"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Sep 11, 2010

Magic Spells for Hubris

So, about half way through Shock Doctrine* (bathroom reading spreads it out, a bit) and I have to take a moment to comment on Hayeko-Randroidish Friedmanism:

That anyone, anywhere could ever think that they could dream up a science of human behavior will amuse me to no end, right up to my own end.

Don't get me wrong. I've long had a not-so-secret affection for Aurelius, Gracian, Montaigne, Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, Ibn Khaldun and Chanakya. What do you expect from a Nietzschean anarcho-agonist?

But - and yeah yeah yeah, this one has caveat written all over it - the above mentioned ancient, medieval and pre-modern sophists wrote of the art of human conduct. With alacrity, and no small measure of durability. Whether or not you prefer the world of rank and power that Gracian assumes, he understands human relations within that realm far better than Friedman could ever have done about our own, or the imagined one of his utopian futures. And Gracian - alike to the others above - never plied his craft colored by shame, as any halfwit observer can tell about Friedman. Gracian - like no small number of past observers - knew the dangers of hubris. Friedman did not.

He had too much faith in himself. Too much plodding forward elephantine self-regard. A prophet. A missionary. A true believer.

Like all paladins, strong belief required Friedman to euphemize his faith, of course. He and his believers euphemize(d) everything. Part of the hubris of their myth cycle, I imagine. Also, they have to. Or no one would buy it. The whole mythopoesis of the "free market" adds up to one giant, bloody fucking euphemism for "kill the natives, hold down the locals with violence or threats of violence, rig the deck and the game, and lock up or rape to death anyone who gets testy about it."

The free marketers, the Austro-Chicagoists and the Randroids gerrymandered Smith into an advocate of a moral and political economy that Smith himself loathed.  A cursory of reading of TWoN will convey that to anyone not afflicted with even the worst possible case of missing brain disease. Kind of like Glenn Beck taking Citizen Paine and transforming him into a flat, antidimensionally earnest, irony free inhabitant of a seventeen year old pimply virgin's Ayn Rand fan fiction.

Still...

Friedman assumed some stupid shit - right from the beginning of the mystico-moral argument onto which he glommed so long ago (the diamond on the beach, and subjective value**). He assumed that economics represents a science of human behavior. That economics can predict human outcomes, could model future behaviors with a repeatable degree of certainty.

That stupidity doesn't belong to Friedman alone, of course. Anyone who has ever thought, uttered, typed or  written out the words "natural monopoly" shares the stain of the shame, as well...

Which amuses me, without fail. If you narrow the field of study sufficiently (see Gracian's world of courtiers and kings; or Sun Tzu's, of soldiers and generals; or Machiavelli on principalities and factions) you might develop a few decently predictive models.  You might anticipate.

But, if you think that the Hari Seldon powers (yes, you too, Krugman) can embody themselves in your own person, you will get people killed.

Because, accounting for billions of connections in the human brain, and billions of human brains, only a fucking idiot with a god complex would think that price points and other numbers on a page, half conjured out of puerile fantasy, represent a science of human behavior. With all the permutations of possibility (and this treating only brains, and not all of the other complex factors, such as disease, natural events, food supply, et cetera ad infinitum) available to the impenetrably dense number of human connections and choices, a "science" of human behavior smacks of the sort of hubris that blinds the believer in it.

The very hubris currently impoverishing and murdering the human and non-human inhabitants of the planet.




* - I know, Charles, you don't like this Naomi...[cue appropriate smiley face]

** - the diamond found on the beach does not have "subjective value." If the person who wants the glittery lump of carbon doesn't expend calories to pick it up - you know, labor - that damned thing has no value. Even the feeling of desire occurs very, very physically. To feel desire, sugars must burn, hormones release, the limbic system engage. Calories get consumed. Which a person replaces with labor, even if only by picking berries, raising hand to mouth, and chewing them - or dies.

20 comments:

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

My main beef with Klein is the lack of originality and the hypocrisy of being a hyperconsumerist while pretending to criticize capitalism's supposedly worst variants, which suggests she's either stupid (missing the point that materialism and unbridled greed are always going to be the essence of capitalism, hence there is no benign isomer of capitalism) or lying (pretending to want something that she really doesn't want). It's like she tells people they should wear a Marx or Che t-shirt and continue enjoying consumerism -- but occasionally, entertain the idea that some capitalists, mainly Republicans, are EVIL.

Her books might say something different than what I'm saying, but the essays and soundbites I've encountered around the Toobz, attributed to her, are what I'm going on. And if her public statements and essays are inconsistent with her books' arguments, what does that suggest?

She seems to have been pretty quiet since Obama took office. What's up with that?

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

...and I agree with your arguments in the main essay, Jack.

