - people in their late 20s probably had the lowest mortality rate of any age group in early societies.

  • Jack Ryan||

    I'm not sleeping with Jeri Ryan.

    Market Failure!! I demand legislation!


    Its not a big deal. She wont screw you in public anyway.

  • ||

    Good for you, robc.

    There are actually people around here who think that "it happened because of market forces" carries a moral significance!

  • kinnath||

    "Science" is not just the "scientific method" for controlled experiments.

    The issue with psychology, sociology, economics, etc (i.e., the "soft" sciences) is that it really hard to run a controlled experiment involving "free-agents".

  • Paul||

    Ah, yes. When I want to know if a given discipline is a "science" or not, I always go straight to the English Department.

    That's funny, I always consult an acupuncturist.

  • Fluffy||

    Uh, guys, I didn't say it was impossible to contrive experiments for some portions of any of these other disciplines.

    I merely said they don't fit the model in the sort of near-perfect way that physics does.

    You can't experiment to verify plate tectonics in the same way you can experiment to verify Einstein's claims about gravity bending light.

    And I think it exaggerates the dignity of the polls taken by econ and psych grad students to call them "experiments", don't you think?

  • Michael Ejercito||

    This guy's main problem with economics seems to be that it does not automatically take into account the needs of the environment.


    What does the environment need?

    The world environment has ranged from an iceball to a tropical forest pole to pole.

  • ||

    I knew that Scientific American had gone downhill in recent years (e.g. their treatment of Bjørn Lomborg), but this is pretty embarrassing.

    RECENT years?
    It also published this:

    "Marihuana produces a wide variety of symptoms in the user, including hilarity, swooning, and sexual excitement ... it often makes the smoker vicious, with a desire to fight and kill."

    --Scientific American - Magazine (1936)

  • Michael Ejercito||

    This guy's grasp of econ makes Young Earth Creationists' grasp of evolutionary biology look enviable.


    It is on par with what Ernst Zundel says and writes about the Holocaust.

  • Elemenope||

    Anyone else notice how he totally admitted to the backdoor socialism of global warming?

    Um, there isn't much back-door about "it's everybody's fucking problem", is there?

    Wait, before we continue, can you tell me which of the H&R community's ever-shifting definitions of socialism we are using today?

  • Fluffy||

    There are actually people around here who think that "it happened because of market forces" carries a moral significance!

    Well, to the extent that "it happened because of market forces" is merely a shorthand way of saying, "that was the outcome that emerged from millions of individuals making personal choices about deploying their own resources", it does in fact carry a moral significance if you think that allowing those millions of individuals to make personal choices is good, or if you accept the notion that they are in fact deploying resources that are rightfully their own.

  • Paul||

    but to say there that in Economics there are testable statements with experimental models that control sufficiently for data noise would be wishful thinking.

    Right, like climatology. That's why, like economists, climatologists use models.

  • robc||

    joe,

    Im not even sure I know what the phrase "moral significance" means. You can have all kinds of fun interpreting that.

  • John McCain||

    I am not a Cylon.

  • John McCain||

    Gooks taste like chicken.

  • Paul||

    tell me which of the H&R community's ever-shifting definitions of socialism we are using today?

    The same one.

  • ||

    I daresay it's the socialists, not the libertarians, who are constantly redefining "socialism."

  • Episiarch||

    Sometimes an English Professor is actually as dumb as one normally (albeit unfairly) assumes English Professors are.

  • ||

    The whole thing was probably just a way to get back at Tyler Cowen after Cowen slammed his tandoori chicken at a recent faculty pot luck.

    Yes, I read too much Marginal Revolution.

  • ||

    Im not even sure I know what the phrase "moral significance" means.

    That line is like something a liberal would write while parodying libertarians.

  • ||

    I daresay it's the socialists, not the libertarians, who are constantly redefining "socialism."

    Really? Because once upon a time, the ideas in Smith's "Theory of Moral Sentiments" were defined as the opposite of socialism, and now I see libertarians attack such concepts as "society should provide everyone with an education" and "society has an obligation to protect the poor and weak" as socialism.

    I'm pretty sure it wasn't the socialists who did that.

  • ChicagoTom||

    What a stupid cartoon.

    It's dumb and dishonest on so many levels.

    Most people who believe in the health benefits of clean water and organic foods aren't anti-science or medicine. Nor do they refuse to take anti-biotics when sick or use a lot of other things that have increased our life spans that have absolutely nothing to do with creating a larger, redder, insect resistant, genetically modified tomatoe.

    But feel free to applaud attacks on strawmen.

  • ||

    Joe, I do indeed feel that minimizing the size and power of government is a moral imperative. Free markets, however imperfect they may be, are preferable to me for this very reason. That is why I believe outcomes caused by market forces have moral significance.

  • Taktix®||

    Speaking of science/non-science, that bullshit Intelligent Design movie is coming out in a week.

    Also, it's disappointing to get to the end of this thread without seeing a single mention of Pinochet, seeing as the thread involves violence and economists.

    Shame...

  • ||

    Using some arbitrary definitions, if you had to pick between the following terms to define where you stand, which would you pick?

    * Socialist - a proponent of a theory or system of social reform which contemplates a complete reconstruction of society, with a more just and equitable distribution of property and labor.

    * Capitalist - a proponent of an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.



    Capitalist.

  • Elemenope||

    joe -

    Like Christianity and socialism before it, capitalism has wisely shed all textual constraints and become whatever its followers want it to be.

    ChicagoTom-

    I'm pretty sure the cartoon was lampooning people who believe that utopia will naturally and sufficiently result from those things, or that the cost of achieving them (economically, socially, etc.) will be minimal. That *deserves* to be mocked.

  • John McCain||

    Will someone please turn off that damned music?!?

  • ||

    Whereas everyone who says "the market has worked" is saying "the market has produced an outcome that makes me happy."



    Actually, joe, I don't know many who would say that. However to answere you criticicism perhaps my comment should have been worded thus:

    Seems to me that just about everyone who says, "the market has failed" is actually saying, "other people do things that make me unhappy."



    As Fluffy notes at 2:10pm, "..."it happened because of market forces" is merely a shorthand way of saying, "that was the outcome that emerged from millions of individuals making personal choices about deploying their own resources",..."

