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Semiformalishmaybe

Fragments of Pieces of Eight

On the way to the Beehive, I swung by a pizza place caled 「Grotto」 (never eaten there before, was curious). The atmosphere was kinda neat, the employees looked to be cool and friendly guys, etc. Unfortunately, the pizzas were bad. The plain pizza slice I got was both not particularly interesting and overrich, leaving me feeling ill for a bit. It was also absurdly large. The rolled pizza was much worse, qualifying as nasty. Oh well. I rather wanted to like the place.

Maybe I'll go a bit more into detail of how I interpret economics, mentioned in my last post. There's a lot of this that might not fit cleanly into economics (to the extent that maybe it does not merit the term at all), but I can't easily separate it from the rest of my views. I first understand the economy as being divided into five primary categories:

  • Necessary-for-a-decent-living Material goods
  • Collective time/chance-shifting (loans, insurance, financing)
  • Research - Science and theoretical engineering
  • Cultural, entertainment, and arts (from low to high)
  • Infrastructure, education, health, and other maintenance/societal wellness

Each of these is important in a different way to society, each is differently fluid, none can be neglected by society without dire results.

For material goods, I consider excessive branding, marketing, and lifestyle-creation to be highly unethical and strongly against the public good. Branding's purpose is to allow reputations to accrue for products made by different actors with different methods, according to the functional and aesthetic characteristics of the product. Marketing as a field is unethical and harmful because it subverts this natural process, also taking advantage of as many mental defects as can be found in our species, exploiting and exaggerating them for gains we should consider illegitimate.

For material goods, I consider wage-slavery (in the Marxian sense) something to be limited but only eliminated if prudent and possible after a socialist society has become culturally dominant and secure. I hold that we should focus on production of sufficient goods of all types to allow a generically reasonable-and-modest life to be sustainably lived by all society, and tend to ignore motivation, it being ungeneralisable to humanity and culturally mallable in the same way that people are. Through milder wage-slavery and differential privileges, we may structurally encourage people to work, and to work harder or more intelligently, but we hope that identification with society, the desire for recognition, creative urges properly nurtured, and similar traits will be a more dominant actor than the desire to "get ahead". We also desire that investment in both infrastructure and research will improve the efficiency of workers enough that reasonable and sustainable lives for the demos can be achieved with less labour.

For material goods of this sort, I recognise that there are various elasticities of demand and accept as obvious-but-mallable the most basic conclusions of classical economics (the higher conclusions are things about which I am not sure).

For collective time/chance-shifting, I recognise that the biggest benefit to society from this field comes from its distributed judgement of risk and allocation of resources based on that weighting. It acts to provide a formal and weaker form of the old "join me on this venture" intent that's as old as humanity - investors are pressured by the field to avoid the various types of corruption, bad leniency, and political favours that plague attempts to replicate this in other forms (this is one of the greatest strengths of capitalism compared to pre-capitalist market systems and socialist markets in their various kinds). The system does not work perfectly, and without regulation constraining it further, the forces that make it function can lead to harmful competition towards destructive risk, but the role of banks and venture capital is very important to permit intelligent pluralism of approach. Likewise, risk pooling and acquisition of things based on future returns avoid significant inefficiencies and unnecessary hardship (home ownership outside of old families would otherwise be a rarity for people younger than 50, for example).

For collective time/chance-shifting and other financial services, I hold that nontheless we should be even more skeptical of them, as they stray even more easily from what is good for society. The reallocation of resources from nonproductive ventures towards more productive ones is valuable, most clearly when a venture is literally nonproductive and not structurally important. However, the availability of juicy profit margins at every level of an economy as a marker that continued capital presence is worthwhile is not reliable, and without some processes correcting for potential shortsightedness, there is a risk of removing support for structurally important components. This dynamic on dynamism is (or should be) a concern for capitalist, mixed, and socialist systems in their various forms; at some point, to use the classic example, any system would need to determine when to start closing buggy companies through some means, whether by votes, bureaucrat decisions, investor judgement, or a combination or alternate to these. I condemn entirely the players who use this system for the pure and abstract pursuit of profit with no connection to the public good (various advanced trading firms and beat-the-market programming shops do this). For time and chance shifting services, to the extent feasable I hold that they should be run as collectives or socialised sooner/more surely than other areas of the economy as they are not easily differentiated by the consumer and have oblong (even if opposite) buy/use shapes making the benefits of competition negligibl (my economic judgement aims to be valid over various forms of socialism, mixed systems, and capitalism, even if not in pure forms of either).

