Re: Gov't loves Gov't

Craig Presson (
Fri, 23 Jan 1998 09:02:37 -6

On 23 Jan 98 at 6:10, Charlie wrote:

> I look around the extropians list and I see people -- same as it was
> in 1992 -- with their eyes fixed on the stars, but their whole idea of
> economic interaction is based on an uncritical acceptance of dogma
> inherited from the 1920's (and formulated to some extent as a backlash
> against the then-dire threat of Soviet collectivism).

_The Wealth of Nations_ was published in 1776, Charlie. Not that being
formulated in the 1920's or being anti-Communist is necessarily a
disqualifier for an idea. Hell of a lot of good ideas are from the
20's, are anti-Communist, or both.

> This is a weird paradox: forward-thinkers who _refuse_ to examine
> some of their assumptions and try to improve on them.
> I dunno. The free market _may_ be the optimal mediational method,
> for all I know; but what I see here isn't people trying to _prove_
> it, or, alternatively, trying to invent something better: what I see
> is people taking it as a forgone conclusion.
> This is a blind spot. You have been notified.

Oh, now the members of the list are tasked with advancing the state
of the art in economics. Do we even have an economist on the list
anymore? Or anyone who can speak for the field? I was under the
impression that there were "proofs," to the extent economics supports
such, of optimality of free markets.

You're suffering from a dislocated onus here. The evidence of failure
of non-free-market solutions is abundant. Yes, there *may* be a method
of computing something more optimal, under some set of assumptions, in
some cases. There could even be a general method that allocates costs
incrementally better than a free market (I suspect you'd have to
start with some definitions of optimality that assume what you're
trying to prove, though). There's not even a candidate idea, after all
the statist schemes that have been tried. Without at least the germ of
a workable idea, you're asking us to look for a chimera.

One reason this whole conflict of ideas is chronic and irreducible is
the limits of economics itself. Simplest example I've seen of that is
that in the healthcare discussion, whatever scheme we work under
implicitly assigns some cash value to a human life, whereas we all like
to think of our lives as infinitely valuable. Also, different people
put different values on freedom, or come into the discussion with all
kinds of dysfunctional memes like "the rights of society" or "the duty
of altruism."

"Intangibles", also, are by definition hard to quantify. You just have
to leave every actor in charge of his or her own valuations of them,
with exceptions (e.g., goodwill is intangible but people often agree
on a specific value for it).

Taking a quick leap here, at the risk of being critical without having
the data to back it up, I also suspect that different economic axioms
lead economists to collect and interpret data differently. I would not
be surprised to find some detailed criticism of the field along these
lines. Maybe a paper from the 20's ?<G>.

In the meantime, as others have said, the free market is simple, works
extremely well, and the alternatives by definition require coercion.

-- (Freeman Craig Presson)