Just deserts and the market

by Henry on January 29, 2005

We’ve had a few discussions over CT’s life span where commenters have claimed that free markets produce just deserts; that is, that if markets are working correctly, people end up more or less where they deserve to be. Elizabeth Anderson has a great post over at Left2Right setting out Hayek’s argument that free markets can’t and shouldn’t lead to just deserts if they’re going to have the informational efficiencies that Hayekians see as essential. Key grafs:

Let’s consider first Hayek’s claim that prices in free market capitalism do not give people what they morally deserve. Hayek’s deepest economic insight was that the basic function of free market prices is informational. Free market prices send signals to producers as to where their products are most in demand (and to consumers as to the opportunity costs of their options). They reflect the sum total of the inherently dispersed information about the supply and demand of millions of distinct individuals for each product. Free market prices give us our only access to this information, and then only in aggregate form. This is why centralized economic planning is doomed to failure: there is no way to collect individualized supply and demand information in a single mind or planning agency, to use as a basis for setting prices. Free markets alone can effectively respond to this information.
It’s a short step from this core insight about prices to their failure to track any coherent notion of moral desert. Claims of desert are essentially backward-looking. They aim to reward people for virtuous conduct that they undertook in the past. Free market prices are essentially forward-looking. Current prices send signals to producers as to where the demand is now, not where the demand was when individual producers decided on their production plans. Capitalism is an inherently dynamic economic system. It responds rapidly to changes in tastes, to new sources of supply, to new substitutes for old products. This is one of capitalism’s great virtues. But this responsiveness leads to volatile prices. Consequently, capitalism is constantly pulling the rug out from underneath even the most thoughtful, foresightful, and prudent production plans of individual agents. However virtuous they were, by whatever standard of virtue one can name, individuals cannot count on their virtue being rewarded in the free market. For the function of the market isn’t to reward people for past good behavior. It’s to direct them toward producing for current demand, regardless of what they did in the past.

i.e. – you can’t have it both way folks. Via Brad DeLong

{ 38 comments }

1

Brett Bellmore 01.29.05 at 2:42 am

So much the worse for the notion of “just deserts”; Maybe we can throw it on the same scrap heap as “karma”.

2

bad Jim 01.29.05 at 5:50 am

Actually, “just desserts” sounds like my elderly mother’s eating habits. (Sorry.)

3

Andrew Boucher 01.29.05 at 6:39 am

I have no bone to pick with the conclusion, but the argument used seems specious. (Maybe this is because Hayek’s reasoning is – I don’t know.)

” Claims of desert are essentially backward-looking. They aim to reward people for virtuous conduct that they undertook in the past.”

and

“For the function of the market isn’t to reward people for past good behavior. It’s to direct them toward producing for current demand, regardless of what they did in the past.”

I don’t understand this linkage of “virtue” with past behaviour. Why can’t one say that “The function of the market is to reward people for present good behaviour, i.e. toward producing for current demand?”

4

Vance Maverick 01.29.05 at 9:27 am

Andrew, why do you call that the “present”? Your description of the “function” of the market is precisely what Anderson means by linking it to the future. And in saying they “deserve” their earnings, people usually mean, “I worked hard for them”, i.e., they justify them based on the past.

The present may be when the prices are set, but it isn’t the locus of their justification — whether under the argument of “just deserts” or of the wise informational market.

5

Andrew Boucher 01.29.05 at 10:52 am

“And in saying they “deserve” their earnings, people usually mean, “I worked hard for them”, i.e., they justify them based on the past.”

Maybe I’m missing something, but it would seem they are justifiying past earnings with past behaviour. “I worked hard for what I earned.”

6

abb1 01.29.05 at 12:14 pm

Let’s consider first Hayek’s claim that prices in free market capitalism do not give people what they morally deserve.

‘Morally deserve’ – what does it mean? By whose judgment?

7

andy 01.29.05 at 1:23 pm

What nonsense is this?

Firstly, the expression is “just desserts”. “Just deserts” translates as “simply areas of arid land” or “righteous areas of arid land”. So this is crap.

Secondly, I see no mention of the words “incentive” nor “future co-operation”. For surely, unless past effort is sufficiently rewarded, there is little incentive to engage co-operatively in future effort. Indeed, the incentive is to act destructively and destroy the antagonist, i.e. the system perceived as unjust. Why is this simple fact not taken into account?

