Monday, April 26, 2010

FLG Likes Talking About The Very Big Picture

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while will remember that FLG believes the ultimate goal of Marxism is an form of misunderstood Aristotelian Leisure.

Matt Yglesias decides to look at what he calls The Very Big Picture and writes:
if you look at how life in the developed countries has changed from 1930 to 2010 what you see is that people spend more and more time in school, more and more time retired, and more and more time on vacation. In other words, people are step-by-step liberating themselves not from market capitalism as a means of obtaining consumer goods but from wage slavery in the worker-capitalism relationship.

The liberation he refers to in the last sentence becomes clearer when he continues:
And you can see that the basic architecture of this trend is fiercely and passionately contested. When I was in Finland, where they have quite a mild right-wing, the thing that the conservative politician I spoke to seem really exercised about was the idea that Finnish kids are spending too much time in university. Too many students in college! Too many of them getting master’s degrees! Sometimes people would even take time off from their studies to travel! Here in the United States a huge swathe of the pundit class seems to deem it outrageous that the Social Security retirement age hasn’t increased as rapidly as average life expectancy. Don’t people know that they were put on this planet to work for a living! How dare we, as a society, take some of our increased productivity in the form of an increased measure of liberation from our employers rather than more material possessions? The public, sensibly, doesn’t see it that way. When life expectance grows faster than the retirement age, humanity is making progress.

FLG hates almost everything about this paragraph and the liberation angle from the previous one.

Economists talk of the Labor-Leisure decision. (FLG has issues with calling all non-work leisure, but he'll leave that be for now.) After deciding whether to work or not comes the Consumption-Savings decision. Which means, putting it all in plain English, people first decide whether to work or not, and then decide whether to save or spend their money. Conservatives don't have a problem with somebody who has made enough money to retire early doing so or getting degree after degree or traveling. What they have issue with, and what Matt is talking about here are individuals spending other people's wealth (publicly funded higher ed, Social Security, etc).

If the process for determining if and how wealth is redistributed is sufficiently legitimate, which for FLG means sufficiently democratic, then he can accept it. The issue he has here is that Matt portrays the redistribution and subsequent consumption as the only sensible alternative.

Matt then writes:
Meanwhile, of course, for many people around the world the big story of life in 2010 isn’t the promise of transcending capitalism but the promise of adopting it and thereby escaping what Marx called “the idiocy of rural life.” Lenin took left-wing thinking about economic development down a decades-long detour of bad ideas and horrific violence. But what’s happening in China today looks, from a number of points of view, an awful lot like the original dawning of the industrial revolution in northwestern Europe and that, in and of itself, is an enormous progressive change compared to what was happening before.

So that’s the agenda I have to offer. For rich countries—productivity growth, social insurance, and efforts to improve public health all aiming at allowing people to live more and more of their time outside the bonds of commercial work. For poor countries—capitalism, to get the process of prosperity and social betterment rolling. At the interface between the two—a generous and humane approach to migration issues so that people can have the freedom to escape bad situations, and a trade regime that aims at facilitating the exchange of goods rather than coercing poor countries into adopting the preferred policies of rich world companies. And for all of us, an overhaul of energy systems so the world doesn’t boil and we all get to keep enjoying our prosperity.

So, for Matt, there seems to be a point where a country is wealthy enough that it ought to enjoy that wealth. This ought to be done as a society through political means. That's all well and good, but his so-called very big picture has a huge blind spot. Namely, that redistributing wealth, regardless of the awesomeness of the purpose, undermines private property. Undermining private property discourages people from creating more private property, i.e. more wealth. Given that population increases, either through reproduction or as Matt wants, through immigration to rich countries, we need to keep wealth increasing at least the rate of population growth just to keep even. If the redistribution retards that growth sufficiently, then his agenda undermines itself. Indeed, "social insurance, and efforts to improve public health all aiming at allowing people to live more and more of their time outside the bonds of commercial work," may hurt "productivity growth."

