Putting moral philosophy back into economics

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Published on FEASTA on January 22,2016

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In his Encyclical about the environment and climate change Pope Francis writes of the need to find other ways “to understand the economy and progress”. A worthy aim indeed – but to do this properly will require a challenge to the more powerful religion of the contemporary world – fundamentalist economics. This is a belief system that equates technological achievement with progress and it is a faith that is set to fail now that the economic system is crashing against ecological limits. Unfortunately the many crises that this is likely to produce will be seen as new opportunities for those sociopathic types of “rational economic man” who inhabit many senior positions in corporations (and government) who are quick to exploit the vulnerabilities of others.

In my recently published book Credo: Economics Beliefs in a World in Crisis I show that it is possible to go back hundreds of years and trace the rise of this quasi religion of economics as the world view of a particular kind of person – the business man with money to invest. When the problem facing humanity is described as “scarcity”, it follows that a sort of “salvation” is to be found in production increase. If production increase is achieved by entrepreneurs being prepared to risk their money investing in their businesses it follows that everything should be done to ensure that nothing gets in the way of these very important people pursuing their “self love” guided by markets. It seems obvious.

A branch of moral philosophy that went astray

But let us retrace our steps to consider what a lot of people are unaware of – economics was originally considered to be a branch of moral philosophy. The famous Adam Smith was a professor of moral philosophy. Thomas Malthus was the Reverend Thomas Malthus. The ideas underpinning mainstream micro-economics are those of a moral philosophy called utilitarianism worked out by Jeremy Bentham and then adapted by later thinkers. If we go back even earlier then we find that Saint Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine also thought and wrote about economics as a part of moral philosophy and partly derived their ideas from Aristotle.

Today if you read most of the textbooks of “Positive Economics” you will read in them a little homily that it is not the job of economists to describe the world as it should be but rather to describe it as it is. A distinction is made between facts and values – a distinction taken from the philosopher David Hume. Because of this little homily in the textbooks it looks as if all the moral philosophy has been taken out of the subject. All the neutral economist can do is to say that individuals have preferences – including ethical preferences – and these guide what people do. What people do is essentially to calculate what will maximise their sense of satisfaction and/or minimise their experience of pain in the light of their preferences. However it is not the job of the economist to pass ethical judgement on these preferences and these choices. The economist is there to describe what rational individuals do – which is to calculate how to maximise their individual level of satisfaction given the strength of their preferences, including their ethical preferences. In this regard the strength of people’s preferences, including their ethical ones, are indicated by how much they will pay for them, or how much they must be paid to relinquish them.

Racism as a ‘preference choice’

You can see this point of view at its most pronounced with economists like Gary Becker. For Becker racism is a preference choice about which people you want to live near or whom an employer might want to employ. Becker does not endorse or condemn he merely draws out the consequences.

However economics does not stop being a moral philosophy by this conceptual sleight of hand. Describing things as “preferences” does not stop them being moral choices – indeed describing them as ‘preferences’ reflects a particular point of view in moral philosophy. So economics never stopped being a moral philosophy – or an immoral philosophy – even if it is not recognised as such.

Example – external costs imposed on communities are (un)ethical choices

To illustrate what I mean take the idea of what economists call “externalities”. When a company takes decisions that affect the environment and the wider society negatively, which are called, in the jargon ‘external costs’ like pollution, then the owners and managers of that company are taking what are essentially ethical decisions. If they are damaging the community and/or the environment then that is an inherently ethical matter. Now you can argue that there will be circumstances where the ‘external costs’ are justified because they are outweighed by private benefits (or by external benefits). You can argue too that compensation can be paid to make up for any harms. However my point here is that the use of words like “externalities”, “costs” and “benefits” , as well as calculating them using money as a measure, are a particular way of thinking and dealing with ethical decisions.

These occur in situations where harms are done to some people (and species) while benefits accrue to others. In a market society ethical decisions are thought of as calculations in which economists claim a special expertise because they are supposed to know how to frame the data gathering exercise which leads to the calculations being made possible: the cost and benefit comparisons.

Now, for economists, this is the rational and only way to take decisions like this – and if people don’t think like this then they are not rational. Thus there have been experiments when a sample of people have been asked by economists to indicate the strength of their preferences by saying how much they are prepared to pay – for example to keep a threatened species alive in the face of economic activity. In such experiments people who objected to this way of thinking about the ethical issues and who refused to give a figure of how much they would pay were judged not to be rational. This actually said as much about the economists conducting the experiment as about the people in their sample. In order to qualify as “rational” some economists appear to believe that you must the philosophical outlook of a “preference utilitarian”.

When one group become the experts in how to make ethical decisions they have become a quasi priesthood. According to these priests it is a fundamental belief that costs and benefits can be expressed by what people are prepared to pay or to accept in compensation for harms and money can be used as a measuring rod. Economics never stopped being about moral philosophy. It is long overdue for a critique.

The changing attitude to “duress” in economics

This is especially noteworthy when you take into account that the foundational ideas of medieval economics included an element of social justice – for example the idea of a “just price”. The key idea of a “just price” was that market exchange should be organised so that people could get their essential needs without being put under duress. Thus it was morally wrong to exploit the desperation of starving people by speculating with food stocks in a time of poor harvests. So markets should be operated according to criteria of social justice.

However what happened over a number of centuries leading up to what Adam Smith called the “Age of Commerce” was “duress” on a massive scale particularly in Europe and in Britain. For example in the British Isles the elite used the power of the state to rob communities of their access to the land and its resources in the process called the “enclosure of the commons” while abroad colonialism, slavery and genocide occurred – and economics became the ideological doctrine to justify this murder and theft. According to John Locke God had given the land to humanity in common but he reasoned that God must have intended that the land would be used by those who were “rational and industrious” because their rational industry would improve it. This idea that certain people were entitled to take the land for themselves because they were rational and industrious is the same idea that has now been around for centuries to justify land theft and expropriation. (Locke was also a major investor in the slave trade through the Royal African Company).

The Physiocrats who wrote about the economy of France and gave a central place to its agricultural production were also concerned to downplay the social justice agenda . They did not want the state interfering in markets to protect the poor by keeping food prices down– that would get in the way of the process of agricultural improvement.

Adam Smith too was quite explicit on such matters. It was true that ‘primitive societies’ were more egalitarian than societies back home in Britain. However the potential for production increase and technological change was far more important and would be the way that all would eventually become better off. Greater equality and security had to be sacrificed to open up the way for markets to stimulate production.

It was not until world war two and after that governments began national income accounting and became focused on measures of growth. However for several centuries the idea of improvement -meaning production increase – has been the core narrative, the ultimate rationale for national and imperial policy and has justified all sorts of injustice and “duress”.

“Improvement” = technological efficiency and production increase and trumps security

At the core of economics is the idea that production increase equals improvement and is more important than economic security for the poor. Insecurity for the poor is what you need to discipline them. Not only were the poor to be separated from the commons so that they had to enter the labour market – a certain number of the poor were ideally kept unemployed. Hayek explained why – because unemployment was an alternative to corporal punishment and necessary for disciplining the labour force.

This exercise in keeping people deliberately insecure is particularly significant when you consider the findings of psychologists Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky- which they summed up in what they called “Prospect Theory”. They found that most people are “loss averse”. In weighing up their options when they make economic decisions the prospect of loss weighs more heavily in the way people act than the prospect of gains. Most people do not like taking gambles most of the time – although they may gamble when all their options seem bad – which helps to explain why betting shops do well in areas of poverty. These are things that will surprise no poor person.

So what kind of people are they that recommend the imposition of insecurity on whole classes of people? At the time the new ideas of economics were being formulated by people like Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant in Koenigsburg was arguing that, for people to be treated with respect, they should never be treated as merely means to other peoples ends. People were ends to themselves. However the slave traders, the slave masters in the plantations and the new industrial masters saw ordinary people as no better than work animals, or fragments of human beings – as factory “hands”.

Implicit in mainstream economics is a model of what humans are like – and they are like sociopaths
The implicit assumption of economic textbooks is that there is one kind of person, “rational economic man”, a calculating, competitive individualist who is first and foremost concerned to look after him or herself. Perhaps one can say that this is a reasonable description of the people who have ruled for centuries – like the well connected families that used their influence in the state to steal the common lands from ordinary people. However a single kind of “economic man” is a myth. There have always been more than one kind of person. There have been many different kinds of people, multiple kinds of personalities and multiple kinds of complex patterns of motivation.

It makes economics much closer to life to describe decision making in the light of different kinds of people and the different kinds of circumstances that they live in. I have sought to do this in my book. I have sought to describe different kinds of relationships between people in society and different sustaining ecological systems. I have also sought to describe different personalities and motivations for entrepreneurial activity in market societies. For example I distinguish between entrepreneurs who are motivated by social and environmental goals and people who principally concerned to look after themselves, indeed people who are too often criminals. Similarly in my chapter on employment I try to describe what happens in many employment circumstances in terms of psycho-dynamics and interpersonal relations. There never is and never was one type of economic actor – there are many.

If you think about it, if you lived and worked in a commons community and your everyday relationships were based on commoning, on collective decisions about common resources, then you would have a very different kind of personality from if you were the Mr Big in a Gangster hierarchy engaged in periodic deadly struggles with other gangster bosses. (A monarch in the medieval political system).

Another kind of economic actor are all those people who have wanted to organise economic activity through explicitly co-operative arrangements. They have sometimes had a hard time of it. In the interwar period in Italy, Mussolini seized the assets of 8000 Italian co-ops, killed leaders and burned shops. In Russia, Lenin repressed them but allowed them to revive before Stalin destroyed agricultural cooperatives (providing 65% of food provisions) in favour of forced collectivisation. Urban co-ops were then closed in 1935. In Germany, Hitler seized their assets and nationalised 1100 consumer co-ops, 21,000 credit unions, 4000 co-op savings banks and 7000 agricultural co-ops. In Austria, where one out of every 3 three households had been members of consumer co-operatives, Hitler’s invasion led to the leaders of the co-ops being replaced by fascists while their assets were seized and handed over to private business owners. In Spain, Franco arrested and killed many co-op leaders while many others took exile in Latin America.