8

mc 01.29.05 at 2:22 pm

Henry – couldn’t someone who wanted to salvage the argument (that the market gives people what they deserve) say the following: of course it isn’t the function of the market to reward desert; nor is it guaranteed to have that effect; but it might still have that tendency – in particular, it might produce a closer approximation to what people deserve than trying to measure and reward desert directly, through planned intervention.

I’m not sure this argument works, but I offer it because it strikes me it might be what many sensible pro-market types might believe (i.e., I doubt many of them really see it as a giant mechanism for measuring and rewarding desert; they just think that people who do well by it, generally deserve to).

9

john b 01.29.05 at 2:29 pm

Just deserts (dez-erts) = “those things which you rightly deserve”

Just desserts (dez-erts) = “nothing but puddings”.

10

Brian Weatherson 01.29.05 at 2:58 pm

MC, that’s entirely consistent with what Anderson is trying to defend. She’s arguing, if I’ve understood the thread correctly, that we can give philosophical justifications for roughly the level of redistributive taxation we find in advanced democracies. That does leave people with a lot of their pretax income, but also adjusts for some people who do badly. In other words, even with redistribution we still agree that markets do a good job on the whole in the long run at giving people what they deserve, but we don’t agree they are perfect in the short run which is why we have some redistribution.

11

tps12 01.29.05 at 3:08 pm

Andy, the linked essay specifically addresses the anti-tax argument that is based on desert. The anti-tax argument based on incentive is a separate one.

12

mc 01.29.05 at 3:33 pm

Brian – I had made a mental note to read Anderson but hadn’t yet. I’m certainly sympathetic to the general project. I never could stand the kind of argument she seems to be attacking. In particular, the way it paints a picture in which (1) I earn a certain amount of money and then (2) the government comes and takes it away from me. As if every employment contract wasn’t entered into against a background including the fact of taxation; as if employers didn’t make their offers against that background, etc. Never mind all the ‘tax freedom day’ stuff, I begin to wonder whether even terms like ‘pre-tax’ and ‘post-tax’ contribute to this obtuse/dishonest picture.

Until I’ve got to grips with Anderson I have just one thought, which is this. Anyone who wants to argue that the kind of combination of the market plus a bit of taxation which we have in countries like the US/UK represents a reasonable approximation to people getting what they deserve still has a couple of options. They can say (as from your summary I take Anderson to be saying) that the taxation element in this picture actually makes it a better approximation; or they can say that the taxation element is justified by other reasons – eg need or decency or cohesion rather than justice/desert – but that we shouldn’t allow people to make out that this is a big trade-off between justice/desert and these other considerations, given that the justice/desert consideration is only true in an aggregate and approximate sense anyway.

13

se 01.29.05 at 4:27 pm

I wasn’t going to post this here but what the hell.

You’re assuming greed is moral, and that the market is somehow virtuous merely because it exists. Why not an ethical counter-force against the market, not to deny it its authority, as an unavoidable but also useful reality, but to make other demands on people? Why the absurd assumption that freedom, whatever the word means, is a good.

Sociopaths are free

What is it about this romance with individualism that says that nothing but a ‘neutral mechanism’ may interfere with its operations? And of course the market does not by its nature lead us inevitably to advancement. McDonald’s in not an advancement in worker’s food. And sheetrock is not an advancement in construction technology, it’s a fucking abomination.

On the other hand I knew 20 years ago that value of real estate in the neighborhood I live in was going to go through the roof. Others did as well. I know a schmuck, and he is a schmuck, who turned $20,000 into 30 buildings and a home in Tuxedo Park.
He doesn’t ‘deserve’ his wealth, but having the power to toss someone on the street is a virtue?

Finally, Capitalism is ‘forward-looking’ and therefore you approve of it, but you accept a need defend ‘looking-backward’ for the purpose of charity. Not curiosity but charity!!?. No history, no literature, no sense of curiosity as to whether there may be other ways to be aware of the world (that perhaps sheetrock isn’t a universal good)
And please, don’t think I’m making a religious argument. I just think selling widgets is not a particularly interesting way to spend a life. And the philosophical defense of the inevitable as moral is just bizarre.

The market is not neutral. Or rather it is, only if you consider the central element of life to be the individual. But why should we do that? What is language? What is Tudor architecture? (was it made by someone named Tudor?) What is ‘The Baroque?’

I’m still trying to figure out why people are so stupid. Is it that by imagining the market as a thing outside of history its defenders can imagine themselves outside it as well? “The Baroque was a period in time, but The Market is forever.” Does that mean there’s no difference between the decadent laziness of the American markets and the vibrant Barbarism of China? Why are all my bets on China? And does the man who places my bets think in such lofty neutral terms?
No fucking way.

