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Scrapping Economics and Starting Over

Having garnered almost one third of the votes in this week’s Italian elections [1], the Five-Star Movement (M5S) has emerged as Italy’s single largest party. Though they won’t form a government this year, they’re sure to act as the official opposition to the center-right coalition led by Matteo Salvini and Silvio Berlusconi.

Expect M5S’s gains to cause panic on both sides of America’s political aisle. Though usually characterized as green and left-libertarian, the party has tremendous appeal to the populist right. Progressives won’t care for its Euroskeptism and moderate immigration restrictionism. And establishment conservatives will be horrified by its support for degrowth economics [2], by which they mean:

an ecologist and anti-capitalist economic policy that views overconsumption as at the heart of environmental problems and social inequality. Degrowth instead suggests well-being is better maximized through sharing work, consuming less, and devoting more time to family, culture and community. The party supports a 20-hour working week, monthly stipends for the unemployment and debt renegotiation.

This is a new kind of heterodox economics. Both the protectionist Donald Trump and the socialist Bernie Sanders insisted their respective ideologies would be a boon to the GDP. Laissez-faire types argued that both were naïve, and dangerously so. But what can any of them say to M5S, the party committed to working against such economic gains in the first place? Their program is backed up by polls: 30 percent of the Italian electorate have no interest in accumulating more wealth, either by means of the market or by means of the state.

change_me

“Degrowth” as a government policy strikes me as absurd and unworkable. I can’t see how it would be implemented, except by literally punishing success. But the idea that the economy is just too big—too cumbersome, too impersonal—is a perfectly valid one.

When our market-fundamentalist friends insist on the importance of “economic growth,” huge swaths of the American electorate must ask themselves: “Why?” It’s true that per capita income tends to increase [3] with the GDP, albeit at a slower rate. Rising tides do lift all (or most) boats. But that doesn’t mean wages will keep pace [4] with the cost of living, which is one of the reasons, for instance, that a larger share [5] of the population is renting homes than at any time in five decades.

We are wealthier, yet we don’t feel wealthier. We might have more money, but it seems to get us less. And what we do get hardly seems worth having. No pie chart or Lord Acton quote will convince people that tiny apartments full of Ikea furniture and streets lined with McDonald’s drive-throughs are “progress” in any meaningful sense of the word.

None of which, of course, is useful in economic terms. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

That was the point E.F. Schumacher tried to make in his masterpiece Small is Beautiful. The market fundamentalists, no less than the Marxists, erect a Berlinesque wall between man’s material and spiritual needs:

What is the meaning of democracy, freedom, human dignity, standard of living, self-realization, fulfillment? Is it a matter of goods, or of people? Of course it is a matter of people. But people can be themselves only in small comprehensible groups. Therefore we must learn to think in terms of an articulated structure that can cope with a multiplicity of smallscale units. If economic thinking cannot grasp this, it is useless. If it cannot get beyond its vast abstractions, the national income, the rate of growth, capital/output ratio, input-output analysis, labour mobility, capital accumulation; if it cannot get beyond all this and make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation, despair, breakdown, crime, escapism, stress, congestion, ugliness, and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start afresh.

A handful of traditionalist thinkers have made similar appeals. Russell Kirk (no enemy of competitive enterprise) warned against [6] those “zealots” who “instruct us that ‘the test of the market’ is the whole of political economy and of morals” and “assure us that great corporations can do no wrong.” Likewise, Sir Roger Scruton told an interviewer [7]: “the conservative position is rooted in cultural rather than economic factors, and that the single-minded pursuit of competitive markets is just as much a threat to social order as the single-minded pursuit of equality.”

Schumacher, Kirk, and Scruton are philosophers, not wonks. They can’t be expected to manage both theory and praxis. Yet generations of center-right commentators, think tankers, and legislators refused to take their insights under consideration, much less turn them into actionable policy. They’re happy to borrow Kirk’s and Scruton’s intellectual currency, and even to appropriate the word “conservative.” But they refuse to compromise their fundamentally materialist, libertarian worldview [8].

We should point out also that all three remain popular with huge swathes of the center-right base. Every publication that calls itself conservative is eager to carry Scruton’s writings, as they were Kirk’s, even if they completely ignore both men’s trenchant criticisms of the mainstream right. The traditionalist wing has always been sorely under-represented in the conservative movement’s halls of power.

Now we are paying the price. Principled Conservatives™ endlessly bemoan the “economic illiteracy” of the base but are deaf to their complaints that market fundamentalism is soulless and inhumane. How many opportunities have we had to forge an authentically conservative economics—one that accounts for both our material and our spiritual needs? Yet we’ve squandered every single one.

