caper_est: The Liberty Bell strikes! (liberty)
"These revolutionary posts will change the economic platitudes of a generation!" - Daily Stenograph

In these recessionary times, there's one thing that's never been in bigger demand - armchair economic punditry! Whether it's cutting through the forest of futilitarian facts with the trusty machete of timeless folk wisdom, or whomping up a super sciencey argument for why Master should be counter-intuitively congratulated for giving the dog a good kicking, we are living through a paradigm-asploding age of unprecedented economic explaininess! Could this unquenchable public demand for Genuine Knowledge Advantage™ ironically become the very consumer-spending kickstart that bumps our anxious society out of the surly slough of a quintuple-dip depression!?!!!

Sadly, nope.

"What is this shit?" - Ickenham & District Sciolist-Intelligencer

And that is why we need a new kind of popular economics writing - I call this Feconomics, with an eye to the failure of popular oeconomics writing to occur anywhere anyhow ever. It absolutely ought not to be confused with any other movement which may sound accidentally similar. The subject matter of Feconomics!!eleventy!!!™! is divided, like my arse, into two parts:

(1) Such economic notions, simplifications, and slogans as make useful foundations or provocations in the academy, and thereby make the roses grow; but in the workaday world serve no purpose except to foul the turbines at which they are projected. These are mostly deployed to make complex problems sound trivial.

(2) Processed economix food product - real, pure, clear-quill Frankfurtian bullshit. This is mostly deployed to make a complex and intractable problem out of the fact that some bastard is kicking your dog.

"This Goat Thinks Your Economic Clichés Are Killing You" - Clickbait Platinum Preferred Reviews

So. There may be a few posts coming along with this tag, as I happen across the raw material from time to time.

Feconomics™. Because we're up to our arms in it...



Hard Work

May. 14th, 2012 11:44 am
caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
I ran across this and it seemed like the season for it was coming round again:


When a man tells you that he got rich through hard work, ask him: 'Whose'?

- Don Marquis


That's Don Marquis the author and journalist, of archy and mehitabel fame (d. 1937) - not Don Marquis the professor of moral philosophy (b.1935), whom I am not apt to be quoting any time soon.

caper_est: The grey wolf in the red gloaming. (golden kate)
Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland: Finished reviewing the plotline I'd been avoiding - the tale of the Young Duke, and his better and worse counsellors. Ngh. This may be the one in need of most work.

Not hard to see why - of all the elements in the tale, this one had the worst wellspring: neither a lively part of the original vision, nor a spontaneous outgrowth of the story's unfolding, but a rather passive and cartoony set of antagonists in the original plot, designed more to be important in their circumstances than in themselves. That changed rapidly from the moment the Duke himself burst onto the stage, but the changes are somewhat late-grafted and inconsistent, as I flailed around to make the matter come alive without completely disrupting the logic of the story. So now I'm going to have to go back and retro-fit the lords of Northdales as I came to know them, with the way they are on their first appearance.

Lordly behaviours, the diplomatic dance, and questions of malice and mammon. )
caper_est: The Liberty Bell strikes! (liberty)
To recap once again on this month's challenge, it is:

Paying My Moral Debts
I'm going through the list of all the free stuff I, personally, am currently getting only because other people are enthusiastic and generous. Then I'm seeing how much I can commit by way of fair return, and how much of that should or can be financial. The coming month is for sorting out the financial side.


But this is where I ask: is the idea of financial moral debt a trap in itself?

On one level, clearly not. If I promise to give somebody some money, then even if there is no legal evidence of the debt, or the law allows me some way to weasel out of it, I'm obviously bound by my word. Moving out a bit, if somebody helps me out when I need a gift or a loan, and then further down the line they need some help from me, I think I owe them morally whether I've promised anything or not. And if Croesus helps me out and won't take anything back, even this confers on me a kind of soft obligation to pay the favour forward to somebody else at least once. All these kinds of moral debt, I'm quite happy with.

But taking the notion of 'debt' too literally, risks damaging the very gift economy I'm trying to do my part in.

There is nothing mean, and often something quite charming, about the ideal of always paying one's way and not owing nuttin' to nobody. That is a strong strain in the way I was brought up. Its danger, though - and hence the danger of projects like this - is that it may instil a kind of Janus-faced and flinty righteousness. On the one face, a pride in having paid all one owes (unlike, perhaps, some of those other people). On the other, a stubborn unwillingness to take stuff one can't pay for (ditto).

The proud face is almost certainly wrong. Here I've reckoned up a few moral debts that are too obvious to overlook. But were I to look harder, I should certainly find some more. And some of the best free stuff I'm probably benefiting from may be so transparent, and work so well, that I scarcely notice it, and have no hope of quantifying it. If I could quantify monetarily all the labour I benefit from without charge, it's not at all obvious that I could pay it. Nor would everybody even want me to pay it - assuming they were set up to receive payment in the first place. Payment in kind or in labour doesn't necessarily help either - same deal. The gift economy is not, on first blush, very much like the market economy at all.

