Selfishness Cannot Be the Basis of Society

Yves here. The underlying anecdote is a classic example of economics run amok, of completely losing sight of the various forms of reciprocity and favor-accumulating that make society function at least adequately. At the risk of the choice of words offending some, this line of reasoning is why some have labeled economics as autistic, meaning dysfunctionally out of touch with interpersonal and group behaviors.

By Richard Murphy, part-time Professor of Accounting Practice at Sheffield University Management School, director of the Corporate Accountability Network, member of Finance for the Future LLP, and director of Tax Research LLP. Originally published at Tax Research

Amongst the newsletters that I subscribe to is that of the Institute of Economic Affairs, the far-right, near Tufton Street based, mysteriously funded, so-called think tank.

Just before Christmas, a newsletter from its new director suggested that because he was having difficulty in deciding what to buy his sister-in-law for Christmas and feared that he might resort to gloves again, this was ambiguous evidence that we are, universally, unable to work out what another person wants and therefore the state should not presume to know what it is that people desire and should, as a consequence, leave us our own money to spend so that we might make the choice for ourselves.

As an example of personal incompetence turned into a policy-making proposal, this took some beating. That was not least because he ignored the option of a gift card, which would have exactly met the criteria that he supposedly imposed upon any such process by providing his sister-in-law with the freedom to choose for herself. Hypocrisy, mixed with straightforward incoherence, knows no limits on the right wing of politics.

But there is something more serious about this. The logic on view demonstrated three things.

The first is that, unsurprisingly, these so-called think tanks are still as dedicated as ever to a dogma that even they, apparently, cannot comprehend, let alone act upon.

Second, these groups are also so used to privilege that they cannot understand the difference between needs and wants. I would agree with them, and anyone else, that meeting wants is not the purpose of government. By definition, a want can only exist when needs have been met. This means that they will always, and by definition, be personal and whimsical in nature. It is not the job of government to interfere in such choices, if they happen to be available to someone.

It is instead the job of government to ensure that needs are met, and the nature of most needs is easy to define, and their absence is glaringly obvious in the lives of those impacted by them. And since almost no (unless under the influence of market-induced addictions) chooses to not meet a need, but does instead suffer them because of the structural consequences of the organisation of the society within which they live, which prevents them from doing so, it is, of course, the job of government to intervene to ensure that needs are met.

The failure to differentiate between the meeting of needs and wants is a perfect example of a category error of understanding by those privileged persons who work for these so-called tanks that are so lacking in empathy that the glaringly obvious passes them by.

Thirdly, what this claim shows is that the commonplace approach of the neoliberal, which is to take a micro situation and extrapolate it to the macro environment, implicitly assuming that this is a valid basis for reasoning, is totally misplaced. Unfortunately, almost all macroeconomic  theory is created on this basis, with the exception of things like modern monetary theory and the economics that people like Steve Keen promote.

We all know that selfishness has an evolutionary role, which is why the gene that drives it has clearly not been extinguished. The goal of survival does, after all, have merit on occasion. I am not ignoring it. However, the idea that the right-wing wish to promulgate that we are really incapable of knowing the needs of others is utterly absurd and reveals personality traits that are rather unattractive.

Selfishness cannot be the basis of society. We cannot always walk on the other side. Those who suggest that we can have seriously misunderstood what it is to be human.

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  1. Waesfjord

    Obviously a society based on selfishness and greed will fail. But a society based on selfishness that is also stupid (as in the example given above) will fail even more catastrophically. It is an amazing time to be alive, to see the decline of the West and the beginnings of a new world.

    1. Carolinian

      Blame Ayn Rand and her acolytes. You can fool some (of the rich people) much of the time.

      Since it’s a religious season one might cite “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Reciprocity is also selfish of course but a more rational kind of selfish. Christianity can be surprisingly rational for a faith based belief.

      1. Reply

        Some people say: That which is objectionable to you, do not do to others.

        Then come those who say, Not much is objectionable to me, so I do it to others.

        Is that some perverse sociopathy directive? Rationalize any and all, and you too can say you are a neoliberal or libertarian or whatever you want. Words eventually mean what you think they mean. /s or 1/2 /s, hard to tell now.

      2. vao

        I think it was a French who stated: “do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you, for they might have different tastes.”

        1. steppenwolf fetchit

          I remember reading somewhere that it was Rabbi Hillel who came up with the Silver Rule, which was . . . . ” That which is hateful unto thee, do not that unto others.” Don’t do bad things to other people.

          The Golden Rule sometimes seems presumptious and aggressive, in that it enjoins you do to something to others just because you want that something. But those others may not want that same something. So leave those others alone.