FLG's point here is that for being a smart person trying to think about the "very big picture" Matt Yglesias comes off as the smug fuckwad that FLG has increasingly noticed that he is. A democratically agreed upon societal compromise between labor-leisure and savings-consumption is possible. Maybe even Matt's preferred policy is that outcome But to portray one's own preferences as the only sensible response is fucking asinine and reeks of a small mind.

13 comments:

Le Duc Violet said...

An Form? Only a smug fuckwad would overcorrect like that. Try again, coherently this time.

Anonymous said...

Gold Gold Gold

FLG said...

A typo is your comeback? Seriously? It's a fucking blog.

Anonymous said...

That blog post is five minutes of my life I'll never get back.

Maximus said...

"FLG's point here is that for being a smart person trying to think about the 'very big picture' Matt Yglesias comes off as the smug fuckwad that FLG has increasingly noticed that he is."

I'd say referring to oneself in the 3rd person, using a cutesy pseudonym, turned into an acronym, and twice in 1 sentence, is the very essence of smug fuckwaddery.

Anonymous said...

For Anonymous it doesn't get much more smug than writing about yourself in the third person. Than again Anonymous has always had an odd veiw of what constitutes smug. Anonymous was saddened by the name calling as well.

Anonymous believes there is no need for personal attacks when your ideas are sound. Anonymous thinks name calling leaves you looking like a fuckwad.

Anonymous was beaten to the punch by Maximus.

phoneranger said...

Could so-called private property exist without the protection of the State? The answer is no.

Anonymous said...

Yes, god forbid that people are getting happier. Don't they know what's happening to their property rights?

FLG said...

Re:
"Yes, god forbid that people are getting happier. Don't they know what's happening to their property rights?"

Is that really what you got out of my post?

Le Duc Violet said...

How about you write this post again with a clear idea of what you want people to "get out of it" and see if that works? Because this iteration leaves everyone scratching their heads as to what it is precisely you are trying to say.

Aside from the fact you are jealous of Matt Yglesias's clarity & large following.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of stupid assumptions in this post. Here's one.

Given that population increases, either through reproduction or as Matt wants, through immigration to rich countries, we need to keep wealth increasing at least the rate of population growth just to keep even.

In essence, this assumes that immigrants contribute little or nothing to a economy. Therefore, the rest of us natives just have to work extra hard to "make up" for the immigration dead weight.

But,of course, just having a larger workforce increases growth.

FLG said...

"There's a lot of stupid assumptions in this post. Here's one.

Given that population increases, either through reproduction or as Matt wants, through immigration to rich countries, we need to keep wealth increasing at least the rate of population growth just to keep even.

In essence, this assumes that immigrants contribute little or nothing to a economy. Therefore, the rest of us natives just have to work extra hard to "make up" for the immigration dead weight.

But,of course, just having a larger workforce increases growth."

Actually, you are mistaken in your assumptions, immigration increases output, but not necessarily per person. It's an increase in inputs, not overall productivity.

Moreover, when we are talking working/not working and using the existing wealth of society toward more leisure or other pursuits, then why are we assuming that more immigration leads to more hours worked or more productivity per person?

Yes, you are correct. Immigration leads to more output, but you are assuming that this means more output per person and moreover that this still holds even in an environment as Matt describes. If we look to the unemployment rate in social democratic Europe among immigrants, then you'll begin to see what I mean. Admittedly, there are a variety of barriers to employment for European immigrants that are relevant, but they aren't the entire story. Generous welfare state policies certainly contribute.

FLG said...

To follow up on my last comment, I found this paper:
"The results of the present analysis suggest a negative impact of immigration on productivity."

This paper focused on OECD countries.

I then found this paper that focused on the US:
"Combining these effects, an increase in employment in a US state of 1% due to immigrants
produced an increase in income per worker of 0.5% in that state."

So, if the OECD generally has lower productivity from immigration and the US has higher, then it is entirely plausible that social democratic policies throughout the other OECD undermine possible productivity from immigration.

All that said, the orginal comment mistook economic growth from immigration with per capita economic growth from immigration.

 
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