As The Egregious Professor So Often Tells Us, Adam Smith Has No Relevance In This Modern Age

Commitment is to a person, family, friends, community, workplace, region, culture, religion, gender or identity, country, humanity, the planet. And I am aware I will have made omissions. Commitment is a message that others matter. Equally, it’s a sign that the commitment of others matters to us.

Writing this made me think about commitment. Almost without exception we humans know what it means. And again, almost without exception we have it. So I thought of plotting our commitment on a vertical, Y, axis.

I think it appropriate to allow for the opposite of commitment. I call that antipathy. Since few hate everyone I think we all start with positive commitment. But it can become negative

The horizontal, X, axis I use to plot remoteness. The resulting plot shows that as some groups are more remote from us we are as less committed to them.

Hmm.

Let us suppose that the great empire of China, with all its myriads of inhabitants, was suddenly swallowed up by an earthquake, and let us consider how a man of humanity in Europe, who had no sort of connection with that part of the world, would be affected upon receiving intelligence of this dreadful calamity. He would, I imagine, first of all, express very strongly his sorrow for the misfortune of that unhappy people, he would make many melancholy reflections upon the precariousness of human life, and the vanity of all the labours of man, which could thus be annihilated in a moment. He would too, perhaps, if he was a man of speculation, enter into many reasonings concerning the effects which this disaster might produce upon the commerce of Europe, and the trade and business of the world in general. And when all this fine philosophy was over, when all these humane sentiments had been once fairly expressed, he would pursue his business or his pleasure, take his repose or his diversion, with the same ease and tranquillity, as if no such accident had happened. The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them, he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own. To prevent, therefore, this paltry misfortune to himself, would a man of humanity be willing to sacrifice the lives of a hundred millions of his brethren, provided he had never seen them? Human nature startles with horror at the thought, and the world, in its greatest depravity and corruption, never produced such a villain as could be capable of entertaining it. But what makes this difference? When our passive feelings are almost always so sordid and so selfish, how comes it that our active principles should often be so generous and so noble? When we are always so much more deeply affected by whatever concerns ourselves, than by whatever concerns other men; what is it which prompts the generous, upon all occasions, and the mean upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? It is not the soft power of humanity, it is not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is thus capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love. It is a stronger power, a more forcible motive, which exerts itself upon such occasions. It is reason, principle, conscience, the inhabitant of the breast, the man within, the great judge and arbiter of our conduct.

Nope, no relevance at all that Smith guy.

Interesting, this, isn’t it?

The Guardian reports this morning that:

Barclays’ chief executive, Jes Staley, is facing a financial penalty for an alleged breach of conduct after City watchdogs completed an investigation into the banking boss’s attempts to identify a whistleblower in 2016.

Barclays said the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) are alleging that Staley’s actions were a breach of an individual conduct rule that relates to a “requirement to act with due skill, care and diligence”. The size of the penalty has not been disclosed.

That fine should have been disclosed. But more important is this note that followed:

The bank stressed, however, that regulators are not alleging that he acted with a lack of integrity or that he lacks fitness and propriety to continue in his role as chief executive.

Ask yourself this: could you explain the fact that the CEO has been fined for a breach of the rules concerning individual conduct that clearly related to a matter of personal self-interest and then suggest that he did not lack integrity to a class of 11-year-olds? If you can, then Barclays’ claim stacks. All I can say is that I could not do that with any credibility. And I can tell you, they would not believe you if you tried.

This is from the man who insisted the Crystal Methodist was just fine to run a bank, indeed that the entire management structure had no banking qualifications or training was just peachy.

Elsewhere

Whale oil provided the lighting to read the breakthrough novel of 1870, the story of Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. That was also the year of the foundation of Standard Oil. The result of that foundation is that we didn’t hunt the whales to extinction, but instead turned to kerosene to light the latter part of the 19th century, moving to electricity only in the 20th.

It really isn’t hyperbole to insist that John D. Rockefeller saved the whales by his making mineral oil products so much cheaper than the cetacean-derived equivalent. And that’s really all you need to know to understand Earth Day and what to do about it.

If you’re not a capitalist free-marketeer for Earth Day, then you’re not being serious about the environment, are you? And that would make Gaia sad and Mother Earth cry.

What, like having a referendum on Brexit?

It has been a persistent theme of this blog that the march of neoliberal capitalism has been away from democracy and towards neo-feudalism. The evidence that this is the case is compelling and largely provided within a UK context by the Conservative Parties contempt for almost everything that upholds democratic rights and traditions.

