Interesting political philosophy

Is it too much to accept that people can act decently, honestly, openly, fairly, and respectfully? Even though none of those virtues have any value attached to them by neoliberal economics – which may be no coincidence?

Quite amazing.

For of course neo-liberal economics depends upon the observation that when people are left alone they tend to act decently, honestly, openly, fairly and respectfully.

There are those few that don\’t true, which is why we have such things as laws and courts and prison cells, but by and large neo-liberalism (as with liberalism itself, and in opposition to either conservatism or or the more rigid forms of lefty Statism) notes the basic humanity of humans and then depends upon that basic straight dealing in most of the areas of life. Which is why we argue that, by and large, peeps should be left alone to get on with it because they will act decently, honestly, openly, fairly and respectfully.

As opposed to conservatism or the more Statist forms of leftism that assume that peeps are not decent, honest, open, fair or respectful and thus need to be told, in detail, what they may do with, respectively, either their gonads or their money.

Really, to accuse us of not accepting that very thing we assume to make our system work……

19 thoughts on “Interesting political philosophy”

  1. Even though none of those virtues have any value attached to them by neoliberal economics – which may be no coincidence?

    Murphy’s extensive economics training showing up there, I see. Last time I checked, economics placed no value on anything: people place value on things. And I can assure him that the vast majority of the country still values honesty, openness, fairness and respect. It’s why some of us at least don’t think politicians are the right people to run our lives.

  2. The trouble with people like Murphy – and even those far more intelligent than he – is that they really don’t accept the idea that humans, when motivated by rational, long-term self interest, are able to get along in a civilised way. They adopt a more Hobbesian, pessimistic outlook, assuming that without a big state, and a mass of state-imposed rules, that anarchy ensues.

    Of course, such folk also don’t understand that a lot of rules that affect behaviour evolve and don’t require the existence of a state, or at least the sort of state that a socialist such as Murphy wants to see.

    I know it is fun to point out what a dolt Murphy is, but this inability to grasp the mutuality of self-interest is not just a failing of idiots like him – it runs more widely than that. Alas.

  3. What about this nastiness, then? Or this heartlessness? This exploitation? This cruelty? Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t really an argument for the state (“powerful x is nasty so we need a powerful y” doesn’t mean that y isn’t a vicious bastard as well). I’m not sure how someone can look at society and think “isn’t this nice“, though.

  4. I always considered the strength of free market economics to be that it harnesses “negative” human traits such as greed and turns them to the greater good. I.e. it assumes that people are not perfect, but uses that imperfection to make the world a better place.

    Socialism on the other hand assumes that all people are kind, decent, nice, honourable, hard working, etc. Then they wonder why people won’t go out and work if they get nothing for it…

  5. If people are selfish and greedy as Ritchie believes, it is all the more important to limit their dealing with each other to peaceful, voluntary cooperation. i.e. Capitalism.

    Yes, perversely, Ritchie instead concludes that some of the self-serving bastards should be put in positions of power over everyone else.

  6. For of course neo-liberal economics depends upon the observation that when people are left alone they tend to act decently, honestly, openly, fairly and respectfully.

    How does it do that? My own understanding of neoliberal economics is that neoliberal economics assumes that everyone all the time is a greedy maximiser of self-interest, and whether this leads them to act decently, honestly, openly, fairly and respectfully or not is a matter of incentives. I speak as someone who is a neo-liberal supporter (although of course I don’t automatically support everyone who has been called a neoliberal) and has a degree in economics.

    Take for example the commonplace observation that fish stocks around the world are mostly in a very bad overfished state, with many fish species at risk of going extinct, while cows are at no more risk of going extinct than humans are.
    Neo-liberal economists would not explain this by saying that cattle farmers are people who tend to act decently, honestly, openly, fairly and respectfully, while fisherfold are nasty SOB. Instead neoliberal economists would say that cattle farmers have an incentive to maintain their stock, because if they don’t kill a cow now but breed it they can kill multiple cattle later, while if a fisher leaves a fish to breed, in an open-access fishery they have no reason to believe that they can gain from that fish’s offspring, some other fisher could come in and grab them instead.