At the present time, at least one billion people on the planet are members of co-operatives, though you would never know that from mainstream economic textbooks. In over 800 pages, Mankiw and Taylor’s economic textbooks never discuss co-operatives at all. What Mankiw and Taylor describe is the economy of the sociopaths.

Sociopaths in business and their allies in government

This is a definition of “high functioning sociopaths” from a medical website:

“High functioning sociopath is a term used to describe people with sociopath traits that also happen to have a very high intelligence quotient. They are likely to be highly successful in the field they endeavor (politics, business, etc.). They plan very meticulously and the presence of sociopathic traits like lack of empathy, lack of remorse, deceptiveness, shallow emotions, etc. makes it very difficult for “normal” people to compete with them.”

Whereas Kahneman describes most people as loss averse and not inclined to take risks there are people who are the very opposite. Indeed the personality of sociopaths and psychopaths does rather fit the textbook descriptions of “economic man” . Not only do they calculate their self interest and lack empathy for others but they are much more focused on personal reward and this attention for rewards blots out considerations of caution and of how others might get hurt.

As already suggested psychopaths tend to be regarded as people who are characterised by lack of fear, empathy and interpersonal skills. However, research at Vanderbilt University changes the way of interpreting this:

“Previous research on psychopathy has focused on what these individuals lack—fear, empathy and interpersonal skills. The new research, however, examines what they have in abundance—impulsivity, heightened attraction to rewards and risk taking. Importantly, it is these latter traits that are most closely linked with the violent and criminal aspects of psychopathology.”


Celebrating sociopaths – ‘Creative Destruction’

Now risk taking focused on rewards is exactly what is celebrated by economists as a crucial aspect of the heroic entrepreneur and what some economists like Schumpeter lauded as “creative destruction”. The fact that this “creative destruction” imposes loss on others whose lives are destabilised brings forth little sympathy from most economists. The profit makers are celebrities but too bad for the losers.

Competition, technological change, innovation are the hurrah concepts that are self evidently good. The entrepreneurial genius is the hero whose championing of technological change impels society on the path of progress. Indeed it is these supermen whose innovations are needed as the solutions for the ecological and climate crisis. (In fact technology can sometimes be developed co-operatively and be what Ivan Illich referred to as “convivial”. I will not dwell on these questions here. I want instead to return to the ethical issues and those of the personality types that drive the ceaseless process of destabilisation and insecurity that typifies our society.)

Indigenous people, non indigenous people and genocide

In particular I want to contrast this process with the ethics of the Australian aboriginal people before the colonialists arrived in Australia. Their belief system and ethics was 180 degrees opposite to our own. They saw it as their responsibility to maintain the ecological system from which they lived as unchanging. They did not celebrate ceaseless innovation but exactly the opposite and in fact they had successfully managed the ecological system in Australia essentially unchanged for at least 8,000 years and perhaps 15,000 years. This landscape and species management – through the controlled use of fire and water – was based on a deep knowledge of their ecological system and an intimate identification of the plant and animals that lived in it. Totem animals and more generally nature were regarded as kin. The detailed knowledge and respect for nature, species and landscape is what allowed them to live so well – working perhaps 3 hours a day.

In the terms of John Locke the Aboriginal people ought to have qualified as industrious and rational but were not recognised as such by settlers convinced of their own superiority. In Australia the colonialists found an ideal environment for grazing animals because the aboriginal people had created the landscape for this purpose with controlled burning. The eco-system that they managed allowed them to take animals and the foods when they wanted with ease. After the colonial take over and genocide the eco-system that they had managed was degraded. Between 1824 and 1908 in Australia as many as 10,000 Aboriginal people were murdered in Queensland alone. The original inhabitants were regarded as vermin and in some cases hunted for sport.

What happened in Australia happened repeatedly all over the world – economic development was a process in which the colonising developers acted as criminal psychopaths with the support of colonial states…. and degraded the eco-systems even while they imagined that they were “improving” it.

Indigenous and non indigenous economics

An indigenous community is one where people belong to a place – a non indigenous community is one where places can be bought and sold on the land market so that places belong to people (and corporations). This has a fundamental effect on motivations, cultures and ways of life. When people belong to places they are members of communities who have had a long term relationship to each other and to a specific landscape and its eco-system. The experience of commoning is pro-social and pre-ecological and brings ecological knowledge with it. The people understand and identify themselves with the local ecological features. They work to protect those features and take a long term view. This gives rise to a particular kind of personality too –and unlike the psychopathic personality it is one that cautiously takes a long term perspective. It is common for such societies to regard themselves as having responsibilities both to preserve what they inherited intact from ancestors who are held in great respect in order that that can hand over their landscape as an intact inheritance to future generations. Fundamental decisions should take into account the effects on 7 generations in the future.

Land grabbing and the development of a land market broke this up. It involved the quite literally “dis-located” and “dis-placed” people. It ripped apart the relationship of communities to each other and to places. The enclosure of commons broke up communities with shared relationships and share d responsibilities to a place and degraded both the people and the places which became objects to be bought and sold in markets and made available for limited ends.

By definition people who come as conquerors are not locals and when merchants become not only traders in goods but in people, in slaves and in plunder, then huge damage was done. A stabilised land market did not improve things when it developed extractive and plantation economies. From Ricardo onwards economists have celebrated the idea of an international division of labour with trade relationships as a way of increasing production. However an international division of labour meant dislocated communities in more specialised landscapes – monocultures which destroyed the pre-existing eco-systems, a break-down of community and ecological resilience and biodiversity collapse.

Ricardian development

David Ricardo’s international division of labour so beloved by economists was imposed by imperialism and had an ecological dimension. The European colonialists transformed territories into images of what they had left behind – importing plants, animals, crops and building methods, turning colonies into new places with new diseases, new environmental imbalances and trauma for dislocated populations. Political economy, taught by people like Malthus in places like the East India Companies staff training college at Hailsbury on Hertford Heath, then termed this destructive process “development” and proclaimed it to be an improvement. They celebrated themselves for imposing it – this was the white man’s burden, his civilising mission. The unrestrained market and the iron laws of political economy were inevitable and the elite with an economics education were doing a favour by bringing them about. During the Irish famine in 1846 Treasury head Sir Charles Trevelyan – a true predecessor for George Osbourne – wrote

“The only way to prevent people from becoming habitually dependent on government, is to bring
[relief] operations to a close. The uncertainty about the new crop only makes it more necessary…
These things should be stopped now, or you run the risk of paralyzing all private enterprise and
having this country on you for an indefinite number of years.”

As the population fell by 2 million in Ireland, exports of food from Cork in a single day in November 1848 were 147 bales of bacon, 255 barrels of pork, 5 casks of hams, 3,000 sacks and barrels of oats, 300 bags of flour, 300 head of cattle, 239 sheep, 542 boxes of eggs, 9,300 firkins [about one-fourth of a barrel] of butter, and150 casks of miscellaneous foodstuffs.

Accompanying Queen Victoria in Ireland, historian Charles Kingsley commented:

“I am daunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that 100 miles of horrible country. I don’t
believe they are our fault. I believe that there are not only many more of them than of old, but
that they are happier, better and more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever
were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black, one would not feel it so much.”

Elite Moral Sentiments

What we are looking at here are the “moral sentiments” of the elite after a schooling in political economy. In his other book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”, Adam Smith argued that ethics is based on empathy and identification. Action in support of others is easier with people that one knows well, living in circumstances that one can understand. Action in support of one’s neighbours occurs when one sees things happening to people that one could imagine happening to oneself. But how do you identify what people feel when they use a different language, live in radically different circumstances, in a different kind of environment, in a different society with different customs? To develop a full empathy and sympathy one would have to take the uncertain and apparently risky path of “going native” and while a few people did that most took the easier and apparently safer option – they pre-judged these strange people who were living strange lives and judged them as self evidently inferior. Either they were in need of new rulers or better still wiped out or driven away. Political economy provided the justification for this attitude because the civilisers had already arrived in what Adam Smith called the “Age of Commerce” which was the highest stage of historical development. History progressed like this – societies of hunter gatherers, followed by pastoralists, agriculturists and then came the Age of Commerce. It followed that the natives must therefore be primitives who were to be dragged into the modern world – perhaps by being set to work in the slave plantations.

The wealth of nations was provided far more in these plantations and the mines supported by the slave trade than in the small town exchanges between butchers, bakers and brewers. This attitude still prevails today – development in Africa and elsewhere will be helped by global corporations if they can access the land and resources of Africa. The flood of people trying to get into Europe is then not seen for what it is – the result of the actions of these corporations continuing the process of expropriation in their own interest.

The Invisible Hand and the Invisible Elbow

Of course at the heart of market fundamentalism is the core idea, that Adam Smith developed from Bernard Mandeville. This is that the pursuit of private interest (or self love) is transformed into a public good for the benefit of others through the market. The prospect of a reward drives the provision of what other people want (if they can pay). Price signals steer self interested activity and a social good occurs when others can buy what they want from the market.

Yet there is also an ‘invisible elbow’ as Michael Jacobs called it. ‘Self love’ can also be said to discourage the payment necessary in order to prevent or to clean up pollution. Where economic activity is purely self interested and ignores the wider social and environmental context it encourages taking risks at other people’s expense, it encourages fraud and various kinds of criminal activity, including, as we have seen already, genocide and land theft. As a matter of fact what makes the market work, to the extent that it does, in the allocation of resources, is only the agreement of all market players to pay according to common rules – like the laws of contract. Pure self love focused on individual reward, as the Vanderbilt University studies show can drive out consideration for other people. Greed is not good, as is claimed, because it encourages an environmentally destructive waste of resources, it encourages climate change and resource depletion. It encourages recklessness too. Indeed greed can leads to behaviours that preclude the minimum of trust and trustworthiness necessary for people to have business dealings with each other at all.

