Friday, August 17, 2012

Hard Work does more harm than good

The first problem with Hard Work is that we really don't know what we ought to be doing.  Many of the things we are told to do, or tell ourselves we must do--even though we don't find them pleasureable or rewarding in and of themselves (this being a good approximation as to what we mean by "work" as opposed to "play"), are the wrong things to do.  They will cause more suffering than pleasure for ourselves and others in the future.  We often don't know that, and in some cases if we had we wouldn't have done what we did, but it often turns out to be the case, especially in a long enough time frame.  Certainly for such wrong things, we would be better not doing, or doing them very poorly, than doing them well.

I am cynical enough to believe that most of what people believe are the things to do are wrong.  First, of course, people are often foolish.  But also at any given time, and nowadays especially, at least half of the people in the world disagree with the other half about what needs to be done.*  It would immediately follow that at least half of the people are wrong.  And since most of the people think they are not wrong, thinking you are not wrong proves nothing.

(*This is simplification, of course, since there are not merely two such camps.  It may be more like 1/10th of the people disagree with the remaining 9/10's, etc., which only makes the probability of being wrong greater.)

If most of the people are wrong most of the time about what needs to be done, we'd be far better not working hard, or even at all, in order to accomplish those things, and my conclusion that hard work does more harm than good immediately follows.

A second problem with Hard Work is that it often leads to making mistakes.  Even if we were lucky enough to tell ourselves or be told the best thing to do, many kinds of mistakes along the way could reverse that partly, or entirely, or even cause more harm than the thing we accomplish or were trying to accomplish.  I also believe this happens a lot, and that less hard work avoids it to a significant degree.  For example the aphorism "Haste makes waste."

A third problem with Hard Work is that given that it is already not pleasureable in itself, it starts by immediately tipping the long run balance toward suffering.  So the activities we choose to pursue by Hard Work need not only accomplish more than the lack of such accomplishment, they need to accomplish so much more that it negates the initial investment of suffering in accomplishing them.  My feeling is that this is almost never the case.

A fourth problem with Hard Work is that it deprives of concurrent opportunities to do something pleasureable immediately instead.  So Hard Work needs not only recover it's own investment in suffering in the long run, it needs to recover the cost of lost alternative opportunities as well.

A fifth problem with Hard Work is that it is self-debasing.  If Hard Work produces more stuff, but the demand for stuff remains the same, the value of that stuff will diminish accordingly.  So Hard Work debases itself on the supply side.  But Hard Work may also debase itself on the demand side, by depriving us of the time or energy to enjoy the very stuff produced.

A sixth problem with Hard Work is that it relatively deprives others of the opportunity to contribute to society, and, thereby, the possiblity to earn a decent living.  For the sake of these others, it would be best that we work less hard, and that then their contribution would also be demanded.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The West's brief moment of glory

Without explanation, Brad DeLong hoists a review of Landes' The Wealth and Poverty of Nations that he wrote in 1998.  Brad himself seems to explain the supposed rise and wealth of the West as a result of policy superiorities, including specifically governance by a Committee of the Bourgeoisie (a Marxist term he turned on its head without attribution).

I suggest a look at the comments, which are a lot more receptive to alternatives to the quasi End Of History view that Brad seemed to be promoting back in 1998.

I added, or at least attempted to add, this comment:

Uh, so how is that committee of the bourgeoisie doing these days? And while that committee most certainly includes Democrats and Republicans (and especially the so-named representatives in government), it seems that most of the business owners, managers, and the like I've ever known, read, or heard about lean heavily Republican, and that fact has changed little as the Republican party has gone deeply over the cliff of short sighted greed and irrationality as Brad is always pointing out. It seems to me that it ought to be pretty obvious that this system isn't working now, and by possible never did, since what happened before has simply led us to now.
If, as seems almost certain to me, there is catastrophic collapse of the economic and social well being (and many lives as well) in the coming century as a result of horrible resource mismanagement for at least 300 years by the dominant West, we won't be pondering the historical policy superiorities of that West.
Instead, we perhaps should be trying to figure out what made proxy rulers like the Shogun effective at curbing resource destruction, and trying to figure out how we can also do that, but with something like constitutional representative democracy.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Some of my feelings on Austrian Economics

Brad DeLong took another look at Austrian Economics last month.

I like his first reaction best:

And, of course, this is wrong--so so so so so so so so so unbelievably wrong.

I hope to write a detailed critique of the Austrian Confusion when I have time.  I think it is very useful to really, really, break this down and show how the whole thing is a sham.   When I have time I hope to do just that, soon.  My impressionistic version is this: prince von Mises (wealthy family elevated to nobility long before) puts on common clothes, comes down from his castle, and tells us what we poor working stiffs really want and need.  He is not to be believed!  Not at all!  No matter how intuitively reasonable and  he sounds.  What he is really describing as "freedom" is really the way for us to double up on our serfdom, so more gold in his store room, and those of his fellows, but not more bread on our fact many of us will starve if his ideas are actually followed, and to the same degree that they are.  Is this because the von is dishonest and greedy?  Certainly not, he is very upright.  But his very mind was formed from such a place that he cannot feel the interests of those very much unlike himself.  (In his later years, unfortunately, he became an actual political hack who must have known better, but was clinging on to what he knew because that was his thing.)

Anyway, I promise an actual detailed analysis will follow later.

Meanwhile, here is another impressionistic version I wrote to Brad's comments (I wrote this rather hastily, just like the above):
Thanks, and very timely for me. I discovered recently that one of my best friends has strong Austrian thinking, so I've been thinking about it a lot.
I suspect there are fundamentally different models of ethics at work here. Hard money, not surprisingly, appeals to people with the strict-father kind of philosophy. The end game of this pattern of behaviors is replication, essentially, making the world in one's own image, rooting out those who are different (sinners). For of course, one's own image is the only correct one. Only through great toil and suffering is happiness achieved. That hard work and suffering, of course, is the work whose byproduct is the replication of one's own self, and also endless accumulation of wealth for enabling the power that replication requires. Other people may see this as tyranny, fascism, imperialism, etc, and would just as soon be left to their own vices.
The other model is something like utilitarianism. The goal here is the greatest sum of human happiness, aka utility. Within the realm of economics, this appears as greatest amount of income, which follows the greatest amount of spending, since one person's income is by necessity another person's spending. Things that arbitrarily slow down spending, like hard money, are counterproductive. In this model, it is saving just for it's own sake (rather than for the purpose of funding future consumption, or managing future risk) which is the greatest vice. The ethics of economic acts might well be computed by determining their effect on the velocity of money, or more generally, value. Giving has the highest virtue in this regards, followed by spending, followed by financial investments, followed by bank deposits, to ultimately the greatest vice of all: hoarding assets that someone else might have a better use for. Why, that's goldbuggery--not surprisingly it's totally anti-social. By hoarding gold, and therefore keeping the price of gold high, we are inhibiting those who actually make useful things from gold. But stuffing bank notes into a mattress is also a way of destroying demand, which is also bad when demand is in shortage.
Demand, by the way, is constantly reduced by profit. Capitalist supply does not produce its own demand, it produces it's own demand less the saved part of profit, as Marx correctly pointed out. Therefore it only follows that as long as there is profit, and some of it is saved rather than spent, there are going to be problems keeping demand high enough.