Elsewhere

But instead of solutions we know will work, MPs have offered up a reversal of our basic constitutional settlement: that what is ours is ours until and unless we’re compensated for its removal. Telling a bad landlord that he must come up to code is fine. Not allowing her to rent a house out that doesn’t meet code is also fine. Stealing the house ain’t.

We certainly have housing woes; rents are high. One answer is to have government do less by liberating the planning system. The other, apparently, is to reverse the outcome of the English Civil War so that the state once again has monarchical rights over property. How strange that it’s the House of Commons coming down on the wrong side of this.

More elsewhere

Worstall sums up the situation by saying “in mining, there are just two things: dirt and ore. Your back garden contains dirt, because it would cost more to extract the rare earths from it then you would make selling them on. The moment it costs less to extract those rare earths, that dirt becomes ore. But what have the Japanese have found? At the moment, it’s still dirt.”

Elsewhere

It’s not a great surprise to find that I differ, as do most economists, with Trump on the benefits of trade and what constitutes winning at it. But to find that the president differs with reality is another thing, and a rather more worrying thing at that.

Amazing the species survived really

Women who are hoping to conceive should go on a diet years before, new research suggests.

Writing in The Lancet, medics said the vast majority of women of reproductive age were not nutritionally prepared for pregnancy – putting the long-term health of their children at risk.

Those thinking about starting a family are often advised to make lifestyle changes, such as cutting out alcohol, and taking dietary supplements, around three months before attempting to conceive.

But the experts said one of the most crucial factors was for women to be a healthy weight before conception – often meaning diet and lifestyle overhauls need to start years earlier.

What these fools are doing of course is confusing the perfect and the good. If it were actually necessary to be perfectly nourished before conceiving there wouldn’t be any of us here.

I was wondering about this

It’s an asinine law, sure, but I have wondered whether we might not find more women than men convicted under it:

A university graduate is believed to be the first woman convicted under new domestic abuse laws after scalding her boyfriend with boiling water, stabbing him and keeping food from him.

Jordan Worth, 22, banned her partner from their bed, decided what clothes he could wear, isolated him from friends and family and even took over his Facebook account.

She was jailed for seven-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship, introduced in 2015, as well as wounding with intent and causing grievous bodily harm with intent.

Anyone offering an over and under on the ratio convicted once the law is bedded in?

Stereotype much?

Eurovision winner Conchita has told fans that she is HIV-positive, and has been in regular treatment for “several years”. The 29-year-old Austrian drag performer made a public statement on Instagram in response to an ex-boyfriend allegedly threatening to reveal the information.

Bugger reality say the Lords

Britain needs to lead the way on artificial intelligence regulation, in order to prevent companies such as Cambridge Analytica setting precedents for dangerous and unethical use of the technology, the head of the House of Lords select committee on AI has warned.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal, Lord Clement-Jones said, reinforced the committee’s findings, released on Monday in the report “AI in the UK: ready, willing and able?”

“These principles do come to life a little bit when you think about the Cambridge Analytica situation,” he told the Guardian. “Whether or not the data analytics they carried out was actually using AI … It gives an example of where it’s important that we do have strong intelligibility of what the hell is going on with our data.”

To translate. “I’ll use some random passing event to bolster my call for me to have more power.”

Yes, and?

Military families have been given £246m of taxpayers’ money over the past three years to subsidise their children’s private education, it has emerged.

Elite schools such as Eton, Harrow and Gordonstoun alone received nearly £2 million last year, under a Ministry of Defence scheme which helps servicemen and women pay school fees.

It’s a standard part of military pay, and has been for generations.

The MoD wants to be able to pick up units and place them in various places around the world at will. Thus is subsidises the British education of British children in the British school system. The alternative is to have schools up to A level standard on every base around the world that families might get posted to. Quite possibly the more expensive option.

There’s a useful way at kicking back at those who would dismantle this system. Just point out that the Diplomatic corps gets a better (more of the fees are paid) deal than the military and just watch the FCO quash any attempt to end the system.

Howard Reed’s demand

So where do we go from here? If we accept that we need fundamental reform, what should the new economics—“de-conomics” as I’m calling it—look like? Much, of course, must be left to be determined by new research, working to new priorities within new paradigms. However, we can sketch out some desirable characteristics of a retooled economics.

First, we need to accept that there is no such thing as “value-free” analysis of the economy. As I’ve explained, neoclassical economics pretends to be ethically neutral while smuggling in an individualistic, anti-social ethos. In reality, any statement about the economy that goes beyond descriptive statistics (for example: “the annual rate of CPI inflation was 2.7 per cent last month”) is a value judgment.

Only by acknowledging that can we have an honest debate about how our economy and society work.

Guess whose, and which, values are to be embedded in the core of this new economics? Any predictions for what this new normative science will demand are the norms?