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“when ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule”

Sounds like normal night out at the bars.

Putnam's book, Bowling Alone made the contention that people are no longer interacting, that its a rat race and one for one and none for others, self interest. Now Keen suggest that very thing that bridges the gap between individuals is bad. But isn't everything that is "Pop" culture seen by many as being perverse. What we have now is not all that different from any other time. Instead of gathering at the bars or pubs blathering on in some incoherent nonsense, we can do it on the internet. And instead of the bar patrons having to listen to it, we have the option of whether or not we want to read such stuff. Even more importantly it becomes even more important to debate, especially academic debates.

Just because garage bands can be found on the internet doesn't mean they are any worse than the hair bands of the 80s who made living out of writting really sappy love ballads. But what is even more preferable is that I can listen to a sample, either on myspace or amazon. If I don't like it I don't have to buy the CD without knowing whether they are good. It provides choice and increased consumer knowledge and whats not to love about that? Not to mention you might even find talent that might, at one point in time in the past, have been found.

There are other "pessimists" who claim that the advantages of the new media world (internet and cable) are quickly being sucked away by the same few corporate giants of the old media... soon it will be just more of the same. This seems to be the reverse of the prediction of the pessimists you describe.

In fact, new markets do tend to pare down for a while, so that the amazing multitude of new competitors dwindles somewhat, with sometimes a few giants emerging, but in many industries "perfect" competition remains.

In the world of news and media, there is always demand for the little voices; that is notoriously hard to squelch, by government or by market forces. And there is demand for real news along with entertainment. The new media outlets will not change that. It is just easier than ever to fill this demand.

I'm surprised you didn't mention John Robb at http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com who is really into the evolved spontaneous order thing, with lots of analogies to open-source software and so on. I think he goes overboard with the decline of the state and the significance of these "global guerrillas" and buzzwords, but some of you anarchists might find him interesting.

Just in terms of intellectual work and the fear of "shrill opinion rather than considered judgment" it is hard to see how things are ever going to worse than the pre-internet time of 60s and 70s when young radicals ran wild on campus, literally setting fire to some of them. The jury is still out on the question whether sociology and parts of the humanities will ever recover. Blaming the technology does not start to address the real issues of intellectual rigor and institutional/personal integrity.

Ah the good ol' days when art and culture was commissioned by enlightened kings...

On one hand it's quite possible that nothing of lasting value will be produced on the internet, not one creation by one individual, like say, Caravaggio. On the other hand, what will last will probably be more intangible, a truly spontaneous order for which we still don't have a word, maybe a certain way to interact in society, or how we live our lives. It seems that content is ephemeral in the internet age, but modes of learning and interaction could very well last.

I tend to be an optimist- thanks to the internet I can debate fine points of econ, public policy, and bioethics with strangers on the other side of the world and download every scientific paper from the classics to the very latest cutting-edge just-published discoveries. Not to mention that I would never have discovered the Austrian School without it. It has expanded my universe immeasurably. I have trouble telling the difference between the statement "where ignorance meets egoism meets bad taste meets mob rule" and "them dang internets make a bunch of stuff I don't like!" People have been kvetching about how terrible popular culture is since there was such a thing. What would they have us do? Centrally planned culture?
As for the implications for spontaneous order, I think it just says that any kind of spontaneous order will always have the same kind of critics: people who think that if they were running the show, it would be better, cleaner, prettier, more moral, more high-minded, more intellectual, more uplifting, more artistic, etc, etc, etc, than anything the unwashed masses produce. It will always be an uphill fight against those who think everything would be better if their preferences ruled everyone.

"So how much "faith" can one have that
the resultant order will be beneficial
efficiency vs. undersirable perversity?"

I take the agnostic view on whether the results of spontaneous order will necessarily be socially beneficial. But the alternative hierarchical orders carry the same characteristic in their outcomes. It then becomes an empirical question as to which sorts of orders have typically more or less beneficial outcomes, and that is of course often dependent on the institutional variables Peter mentioned.

