Thursday, July 15, 2010

On Echoing Marx

Megan McArdle calls statements by Steve Pearlstein into question. Megan writes:
This is the business reporter equivalent of an economic commentator asking why all those lazy slobs collecting extended unemployment benefits don't get up off their asses and find a goddamn job rather than whining to the government for a handout, because after all, LeBron James just got a new job and a raise!

FLG had no idea who Pearlstein was. Turns out Pearlstein is a business reporter for the WaPo. He even won a Pulizter in 2008. To be honest, FLG doesn't usually look to the Post for business reporting. So, it isn't really surprising that FLG hadn't heard of Pearlstein.

FLG, looking for more on Pearlstein, came across this interview with Charlie Rose in which he argues that we need the equivalent of global bank regulator and even a global central bank. The first is a somewhat reasonable position, the second is nuts. (In fact, FLG has a like a million questions about how that would even work in practice even if we thought it would be a good idea in principle.) But at the 45 second mark, he says:
This boom and bust is not only not healthy, but people don't like it. It might, in the long run, generate more efficiency in the world and even more growth, but people value stability. Human beings do. And they don't like these kinds of swings.

First, FLG'd would like to point out that Pearlstein, whom FLG pegs as a left-of-center kind of guy from both his comments above and the topics of his articles, explicitly acknowledges that the long run is less important to him than short term vicissitudes. Where he goes wrong, FLG thinks, is to ascribe that same value system to all human beings. Sure, we'd all like predictability and stability, but not all human beings have the same preference for foregoing the potential long run growth that Pearlstein does to ameliorate or mitigate those short term fluctuations. In any case, it is just more proof of FLG's time horizons thesis. Second, this sounds similar to what Marx said, but Marx was smarter:
For many a decade past the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule. It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.

Now, FLG isn't accusing Pearlstein of being a Marxist, only left-of-center. But FLG knows where this idea comes from and where it leads.

1 comment:

George Pal said...

Pearlstein, in a column, described those opposed to Obama's health care package as liars and "political terrorists". This is not the language of ‘left of center’ – it’s the language of a Party member and dedicated zealot in the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda.

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