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Games Economists Play (bostonreview.net)
106 points by huihuiilly 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 71 comments



Economists know enough to form an argument for or against policy, and although they have a prevailing myth of non-affiliation with political parties, often bias thier research and advocacy, intentionally or not.

As a result they chum with people in power and help guide them using statistics and forcasting.

The problem is, economists are not all-knowing oracles and they often get things wrong or they advocate for a path which yields unintended consequences, sometimes regressing our states and cultures in the wrong direction.

Thier influence lasts generations, and they often may slip out of any accountability because they have no shame blaming their predicessors while promising that thier new models and forecasts are more complete and should still be listened to when making very political decisions on how to spend tax money.

Whether intentional or not economists often ignore or dismiss side effects of their actions. This means things like class struggles or the environment are not part of the equation upfront and therefore either become neglected at best or irriversibly changed for worse.

They focus solely on a few sources of capital instead.

As for myself, I now use the "8 forms of capital" described in the following post as my lense when making decisions, monitary or otherwise:

http://www.appleseedpermaculture.com/8-forms-of-capital/


What kind of power do you think we have? Economists have been advocating for taxes on exernalities like pollution since Pigou in 1920, and everyone just ignores us. If people had listened to us and implemented a carbon tax years ago, we wouldn't be panicking about climate change now.

Economists get listened to when their ideas are convenient for people with political power, and otherwise they get ignored.


That "8 forms of capital" is kind of intersting, I'm not sure I agree with the overall analysis but it's close to a good model of economics.

Take the Capital Pools & Flows chart and put the corresponding 8 forms of demand (social demand, material demand,...) on the right side. Then ask how to use the 8 forms of capital on the left to satisfy the 8 demands on the right, especially when each form of capital can be used to satisfy multiple forms of demand.

Then expand the list of types of capital into the thousands, expand the types of demands into the thousands, and realize we're living in a society with hundreds of millions of people. How do you use the many forms of capital, which each have finite supply alternative uses, to satisfy the many forms of demand?

That's a big problem to solve and it's exactly the problem that the field of economics studies.


Economics is about taking political arguments and assigning them to a clergy so that the people can't touch them. Economists relegate politics of the economy to a special class that is easy to control. They serve certain power structures. They obfuscate this power backed decision making with math.


Economist here!

I missed the vizier training classes though. That's unfortunate -- being able to intentionally shape world events would really satisfy the ego. /s

Truth be told, there is a spectrum of political leanings among economists akin to the spectrum of political leanings among developers. We're not a superclass of reptilian ubermensch and uberfrauen able to worm our ways into the minds of the powerful.

Possibly the main missing point is that the book appears to be uninformed that there are many economic scholars researching inequality, race[1], feminism[2], environmentalism[3], and other progressive areas[4].

Really, there is a broad set of things considered "economics" and I encourage folks to check it out[5].

Remember that all models are wrong, but some are useful. The article's mention of Oi's work highlights this, but the book's takeaway is weird. Rather than a justifiable conclusion of "economists are learning the same as the rest of the world how to manage their leaky abstractions" the book instead treats the reader to FUD.

[1] http://www.columbia.edu/~bo2/bookflyer2015.pdf

[2] http://www.feministeconomics.org/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_economics

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economics_of_religion

[5] https://www.aeaweb.org/jel/guide/jel.php


Contrarian is probably referring to the Rasputin like celebrity pundit economists who are funded and promoted by undeclared vested interests. Like the realtors backing Friedman (or was it Hayek?) and those Freakonomics guys.

I'm TOTALLY FINE with lobbying, patronage, sponsorship, and bias. More than fine. If its declared.

But even "serious economists" like you have to admit there's personalities claiming expertise you know they lack. The whole Gell-Mann Amnesia thing. Those times someone on TV spews some nonsense that makes you want to kick a puppy in outrage.


Agreed, idiot-punditry is alive and well in all areas of specialized domain knowledge. Charlatans make me want to kick things in outrage as well.


