The Formula For Anti-Capitalist Concern-Trolling

Then economists … commenced worrying about, to name a few of the pessimisms concerning “capitalism” they discerned: greed, alienation, racial impurity, workers’ lack of bargaining strength, workers’ bad taste in consumption, immigration of lesser breeds, monopoly, unemployment, business cycles, increasing returns, externalities, under-consumption, monopolistic competition, separation of ownership from control, lack of planning, post-War stagnation, investment spillovers, unbalanced growth, dual labor markets, capital insufficiency, peasant irrationality, capital-market imperfections, public choice, missing markets, informational asymmetry, third-world exploitation, advertising, regulatory capture, free riding, low-level traps, middle-level traps, path dependency, lack of competitiveness, consumerism, consumption externalities, irrationality, hyperbolic discounting, too big to fail, environmental degradation, underpaying of care, slower growth, and more.

… [The formula is this:] First, discover or rediscover a necessary condition for perfect competition or a perfect world (in Piketty’s case, for example, a more perfect equality of income).

Then assert without evidence but with suitable mathematical ornamentation that the condition might be imperfectly realized or the world might not develop in a perfect way.

Then conclude with a flourish that “capitalism” is doomed unless experts intervene with a sweet use of the monopoly of violence in government to implement anti-trust against malefactors of great wealth, or subsidies to diminishing-returns industries, or foreign aid to perfectly honest governments, or money for obviously infant industries, or the nudging of sadly childlike consumers, or, Piketty says, a tax on inequality-causing capital worldwide.

From McCloskey in a long, but inspired and genius, review of Piketty; lightly edited for brevity from the original at

UPDATE (also lightly edited):

One begins to suspect that the typical leftist starts with a root conviction that capitalism is seriously defective. The conviction is acquired at age 16 when he discovers poverty but has no intellectual tools to understand its source.

Then the lifelong “good social democrat”, in order to support the now deep-rooted conviction, looks around when he has become a professional economist for any qualitative indication that in some imagined world the conviction would be true, without bothering to attach numbers drawn from our own world.

It is the utopianism of good-hearted leftward folk who say, “Surely this wretched society, in which some people are richer and more powerful than others, can be greatly improved. We can do much, much better!” The utopianism springs from the logic of stage theories, conceived in the eighteenth century as a tool with which to fight traditional society.

Conspicuous *Production*: “Sexy” Work, “Schlep” Work, Automation, and Artisans

People who seek sexy work are often members of what I called the Jeffersonian middle class in an earlier post — motivated by creative self-expression and a sense of personal dignity rather than economic survival.

… Sexy work is attractive to those who like their social identity to be harmoniously integrated within itself (what your mom thinks of you and what your boss thinks of you are not in conflict) and with your private identity (you don’t feel misunderstood). There is consensual external validation of your internal sense of self-worth. You feel authentic.

Sexy work is easy to enjoy, learn, value and integrate into your identity, primarily because it is downhill psychological work: it is the cognitive equivalent of muscular atrophy. You have to choose to make it hard for yourself. You can cash out some status and attention even if you’re not making any money. It does not test your sense of self-worth significantly.

Schlep work has the opposite characteristics along all four vectors. It is harder to enjoy, learn, value and integrate into your identity, primarily because it is uphill psychological work for a social species. It is hard whether or not you want it to be. It is hard to cash out status and attention even if you’re making good money. It tests your sense of self-worth every day.

Somehow, over the past decade, we’ve gone from a useful heuristic (“focus on your strengths” and “find flow”) down a slippery slope of use-with-caution ideas (“work smart, not hard” and “follow your passion”) to the idea of work as a kind of consumption that should be chosen based on the pleasure one can derive from it.

Sexy/schleppy is to my mind, the most natural way to break down human preferences for work. They arise from fundamental desires and aversions. In choosing consumption behaviors or conspicuous production, we tend to feed desires and starve aversions. In schleppy work, we do the opposite: we defer gratification and accept, even seek out, a degree of pain based on the no-pain-no-gain heuristic. A little nudge from a plausible “play to your strengths” philosophy is enough for us to choose the easier way.

Unfortunately, the entire current conversation around work is confused because we prefer a less meaningful distinction, creative vs. uncreative.

Via You Are Not an Artisan.

Burning Responses

Imagine a hypothetical YouTube where the videographer burns a Koran and urinates on the ashes. We in the modern West consider this kind of thing an act of free speech.

Would that act be offensive to Muslims? Absolutely. It be offensive to Jews if it were a Torah. It would be offensive to Christians if it were a Bible. It would be offensive to United States patriots if it were the Constitution.

Do Jews, Christians, or United States patriots use that kind of speech as a pretext to riot or murder? If so, would their violence be met with sympathy from the West? No, no, and no. Burning a Koran, and reactions thereto, should be no different.

But here’s the thing: you feel *safe* when you criticize Jews, Christians, and United States patriots, because you know they don’t consider it acceptable to do violence in response to offensive speech. You *don’t* feel safe when it comes to Muslims, because you know there is a non-trivial number of them who *do* consider it acceptable, even a requirement, to do violence in response to offensive speech.

The vast majority of Muslims reading this are civilized, and recognize that violence is not a civilized response to offensive speech. But there are some Muslims, and their sympathizers, who believe that offensive speech must be answered with violence, and who will use offensive speech as a pretext for riot and murder. The behavior is uncivilized, premodern, and barbaric, and should be recognized as such.

Cafe Coca and Snake Eyes

Cafe Coca from De-Phazz (YouTube) samples some movie lines at about the 2:00 mark:

And in the end we’ll meet in one of the seven circles.
And I’ll be there for not doing what I could to help you.
And you’ll be there for doing what you could to stop me.
You’ll blow my brains out.

It always stuck with me, and after some searching it appears to come from a 1993 movie called “Dangerous Game” or “Snake Eyes.” Google revealed it from Subzin.

The Varieties of Scientific Experience

I liked this mostly because it exposes a lot of “fans of science” as mostly tribal, not as actual adherents to a methodology or approach. The varieties are:

– Science as Method

– Science as Production and Stewardship

– Science as Authority

– Science as Belonging

– Science as “Progress”

– Science as Aesthetic

– Science as Dispassionate Sensibility

– Science as Nihilism

– Non-Experience of Science

Via The Varieties of Scientific Experience.

The TSA as Milgram Experiment

I have had it in mind to write up an article about the TSA as an implementation of the Milgram experiment, but it’s apparently old ground already covered:

(Posted from inside Newark Airport, at which security was pleasantly civilized: no taking-off of shoes, a metal detector instead of a body scan, and of course a bag scan.)