I should probably read some Klein myself and see how her books square with her public statements or those statements publicly attributed to her (...whichever). But I'm not buying one. I'll have to see if my town library has a copy of one of them. I won't use it as bathroom reading though, 'cuz I'd be inclined to use its pages for TP when I ran out.

Jack Crow said...

I don't know much about Klein, honestly. I got the Shock Doctrine because one of the regular bloggers I read (Ethan, Justin or Richard?) mentioned a passage from it.

The book is a sustained deconstruction of Friedman - the myth of Friedman, as well as the reality.

Respect,

Jack

Ethan said...

I got a lot out of Shock Doctrine, but it's obviously not without its flaws. I'm not very good at analyzing them, though, because I read it exactly when I (as in, specifically me) needed to--as I was moving out of donk-focused lesser-evilism to the whatever I am now. So it certainly helped me on that path, and at the time it struck me as mind-blowingly important, but I have no idea how I would judge it if I read it now. I don't recall that she focused on Republican evil over any other kind, and I tend to think this memory is fairly accurate considering that the book was one major step on my road to abandoning that kind of thought myself.

I do find that the disaster capitalism model remains a remarkably good lens for understanding why anything happens anywhere, which is a plus.

As for recent silence, there's this essay on Brand Obama, which I thought was pretty good, if only for forwarding to liberal friends. I don't know what else she's been doing.

Regarding the original post, great writing as usual, Jack. I'm a sucker for Foundation references, too.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Ethan -- since I'm a normal (read: selfish) human, I comment on what matters in my world from my perspective. Doubtless someone on the brink of understanding the capital-intense nature of National Donkle politics could find some wealth (hah hah hah) in Klein's perspective that capitalism has its destructive sides. I'm still missing, however, where she actually criticizes capitalism completely, and not just the parts that make her uncomfortable. Has she eschewed the family fortune she has thanks to her capitalist, wealthy family? Does she live like a pauper, or is she another limousine liberal, sideways-critiquing the thing that keeps her well-fed, happy, and full of lovely trinkets?

As to the evil Republicans angle -- what Republicans cite Klein as a knowing authority? Does she ever laud the GOP's version of capitalism (rough on the surface, greedy on the inside)? It **is** the more honest version isn't it?

My take on Klein is that she loves capitalism but hates the types or variants used and perpetuated by certain people. This take comes from reading things attributed to her, or statements that come under her "signature," as it were, on the Toobz.

I'll go read the Obama essay but I'm wagering it's going to be tainted by her libertarian-esque fantasy that there's a "good" capitalism that can yield a modern techno-world --if only we put the right people in charge of the economy.

I'd be pleased to find I'm wrong, given the frequency with which I see her cited approvingly.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

After reading the linked essay I find my opinion unmoved, and will follow the childhood lesson: if I can't say anything good, I won't say anything.

Joe said...

What the free market economists are saying, as I understand them, is that human behavior is too complex to predict, hence their opposition to centrally planned economies. I think what Klein is doing with Friedman is similar to what right-wingers do when they equate socialism with the Soviet Union. Friedman's association with the Republican party makes me question how devoted he was to real economic freedom, but portraying him as Pinochet’s mentor is a bit of a stretch. (I haven’t read Klein’s book either, by the way; just going on various second-hand accounts of the book and maybe an interview or two.)

Jack Crow said...

Joe,

If Klein is to be believed (and she rather copiously sources her claims, FWIW) Friedman actively assisted Pinochet and was proud of that fact. When it comes to later depredations (Poland, Russia), she lays the onus more on second and third generation Chicagoists, as well as the Harvard neoliberals who followed in Jeffrey Sachs footsteps (as well as on Sachs himself).

Respect,

Jack

Jack Crow said...

And my reading of "free market" thought and value subjectivism doesn't give the the impression of an abiding belief in stochasticity, Joe.

That ("human behavior is too complex") might be dogma in propaganda form, something for the campaign trail, but the underlying assumptions of market rationalism, monetarism and the Chicago-Austrian body of work is that economics is a science. A predictive and rigorous model of human conduct which can and must be used to govern how people exchange goods, and value.

I know that agorists and mutualists have different conceptions of the term, but the Austro-Chicagoan's dependence on economic scientism and the SToV informs a goodly portion of everything they have written and/or done.

If you want to start your own search chain, Joe - I can recommend Friedman's thoughts on "Positive Economics" as a good beginning.

Respect,

Jack

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

I thought free market economists had a Magic Wand** that they waved over the populace, causing all within the populace to behave in a wholly benign fashion, eliminating all of the more base impulses of the frightened and overselfish creature known as homo sapiens. Instantly, greed churns itself into benevolence... acquisitiveness into productivity... envy into social progress... and so on.