    In that post he explains just about as well as anyone I have ever seen what the market is.

    That's right, joe, I'm fairly sure that noone here actually thinks the market is some mystical being with supernatural powers.

  • robc||

    joe,

    That line is like something a liberal would write while parodying libertarians.

    I was right! You were capable of having fun with that line.

  • ||

    It's folly to try to distill human action down to a rigid formula.

    Is that what game theory tries to do?

  • Mike Laursen||

    Wow, there couldn't be two academic disciplines more similar than Ecology and Economics. They're both studies of complex systems. They're not even separate subjects when you think about it. He can call them sciences or not, but he should be consistent.

    Economics is traditionally focused on human activity, while Ecology takes all biological activity into account. That difference can legitimately be mined for some valid criticisms of traditional Economics, as Bailey points out.

  • ||

    Pinette,

    B does not follow A in your reasoning. Because the government was not involved, it is good for little Susie to go hungry. That is nonsensical, even if you do accept the proposition "It is moral to minimize government."

    Pro Libertate,

    I pick Capitalist. I neither desire the complete restructuring of society, nor the govenrment ownership of the means of production. I support "an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations." The fact that the variety of capitalism I support is defined by some as "socialism" demonstrates the degree to which that definition has beeh changed - and not by socialists, either.

    Ah, Issac, straw is fun to play in, isn't it? Mystical powers? That's so cute.

    Back in the real world, libertarians follow up "that was the outcome that emerged from millions of individuals making personal choices about deploying their own resources" with "and is therefore optimal, and any result brought about through collective action is suboptimal.

  • kinnath||

    * Capitalist - a proponent of an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations, esp. as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

    A progressive can (and frequently does) look at this definition and say that a heavily regulated economy is still a capitalistic system.

    Heavy regulation is not socialism, even though it is highly undesirable.

  • ||

    Anyway, I've had my say, and won't jack the thread anymore.

  • robc||

    joe,

    How is it not optimal?

    Any result the collective chooses that isnt what I choose is, by defintion, suboptimal.

  • kinnath||

    Amazing what joe was posting while I was busy typing ;-)

  • John McCain||

    You know, sometimes I think you got icewater in those veins and other times I think you're just a naive little schoolteacher. I've sent men on suicide missions in two different wars now and let me tell you something. It don't make a gods damn bit of difference whether they're riding in a Viper or walking out onto a parade ground. In the end, they're just as dead. So take your piety and your moralizing and your high minded principles and stick 'em someplace safe until you're off this rock and sitting in your nice comfy chair on Colonial One again.

  • ||

    Back in the real world, libertarians follow up "that was the outcome that emerged from millions of individuals making personal choices about deploying their own resources" with "and is therefore optimal, and any result brought about through collective action is suboptimal.

    I don't think it's constructive to take a collectivist mindset and defend all libertarians against your statement, but as it was stated above, it is optimal in that it was arrived at by free people making free choices. A collective action is only automatically suboptimal when it is coercive. If you're talking about the results of the actions and whether or not they are optimal or suboptimal, file it under "the ends don't justify the means."

  • ||

    ChicagoTom | April 11, 2008, 2:27pm | #
    What a stupid cartoon.

    It's dumb and dishonest on so many levels.

    Most people who believe in the health benefits of clean water and organic foods aren't anti-science or medicine. Nor do they refuse to take anti-biotics when sick or use a lot of other things that have increased our life spans that have absolutely nothing to do with creating a larger, redder, insect resistant, genetically modified tomatoe.

    But feel free to applaud attacks on strawmen.


    Uhmmm...

    that wasn't me. Who is this other ChicagoTom ?

  • kinnath||

    Because the government was not involved, it is good for little Susie to go hungry.

    Just because it bad that little Susie is hungry, that does not mean that the "government" is the only or the best means of rectifying the situation.

  • ||

    A progressive can (and frequently does) look at this definition and say that a heavily regulated economy is still a capitalistic system.

    As could a corporatist, or a Latin American aristocrat.

    We own the land and everything, because we are the smartest and best. Decisions about economic activity should be made by us.

  • ||

    back up:
    If you're talking about the results of the actions and whether or not they are optimal or suboptimal, it could go either way.

    File the first part under "the ends don't justify the means."

  • ||

    Excellent choice, joe, but I'm an arch-capitalist. I was told so by a guy who assured me that Quadafi was running a pure anarchist utopia. This was in college back in the mid-80s. Ah, young love.

    kinnath,

    I deem it "regulatory socialism" and say be done with it. Ownership remains in the hands of private individuals, but control is in the hands of the government. It's one thing to say that selling cyanide to people for consumption is wrong; it's quite another to issue so many laws and regulations that the regulatory framework is an integral part of living or of doing business.

  • ||

    robc,

    How is it not optimal? See litte Susie.

    Any result the collective chooses that isnt what I choose is, by defintion, suboptimal. Your desires are not the measure of the world.

    Reinmoose,

    it is optimal in that it was arrived at by free people making free choices. A collective action is only automatically suboptimal when it is coercive. Only if you treat "did the guy with the money get to do what he felt like" as the only variable to be optimized.

    kinnath,

    Just because it bad that little Susie is hungry, that does not mean that the "government" is the only or the best means of rectifying the situation. Quite so. The pragmatic argument for libertarianism is several degrees of magnitude stronger than the moral argument. The problem (for libertarians) is that it is not always controlling; ie, sometimes getting the government involved actually would produce objectively better outcomes.

  • Paul||

    Most people who believe in the health benefits of clean water and organic foods aren't anti-science or medicine. Nor do they refuse to take anti-biotics when sick or use a lot of other things that have increased our life spans

    That's not entirely true, [fake] ChicagoTom. The world is chock full of people who would declare themselves "environmentalists" (demanding basic things such as 'clean air and clean water') but yet be completely anti-science in many other areas.

  • ||

    Isn't regulatory capitalism not really capitalism because it suggests that liabilities are privatized while individual decisions about what to do with your property are socialized? Although, now we're getting to a point where liabilities are more and more socialized (bailouts, etc.). How exactly can this still be considered capitalism?

  • kinnath||

    A progressive can (and frequently does) look at this definition and say that a heavily regulated economy is still a capitalistic system.