Crime epidemics , the financial sewer and the state

But isn’t all this a description more relevant to the 19th century or earlier than to the present day? Have things not improved since then? Well, let us consider what a professor of law and economics in the USA, William K Black, calculated for the few years before the sub prime collapse in the USA. No fewer than a half a million felonies were committed by people working in the financial sector in that country. When they were lending money to people with no assets and no income and then packaging those loans up and knowingly selling this financial “toxic trash” across the world they were involved in criminal fraud on a massive scale.It was this epidemic of criminality that largely led to the crash. (High energy prices played a part too!)It is noteworthy however that there have been almost no prosecutions and the finance sector got bailed out while its victims were ruined.

This tells us something about the ‘political’ in ‘political economy’ – the topic of political power asymmetry is not dwelt on in most textbooks even though it is central to how resources are distributed and allocated. In a supposedly democratic society we all have one vote equally. However we do not have equal amounts of influence. We do not all have an equal ability to use the state to pursue our business agendas or to rescue us if we come unstuck. This is because we do not have equal access to money to buy political influence, we do not have equal amounts of “well connectedness”, we do not have equal access to the mass media and to the services of public relations agencies, we do not have equal access to fancy lawyers, we do not have equal access to the information we need to pursue our agendas. We also have unequal access to health, education and protection. Of course if one group has access to the state and get bailed out when the economy comes unstuck because they are “too big to fail” while others are ruined then it automatically follows that inequality will increase and those who are responsible will be able to benefit from the mayhem that they create for everyone else with impunity. This process is actually called “moral hazard” but no one is doing anything of substance about it and that is why the power of the financial markets have, if anything, grown further after the 2007 crash.

The ecological crisis , climate change and the limits to growth

It is in this context that we must see official strategies to deal with the ecological crisis, climate change and the limits to economic growth. The justification of the people who govern us has always been that industrial development, technology and ecological development has delivered longer lives and greater material well being in “developed countries”. We have seen how the costs of this kind of progress have never been properly counted but can we really doubt the evidence of so much “technological progress” ?
One way of answering this question is to judge the economist’s idea of improvement against the 7 generation idea of indigenous people. It is said that when Mao Tse Tung was asked the significance of the French Revolution of 1796 he said that it was still too early to say. Well, a similar reply can be made of the significance of the Industrial Revolution – including the industrial revolution that has subsequently occurred in China itself.

If a generation is 30 years then 7 generations after the industrial revolution in Britain is round about now. Round about now we have the makings of a serious climate crisis, global biodiversity collapse, major depletion of fossil energy supplies, materials and fresh water. All of these are consequences of economic and industrial “improvement” . What “economic improvement” there has been is not only based on centuries of injustice, genocide, environmental degradation, and inequality – it now looks distinctively non-sustainable.

Yet the economists in the United Nations Environment Programme think we can “save nature”. This can be done, they tell us, by giving nature’s attributes a market value so that they can then be traded. Then we can plug ‘nature’ as a set of tradeable assets into the ethical sewer of the financial markets!
The flaw in this line of reasoning can be demonstrated by examining what has happened to the European Emissions Trading System (ETS) and many other aspects of the Kyoto Protocol. The carbon markets have never worked in the sense of significant reductions of emissions because the players in the carbon markets have consistently gamed the system and rendered carbon markets ineffectual.

No surprise here then. This is a matter of ends and means. In a market economy, and in particular in the financial markets, the end of the exercise is to make as much money as possible. What is supposed to happen is that the carbon markets incentivise technologies that make for environmentally benign activity. You keep the sociopaths sweet by financially rewarding low carbon and ecologically friendly activity. Note here that the environmentally benign activity is the means and being rewarded with more money is the end. However, since we are dealing with sociopaths what we typically find is that the largest quantities of money can be made by fraud or gaming the not so cleverly constructed system. Thus the ETS has had to be suspended at times because it was riddled with VAT fraud. For most of the time high emitting companies involved in the ETS have gamed the system so that more permits were issued to them than they needed and the carbon price has been close to zero.

A large part of the problem has also been with the so called “Clean Development Mechanism” for so called “developing countries” to get a share of the action in carbon markets in a way that would encourage low carbon development . But the Clean Development Mechanism has also been riddled with fraud. So called “Certificates of Emissions Reduction” have been awarded repeatedly for activities that were going to happen anyway. These fraudulently acquired permits could then be sold into the ETS. In brief carbon markets have never worked. But why should this surprise us? The ETS was designed by BP when it had friends in the Labour Government and it was known not to work right from the start. The system that was devised has then been infested by crooks. The invisible hand of the carbon markets has done a lot of damage, as usual delaying real action on climate change….

The fact is that the last thing one wants to do to protect the ecological system of the planet is to marketise Nature and put it up for sale. Nature has to be taken out of the market and put under the collective protection of communities with a living knowledge of their ecological systems and with an ethic of looking after it, and each other, in a long term relationship. It must be put under the responsibility of institutions whose purpose is to protect and share in the interests of all, preferably with a historical track record – not to buy and sell among the criminal classes (by which I mean the financial and business elite).

Taking centuries of PR spin out of economics

In conclusion – if we are going to try to reclaim economics as a branch of moral philosophy and if we are really going to describe the world as it is, rather than as we would like it to be, then we have to acknowledge what happened in the historical process that paralleled the “development” of the economy and the development of economics as a subject. Put bluntly the people who were fraudsters, thieves, gangsters, thugs and murderers have had a predominant influence across much of that history and have ruled in what are now “developed” societies for centuries. They have conquered most of the rest of the world, stole resources and terrorised it – and economists helped them by supplying a narrative that justified what was happening as a source of improvement and technological progress.

Actually it has been a history of violence, duress and crime and it still is. There is an estimated $ 21 trillion to $ 32 trillion in wealth hidden in financial secrecy jurisdictions which are places that facilitate fraud, tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. These places facilitate escape from financial regulations, embezzlement, insider dealing, bribery and money laundering. In Britain the continued prominence of the City of London and its network of tax havens was originally based on an Empire imposed by violence and then continued by providing a place to evade tax, regulations and the law. If economics is supposed to describe the world as it really is, how come that the analysis of these kind of facts are not what economic textbooks are about?

The first step to putting ethics back into economics is to take centuries of PR spin out of it and describe the world as it is, not the comfortable ideas that we would prefer to believe.

Featured image: A scene in South Australia, 1950. Author: Alexander Schramm Source:

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About the author

Brian Davey trained as an economist but, aside from a brief spell working in eastern Germany showing how to do community development work, has spent most of his life working in the community and voluntary sector in Nottingham particularly in health promotion, mental health and environmental fields. He helped form Ecoworks a community garden and environmental project for people with mental health problems. He is a member of Feasta Climate Working Group and co-ordinates the Cap and Share Campaign. He is editor of the Feasta book Sharing for Survival: Restoring the Climate, the Commons and Society.












Conversation with Guy McPherson II: Religion & Morality

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In this portion of the podcast with Guy, the typical Religious beliefs of the major religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism are discussed, along with the more abstract idea that the Progress meme of Industrialization itself is a form of religious belief.

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Economics & Moral Philosophy

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Published on FEASTA on September 10,2012

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Cafe Economique Talk

Presented in Nottingham, UK on 30th August 2012 The talk is presented below with its accompanying slides. Click on each slide to see a larger version. Please note that the notes that go with the power point were written up after the talk had been given and thus differ slightly from the audio version. The arguments in the written version are slightly more detailed and the written version includes references and sources whereas this is not fully the case in the audio presentation.

Audio file of talk (free registration required) Powerpoint slides

In the late 1960s and early 1970s major university economics departments in the USA and major economics journals decided to take the history of economic thought out of the economic syllabus and stop accepting articles on the subject.Thus it is that many economists are pretty ignorant about the history of their own subject. They probably think that Adam Smith, in the 18th century, was the first economist.
In fact writing, thinking and study about economics goes back to the ancient Greeks. It was taught in universities in Europe from 1250. This early scholastic economic was a part of the moral philosophy. Its leading thinkers, St Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, drew upon the writings of Aristotle and sought to unify his ideas with that of Christian theology.
But why was it a part of moral philosophy? The answer is that economics was considered to be all about the use of means to attain ends. Nowadays economics is a topic that I would describe as studying the use of intermediate means to provide for intermediate ends. However, it typically neglects the integration of the economy in the physical and natural world on the one hand while at the same time ignoring the study of what structures and determines our intermediate ends , namely the study of our ultimate ends. What are these ultimate ends?

To Aristotle you could not even consider this question without having a view of what is particular to human beings. For him the end of all human activity is sometimes translated as “happiness” but this can be misleading to a modern understanding of that word – because what Aristotle meant by happiness was a very specific idea of living a virtuous life in accordance with reason. The virtues included personal characteristics like integrity, honour, loyalty, courage and forthrightness. Ideally life meant developing oneself and flourished in and through ones dealings and particularly through participation in the community.

This did involve some need for provisions, and if fortune was on your side your women and your slaves could take of your needs in this respect, but Aristotle did not think that happiness involved accumulating lots of possessions.

To Aristotle the amount of property needed for a good life was limited. Taking this standpoint he saw there being two kinds of exchange and trade: exchange in order to satisfy a genuine need; and exchange in order to make money and accumulate possessions. The latter Aristotle thought of as unnatural, as he did usury, because it involved money growing without limits which violated the laws of nature – since everything in nature has limits.

Well, fast forward to Augustine and Aquinas. No doubt they too turned a blind eye to the power structures of the feudal society in which they lived but, as monks who had taken vows of poverty, they thought the reason for living was firstly, as it says in the Ten Commandments, to love God and also to love your neighbour. Life involved transcending yourself. Well, of course, this is very different from calculating your individual interest as assumed by modern economists. Instead it was assumed that you gave to and provided for the people that you loved and that you exchanged with strangers – in order, at the next stage, to have the things needed for the people that you love and for oneself.

