Post-scarcity job creation

March 8th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Nice CT thread on (in effect) post-scarcity economics. Won by Hidari:

Much work has already been done to deal with the problem of the employment prospects of the over-educated. For example, what about “self-important newspaper columnist”, regurgitating semi-understood gobbets of semi-digested factoids gained via skimming through (and then quickly googling) whatever happens to be ‘trending’ on Twitter? This is a job that didn’t exist 50 years ago, and which no one asked to be created, for the good reason that the ‘product’ of this trade was something no one wants or needs. Nor does it require any skills or abilities to be a ‘columnist’ which hasn’t stopped it being almost exclusively the preserve of the white middle classes.

But the moral of the story is: don’t discount the capacity of capitalism to simply create whole new swathes of meaningless employment for the sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie, and then creating equally meaningless ‘qualifications’ which price these (pointless, but well paid) jobs out of the grasp of the proletarian hordes. Cf, advertising, management consultancy, most ‘research’, most work in ‘think tanks’ etc. etc. etc. In a de-industrialised country like the UK, most work is already simply the intellectual equivalent of digging a hole and then filling it in again.

The Inefficient Everything Hypothesis

February 14th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The Efficient Markets Hypothesis may be looking a bit shabby after the financial crisis. But it’s still looking pretty damn good compared to any other area of public life. Where’s the Efficient Media Hypothesis? The Efficient Academia Hypotheis? The Efficient Politics Hypothesis? The Efficient Courts Hypothesis? Anybody eve proposing them would be laughed out of the room.

Adam Curtis, Behaviorism and Behavioral Economics

January 7th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Adam Curtis has a blog

Curtis is IMO the most interesting documentary-maker currently active, by a healthy margin. He spends months or years closeted in the BBC archives, intermittently emerging with documentaries like The Trap or The Power of Nightmares.

Most of his documentaries fit into a coherent project, an intellectual history of the 20th century. What continually fascinates him is the interaction between emotions and politics, how ideas about human nature shape how we see ourselves, and so form the background assumptions which justify political movements. As he told Charlie Brooker:

“What I’m hoping they’ll do is pull back like in a helicopter and look at themselves and think about how they’re a product of history, and of power, and politics, as much as a product of their own little inner desires. We’re all part of a big historical age. That’s just what we are. And, sometimes, we forget.”

The blog extends these themes, often accompanied by decades-old clips which might otherwise never have found there way online.

Here is a typically fascinating post. Curtis takes Behavioural Economics — popularised in ‘Nudge’ and by Dan Ariely, now being politically weaponized by Cameron’s Behavioural Insight Unit — and ties it to Behavoiurism. This is the psychological apporoach* of treating the mind as a black box, not trying to understand it internally but just tracking how it responds to certain stimuli. Curtis:

Drawing on… behaviourist ideas [Nudge author] Thaler wrote a paper in 1981 with a great title – An Economic Theory of Self-Control.

This is what lies behind the Downing Street unit’s plans to find mechanisms to manipulate people so they will do “good” things – like save more for retirement or eat less bad food.

Skinner himself was acutely aware that modifying human behaviour in these ways raises serious political questions. Not just about individual freedom, but about who decides what is “good” behaviour, and what happens when others decide it is bad.

These are questions that the Nudge enthusiasts seem to be blithely unaware of.

The whole blog is fascinating, and is at the very least full of arguements to interestingly disagree with. I’m a fan.

* ‘approach’ because it hovers uneasily between being a methodological practice of conducting experiments and a theory of how the mind works. It’s comparable to the ‘homo economicus’ model of rational self-interest in economics. Both are trivially true, but only if you sideline some of the most important causes of behaviour. Both function very well in narrow circumstances which make for good journal articles, tempting researchers to focus on those circumstances and ignore the rest. Both thus had a similar academic trajectory — innumerable grad students applying the theories in ways that were clever, internally consistent, and applied to the real world only if you ignored the footnotes — attacked continually by outsiders determined to blame the theory for the shortcomings of its application.

It’s the economy of fear, stupid

November 21st, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Al-Qaeda (Yemen) claims it’s sufficient for the West to disintegrate into paranoia — killings aren’t necessary:

“It is such a good bargain for us to spread fear amongst the enemy and keep him on his toes in exchange of a few months of work and a few thousand bucks,” the statement said.

“We are laying out for our enemies our plan in advance because as we stated earlier our objective is not maximum kill but to cause [damage] in the aviation industry, an industry that is so vital for trade and transportation between the US and Europe”.

AQAP said: “Two Nokia mobiles, $150 each, two HP printers, $300 each, plus shipping, transportation and other miscellaneous expenses add up to a total bill of $4,200. We will continue with similar operations and we do not mind at all in this stage if they are intercepted.

“To bring down America we need not strike big.”

Granted, this is largely putting a good face on their inability to do more than mail parcels.

Equality for economists

May 16th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

It’s a sad reflection on the state of our politics that nobody is mentioning how useful redistribution of wealth/income would be from a purely economic perspective, in stimulating increased spending &c. AG touches on it here. but there’s doubtless much better information elsewhere.


December 23rd, 2009 § 0 comments § permalink

Alexander Lukashenko has often been referred to as Europe’s last dictator. All of a sudden, though, he seems to be on a push to rapidly liberalize Belarus’ economy and turn it into a high-tech paradise. But is this socialist island really ready to attract Western investors?

This is really simple. Business isn’t the opposite of dictatorship; it’s something almost orthogonal to it. If one man’s whim completely changes the government of a country, then it’s a dictatorship. Obviously I’m glad his current passions encompass encouraging business rather than staging purges, but that doesn’t make Lukashenko any less a dictator.

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