    And this has some empricial support. In Newfoundland, the cod fishery collapsed, under open-access fisheries. In 1980s NZ, the neoliberal Labour government introduced individual transferrable quotas for fishing, and fish stocks are amongst the healthiest in the world (there are some problems with recreational fishing and illegal international fishing). A neoliberal would say that’s not because NZ fishers are more decent than Canadian fishers, but because of the incentives.

    Tim adds:You’ll note that I say most of the time. And that there are exceptions. But as Elinor Ostrom has pointed out, even Commons Tragedies can be averted by people voluntarily acting honestly, openly etc etc…

  7. And, I’ll add, as a neoliberal supporter, being able to emphasis how greedy neoliberal economists assume corporations are has some advantages in debates.

  8. Tim – but do these people act honesty, openly, etc, etc just because they’re jolly nice people, or do they act honestly, openly, etc, etc because it’s in their best long-term self-interest to?

    Take the people in any one of Elinor Ostrom’s positive case studies and put them in, say, Communist Russia, a place where it wasn’t in your best interest to act honestly, openly, etc, and I’m confident that 90% of them would very shortly start acting differently.

    Tim adds: Ah, but they weren’t being left alone in Russia, were they?

    My point.

    (And, actually, as one who lived in Russia for most of the 90s, within group people were very honest indeed, they had to be in order to survive. Out group they were indeed vicious lying bastards, but in group, not.

  9. Tracy,

    But Tim and Richie seem to be referring to neoliberal politics here, not neoliberal theory. The below two assertions are by no way mutually exclusive:
    – neoliberal theory (mostly supported by empirical observations) assumes that people will act according to their incentives
    – neoliberal politics tries to put in place frameworks (supported by neoliberal theory) that push people towards acting honestly, openly, etc, etc without infringing on their liberties*

    * most of the time this is economic liberty supported by property rights (cow farmers i.e. own their cows while fishermen often don’t)

  10. Tim, if I follow Elinor Ostrom’s cases rightly, people weren’t being left alone then either. Isn’t a way of imposing escalating sanctions one of the things she finds necessary for a positive outcome?

    Thanks for the observations about ingroup/out group distinctions in Soviet Russia.

    Emil, Richie actually seems to be referring to neoliberal theory. He says “neoliberal economics”, which is probably about the theory.

  11. Rational Anarchist you said “Socialism on the other hand assumes that all people are kind, decent, nice, honourable, hard working, etc”

    I think your wrong. Socialists assume that people are lazy nasty thieves despite it being in their interests to be honest, hard working and pleasant. Until that is they get appointed to a public job at which point when all their incentives suddenly encourage them to be lazy nasty thieves they suddenly become fine decent upstanding people.

  12. Tracy W – “fish stocks around the world”

    Are world fish stocks owned by anyone? I don’t think so, though I may be mistaken.

    And as they are not owned by anyone, then I think their depletion is explained as an example of the tragedy of the commons. Let them be owned and watch how they are taken care of.

    As to whether people act from niceness, or coercion, or because they detect some long-term interest in doing so, or because their “betters” prescribe their behavior –rubbish. People will negotiate for whatever they can get. But for every willing buyer there must be a willing seller. When voluntary exchange is the organizing principle in a culture, parties can seldom dictate to one another – instead must accept what they can negotiate ie what they can achieve thru voluntary exchange. That is usually a powerful enough discipline to order the culture–provided always that reasonable laws regulate behavior at the extremes.

    Yeah, that’s simplistic. To which I say, so what, it works.

  13. the thing about Murphy is that he is simply unaware of the developments in economic analysis since Samuelson and his formulae and his appeals to rational economic man. Now I did economics A-level in 1978 and we had to cover a little bit about behavioural economics…which suggests that Murphy (about my age) either attended a very very poor university or is a moron. Why would people pay for insight from someone so obviously ill-informed?

    Tim adds: He’s actually said, on his blog, that while at Southampton (doing economics and accounting) he ignored the economics after the first term because it was all obviously rubbish.

