Friday, March 19, 2010

Economics as a Moral Science?

I am quickly dashing off the text for lecture for the Campus Peace Institute. What I have is a bit rough, but I would appreciate any feedback.


Click here:


John said...

Keynes never for a moment seemed to take into account who tyranny can work
in a market economy, which was capable of enslaving people or cutting corners by putting people in
mortal danger in the workplace.

A professor of Russian history explained the philosophical split between Lenin and Trotsky in economic terms. Trotsky, the purist, remained bent on world revolution while Lenin advanced the idea of "revolution in one country." But even Lenin admitted that as long as there were input (capital, resources, commerce) from outside, no revolution could be considered pure.

Like a shark, capitalism must move forward or die.

There is a chain-letter quality about all economic activity which presupposes some measure of demand for every type and variant of supply. Hence the ubiquitous application of "new" and "improved" variants on perfectly acceptable basic products. There is no compelling reason to replace reliable transportation until the old one becomes more trouble than it's worth. Or yet another variant on breakfast or footwear. Nevertheless we are drawn to blings and bangs like ants to a picnic and call such irrational behavior "progress," advertising those trends to other countries as proper "development."

So where is the morality in all this? The question turns on a risk-reward metric. At what cost in predictable human exploitation do we use the terms "economic activity" and "progress" in the same sentence? Or are lives lost or lifestyles impaired irrelevant to the debate?

michael perelman said...

Nice touch. I may try to steal some of it.

John said...

Help yourself.

While you're at it, see if you can run down a report I heard last week that a few countries did not fare too badly during the global financial meltdown of 2008 thanks to a contrary view of capital flows. The prevailing view that unrestricted flows of money is a priori "good" (there;s that morality meme again). But at some point too much capital can become risky, if not dangerous. Why? Because although inflows may be an economic windfall, sudden outflows can be catastrophic.

The popular notions of progress and development are for nations the same as those of consumers, writ large. The unpredictable, capricious behavior of crowds is combustible. And I don't need to instruct an economics expert about investment crowds.

TheTrucker said...

It may be entirely possible for economics to be a strictly moral science so long as the basics are agreed. Moral derives form Latin "moralis" which simply means "of manner and custom". In other words, we all agree on what is "right". And I would offer that many of us have a very serious problem with privatization of natural resources, i.e. "real property".

We believe that the greater good is served when rightful ownership applies only to produced goods. And even then, the producer owes all of those who no longer have access to that which was taken from the commons. Until the harvester or producer arrived, all had equal and rightful access. So long as that taken is not scare then nothing is owed. But such abundance ends in the face of increasing population.