More seriously, though, I estimate the Free Marketeers as being chiefly concerned with inefficient government meddling in "markets," a point on which I can't disagree for long.

Affirmative regulation, eh Joe?

________________

**Hand-crafted by one of Hayekmises Corp's many artisans.

The Promiscuous Reader said...

Does anyone else remember the time IOZ confused Naomi Wolf with Naomi Klein? Something about her seems to drive a lot of boy leftists off the rails.

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

I remember that.

Personally, I find Naomi Wolf more attractive in every way, so I have a hard time getting them confused. I do like to refer to the pair of them as The Public Naomis. I bet a girl-girl Riot Grrrrl Folkie group of two women could call themselves that and give Teagan and Sara a run for their money!

Brian M said...

Slightly off topic: Jack: Have you ever read a novel by Scottish commie Sci Fi author Richard Morgan called "Market Forces"? I thi9nk you might at least partially bemused by it.

Jack Crow said...

Brian,

Finished it about a month ago, in fact. Picked it up at a depot dump, and was pleasantly surprised.

Especially since Morgan violated his own implied ethos, and has the protagonist succumb to the hyena howl and power.

Respect,

Jack

Joe said...

Jack,

Well, I did a bit of googling and found an article at Counterpunch that pretty much confirms Klein's take on Friedman's involvement in Chile. Can't say I'm terribly surprised. I qualified my defense of Friedman for a reason, though apparently I didn't go far enough.

As for my (again, qualified) defense of "free market economists," I'll admit that I'm not very well read in this area. I'm going mostly by second-hand accounts from other bloggers, many of the mutualist/agorist/whatever-ist variety, who often cite these economists approvingly (though not uncritically). This makes me think that, to some extent, there's a discrepancy between the ideas (or some, anyway) themselves and how they're used by people in power.

Charles,

I'm still with you. I realize that "free market" reforms are basically nothing but affirmative regulation.

Jack Crow said...

Joe,

I think the distinction between agorist/mutualist markets and the Austro-Chicagoist market is an important one.

Personally, I don't much abide by a formalization of exchange as an ideological component of any philosophy - but I reject almost everything currently understood as "philosophy" as so many words about other words.

The root assumption of the agorist conception of the market - I think - is that people will always (so long as they think and act like human persons) engage in trade. It's a fair assumption, as long as we understand that it is in fact just an assumption. Their general objection to the fiat money (liberal) and command economy (Marxist, socialist) schools of thought seems fairly valid to me: If you are going to assign resources and the labor to extract and convert those resources into goods, according to use and need, you will always need some compelling authority in order to ensure that your plan is obeyed.

But, this isn't what Menger, Hayek and Friedman meant by "market." Their market is first and foremost a deus ex machina. It's a justification not of the human propensity to trade goods and services, but of the structures of power which establish a right and proper order to the human cosmos. It's dogma in the service of a very standard (and not at all surprisingly, German) European model of society which places the traditional boni on the top, as a value producing nobility, ruling over a larger and indoctrinated populace which exists to consume goods and receive the value of their betters as a function of the society itself.

Respect,

Jack

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

Yo, Jack (and Ethan) --

Somewhere in my scouring today I found Kevin Carson's appraisal of Naomi Klein's "Shock Doctrine," where Carson says something I agree with completely:
______________________

Klein also buys into the Schlesingerite idea that American big business "grudgingly accepted" the New Deal. [p. 251] Big business didn't grudgingly accept the New Deal; it designed the New Deal.
______________________

One can't have the perspective Klein advances without actually preferring capitalism of the state-intervention variety. Nor can one argue as Klein does without seriously misunderstanding American history, including the New Deal.

It's frequently said among "leftist" (sic) blogs that the New Deal was a great thing for everyone, a bitter pill forced down Wall Street's throat, and something we need to reinvigorate today under Obama. Some "leftists" (again, sic) even suggest Obama is creating a New, New Deal with such things as his "health care reform" and the new consumer protection entity that supposedly will be helmed by business sycophant Elizabeth Warren, a phenomenally misunderstood prof at The Crimson whose protections for consumers are guided by an elitist's misunderstanding of how people actually are harmed. Warren, like Klein, approves of state-intervention capitalism and thinks more, better regulation is the answer.

So, you be the judge: is Naomi Klein as clueless as I suggest?

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

PS: Carson's appraisal is found here:

http://mutualist.blogspot.com/2007/11/naomi-klein-shock-doctrine.html

Jack Crow said...

Charles,

I think that Klein-as-capitalist is not incompatible with Klein-as-right-about-Friedman.

Respect,

Jack

Charles F. Oxtrot said...

As my grandfather would say,

"Righty-O."