> Remember that all models are wrong, but some are useful.

I can't count the number of times I've heard that trotted out as a tired defense of bad modelling. All models are wrong: some are useful, some are dangerous. Are you sure you can distinguish between those categories?

> Possibly the main missing point is that the book appears to be uninformed that there are many economic scholars researching inequality, race[1], feminism[2], environmentalism[3], and other progressive areas[4].

I don't think either the reviewer or the book itself are claiming that there are no economists that study those causes. It sounds like the book claims that postwar economists have enjoyed unaccountable policy influence, and their methodology has blinded them to certain consequences of their advice.


> Are you sure you can distinguish between those categories?

Typically yes, through appropriate risk assessment. Cue "Antifragile" here.


So what does "appropriate risk assessment" look like? Vary some parameters and add confidence bounds to your outputs?

If you're building an economic model and they economy enters a regime that you haven't seen before in your data, your model calibration is going to crumble. So maybe good models can be distinguished from bad when predicated on the assumption that the near future looks like the past. But when that changes (i.e. when you need your models most) is when your models become least reliable.


It's really not a question of how bad an economic model is, but whether there exists a better one we can use in its place. When people criticize (often rightly) economic models and point out their limitations, there is an implication that we should abandon them because they are so flawed. But this is wrong. It is not enough to avoid flawed models; we need something demonstrably better to replace them with, and this is where the critics tend to come up short.

Suppose we get rid of economists and their models; then what do we use in their place to guide policy? Our intuition? No thanks. If someone has a superior theory of the economy, they must show it with logic and empirical observation. Until they do, we are stuck with our more flawed models.


> Suppose we get rid of economists and their models; then what do we use in their place to guide policy? Our intuition?

Controlled small-scale experiments? Ethnography? Historical analysis? Debate among stakeholders?

Why do decisions have to be justified using mathematical models? Especially when those models have to be simplified to the point where they're really just "stories" (Paul Krugman's words) about economies? Why not just tell the stories in English?

In a number of fields where the object of study is particularly complex - biology and medicine being notable examples - mathematical models are ineffective. What makes you think the economy is different?


Because you can say things in mathematics that are hard to say in English. The stories are clearer when expressed in mathematical form. It's harder to bullshit your way through.

Before the 70s/80s, everyone was somewhat confused about what they were arguing, particularly in macroeconomics. Now it's much clearer the kinds of claims we are making about the world.


I absolutely disagree. As an exercise, try translating a representative agent / rational expectations / DSGE model into English and see how ridiculous it sounds.

Mathematics might force you to be internally consistent, but it also forces you to make bad assumptions. You can prove anything by reasoning from a faulty premise.


Everyone who stays away from writing down a mathematical model is either confused themselves, or trying to confuse their readers. The advantage of a model with a representative agent, or rational expectations, is that I can see the assumption right there. They made it perfectly clear. They didn't try to fool me with a barrage of words. If I think their explanation is wrong because people are irrational, or because the agent heterogeneity is important, I can take their model and show how it falsifies their results.

And one important thing we learned from those models (which I agree do not work) is that we don't get business cycles from irrationality or from agent heterogeneity -- we get them from the failure of markets to clear. Economists were confused about this for like a century, and thanks to mathematical modeling it became clear.


> Everyone who stays away from writing down a mathematical model is either confused themselves, or trying to confuse their readers.

That seems like a profoundly narrow viewpoint to me. I mean maybe you're right in the sense that there might be an equation that governs the evolution of the universe, but are you really saying mathematical models are the only way to approach research?

If so I strongly recommend you do some scientific reading outside of economics and physics. I think most interesting phenomena in the world are too complex to capture in mathematics. Physics is a profound outlier in that regard.

> And one important thing we learned from those models (which I agree do not work) is that we don't get business cycles from irrationality or from agent heterogeneity -- we get them from the failure of markets to clear. Economists were confused about this for like a century, and thanks to mathematical modeling it became clear.

I really don't think that's clear at all.