    As could a corporatist, or a Latin American aristocrat.

    We own the land and everything, because we are the smartest and best. Decisions about economic activity should be made by us.


    Must the allergy drugs and the foggy brain right now, but this doesn't make a lick of sense to me.

    How does an aristocracy equate to government regulation?

  • ||

    Reinmoose,

    "The guy with the money didn't get to do what he wanted" is an ends-defined argument, too. In this case, you are treating the end of maximizing economic actors' choice as the one to be maximized, and use that to justify certain means, such as lowering taxes and getting rid of Little Susie's school lunch.

  • Paul||

    sometimes getting the government involved actually would produce objectively better outcomes.

    I think joe, that the core disagreement is that 'sometimes' to some people means 'almost all the time', and sometimes to libertarians means 'almost never'. Hijinks ensue.

  • ||

    objectively better outcomes

    I call "no such thing" on that one.

  • ||

    "The guy with the money didn't get to do what he wanted" is an ends-defined argument, too. In this case, you are treating the end of maximizing economic actors' choice as the one to be maximized, and use that to justify certain means, such as lowering taxes and getting rid of Little Susie's school lunch.

    BZZZZZZZZZZZ!
    Try again

  • ||

    Pro Libertate, I've read a great deal of your comments over the years, I can say that you are both a capitalist, and arch.

    Ownership remains in the hands of private individuals, but control is in the hands of the government. It's one thing to say that selling cyanide to people for consumption is wrong; it's quite another to issue so many laws and regulations that the regulatory framework is an integral part of living or of doing business.

    Isn't this a continuum? What if you just issue enough regulations that selling cyanide for consumption is not only illegal, but difficult, and yet not so many as to create a situation where the regulatory framework is an integral part of living or of doing business?

  • kinnath||

    ie, sometimes getting the government involved actually would produce objectively better outcomes.

    Early in my when I was married with kids and unemployed, I had more that one interaction with government provided assistance. There is nothing that the government does better than a motivated private entity when it comes to providing assistance.

    One can argue that government assistance is necessary because the bulk of the population are selfish bastards, so the only way to cover the need is through force (I don't buy that).

    But don't give me any bullshit about the government doing anything well other than leveling buildings in war zone.

  • ||

    kinnath,

    How does an aristocracy equate to government regulation? By putting the power to regulate in the hands of the owners of property.

    Reinmoose,

    Once again, your feelings are not the measure of all things. Certainly not of the validity of my argument. Are you going to try to point out a logical flaw or incorrection assumption, or just stick with "BZZZZZZZZZT?"

  • ||

    kinnath,

    There is nothing that the government does better than a motivated private entity when it comes to providing assistance.

    Yes, but it's that "motivates" part that's the rub. When talking about economic activity, most people can be counted on to be motivated to pursue their self-interest, not the common good or the interests of others (unless that, too, serves their self interest) most of the time, with most of their money.

    Let me put it this way; I absolutely believe that Halliburton can do a more efficient job of strip-mining Yellowstone than the government can do of protecting it.

  • ||

    What argument? You didn't even make sense. I can point everything out to you all the flaws in your statement, or I could not waste my time. You should know what the problems with that statement are, and if you don't, it's not worth discussing.

  • TallDave||

    B does not follow A in your reasoning. Because the government was not involved, it is good for little Susie to go hungry. That is nonsensical, even if you do accept the proposition "It is moral to minimize government."

    That assumes Susie will go hungry in the absence of gov't aid. In fact, there are likely all kinds of private charities to help Susie.

    One could argue that by seizing wealth from the productive and inefficiently distributing it, government will actually reduce the amount of aid Susie gets, by reducing the incentive to produce and waste/corruption.

  • kinnath||

    How does an aristocracy equate to government regulation? By putting the power to regulate in the hands of the owners of property.

    If you are arguing that wealth allows people to influence the direction of government and thereore "regulate by proxy", then I agree. The solution to that is to limit the regulatory power of government.

    If you mean that property owners can determine what happens on their property, then you are talking about fundamental property rights.

  • ||

    joe, I archly state that it is, in fact, a continuum. Where I am on that continuum and where you are appear to be different places, though I imagine we're close together in the eyes of many fuhrriners. Just goes to show how confused they often are about Americans.

    When regulation steers into de facto control, I generally am unhappy. We hear a lot about unfunded mandates and the like, which I think is one aspect of this problem.

  • robc||

    joe,

    The pragmatic argument for libertarianism is several degrees of magnitude stronger than the moral argument.

    I never make the pragmatic argument cause I dont give a rat's ass whether libertarianism is pragmatic or not (although I think it is). The moral argument is more than strong enough.

    It is my money/goods/property therefore the consumption of said goods is my responsibility.

    Heck, I can even do a christian perspective (which is easy for me, since I am): God has chosen my as steward of this money/goods/property and to turn that responsibility over to someone else (ie, the state) is going against God's will.

    [as a preresponse: I pay my taxes. In a democracy, we are all Caesar. Yet another reason for private money.]

  • Mike Laursen||

    I knew that Scientific American had gone downhill in recent years...

    I canceled my subscription when the editor's column in the January 2000 issue welcomed us to the new Millennium. For a magazine called Scientific American, ...

  • robc||

    joe,

    Your desires are not the measure of the world.

    They are the only measure Ive got for my stuff.

  • kinnath||

    When talking about economic activity, most people can be counted on to be motivated to pursue their self-interest,

    That is the purpose of a free society with a free economy.

    not the common good or the interests of others (unless that, too, serves their self interest) most of the time, with most of their money.

    And if a person holds the view that poverty is an indicator of moral decay, then forcing that person to support the poor would be a moral violation.

    You cannot assume that all free people believe that the "moral" solution to poverty is to use to the government to redistribute wealth.

    The problem is that your point of view assumes that your moral view is correct and that people that oppose government redistribution of wealth are moral failures.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Average life expectancies were lower because people tended to die as children or adolescents. It was never particualarly uncommon for people to live to a fairly old age...

    How do you know this? Are there, like, actuarial tables painted on the walls of Lascaux?

  • ||

    robc -
    you should use the objective standards of a better outcome that joe was referring to earlier. Then you wouldn't be so selfish!