The stubborn face may now incline to say, "Okay - I won't take any more free benefits than I can help." This is wrong in another sense. If Mr Stubborn refuses to take advantage of a benefit, it doesn't follow that the benefactor gets back any of what they spent to provide it. All that happens is that a little grace is lost from the world, and a little utility dropped into the entropy bin. It's surely wrong to be an ungrateful freeloader. But it's no better to be a surly curmudgeon. I've mentioned before that I believe mutual bounty to be an essential element of a working libertarian society, just as surely as legalistic gaming is a poison to it. But if there is to be bounty in giving, there must logically be no less grace in receiving. The temptation to maintain the moral 'credit' of a Lady Bountiful is ultimately as selfish and status-seeking, as the temptation to live the lush life on somebody else's tab is selfish and greedy.

So how much should I pay, and what should I take advantage of?

In the market economy, we know where we stand. A known value is offered by a particular person, and a known value is given in return by another. Plain dealing and precise reckoning are the market's breath and bones.

In the gift economy, value must still be given and returned. But even with the help of guide prices and suggested donations, the aims, rules, and consequences are very different. The same fundamental economic principles must apply, but in very distinct ways. I have a hazy idea of how to take some of the simplest issues forward, and shall attempt to do so in subsequent posts in this series. Taking the case where payment must be financial - this month's narrow target - I want to show how that quality I call gaiety, a sort of genial flexibility about various specifics of how good things are paid for and provided, can improve on either the legalistic market approach (take all you want, as cheaply or freely as you can get away with) or the moralistic market approach (don't take anything unless you can afford to pay the least you think it's worth) when dealing with goods freely offered. And I want, too, to examine its limits, and the places where market-like punctilio about specific obligations is required to keep the good shows on the road.

It's proving no simpler a project than I expected, and as always, I welcome any insights anybody has to offer.
caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)

Not the post I'd expected to make next, but an important one.

Contributing towards free resources with cash has one inarguable side-effect - one has less cash afterwards.  This isn't an acceptable net result for me, for several reasons.  Firstly, I don't earn a lot of money, and I'd rather not look for a less congenial job in order to achieve some modest improvement.  I'm not saving enough for my liking now.  Moreover, I see hard times ahead and more need to scrimp and save than before.  Finally, there are straight questions of both goodwill and freedom involved - the more financially secure I am, the less likely I am to need to touch other people for their hard-earned, and the more able I am to tell the government/my employer/whoever to go to blazes, if they start behaving as if they belonged there.  Since relative self-reliance is presently an option for me, it would be a really bad idea to do anything to undermine it.

There are limits to this sort of thing, and very stringent ones, because financial narcissism is a disease illimitably creepy and always morally fatal, and it is one to which some perfectly decent traits in libertarians' worldview render us dangerously liable.  But that is another discussion, or several discussions, for other occasions.  For the moment I want to focus on one modest and essential part of the project: funding every commitment I make as I go along.  In other words, every part of this challenge has to leave the resulting lifestyle at least as sustainable for me as the one I went in with.

A sad story of an unsustainably charitable friend )

So, coming firmly down to earth, how am I going to pay for all my new commitments to pay for that lovely free stuff I've been lapping up?

One simple economy will pay for more charges than I've yet managed to identify.  Except to sound out a new place for some social gathering, in future I shall only dine in Indian restaurants when in company.  My own inordinate curry-cravings must otherwise be satisfied either at the work refectory, or by my own hands.  This will have the happy side-effect of forcing me to learn many more curry recipes than those few I've already mastered.  I estimate this will save a good £150 a year.

So with a last ceremonial butter chicken and saag aloo at the admirable Punjab restaurant in Covent Garden, the resolution is sealed, and my formerly-free subscriptions are now funded!

caper_est: caper_est, the billy goat (Default)
Having set myself a not very demanding challenge for the next month:
 
Paying My Moral Debts
I'm going through the list of all the free stuff I, personally, am currently getting only because other people are enthusiastic and generous. Then I'm seeing how much I can commit by way of fair return, and how much of that should or can be financial. The coming month is for sorting out the financial side.
I've now ponied up for all the things I said I would. Somehow I expected this to involve a lot more time and hassle than it did. If this were just a question of settling moral accounts for the year, the matter would end there.  It would then have been needless for me to have posted about it at all, except possibly - as with my writing wordcount posts - to use the fact of public commitment as an encouragement to Get On With It. Which it probably has been. But that is not the main point of this extended challenge, at all.
 
Firstly, I want seriously to look at reasons for paying or not paying for goods, where one has the choice - and get to grips with the issues I haven't satisfactorily figured out.

Secondly, by the end of the month I should like to have started on regular habits in these matters that make better sense in terms of the code I believe in, and the budget I have to work with.

Thirdly, I want to see how far some of my fine-sounding ideas survive concentrated application to reality, and report on the results. This is one very low-stakes and easily controlled practice arena.
 
Fourthly, I want to look at structural and technical obstacles to useful voluntary payment practices, and swap actual and potential workarounds for them.

Fifthly, I want to make a case for the necessary link between libertarianism and liberality, which I think is systematically underestimated from both perspectives. It would be nice to convince some other people of it. It would be quite enough of a victory to convince myself, to my own practically expressed satisfaction. Worst of the acceptable possibilities is that events, or other people reading these sketches, defeat my argument because it is wrong. I question whether I could be persuaded that either free agency or free-handedness is overrated in itself. I am, though, open to being convinced that they are independent or even conflicting virtues, or that the same social institutions are unlikely to embody both. Either way, I wish to begin this argument via some simple bread-and-butter issues here.

My next post in this series will examine the boundaries and dangers of my starting notion of 'moral debt', and cast about for promising alternatives.

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