When did systems building become so vulgar? Why replace the world with a fragment? Or rather: though it is necessary to imagine a world system in order to function (language is a system: communication is necessary), why is it necessary to argue from that system as if that system and the world were identical?
Nobody ‘deserves’ McDonalds, sheetrock walls, or lousy tomatos of uniform color and size. Taste is relative, to a point- most people agree on the definition of a bad tomato- but that’s no reason to ignore it. In doing so once again, you’re defending mechanism against judgement, merely because mechanism is precise (and I suppose because of some worship of the individual)
And you seem to have a fondness for precision, even at the expense of representing anything

Some odd mix of vulgar marxism and pure formalism. The idiocy of the 20th century is still with us.

14

Nicholas Weininger 01.29.05 at 6:24 pm

Henry– can you point to a couple of examples where people actually argued that the market produces outcomes in line with moral deserts?

Every time I see people claim this, it looks to me like a strawman, or else more of a conservative than a properly pro-market argument. As I understand it, the libertarian case that the market is just as well as efficient does *not* rest on the claim that it produces just outcomes. Rather it rests on the idea that there is really no such thing as a just outcome per se, since justice is an attribute of processes and not outcomes.

15

derek 01.29.05 at 8:14 pm

What nonsense is this?
Firstly, the expression is “just desserts”. “Just deserts” translates as “simply areas of arid land” or “righteous areas of arid land”. So this is crap.

What a combination of ignorance and arrogance, little boy; you want to watch that.

“Deserts” is correct because it’s what you deserve, “desserts” would be what you “desserved”.

In reality, dessert is a sweet course at the end of dinner; the word comes from the French *desservir*, to clear the table. If you order dessert, you get it, regardless of whether you deserve it. Justice don’t come into it.

16

Jack 01.30.05 at 11:17 am

Nicholas, I think that the tax freedom day and all the “taxpayers money” rhetoric count as examples.

I suspect that a coherent version of the argument you outline would not win much popular acceptance. Not that I think that such a thing is easy to make. You need to establish both that such a conclusion about justice is correct, that if it is correct that it implies a libertarian outcome and that such a philisiphy might rationally be supported by a majority of the population and would actually work rather than being merely a string of objections to the status quo. Who is the canonical source for this argument?

In particular no-one has sold a tax cutting package without support from this line of reasoning and some trickle down argument.

17

Chirag Kasbekar 01.30.05 at 12:47 pm

I think the point that market outcomes should not be considered automatically moral or just outcomes has quite clearly been made by Hayek himself. He was quite clear on this — especially that luck was a big part of the market selection process.

I don’t have my books with me so I can’t quote but I do remember a lot of passages to that effect.

18

Ajax Bucky 01.30.05 at 1:06 pm

The conceit is that the capitalist thing is value-neutral, as opposed to value-neutral within a subset of the species. It’s the same with a lot of other stuff too, the trope being that human-ness is some kind of inalterable constant; when the truth is it’s subject to the same shaping mechanisms as any other organism. We are, that is.
Urban-tolerant people see their reality as the human-median, and the agrarians, who were themselves once the median, fade to the margins, where the nomadics have disappeared virtually entire. Folly.
The appropriateness of this has been driven into the minds of all of us so thoroughly that it takes a strong effort to even question it as inevitable.
Yet the Nicobarese and Andaman islanders have weathered the Indonesian tsunami virtually unscathed; and they were pretty much at the epicenter.
Interesting how that’s so far under the radar news-wise, considering immediately after the event there were widespread reports of animals fleeing to safety ahead of the waves.
The second-level scam is any criticism of capitalism itself is a commercial for Marxism or something. More folly. Capitalism rewards certain kinds of people, and they will naturally see that as a good thing. Whether it is or not depends on how subjective your viewpoint is. If one of your moral goals is the long-term survival of the human race then there is much to complain about.
But if the benificiaries can manage to remove the complainants from the scene, then what benefits them will be – ta da – good for everyone!
People gardened before there were cities or towns, with flowers as well as herbs and vegetables; had beauty in their lives, made toys for their children, lived well. But the cliche is they were all grunting dirtbags scratching at the earth and running around in superstitious panic when they weren’t attacking each other in brutal violent acts, or dying in epidemics.
Stark vision as opposed to the current social/political landscape, mm?