To Augustine every person has a choice – to provide his or her goods for himself or to provide them for other people. This depends on the love people feel for themselves compared to the love they feel for other people. Thus distribution at the local and personal level, as economists describe it, involves a moral choice. With Aristotle there was also an idea that you shared wealth with a wider community, which in his case was the polis, the political community (of men and non-slaves).

Even when we exchange with people we do not love we had ethical obligations. For Aquinas exchange involved a just price – the price that emerged through haggling that cleared the market – but, and this is crucial, a just price is not imposed or experienced by some parties under conditions of duress. To charge someone high prices because there was a famine was most definitely not charging the just price.

So the context prevailing in the market is an issue too – indeed we can extend this idea to include monopoly control of the market and other conditions. Later in this talk I’ll argue that if you take away from people their means of support, like access to the commons, this is also putting them under duress.

The early medieval period was characterised by power structures somewhat akin to protection rackets where militarised hierarchical gangs effectively imposed themselves on the people and extracted labour and products, claiming that they had their authority and rights from God, but in effect having their power from their ability and preparedness to act as ruthless gangsters operating out of heavily fortified castles.

The church was no doubt complicit in all of this but it also acted as a form of social welfare agency in difficult times when the aged, sick and poor could turn to the monasteries. In addition, in England, the ordinary people had certain rights to use the forests, the wastes and commons lands for their own maintenance that were protected in the Charter of the Forests (the companion statement of rights adopted at the same time as the Magna Charter).

The rise of the merchant class and of commercial society in towns, and along trade routes outside the power of the military elite, changed all of this over a number of centuries. With the Reformation in England Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold them to his courtiers dismantling welfare provision for ordinary people.

Economic theory changed with the times. According to Aquinas merchants did fulfil a useful function of bringing goods from where they were abundant to where they were scarce. However, that’s not all that they did. For example they helped create economic conditions where it paid the elite to take the commons land from the commoners to enrich themselves (with sheep for the wool trade). And trade could be in slaves or the goods from slave plantations – or from products extracted by taxes in colonies. In other words under conditions of duress.

Increasingly economics reflected the technical issues of the time, rather than being a theorisation of the morality of the market.

Over several centuries the commons land was enclosed and the people using it lost their rights to sustenance. These processes meant they had to work for the emerging capitalist class as wage labourers or pay rent to the landowners on onerous terms. The price of labour and the price of land was the result of an institutionalised form of duress in that the ordinary people had no other options but to work on terms set by employers and landowners.

Elite theorisation of economics turned a blind eye to these processes, including in the ideas of Adam Smith in the 18the century. Smith was a professor of moral philosophy and was no doubt aware of scholastic economics. However for several centuries economic thinking had been changing from the ethical reflections of monks into more hard bitten ideas about how merchants and the aristocracy made money and accumulated wealth.

Thus Smith did not mention the Atlantic slave trade and plantations which created the wealth that flowed into places like Glasgow. Nor did he consider pillaging of India by the East India company. This international trade involved economic arrangements nothing like his cosy picture which he wrote about, although he must have been aware of it as the source of the riches of people in his own world.

Smith’s inquiry into the Wealth of Nations was not concerned with ethical issues about distribution and looking after the poor. He regarded himself as living in a different kind of age, an age of improvement – the commercial society had changed the game as far as economics was concerned. So Smith wrote about how more primitive societies might be more equalitarian – but, in his own society the labouring classes had their needs met and the more important thing was that the division of labour, specialisation, was making possible a continuous improvement in production . Thus everyone was much better off, even if unequally so.

Not for the first time or the last Smith was another economist who ignored less uplifting aspects of reality and chose to describe the further development of specialisation and of the market as the future for commercial society.

Note that in this respect the monkish idea of progress as moral progress had slipped into an idea of improvement as technical progress which produced more wealth. Scarcity was the chief problem facing humanity and overcoming scarcity was the chief task. This meant resources were to be used as efficiently as possible and technological progress would allow for more to be produced.
If you like scarcity became the original sin of the new economic religion and efficiency and technological progress became the new means of salvation – with economists functioning rather like a new priesthood, a role that they still enjoy. Indeed, for the contemporaries of Smith in this period the production and use of this greater wealth, would bring about better people directly and indirectly – because the commercial society had its own virtues and rewarded hard work, discipline, thrift, delayed gratification etc.

Of course, people still realised that human and social relationships were not always just, and that the ends that people pursued were less than perfect. However, it was increasingly assumed that these problems too required economic and technological progress. It would be when people were all much better off that they would be able to get to grips with these problems.

The slide on the right quotes philosopher David Hume, a contemporary of Smith. This idea is still with us today and has been shared by many subsequent thinkers. Karl Marx thought that the highest phases of communism would be prepared by the ability of capitalism to create an economy of abundance. In this context all sorts of problems between people would “wither away”. Without believing in the need for revolution Keynes also believed that in the distant future humanity would overcome its scarcity problem and thus its psychology of self interestedness. (See his essay, “The Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” published in Essays in Persuasion). The problems for humanity were no longer problems between people and God (or between people and Nature) nor between people – they were problems of inadequately developed technology.

Even more important was Smith’s abandonment of the ideas of Augustine and Aquinas, about an obligation in economic activity, towards loving your neighbour. For him a properly working market delivered socially beneficial results even though people were pursuing their self interests – or perhaps I should say, because people were pursuing their own self interests.

The famous quote from Adam Smith on the slide illustrates this idea.

Having abandoned considerations of distribution which were rooted in ethical considerations of love for one’s neighbour and ones obligations to a wider community, the new economics asserted that by pursuing one’s private advantages – and self love – the market would in any case organise a social outcome in the interests of everyone.

In this theory people got what they wanted through the “invisible hand” of the market because if they decided they wanted more beer and less bread they would seek to buy more beer and less bread, the price of bread would fall and that of beer would rise. Some bakers would switch to brewing and some farmers would switch from wheat for flour to hops and barley for brewing…Prices would act as signals that resources needed to be re-directed. As long as there were no restraints to resources flowing from one use to another there was no need for the state to intervene.

This was not a revolutionary new idea in his day – these kind of ideas that the market activities motivated by self interest, delivered what people wanted, can be found over a hundred years before Adam Smith. Moreover we should try to understand it as contemporaries would have understood it. Humanity had fallen – we’re sinners. And yet God had a providential plan for the world and he realised his plan through the self love of people operating through the “laws of the market”, that Smith described. At the time of Smith it was big thing that Newton had showed that things did not happen because of continual interventions by God. So instead people now thought that God set up the basic design of the universe and then it ran itself. In a similar way, the market and the “social physics” of economics worked through the predictable self interested behaviour of people giving rise to economic laws. As the poet Pope put it: “Thus God and Nature formed the general frame, And bad self-love and social be the same”.

Later economists assumed that the famous invisible hand of the market meant the operation of the price system and competition so that, without any central plan, the market self-organised the allocation of resources. If there were too much bread and not enough beer the bread would remain unsold and its price would fall whereas the price of beer would be bid up. So then resources would switch from bread production to beer production quite spontaneously, as long as markets were competitive and the beer producers could not prevent others from brewing to keep beer prices up.

It’s a nice parable but what economists are well aware of is that prices and the allocation of resources depends on the prior allocation of rights to the different factors of production. What was being ignored and relegated to the small print was what Aquinas had been aware of – the issue of duress. Smith was an apostle of the market and commercial society at a time when labour and land were being forced into becoming market commodities by land enclosure and when the state, by attacking the poor law for the support of destitute people, was ensuring that the poor worked on terms that can be dictated by their employers.

Neither land nor labour are originally “produced” with the explicit purpose of becoming commodities. Land is part of the living natural system and labour is people who have been forced to work on terms dictated by the owners of the means of production.

In this context the market does indeed produce according to the wishes of those with purchasing power – but how purchasing power is distributed, reflecting the economic and property system, was the deeper question.

As is usual the new economic priesthood avoided these questions and, as the 19th century progressed, devoted themselves instead to a deeper study of how people, motivated by self love and self interest, behaved. What determined their choices? This they did by using another framework from philosophical ethics, namely the utilitarian philosophy developed by Jeremy Bentham and then by John Stuart Mill. (The picture is of the corpse of Jeremy Bentham, with his head at his feet in a glass box at the London School of Economics).
Let me briefly compare Bentham and Mill’s moral philosophy to other schools of moral philosophy. Whereas Aristotle had an ethics based on developing ones virtues as a person, and the church an ethics based on explicit and written codes and principles and duties, the utilitarians had an ethics based on consequences. This consequentialist view was grounded in the idea that what mattered was whether actions gave rise to subjective states of pleasure or pain (utility or disutility).
The idea of utility was to be found in scholastic and early economics but to this school the utility of an object meant its fitness for its intended purpose. Now utility was given a different meaning – it was the ability of an object or service to give rise to a sense of subjective happiness, satisfaction or dissatisfaction. The criteria for an optimal decision then became the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. But how did you measure this subjective state?

Economists came up with a solution – there were no absolute measures of utility but this did not matter because in choosing between options people demonstrated in practice what their comparative utilities were between different goods. They demonstrate their relative preferences by what they are prepared to pay as they allocate their limited purchasing power between different purchasing options for goods and services. What people are prepared to pay is a proxy measure of their utility for the last unit of a good that they purchase.

This idea of willingness to pay (or willingness to accept in payment) is then used by economists as a proxy measure for how much people value things that do not normally appear on markets. It is thought to be a convenient idea too because the same situation can involve losers as well as winners, and here is an idea here that this can be solved by cash compensation payments. If an action involves increased welfare for one person and decreased welfare for someone else then it still might involve a greater happiness overall and one can tell that is so if the gainer can compensate the loser and still be better off. (This is the so called Kaldor Hicks principle. Note that winner does not actually have to compensate the loser, they merely have to be able to in theory).

What people are prepared to pay thus measures how much things matter to them – their ethical values were reflected in their monetary values. Economists are enthused with this idea as it appears to them to give a common measuring rod that can be used for all sorts of situations, including policy decisions about issues that do not normally appear in an ordinary market at all – for example, environmental decision making.