I have done plenty of reading outside of economics and physics, as well as reading in the history of economics. It is clear to me that economics stumbled around in the dark until the mathematical modeling revolution. There are very few interesting phenomena in economics that we can't capture in a model.


Antifragile thinking is not really mainstream economics, is it ?


Thank you vey much for your comment. I agree with most of your thoughts and learned a lot from it.

Specifically, the FUD part sort of worked on me a bit in retrospect. The book was likely written this way because it gets listened to and sells copies.

That said just because there is a dash of spin doesn't mean it is any less true.


A country implements certain policies and after some time effects are seen. Conclusion? It depends. Do the like economists like the policy, yes or no? Have things gone well or bad?

1. No. Bad. Things went bad because country did not do as economists said. 2. Yes. Bad. Things went bad because country did not deal with past policies that economists don't like. 3. No. Good. Things went well because of past policies economists do like. 4. No. Bad. Things went bad because country did not listen to the economists.

Economists are always right. There's always enough of the ideal and the non ideal going on to establish the desired causality, and negligible chance of exact recurrence.

I only take economists seriously when they talk densely and fluently about history and its complexities. I recommend Mark Blyth.


> Economists are always right. There's always enough of the ideal and the non ideal going on to establish the desired causality, and negligible chance of exact recurrence.

Type 2 chaotic system. Economists never know wtf they are talking about. They are speaking about history. You can not make conclusions from history. The more dense your non-sense, the easier it is to bullshit. You have a pool of economists, you are a rich person or you are a political party that subscribes to certain political myths. From the pool you find the guy that says what you want to hear, they become your champion. The news papers that support you start talking about them. The universities that they grew from receive more funding from you, where you have various schools. You start talking about their theories and how they make perfect sense. You use that to push your political objectives and get policies passed. Things get fucked. Those policies fall out of favour, but not before making millions if not billions for certain people who pushed those. Wait a decade, find a new economist, rinse and repeat.


I have no idea how to argue against this nonsense. Basically, these are the same anti-scientific arguments that climate sceptics put forward against climate science or anti-vaxers against medicine. One simply claims that a science is in reality a religion and that it serves only to support unpopular policies such as tax increases, interest rate cuts or to increase the profits of the pharmaceutical industry.


Like a lot of things, the truth is in the middle, and for awhile the pendulum has swung in the direction of certified experts. The problem with this societal paradigm is that experts are often wrong, there's fads, and corruption. Responses to criticism that label the critics uninformed, unscientific, or defective (eg paranoid) are essentially ad hominem. A system like this will inevitably fail because the experts are shielded from responsibility, when if anything they should be expected to be able to tolerate greater criticism.

This problem cuts across many areas at the moment. Economics isn't the only thing.


I don't think the pendulum swung too much towards the experts. Just a few weeks ago, there was an article here on Hacker News (I can't find it at the moment), according to which climate scientists and climate change deniers get almost the same coverage in American news articles and I don't think this is a topic where the truth is in the middle.


I don't think the truth is always in the middle but it often is. Climate change is an interesting example; maybe too much to say via mobile but I'd argue that even though the evidence for climate change is pretty clear, climate scientists have underplayed their errors at times and the wide level of uncertainty involved. The recent retraction is a good example. I think this kind of attitude backfired, by making the blindspots that much more vulnerable. See, for example, recent discussions here about reforestation efforts using non-native monoculture, which could be seen as a similar dynamic to the experts-knows-best problem. I'm not saying reforestation is bad, only that it is another example of experts having biases going unnoticed.

Also, it could be argued that the climate change problem is really a socioeconomic one. I wouldn't say this has been neglected, but berating consumers and producers for what is more of a systemic problem isn't the most helpful thing.


Lots of critics are uninformed, unscientific, and defective. the world is full of people who make confident pronouncements about the field of economics that are ill-informed. (It's actually a bit mysterious to me why that is.)