SE-
OBS is maybe more vile even than sheetrock. I heard it was outlawed in the more sensible parts of Europe because the glue in it’s so damned toxic.

19

seth edenbaum 01.30.05 at 2:10 pm

Close, but wrong. The subset of the species is the individual actor who acts out of relatively simple self interest. The counter argument is most often seen as a defense of some unquantifiable collective truth or will that is seen as coercive. But as I wrote in a comment at L2R:
“The market as such is responsible for the decision that the look of a tomato could be considered more important than its taste.”
The morality of this absurd outcome is based on the fact that that everyone, and therefore no one is responsible for it.
But that isn’t neutrality it’s moral passivity; the same passivity seen in the ideal of ‘objectivity’ in journalism.

The alternative isn’t Stalinism or Catholic Monarchy, it’s in the nurturing of the skill of judgment. It is simply, more and better, and openly biased, speech, as in a courtroom.

Any state is coercive. Social norms are coercive. Language itself is coercive. But let’s have an ongoing debate about the terms, and teach the forms of debate themselves. That’s the point of a moot court yes?

If you concentrate on the formal structure and not the outcome -and that’s the point of our constitution- you teach responsibility, the responsibility everyone should face to have an opinion. From that point you begin the debate. The Market [Market Theory] says that some things are off limits and writes them in stone as truth. But there is no fucking truth other than to eat, shit, fuck, and die. Everything else is artificial.
And freedom is as vague a term as any other.
The ultimate freedom after all is the ability to kill without anger or regret.

Have you ever lived in a house with plaster walls? Sheetrock isn’t crap because its toxic, it’s crap because it’s made to be demolished. It’s flimsy. It’s garbage. And I’m saying this as a carpenter. I use the stuff.

To end on old turf: Bad tomatoes market theory and fantasy fiction have a lot in common. They all represent the desire of the individual imagination to express itself , rather than the desire of an individual imagination
TO COMMUNICATE!!

20

seth edenbaum 01.30.05 at 2:19 pm

Close, but wrong. The subset of the species is the individual actor who acts out of relatively simple self interest. The counter argument is most often seen as a defense of some unquantifiable collective truth or will that is seen as coercive. But as I wrote in a comment at L2R:
“The market as such is responsible for the decision that the look of a tomato could be considered more important than its taste.”
The morality of this absurd outcome is based on the fact that that everyone, and therefore no one is responsible for it.
But that isn’t neutrality it’s moral passivity; the same passivity seen in the ideal of ‘objectivity’ in journalism.

The alternative isn’t Stalinism or Catholic Monarchy, it’s in the nurturing of the skill of judgment. It is simply, more and better, and openly biased, speech, as in a courtroom.

Any state is coercive. Social norms are coercive. Language itself is coercive. But let’s have an ongoing debate about the terms, and teach the forms of debate themselves. That’s the point of a moot court yes?

If you concentrate on the formal structure and not the outcome -and that’s the point of our constitution- you teach responsibility, the responsibility everyone should face to have an opinion. From that point you begin the debate. The Market [Market Theory] says that some things are off limits and writes them in stone as truth. But there is no fucking truth other than to eat, shit, fuck, and die. Everything else is artificial.
And freedom is as vague a term as any other.
The ultimate freedom after all is the ability to kill without anger or regret.

Have you ever lived in a house with plaster walls? Sheetrock isn’t crap because its toxic, it’s crap because it’s made to be demolished. It’s flimsy. It’s garbage. And I’m saying this as a carpenter. I use the stuff.

To end on old turf: Bad tomatoes market theory and fantasy fiction all have a lot in common. They all represent the desire of the individual imagination to express itself, rather than the desire of an individual imagination to communicate

21

Nicholas Weininger 01.30.05 at 2:36 pm

Jack: no, the idea that taxpayers’ money is rightfully theirs follows easily from the notion that justice is about process not outcome. The reasoning goes: taxpayers’ money is theirs because they got it through free exchanges for mutual benefit, which are inherently just. Taking money by force, which is what the government does, is inherently unjust. The substantive content of the outcomes– who has how much money– is irrelevant to the justice of the process.

The idea that market exchange for mutual benefit is a just process while coercive redistribution is not is at the heart of many major libertarian thinkers’ arguments. Nozick (Anarchy, State, Utopia) and Rothbard (For a New Liberty), to give two examples, develop that argument from a more-or-less purely deontological perspective; so too, more recently, does Hoppe in his essays on “argumentation ethics”. But it’s pretty clearly implicit in Hayek and von Mises’ works as well, though they place it in a more consequentialist framework.

