Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Simplifying a Complex Issue

In addition to bringing back the 'jewish conspiracy' question to political debate, Adbusters now wants atrophy and destruction of our economy.

Why did they move on from commentary of marketing? I don't know, but I wish they would have stuck to it.

Dating back to the days of Adam Smith, economists used to incorporate ethics, literature and philosophy into their analysis. But these days, Smith’s intellectual offspring have the idea that economics is a physical rather than a social science that has nothing to learn from other disciplines. They cling to the notion that their models are not tainted by the subjectivity that confuses other social sciences. Chicago School affiliate George Stigler once scornfully remarked that “without mathematics, we’d be reduced to the caviling of sociologists and the like.” The 1969 introduction of the Nobel prize in economics – which Stigler won in 1982 – seems to have fueled these delusions of grandeur.

Critics of neoclassical economics chuckle at the the idea that its precepts can withstand the rigor of the scientific process. They argue that Homo economicus – the theoretical self-interested ‘everyman’ that economists base their analyses on – is a misrepresentation of human nature. The model does not account for structural factors and altruism, and assumes rather ambitiously that peoples’ choices are guided by perfect rationality.

The reliability of this and other neoclassical economic models would be irrelevant to the wider world if the prescriptions of Stigler and his ilk were confined to the halls of academia. But the Chicago School had an enormous influence on governments and helped set the tone for the era of fervent free-enterprise boosterism, market liberalization and privatization that swept the globe during the 1980s and 1990s. Their thinking has also helped shape the International Monetary Fund and World Bank directives that have only managed to widen the gap between the rich and poor.

The physical environment has also suffered under neoclassical economic orthodoxy. Since economists treat land like any other form of capital, they often see it as expendable and easily substitutable. When land and resources were plentiful, the environmental implications of this view were not immediately evident. But with the economy so much bigger than it was in Smith’s day, the failure to measure the impact of economic activity on the environment is devastating. Meanwhile, economists show their disregard for nature with comments like those of Nobel laureate Robert Solow who stated, “if it is very easy to substitute other factors for natural resources, then there is in principle no ‘problem.’ The world can, in effect, get along without natural resources, so exhaustion is just an event, not a catastrophe.”

Solow’s outlook epitomizes old-school neoclassical thinking, but the ivory tower he and his cohort sit in is ripe for demolition. A new paradigm is waiting in the wings, one that values nature flows and money flows equally. One that addresses the social and environmental costs of the current model. One that calls for limits to growth and more comprehensive ways of measuring progress. A global economic collapse might be needed to facilitate this paradigm shift, but economics students shouldn’t underestimate their ability to force the change themselves. University campuses have an enormous capacity for agitation. The time for revolution is now.

Here's the problem: Adbusters thinks economics is a flawed field. Why? Because adbusters disagrees with it. The conclusions that economics comes up with are not 'command and control', statist policies. Instead of writing detailed economics papers detailing why ecomomics is flawed, and enlightening the establishment, adbusters simply advocates destruction and 'revolution'. This is ulitmately the brazen arrogance of the ignoramus. The church clung to its dogmatic arguments against science for hundreds of years, seeking to destroy the field. Communists still attack capitalism, long after capitalism found the world wasn't the centre of the universe. Copernicus? Galileo? Meet Reagan and the fall of the berlin wall.

The church could not contain science, and often tried to undermine it through intimidation, inquisition and torture. The church attacked the learned and promoted ignorance. Does adbusters want its readers to learn about economics? Of course not. That would take years to understand, and it would probably lead to the conversion of their flock.

Is adbusters so confidant in its assertions that it would present them to economists to change their ways? Of course not! Creationism advocates would get laughed out of a symposium on ecology, too. Ultimately, the little slings and arrows against a force that the left cannot and will not understand, are the result of dogma and blind conviction. Their ignorance is their tell tale heart; their forebearers were exactly the same.

Attack, believe, obey. A force that briefly overtook Italy after religion had failed had the exact same mantra.

Attack those you disagree with. Do not engage.

Believe what we say, without question.

Obey our commands.

A rose by any other name......

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