So one may be alarmed that right-of-center voters are replacing The Road to Serfdom with The Art of the Deal on their bedside tables. But we shouldn’t act so surprised. Schumacher’s suspicion could soon be realized: we may have to scrap economics altogether and begin again.

If so we should start with Schumacher. Then go to Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism, with its careful and constructive criticisms of the Thatcher government—all of which, to some extent, have been applicable to the GOP since Reagan’s ascendency. Then read Kirk’s Economics: Work and Prosperity. It’s an excellent synthesis of the material and spiritual imperatives necessary for human flourishing: competition and community.

Then read widely from the forgotten classics of traditionalist economics. Don’t discount anything just because it doesn’t seem immediately relevant: their insights are still strikingly fresh. For instance, as Louis de Bonald warned in 1802:

Modern administrators, concerned to promote mechanical inventions that make man’s work easier and more productive, do not clearly perceive that the more machines there are to replace men, the more men there will be in society who are nothing but machines.

All of these fine old books—however dated, obscure, or fanciful they may seem—are worth revisiting. Before we forge ahead, we must acquire a sense of what we’ve lost.

Michael Davis is U.S. editor of the Catholic Herald. He tweets @MichaelDavisCH [9].

35 Comments (Open | Close)

35 Comments To "Scrapping Economics and Starting Over"

#1 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 7, 2018 @ 11:02 pm

I don’t quite grasp the analysis here about degrowth, I will have to do some homework. However, I do consider that what what we lack as economic perspective is real growth, real GDP – real economy not based on projections to production, but actual consumption.

Sure growth as we understand it means, everyone grows. But the vast gaps between the percentage if growth suggests somethings wrong withe model, though we never see it until the economy takes a serious dive. And it is then we understand that growth at the top suffers little and in some cases actually expands despite, an overall downturn.

It’s easy to assume that the system is working based on stock prices. But the stock market no longer works as it has previously, weighted heavy to actual product sales. I am a capitalist, but its easy to mistake capitalism for mercantilism – they are not the same.

#2 Comment By cka2nd On March 8, 2018 @ 1:15 am

Very interesting piece, and the Scruton book sounds like it is worth a look. However…

“We are wealthier, yet we don’t feel wealthier.”

Who’s wealthier? Not the working class, whose incomes have been largely stagnant or falling for the last 35-40 years. Not the young, who’s job prospects look pretty dismal. It’s not just feelings, out there, it’s real, honest to God poverty, intensified exploitation, exhaustion and despair.

#3 Comment By The Scientist 880 On March 8, 2018 @ 7:19 am

This seems like a horrible idea for the GOP to move towards. Social conservatism is a minority position which only has appeal to about 30% of the population if that. You won’t peal off democratic voters with this stuff because socially conservative Democrats have already sorted themselves into the Republican Party. Few young people under 35 are socially conservative. You would lose both the libertarian wing of the Republican Party and the corporate wing of the party which is doing the heavy lifting right now. Counties that voted for Trump are significantly poorer than those who voted for Clinton. If you lose those corporate dollars, it seems like game over for the republicans nationally. Even with the current party, they have only won the popular vote once in 25 years.

#4 Comment By mark_be On March 8, 2018 @ 9:58 am

It’s funny that you should mention Hayek. Some time ago, I read that when classical Keynesianism began imploding in the 1970s, neoliberalism was there to take its place. Hence the 1980s. In contrast, when neoliberalism imploded in 2008, there was no new theoretical framework available to rebuild from the ashes. From then on, neoliberalism has been staggering forward like a zombie, devouring but never creating.

In part, that’s Obama’s legacy. He had a chance to rein in and punish the financial sector, and let it pass. Trump, now, despite his bloviating about American workers, is on track to repeat 2008. And there is still no alternative.

I’d never heard of Louis de Bonald before, yet that quote does resonate with a thought I’ve been entertaining for some time: that, in the neoliberal system, a Human Resources Department might as well be called the Biorobot Division.

#5 Comment By Banger On March 8, 2018 @ 10:20 am

Excellent essay and the sort of “new” thinking we need in a society stuck in an endless loop of clichés. The 5-Star movement in Italy and other blends of left and right (TAC is one of those “places”) are beginning to come out of the woodwork (cliché) and will have to be the basis of a new social contract because the old one is not just outdated but highly toxic which includes most of what passes for the “left” and the “right” so new paradigms are essential.

