New Takes on the Sad Shape We Are In

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7 Responses

  1. Ken Rhodes says:

    In my terminology, a “proposed solution” to a problem only gets to be called that if it includes a proposed feasible implementation plan. Otherwise, it’s “proposed pie-in-the-sky.”

  2. Small quibble: characterization of these analyses as “extreme critiques,” which strikes me as inaccurate on several counts.

  3. Mike Zimmer says:

    To Ken: I have to agree that these proposal fall far short of being likely to be adopted in the present environment. But, things are changing quite rapidly. What has impressed me is that there is so much more emphasis on this problem than there was just a short time ago.

    To Patrick: I guess I used the term “extreme” here because these authors analyze our polity in ways that are so different from what we hear from Washington and Big Media and they propose remedies that Ken describes as so unlikely as to be pie-in-the-ski.

  4. Frank says:

    Both books are very important, and I agree with your diagnosis of crisis. I tend to think the approach of Alasdair MacIntyre toward the end of After Virtue may be more advisable, at least on an individual level.

    As for Sachs; here is a link to a good interview and a critical take on his “conversion:”

    Lessig’s book is fantastic as diagnosis, but I was a bit incredulous to hear him say (on the McChesney show podcast) that, had Obama vetoed the earmark-laden Democratic Congress budget in 2009, he’d have led the Tea Party.

  5. A.J. Sutter says:

    Apropos of ” the rich ‘whose power comes not from hard work, creativity, innovation, or the creation of wealth [but] who instead secure their wealth through the manipulation of government and politicians’” (emphasis added): so, e.g., the rich who manipulate share prices, thereby “creating wealth” for themselves and other shareholders, are the good rich?

    I don’t have much hope for these proposed reforms going anywhere until there is a deep re-think in the US about what “wealth” really is. We also need some soul-searching about whether the neoclassical economics orthodoxy (whose fundamentals are still clung to even by “good guys” like Sen and Stiglitz, to say nothing of Krugman, Sachs, etc.) can lead us down any better path from the one we’re on now.

  6. Mike Zimmer says:

    A.J. My take is that Lessig had people like Steve Jobs in mind as creators of wealth.

  7. A.J. Sutter says:

    [My earlier attempts at posting a response didn’t stick, but I nonetheless got a “duplicate comment” error message on my second try; I’ll paraphrase here, without hyperlinks:]

    Jobs is probably also covered by “creativity” and “innovation,” and the clause is a disjunction rather than a conjunction. And of course, “creation of wealth” is a cliché, so Lessig doesn’t own its meaning. As with many feel-good clichés, it sounds unassailable, but is deeply ambiguous. In the individual sense, it often means getting passive income (see, e.g., Robert G. Allen’s 1986 Creating Wealth, and innumerable blogs since then). In the financial press, it typically means what the financial industry does — these days often expressed through its opposite, as in Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwartzman’s comment a couple years ago, “Between 40 and 45 percent of the world’s wealth has been destroyed in little less than a year and a half. This is absolutely unprecedented in our lifetime.” In a more general sense, it’s based on the aggregate prices people pay for stuff (the raw data of GDP), which is then sometimes averaged over an entire population without regard to distribution; this also means that a nation’s rich, who are willing to pay higher prices, are capable of creating more “wealth” than other folks. Even in this somewhat heterodox view, or at least self-critique of the conventional characterization of “wealth” as sales prices or market cap: it’s something quantifiable and expressible in money terms. That’s a far cry from what Socrates (see Xenophon’s Oeconomicus) or Aristotle (in the Politics would have called wealth, for example. And it’s why we need a re-think.