Meme Wars – the creative destruction of neo-classical economics

Meme Wars - the creative destruction of neo-classical economics

Looks like there’s a new book out that wants to revolutionalize economics with the hope that one day we can transform currently existing capitalism. Big wish but if we do not aim high where else are we going… more environmental degradation, more financial crises that favour the rich and the multinationals, more hyper consumerism that takes us towards self destruction.

Kalle Lasn, the author of Meme Wars and an important figure in the Occupy movement, wants to inspire a new type of economics that goes beyond the faux-rationalism of the old one and puts humans and the environment in its centre. He acknolwedges that his ideas aren’t new and he’s happy to build on existing alternative economics thinking.

“Lasn sees three problems with conventional economics teaching. First: orthodox or neo-classical economics has brought the world to the brink of financial ruin. Second: by fostering a consumer culture, it has turned humanity into a selfish, anxious race. Third: it fetishises economic growth – even though this growth is ultimately destructive, since it both makes us unhappy and wreaks unsustainable havoc on the planet’s natural resources. “This is one of the most fatal flaws in neo-classical economics,” says Lasn, in a delicate Estonian lilt that belies the passion of his argument. “We cannot keep on selling off our natural capital and calling it income. It’s the most stupid mistake of all … When they measure growth, they don’t measure real progress.”

The path he lays out isn’t revolutionary in the sense that it does not involve throwing away capitalism, but it does involve creative subversion and the development of an alternative vision, perhaps based on a steady-state economy and measuring wealth and happiness differently. The task has never been bigger… from trying to shift governments, corporations or general consumerist culture, to attempting to reverse the civilizational logic that underpins the machinations of our most basic societal structures… but the stakes have never been higher either, from devastating international economic malaise to approaching a tipping point with the environment from biodiversity, to global warming, to water and energy, to pollution.

I might put this on my summer reading list.

Kalle Lasn – review of Meme Wars in the Guardian

unmistakably Žižek

unmistakably Žižek

This is the funniest, most insightful article about Zizek so far. Highly recommended. It will introduce you to the basics of what you need to know about this Slovenian philosopher and his brilliant and impenetrable work, but you’ll get so much more than you bargained for. He is a self-confessed misanthrope but funnily each time he professes his distaste of humanity he’s only gaining more cult following… bizarre, twisted and  hilarious. Enjoy!

Slavoj Žižek: ‘Humanity is OK, but 99% of people are boring idiots’

“For me, the idea of hell is the American type of parties. Or, when they ask me to give a talk, and they say something like, ‘After the talk there will just be a small reception’ – I know this is hell. This means all the frustrated idiots, who are not able to ask you a question at the end of the talk, come to you and, usually, they start: ‘Professor Žižek, I know you must be tired, but …’ Well, fuck you. If you know that I am tired, why are you asking me? I’m really more and more becoming Stalinist. Liberals always say about totalitarians that they like humanity, as such, but they have no empathy for concrete people, no? OK, that fits me perfectly. Humanity? Yes, it’s OK – some great talks, some great arts. Concrete people? No, 99% are boring idiots.”

What money can’t buy…

What money can't buy...

Are markets neutral? Should they be extended to all and any spheres? Michael Sandel, in his new book ‘What money can’t buy’ argues that there are moral limits to markets and economies cannot exist in a normative vacuum. Otherwise previously valued things are degraded and social processes become less fair.

Strangely, I think that in previous eras this wouldn’t have been such a provocative proposition and it is a peculiar sign of our times that economic rationalism and neoliberalism have encroached on everyday life to such an extent that we rarely question the ‘wisdom of the market’.

Sandel’s examples are rather convincing. Is it morally justifiable if the rich pay homeless people small amounts of money to queue for them, then turn up at the right moment to claim the ticket/performance/surgical treatment etc (the latter is a practice in China)? This turns a previous communal good into a monetized activity.

‘Dead peasants insurance’ is even more deplorable. This is the name of a new phenomenon where companies take out life insurance on their employees, without their knowledge and without dependents benefiting in any way, which was the original idea behind life insurance. So now we have companies wagering on their employees’ death then collecting the money after they die.

Experiments have shown that even charitable activities suffer when they become monetized. Previously schoolkids went knocking on doors to ask for donations in their neighborhood. Once these same children were given an incentive of 1% or 10% of their collected donations on top of what they collected their charitable desires evaporated as the activity was now for sale… the consequence was that their overall collection decreased and they took much less joy in the activity. It went from a civic, morally rightful one to something you just do for money.

Sandel’s ultimate questions are very pertinent ones. What sort of society will we live in when previous social goods or norms have become monetized and are up for sale? How will moral and civic goods fare and should we intervene when markets simply fail to honour such limits, as they inevitably do?

 

Sagan to now…

Sagan to now...

I wonder what Sagan would say today… we are contracting our space explorations because the US economy has been squandered on futile wars while other nations take it up to dominate. We cannot look back with wonder, we can’t even control our own basic urges that are very quickly blowing up the precious ecosystem we have. That ‘vulnerable raw potential’ is surely being wasted, right now. ‘How perilous our infancy’ indeed and no, we certainly haven’t found our way. The next couple of generations will have the worst crisis to try to solve and the worst disasters to survive…

Sagan’s musings…

Nook!

Nook!

I recently acquired a Nook colour e-book. The verdict is that it’s really nifty to read on it :)

I didn’t want to go for the Kindle as I didn’t like the layout with the tiny keyboard. The iPad is not only way more expensive but it’s also not an e-book, it’s a tablet and I wanted something that’s not quite a tablet so I can truly just read books with no distraction.

The Nook colour is in-between these two: it has a touch screen with the usual movements of sliding/turning pages/opening, pinching/changing size etc. It’s easy to navigate, it reads many formats and although it is tied to Barnes and Noble to some extent, I can put books on it from elsewhere very easily.

They do not deliver to Australia still so there are some teething issues: you have to have a US company through whom the order goes (puts the price and waiting time up), you have to have a power adapter and you cannot use the B&N features for buying books. Quite a painful thing in some ways. However, it’s easy to 1) download torrents of books (many are legal as they are out of print/old) and 2) buy e-books on your PC and quickly transfer them onto your Nook via Calibre.

I’m currently reading the Southern Vampire Series, some Kurt Vonnegut and some new non-fiction. Would be awesome though for B&N to finally enter the Australian market so there’s both competition, choice and ease for Australian readers. I guess we aren’t big enough for them and publishers are struggling in the current economic climate with the added issues of re-structuring towards a different market. For now I’m pretty bloody happy with my Nook though, love curling up with it at night :)