Post # 2039 Leisure and economics

Provocation #207. Leisure and economics.

Early economics was concerned with the well being of society, of all the people. This was limited because people acquiesced to the view that the population was divided between the rich and the poor and then into capitalists land owners,  and the laborers. But there was still a vigorous discussion about how the product should be distributed among them. Smith, Ricardo, Coleridge, Mill and many others in the nineteenth century were involved in complex social relationships – dinners and clubs –  that discussed theses issues. (Read Catherine Gallagher’s The Body Economic life, death and sensation in political economy and the Victorian Novel).

Jumping ahead to WW2, three emerged the view that the hope of technology was to eliminate drudgery and create leisure. Bad work should be done by machines. Women were to stay home (alone) with labor saving devices, the men wre to go to work to earn enough to buy the house to house the machines and their attendant wife. A living family evolved in a few decades into a machine of production and consumption. Tech was supposed to keep making this better, providing relief. What happened?

Some how the stuff produced that was supposed to produce leisure  caused people working harder (in my childhood a working person, say a carpenter, could afford a house and to send children to college.) The extra, which should have relieved labor, was coopted by management and ownership. Economics seems to have abetted this process, or at least stood by seeing but ignoring, or blind to the emerging reality. Falling into the logic of pleasure and pain being a single dimension as an aid to computational approaches seems to have made very small minded thinkers of most. Economics mostly seem to have supported an anti-union attitude – keeping workers from organizing – but not at all critical of the organization of capital. 

The life style of the increasingly rich has not emerged into a new civilization, but into corruption, alcohol, sex, status symbols – not into conversational salons and seminars. The elites have in fact de-educated themselves.

Aristotle was clear that a well managed estate produced a surplus, and the surplus should be used for creating leisure time, for what?  – for the study of philosophy and participation in politics (very different from our slothful view of leisure.) Discussion of the purpose of leisure was shown to be discussable – but we have not done it.

Instead of discussing how better to distribute wealth we are abandoning the poor to marginal employment, unemployment, or climate catastrophe. Any idea of organizing society for the good of all is missing from most contemporary discussions. 

Interesting to look at ways invented that led to increasing inequalities. Limited Liability is one. It removed from individuals the right to sue for damages, thus reducing their real ownership  value of what they have purchased,  because if it fails, the responsibility that should exist is vastly limited. This is an uncompensated taking to the advantage of capital. Imagine a group creating a limited liability corporation to build a large ship which unfortunately sinks in the harbor where it was just launched, and the resulting waves produce damage in the harbor way beyond the cost of the ship. The losers can’t sue for the full damages because of limited responsibility. Limited liability throughout a society, where no one is responsible for much, means there is no responsibility  adequate to the dangers taken on by the institutions of the society.

Post # 2035 Global management ​needs good economics

Provocation #203 Management needs good economics.

As society gets into trouble with climate, AI,  and governance, it is clear that we face major problems that are not being well managed.  If we start with the Greek economia as estate management we see that the concept was holistic: how to manage the estate for the well being of the people, with lots of discussion about what that meant.

Our own society is not being managed at the holistic level. The economists’ major perspective is equilibrium dynamics but the reality is business, investment nd politics are trying, Schumpeter style, to create disequilibria. Economists tend to assume that that equilibria  will lead to convergence, one solution, but in fact an achieved equilibrium is very subject to breakdowns and  punctuated equilibrium, where suddenly, instead of convergence, many new paths of divergence open up simultaneously.

If we were to think of the management of society as working management to create food, health, education and living conditions for all, we recognize that such management of the whole would require an economics as a major tool and perspective on what works, what doesn’t, and how to keep doing better.

The Greeks at Athens  also discussed the fact that the well managed estate produced a surplus and that the purpose of the surplus was to create leisure for philosophy and politics. Our view of surplus is to reinvest it in a cancerous process of growth without  a goal.

Unlike science,   economics  seems to fear contemplating hypotheses, “What if?” Economists seem compelled   to start with a set of numbers,  and then fit modeled curves to them. Poverty of thinking? What if our model of economy is not good for society because it systematically restricts the imagination of the economists “Make sure your papaer has some tables, some graphs and some equations, and avoid politics or popularization”

Speculation about how to manage the whole is not permitted while what we need is guidance. “Tell us what needs to be managed:  nuclear sites, air traffic.., production of the basics and their distribution.”  But economics seems to be absent from the task of managing the world. 

Governance needs an economics as a major tool for management.  Economists  brush off most concerns by saying  its just politics. In fact there has hardly ever been a time, with the growth of complexity and networks,  when economics is more needed. And what happens if it doesn’t provide the guidance and tools  for global managers?

