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Bloggingheads
03-02-2008, 08:55 PM

Bloggin' Noggin
03-02-2008, 10:51 PM
This folk saying (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/9128?in=00:01:19&out=00:01:29) warmed my heart. It brought back many a fine day basking in the rays of the Form of the Good before I descended back into the cave of the BloggingHeads comments section to become soi disant Philosopher Queen.

Another great job by Will.
Free Will is usually the high point of the week in BloggingHeads -- sometimes almost the high point of my week period.

This intellectual debate was about as far from a McLaughlin Group battle as possible, and yet it was all the more stimulating for that.

Namazu
03-02-2008, 11:44 PM
Not. Even. Wrong. Not even social science, as far as I can tell. What's left: a communitarian manifesto by a man with barn insurance?

InJapan
03-03-2008, 04:19 AM
Concur that "Free Will" is one of the highpoints of bloggingheads.tv .

One thing that struck me is that the professor was often taking a somewhat religious approach, and the perspective of a mature man who is dealing with not only age but his family legacy, while Will is struggling with the theoretical and abstract. Age difference is showing in this episode.

jabbasi
03-03-2008, 05:03 AM
Both this diavlog and the diavlog with Daniel Ariely - as well as, I'm sure, a lot of economics discussions - deal deeply with the problem of valueing social relations (both the difficulty inherent therein and the problem of the very enterprise). One of the interesting insights of any introductory econ class comes from demonstrating just how many things can have an implicit monetary value placed on them - including point to point comparisons of social and monetary value. One of the things Mr. Ariely seemed to be getting at that I thought was interesting, and I want to phrase as an econ problem contrary to Mr. Marglin's intuition as to how to approach these questions, is:

Maybe, social currency while measurable against monetary currency at certain points has a unique attribute that doesn't come to bear when comparing say dollars to euros; social currency may be one of the few things that doesn't tend to have diminishing marginal utility, at least not at levels where people in modern societies commonly accumulate it (sort of like how individual moments in a relationship tend to add up to something radically more valueable than the sum of their parts). If you think of this graphically, the euro and dollar lines would be identical in terms of graphs of utility once you arrived at a single exchange rate, but that graph would differ radically from that of social currency with no existing single exchange rate - and a failure to acknowledge that would lead one to tend to systematically understate the value of investments in social relationships over time (sort of like the acknowledged problem getting people to save at the appropriate levels).

StillmanThomas
03-03-2008, 10:32 AM
Listening to Will always brings to mind a couplet from e e cummings:

"who cares if some one-eyed son-of-a-bitch
invents an instrument to measure spring with."

Everything he says is so abstract, so antiseptic, so bland, that I wonder if his thoughts are worth anything at all in the real world. Has Will ever suffered? Has he ever failed? Has he ever been in need -- in real need, so that he didn't know where his next meal was coming from? Has he ever been imprisoned? Fired? Outsourced? I can't help but think that any of these experiences would go a long way toward humanizing him.

Bloggin' Noggin
03-03-2008, 12:34 PM
I'm having trouble understanding where your objection to Will comes from. If Stephen were pouring his heart out and Will were droning coldly on about measurement and utility functions, I could see the point. But the discussion is all on an intellectual level.
Not only that, but (on that intellectual level) Will evinces sympathy for the kind of considerations that concern Stephen (and for people -- e.g., the poor in other countries who could benefit from the American job market).

I suspect your actual objection is to the notion that we can measure certain things (e.g., happiness), not to Will himself. I think Will is more sympathetic to worries about measuring happiness than you give him credit for. Nevertheless, we know that human beings are far from perfectly rational -- e.g., our natural probability heuristics are pretty bad, and various prejudices and stereotypes distort our judgments. Even imperfect attempts to quantify things can help us correct these natural errors and blind spots.
It's extremely implausible that we could turn decision making into an exact science -- and anyone who thinks he's done so is probably more deluded than the ordinary person who makes the ordinary mistakes of common sense. But, if one uses the measurements with a sufficient awareness of their limitations, one may be able to correct for one's natural blind spots.

Even if you don't buy that, wouldn't you agree that a reasonable and normally sympathetic person might hope that such an approach would help him achieve altruistic aims more effectively?

bjkeefe
03-03-2008, 04:44 PM
A very interesting discussion. I think it is useful for guys like Stephen Marglin to remind us that the market system has its limitations, although his prescriptions, to the extent that he actually makes any, seem almost too easy to reject. I grant that he took pains to make clear that he did not have the Final Answer, and that he was looking mostly to start the discussion.

Obvious points of contention:

o Where has an attempt to reject market forces in favor of some other means of organizing a society ever worked, in all of history? I would say that, mostly, it's worked in small groups only, and usually, because the options to reject or leave the system were practically non-existent. In most cases, the barriers were/are pure survival; in some cases, they are less immediately lethal, but still require abandoning (or having taken away) everything familiar and supportive to emotional life. In the latter case, I think of groups like the Amish, who apparently do not tolerate things like gay or women's rights.