Thus the importance of protecting a species threatened with extinction is measured by what people are prepared to pay to protect it – or prepared to accept in compensation if it goes extinct.

This is actually nonsense because it assumes informed preferences and most people do not have preferences about such natural things as they live separated from the species anyway. What’s more it leads to a beauty contest where pandas and popular animals would score highly but the creepy crawlies or snakes that are crucial parts of eco-systems get no offers to pay at all. If people are then informed about the species and the ecological issues the obvious point to make is that value is created by being informed about the things, highlighting a need for education, not by spontaneous preferences.

So this point of view is highly challengeable and it has been claimed that economists are involved in corruption – see right.

This leads me on to what it is economists actually do – and why these things matter. And the answer is that economists are actually there as advocates for a particular kind of value system. They are not unlike priests whose job it is to argue for their belief system.

This is a quote from economist Robert Nelson who describes what it was like to work as an economist in the US Department of the Interior which was and is responsible for the upkeep of national parks and landscapes in the USA:

“If economists had any influence—which they sometimes did, if rarely decisive—it was seldom as literal ‘problem solvers.’ Rather, the greatest influence of economists came through their defence of a set of values. Much of my own and other efforts of Interior (Ministry) economists were really to persuade others in the department to act in accordance with the economic value system, as compared with other competing priorities and sets of values also represented within the ranks of the department.” Robert Nelson Economics as Religion Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001 p xiv

What is involved here is actually an implicit theory of how human beings are, what makes them tick. Using this approach it seems reasonable to economists to theorise human beings as if they act in a predictable way – calculating their individual self interest to maximise their utility and then acting accordingly. This makes possible a deterministic view of human action that allows economists to model markets. Of course, markets are places where there are lots of actors but the assumption is made that to get a collective picture of what happens you add up the actions of all the separate individuals as if they do not influence each other. There are no group dynamics in this situation. This is called methodological individualism and diverges a lot from the assumption of the scholastics – that people are providing for others too, including those that they love.Then you make a whole load of other assumptions, the effect of which is to make market behaviour completely predictable in a way that can be modelled in mathematics and diagrams. Such assumptions include the idea that people have all the information that they need about now and the future, do not change their preferences, act only out of self interest and yet act honestly, act in competitive markets, that there are no transaction costs…Most of these premises were nonsensical. Not only were markets not competitive, but people do influence each other when it came to market actions – which accounts for the collective irrationality of market bubbles, for example, when people look to each other for the way the market is evolving and their collective optimism becomes self reinforcing.In fact the market is always shot through with a lack of information and/or information asymmetry. People make mistakes, operate without enough knowledge and so on. This is not to mention that fact that if people really are only motivated by individualistically calculated self interest it is difficult to know why they should not resort to various types of crime. There’s often an implicit assumption of honesty in these models but in real life markets are prone to fraud and opportunism, to secrecy and misleading accounts of product quality. All of these things mean market outcomes are often far from the ideal pictured in the theory.

So how do economists actually do this?In fact economists mostly create models from assumptions that are assumed to be self evidently true…or claimed to be true enough for practical purposes.. and then analyse the logical consequences with mathematic symbols and diagrams. With enough simplified assumptions it then seems possible to show that competitive markets deliver efficient outcomes defined in the way economists want.
Of course, if you assume away the real world in your models then, surprise surprise, these models deliver ideal allocation outcomes – or they do on the blackboard and in the lecture theatre in the groves of academe, if not in real life. But what has happened is that conclusions are manufactured based on premises initially assumed. This may happen in very sophisticated mathematics so that mere muggles don’t understand it but that’s what the wizards are doing. (Today’s leading economic textbook writer, Greg Mankiw, has described non-economists as ‘muggles’, the ordinary people without magical powers, described in the Harry Potter novels. His implication is that economists are like wizards.)
As I have said the key to all of this is based on an idea of what people are like. There is an implicit modelling of human beings here. Certain types of behaviour (the type that allows economists to model people and markets predictably) is called “rational”.

You may think that this description of how people are and how they behave is meant by economists to be applicable only to economic and market activities. But if people are calculating their individual self interest in their economic dealings why should one assume that they do not do the same thing in their political, their social and their interpersonal dealings? Should we not also assume that government officials are calculating their interests too? At the very least, why should contact between business and government not lead to a cosy relationship, particularly if people can leave government posts and get lucrative jobs with industry? What about bribes and kick-backs from business for special favours?

When I studied economics at the end of the 1960s the textbooks, for example by Paul A Samuelson, pictured a world where the state was essentially benevolent and independent from business. A democratic process determined the policies the state would adopt and economists were just technical advisers about the options. They could regulate markets without being contaminated by the self interest motivations of markets. The idea that the state could be captured by business interests and the majority of the people were effectively excluded from real influence was not there.

This began to be replaced by another view of the relationship between business and the state spearheaded by the Chicago School.

The idea that the state could be captured by interest groups led to a kind of market fundamentalism by the Chicago school. The ideal was to go all the way and for the state to be driven out of market activity altogether if at all possible.To the Chicago economists the rational calculating individual was a description that could be applied to the understanding of all human behaviour, not just that in the market place.
So, what framework do you use to explain racial discrimination? To Gary Becker at Chicago, racism is a preference choice of who you want to live near and employ. Note, he does not endorse or condemn Becker merely sees himself explaining and drawing out the consequences.
The model of rational economic behaviour is then used by Becker and another theorist, Richard Posner, to explain “love” , marriage and prostitution in a utilitarian framework. Marriage is a relationship involving reciprocal service provision which saves on transaction costs like pricing each service that a couple provide for each other, or keeping accounts for these services. In this framework prostitution is a “spot” sexual transaction where it is “more efficient” to pay for the service in money.
It is used to explain crime too. Most people don’t steal because it would not be profitable but in the life circumstances of criminals the rational maximisation of costs and benefits of crime does make it pay according to Becker. This is another form of the redistribution of income in the same broad category as government welfare programmes.

The trouble with this view is that it is at best tautologically true in a sense that is banal – people do things because they want and thus they must get satisfaction or utility from doing and deciding what they do. However this banality makes little sense of the many actions and people who do things where they are conflicted – where they act in ways that involve self sacrifice for moral reasons, where there is genuine anguish about their difficult decisions, where they do things because they think they ought to, not because it gives them any satisfaction at all.

At the same time this way of analysing things has important aspects of being a toxic self fulfilling prophecy and contributes to the ethical degradation of society.

In fact psychologists have looked at what motivates people all around the world in different cultures and have come up with a picture of the varieties of motivations. This picture includes the ideas of the economists in values in the bottom left hand quadrant but makes no sense of the many other motivations that people have demonstrated in this diagram by Common Cause.

Many of these are not simply different self interested “preferences” in a utilitarian sense. For example many of the spiritual and community and environmental motivations involve serving a higher purpose which involves transcending or going beyond the self. These are intrinsic motivations which can involve a different “life game” in the sense meant by the critic of psychiatry, Thomas Tzsas; purposes to give meaning and direction in life.

If the assumptions of what “rational economic man” are like do not accurately describe many people, they probably do accurate describe many economists and those trained by them. There is a saying in the Talmud, “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are” and this probably does describe how many economists actually think and decide.

There are important respects in which the economic viewpoint functions as a belief system which is now shaping how things are in the form of a self reinforcing or self fulfilling prophecy. The point is that the economist’s view of the world actually serves to create the very mindset that it describes.

For example, a study of economic and non economics students in 1993 by Frank, Gilovich and Regan found that most people learn to be more co-operative as they get older – but that learning economics slows this process of social maturity. While students in other disciplines learn to be cooperative over college years, students majoring in economics learn the same fact much more slowly.” It seems that micro-economics teaching over as little as 4 months can have a noticeable effect:

“They picked three classes at Cornell University. Two of these were introduction to microeconomics. The third was introduction to astronomy. In the first microeconomics class (class A), the professor was a game theorist with interests in mainstream economics, and he focused on prisoner’s dilemma and how cooperation might hinder survival. In the second microeconomics class (class B), the professor’s interests were in development economics and he was a specialist in Maoist China.

To the students in all these introductory classes, the authors posed simple ethical dilemmas, including questions such as “If you found an envelope with $100 with the owner’s address written on it, would you return it?” The questions were asked twice, first in September, in the beginning of the fall semester and once again during the final week of classes in December, not even a full four months apart.

Comparing results against the astronomy control group, students in economics class A became much more cynical and gave less ethical responses at the end of the semester. Students in class B grew to be more unethical, yet not by so much compared to students in class A. The results clearly show that no matter what their initial ethical tendencies were, students who were exposed to a mere four-months of “rational” reasoning became less cooperative.”

In important respects there is evidence that departments of economics have become departments for the promotion of anti-social behaviour.

An early Chicago economist called Frank Knight made the observation that one requirement for markets to work efficiently is that people are honest. If they are not honest then things get more complicated – the transaction costs start to rise. You need to spend time checking out your suppliers or customers, you need to work longer on creating water tight contracts. You need to take court action more often with huge costs involved. In the small town world of Adam Smith if the butcher, the baker and the brewer ripped each other off the dishonesty would soon get noticed and eventually they would be likely to lose out from their dishonesty. Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan and the de-regulators of the 1990s and the early 21st century clearly did not see the world they lived in like that.

Yes, Adam Smith’s market self organised the supply of the goods that people want. But markets can self organise criminal activity and anti social behaviour too.

And this can be on a massive scale. When the American banks created financial instruments out of loans to people with no income and no assets, got them judged to be AAA quality they then sold these toxic fraudulent instruments victims all over the world. The financial victims that purchased them had no easy way of checking if they were safe investments and assumed that if rating agencies said that they were AAA then they were. All told there were probably up to a half a million criminal felonies that took place in this period.
So economics has come a long way. The ideas of the scholastics were compatible with what could be found in the Bible in the First Epistle to Timothy in the New Testament, that “The love of money is the root of all evil”. In the 17th and 18th century the idea was that God worked through individual self interest to create a society delivering in the interests of everyone. This has now morphed into economics becoming a virtual religion in its own right with theology for rich people who love money.