Economy began focused on organic – grain, cattle – but over time has drifted to the industrial and the commercial where  the organic, especially food, makes up a smaller part of the consumer world. But needs  have not changed that much and going back to a proper management of the organic for human survival and quality-of-life is reemerging as necessary because climate change will shift the possibilities of food production and populations, leading to shortages and wars if we are not successful at  a task we havent yet undertaken. 


Computer programs  as models. When a  computer wins at Chess or Go, it has no experience of winning. We humans play for the enjoyment of the process. The computer has no such experience. What has been simulated is the mechanics of possibilities, not the experience of playing the game. Seems like a very weak simulation of the human experience. Nor can the computer experience disgust or awe. 


Comments needed.

post #2034. Essential quibbles. Economics misses the point.

If the use of fossil fuels are not going to cut be cut sufficiently  (eliminated) to prevent a 3 or 4° rise, are we willing to discuss how such a failure that might  unfold?

If  economy is   embedded in society, that just  means complex  feedback loops between the two. Discussing these feedback loops requires understanding both the economy and society. If you look at economics curricula there is almost nothing about society.

How can it be that the rich are getting richer and the poor are being lifted out of poverty at the same time? Sleight-of-hand.  The  income of the poor is going up, let us agree for the moment, but the prices of real estate,  access to art museums, the fees for national parks,  are all going up more rapidly.

Both the impact of society on economics, and the  impact of economics  on society are mostly left out of our modeling. 

Post # 2033 no plan for radical co2 reduction means emergent phenomena.

Provocation # 201

Two thoughts

1. To prevent going over 2 degrees C we need to stop much use of carbon fuel. There is no plan to do so. Almost all plans look to replacement which is slow, the resulting uses still heat the environment.

1. Any serious curtailment of energy use will disrupt the lives of most people, but there is no planning on how to help those hurt.  The result is they feel abandoned by the very people that are leading and ought to protect the population.

Given that we won’t cut energy use sufficient to prevent severe overheating, and that we will not have a life-raft for the billions,  we can expect emergent phenomena instead, which makes it essentially impossible to predict, even with the best intuition about how humans adapt.

The key  question is – what is  capitalism, and what is its future. but we are not asking it.

Post # 2023. No plan for the societal side of climate change

Provocation # 174.

So far as I am aware, there is no plan proposed by anybody that deals with the social disruption of climate breakdown and the social disruption of trying to prevent that disruption in anything like implementable detail. If you know of any please let me know.’

The Green New Deal proposed by Cortez and supported by Naomi Kline still suggests that we can get sufficiently more green while growing the economy into fuller employment with increased equity and avert the collapse. But there are few details.

At best, if we are to attempt to mitigate global heating, many jobs will have to cease because they use so much fossil fuel. Is anyone planning for such a transition with its disruptions?

Serious mitigation probably means stopping lots of economic activity. Even if new economic activity arises at the same time, it will not be in the same space, which means millions moving. The disruption would be intense and the time lags devastating. We have no serious analysis of what jobs must continue or we get catastrophes, such as maintaining nuclear reactors. Left alone they will explode.

Not discussing these and making plans means that we support muddling through the next few years. But at some point, public reaction to our being stupid about the inevitable will stir up serious anger.

The new factor might be a youth movement, already developing, demanding radical changes. But there is no plan for what those radical changes would have to be (not just technological but political and institutional). How do you take back the core wealth of the 1%without civil war?

Post # 2021 If we avoided the word “economics”

What if economics is unnecessary to understand economy? If we had no discipline of economics we might have common sense about the economy, the pragmatic relations of humanity and society to the material world in all its manifestations. “Economics” has been aligned with elite needs from its early use just after Wealth of Nations as the nation became an instrument of wealth centralization rather the good of the whole.

“Economy” goes back to the Greeks.  “Economics”, probably from Alfred Marshal, early 1800’s, was an attempt to  – by adding “ic” to be scientif- ic. (Economic and economics do no occur in Wealth Of Nations. The adjective “economical” does a few times  in the sense of austere management. “Economy occurs a few times, always in the context of a specific: “the economy of the rich” , “The economy of private people”, and a few times as “political economy”. 

(From Wikipedia – The discipline was renamed in the late 19th century primarily due to Alfred Marshall from “political economy” to “economics” as a shorter term for “economic science”. At that time, it became more open to rigorous thinking and made increased use of mathematics, which helped support efforts to have it accepted as a science and as a separate discipline outside of political science and other social sciences)

Interesting to imagine if accounting had been taken as the basis for understanding the economy rather than  economics .

As it is, economics has been a force for fragmentation (“separate discipline outside the other social sciences”) making it hard to understand the economy in all its relations between society, people and the material world). 