  • Paul||

    I also take issue with that dumbass comic. Average life expectancies were lower because people tended to die as children or adolescents. It was never particualarly uncommon for people to live to a fairly old age if they managed to avoid or survive infectious diseases when young

    MattXIV, why do you think people tended to die as children or adolescents. I wonder if it may have had something to do with inability to avoid infectious diseases? Let's add in a few others: drought and famine. Poor nutrition. Lousy environmental controls. I'm beginning to see a connection here. Haven't you just upheld the very premise of the cartoon?

  • ||

    Whatever, Reinmoose. Since there seem to be any number of other people who managed to figure out my argument, it might be best for you to drop out at this point, and lurk for a while.

    TalllDave,

    That assumes Susie will go hungry in the absence of gov't aid.

    No, it assumes that SOMETIMES a Little Susie will go hungry in the absense of government aid.

    One could argue that by seizing wealth from the productive and inefficiently distributing it, government will actually reduce the amount of aid Susie gets, by reducing the incentive to produce and waste/corruption.

    Certainly, but let's leave aside the pragmatic argument for now; there is actually a philosophical argument that people are making, quite apart from what does the best job of protecting Little Susie.

    kinnath,

    If you are arguing that wealth allows people to influence the direction of government and thereore "regulate by proxy", then I agree. The solution to that is to limit the regulatory power of government. And then put it in a magical government stasis box, so that the people who had the power to bend the government to their will will be rendered utterly incapable of englaring and changing the government.

    That is the purpose of a free society with a free economy It is not the purpose of a decent society. Most of us have values other than "let the guy with the money do what he wants."

    And if a person holds the view that poverty is an indicator of moral decay, then forcing that person to support the poor would be a moral violation. No, it is not. The mere fact that somebody could not do what they wanted is not, necessarily, indicative of the fact that they have been violated.

    You cannot assume that all free people believe that the "moral" solution to poverty is to use to the government to redistribute wealth.

    The problem is that your point of view assumes that your moral view is correct and that people that oppose government redistribution of wealth are moral failures.


    I realize that we disagree about what is moral, and how to weight different moral concerns. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen. That's show biz, kid.

    robc, God has chosen my as steward of this money/goods/property LOL! I could not make up a better parody of the libertarian mindset. "I don't know what moral significance is, but God chose me to be rich."

  • ||

    Reading the comments since 2:00 is like reading a copy of the Talmud that has notes drawn in crayon by a toddler in the margins.

    Hi, Reinmoose.

  • ||

    Your desires are not the measure of the world.



    But yours are?

    Or are someone else's?

    And what the fuck does that mean, anyway?

  • robc||

    joe,

    Im rich? Cool beans. When did that happen?

    [Checks bank account, nope, not there]

    Im pretty sure if I was one of the guys in the parable of talents, Im the one with 2, most definately not the one with 5 (and hopefully not the one with 1). (As an aside, Ive always meant to send a copy of that parable to my broker as a "double my money or else" threat :) )

    You still havent fucking defined moral significance so I have a clue what you were talking about. I know what both words mean but put together? No clue.

    An act can be 1 of 3 things:
    Moral
    Amoral
    Immoral

    Im not sure where "significance" comes into play.

  • ||

    hi joe -
    you realize that nobody else has commented on your retarded attempt to turn "letting someone keep their money" into a means. So this statement "Since there seem to be any number of other people who managed to figure out my argument, it might be best for you to drop out at this point, and lurk for a while." is false

  • Paul||

    No, it assumes that SOMETIMES a Little Susie will go hungry in the absense of government aid.

    First of all, the latest buzz on the street is that little Suzie is obese, not hungry.

    Second, SOMETIMES Little Suzie goes hungry in spite of government aid. Sometimes, one might even argue she goes hungry because of government aid. So then the next logical argument is, with a little more government aid, Suzie never would go hungry.

    Joe, the problem I have is that it's not about government aid to the hungry. If all government did was aid the hungry, you and-- well-- everyone else here might not even be arguing. That's not the point. The point is everything else government does in the name of keeping little Suzie from going hungry, when many of those functions have little or nothing to do with Suzie going hungry.

    And then put it in a magical government stasis box, so that the people who had the power to bend the government to their will will be rendered utterly incapable of englaring and changing the government.

    I believe that government has attempted to build just such a stasis box in the guise of laws such as Campaign Finance Reform. In fact, supporters of these regulatory schemes have repeatedly assured us that without these magical stasis boxes, that influences upon our poor, hapless (read: unable to say 'no' when large wads of cash are being waved in their faces) politicians would suffer horribly at the hands of wealthy individuals.

    I'm getting the distinct feeling, joe, that your personal moral imperitives are the measure of the world.

  • ||

    To quote the venerable Chairman Mao . . .
    "There is a serious tendency toward capitalism among the well-to-do peasants." Pure genius.

  • Paul||

    (As an aside, Ive always meant to send a copy of that parable to my broker

    You have a broker? Wow, you are rich.

  • kinnath||

    That is the purpose of a free society with a free economy It is not the purpose of a decent society.

    Since free people cannot decide what "decent" is, there is no such thing as decent society. There is only free and not free.

  • ||

    I'm a moral and a utilitarian libertarian. Is it illegal to be both?

  • ||

    Paul is correct. Someone here is using the assumption that government aid only affects the problem that it's meant to address, and it addresses the problem effectively.

  • ||

    PL -
    you can't be a moral libertarian, because you want Susie to starve.
    Asshole

  • ||

    Ronald Bailey,

    To be fair, the life expectancy during the Upper Paleolithic was somewhere in the mid-30s; and it was the highest one would see throughout much of the world until "modern times."

  • ||

    You're right. Screw Susie and Mr. Bun! Where's my top hat?

  • Paul||

    cartoon quote: and yet nobody lives past thirty."

    Response:

    To be fair, the life expectancy during the Upper Paleolithic was somewhere in the mid-30s

    In your face, cartoon logic!!!111!!1!

  • Little Susie||

    You want me to do what for that food stamp, mister?

  • Paul||

    We want you to wake up, little Suzie...

  • ||

    No no no, It's wake up little Sushi!

  • ||

    Reinmoose,

    All hail the great Alton.