Related posts:

  1. Economics is not a social science
  2. Economics Unmasked : Review
  3. The Economics of the Great Hunger rules the Eurozone!
  4. Frank Rotering: An Economics for Humanity
  5. The launch of FEASTA, the Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability

Christian Apologetics

Religion, Ethics and Morality have become the subject of Great Debate inside the Diner lately.  This generally is the result of a long running series of debates between Ashvin Pandurangi  and myself on both of our Forums for Discussion, respectively The Automatic Earth and the Doomstead Diner.  Part of a bigger series of debates between Ashvin and myself I discussed in the Holmes and Watson article.

Why on two Blog/Forums which both are mainly concerned with the Economic aspect of the Collapse of Industrial Civilization has Religion become such a Hot Topic of Debate?  The reason is of course that Fundamental Ethics infuse all the Economic Decisions ever made anywhere at any time.  Religions all concern themselves with Ethics and Morality, and if those in charge of the Economic System and those participating in it are not living up to those Ethics, fundamental questions and answers of a Religious nature are often used to both explain what is going on as well as attempt to offer solutions to it.

This is an EXTREMELY complicated issue on many levels, which also brings to the surface powerful Emotional Reactions in all who participate in such discussions, whether as reader, writer or both.  In fact the discussions in this case became so intense that it resulted in the BANNING of one member of both forums from the TAE forum, a Commenter who goes by the nom-de-plume of Karpatok.  As of this writing, Karpatok remains BANNED from TAE.

I am a long time contrarian writer on the Internet who has had the experience on MANY occassions of being BANNED for what I wrote on what I refer to as “OPBs”, aka Other People’s Blogs/Boards.  It is extraordinarily frustrating for a Writer to be Muzzled in this way, and with very few exceptions such a response from BoardModerators and Admins is UNACCEPTABLE.  The main reason the Doomstead Diner exists at all is because without such a platform where *I* am the Admin, I simply cannot consistently get out the message I am trying to deliver.

Not everyone however either has the time, inclination, writing skills,  knowledge, money or expertiese to set up a Blog/Forum like DD.  In fact without my partner Peter who is the designer of this Platform, I never could have done it myself.  I still identify with the plight of the Commenter who gets BANNED from a Blog or Message Board, and when I witness such an event it makes my blood boil.  Really, to Ban someone has to take an extraordinary disruption of a Message Board, and should only be undertaken after ALL other means of resolving the issue have failed.  This was not the case with the Banning of Karpatok, who although she clearly has her own agenda wasn’t really making all that big a splash on TAE.  She certainly isn’t SWAMPING commentary there like I do anyhow.  Her posting could have been moved, she could have been marginalized in many other ways besides a Ban.

Free Speech issues aside here, the Debates on Religion, Ethics and Morality continue on here on the Doomstead Diner, to a much greater depth of detail than they are occurring on The Automatic Earth right now.  These debates have spawned two extremely detailed threads, Fun with Fundies where the Religion of Christianity is questioned on its fundamental tenets, and Christians Debate Christianity, where Christians question each other on their interpretation of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Both of these threads provide far more reading and detail then I can possibly drop in one article here on the Diner Blog.  I encourage all who are interested in such topics to explore both of these threads.  Below here in this article, I am including one post I made in Fun with Fundies on the topic of Christian Apologetics, which attempts to rationalize the Religion of Christianity.  I will in the future also post an article from one of the Christians on the board outlining some Christian perspective as well.

The Doomstead Diner is a place where we discuss the most important issues of our time, and most certainly Morality, Ethics and Religion sit right at the TOP of such discussion.  In the end, just about all discussions run back around to these ideas, even if they just begin with Natural Gas Fracking or a PIIGS default on debt.  I believe it is important for anyone who Blogs on these issues to be Up Front and Honest about their Belief Structure, because without that the reader really has no context from where the Blogger is writing.  My viewpoint is clear, as you will see I think when you read “Christian Apologetics”.  For the rest, join us inside the Doomstead Diner.


Christian Apologetics 

As should be obvious already to any readers of this thread so far, I am no big fan of Christian Fundamentalism or “Fundies” as I label the practitioners of this Black Art.

Indicated as well in the thread above is that Watson is BY NO MEANS the first Fundy I have ever gone Mano-a-Mano with, though he is among the best of them. One fellow I ran into who changed his whole life around age 50 to go back to Fundy Preacher Seminary for some fragment of the Baptist Denomination was also Fabulously Well Read in the Bible and Christian Apologetics.

For those of you who do not know what Christian Apologetics are, this represents a very LONG history of trying to present a rational explanation for the tenets of Christianity.

Christian apologetics (Greek: ἀπολογία, “verbal defence, speech in defence”)[1] is a field of Christian theology that aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith, defend the faith against objections, and attempt to expose the flaws of other world views.

I’ve always found the label for this field of study to be rather ironic, since it carries with it the notion that Christians need to APOLOGIZE for being Christian. Of course, that isn’t the sense the word is being used in here, but you can’t help but make that association.

So anyhow, Watson is a Christian Apologist of the first order, he has clearly been studying this field for quite some time, though I can’t say exactly how long. What first led me to grasp he was a practitioner of this Black Art was all the references he made to Biblical Scholars through history. Nobody is familiar with this stuff unless they have studied Apologetics, and nobody spends a great deal of time studying that stuff unless they are either Fundy or else possibly an Academic who studies Comparative Religions. So Watson had to be one or the other, and for a while I figured it was coming from the Academic side, since he writes in such an Academic fashion and clearly has that kind of background. However, when he went ballistic on me for taking Biblical quotes out of context and mounting his own “In Context” arguments, I realized he was in fact a Fundy, not just an Academic researcher.

Now, why do I refer to Apologetics as a “Black Art”. The reason for that is that you can’t ever argue with a Christian Apologist without them telling you that you haven’t studied the Bible well enough and all the REAMS of stuff other Apologists have written over CENTURIES about every freaking last Chapter and Verse in the Bible.

Really good Fundies who have studied this stuff for a few years can quote Chapter and Verse out of the Bible on almost any topic you can imagine. They don’t even need to Google it, they have it committed to memory. If you have ever had a Verbal argument with a Fundy of this type, you will know that in the course of a debate they will Recite a Verse or Two at incredibly high speed in talking. In the mind of the Fundy, BAM they GOTCHYA! They pulled out of their head the EXACT passage in the Bible that PROVES you don’t know WTF you are talking about and they do.

Ultimate Fundies are people like David Koresh, who did not just have a few hundred verses memorized to demonstrate his points, he memorized the entire freaking Bible, lock stock and barrel. Stories I read from some of his disenchanted followers said they were amazed early on by his ability to recite entire Books of the Bible in Sermons that went on for HOURS, without so much as glancing at the Bible.

So anyhow, in an argument with a Fundie Apologist, unless you have spent at least as much time as they have reading and researching all that was ever written on Biblical Philosophy, they let you know you cannot possibly know WTF you are talking about since you haven’t researched it well enough. Argument over.

So what has occurred here over the Centuries is many Apologists all debating with other Apologists over the Meaning of the Bible, and as a result over the centuries they have come up with marvelously internally consistent explanations for every last thing written in there. If anybody comes up with an alternative explanation, they get jumped on by 50 other Apologists all seeking to show why he is wrong, and somebody eventually does of course.

Now, I clearly have not spent years studying the Bible or Apologetics. I just have a few years of Sunday School to work with and occassionally sitting down to read some Chapters over the years. Not very comprehensive study by any stretch of the imagination. What I am pretty familiar with though is the history of Christianity and the behavior of all the folks I ever met who purport to be Christians. To synopsize that, its a big freaking MESS all the way round. They don’t follow the teachings of Jesus most of the time, and on a historical level the Religion has caused at least as much Grief as it did Helping anybody. All sorts of folks used it for their own ends always.

In our own time here now, the Christian Fundy movement has had all sorts of negative consequences, aka BLOWBACK. The Anti-Abortion aspect probably is the best example there. In response to “Baby Killers”, some Fundies will go ahead and Bomb Abortion Clinics. This is of course a response to the WWJD question that is completely incorrect, but nevertheless it IS the response that comes back here.

Fundies go on and on about the Sanctity of Life, but once born for all practical purposes the vast number of infants born to the poor are left hung out to dry. Then the Fundies feel Guilty about this so they start shovelling out the Food Aid to “help” all these starving kids and the Christian Children’s Fund comes on TV with some big Doe Eyed kid from Nicaraqua who you can “Save” for just $1/day!

None of this bizness of Charity has ever worked very well in anything but the smallest of Communities, and I am not even sure how well it works there either. Well off Haves in the society will occassionally feel Guilty enough to throw some Charity at the Poor, but if it is a persistent problem they become hardenned to it. Certainly once even just 50% or so of the society has fallen into desperate poverty, the Haves just give up on Charity. There are TOO MANY poor people! You can’t feed all of them without bankrupting yourself! this of course represents the negative reaction to the Welfare State and the Taxation that results from that as more and more people become dependent on the Charity of the State.

So, the fact is that all these Christian principles regarding the Sanctity of Life and the value of Charity don’t really WORK in the Ag society that developed before Christianity ever came on the scene at all. You can argue to death that the Principles are Sound and Internally consistent, but they don’t WORK, and they never have, not for 2000 years here. It doesn’t match up with REALITY which includes both Human Behavior and Resource Constraints. Don’t argue that with a Fundy though, they will tell you if you just Love Thy Neighbor and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, all will be well. If not in This Life, then in the Afterlife. If you don’t BELIEVE that, go read the Words of Jesus and 1000 Apologists for Jesus that will demonstrate to you the TRUTH of these arguments.