22

Henry 01.30.05 at 4:17 pm

Nicholas, I was thinking back to commenters like godlesscapitalist who (if I’m remembering correctly), used to argue that the poor deserved to be where they were because of the economic choices they made. I’m aware that your justification for free markets (and that of many other libertarians) differs – my target here isn’t libertarianism, it’s what one might call after Weber, everyday Calvinism (not that Calvin should be blamed either).

As noted by several commenters already, Andy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Although I reckon that the concept of “just desserts” could be explored further by the pie-experts at Fafblog.

23

john c. halasz 01.30.05 at 9:57 pm

Nicholas Weiniger:

You claim that justice is a process, not an outcome. Prsumably, what you mean is that justice is what is achieved by affairs being conducted in terms of fair rules of the game. Leaving aside any implication about aesthetist ludism, as to it being “all just a game” and its accompanying obtuseness, presumably you mean that the rules to the game concern property rights, defined as the exclusive access to the use of resources, which is then identified with capacities for the exercise of individual agency. The assumption is then, that assuming an equal or equitable initial distribution of resources, all exhanges, being voluntary acts, must be mutually beneficial and optimal in outcome. But, leaving aside that there is no prior equitable distribution of resources, not all resources, defined as whatever sustains the capacity for the exercize of personal agency, can be defined and regulated in terms of individual property. (Are knowledge or education a species of private property? What educated person would be so foolish or so uncultured as to believe that his acquired capacities are uniquely his own attainment?) Furthermore, exchanges are not merely bilateral volitional acts, but can have effects on third parties, or, more generally, the environment in which they occur. And leaving aside any coercive effects of power relationships in which they may occur, they may be predicated on asymmetries of information or preference intensities that put in doubt whether they are necessarily mutually beneficial, optimal, or equitable. But still more realistically to the point, modern economic production involves the joint combination of several distinct labors, which are not individually distinguishable, and virtually anything that gets called property in a modern economy is the product of such a collective process. (Yes, let us not fall for the fallacy that it is market exchanges that produce wealth unto themselves and ignore the sphere of production that is responsible for the rates of productivity behind relative scarcities and their ratios of exchange.) And, in turn, such modern production requires the collective provision of the infrastructure that renders it possible, in the form of public goods, regulations, and social supports: hence taxes. Finally, consider that there are no static rules of the game, that the “game” has successive rounds and that the results of previous rounds feed into subsequent rounds, such that what would constitute fair rules of the game can not be deduced from a priori premises, in ignorance of the evolving muddle. The Platonic definition of justice as “giving what is due” hardly clarifies the matter, but at least it focuses the matter on a consideration of what is due, rather than disregarding the matter in favor of a vaunting of individual autonomy under a set of artificially gerrymandered rules or assumptions that have no more substance than life on the planet Venus. The fact of the matter is that individual human agency and choice are not magic, metaphysical properties that can instantaneously generate all values, but human agents necessarily live in social groups and are subject to the complex consequentiality of the dynamics of social groups, which at once constrain and constitute them. Indeed, it is the constraint of underlying, implicit rules that constitutes the phenomenon of human agency in the first place. The very notion of choice is meaningless, no more than a metaphysical fantasy, without the reality and consequentiality of social groups.

24

john c. halasz 01.30.05 at 10:02 pm

Nicholas Weiniger:

You claim that justice is a process, not an outcome. Prsumably, what you mean is that justice is what is achieved by affairs being conducted in terms of fair rules of the game. Leaving aside any implication about aesthetist ludism, as to it being “all just a game” and its accompanying obtuseness, presumably you mean that the rules to the game concern property rights, defined as the exclusive access to the use of resources, which is then identified with capacities for the exercise of individual agency. The assumption is then, that assuming an equal or equitable initial distribution of resources, all exhanges, being voluntary acts, must be mutually beneficial and optimal in outcome. But, leaving aside that there is no prior equitable distribution of resources, not all resources, defined as whatever sustains the capacity for the exercize of personal agency, can be defined and regulated in terms of individual property. (Are knowledge or education a species of private property? What educated person would be so foolish or so uncultured as to believe that his acquired capacities are uniquely his own attainment?) Furthermore, exchanges are not merely bilateral volitional acts, but can have effects on third parties, or, more generally, the environment in which they occur. And leaving aside any coercive effects of power relationships in which they may occur, they may be predicated on asymmetries of information or preference intensities that put in doubt whether they are necessarily mutually beneficial, optimal, or equitable. But still more realistically to the point, modern economic production involves the joint combination of several distinct labors, which are not individually distinguishable, and virtually anything that gets called property in a modern economy is the product of such a collective process. (Yes, let us not fall for the fallacy that it is market exchanges that produce wealth unto themselves and ignore the sphere of production that is responsible for the rates of productivity behind relative scarcities and their ratios of exchange.) And, in turn, such modern production requires the collective provision of the infrastructure that renders it possible, in the form of public goods, regulations, and social supports: hence taxes. Finally, consider that there are no static rules of the game, that the “game” has successive rounds and that the results of previous rounds feed into subsequent rounds, such that what would constitute fair rules of the game can not be deduced from a priori premises, in ignorance of the evolving muddle. The Platonic definition of justice as “giving what is due” hardly clarifies the matter, but at least it focuses the matter on a consideration of what is due, rather than disregarding the matter in favor of a vaunting of individual autonomy under a set of artificially gerrymandered rules or assumptions that have no more substance than life on the planet Venus. The fact of the matter is that individual human agency and choice are not magic, metaphysical properties that can instantaneously generate all values, but human agents necessarily live in social groups and are subject to the complex consequentiality of the dynamics of social groups, which at once constrain and constitute them. Indeed, it is the constraint of underlying, implicit rules that constitutes the phenomenon of human agency in the first place. The very notion of choice is meaningless, no more than a metaphysical fantasy, without the reality and consequentiality of social groups.

25

ajax bucky 01.31.05 at 12:26 am

seth-
Closer still, and yet…
“The eat, shit, fuck, and die…” imperative (and never were commas so vitally important) is pure subjectivity. It’s the consumer outlook, the unit view, the landscape through the eyes of the lonesome individualist, there’s no larger context – just the solitary consumer-unit and its needs, drifting through a harsh landscape.
It’s not impossible to see the aggregate the consumer operates within as a thing, a creature or creature-like being, or even a collection of creature-like aggregates like tribes within a larger gathering of tribes, within an interwoven still-greater aggregate, and once you do see it – once you really get that – a lot of what seems airy-fairy about “natural” and “organic” gets gritty, real and crucial, closer than medicine to what we need.
I should have been more specific about the Nicobarese and Andaman Islanders. The more “assimilated” they were, the more damage they took; direct linear relationship there. And as Survival Int’l points out – even the most uncivilized among them aren’t “primitive” or “cavemen”. These are terms of bigotry, and they’re applied for the same covert reasons all bigotry is – competition that seeks to end-run the actual contest and bestow the reward on the only deserving team – the pre-game trophy ceremony. Convincing everyone you won the game before it begins can save a great deal of energy. We lived as “cavemen” tens of thousands of years longer than we’ve lived as “citizens”. Possibly a lot more than that. Not all of those years were filled with unremitting suffering.
Coercion and adaptation differ only in the p.o.v. of the describer. Again, it’s a unit/context response. Submission and respect get close that way too.
We thwart the evolutionary process that gave us the tools that allow us to thwart it.
Scientists battle religionists over the validity of evolutionary principles that they both actively seek to avoid in their own, real, lives.
The bushmen have lived that way so long because it works, they are contemporary in every sense that matters, and their main dilemmas and threats are coming from us, and us exclusively.
Communion is what happens when communication works, eh? But then the natural process says not everyone gets to, and there we go. Game on, game over. And it all begins again.

26

seth edenbaum 01.31.05 at 12:44 am

The constitution grants a right to ‘due process,’ it does not guarantee justice.
A courtroom however is about as fundamentally artificial a construct as I can imagine. If you’re willing to accept a market as constrained as that Mr Weininger, I might be willing to listen, if only for the laughs.

Still I’m amazed at the unwillingness of people to argue that the goverment as an agent of the people as a whole should have a right to limit individual economic freedom. Why not come out and say it? John Halasz writes: “the notion of choice is meaningless,’ and that may be true, but he falls into the same trap that people accuse the democrats of falling into: of attacking a policy while offering nothing to replace it.
The critique of individualism has to be more than a critique as such. Negative dialectics, if I’m using the term correctly, makes for lousy argument. But from the standpoint of much that I read on CT, including the appreciative comments concerning Elizabeth Anderson’s absurdities, reflection, or ‘backward-looking’ is only to be done as in the name of charity. It has no positive value Curiosity has no value, unless it can be seen as related to the logic of the individual or of the market. So what opposes the rule of the market, the vague sense that we are never really alone in the world? That’s not enough. A real defense would involve a discussion of the positive effects and the responsibilities of a rigorous uncertainty, of an uncertain understanding of the world. For example: What is the difference between seeing Michelangelo as a one of the greatest creators of the renaissance and as one of its greatest creations? The market may ask us to choose the first designation, but it should not be allowed deny us the right to consider the second.