Most important to me personally is the issue of social morality which seems to not be even a slight consideration with most public and private large institutions in this country (it still exists in Europe to some degree). Our political leadership as reflected by the controlled official media is not interested in morality other than the usual sentimental and propagandistic type but it is the most essential public issue we have. We have to think about meaning, we have to think about questions of meaning, of identity, of maybe thinking about what we are trying to build and why. Without directly confronting those issues the situation will continue to degenerate in one or more of possible disasters we are facing.

#6 Comment By paradoctor On March 8, 2018 @ 11:16 am

mark_be: “Human Resources” is an inherently contemptuous title. So I’m a resource? Like a seam of coal or a stand of trees, to be used up?

I’ve been working on a philosophy that I call “aplutism”, which states that money doesn’t really exist: it’s a fiction, a convention like balls, strikes, and first downs. Unlike socialism, which says that the money system is unfair, aplutism says that the money system isn’t _there_. It’s an idol whose god doesn’t exist, and therefore will not reward sacrifices.

#7 Comment By Kent On March 8, 2018 @ 11:34 am

How to implement a degrowth strategy? Simple, stop taxing income and sales, and put all taxes on property and pollution.

Stop attacking productive work and trading, and start attacking unnecessary material accumulation and waste.

#8 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 8, 2018 @ 2:16 pm

“I’ve been working on a philosophy that I call “aplutism”, which states that money doesn’t really exist: it’s a fiction, a convention like balls, strikes, and first downs. Unlike socialism, which says that the money system is unfair, aplutism says that the money system isn’t _there_.”

This sounds like Wall Street as well as Bitcoin thinking. That money itself doesn’t have a place, it’s just numbers and decimal points to be squeezed to the . .nth degree by computer models used to project variable outcomes on commodities, which themselves exist as idea and processes which can also be monetized via numerical equations as opposed to values based on demand to delivery.

before the system was so processed via physics, money operated as a place holder on the value placed on a product. I think hen Pres Nixon took the US off the “gold standard”, the US entered the world on money made in parted to product as opposed to product. N ow every step in the process is part of the Wall street equation, including the bureaucracy. and the speed with which a contract is done, and implemented. Because of the liquidization, as i refer to it, money has no place holders to anything tangible.

The formulas for establishing value are astronomically large or small, that very few comprehended them. And that is where the manipulation now exists in my view.

At the core of degrowth is tamping down on people’s desires for stuff. It reminds of the calls I heard several tears ago just after (there is no after in my view) of the economic adjustment. That people would desire to own homes . . . when history suggests that home ownership was an investment against many of life’s barriers to maintenance of sound living.

A tangible hedge against: financial woes, to retirement, to providing money for college, etc. Any such model would require a very in depth analysis and structuration at nearly every level of the societal system to make the case.

Beginning with diminishing desires or justifying why said desire should be mitigated and by whom. My life was made trash by the likes of the much abused common good press, i wasn’t a fan before, but since 2003, I flat out consider most such advocacy, justification for human carnage against innocence.

Its also easy for to envision the very top manipulating degrowth so as to maintain their own wealth as they fix the rest of life for everyone else with commercials for “less for more”.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 8, 2018 @ 2:19 pm

“Stop attacking productive work and trading, and start attacking unnecessary material accumulation and waste.”

I am old and single. But suppose i finally decide to get married and can actually afford a home. I plan on having two children and a dog. Please describe for me what in the mind of a degrowth advocate constitutes a reasonable purchase.

#10 Comment By b. On March 8, 2018 @ 2:44 pm

“Both the protectionist Donald Trump and the socialist Bernie Sanders insisted their respective ideologies would be a boon to the GDP.”

Calling Sanders a “socialist” renders the term meaningless. The observation that Sanders is taking a shortsighted position with respect to economics is correct, although the author’s position is even less useful.

Fact is, the current stock market is overvalued to an extreme that rivals and now by some metrics exceeds the 1929 peak, and its major indices are set to loose enough “paper gains” to set investors back to 1997 (in comparison to Treasury dividends) over the completion of the current market cycle. Sanders, and in fact any other politician, would be well-advised to stop demanding that the Federal Reserve continue its counterproductive, deranged, unsanctioned and hazardous low interest rate and asset purchase policies, and instead start cautioning voters that Bush and Obama colluded to basically rewind the economy into another bubble – this time largely driven by Ponzi schemes such as corporate debt driven by fracking – and have placed us right where we started in 2007: at the threshold to Great Recession 2.0 (now with a Federal Reserve that will be bankrupt without Treasury intervention).

“Degrowth” as a government policy strikes me as absurd and unworkable.”

Economics as an aspiring discipline and wannabe science has always been corrupted by one single fact: it discusses money, wealth, and power. Whereas hard science like physics, and applied sciences and engineering discipline offer some resistance to bribery, orthodoxy and opportunism by virtue of being subject to constraints imposed by an objective reality, economics combines the worst properties of mathematics with the worst pathologies of organized religion.