Invariably, any community that has figured out a system that is less than market-driven and lasts for more than a few years ends up becoming some sort of authoritarian set-up that features rigid social norms, and does not suffer dissidence much at all.

o Why did the commune movement in the US fall out of fashion? Here we have an instance where people were relatively well-off, at least to the extent of not having to fear starvation or being ostracized by all of society within their reach, if they chose to discontinue participation. Also, the members typically came from relatively well-educated backgrounds, and it's probably not too much of a stretch to say that they were imbued with more of a sense of tolerance than the average human being (selected from the entire sweep of history). I have only anecdotal evidence in mind here, but it seems that in case after case that I've read about or heard described by friends, the communes failed because they were either stifling, got torn apart by simple human jealousies and abrasiveness, or fell to bickering about who was pulling a fair share and who was not. This leads to:

o Given that human beings are inherently selfish, or at least self-centered, the rare few counterexamples notwithstanding, how would we make society work without incentives? It's all too easy for the slackers and the parasites to take advantage of the more hard-working.

o Since increased adoption of market principles as a basis for society has coincided with improvement in the general welfare throughout history -- some local costs stipulated, of course -- how is it reasonable not to admit that the market system is at least the least worst thing we've come up with so far?

One question I wish Will had asked: Does Stephen live in any kind of set-up that practices what he is preaching? I wonder if he even participates in something as simple as, say, a food co-op. I don't hold it against him if he doesn't -- the realities of life, especially if one has a family, are such that bucking the system is tough, and it's not hypocritical to speculate about a different way of life, even if one doesn't immediately see how to live it oneself. But it would have been interesting to hear the answer.

I do think that there is a lot to Stephen's thinking that we've reached the point in many sections of the industrialized and post-industrialized world where we have way more than we need, and it would be a good thing if we could admit that and think about how we might adjust our lives accordingly.

I also acknowledge some validity to two other points he made: (1) There does seem to be some loss of community in the modern world, at least to some people, however hard that may be to define or measure; and (2) It probably is true, at least to some extent, that economists and sociologists tend to measure what they know how to measure, and maybe overlook some other things as a result.

Nonetheless, the basic problems remain: how do you deal with basic human nature, with all of its me-me-meism and other cussedness, and how do you support a claim that something is better or worse than some other thing without describing how to measure it? Stephen's ideas sound good for small groups of enlightened and/or like-minded individuals, but considering society as a whole, I think we're not yet evolved enough to make what he'd like to see happen work on any kind of large scale.

a Duoist
03-03-2008, 09:46 PM
Despite Dr. Marglin's best efforts at disclaiming, Will doggedly pursues the communitarian argument to its catabolic conclusion. Jung said we are all either 'introverts' or 'extroverts'; Nietzsche said we humans are largely divided by those who 'reason' or 'emotion': It's clear that Dr. Marglin is much more emotive to Will's more rational views.

What Dr. Marglin misses about markets is, first, the fact that the market is, by its nature, a community. That the open market does not evaluate normative values does not lessen its critical importance in arriving at value. Dr. Marglin's appeal for 'balance' is a call for subjective valuation to counter the inter-subjective (objective) valuation given by markets. It's an apple-oranges argument; one argument is emotive (irrational and metaphysical) while the other is reason (rational and factual). Markets do not attempt to offer normative values; we can always go to theology or ideology if we miss normative standards in our lives.

Second, Dr. Maglin's "balance" is scary in the extreme. In effect, his 'balance' is economic stasis on one side ("no further expansion is needed") and some measure of communitarianism on the other side. Just how is stasis, by ANY measure, a life-nurturing, anabolic standard? The unintended consequence of Dr. Marglin's argument for 'balance' ultimately has to be frozen inertia: no evolution, no mutability, no improvement, intellectual stagnation, repression of human creativity and eventual impoverishment: In the last century, we called the state of such stasis, 'totalitarian.' Didn't Hayek already make this warning?

Great interview. Dr. Marglin's views, however, aren't up to the inquiry posed by rational libertarianism.

Eastwest
03-04-2008, 04:33 AM
So nice of Stephen Marglin to intervene on behalf of "the Middle Way" (a classic Buddhist concept, btw), implicitly pointing out that the reigning economic orthodoxy has no clothes and destroys perennial spiritual and community values.

The contrast with the squeaky clean, Wonder-Bread & bright-white tennis shoes intellect of Will (see Bokonon's ee cummings quote and analysis above) could not have been more stark.

Three cheers for allowing such a fine contribution from a man whose contribution here is not just knowledge, but also wisdom.