Economics has a strong tendency to be pulled into ideologies.

We miss out on common sense about how to make a good world, and we are left with  fighting fragmentation of social thought.

post # 2018. Economics and world management.

provocation #  169. Economics and world management.

The world definitely needs managing – or some equivalent. Everything overlaps. Specialties don;’t work. The world is one but specialties divide it. Is there any path for economics that will make it a partner in world management? Or are we locked in to an economics that serves academic departments, quantifying bureaucracies and career management?

A management approach  would start with an understanding of what the world and its parts are, how they got that way, and what can happen, and then engage to help make the world move toward an ecology which can support the people. A management approach would be very negative toward those who saw the world as a game to be played for private gain, but realistic about the need for leadership with a  perspective that requires education and rewards.

I realize that I have become increasingly skeptical about the ability of humanity to do this. The question then reverts back to: what is the best use of our time given actual conditions?

Mandatory sequestering? Possible. Unlikely. Many overlapping jurisdictions. Economics could help sort these out. Unlikely. Possible. 


Note. The argument about the anthropocene is that humanity created this mess by sucking too hard and becoming dependent on stored energy. Andreas Malm in his Fossil Capital argues that such a perspective fails to notice that it wan’t humanity, it was some humans, resisted by others, who built our energy dependent society. To see the climate and energy dilemma as caused by human nature is hopeless. To see that some of us, from hunter gatherers on, resisted suggests that we are not up against human nature, but confronting the character of some in their   exploitation others. 

Note. The current world chaos is the product of the organization of wealth  and population that increasingly marginalize many and, despite Steven Pinker style thinking, the living conditions of an increasing number (maybe all of us if we include the ethos in which we live, the moral climate) are seriously deteriorating.

Post # 2017. Expanding the scope of economics?

Provocation 168. How to expand the scope of economics.

In the spirit of provocation..

Economics advanced by making assumptions that treated most of society as external to economics, but it turns out, as it has, that the dynamics of society profoundly affect the mainstream neo-classical economic model: ownership, wealth: interest, politics, people’s state of mind and taste, new inventions, state of the earth. How can we now bring the externalities back in to the thinking of current economics?

In a simple way economics started with a broad interest in society , Adam Smith, Ricardo, Malthus, and then in the mid 1800’s (and many others, see the flow in for example The Edinburg Review), then succumbed to formalism and math, looking scientific with equilibrium and “rational” economic man, and with these narrowing its scope of interest. But now, with a society in disarray because it is undone by the things economics (the understanding of an economy) excluded (people, politics, earth), the trend is back toward needing good narratives of what happened – and maybe even to what could happen. Since economics aligned itself with, even advanced, the dominance of models and formalism, what can economics do now to reorient its thinking around the issues of consequence – the interface between society and nature?

Physics friend “ Physics models are relevant to circumstances which never change. Economics make models that sort of work – until circumstances change.”

The following from Andreas Malm’s essential book, Fossil Capital.

Re climate: “We are looking always at the impact of climate on society. It should be the other way – looking at the impact of society on climate.”

“The traditions of the dead are breathing down necks of the living, leaving them with two choices: smash their way out of business as usual – and the heavier the breath, the more extreme the measures must be – or succumb to an accumulated, unbearable destiny.”

Knock knock economics. Anybody home?

Post # 2014. Trump, unemployment and economics.

Provocation # 165.  Trump, unemployment and economics.

The argument is made that things like GDP, obviously flawed, nevertheless make possible graphs and computational models. In physics, basic assumptions, almost always get closer to the core of the phenomena. Weights falling in a frictionless vacuum for example. But in economics the assumptions , allowing for modeling, are basic distortions of the phenomena.

We tend to think that such assumptions are innocent, mere good faith attempts to help make economics scientific. But clarifying the models obscures the phenomena and makes science as well as public policy much more difficult.

This has serious consequences. Trump puts forth in all his public appearances that unemployment is at an all-time low and major news just quotes it as fact. Most economists know this is false but don’t go to the media with fuller pictures. The result is, Trump is moving closer to actual reelection. Economics, instead of being innocent and remote from society, is enmeshed in the flow of events.

post 2013. Early lock-in?

Are we now in a kind of early lock-in to nations and corporations and elite structures of inheritance, education and rewards? I sense a shift in atmosphere, rather than an easy to describe shift in consciousness and categories. The West seems riddled with lack of leadership. The past looms. Europe seems small and the US seems rapidly weakening and uneducated. Note that nation comes from natal, to be born, and hence is a racial/cultural term, and corporations based on corpus, body, also draws on the mythical and organic power of old concepts. Lots to think about .