“Degrowth” is the inevitable consequence of the twin jaws of Peak Carbon – declining EROEI and increasing climate change hazard due to carbon dioxide pollution. Government policy has little more to do than anticipate this, and attempt to mitigate it. That is an existential challenge, and our chances to salvage some essential aspects of our way of life – but not pathologies like consumption-driven growth – are not improved by bad faith actors striving to present degrowth as a choice.

Much ink has been spilled in dishonest misprepresentations of the “limits of Growth” since 1972, by paid-for mouthpieces of any level of irrelevance. Unfortunately, while it maybe be possible to bulls**t most people most of the time, physics advises us that the universe at large, and the almost-closed system that is Earth do not specifically care about what we might believe, or profitably pretend to believe.

#11 Comment By b. On March 8, 2018 @ 2:53 pm

From a conservative, or non-glibertarian perspective, we should ask ourselves whether “growth” is irrelevant, possibly counterproductive, in the context of the economic freedom of the individual – not the freedom to exploit others, but the freedom to not be exploited, and to pursue and achieve sustainable autonomy and, for society, productive independence in vocation and labor.

For any individual focused on individual agency and choice, wealth is a means – to empower us to be productive in a way of our choosing – and not an end. GDP growth has obviously done nothing to prevent a stunning reduction in scope and incidence of such freedoms, over many decades. If we are to be a nation of shopkeepers and craftsmen, then it follows that the “economics of scale” as expressed in trusts and monopolies, and distortions of our democratic institutions and legal code, are a powerful force against our desire to “own” our time and future.

#12 Comment By R.C. On March 8, 2018 @ 3:33 pm

The analysis is wrong, inasmuch as it fails to make a distinction.

Free-Market Capitalism comes in two forms: Capitalism interpreted as a whole philosophy-of-life, and Capitalism as an abstention from morally-unjustified use of force.

In the first form, Capitalism is symmetrical with Marxism: Both are monomanias: Either everything is all about markets and consumption, or everything is all about class warfare. Neither monomania is intellectually credible.

But in the second form, Capitalism is one sub-component of a larger philosophy. To the degree that the larger philosophy can provide a robust metaphysics, ethics, epistemology, anthropology, etc., the Capitalist sub-component will keep its proper, humble role as a “cached response” to the query, “If two men wish to contract a trade of goods or services or asset-ownership which does no harm to themselves or anyone else, do I have just authority to forcibly prevent it?” (Capitalism’s cached response is: “No.”)

But if the larger philosophy into which Capitalism is incorporated fails to provide these other, more fundamental components, Capitalism will grow to try to occupy these other areas of life. Absent any other ethics, the Capitalist will say, “Why should I do anything? Well…either because I am a consumer who will enjoy the outcome of the choice, or because the outcome will bring me more money I can use to make still more choices whose outcomes I enjoy.” In this fashion something as humble as the near-pacifism of market-freedom advocates can mutate into the monomaniacal caricature of Hollywood’s Gordon Gekko. A simple, sane moral observation becomes insanity when removed from its proper context.

But this does not invalidate the libertarian insight of the humble form of Capitalism. That insight remains as it began: a sound moral insight.

Michael Warren Davis seems to think that “Capitalism” ought to be abandoned in favor of “Not-Capitalism” in some form. But he leaves out the need for the metaphysics, ethics, etc. which would have kept “Capitalism” in its proper place, and which will be equally necessary to keep Capitalism’s replacement (whatever that might be) in its place.

That is not the answer.

The answer is to restore, in each individual human soul, the metaphysics and ethics into which Capitalism can be properly integrated as a sub-component. And the job of inculcating a common philosophy in human souls within a community is the job of culture.

So Kirk and Scruton (and Davis) are correct to point out the need for cultural reform. (But who the hell didn’t know THAT, already?)

But Davis is incorrect to characterize that solution as an alternative to Capitalism. The problem is not that Capitalism is morally insane; the problem is that Capitalism As Practiced By Morally Insane Persons is morally insane.

Through the restoration of culture, we should cure the moral insanity, and then keep the capitalist insight of not pointing guns in men’s faces for inadequate cause. Throwing that deeply moral insight away would be merely one more way of adopting moral insanity. Haven’t we had enough of that already?

#13 Comment By JonF On March 8, 2018 @ 4:20 pm

The poster “b.” reminds me of the old codger in classic grade B horror movies who totters up to the leads early in the movie and intones sonorously “You’re all doomed!”