Eastwest

bjkeefe
03-04-2008, 10:56 AM
EW:

You really think Will is that bad? I admit that on the surface, he can come off that way. It did take me a diavlog or two to grow to like him (long before "Free Will" launched).

I think he has a little bit of a smart aleck act, to be sure, but I also think his intellect is substantial, and even more to his credit, that he is not locked into libertarian dogma, but is able to recognize the limitations of that philosophy.

Like you, I appreciated Stephen's efforts to point out the flaws in our current market-driven system (see longer post above). But I did think his ideas, however worthy, were open to debate. Didn't you?

Bloggin' Noggin
03-04-2008, 12:17 PM
So nice of Stephen Marglin to intervene on behalf of "the Middle Way" (a classic Buddhist concept, btw), implicitly pointing out that the reigning economic orthodoxy has no clothes and destroys perennial spiritual and community values.

The contrast with the squeaky clean, Wonder-Bread & bright-white tennis shoes intellect of Will (see Bokonon's ee cummings quote and analysis above) could not have been more stark.

Three cheers for allowing such a fine contribution from a man whose contribution here is not just knowledge, but also wisdom.

Eastwest

Given Marglin's own reaction to Will's very open-minded recognition of the issues Marglin raised, I don't get where this reaction comes from. Marglin himself says his main point in the book was to get people to take his issues seriously, and in the discussion, he comes to see that Will does take them seriously, though he raises a lot of good points (which M recognizes as good points) about how to balance these issues against others.

Eastwest
03-04-2008, 01:23 PM
Re BJ's:

You really think Will is that bad?...
I think he has a little bit of a smart aleck act, to be sure...
But I also think his intellect is substantial..


Actually, I like him and also appreciate the skill and preparation with which he sets up his interviews by really giving guests a chance to make their case (as opposed to being mere foils for the host's unbridled and rabid egotism [as, say, with the likes of Eli Lake]).

And, yes, he does have the sharp intellect of "the good student," but, still, his wisdom is about as deep as fingernail polish, and that is the point I was making. A worthwhile life is not measurable in either "toys," or assemblages of "interesting experiences," and his reductive analysis betrays he's to a certain degree been suckered into that approach. The Will of now and the Will of ten years from now will likely have very different minds.

I just figure if I guy's mind (as opposed to fact-and-theory command) is still that shiny and he dares to sport that much of a smart-aleck flair, he opens himself up to the charge of "idiot-savant."

That's all.

EW

bjkeefe
03-04-2008, 01:25 PM
EW:

The Will of now and the Will of ten years from now will likely have very different minds.

Both a fair point and, I should think, a compliment.

Eastwest
03-04-2008, 01:34 PM
Re BN's reaction to my take on Will's "shallowness":
Given Marglin's own reaction to Will's very open-minded recognition of the issues Marglin raised, I don't get where this reaction comes from.

Actually, if you listen more closely to SM's responses to Will's line of interrogation, you'll notice he really doesn't cede anything to Will's take at all. He simply employs a bit of kid-gloves gentlemanly humility in ensuring his replies to Will's brashness don't cause the host to lose face.

Going out the door, so-to-speak, he does give Will a few pats on the head for noticing nuance should enter into economic theory, but, again, he's not conceding any points, and as it should be, Will is sent back to do some more study in the school of life.

That's all. (Also see my little riff to BJ vis-a-vis your concern.) I like that Will is courteously open to ideas not his own, and, yes, that's an endearing trait deserving of kudos and support.

EW

Bloggin' Noggin
03-04-2008, 01:55 PM
As I "read" the diavlog, Will concedes pretty much right off that conventional economics may underplay and even make invisible the issue of community.
And Marglin regards THIS as the main point of his book. His closing remarks, are therefore sincere, not just a pat on the head.

Where they disagree -- or where there is a chance of real disagreement, since Marglin is pretty unspecific about how far he'd go in a communitarian direction -- is in how to balance the communitarian perspective with a more individualistic one.

Will's most telling point is when he points out that it's much easier to be a right-communitarian, since more traditional societies exist. But Marglin himself doesn't back the communitarian impulse where it conflicts with the rights of gay people etc. He wants a kind of left communitarian community that doesn't really exist in the real world. Marglin's response to this is very weak indeed: "well, we won't have it unless we try."

Marglin's main point throughout the diavlog is to champion the communitarian impulse, but, as he concedes, he's not ready to get into the specifics about how, in the real world, where communities are often oppressive, he can achieve more community and less oppression. That's fine, of course. He may well not need to do more. But I don't see how he can be considered to have "won" the argument with Will. Where they agreed, neither "won", and where they disagreed, Will was really more specific.