It is in a word, Horseshit. It doesn’t WORK, it never worked, and Jesus himself makes the disclaimer it won’t work, but only because not enough people will stick to his Principles. How come Jesus, Son of God and the Pure Virgin Mary could not come up with a set of Principles people actually WOULD stick to? I mean really, with that lineage he should have been able to come up with a Plan that WORKS, rather than one destined for FAILURE with an end result of a Final Battle of Good vs Evil for All the Marbles, right?

I have been grappling with all these questions for pretty much my entire life and taking on Fundies of various kinds through the whole time. I haven’t studied Christian Apologetics, and I never will. Why? Because on First Priciples alone, the whole thing just does not WORK. To spend years reading stuff people have written to APOLOGIZE for the fact it does not work is a waste of time.



Discuss this article inside the Diner


Surly recently wrote a post inside the Diner in the Usury thread begun by El Gallinazo  reviewing the exploits of Pol Pot, Cambodian Cleaner extraordinaire, as a Counterpoint to the Orkin Man meme I use to drive home the nature of beast we have here before us.  I suggested he turn the post into a Feature Article for the Blog, which he did.  I am compelled however to rexamine the questions Surly does in his analysis, because he does not paint a complete picture here.

Humanity is an Unforgiven bunch overall.  We all know where this is leading…no has already led to.  War.  Actually, Wars since there will be many of them.  Precisely how many will end up dead as a result of these Wars I have no idea, other than it will be a big number with lots of Zeros after it.  Beyond that, it is not a huge leap to make that our JIT food production and transportation will be compromised by increasing disorder in the society, leading to famine of unprecedented proportions.

Confronted with all of this, I look back at the history of Homo Sapiens and how societies react in these type of situations.  This is not the first time this has occurred, though it may be the biggest and the last time.  Is there a Way Out of the mess?  Yes there is, but it is full of unpleasantness no matter how you cut it.  The best you can do is try to find a path that Saves as Many as You Can.

Below follows some of my thoughts on how you go about this, and what the Morality and Ethics are when societies are confronted by trials like this.


I go through this bizness of the Nasty Dictators all the time with Ashvin over on TAE, and certainly it is not an easy position to take on the Orkin Man Idea when you have such nefarious types as Pol Pot in the Terminix bizness.

I am NOT defending Pol Pot here, because he took on this massively counterproductive attempt at social cleansing with tons of wrong ideas and with tons of corruption involved as well.  it also was bound for failure because it was undertaken while the Conduits were still functional.

Taking out the Crystal Ball here and looking into the FUTURE though, let’s consider some of the ideas involved in this mess.

Mao’s “Great Leap Forward”  included forced evacuations of Chinese cities and the purging of “class enemies, ” a move that would apparently gain favor among participants in this thread. Pol Pot now stood up his own “Super Duper New and Improved Great Leap Forward” in Cambodia, which in itself was new and improved, hence renamed the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea.

On the “Forced Evacuation of Big Shities” question.  It wasn’t true for sure in Cambodia, but look at the Mass Death that may occur in the Big Shities if they are NOT evacuated before JIT delivery fails.  You could have a 99% Death Rate in those places.  If Pol Pot II was running the show and forcibly evacuating people NOW, maybe you only get a 50% Death rate.  So here PPII goes down in History as the Mass Murderer of say 3B People.  Except if PPII had NOT done this, 6B would have gone to the Great Beyond instead.

It’s obviously a tough call to make for a Political Leader when to pull the plug on the Big Shities and tell everyone they have to EVACUATE NOW.  It will inevitably result in a Massive Death Toll.  But if you think it will be WORSE if you don’t do it, if you are willing to take the heat as the worst Mass Murderer in all of Recorded History, maybe you do it.


Millions of Cambodians accustomed to city life were now forced into slave labor in Pol Pot’s “killing fields” where they soon began dying from overwork, malnutrition and disease, on a diet of one tin of rice (180 grams) per person every two days, the better to become compost and improve the yields.

OK, here we  have mostly agreed that Industrial life is going the way of the Dinosaur and people HAVE to go back to the Land as Farmers at least, if not H-Gs.  What is going to happen to Obese J6P when you put him out on the land pushing a plow?  Instant Heart Attack!  Most people currently used to EZ Living courtesy of the thermodynamic energy of Oil simply are not IN SHAPE to work out in the Fields.  Is it PPII’s FAULT these folks are too fat and weak to pull their own weight out there?


And you can’t have a party without the purges… a veritable binge of purges. Up against the wall went the remnants of the “old society” – the educated, the wealthy, Buddhist monks, police, doctors, lawyers, teachers, glasses-wearers all, no doubt. Ex-soldiers were killed along with their wives and children. Eventually the taste for human blood leads to a paranoia of sorts, and why not?  Anyone suspected of disloyalty to Pol Pot, including eventually many Khmer Rouge leaders, was shot or bludgeoned with an ax. “What is rotten must be removed,” a Khmer Rouge slogan proclaimed.

Here of course is the EXCESS which occurs in many an Inqusition/Reign of Terror type scenario.  There is going to be a lot of BLOWBACK resultant from many people who have lost their comfortable life and who want to see PPII DEAD because of that.  He gets blamed for the problems they have; he gets blamed for their loss of economic status in the society.  So PPII gets PARANOID, for good reason.  People really ARE out to get him.  So he starts Killing Them before they Kill Him.

This of course is the Omellette issue Uncle Joe talked about.  Its just about impossible to be a manager of massive Die Off without yourself becoming a Target.  Yet if SOMEBODY doesn’t get int here and try to manage it, the Die Off is WORSE.  Morton’s Fork situation of course.

Now, back in Uncle Joe, Mao and Pol Pot’s era, if they played along with the Iluminati they likely could have avoided all that dieing.  Except these guys wanted to Exit the Game early, and to exit it they essentially were cutting off their Noses to spite their Faces.  They lost the ability to Trade with the outside world and were attempting to Go It Alone, and this messed up all their in place systems which sorta worked as long as you paid your Vigorish to the Illuminati.

So all of them go down in History as the most vicious and Genocidal Dictators in all of Recorded History, at least in gross numbers if not in Percentages.  I still maintain that the Romanoffs were WORSE than Stalin, but that is not really that important here at the moment.

Moving into the FUTURE here, the issue is you cannot even Save As Many as you Can by PLAYING BALL with the Illuminati.  Why?  Because said Illuminati are Fresh OUT of Cheap Oil to sell you with Loans they hand out to you.  So unfortunately here in this Morton’s Fork situation, the social dynamic is likely to produce numerous PPIIs and Great Uncle Joes.  Because unless somebody does SOMETHING to try to keep the society organized up, the Dieing will be WORSE than it would be if you have some Dictator FORCING people to evacuate the Big Shities.  They aren’t going to do that on their own until it is too late and they all are starving and Cannibalizing each other.


Although the image of banksters and stockbrokers mucking out pigpens and pushing wheelbarrows through knee-deep mud remains a compelling one for me.

You know, I paint all sorts of pictures based on the Spanish Inquisition and the Reign of Terror, but the fact of the matter here is that if you simply took away all their wealth and power and dropped these folks into a Housing Project in Chicago and left them their Shoelaces, Silk Neckties and Gucci Belts, they would all Hang THEMSELVES in short order.  So if you want to go about it this way to absolve yourself of a sense of Guilt for lopping off their Heads, I am fine with that one also.

Regardless of the means here, whether it is Sepuku or Capital Punishment, the situation is going to create the BLOWBACK from people who once had power, now removed.  They will attempt Counter Revolutions and so forth.  So you get forced into a battle here no matter what, and people DIE no matter what.

Practical sort of fellow that I am, I work my way through this dynamic to try to find the pathway with the least pain and the greatest survivability for the typical Slave in our society.  The means I see working best is to take the battle to the Illuminati before they get the Death Camps rolling in earnest here.  You do have to wait for the Failure of the Conduits though, because as long as the Iluminati have the Big Ass Military and Gestapo organized up and functioning, you stand no chance here.  Once those Conduits fracture though, the playing field is LEVELLED.

Then you don’t just get MAD, you get EVEN.

The issues most folks have when confronted with these problems are of Morality and Ethics and how you interpret God in the whole schema.  If there is a God, what is he really after here with Homo Sapiens?  What does He expect us to do confronted by Mass Death no matter which way we turn here?

For people brought up under Judeo-Christian morality, all the solutions which historically ARE taken are all unnacceptable.  War is unacceptable, Fighting Back is unacceptable (Turn the Other Cheek), even passing Judgement on the Guilty is unacceptable (Judge not lest ye yourself be Judged).

In fact few Christians besides Saints follow all the advice of Jesus even in good times.

40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.

WTF does this?  Up here in Alaska if you did this in the winter you would freeze to death in minutes.  Maybe that worked in the Middle East where its warm all the time but not here.  Christians also regularly go to War, regularly charge Usurious Interest and regularly commit Adultery also.  So it seems the vast majrity of Christians kind of pick and choose which of Jesus’ Words of Wisdom to follow on any given day.

For most of human history though, this set of principles was never followed by anybody.  Certainly not by tribes of Inuit who would practice Infanticide and Abondonment of the Elderly as tribal survival strategies.  You can also make a very good case that people who lived with this moral structure lived a lot more in balance with the world surrounding them than Christians or Muslims have ever managed to do.

The real questions of human survival come down to the needs of the many weighed against the needs of the few, or the one.

I personally believe in the existence of an Eternal Soul, and I also believe in Reincarnation, although in my own peculiar sort of way.  I’ll explain it in detail at some point, though you might try reading my On the Existence of God article.  Actually, that one might be worth a Cross Post on TAE, it certainly got a lot of conversation going on TAE when I originally posted it there.

Anyhow, while encased in your corporeal existence, you are subject to Natural Laws.  You personally have survival imperatives, and so does the community you are a part of.  The choices you make when confronted with these imperatives can impact your Eternal Soul, but it comes down to Motivations rather than Acts in the end.  I discussed this with you already in my example of the Liquor Store robbery Killing versus the Rapist Killing.  In one case the Motivation for the Killing is Selfish and Evil, in the other case it Helpful and Good.