#14 Comment By JonF On March 8, 2018 @ 4:22 pm

Re: I think hen Pres Nixon took the US off the “gold standard

It wasn’t Nixon who did that– it was FDR back in 1933. And it was the smartest thing he ever did: the economy immediately began to improve.

#15 Comment By Kent On March 8, 2018 @ 4:37 pm

“I am old and single. But suppose i finally decide to get married and can actually afford a home. I plan on having two children and a dog. Please describe for me what in the mind of a degrowth advocate constitutes a reasonable purchase.”

Whatever is necessary to provide for the basic needs of a family: healthy food, clean water, decent shelter, good health, good education, productive and enjoyable life. 100 foot yacht with helicopter would not constitute a reasonable purchase. Though I’m not really a degrowth advocate. I actually kind of live that lifestyle anyway.

#16 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 8, 2018 @ 6:55 pm

“100 foot yacht with helicopter would not constitute a reasonable purchase. Though I’m not really a regrowth advocate. I actually kind of live that lifestyle anyway.”

Laughing. Hence the issue — I have to challenge your authority to tell me what I need. yachting as a exercise and relaxation, as well as teaching my children the fundamentals of sailing invaluable unto itself as a means of education —

but here’s the nexus of the problem The suggestion that that you or anyone has the right to limit what I buy based on your estimation of need.

It’s linked to bizarre commentary on the veracity and immutable wisdom of science —

[10]

Uhhh no way. Next you’ll be telling me I can only have two children.

In short Bioethics —

#17 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 8, 2018 @ 7:01 pm

Gold standard ends 1970.

I am a huge fan of Pres Nixon. Long before the book, The Real Watergate . . arrived on my door step, I have contended he should not have resigned.

Bu taking the US off the Gold standard was a mistake.
[11]

#18 Comment By tz On March 8, 2018 @ 8:46 pm

You don’t feel wealthier when you’ve lost your job to Mexico or China and your unemployment has run out.

Then it doesn’t matter – you used to make enough with benefits to be the single earner to raise a family, now it takes two incomes, and you often end up as a burger flipper, and have to use Food Stamps (which Mexico or China does NOT pay for), and can’t afford even the cheaper consumer items that are now imported.

Meanwhile, in Mexico and China, they dump toxic waste into their rivers – or sometimes Sewerage as San Diego found out when they had to close their beaches because of the human feces. They also don’t care if workers get maimed or die in factories. We do. So it isn’t free trade but regulatory arbitrage.

Finally, we are buying stuff with debt, and the exchange rates matter – when the Peso was devalued just after NAFTA it amounted to a 20% tariff on imports, and a 20% subsidy on exports.

#19 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 8, 2018 @ 9:25 pm

“Most important to me personally is the issue of social morality which seems to not be even a slight consideration with most public and private large institutions in this country (it still exists in Europe to some degree).”

Social morality:

Don’t steal
Don’t lie
Don’t falsely accuse your neighbor
Don’t make plans to steal they neighbors goods, wife or property
Don’t kill or maim another
Don’t have relations with one not your spouse
__________

A country that legalized slavery despite its own philosophy of freedom and did so using God

A society that engaged in violating agreements with native peoples

A country that imported workers while denying work to her own citizens

Removing voluntary faith expression in schools —

Deciding that it was permissible to murder children in the womb.

Hijacking civil rights to embrace a peculiar practice of same sex relations, free love, same sec relational marriage, etc —

Destroying family and traditional foundations that make any community sustainable and in some manner orderly —

Actually practicing capitalism in it full meaning as ell as all of the above have been staples of social morality. Decrying a lack of social morality without acknowledging we have obliterated beyond recognition the very simple practice of “Do unto others . . .” Suggests incorrectly that social morality is something new and in demand. deviating from what was understood as social moral health doesn’t mean we have not as foundation a social morality.

The new social morality is being laid around the artifact of IQ and whiteness as superior human beings who ought to be designing the social order based on their IQ’s as opposed to any social morality — despite how they frame it. Nothing amiss in researching and explicating IQ. But making IQ a nexus of superior human beings when the idea in contradicted by experience,
_____________

“Whereas hard science like physics, and applied sciences and engineering discipline offer some resistance to bribery, orthodoxy and opportunism by virtue of being subject to constraints imposed by an objective reality, economics combines the worst properties of mathematics with the worst pathologies of organized religion.”

Comments like this strain attitudinal ridicule. Anyone contending that science is some pure objective modality free of error, fraud, and misbehavior is unaware of sciences history.

[12]

[13]

[14]

[15]

[16]

Science and the influence of money —

[17]

[18]

It is taught that homseuxal conduct is genetically based, describe the objective DNA markers responsible for this behavior.