What is the positive value of reflection? Any academic in the humanities should be able to answer this question.

27

seth edenbaum 01.31.05 at 1:10 am

Ajax (the greater?),
I should have been clearer, or paid more attention. In my reference to eating etc… I was only playing, or trying to play, the village athiest, toasting a friendly indifference to big time intellectual/ theological questions. There have always been a lot of such people, and they bother me a whole lot less than formalists who think their models represent the world.
That being said, we have no argument.

s.e.

28

john c. halasz 01.31.05 at 4:41 am

seth edelbaum:

That was a curiously selective quotation, as the second half of the sentence bore its main burden and I clearly was not say “individual choice is meaningless”. In fact, I was mounting a snippet of defense of ethical community and political society, by way of criticism of libertarian notions that atomic individuals, defined solely through volitional capacity, which must remain untainted by coercion, inspite of the conflictual potential obtaining between unconstrained exercize of individual volitions, could constitute human society solely through the model of explicit contractual relations between individuals, on the basis of an absurdly idealized view of the market as the exemplar of human freedom. (The original occasion for this thread, if you’ll recall, was von Hayek’s notion of markets as information-processing mechanisms, which hence frustrate individual purposes and bear no relation to individual moral desert or justice.) In fact, contrary to both libertarians and von Hayek, I was concerned to rehabilitate the notion of outcomes or ends, individual and collective, as being relevant to questions of justice. Markets are a quasi-institution which are effective and useful for arranging many of the necessities of social life, but they are hardly the whole, or even exemplar, of human freedom: their much-vaunted “freedom” is a functional property rather than a moral value. And I hardly think that human society can be modeled on the basis of individual contractual relations. (“I, as the star of the show, require that Perrier water be provided to my dressing-room,etc.,etc….”) Even the heuristic idea of a social contract functions less as an account of extant social reality than as a device for critical reflection on the social relations and agreements that must precede any explicit contract and the extent to which extant social reality violates the putative terms of such a would-be contract. A constitution could be viewed as such a social contract, inspite of the abuses that politicians and other anointed power-holders make of it, except that it suffers from the inherent ambiguity of the constituting/constituted power. So I would be careful about speaking of the state as “an agent of the people as a whole”. Everything depends on whether the public sphere, with all its conflicts and reconcilements, can be a legitimating power effecting the conduct of affairs of state, or whether the state, in its functional interlock with the market economy and its effects, becomes merely the administrative arm captured by particular interests, marching in universal guise. But as to the question of historical amenseusis, that is a favorite topic of mine, especially when it concerns questions of social justice and their precedence.

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seth edenbaum 01.31.05 at 11:25 pm

John Halasz-
I understood your point and was not arguing with it; but as you say you offered only a ‘snippet’ of defense. That is what I was arguing against. You mounted a criticism of libertarian crap, you did not describe the alternative.

My interest is in skill, not freedom. I’m more interested in skill than truth. I want to be articulate. I want to be good at arguing (I grew up around lawyers). I want to ‘good’ at writing, at filmaking, at photography, at painting, at set design. In order to be good my work has to be judged by others, according to categories that are not of my making.
My individuality is only recognizable as being a variation of a form. Freedom in a very real sense does not exist. Moreover I want to be good at things that accomidate the response of others I am not alone but I am a ‘self’, and am in a relationship of negotiating with other ‘selves’ all of us in the same ambiguous relationship to each other: the world ‘outside’.

I am not arguing against the existence of the market but against the idea of the market as truth. and agaisnt the idea of the individual as truth. I value curiosity more highly than I value anything else. Does the market bring about an increase in curiosity, or knowledge? In some ways yes, in many others no. Does it expand or limit debate? It can do both.

