Monday, June 25, 2012

Steve Waldman does economics and ethics

Good post. This is a subject that needs airing. I would go further into class analysis and the worker-ownership relationship in neoliberal capitalism that makes capital not only the dominant factor but also treats labor on the level of other commodities, as a cost and a means to an end, higher return. The fundamental principle of Western ethics is that human beings are never to be treated as means since they are end in themselves.

Read it at Interfluidity
Stabilizing prices is immoral
by Steve Randy Waldman


vimothy said...

My take is that the bureaucratic and market based paradigms are on the one hand the twin poles within the modern liberal approach to organising society, and on the other hand, both more or less identical from a perspective outside that of modern liberalism.

In other words, what you describe as neoliberal is entirely consistent with modern conceptions of what the good is. This, rather, is the problem, and not the fact that neoliberalism betrays those conceptions. It does not betray them--it makes them manifest.

Tom Hickey said...

The fly in the ointment of neoliberalism is the assumption that economics is politics (policy) and so property rights trump human rights. That is actually a feature of Lockean liberalism out of which traditional liberalism developed.

marris said...

> economics is politics (policy) and so property rights trump human rights

I must not be parsing this correctly.

If economics is politics, then you could still have an economic theory where a randomly picked bag of "human rights" is considered more important (lexigraphically more important?) than some bag of "property rights."

If economics is not politics, your ethical theory could still say that a bag of property rights trumps human rights.

I don't see the modus ponens here.

Tom Hickey said...

marris, neoliberalism is a political view that takes free markets, free trade, and free capital flow to be foundational not only to economic policy but also to a neo-Lockean political theory.

That is to say, economic freedom IS political freedom and the cornerstone of democracy. Free markets are based on property rights. Other human rights than life (security of person) are basically irrelevant relative to guaranteeing property rights (security of private property) in law, since property rights are a necessary condition for political liberty.

The logical consequence of this view is voting based on units of property held rather than one person one vote. It's a reason that the US has a representative government rather than a popular one. The populists lost to the bib property owners. In this view, Citizens United makes perfect sense.

In the view the sole purview of law and govt is national security, domestic security and preserving good order, and administering the laws through the judicial process, especially torts, RE, and commercial law. The law of contracts is seen as fundamental. Everything else either limits freedom or increases inefficiency. Domestic policy is best left to markets and foreign policy is about securing market advantage for home industry and product.

I am not saying it is a convincing logical argument. I don't think it is. Nor do I think it can be made so. Presumes natural law arguments, for example, to justify the premises.

vimothy said...

I think Tom is overplaying the importance of property rights for neoliberals. What he’s describing is really the regime of classical liberalism, which is where today’s liberalism originated, but the two are not identical. (E.g., Paul Krugman is a neoliberal, but not a classical liberal.)

For classical liberals, property rights were the key that enabled conflict to be resolved in a neutral fashion. Today, everyone except a few crazy libertarians thinks that property rights are far too arbitrary a principle to organise society around without something to moderate them, at the very least. So what we have is property rights, but also the rule of the experts.

In general, the rule of experts is a lot stronger than the rule of property rights. That’s why governments are so extensive all over the developed world, why you are able to vote, why it doesn’t make any difference, and so on. The experts are in charge, and they can turn any problem into one that is limited and purely technical. It’s this phenomenon that gives modern liberalism its defining characteristic: managerialism.

What started out with Locke and Hume has morphed into a system of ordering the world which requires that “freedom” be actively administered by technocrats.

Tom Hickey said...

vim, I would agree with that, but I think that managerialism is part of the means of control, rather than a key foundation principle.

Managerialism actually goes against the liberal principle of economic liberty, since it introduces a command system, e.g., the Fed micromanaging the economy using monetary policy iaw its mandate.

vimothy said...


I agree that the bureaucratic ideal is somewhat different to the libertarian one. I tend to think of them as two extremes of a spectrum of liberal political economy.

I also agree that managerialism is more of a mode than a foundational principle. But at the same time, I think it's a very distinctive mode, one that is characteristic of modern liberalism.

Tom Hickey said...

Yes, neoliberalism begins in liberty as a key fundamental and owing to the dynamic in presumes will led to greater utility through utility, it ends in the stratified, authoritarian, and hierarchical we see resulting.