It is contended that whites are genetically indisposed to having a higher IQ, describe the biological construction that makes this possible and its relation to skin tone.

Climate change is contended as science fact, describe the the opposite effect of climate change and their relational dynamic — you choose the continents.

#20 Comment By Someone in the crowd On March 8, 2018 @ 10:31 pm

This is one of those thought-provoking and at times even profound articles — that are ‘conservative’ in unexpected ways — that I find nowhere but TAC. Keep em coming.

#21 Comment By gibberjabber On March 8, 2018 @ 11:55 pm

@JonF. No, FDR prohibited private Au ownership, and de-valued the dollar (only after he had seized it). International exchange was still in Au.

Nixon got us off the gold standard when he closed the gold window and allowed the USD to float. Until then a country could (and would) go to the US and demand Au for USD.

#22 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On March 9, 2018 @ 9:57 am

I’ve always told myself I’d be perfectly fine with a smaller national economic pie, provided it was distributed more fairly. Guess that’s why I’m all in for trade wars and tariffs.

#23 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 9, 2018 @ 4:06 pm

My response was blocked last night . . .

“It wasn’t Nixon who did that– it was FDR back in 1933. And it was the smartest thing he ever did: the economy immediately began to improve.”

Pres. Roosevelt, pressed to cease the private ownership of gold. While questionable, it did not take the US off of gold as monetary policy. That was Pres Richard Nixon. I don’t think long term either choice both while the economy was under some duress — have led us to the liquification — of currency held together by a myriad of factors that are themselves liquid, including emotion, adjustments to real market shifts of correction.

Simple: proposition: It is entirely possible to be a person of faith in scripture and critique Israeli behavior.

“It wasn’t Nixon who did that– it was FDR back in 1933. And it was the smartest thing he ever did: the economy immediately began to improve.”

Pres. Roosevelt, pressed to cease the private ownership of gold. While questionable, it did not take the US off of gold as monetary policy. That was Pres Richard Nixon. I don’t think long term either choice, both while the economy was under some duress — have led to the liquification — of currency held together by a myriad of factors that are themselves liquid, including emotion, adjustments to real market shifts of correction.

Note: defining superiority and what that means to the greater good outcomes is questionable as SOP.

I think its more than reasonable to challenge governments/leadership failures to hold accountable those responsible for financial and corporate abuses. But trying to decipher a general goodness and reasonability standard is a stretch in my view. It would be an interesting model.

maybe just fire the leadership and hold responsible parties accountable — might be a more direct route.

#24 Comment By Joshua Xanadu On March 10, 2018 @ 8:09 am

Thanks for this informative article to open the conversation on the need to fundamentally reevaluate how we measure economic growth. Lots of good reading suggestions. However, it’s important when discussing a new economic paradigm not to make its own philosophy and ideology too abstruse.

Rather, I see degrowth in much more tangible, sensible terms about walking away from “peak consumerism.” We are told that free trade and shareholder-driven corporate decision making helps lower prices for consumers to get more stuff. In our modern era we have to ask whether the trade-off is worth it, if lower costs means fewer American jobs and lower wages/benefits: Do we really need a new smartphone every 2 years? Do we need to purchase two new winter jackets each year?

Aside from groceries (mostly made in USA anyways), it’s my suspicion that an increasing number of Americans are willing to pay a bit more on consumer products if it means American jobs. And the fact is that with automation, more efficient workers, and lower transportation costs, the higher American labor costs would generally add only a small percentage to the final sales price.

But despite this theoretical willingness to pay more and consume less, our addiction to the lowest prices and buying more useless stuff is tough to break, not to mention encouraged by current measurements of economic data.

#25 Comment By Isaiah On March 10, 2018 @ 11:27 am

In point of fact, economics was scrapped a century or more ago. We are suffering from economic ignorance, not “market fundamentalism”. This article is a good example, confusing the issue completely. It find it staggering that educated, intelligent people can look at the 20th c. and conclude it was distinguished by market fundamentalism.

“We are wealthier, yet we don’t feel wealthier. We might have more money, but it seems to get us less.” This, Mr. Davis—at the heart of the current “populism” undoubtedly—is not the consequence of free markets, but rather of socialist central banking and endless inflation of the money supply.

Yes, if ever larger swathes of the population experience stagnation, and even regression, in real standards of living, the inability to discover the correct reasons is likely to morph into still more economic ignorance expressed politically. About 7 out of 8 job losses in the US have been from innovation, not predation by China or Mexico. No, manufacturing has not been gutted: it is just about where it was before the financial correction of 2008. Let’s all take a break from the demagoguery, shall we?