  • ||

    PL

    I'm asking for these for my birthday

  • MattXIV||

    Paul,

    I think you're reading something into my comment that I didn't intend. My criticism of the comic is aimed at the "and yet nobody lives over 30" line, which is based on the incorect assumption that the modal life expectancy corresponds to the average life expectancy. Life expectancy has historically been bimodal with ages of death clustered in fairly young or fairly old with a trough at the average. Improvements in average life expectancy have primarily been by shrinking the first mode relative to the second. That's really all I was going after - I just find it infuriating that people tend to assume that it was rare for people to live past the average life expectancy in early societies because they don't understand the difference between mean and mode.

  • alan||

    I have an uncle like that; he never really enjoys jokes or quite appreciates the figurative meaning of phrases. I told him one time that he was either mentally challenged and had trouble grokking inference, or the desire for literalism was driven by a domineering ego which developed through a lack of self esteem. That didn't make him very happy.

  • ||

    libertarians attack such concepts as "society should provide everyone with an education" and "society has an obligation to protect the poor and weak" as socialism.

    See how easily joe conflates society with Government?

    Somehow I don't think Smith had the same problem.

  • ||

    Reinmoose,

    One can never own too much Good Eats merchandise. We've acknowledged Alton's goodness multiple times at Urkobold. Including a haggis recipe that he referred to in a show on oats.

  • ||

    Something's not right here. We have no environmental regulations, no taxes, no Social Security, and we still lose half the tribe to famine every few years.

    But Mexicans live past 30? Oh wait they have taxes...that must be why they live so long.

  • NP||

    Oh, for chrissake. Who cares what some hack in an English department thinks about economics? Folks, there's no reason to get upset here. Again this dude works in an English department. Just watch out for actual policy makers that sputter this kind of nonsense. That's when we should attack.

  • Deja vu||

    that wasn't me. Who is this other ChicagoTom ?

    The ghost of comments past.

  • ||

    It was an English Department that gave us Seung-Hui Cho

  • ||


    Because the government was not involved, it is good for little Susie to go hungry.


    That's a gross distortion of what capitalists believe, Joe. Capitalists don't believe that it's good for Susie to go hungry, they believe that Susie shouldn't be able to steal from her neighbors, either personally or by proxy, in order to eat. The latter doesn't imply the former. If Susie wants her neighbors to feed her, she should ask them. Why, those neighbors might even get together and form an organization devoted to feeding Susie and people like her. Gasp, the horror of voluntary charity!

  • Steve Verdon||

    As for Nadeau, I hope that he will some day soon walk across campus and talk to some his colleagues at George Mason's excellent economics department.



    Bwahahahahaha! You're killing me there Ronald. Exactly which economists is he supposed to talk too? The Public Choice economists or the Austrians. I'm sure Nadeau would regard both groups as knuckle dragging retarded neanderthals.

    Something's not right here. We have no environmental regulations, no taxes, no Social Security, and we still lose half the tribe to famine every few years.



    Generally, there were no markets in many tribal societies either.

    It's definitely an analytical discipline (at least in theory), and they do try to be rigorous, but to say there that in Economics there are testable statements with experimental models that control sufficiently for data noise would be wishful thinking.



    You mean the claim that demand for a product is inversely related to price of that product isn't a testable hypothesis and nobody has any evidence supporting this.

    Certainly in the popular mind, but none of the Philosophers of Science I can think of that anyone still takes seriously (Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend, and probably Chalmers and Putnam) are positivists.



    Uhhhmmm...Popper was a positivist.

    What a stupid cartoon.

    It's dumb and dishonest on so many levels.

    Most people who believe in the health benefits of clean water and organic foods aren't anti-science or medicine. Nor do they refuse to take anti-biotics when sick or use a lot of other things that have increased our life spans that have absolutely nothing to do with creating a larger, redder, insect resistant, genetically modified tomatoe.

    But feel free to applaud attacks on strawmen.



    No Tom it is that most of the people who think like you describe also view the market with disdain even though the market has helped bring about clean water, anti-biotics, and so forth. The division of labor, rising incomes and wealth, I know are really terrible, terrible things, but what are ya gonna do?

  • ||

    Deja vu,

    Hey! Don't confuse people! I'm the only one licensed to post other people's previous comments here! À la "Deja joe".

  • ||

    For the record:

    From the beginning, Garrett Hardin attributed the concept behind the "Tragedy of the Commons" to others, and clearly states this in the article. He did, however coin the term and many people use "the tragedy of the commons" as shorthand for the concept today; particularly in ecological contexts.

    Readers/commenters may also be interested to know that Garrett studied and embraced Economics and was a loyal reader of the Wall Street Journal each business day. A passage from Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" is a principal citation in "The Tragedy of the Commons" article.

  • ||

    It's folly to try to distill human action down to a rigid formula.

    Why? Are the ghosts that motivate us untestable and always irrational?

    Do they inhabit the material world or are they like puppet masters existing in some ethereal universe tugging on strings to animate us to their whims and not to the demands of this material plane? And if not...if these masters do not exist do we stop being human upon the discovery of their nonexistence?

    What are you scared of?

  • NP||

    You're a twisted one, Warren. :)

  • Paul||

    That's really all I was going after - I just find it infuriating that people tend to assume that it was rare for people to live past the average life expectancy in early societies because they don't understand the difference between mean and mode.

    Matt. Thank you for clarifying, however, I have two observations. 1: Despite the differences between mean and mode, I don't believe there's much evidence that once past childhood, paleolithic peoples lived into their seventies... or much past 35. I'm not an anthropologist, so someone with knowledge in this area will have to either back me up, or refute me on this point. 2: Regardless, the comic is a broad, humorous critique on the religion of narrow environmentalism. There are people who really believe that technology in general has made life worse, and if we returned to a largely agrarian lifestyle (some on the extreme wing have even postulated a hunter/gatherer lifestyle), that we and the environment would be better off. The comic attempts to point out (with brevity) that technology has actually improved our lives, despite the side effects of some polluted air, water and probably because of non-organic farming.

    Yes, the cartoon is simplistic in its message (welcome to the medium of comedy) but it raises a generally salient point.

  • Paul||

    Alan, let me guess, he didn't find your comments very amusing.

  • MattXIV||

    What are you scared of?

    The collapse of intertemporal ethical obligations between the materially distinct future, presents, and past selves perpetuated by the idea of the immaterial essential self provided by dualism. And clowns.