I feel the same way about OP's article. I'm not sure what it's trying to get at. The example it keeps going back to is Nixon getting rid of the draft by using an argument made by an economist to justify it. The author lambasts Nixon for using an economic (i.e. data-based) argument rather than a feelings-based argument ("one that weighed national security, military readiness, and democratic control").

But then later the author rails against how economists are too beholden to their own "bias" and "political" beliefs. So which is it? Are we to utilize evidence to help justify our decisions, or should we base our policy decisions off of our gut? It sounds like the author prefers that we defer our social policy decisions to philosophers, a profession even less beholden to hard evidence to back their conclusions. But bias and political beliefs are simply an extension of personal philosophy, so... you would just end up right back where we started trying to reduce personal preference leaking into hard facts and poisoning the problem-solving process.

It's one thing to say that we shouldn't elevate scientific findings and theories (and in turn their founders) to dogmatic levels. Science is a technique to offer answers to problems; nothing more. The technique and its findings can be incorrect or misused or simply misunderstood, but I don't see how the alternatives proposed are any better. Yes, it would be nice if we (and by extension, our elected officials) could have come to the conclusion about the ill effects of the draft based on an argument like "it's bad to force people to go to war for a cause they might not believe in", but that is an open-ended philosophical question and is why we have a democratic process in the first place. We all get a say in what our values are and how our public policy aligns with those values.

I feel like the author does exactly what he argues against: hand-picks a number of data points (very loose ones in this case), packages them up into some kind of position that backs his worldview that things are not going the way he would prefer, and then uses that to argue a deeper philosophical point rather than just get at the concept that scientific findings can often be abused (maybe because that is a much harder problem to solve than just saying economists suck).

Don't even get me started on the fact that the author refers to economists as "privileged" and infers that they are a social class which "came to enter policymaking and insinuate themselves into the governing class". As if people in the field of economics are just born into this powerful bubble in society and should shut their mouths because they simply got lucky in life; not that many of them worked hard to get in to their current profession.


Well go read the book and argue against that, that's good enough for me. Economics is not a science, economics uses science. The alternative to economics is politics where political decisions like austerity are not wrapped up in economics and pushed hook line and sinker. Where you are have to argue for policies politically rather than just pushing them because leading economist nobel prize winner said so.


> Economics is not a science, economics uses science.

So you decide what is science and what isn't? What is your model of what a science is? As long as you can't answer that, the only thing unscientific is your comment.

> The alternative to economics is politics where political decisions like austerity are not wrapped up in economics and pushed hook line and sinker.

You can use any science to wrap up political decisions. Also, economics is not a normative science like philosophy. Everything economics does is to say: "According to model M, if you do X in situation Y, then Z happens". If politicians turn it into austerity measures or deficit spending, then that' s politics, not economics.

> because leading economist nobel prize winner said so.

Be more specific. Who said what?


Economist here!

Economics is definitely not a science. It is a social science -- it can use the methodological tools of science to investigate and support theories applied in situations where the whole may behave predictably but individuals typically won't.

We certainly test hypotheses, strategize, and theorize. But, contrary to physics or biology, there probably will never be a set of iron-clad rules and facts that can be derived.

When I went through graduate school, the elephant in the room was "where did preferences come from?" Preferences are used as the basis of analysis in microeconomics, and macroeconomics tries to base itself on top of micro. The answers of the day were unsatisfying -- neuroscience has made great strides, but we still only see the observation without knowing the underlying system itself.


If the social sciences follow the scientific method, then I would call it science. It isn't a natural science, but a science.


We use science to investigate, but not solely. It is not the only set of tools in the kit.


I think a good litmus test for whether a field of study should be classfied as philosophy or science, is whether or not experts within the field are able to achieve consensus. For economics being a strict science, there are a shocking number of experts who can't agree on the laws of economics.


"This is how the world works", is science. "This is what we can do about it", is engineering. "This is what we should do about it", is politics.

It's OK for scientists to work on engineering problems or on political policies, but we all need to be aware of what domain we are in.