What the working people want is the upward trajectory of their standard of living restored. This desire, a birthright of capitalism practically, is legitimate. Their understanding of how this is to be achieved, insofar as it can be generalized, is nonetheless poor—understandably.

The paradox of the situation is that a cohesive community, where the human relations have the capacity to smooth over the sharp edges of creative destruction—like temporary unemployment—is indeed the best complement to the expanding division of labor from which our affluence proceeds. If temporary transfers of wealth are necessary let them occur at the level where the human relations sustain it spontaneously: not across a complex population of 325 million people, and not by that insatiable corporate beast in the DC.

It is not in my view a binary choice between Burke and Kirk on the one side, and Hayek and Friedman on the other. If the union is to survive the progressive counter revolution—without massive bloodshed that is—it is imperative that decision making generally, and transfers of wealth particularly, be decentralized and localized to the fullest extent possible; with the states and the feds providing no more than temporary backstops. The community of interests, the intimacy of human relations, and traditional American mutual aid will achieve the best possible outcome.

Would our new “cognitive elites” (Charles Murray) tolerate such heterogeneity? That is the question. Could the spirit of noblesse oblige prevail in the contemporary atheist environment? Or, will elitist condescension collide implacably with the rising tide of disaffection (to put it mildly!) and plunge the land into another bloodbath?

#26 Comment By ElitecommInc. On March 10, 2018 @ 10:01 pm

“Would our new “cognitive elites” (Charles Murray) tolerate such heterogeneity? That is the question. Could the spirit of noblesse oblige prevail in the contemporary atheist environment? Or, will elitist condescension collide implacably with the rising tide of disaffection (to put it mildly!) and plunge the land into another bloodbath?”

Ohhh good grief. I am not sure the point of the article in relationship to degrowth. And i am certainly unclear what is meant by bloodbath. I can think of several potential meanings as metaphor and literal, but even then, I am unclear whether the point is degrowth will solve or degrowth won’t solve.

economics was not scrapped, it existed and exists in one form or another as the later commentts note — it’s the form of the economics that is play – which degrowth advocates say is a way forward.

This comment lays claim to what americans want, with respect to capitalism, but the one caveat concerning capitalism is just one feature of capitalism. The other features at play, such as “level and fair playing field in which government does not interfere more on the behalf of one and not the other is certainly a feature in disrepair. In other words, a “noblese” really should not be a factor in the exchange of goods and service, but rather, quality and price determine a standard. In a degrowth model just who calls the shots in determining the limits of one’s desires suggests that the noblesse will survive quite well as the architects of what my “living to my means”, actually are.

“The community of interests, the intimacy of human relations, and traditional American mutual aid will achieve the best possible outcome.”

The problem is the issue of human desires, and we know that human desire has taken advantage of the human relations by ignoring fair dealings. The government’s role was designed to moderate such unfairness when human intimacy was over ridden by desire to violates rules or standards of fairness. What would be appealing to either Kirk or Burke is the idea of an ordered systems. What would be challenging is that “one’s value and potential” would be established by some board or some other agency of action minus his or her consideration. Both Kirk and Burke embrace the idea/concept of private property. That’s hard to square by a panel deciding that home ownership is dead and private property is excessive, even the desire to own a home is excessive. They will determine the necessary square footage for my families needs. Research sets privacy space needs by a rage or 3 to 10 feet. will the panel determining the needs for my family engage an equation of 10 square feet per family member and concludes how much living space will meet my needs. Who determines if I need a dog and how much living space would needed, assuming one gets permission to have a dog and if so what type of dog best meets said needs.

i don’t think that either Kirk or Burke would object out of hand to the idea of degrowth. Afterall, it’s goal to fairness and order are appealing —

but it breaks several fundamental aspects of conservative orthodoxy.

#27 Comment By ElitecommInc. On March 10, 2018 @ 10:11 pm

Note: i have no idea why i am so terse about the comments — excuse me . . .

“No, manufacturing has not been gutted: it is just about where it was before the financial correction of 2008.”

Since the implementation of NAFTA, US manufacturing significantly changed

[19]

[20]

that’s not gutted, but 5 million jobs or 1/3 loss is not chump cange.

#28 Comment By Isaiah On March 11, 2018 @ 12:05 pm

ElitecommInc. – It was not my intention to dismiss the job losses that have occurred as insignificant. Far from it. The main point was that the gigantic federal bureaucracy emanating from the clause “general welfare” has failed, very obviously, to provide the bridge the people needed to get over to the other side. It is something of a perfect storm of factors at play, not only economic policy, I’ll grant readily.

