Monday, February 28, 2005

'Greed is Good' and other Rationalizations for the Seven Deadly Sins.

I've never fully trusted Economics for the simple reason that it leaves so much unanswered. Being nothing more than a mere collection of theories, I never could bring myself to endorse it with the Heyzoos-inspired belief of a little child.

My largest gripe is the fact that envy is dismissed by a large segment of the field as a non-rational economic behaviour and thus is outlawed from evaluation. I suppose if one person feels unhappy whenever another feels better off, there is no possible way to rank situations - whatever the role it may play in the larger picture. How to deal with that gaping hole? Ignore it with much the same vigour as many promoters ignore the fact that economics is a social science... perhaps the most frightening thing of all. Nonetheless, after more than a century, it still reeks of the oldest trick in the academic book...

If it doesn't fit into your vested model, simply ignore it.

Here's an interesting thought on the rationality of envy in economics.

2 Comments:

Blogger MapMaster said...

Economics is the only study of human behaviour that does not succumb to "the tendency to ascribe to the market economy the characteristics of being something other than the events caused by the choices and actions of individuals. The market arises as a result of the willingness of individuals to interact. Every development in the market is the outcome of purposive actions on the part of individuals who are seeking to improve their own state of affairs." - Thomas C. Taylor

Rationality is a bit of a false trail, it is much better to ascribe economic tendencies to purposiveness. Negative emotions, like greed, envy, lust etc. as well as positive emotions like trying to make a better life for yourself are all motivations for purposive action, so they don't really need to be addressed by economics, except in some writers' more florid descriptive moments. The idea that economists ascribe every action to rational belief or perfect knowledge is a myth.

I've never fully trusted Economics for the simple reason that it leaves so much unanswered. What precisely are you looking for an answer to? You don't need an economist to tell you how envy motivates people or their actions. I imagine your own experiences or those of people you know could inform you of that.

Marx hated economists — and socialists in general don't seem to like them either. Is it because most economists favour capitalism to some degree or another? I think that's because most economists see economic action as moral because it and its consequences depend on the uncoerced actions of people — the absence of coercion alone makes capitalism the distributor of the greatest good to the greatest number — economic efficiency is an added bonus.

By the way, you never told me what Paul van Meerbergen said, if you were able to get hold of him. Please and thanks.

"Envy is certainly not one of the sources of discontent that a free society can eliminate. It is probably one of the essential conditions for the preservation of such a society that we do not countenance envy, not sanction its demands by camouflaging it as social justice, but treat it, in the words of John Stuart Mill, as 'the most anti-social and evil of all passions." - Friedrich Hayek, Nobel Laureate in Economics.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Hector said...

"Is it because most economists favour capitalism to some degree or another? I think that's because most economists see economic action as moral because it and its consequences depend on the uncoerced actions of people — the absence of coercion alone makes capitalism the distributor of the greatest good to the greatest number"

It's probably to late to hope for a response, nevertheless...I almost choked on my chicken bone when I read that capitalism is not a coercive system. It is. In fact, it's violently coercive. It requires the opening up of new markets, whether that be at the hand of trade, structural adjustment in the form of "loans", or -- as the most recent cases of Iraq and Haiti demonstrate -- through military conquests.

The idea that capitalism distributes the greatest good to the greatest number is an interesting comment, and if the commenter is still around I'd be interested to hear what exactly is meant by that.

As for you Dick, as a social scientist, and one who realizes this, I tried not to take your comments personally. (i.e. perhaps the most frightening thing of all)

Like economists, and mailmen, I really do believe the world would cease to be in the absence of my 'profession'. And of course I am wrong, but I won't admit that in public until I'm retired.

Regards,

Hector

1:31 AM  

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