All this is pretty basic stuff. What interests me is why people should want to transform themselves into machines. Why mimic autistim. Why pretend that words, and people, are the equivalent of numbers. I understand the need for statistics, but why should some people prefer numbers to people? It’s just a matter of taste I suppose. But I’ll be god damned if those people who seem unable or unwilling to accept ambiguity in their own lives try do define it away in mine. You want to live with other people, you’re gonna get taxed. Most people don’t even want to be rich, so in a world of limited resources what the hell gives you the right to have so much?

Elizabeth Anderson argues from market theory to defend taxation, as if the market were the template for all communiaction.
Bullshit. Absolute fucking bullshit.

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pierre 02.01.05 at 1:15 am

I’m still trying to figure out why people are so stupid.

How do you propose to answer this question? Also, is it possible that you have unconsciously surrounded yourself with only stupid people?

What is the positive value of reflection? Any academic in the humanities should be able to answer this question.

Why did Bodhidharma come from the West? What separates us from the beasts? What is the nature of the soul? Twenty-five words or less, go.

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se 02.01.05 at 1:27 am

Pete, what’s up with this soul thing?
WTF does trying to imagine yourself as someone else might have to do with religion? Is being a skeptical observer like being a mystic?

Dude, enlighten me.

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pierre 02.01.05 at 2:23 am

Seth, what’s up with this values thing?

Is being a skeptical observer like being a mystic?

Seems to be just as rare and badly explained. Coincidence?

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se 02.01.05 at 2:37 am

Duchamp put it well. People either are interesting or are not.

Curiosity is a value, yes.

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pierre 02.01.05 at 5:02 pm

Has it been pointed out that you frequently change the subject, in “performative mode”, when a real question gets asked? Maybe that’s part of your communication theory. Fine with me, I’m just sayin’. But looking at your rhetoric, it seems to boil down to this:

“I don’t see why I should have to bark at all these people with graduate degrees about the moral implications of standard theories.”

The thing is, they don’t see it either. Your intuition that the academic world should be different is like being angry you can’t have a root canal done at Starbucks. Some of the baristas individually might even agree with you about the importance of dental care, but they’re not going to speak up while you’re ranting at the half-n-half, and it’s got nothing to do with Starbucks.

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Ajax Bucky 02.02.05 at 11:13 pm

There is no East or West.
Shoes and a headstart.
One good shoe, in search of a matching other or a matching foot, depending.

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se 02.03.05 at 12:09 am

My point was this: Elizabeth Anderson’s argument about the forward-looking nature of the market read almost as an argument against even historical reflection. And in a context where the market as such faces no opposition even from an idea, this marks the end of any rational need for professors of history or literature. Anderson has philosophized the end of the humanities as subjects worthy of attention. As I said above, by this logic a the only reason to ‘look backward’ is to care for the fallen.
And no one else here mocks this!?

Pete, you’re right, I don’t have a graduate degree. My parents have enough of them for all their children, and for you as well. But they grew tired of this shit years ago, while I still know how to hate.
I don’t go to Starbuck’s, they burn the coffee.
What’s a ‘barista?’

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Jean Lepley 02.03.05 at 4:49 am

Just to be nitpicky — if you really insist on “just deserts” instead of “just desserts,” I presume you’re also pronouncing the word “desert” with the stress on the second syllable? That would strike most people as odd, but it IS how the two words are differentiated in speech…

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Xboy 02.03.05 at 6:28 am

NW: I’m having a hard time getting my head around this statement of yours:
the idea that taxpayers’ money is rightfully theirs follows easily from the notion that justice is about process not outcome. The reasoning goes: taxpayers’ money is theirs because they got it through free exchanges for mutual benefit, which are inherently just. Taking money by force, which is what the government does, is inherently unjust. The substantive content of the outcomes— who has how much money— is irrelevant to the justice of the process.

Isn’t taxation also the result of processes which have been openly discussed and agreed upon, including the constitution, the elections that sent our representatives to Washington, the votes that passed our current tax laws, etc?
“Taking money by force” is a loaded term that I suspect has been added to sabotage reasonable debate. Yes, the feds will come and get you if you don’t pay your taxes willingly, but they will also come for you if you don’t live up to your end of the “free exchanges for mutual benefit” that you make with others. That’s why we have laws against theft, fraud, etc.
It sure would be groovy if we could accept as just the processes that put money in our pockets while rejecting as unjust any process that asks us to pony up, but I don’t think that would work out very well in the real world.

SE: a barista is the person behind the bar at a coffee house who makes your drink.

CT: Why do lines of text on this website keep disappearing? I need to hit “refresh” every minute or so. I don’t have this problem with other sites.

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