  14. Jason Donovan was on ‘Who do you think you are ?’last night and discovered one of his ancestors had been trasported to Australia for receiving brass worth 1s 6d .The Australian historian he was talking to took it for granted that transportation was just a scheme to supply the colony with forced labour.So as well as the slave trade; its replacement by indentured labour from China and India and child labour in the mills following forcible enclosure (people died defending common land in Northants) there was a scam in transportation of the criminalised poor.
    This is not to mention the application of the principles of Manchester Liberalism to India: in a famine the price of grain goes up; good for the export market; don’t leave one grain for traditional famine relief. “Market forces” dictated the export of food out of Ireland during the potato famine.
    And this development of capitalism is described here as “peaceful voluntary co-operation.’

  15. DBC, that is an absurd comment about “Manchester liberalism”, not even up to your usual eccentric standards.

    One of the events that finally forced the repeal of tariffs in the UK was the Great Famine in Ireland. Far from arguing that economics justified doing nothing in the face of disaster, the argument was made that more trade, not less, will help deal with poverty. Your hero, Henry George, was a great advocate of free trade; in fact he was one of the greatest who ever lived (shame about his wrong-headed views about land, but hey, you cannot have everything).

    And look at those societies where famines occur, and you will tend to spot a fairly high correlation with political interference in markets, tariffs, wars, corruption, and so on.

  16. John Fembup, you appear to have mistaken me for someone who disagrees with you, despite me explicitly mentioning my support for neoliberal economics a couple of times.

    And on the topic of owning fish, NZ, under that neoliberal Roger Douglas, introduced a system of individual transferrable quotas to fishing, so people in NZ can own fish. Enforcement though isn’t as good as with cattle because of a number of practical problems. But it’s a lot better than open-access fisheries.

  17. @JP
    So I am being called eccentric by a habitue of the Samizdata blog-site that specialises in calls for the Gold Standard in its most primitive form and private sector space flight.(“What were you thinking about before the first American space journey Mr Shepard?” >” The fact that every part of this ship was built by the lowest bidder”)
    The idea that Adam Smith’s opinion that ‘famine has never arisen from any other cause but the violence of government attempting by improper means to remedy the inconvenience (sic) of dearth” actually led to British public officials deliberately stopping relief work is quite orthodox and mainstream,appearing in Simon Schama’s television series.
    Schama comes up with some primary quotes from Charles Trevelyan a Treasury official on the subject of the Irish Potato famine e.g.”..the judgement of God on an indolent and unself-reliant people..the selfish(!!) and indolent must learn their lesson so that a new new and improved state of affairs might arise” Bound to with a quarter of the population gone,half of them dead from the inconvenient dearth and the rest emigrated.
    The Viceroy of India Lord Lytton ,an opium user given to mood swings, issued orders “there is to be no interference of any kind on the part of the Government with the object of reducing the price of food”.
    He was assisted by a Treasury official called Temple who imposed the Anti-Charitable Contributions Act (1877) which threatened imprisonment to charitably-inclined people whose activities might interfere with the market-fixing of grain prices.
    Karl Polyani” The Great Transformation” describes in general terms how laissez-faire ruined the Indian system.”Failure of crops was part of the picture but dispatch of grain by rail made it possible to send relief to the threatened areas ;the trouble was that the people were unable to buy the corn at rocketing prices which on a free but incompletely organised market was bound to a be a reaction to a shortage.In former times small local stores had been held against market failure but these had now discontinued or been swept away into the big market..Under the monopolists the situation had been kept fairly in hand with with the help of the archaic organisation of the countryside ,including free distribution of corn,while under free and equal exchange Indian perished by the millions.”

  18. The key is the maxim of efficiency – “Manage by exception”.

    The Statists/Socialists/Faux Liberals/Authoritarians tend to go for the safety of just presuming all are flawed unless proven otherwise (or part of the elite, natch).

    Management by exception is the Common Law approach. It is efficient and just. The reverse is now seeping into our lives more and more due to EU capillary action.

  19. It’s quite touchingly religious, really.

    Mankind has committed untold number of sins and, like sheep, the flock need careful tending.

    Fortunately, some individual humans, through the Grace of Murphy, are blessed and should be put in power over the rest of us.

    Next Sunday, the Good Shepherd and the tax avoider.

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