Why is agreement a measure of how scientific a field is? I would argue that if there are no conflicting views, no progress can be made. I would also argue that the older a science is, the more consensus there will be for fundamental things, and since economics is a rather new science, there are fewer things economists can agree on.

Besides, there are actually a lot of things that economists agree on: https://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2009/02/news-flash-economist...


>since economics is a rather new science

Isaac Newton's Principia was first published in English in 1728. Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776. That's a 48 year head start out of the nearly 250 years we have had both physics and economics.


Economics as a serious empirical science is a post-World War 2 phenomenon. Ptolemy had better data about the planets in the second century than we had about the economy in the early twentieth century.


> So you decide what is science and what isn't? What is your model of what a science is? As long as you can't answer that, the only thing unscientific is your comment.

1. a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws: the mathematical sciences.

Please list a set of economic truths. Any set will be good enough as long as it can make reliable predictions that can be tested in the real world.

> You can use any science to wrap up political decisions.

You could, but the point is not to. Or if you want to then make sure that the science is predictive.

> Be more specific. Who said what?

When you are talking about the general facts that economics is often prescriptive but at the same time can be shown to be unpredictive which proves that it is not fit for this task. Yet economists and their political allies continue to argue that it is. Maybe it's better than simply political arguments and maybe the justification for supporting the orthodoxy is in line with that. That you're scared of the political outcome and so economics is a safer option.


The physicist can drop a stone with a certain mass from a tower of a particular height and can predict that the next time she drops that rock from that tower, it will take the same amount of time to hit the ground.

Social science, which is most definitely science, must deal with the additional complexity of dealing with weird, quirky, fickle human beings. In a real sense, you and I are not the same people we were yesterday. Rocks and towers are much less interesting from that perspective.

Some physical or hard sciences, even without people, are lousy at predicting. Meteorology is a science, and there’s a reason for the old saw that the weather man is never right. What meteorology and social sciences have in common is they study complex dynamic systems where knowing the state of the entire system at any given time is difficult or even impossible and seemingly insignificant differences in precision can produce entirely different predictions.

Sometimes it is not the scale of complexity that makes a problem tough to tackle. I believe we agree that mathematics is a science, and I’ll make the modest claim that theoretical computer science is a branch of mathematics. We cannot predict in general whether an arbitrary Turing machine given a certain input will halt or run forever. Nevermind the simple question of whether a computer program will eventually terminate: Rice’s theorem tells us that in general we cannot predict whether an arbitrary program has any interesting property.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rice%27s_theorem

Science is more than just high school physics problems.


> Please list a set of economic truths.

Economics is not a mathematical science, it has no underlying axioms like mathematics. Neither does biology, medicine or climate science. Do you think these are not sciences either?

> When you are talking about the general facts that economics is often prescriptive...

That's wrong, economics isn't prescriptive, maybe that's your basic misunderstanding. Economics is a positive science, just like biology or climate science, it doesn't tell you what to do, it just tries to understand 'if this, then that'.


Much of this criticism seems to be "Economist says X causes Y in situation A, assuming B. Politician uses that to force change in X. How dare the economist ignore Z?!" Like the draft example. An economist estimated the effect on labor, politicians use the finding to abolish the draft, then the economist gets shit on for not considering the effect on civil-military relations.

It's much the same, but more obviously ridiculous if you rephrase it with a physical scientist: Chemist estimates some pesticide is lingering in unsafe levels on one particular kind of fruit in certain limited circumstances, then politicians use the finding to enact a sweeping farming regulation, then the chemist gets shit on for not considering the effect on the price of food.

As a data scientist, I find this happening to me sometimes. I tell a PM that we can say X causes Y, but can't really say what the relationship between X and Z is, and people get really frustrated by that. Then they really want an estimate. If you tell them, "fine it's 3 +/- 15" all they hear is "3" and now it's your fault if they make decisions as if we knew for a fact that 3 is the answer. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. I'm sorry that the scientific method isn't an oracle, but that's life. We still have to make decisions.


Don’t say “3 +/- 15”, say “between -12 and 18”. Avoid showing the number you don’t want them to see.