  • ||

    NP,
    It's true, I am rather twisted in a variety of ways. But after reading samples of Cho's work, I really do blame the VT English Department.

  • Paul||

    Something's not right here. We have no environmental regulations, no taxes, no Social Security, and we still lose no longer lose half the tribe to famine [because of government] every few years [like we used to].

    FIFY.

  • ||

    Sorry, must beer now.

    New pint glass!

  • ||

    That is totally not the only thing joshua corning ever writes.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I never make the pragmatic argument cause I dont give a rat's ass whether libertarianism is pragmatic or not (although I think it is).

    And this libertarian never makes the moral argument when a pragmatic one can be made, because I know that the moral and the pragmatic have to go hand in hand, and that moral arguments often go astray when not carefully checked against reality.

  • Mike Laursen||

    I could not make up a better parody of the libertarian mindset.

    There is no "the libertarian mindset." robc's mindset is uniquely his own.

  • NP||

    Warren,

    Yeah, you should. For not dealing with such horror proactively and--almost more importantly--for actually letting the author of such infantile (for one I use the word almost literally) doodles stay in their department. I'll definitely agree with you on that one.

    But hey, in my book you can be as twisted as you wanna be as long as you don't dig Beethoven's Grosse Fuge, in which case you're not only twisted but also completely lacking in independent musical judgment. (The rest of his late quartets are, of course, timeless.)

  • MattXIV||

    Paul,

    The joke just didn't work for me since the payoff depends on the punchline being true, but it wasn't close enough to gloss over the inaccuracy and find it funny. I found it grating, like an out of key note or bad perspective in a painting.

    Despite the differences between mean and mode, I don't believe there's much evidence that once past childhood, paleolithic peoples lived into their seventies... or much past 35. I'm not an anthropologist, so someone with knowledge in this area will have to either back me up, or refute me on this point.



    Ask and ye shall recieve!

    Also, you can see an example of the extreme impact of early childhood mortality on life expectancy in ancient Rome here - the overall shape of the distribution didn't change all that much once we settled down in cities.

    Also, I remember A Farewell To Alms having a good overview of mortality distributions throughout history.

  • NP||

    Eh, "for ONCE"

  • Paul||

    Matt,

    I just started reading your first link, and I'm a bit confrused. So I'll have to start reading it in detail later. To wit:

    AVERAGE WORLDWIDE HUMAN life expectancy reached 66 years in the first quinquennium of the twenty-first century, with extremes at the country level ranging from 39 years in Zambia to 82 years in Japan (United Nations 2007). Average life expectancy has increased linearly at almost three months per year over the past 160 years, with improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and public health accounting for much of this change (Riley 2001; Oeppen and Vaupel 2003). As a consequence of longevity in the developed world, women currently live more than a third of their lives in a post-reproductive state following menopause.



    Don't know much 'bout science books... anyhoo. Uhh, this doesn't sound like this article refers to paleolithic peoples. They seem to be referring to life expectancy of hunter gatherer groups who have benefitted from "improvements in sanitation, nutrition, and public health" in the past "160 years".

  • Paul||

    In the P-Dogg's opinion, this article addresses life expectancy with "cave men" a little more directly.

    http://www.beyondveg.com/nicholson-w/angel-1984/angel-1984-1a.shtml

  • ||

    Anyway, I've had my say, and won't jack the thread anymore.

    Does the Hit and Run drinking game have a category for when joe tells us he is out of a thread and then proceeds to post five or more times in the next half hour?

  • ||

    The collapse of intertemporal ethical obligations between the materially distinct future, presents, and past selves perpetuated by the idea of the immaterial essential self provided by dualism.

    Bullshit...no one is scared of that.

    And clowns.

    But ya....clowns are fucked up

  • Pablo Escobar||

    WHY oh WHY is economics 101 not compulsory in all schools? They should use Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson, or Thomas Sowell's Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.

    Economic illiterates are among the most dangerous people on earth. Just look at how Mao killed 40 million people with his 'Great Leap Foward'.

  • Pablo Escobar||

    By the way, you can tell what percentage a country is socialist by looking at their corporate tax rate. Here in Australia we are 30% socialist because the coporate tax rate is 30%. The govt. owns 30% of the profits of every corporation in the country, i.e. they own 30% of the means of production in this country. That's not even including other taxes on businesses.

  • Travis||

    "WHY oh WHY is economics 101 not compulsory in all schools?"

    I agree that economics should be part of the core cirriculum taught in schools like math & science. They probably would just teach Keynes though. So it's probably better that they don't.

  • Elemenope||

    Uhhhmmm...Popper was a positivist.

    Uhhhmmm, no he wasn't. In fact, his falsification schema was the first major divergence from Carnap's positivism.

  • manshow||

    "Henderson went on to suggest to the hooting and hollering delight of the crowd that all economists be rounded up and put into re-education camps."

    First they came for the economists....

  • Daniel Reeves||

    I agree that economics should be part of the core cirriculum taught in schools like math & science. They probably would just teach Keynes though. So it's probably better that they don't.



    Keynesian economics Much, much, much better than mercantalism. At least Keynesian economics actually has a lot of validity and is debatable. Nobody who knows economics, however, is a mercantalist-- yet so many people hold dearly the same falsehoods that mercantalists once did.

    In my history classes, I've been exposed to mercantalism three times.

    And then I hear every single non-economist and his/her grandmother complain about the "trade deficit" with China and crap like that.

    It makes me want to stab somebody. Mercantalism has been beaten like a dead horse. But if you read the newspapers and listen to the liberal politicians, it'd seem like we're living in a scene ripped from the 80's thriller, "Night of the Living Dead Horses."

  • Pete Murphy||

    I don't know if economics is destroying the world, but an overly simplistic, flawed economic theory is certainly destroying the economy of the United States.

    Our enormous trade deficit is rightly of growing concern to Americans. Since leading the global drive toward trade liberalization by signing the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947, America has been transformed from the weathiest nation on earth - its preeminent industrial power - into a skid row bum, literally begging the rest of the world for cash to keep us afloat. It's a disgusting spectacle. Our cumulative trade deficit since 1976, financed by a sell-off of American assets, is now approaching $9 trillion. What will happen when those assets are depleted? Today's recession may be just a preview of what's to come.