      3. Kontrary Kansan

        “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a minimal basis for human society. It comes, not from Christianity, but the Hebrew bible, which Jesus aptly summarizes:
        “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34 ). (Netanyahu remembers stuff about obliterating Amalek, but not about treatment of foreigners, those who are not “our people.”)
        The Great Commandment’s second element, “love your neighbor as you love yourself” ups the.ante a bit. Love includes more than what is actionable.
        The Johannine version pushes even further: followers are to love as Jesus has loved them: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” [(John 13:34) New International Version]
        But note the referential shift from “neighbor” to followers of Jesus, a turn to indularity even as the standard shifts; a very different standard to oneself. Undervaluing oneself may lead to contempt of others, just as does overvaluing.
        The Apostle Paul, in his letter to Philippians presses neighborly limits even further: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,” That is a challenge beyond what most are willing to attempt.

      4. Hayek's Heelbiter

        Amen, Yves. What a great post to end the year.
        Working on script for a short film, AYN RAND ON HER DEATHBED. She’s on a gurney in hospital corridor, begging for water, food, pain relief, simple adjustment, etc. Every orderly who passes by retorts with a quote from her own writing about independence, standing on your own two feet, sheeple foolishness, etc.
        Unfortunately there is a wealth of quotes from which to choose.
        In Rand’s defense, I must say, that the 1942 Italian film version of WE THE LIVING, starring Rossano Brazzi, was one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen. At screening of the restored version in New York, it was fifteen minutes after the film was over before people were able to speak. The film was initially supported by the Fascist government and was a huge hit with Italian audiences.
        Until the authorities suddenly realized, “Wait a minute, this film isn’t about Russia in 1917. This film is actually about Italy now.”
        They banned and it was seen again until the mid-1980s. And perhaps it is becoming more and more relevant every day.

        1. Jorge

          I’m now fascinated. The movie was 4 hours, so the filmmakers split it into two 2-hour movies.

          Ayn (Ein?) Rand grabbed the originals that had been saved, combined them, and re-edited it down to a Rand-oriented 3-hour version.

          Did you watch a restored 2-hour version, or her 3-hour combo?

        2. Acacia

          And then there’s King Vidor’s adaptation of The Fountainhead, starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, with a script written by Ayn Rand herself.

          I saw a public screening at an architecture school.

          Just after the film, the host appeared at the front of the auditorium and said to the audience: “so, you can say THAT in your next crit!” The auditorium — full of architecture students — erupted in laughter, as Rand’s “vision” of an architect, Howard Roark, was so obviously an absurd, almost kitsch character.

  2. SufferinSuccotash

    I don’t think it’s a matter of misunderstanding on the part of the other-siders. If you believe that most people aren’t really human to begin with–not human in same way that you are–then hypocrisy and incoherence aren’t only possible but even in some respects desirable.

    1. ArvidMartensen

      Yes the israelis have recently been making the idea of ‘human animals’ a big plank of their war propaganda against the Palestinians.
      That has an echo from the past, but where? Maybe there was a genocide some years ago where the same invective was made by non-Israelis against those who cannot be named?

      1. Paris

        The abused child grows up to become the abuser. That doesn’t mean they can refer back to their troubled history with impunity. To jail with them.

  3. Alice X

    I dream of a society of self-less people. People who are determined to take the least so that everyone will have enough on this rock, without imperiling the other life in the process. But of course, I’m just dreaming.

    1. hk

      I don’t know if all “selfless” people are helpful. There are many who try to force cake on everyone–because everyone “should” have them, whether they need them or not.

      This is another form of “not understanding what other people need” and perhaps even more common among policymaking circles.

        1. hk

          Perhaps I didn’t. Here’s where I’m coming from:

          The world is full of people who really take “let them eat cake” seriously, people who believe that the needy should have cake regardless of whether they want or need cake, sometimes to the exclusion of other, more needful things. And these are not necessarily selfish people: they will make tremendous sacrifices for themselves so that the needy have the (proverbial) cake.

          Not long ago, after the big earthquake in Haiti, the word was that many private persons/organizations who didn’t trust big international NGOs decided to bring aid that they thought Haitians would need on planes they chartered themselves and even tried to distribute them themselves, in some cases. The consequence was that they were piling up stuff that were unnecessary while blocking traffic for the stuff that were more urgently needed. These were, in a way, do-gooders in their own right, who were doubtlessly acting “selflessly” in a way. But they were acting, at the same time, selfishly trying to impose their sense of what the world should be regardless of what the true state of the world is (in this case, what kind of aid quake victims would need and how the aid should be distributed). This, in some sense, strikes me as actually worse than actual “selfish” (in all dimensions) people who wouldn’t have caused additional trouble.

          I tend to think, in fact, that a lot of policy tragedies come from these “selflessly selfish” people, who are so convinced of their rightness about how the world should be that they are willing to crush who they regard as obstacles underfoot while reaching for that false utopia. (Much more than greedy money-grubbers–the latter can at least be reasoned with, and, at worst, be bribed. The misled do-gooders cannot be bribed.)