An important aspect however is that power is moving from the 'centers' to the 'edges.' The recent revolution in information and communication technology, and the ubiquitous and low-cost access to it that is now possible throughout much of the world -- developed and developing -- has enabled more individuals to have the ability to effect power through media and literature than ever before. The printing press brought revolutionary change but the common folk could not use it to even read personal copies at reasonable cost until the advances in mechanical printing technology of the nineteenth century; for publication, such media remained out of the reach of most folk much longer. The telegraph brought a considerable degree of immediacy to the message of the medium, but high capital costs encouraged the development of the major links to the 'centers' of various nations; large commercial centers had comparitive advantage with the technologies of broadcast as well, and quite naturally became the major nodes for news etc.

The internet and low-cost access devices (cheap PCs, ubiquitous mobile phones, etc.) have changed this dynamic considerably. Anyone can publish, and dynamic virtual news networks can arise that run totally outside of the traditional large-city-centered physical infrastructure headquarters of large corporations and the state. Of course, the effects are not limited to news; scholarly debate, politics, and logistics systems are all undergoing change facilitated by the internet communication technology revolution.

One implication for spontaneous order studies would, it seems to me, be that we must collect data and analyze real events, articulate the results of spontaneous orders as we see them, and then develop a body of work that lends itself to comparitive analysis over time with the results of hierarchical orders.

Isn't there always someone crying about how the current culture of this, that, or the other thing is vapid and perverse? There will always be people who hearken back to "the good ol' days" of whenever, when people really cared about others and put their heart and soul into everything and blah, blah, blah. Once you apply the concept of subjective value you realize that it really doesn't make any difference. Do what you like and shut the hell up about it.

let me quote the author of the book-
'It's unashamedly biased...This is not a fair book...it's designed to open up a conversation...'- author of the book, Andrew Keen
http://austrianeconomists.typepad.com/weblog/2007/08/are-spontaneous.html

let me quote the author of the book-
'It's unashamedly biased...This is not a fair book...it's designed to open up a conversation...'- author of the book, Andrew Keen
http://bayesianheresy.blogspot.com/2007/08/yes-spontaneous-orders-beneficial.html

Peter Boettke’s writes that ‘The invisible hand always works within a specified set or rule environment.’ I can see what he means but it rubbishes the idea of ‘an invisible hand’.

In Adam Smith’s use of it as a metaphor in Wealth Of Nations the situation is directed at the risk aversion of merchants to exposing themselves to the risks of trade with foreigners, or at least people a long distance from them. (WN IV.ii.9. p 456) In Moral Sentiments it is about rich landlords distributing surplus from their land to tenants and retainers sufficient for them to be near the same subsistence as they would have received if the land was equally divided among them. (TMS IV.1.10: p 184)

Now the metaphor of the invisible hand can only be said to be working (whatever that means in social science?) after it has done its job, i.e., that enough risk averse merchants have invested locally (one or two may not be noticed) to raise domestic investment (the whole is the sum of its parts). It may be that only the few who are most risk averse have done this, while the majority who have invested in the foreign trade of consumption or the carrying trade in pursuit of higher profits have discounted their risk aversion. The invisible hand has not touched them, or whatever this mystical force does to ‘lead’ them.

In the case of the rich landlord, who does not distribute his surplus (by allowing tenants and others to keep back sufficient for their subsistence out of their delivery of harvests to the landlord), and who prefers or his indifferent to the increase in child mortality, early deaths from disease, and general inability for the starving to continue working, the affect of his actions is to reduce the available workforce to continue working on his land. They starve first; the landlord will starve next. Again, unless the landlord does feed his tenants (or allow them to feed themselves) his continuation as a landlord is at risk, from covetous neighbours with more well-fed armed retainers.

Hence, what is the invisible hand supposed to be ‘doing’?

If risk-averse merchants do keep their capital close to them, then it is alleged that the invisible hand is ‘working’, or as Peter puts it, it is ‘institutionally contingent’; if landlords do what they can only do – meet the subsistence costs of their tenants, like they must do when paying the costs of, say, the builders of their large houses – then the ‘invisible hand’ is ‘leading them’ to ‘beneficial efficiency’.

This makes ‘the invisible hand’ somewhat empty of content. It’s worse than Panglosean illusions about the ‘best of all possible worlds’: it operates when what will happen if risk averse or rich landlords do what they have no choice but to do in their circumstances, but does not work when they do something else, which is also something they would do if they were less risk averse or particularly myopic.

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