I certainly agree with this and follow this, but even then I've found communications downstream in the game of telephone using the midpoint of what I tell them, dropping any mention of uncertainty. In fact, many times it's the very first thing they do. :facepalm:


What I’ve found work quite well is to remove the mid-point entirely, event graphically, represent the edges with more than three significant numbers (which I’d happily argue against, except): it makes the mental math to find the average harder, and less likely to happen. Finally, explain that out of 10 or 20 results, one has their actual impact outside of that zone. Show simulation.


> Chemist invents a fuel additive which improves fuel economy and extends engine life, then gas+car companies integrate it into their product, then everyone gets shit on for not considering the effect of tetraethyl lead on human health... after the damage is already done


The way this would usually pan out is the chemist publishes a paper on "this one chemical seems to have high energy density after undergoing a particular reaction." Then car companies rush to put it in front of the public. You're really going to include the chemist in the blame there?

Tetraethyl is an easy case, because it was car companies who realized its use in fuel in the first place, so we don't even need to figure out who to blame, unless you want to blame its original inventor who did it almost a century earlier, before the gas engine was even invented.


Your chemist analogy doesn't fit. No where is it in a chemist's job description that they should consider the price of food where as an economist's job is to consider the economy and consequences of change.


No that's exactly the point. There are a ton of kinds of economists who each study specific things. It's as limited as any other science. Of course you get people like Neil deGrasse Tyson in any field, who feel its their job to talk overconfidently about all things, but that's another issue.


Thought i'd heard of von Neumann, Nash and game theoretic equilibria.


When they passed the tax cuts, the opposition said it’ll increase inequality! Companies will buyback stocks and stock pile money!

And they did.

When you can give government a cudgel to use on the people they will.

In that vein, Economics has been a cudgel. It has absolutely fuck all nothing to do with physics and is often ex post facto. “This is how it was so it’s how it must be.”

What a shock, since that’s essentially traditional values level emotional thinking and oh right a lot of our economic policy has been formed by limbic systems captures by childhoods of having “believe in bullshit forever” jammed down their throats.

Neuroscience has revealed too much about the functional loops in our brain for me to buy anything else. This was emotionally fueled justification to stick to a social meme. Not useful science or social philosophy. More of the same “justify in math, a language the masses cannot reason around well, the structure of our inequality.”

Economists are yesterdays wise men and today more like the those who insisted we’d be driving nuclear powered rocket cars: crackpots


Economists frequently get things wrong, because understanding the economy is hard. Pro-tax-cut people said that the tax cuts would have a stimulative effect (which both economists and the opposition were skeptical about). And they did. US prime age employment is almost back to its pre-financial crisis peak. Does that mean economists were wrong to reject trickle-down economics?

Economists will always be the people policy-makers turn to, because they are the only people who actually try to understand the economy. Economists sometimes try to advance an agenda (and the actual economist varies by person), but the alternative is to turn to someone who only has an agenda.


Unemployment had been steadily declining for like 6 years before the tax cut. You can't just attribute the continuing drop in the U3 rate to the tax cuts.


The decrease in unemployment has gotten slower since the last huge tax cuts so you can't even use it as an example of "maybe it worked, its hard to say".


Unemployment is 3.7%, which is pretty closest to the lowest ever observed figures (other than during World War 2). How much faster can it drop?


I don't mean to imply it's bad. But yes. How much lower could it go? What did a trillion dollars do? Its not a great example of a large effect being correlated to a policy change.


I love a good rant. Especially the "emperor has no clothing" variety. So yay. But that's too easy.

What I need, personally and emotionally, are new ideas, solutions, some notion of a path forward.

When I rant (in public), I try to also propose an alternative, to somehow make it constructive.

So please stay angry. Moral outrage is a potent tool.

But also please help me (us) by converting your outrage into action.


Everyone who rants about economics has moral outrage. What we need is dispassionate judgement, which is considerably harder to come by.