If we want these things to work like in Finland or Denmark or wherever—countries of 5-6 million people—we have to let the states and counties do it; where the structure and the scale are in closer harmony. The population is ten times larger than in Lincoln’s time. The unitarian central government is so desperately out of step, so riddled with hubris, so paralyzed by the concrete straight jacket of special interests that the prospect of bloodshed is not alarmist chatter. Anything a country has done before it can do again, specially when far from repenting the past it celebrates and glorifies that worst chapter in its history!

Some “degrowth” could be tolerable to people if the trade off is visible and tangible. Such trade offs are never guaranteed, and guarantees made by social scientists are seldom worth the paper and ink they waste. In other words, if a genuine improvement is experienced in social harmony and intimacy people are likely to take the deal at this point in time. Having said that I must now remind our reverse engineers that “degrowth” by itself achieves nothing but impoverishment. It is a non sequitur that social and cultural benefits will follow automatically.

Tradition takes centuries to build but only decades to destroy—we do not know how much survives, how much regenerative energy survives the “coming apart” phenomenon. We do not know. If the idea is to find out by flattening what’s left of their standard of living I find that shockingly irresponsible, the worst kind of idle chatter.

Degrowth is not a magic bullet. It is Luddite silliness.

#29 Comment By Patricus On March 11, 2018 @ 1:35 pm

Our trading partners observed our leaders’ cultish beliefs in free trade, Ayn Rand and invisible hands. They devoured our manufacturing sectors. It won’t be easy to rebuild what was lost. This is a case where ideas had consequences and average people were screwed.

#30 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 11, 2018 @ 9:08 pm

“Degrowth is not a magic bullet. It is Luddite silliness.”

I think we agree on principle. I appreciate you taking the time to elaborate your position.

I think we need to take a look at the minimum wage laws imposed from a national and state level. I am of the view that labor is product and laborers have every right to negotiate or bargain for the value of their product.

I cannot in any manner comprehend the role in government in leveraging corporate/financial carelessness and settle the matter without ensuring taxpayer benefit(s) for financing bailouts. I think we agree.

And I understand you mean literal bloodshed. Those of us supposed educated people will be on that chopping block, behind the politicians. Though at present, I think our system has too many release valves. It will depend on the next financial crisis’s breadth, depth and scope.

#31 Comment By Isaiah On March 12, 2018 @ 7:09 pm

EliteComminc. – Indeed. Thomas Leonard in ‘Illiberal Reformers’ has shown the rather ugly motives underlying these interventions in the market. Furthermore, right-to-work states show lower unemployment rates pretty consistently.

Our new elite evinces a tone deafness that is unprecedented according to Charles Murray, which is the reason I’m ringing the alarm bell a little. Have the elites even considered their position in the event the professional gunmen withdraw their consent? Sometimes I want to yell at them, “the soldiers are on our side, dummy! do you really want to push this envelope, you Godless fool?!”

Anyway, there is nothing inevitable about any of this, and I too believe the “institutional sclerosis” is still reparable. When we make up our minds to we can fix this, but right now we are still arguing—or, as Churchill might put it, trying every other idea first! 🙂

The window of opportunity for self correction is closing. Some very wise people have walked over to the side of pessimism. I am an optimist, but I respect these people—like Charles Murray, like Thomas Sowell—and I cannot dismiss their reasons.

Very nice chatting with you, sir. You have yourself a great day!

#32 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 12, 2018 @ 9:03 pm

“Very nice chatting with you, sir. You have yourself a great day!”

Such comment is enough to make my hair stand on end.

Laughing . . . One never knows when opportunity will come to shift the direct — I think the idea of “America First” us actually a valuable concept.

Odd you should mention PM and Lord of the Admiralty Churchhill, one of my favorites. I am watching a documentary on his life WWI.

Have a pleasant say and week yourself.

#33 Comment By EliteCommInc. On March 13, 2018 @ 8:45 am

Correction:

“Have a pleasant day and week yourself.”

What Pres Trump means by “America First” is different from my understanding and advocacy.

#34 Comment By James Trigg On March 13, 2018 @ 11:52 am

Degrowth would mean trash piling up in the streets.
Lets have freedom to do what you want. Degrowth would need totalitarianism. A good spirit is not hurt by things whether you have them or not. The group needs to live with in its means(Balanced Budget). If governments had balanced budgets and were run compintently people would be free to live how they want. How about freedom.

#35 Comment By Isaiah On March 13, 2018 @ 12:46 pm

What else would be the point of having a government if not to put the liberty and security of its own people first?

(I could give a cynical answer, of course, with lots of empirical evidence for its validity. The Jeffersonians have lost: the Hamiltonians have won. Predictably.)