Friday, May 31, 2013

Shaping the future, for what?

Each of us, in everything we do, shape the future (in which I mean the totality of reality at all times from the present forward to infinity).  First, consider the future to be the future of all behaviors, human and non-human (including nature, etc.).

F(t) = H(t) + NH(t)

In the past it has seemed like the human part of reality may have been changing much more rapidly than nature.  Though sudden outlier events could shake that complacency.  More recently it is beginning to seem like the human interaction may be causing the the non-human part of reality to change faster than before.

In any case, each of us has a human behavior at any point in time, we directly shape our own immediate future...which most of the time may simply be preventing various disasterous consequences.  Driving to work, 5 seconds of lost concentration could greatly change your life, or even end it.  On the other hand, large changes in occupation or residence may be difficult and take much time, or even be out-of-hand impossible.  We have some control over our behaviors, but most is determined by physical realities, human incentives, in the immediate timeframe.  In the long run, it can't be known if any of our behaviors have not been so determined by external realities--including our genes.

So one way to conceive of this is that from the present moment onward, there are an infinity of possible universes extending forward, starting very close together (we can't move that fast) but eventually meaning, within highly constrained limitations of course--though not knowable--we could be anywhere doing anything.  So a lot depends of our future depends on our choices, though those choices may be severely constrained.  But also the rest-of-the world is shaping our future, as we in very small measure shape it for all others (perhaps large measure for a very few).

But what do we shape our future and that of other FOR?  That is a question that motivates this discussion.  Utilitarians assume we shape our future for maximum pleasure and minimum pain.  Or maybe we should.  But we are certainly far from that.

We largely seem to shape our world to satisfy certain ideals within a particular world model.  So, say one is a serious Evangelical Christian.  That person's ideal is to be a wonderful saver of souls, by converting people to a preferred sect of Christianity, perhaps my local church.

For someone like me...  Well, I'm basically a utilitarian, in terms of how outcomes should be judged.  But getting to the greatest good for the greatest number, now and forever, is pretty mind boggling.  What I tend to do, as I think most everyone would, is to start from a particular model of the best possible society.  What we need to do, from that perspective, is to migrate to that.  So the most useful behavior is promoting that migration.  Success is not judged by how much one personally migrates to that way of life, but promotes said migration across a community or the world.

So of course economists, for example, have been personally invested in promoting market society.  Study the life of a particular economist, and you will rarely find a utilitarian.  You will find a market evangelist.

My ideal is obviously lefter than that.  The best societies we have seen so far are social democratic, such as Norway and Denmark.  That seems the best place to start, and I am happy promoting social democracy, as it is the solution that can sell now.

But in my mind it still wastes human potential, far too much pain for the pleasure provided.  The error I feel is still property.*  Hard as it is to eliminate (and I'm not giving up my home either) it must be limited in power.  That is still, I believe, the path to freedom.  And so I am a communist in ideal, even if I don't know how to do without it (though I've heard some interesting ideas, such as participatory economics) and especially how we would get to a society like that.

But I don't feel that being a social democrat, or a liberal (NOT a market liberal) is selling out.  It's here today, the slightly defective technology we actually have, and hopefully can shape for the better.  If we can ever get it out of the hands of the Thatcherites.

(*Property, of course, is theft.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Spending creates resources, saving destroys them

I've been seeing a number of great blog posts on the paradoxes of thrift.  I took the title of my post from the reasoning in this wonderful post by Steve Roth, who starts from the fact that Savings is not equal to Investment, as it is in the toy economic models and intuitions of many people (please read the whole thing to get the point).  One key very easy to understand part is this:

... If you forgo as massage this week, or wait a few more years to get your house painted, is the labor for that massage or paint job "saved"?  How about this year's sunlight...  Understand: services comprise 80% of US GDP. ...

I've been struggling to make these points, and more, for years.  Spending is what it's all about, without spending there is no income, no economy, and no social benefits can be ultimately delivered without spending.  Saving across the entire economy is not even necessary in a modern economy.  Saving is only a convenience facilitated by an economy and useful for personal purposes...deferred consumption, retirement and so on.  For the overall economy, saving is a drag...a drag which specifically produces unemployment.  That's why periods of de-leveraging--which is relative saving--inevitably induce unemployment.

There is no social benefit in favoring saving over spending in taxation.  If anything, it should be the reverse.  But the conflation of spending with consumption aka wasteful dissipation permits moralistic sounding politicians to serve plutocrats by giving them key tax breaks on saving, often painting them as for everyone when overall most benefit is to top incomes.  And also inducing politicians and even academics to shove down further plutocracy serving "consumption" taxes (i.e. transaction taxes).