Agreed. I imagine the bereavement model applies. Too often people get stuck. I certainly have. It's a lot of work to recognize in oneself. Then even more work to force myself to the next stage.


Freeciv, in my experience.


Miniconomy is not bad at all either.


Lots of trading in Dwarf Fortress.


[flagged]


>In many cases, economic inequality is morally just and socially desirable. Those who work more, should earn more

This is a good principle, but it assumes that inequality is due to the fact that people who work more earn more, which most proponents of egalitarianism argue isn't the case in today's society.


> This is a good principle, but it assumes that inequality is due to the fact that people who work more earn more...

It doesn't assume that, it prescribes that.

> ... which most proponents of egalitarianism argue isn't the case in today's society.

Since most people get paid by the hour, those who work more (paid) hours do earn more. Of course not all work is equally valuable or productive, nor is all compensation commensurate to those factors.

Still, even if in our system more work didn't translate into more compensation, that has no bearing on whether it should.

If by egalitarianism you argue "equal pay for equal work", then that implies both unequal pay for unequal work, as well as income inequality for those who work less over those who work more.

If we reduce inequality down to a single number, we cannot asses whether that inequality implies unfairness. We can achieve perfect equality by giving everyone exactly the same amount of money - no matter what work they perform, or whether they perform any work at all. That would obviously be unfair.


>If by egalitarianism you argue "equal pay for equal work", then that implies both unequal pay for unequal work, as well as income inequality for those who work less over those who work more.

The goal was never to pay people the same amount; in fact, such a scheme wasn't even proposed by Karl Marx himself (he argued against the idea that we should all be "paid equally") - I should have actually stated the other case, in which people who don't work more (all factors relating to productivity considered) actually end up earning more than those who do.

I'm of the opinion that the sort of equality which most people seek cannot be found in a system of wage labour and capital - precisely because of them.


Inequality is usually only looked at at the national level. But it should be looked at at the international level.

For the decades following WWII, Americans didn’t have to compete with much of the world. Those economies were closed off and burdened by counterproductive rules and restrictions. American workers had the leverage to extract more income.

But once those countries opened up, Americans had more competitors. Most Americans still sit comfortably in the GLOBAL 1%, but now many more people around the world have the income to do things like buy medicine, have sanitary and safe living conditions, go to school, and even retire. More people are living longer, healthier lives and fewer are having to bury their children.

Economic systems are very very complicated, and trying to explain them in a way that humans will even begin to wrap their minds around requires assumptions and simplifications. But it’s better to have a profession that is iteratively improving our understanding of human behavior and incentives than leaving it to our evidently flawed instincts and intuitions that has led us down the path to human suffering more times than not.


When you read rising inequality, you should read it as 'failure in our meritocracy is producing a rise in unjust inequality' if that will make you feel better. Pretty much no one is suggesting an abandonment of meritocracy.


> When you read rising inequality, you should read it as 'failure in our meritocracy is producing a rise in unjust inequality' if that will make you feel better.

I don't, because the predominant measure for inequality is the GINI, which has exactly those flaws that I am pointing out.

Furthermore, the GINI based on wealth is even more misleading, because it's mostly based on the paper wealth that people have accumulated. Economic stimulus policy that inflates asset prices is responsible for that rise. Just look at the GINI vs the S&P500 [1] and you'll find that suddenly in 2008 people became "more equal". They weren't better off for it though.

[1] https://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/economic-synops...



Yes, in fact, any form of perceived inequality is detrimental to mental health and eventually to physical health.

This is a natural competition mechanism. It's not at all specific to modern economic systems. Pretty much all animals arrange themselves in a "pecking order". It's particularly pronounced in sexual selection.

However, let's say I work less than you and therefore I earn less. This is fair, I can rationalize it, but it's still a numeric inequality and it shows up in a statistic as such.

Therefore, you can just say "inequality does X", it's too simplistic. That's my whole point.


I think we’re better off dealing with people as humans instead of trying to force them to conform to homo economicus.


What does that mean?




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