I'm not a libertarian by the way -- and I'd have expected to be more on Marglin's side than on Will's going into the discussion -- so I feel my assessment here is reasonably objective.

popcorn_karate
03-04-2008, 02:03 PM
Will seems strongly committed to the notion that it is good to destroy American communities if it helps people in other countries that are currently poorer than the people in the American communities that are being destroyed.

he rationalizes this stance by saying he has a superior morality that allows him to empathize with poor people on the other side of the world, while i am a petty nationalist.

I would encourage will to reach out PERSONALLY and see what he can do about some of the problems that surround him right here in his own country, in his own state, in his own town.

and maybe he would eventually become human enough to see that some things are not properly measured by economists.

cousincozen
03-04-2008, 03:33 PM
I like the way Will grins when he hears about the poor sap having to shoot the family's dog (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/9128?in=00:43:43), because there's no room left in the van.

:)

bjkeefe
03-04-2008, 03:35 PM
cousin:

First: Welcome back. Long time, no see.

Second: the bit about shooting the dog because they're was no room in the van brought to my mind only one thing: Mitt Romney tying his dog to the roof of the car.

cousincozen
03-04-2008, 05:40 PM
For me, it brought to mind this (http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:JNMtHTl-dioJ:gawker.com/363324/a-soldier-killing-a-puppy-is-now-the-worst-thing-thats-happened-in-iraq+http://gawker.com/363324/a-soldier-killing-a-puppy-is-now-the-worst-thing-thats-happened-in-iraq&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us).

You_had_me_at_hello
03-05-2008, 09:44 PM
I agree with Eastwest that Will seems to have a good way with his guests, he's very respectful of letting them have their say, it seems.
As far as his adherence to the "Love in the time of Consumption" theory I think that one of these days Will is going to discover Love, or Love will find him, and we will click on one of his diavlogs, and there he will be, glowing, (we'll think it's some optical illusion) gently smirking because he has the Secret Knowledge, that all people who know Love have, and will be able to expound on the subject of freedom like he has never expounded before. And the blueness in his eyes will deepen and will reflect the infinite horizon that he will be beholding in his mind's eye. What a great diavlog that will be!

Mr. Marglin! Excellent diavlog. You have intrigued my interest in the subject, and I have just bought your book. I'll be picking it up at the bookstore in a couple of days. Thank you for taking the time to do this diavlog. You were very adroit and charming!

bjkeefe
03-05-2008, 10:33 PM
YHMAH:

As far as his adherence to the "Love in the time of Consumption" theory I think that one of these days Will is going to discover Love, or Love will find him, and we will click on one of his diavlogs, and there he will be, glowing ...

Been there, done that (http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/7753). (And by all accounts, still going on.)

You_had_me_at_hello
03-06-2008, 11:57 AM
Oh, also:

Sorry --- that's Dr Marglin --- Not Mr Marglin

You_had_me_at_hello
03-06-2008, 12:10 PM
That's strange, I'm not seeing my post to Brendan. OK this might show up
in some form somewhere else. . . If so, sorry.

Thanks for finding that link.

Will is glowing! Kerry is glowing!

Really fun diavlog to watch.

It isn't fair of me to assume anything especially on how much other people know about love ---- also, it isn't really fair of me to criticize the "Love in the time of Consumption" theory when I haven't read the article about it. I'm interested in being just; not rash in my judgments.

Brendan, you seem to be a real ***thinker*** thanks for bringing out my better angels to be more just in my posts here. ***think more*** emote less***

bjkeefe
03-06-2008, 04:04 PM
YHMAH:

Brendan, you seem to be a real ***thinker*** thanks for bringing out my better angels to be more just in my posts here. ***think more*** emote less***

Thanks for the compliment. Not sure if your final sentence was intended as a note to self or advice to me, but I'll assume the latter, since it certainly seems to apply.

You_had_me_at_hello
03-06-2008, 05:56 PM
Brendan,

That was definitely "note to self" :)

bjkeefe
03-06-2008, 06:05 PM
YHMAH:

Yeah, well, good for you for your self-appraisal skills. But I do recognize that the same note-to-self applies to me, as well, the fact that my emotions are invariably correct notwithstanding.

C.N.Steele
03-09-2008, 11:49 PM
Three comments:

(1) every problem Marglin makes has scarcity at its root. He doesn't seem to realize this, because he seems to think economics is about physical wealth, rather than utility.

(2) Economics is about utility, which in turn is about preferences. Economics doesn't address the content of preferences, which bothers Marglin. But the important point is that there's nothing about the free market that encourages one set of values over another. E.g. the free market is perfectly compatible with everyone choosing to live a communal lifetyle. People tend not to choose this, which *really* bothers Marglin.

(3) Marglin never explains why anyone should care about "community" in the first place. Humans are social animals, and we benefit from relationships with each other. But we don't seem to be developing the relationships Marglin wants -- so maybe he should explain why we should care about *his* preferred form of community.