On the agregate level of society similar questions arise, Infanticide is one of them.  If the purpose of the Infanticide is to provide for the Needs of the Many at the expense of the Needs of the One, the motivation involved is a Good one.  I don’t think this impacts negatively on your Immortal Soul, because you are trapped by the imperatives involved while you are a corporeal being.

Quote from Ashvin

On a more practical level – what if the baby would have turned out to be an Einstein when it comes to H-G or leading the Tribe? It is possible that the decision to murder the baby in order to spare the more productive member is a grave mistake. Perhaps the short-term risk of Tribal extinction is even worth it. The Tribe will never have enough information at the time of the Act to know that, though. BUT if there’s a possibility they will all suffer in the afterlife or in subsequent lifetimes, then it may be a lot better to err on the side of moral caution.

Well, the absolute value of Einstein, Newton, Leibniz, Edison or even Mother Theresa can be questioned to begin with.  After all, Einstein’s Special Relativity Theory led to the Atom Bomb and Fuk-U-Shima, now didn’t it? The Calculus of Newton & Leibniz led to Financial Derivatives, now didn’t it?  Edison’s Light Bulb led to the mass burning of Coal and huge inputs of CO2 into the Atmosphere, now didn’t it?  And finally, the Selflessness of Mother Theresa giving to the Poor contributed to Overshoot, now didn’t it?  So you see here, whther they be Great Theoreticians, Great Inventors or even SAINTS,their existence on Earth had major Blowback involved.  So perhaps we need fewer of these folks, not more of them.

Derrick Jensen makes a case for resistance using similar logic, that weve tried being nice and it hasnt worked, but with different timing.  He advocates more immediate action to avoid the system grinding on another 300 years, or the elite realizing its over and rather than let go of their rule, nuke it all while they hide in bunkers.  The effort of such pre-emptive strikes would be justifiable.  In your scenario collapse is guaranteed with a short event horizon.  I have doubts an OMMP is a “matter of utility,” as El G puts it.  Energy of all kinds (psychologic, physical, social, material) will be at a premium in a fast collapse scenario.  Efforts may be better directed elsewhere.

I’m not entirely sure of the “Event Horizon” on this.  In terms of passing the point where collapse is inevitable, I am sure we have pased that EH.  However, I am not sure that at least in some Ringfenced countries BAU might not be possible for another 50 years.  So calling in the Orkin Man NOW when we might muddle through a while longer at least here has questionable value, at least for US.  For the 3rd world countries who are bearing the most pain right now though, an Orkin Man arrival in the FSofA might take some of the burden off of them.  It would of course send the FSofA into a Tizzy of Civil War requiring all the troops currently dispatched over the globe to return home to quell the violence.

In reality here, we have not one but TWO Orkin Men running for POTUS, Obama-sama and Catcher’s Mitt.  They are both committed to Exteminating folks outside these borders who are inconveniently sitting on top of OUR OIL!  It’s all about who the Orkin Man sets about exterminating.


I know you will claim that’s exactly why we need the OMMP, so we don’t repeat the cycle, but maybe the OMMP perpetuates the type of thinking that sets it up.  The likely outcome is there will always be another pigman unless the very nature of dominator culture changes.  A global collapse has good odds of achieving that without the need or utility of an OMMP.

I can’t promise an Orkin Man solution to the Illuminati problem will prevent the cycle from repeating itself.  The main thing the Orkin Man has to do is prevent an ELE now.  So someone who will decommission ALL the Nuke Plants in the country/wold DESPITE the fact that a shortage of Electricity will end up in millions dieing by itself is necessary.  An Orkin who MANDATES that the Big Shities are evacuated BEFORE JIT fails is necessary, despite the fact millions more will die in the relocation effort.  An Orkin Man who pledges to get rid of all Greedy Parasitical Scumbag Pigmen currently walking the Earth is necessary, despite the fact we may eventually breed up NEW GPSBs.

 40 Years ago when 4 were Shot Dead in Ohio by the National Guard on the Campus of Kent State University, we might have still had a CHANCE to correct our behaviors without an Orkin Man Solution.  Now it is TOO LATE.  We missed the Bus.  Now its a dichotomy between MASS DEATH or EXTINCTION.  Which one do you choose?  Only an Orkin Man can make that kind of choice.  The key is to find the RIGHT kind of Orkin Man who Exterminates the RIGHT Vermin.  The Orkin Men we have to choose from right NOW are 180 degrees opposite from that.

So now, we are presented with a Morton’s Fork of unprecedented scope in all of recorded history.  We have on the one hand the very REAL possibility of an Extinction Level Event, not just for Homo Sapiens but for about every other living creature on the face of the earth with the possible exception of the Tardigrades, who can withstand close to Absolute Zero temperatures and bombardment by Gamma Rays and STILL pop back to life in the right conditions.  Sadly for Homo Sapiens, we are not as resilient as the Tardigrades.

On the other hand, the choice is MASS DEATH coming by one means or another here.  War, Pesitlence, Famine and Death, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are ready to Ride Herd on Humanity once again now.  Which is the BETTER alternative here, Extinction or Mass Death?  To some folks, Extinction is a preferable alternative to compromising Judeo-Christian ethics they think are more important than life itself.

If systematic genocide is the last best idea we can come up with, then maybe it would be better to let ourselves go extinct.

First off, it depends how you define Genocide.  In the case of the PPII evacuating the Big Shities and in the process killing 3B People, is this genocide if he had not done that and 6B would have died instead?  Looked at the other way, PPII SAVED 3B lives!
Far as being better to self-extinguish, I can’t ever buy that one.  Always a chance to improve if you are still walking the earth.


All of this just convinces me that it will always come down to a question of moral values in the end. Your cut-throat, last Hoorah Utilitarian morality just doesn’t do it for me…

And your moralism to the point of self-extinction doesn’t do it for me either.  We’re even there.


If you believe in an immortal soul, universal reincarnation, multiple universes, or anything of that sort, I think this assertion of yours is plain stupid. Who cares about saving your physical body on Planet Earth if you are risking eternal damnation in a fiery abyss?

Ashvin, YOU are the one who thinks you risk Eternal Damnation for this, not me.  If that were true, then generations of Inuit have all gone to Hell for Infanticide and abandoning the elderly to die.  Beyond that, every Soldier who ever went to war and killed people ALSO got sent to Hell.  I don’t BELIEVE that Ashvin.  I believe people like Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon go to Hell, not people who make practical choices for their own survival and that of their tribe.


Not smart, just good – however you want to define that. How can the information that the Infant will be, let’s say, another Christ-like figure not be relevant in your extermination decision?? It MUST be relevant, or else your Utilitarian morality falls to pieces and you have no justifiable leg to stand on.

 Look, if Christ can be born twice, he can be born 3 times.  Hopefully next time He chooses to born, the Hunting will be better.
Starting out there fresh out of the oven, kids have different physical attributes and mental ones also based on how good the wiring is inside their brains.  How “good” anyone will become at anything is based on much more than just what they were born with in terms of physical gifting.  From my observation with kids, they seem to be “infected” with a soul around the age of 2 or 3, not at birth.  Then there are all the circumstances that come after that, nutrition over the years, education etc.  So you can’t really say anything for sure about a newborn, and its random whether anyone lives or dies also.  You can’t be sure if one of the kids who die in a Bus Crash might have been the Second Coming of Christ either.

Yes, and this has been the conundrum of the human condition over the ages, but especially in recent years – we try to make calculated, optimal decisions in the short-term temporal sphere based on extremely imperfect information and then justify them after the fact as being in the best interests of humanity, as if we could have possibly known that. After all, the survival of that Tribe has gotten us where exactly?

The point I try to make Ashvin is that the Tribe I am after did NOT survive.  Agriculture and Industrialization rendered this Tribe EXTINCT, or nearly so.  We have to REVERSE ENGINEER this tribe back into existence.  It’s not going to be easy, and no road for the Squeamish either.  You start by getting rid of the most egregious offenders and then attempt to re-educate all the rest.  Those who cannot or will not Repent and change their ways will go to the Great Beyond, one way or the other.

I do not see Mass Death as avoidable at this point, and I cannot accept the alternative of allowing what is going on now to end in an Extinction Level Event either.  So the only real question for me here is who lives, who dies and how you cut the losses as best you can.  The only people who can do that are Orkin Men.  I don’t believe there will be ONE Orkin Man of vast power and control like a Mao or Uncle Joe here, I think the society is fracturing too fast for that too organize up now.  Rather I think the fractured society will breed up various Orkin Men, all with varying styles and methodology, but in the end all will be responsible for the very same thing, which is MANAGING DEATH.

If  YOU were charged with this unbearable responsibility, how would YOU react, what would YOU choose to do?  For me, the right meme does not come off the pages of The Bible, it comes from the Pop Culture  paradigm of the Old West, personified best by Clint Eastwood in so many films, fromthe Spaghetti Westerns to the Unforgiven.  We ARE an Unforgiven bunch as Homo Sapiens, and there really are times when a Stranger needs to Ride into Town and take out the Bad Guys.

This is one of those times, for sure.


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They are saying it is due to the Chinese stimulus calming demand concerns (which is absurd as China [...]

The US stock market seems to be down a bit this morning. Maybe there will be a bit of a break in the [...]

That is ... a good series. Covers a lot of different kinds of ground. Thanks! [...]

Whatever happened to Rosie Scenario when we need her? Moonlighting at the Department of Easy Solutio [...]

Everyone please relax. The oilmen and traders of Reddit have it all under control. There is no probl [...]

"Poverty is considered a money issue rather than a ‘values’ issue, so we have no civilization w [...]

Yes, my point is that at most we can make an individual response. There isn't going to be a sys [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

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Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

Climate change will continue to have a largely detrimental impact on the agricultural sector worldwi [...]

We investigate historical and projected precipitation in Tanzania using observational and climate mo [...]