    Why? The American work force is the most productive on earth. Our product quality, though it may have fallen short at one time, is now on a par with the Japanese. Our workers have labored tirelessly to improve our competitiveness. Yet our deficit continues to grow. Our median wages and net worth have declined for decades. Our debt has soared.

    Clearly, there is something amiss with "free trade." The concept of free trade is rooted in Ricardo's principle of comparative advantage. In 1817 Ricardo hypothesized that every nation benefits when it trades what it makes best for products made best by other nations. On the surface, it seems to make sense. But is it possible that this theory is flawed in some way? Is there something that Ricardo didn't consider?

    At this point, I should introduce myself. I am author of a book titled "Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America." To make a long story short, my theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption begins to decline. This occurs because, as people are forced to crowd together and conserve space, it becomes ever more impractical to own many products. Falling per capita consumption, in the face of rising productivity (per capita output, which always rises), inevitably yields rising unemployment and poverty.

    This theory has huge ramifications for U.S. policy toward population management (especially immigration policy) and trade. The implications for population policy may be obvious, but why trade? It's because these effects of an excessive population density - rising unemployment and poverty - are actually imported when we attempt to engage in free trade in manufactured goods with a nation that is much more densely populated. Our economies combine. The work of manufacturing is spread evenly across the combined labor force. But, while the more densely populated nation gets free access to a healthy market, all we get in return is access to a market emaciated by over-crowding and low per capita consumption. The result is an automatic, irreversible trade deficit and loss of jobs, tantamount to economic suicide.

    One need look no further than the U.S.'s trade data for proof of this effect. Using 2006 data, an in-depth analysis reveals that, of our top twenty per capita trade deficits in manufactured goods (the trade deficit divided by the population of the country in question), eighteen are with nations much more densely populated than our own. Even more revealing, if the nations of the world are divided equally around the median population density, the U.S. had a trade surplus in manufactured goods of $17 billion with the half of nations below the median population density. With the half above the median, we had a $480 billion deficit!

    Our trade deficit with China is getting all of the attention these days. But, when expressed in per capita terms, our deficit with China in manufactured goods is rather unremarkable - nineteenth on the list. Our per capita deficit with other nations such as Japan, Germany, Mexico, Korea and others (all much more densely populated than the U.S.) is worse. In fact, our largest per capita trade deficit in manufactured goods is with Ireland, a nation twice as densely populated as the U.S. Our per capita deficit with Ireland is twenty-five times worse than China's. My point is not that our deficit with China isn't a problem, but rather that it's exactly what we should have expected when we suddenly applied a trade policy that was a proven failure around the world to a country with one sixth of the world's population.

    Ricardo's principle of comparative advantage is overly simplistic and flawed because it does not take into consideration this population density effect and what happens when two nations grossly disparate in population density attempt to trade freely in manufactured goods. While free trade in natural resources and free trade in manufactured goods between nations of roughly equal population density is indeed beneficial, just as Ricardo predicts, it's a sure-fire loser when attempting to trade freely in manufactured goods with a nation with an excessive population density.

    If you're interested in learning more about this important new economic theory, then I invite you to visit my web site at OpenWindowPublishingCo.com where you can read the preface for free, join in the blog discussion and, of course, buy the book if you like. (It's also available at Amazon.com.)

    Please forgive me for the somewhat "spammish" nature of the previous paragraph, but I don't know how else to inject this new theory into the debate about trade without drawing attention to the book that explains the theory.

    Pete Murphy
    Author, Five Short Blasts

  • Mike Laursen||

    To make a long story short, my theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption begins to decline. This occurs because, as people are forced to crowd together and conserve space, it becomes ever more impractical to own many products.

    Oh, boy. Let's start with your explaining what I saw when I visited Hong Kong, which has to be one of the most crowded places on earth. Please explain to me how these things fit in with your theory:

    * Shopping malls everywhere, full of shoppers.
    * More people eating out more than any other place in the world. Is consumption of food and services not counted in your theories?
    * Despite the fact that there are more high-rise residences crowded into less space than I've seen anywhere, there is actually lots of open space.

  • Mike Laursen||

    More questions for you:

    Since leading the global drive toward trade liberalization ... literally begging the rest of the world for cash to keep us afloat.

    Do you think any of America's economic ills can be attributed to deficit government spending, on things like foreign wars?

    In 1817 Ricardo hypothesized that every nation benefits when it trades what it makes best for products made best by other nations.

    Do you ever analyze the economy in terms of individual companies or individual persons, rather than measuring the wealth of nation-states?

    This occurs because, as people are forced to crowd together and conserve space, it becomes ever more impractical to own many products.

    How do you count ownership of things that don't need to be stored in one's personal space? For example, if I invest in a REIT, do you count that as wealth that I own?

    Have you ever seen those big orange U-Store-It places on the edges of the big cities? Have you ever seen how much crap people stuff into those storage lockers? Is this accounted for in your theory?

  • ||

    fluffy sez I merely said they don't fit the model in the sort of near-perfect way that physics does.

    Uh-huh. And why do we have a theory of "dark matter"? Because without it we can't balance the cosmic spreadsheet.

    Physics doesn't even always fit the model perfectly, either.

  • ||

    Demand Kurv!

    People who invoke Econ 101 to defend their politics have a tendency make economic arguments at the same level of sophistication as those who said that heavier-than-air craft could never fly.

    Sigh. You need to take Physics 101.

  • Mike Laursen||

    joe, are you saying that there are no anomalies that cannot be explained by state-of-the-art Physics? And there are no hypotheses that Physicists are still trying to prove experimentally?

  • Apaulogist||

    Somebody better tell the Royal Academy that economics is no science. They have inducted an economist!

    You never heard the lefties gripe about economics when Karl Marx was ascendant.

  • Apaulogist||

    Make that the Royal Society, Not the Royal Academy. The Apaulogist regrets the error.

  • Daniel Reeves||

    Our enormous trade deficit is rightly of growing concern to Americans.


    By the definition of what a trade deficit is, you have a trade deficit with your grocer, but nobody's complaining.

    It doesn't matter if you're trading iPods for IOU's. Trades only take place when the two consenting parties believe that they'll benefit; this perception is almost always true and usually benefits others, as well. If anything, since we've got the hard goods, we're better off.

