Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Rise of Zero-Sum Economics and What if There Just Aren’t Enough Jobs to Go Around?

The Wall Street Journal is generating an orgy of lump-of-labor headlines. Yesterday there was The Rise of Zero-Sum Economics by Greg Ip. Today, on the Real Time Economics blog there is What if There Just Aren’t Enough Jobs to Go Around?  by Anna Louie Sussman. The latter article is substantive, with a discussion of a study by Marshall Steinbaum and Mike Konczal. Ip's article is polemical claptrap objecting to the polemical claptrap of the Republicans and Democrats.

With his banal -- and fallacious -- supposition that the "opposite" of win-lose (zero-sum) is win-win, Greg Ip indicates that the sum of his understanding of game theory is zero. Actually, the interesting thing about non-zero-sum games is that they present the players with dilemmas, such as the prisoner's dilemma or Garrett Hardin's tragedy of the commons.

The Sandwichman discussed the polemical use and abuse of game theory terminology in a series of posts back in April under the collective heading of "Zero-Sum Foolery":


Pretending to refute the perception that there is "only so much work to go 'round" is a boilerplate canard that the Sandwichman tackled back in 2005. In theory, of course, there is no inherent limit to the amount of work to be done. How that actually plays out in practice, however, is another matter. It depends.

For two and a half centuries, propagandists have laboriously blurred the distinction between propositions and perceptions in order to demonstrate that those they disagree with are stupid. Some of the commenters on Sussman's article appear to have been indoctrinated to that well-worn refrain:
"Tired of the whiners about 'no jobs'. Slothful gluttonous slugs by no other name." 
"Sounds like a 'study' designed to reach the preconceived conclusion of progressives." 
"You can't believe something this silly.  That would imply that all consumer demands have been fulfilled, Nirvana is here.  Such utter nonsense."

6 comments:

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Re: " In theory, of course, there is no inherent limit to the amount of work to be done. How that actually plays out in practice, however, is another matter. It depends..."

I agree with your assertion that there is no limit to the amount of work that is to be done. However, there is a limit to the amount of 'trade' that can take place, and therein lies a problem where a lack of PAID work may become apparent due to overproduction, debt-deflation, maldistribution of income, lack of resources, corruptions etc.

Most of the services and goods produced in an economy may not necessarily be traded; even in today's 'market' world.

Who looks at the real economy that encompasses ALL forms of work?

Sandwichman said...

"However, there is a limit to the amount of 'trade' that can take place, and therein lies a problem where a lack of PAID work may become apparent due to overproduction, debt-deflation, maldistribution of income, lack of resources, corruptions etc."

Yes, of course. That's what I meant by "it depends." The fallacy claimants' "theory" relies on the same kind of abstraction from reality that they complain about. In fact (as opposed to theory), population imposes a definite limit on the amount of work to be done. People don't buy things out of sheer pleasure of exchanging money for goods.

Bill H aka run75441 said...

Sandwichman:

I take it, this: "polemical claptrap objecting to the polemical claptrap of the Republicans and Democrats" of Mr. Ip's article?

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Sandwichman: "People don't buy things out of sheer pleasure of exchanging money for goods...."

Polanski talks about how the state was the leading player in the establishment of 'internal' markets, as opposed to local markets. States are also heavily involved in the establishment of (often compulsory) international markets.

The emergence of nation states goes along with the increase in the activity and number of markets.

The discussion about employment levels is always predicated on the existence of a labour 'market'. A paradigm created through a very recent and vast social and environmental transformation that involves/d enormous dispossession.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Re: "Walker also serves on the board of Take Back Your Time, a major US/Canadian initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork...."

* Is there an epidemic of 'overwork' or is it an excess of the wrong kind of work?
* Is the dichotomy between 'work' and 'leisure' a false one?

Wouldn't it be true that if the working week were reduced to 10 hours we would generally find that the nature of work changes, rather than the amount of time spent in work?

Sandwichman said...

"Wouldn't it be true that if the working week were reduced to 10 hours we would generally find that the nature of work changes, rather than the amount of time spent in work?"

Absolutely. That's the important point. Qualitative transformation of the nature of work rather than reduction of the quantity of an unchanged labor process.