Institutions of pure research are best seated (even if not restricted to) in the public sector, both because patents and other forms of intellectual property are repugnant and because academic culture is very strong in this area and weak in the private sectors in practice. There is a problem with quantification of benefit for this field, although direct benefit is not the only reason for a society to pursue pure research - as we are curious creatures when well-nurtured as individuals, we are best when curious as a society. Society thus does and should fund pure research in the public sector, with the expectation that it will not act like the private sector (if the private sector exists, its sponsorship of efforts in this sector should be under close scrutiny, and branding or exclusivity deals of any kind should be considered absolutely forbidden). Balancing of research with other societal goods is particularly difficult, as is balancing between different kinds of research.

Culture and the arts are also seated strongly in the public sector in many of the same institutions as research. With the demise of the gentleman-scholar tradition, culture and the arts are distinct in having a strong grassroots tradition, as well-nurtured humans are natural storytellers, musicians, and otherwise creative cultural beings. While institutions of this sort are very important to society, the creation of and preservation of traditions is not best left entirely to such mechanisms - high arts often involve acquired tastes and capabilities, and some support for them is necessary to sustain them if they should not be understandable without that acquisition. As with research and science, the degree and specifics of allocation of resources for and within this field is particularly difficult.

Infrastructure, education, health, and other societal maintenance/wellness constitute a sector of the economy that makes possible/enhances the effectiveness of use of resources in all others. Many portions of this sector have a natural cap or point of diminishing returns in how much investment is productive (maglevs between distant points in the nation may be productive, but are a waste of time and funds between the house and the supermarket). Sometimes that natural cap or point is much higher than what we're spending (as in the case of education or health, where we could allocate significantly more resources and gain very significant benefits), and in others the dynamic is more complex (e.g. with network access, offering more would create cultural shifts that spur even more demand). Unusual in the field of education is the notion that levels well beyond what is job-functional is potentially desirable (as a direct value, as functional for being a good citizen, as making advanced sciences and art easier (and possibly reviving the gentleman-scholar tradition), and producing other difficult-to-predict-and-quantify benefits. In the general case we hold that where this a natural cap or point and where it is reasonable to do so, there should be a default to allocate resources to reach that cap/point.

Note that I recognise a sixth sector of the economy - the other side of the first sector (with a gradation between them) is excess goods (and goods with an inflated psychological component) and services, on the path to whim and luxury. We denote this as the privilege sector. Culture and economics should cooperate to ensure that this is a small part of the economy (well smaller than any other), that it not be concentrated in families, areas of the country, ethnic groups, etc, and that it constitute a genuine reward for an innovation, hard work, and service to society. The existence and shape of this sector constitutes the whole of wage/privilege difference and the material difference/rewards of different kinds of work in society, and as noted, while it may be necessary, there is an aim to have cultural norms and recognition make this sector unnecessary and allow its resources to go to other sectors.

The differences between the last and the first sectors is compatible with some forms of capitalist soceties (even if it is alien to some forms of "cultural capitalism" and value systems that sustain capitalism), as well as various other sectors.

Ugh. Disgust. The nasty pizza has made my hands smell foul, and it has proven difficult to wash out. Yuck! I suppose it's still worth trying someplace new every so often.

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Comments

I don't have much to say about this, but it was long enough that I thought I'd note that I read it, and was mostly nodding along. One hope I have for a society as you describe is that a tradition of independent scholarship would be revived. Witness e.g. the opensource movement, which is sustained mostly by the free time of the otherwise-employed and people like students who happen to have a bunch of free time.