    I thought the notion of gold-hoarding was defeated when mercantalism died.

    Since leading the global drive toward trade liberalization by signing the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947, America has been transformed from the weathiest nation on earth - its preeminent industrial power - into a skid row bum, literally begging the rest of the world for cash to keep us afloat.


    1) So we're not the wealthiest? That's news to me.

    2) In 1947, the debt was a higher percent of GDP than it is today: both in terms of debt held by the public and gross debt (the latter being a stupid way to measure debt, I might add).

    What will happen when those assets are depleted? Today's recession may be just a preview of what's to come.


    Sorry that I'm being dismissive, but I must say, "groan, another doomsday theory."

    The American work force is the most productive on earth. Our product quality, though it may have fallen short at one time, is now on a par with the Japanese. Our workers have labored tirelessly to improve our competitiveness. Yet our deficit continues to grow. Our median wages and net worth have declined for decades. Our debt has soared.


    That's because all of those things are stupid measures.

    First of all, trade deficit is a stupid measure of anything.

    Secondly, while the real median wage has been falling, the real median personal income has been rising-- rapidly over the last thirty years, I might add. In addition, both of these do not tell the whole story. There are in-kind transfers. One study I discovered says that between 4/5 and 3/4 of the total income of the poor take form in in-kind transfers. There is also immigration: most immigrants, for obvious reasons, enter our country in the bottom quintile of income and wages. Lastly, more people have been entering the labor force as part-time workers.

    At this point, I should introduce myself. I am author of a book titled "Five Short Blasts: A New Economic Theory Exposes The Fatal Flaw in Globalization and Its Consequences for America." To make a long story short, my theory is that, as population density rises beyond some optimum level, per capita consumption begins to decline. This occurs because, as people are forced to crowd together and conserve space, it becomes ever more impractical to own many products.


    Oh, I remember you. You're just a spammer who goes around espousing you book with copy-paste messages. After this point, I'm just going to stop responding; you're a waste of time.

    What I see as the major flaw with that """theory""":

    People choose to live in crowded spaces. We can't simply blame government intervention in real estate markets, which drives up costs: Texas, with very few interventions and cheap houses all over the place, still has many crowded areas. So there must be a reason why people choose to live in crowded areas.

    There once was a very good reason for the existence of cities. Most cities were developed before the car existed. Back in those days, it was simple to understand that there was a fixed cost in running a shop, and that the average fixed cost would steeply decline if you were in a city where more people could buy your goods. For example, Ancient Rome had a population the size of Dallas but was 1/50 the size of Dallas.

    So as noted, there is a fixed cost in distributing resources. Water requires pipelines. Food requires shipment. People can better bear these costs when they are living closer together. For example, Wal-Marts must operate in locations where the most people will come. This means operating by major roads, in suburbs and cities, and out of poor neighborhoods. That, by the way, is why good in poor neighborhoods cost more money. It's not exploitation. That in itself is a silly theory because one can better exploit the rich than the poor because they have more money. The stores in these neighborhoods actually receive the same or less profits than stores that sell cheaper goods in better neighborhoods because of the fixed cost in operating in poor neighborhoods. It should make sense that less people will come to stores in bad neighborhoods. So it should also make sense that stores and shipping companies pay a smaller average total cost per unit when operating in more crammed areas.

    But that's not always exactly true, else products in cities would be so much cheaper. What offsets what I described are the negative externalities such as the bad quality of neighborhoods (as already mentioned) and the "spillover effects" of the income of the people in that area. For example, in New York City, the rich people's demand for theater has allowed the slightly lesser off to also enjoy that commodity. Usually the positive spillover is for luxury goods; necessity goods are income inelastic, so spillover effects for things like food in big cities are negative. That means that food items will cost more in bigger cities. You could say that it's "exploitation" of the rich that negatively effects the poor, but it's more complicated than that: more demand for goods also means a higher demand for what little supply of land there is in cities. The landowners in cities make a ton of money. (There was an article in the NYT I read awhile ago that confirmed my armchair economics, but I'm not sure what it's called.) Put that in reverse by saying that land prices are so high because of the high demand, and the demand is high because you can make a lot of money from the number of consumers in a city. It makes sense, and it proves you wrong.

    There is definitely a lot of consumption in crowded cities. That's mainly why land prices are so high in cities. But the benefits of being crowded together, whether in a city or a suburb outweigh the costs, whatever they are: it means a smaller average total cost for people who make and distribute goods.

    Sorry that this writing is so bloated; I would have written it shorter but I have better things to do than respond to you. Just writing whatever comes to the top of my head. Hell, you're probably not even going to respond. Damn spamming idiot.

  • Michael Ejercito||


    There once was a very good reason for the existence of cities. Most cities were developed before the car existed. Back in those days, it was simple to understand that there was a fixed cost in running a shop, and that the average fixed cost would steeply decline if you were in a city where more people could buy your goods. For example, Ancient Rome had a population the size of Dallas but was 1/50 the size of Dallas.


    Thomas Sowell once wrote about why people live in cities. He is one of the greatest minds on economics.

  • Brian Czech||

    Nadeau is no further toward the end of the spectrum than Bailey is toward the other. For an overview of the middle ground, where ecological economics is practiced, visit the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy - www.steadystate.org .

  • Apaulogist||

    Trade deficits are usually not really a problem. Mercantilism has been largely discredited because free floating currencies influence trade to reach equilibrium.

    For a microeconomic example: I have a huge trade imbalance with my grocer. He buys nothing from me at all, yet somehow I still benefit from trade with him. He could raise his prices, which would force me to shop elsewhere or go without and that possibility keeps the prices down.

  • Apaulogist||

    What IS a problem in America is that we are consuming more than we produce. Basically the whole nation is living on credit cards. There is a finite amount of time this can continue before TSHTF.

    Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are an unfunded entitlement time bomb. The war is sucking billions out of the economy and we have a negative household savings rate. Since there is little political will to halt the growth of the public sector, much less roll it back, the future looks dim. Hyperinflation in the likely eventual result. We are becoming Wiemar Republicans.

  • psikeyhackr||

    What happened to the depreciation of all of the automobiles in the world purchased by consumers?

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