          1. Anon

            Sometimes the “do-gooders” are fully aware their beneficence is harmful, but proceed anyway. One need only look at all the Freedom™ and Democracy™ in Libya to appreciate this. Also the increased safety and security of homosexuals in Gaza. All the women in Iran who aspire to wear booty shorts, but for some reason can’t find penicillin, etc.

    2. Paris

      Yep, that’s just a dream. When people put that dream into action the worst totalitarian regimes are born. FYI.

  4. Susan the other

    And passive v. active needs. And positive v. negative needs. Receiving a lot of negative needs (maybe getting the bads instead of the goods) is a perversion because it precludes getting the positive ones. Even though it is vastly more expensive and wasteful. Eventually it can go so far as to destroy the natural world. Why does anyone think that Gazans need to be slaughtered when what they really need is food and water and medical care and shelter? There must exist a need to kill. If it were merely a want to kill it could be contained. It could remain a dark little fantasy. It could be considered just selfish and inconsiderate even though it is cumulative. And eventually reaches critical mass. Like a group hallucination. Society is what we practice to preclude all that, not promote it. Which is one reason why the killers say there is no such thing as society. Only money.

    1. cousinAdam

      I haven’t thought about Maslow since beginning to explore the Human Potential movement in the late’70s. With regard to Susan t.o. ‘s comment above, I learned during a “self improvement” seminar in the “evil 80s” (cocaine> freebase>Ollie North/Contra coke>crack epidemic) that “wanting” something was tantamount to an admission that you don’t “have” it – so in order to “have” it you “need” to let go of “wanting” it. The key to success and power is getting those who covet your perceived success and power is to “allow” them to help satisfy your “needs” to gain favor. “ Grifters gotta grift”…….. Thankfully I bailed before they soaked me for too much money ;^| I was fortunate to meet and subsequently study with pioneer psychedelic researchers and founders of the Foundation for Mind Research, R.E.L. (Bob) Masters and Jean Houston. After Timothy Leary had “trashed and made a circus of scholarly research “ into LSD and its effects on consciousness, they co-authored a thin volume titled “Mind Games” – how to induce altered states of consciousness without drugs. John Lennon was sufficiently moved to write the song (and title track to an album) inspired by the book’s contents. Sadly, he was already 5 or 6 years deceased by the time I learned of it – sitting on a bookshelf next to a copy of Yoko Ono’s “Grapefruit”. Their other books are worthy of study as well.

    2. ChrisPacific

      I’m actually not sure this applies consistently in practice (and including it weakens the argument, which is about the difference between wants and needs and is pretty clear otherwise). Mazlow’s hierarchy has come in for plenty of criticism in the past. In particular, if you speak to someone who is missing one or more items in the basic needs category – homeless, terminally or chronically ill, in an abusive relationship – they generally take issue with the idea that their status precludes them from having wants. Humans are complex creatures, and will sometimes make choices that give them agency and a feeling of control over their life even if it means ignoring some pretty basic needs.

      The point remains that the newsletter anecdote is a lazy and flawed argument (specifically a sweeping generalization). In its most narrow form, it’s obviously correct. The government shouldn’t be telling us what books to buy at the store, or deciding how our coffee is prepared in the takeout line. But trying to generalize it to apply to government spending of all kinds is obviously ridiculous. The ones advancing the argument implicitly know this and apply it selectively. Individual choice is only the mantra when it comes to things they don’t want to pay for, and they’re happy to accept the tyranny of the majority when it comes to wars in the Middle East, high carbon transport infrastructure, or bank bailouts.

      1. Paris

        The newsletter is lazy but the short article written upon it is even lazier, because as you mentioned, having needs don’t preclude having wants.
        I can’t even start to imagine how the State is going to provide for the sex need at the bottom of the pyramid.

  5. LawnDart

    The “elites,” or (more accurately), the ruling-caste, are socially conditioned to “other” those not holding “elite” status: these others are seen as inferior in worth and intellect, and therefore, because they are not properly credentialed “experts,” their thoughts and perspectives are not worth consideration and are immediately disregarded, discarded, often with contempt or even acrimony, regardless of the logical validity or merit of the idea itself.

    Why? Perhaps because…

    “So many of the social reactions that strike us as psychological are in fact a rational management of symbolic capital.” –Pierre Bourdieu, Classification Struggles

    In the course of researching for and writing a post on the subject of contractor theft, thefts generally driven by greed and not need, I came across a study (one, amongst similar studies) that suggests that the act of lying becomes easier with practice, and more difficult to detect, as habitual lying quite literally rewires the brain: pathological liars, which many if not most of our “elites” are, are not born, they’re manufactured:

    How Lying Affects The Human Brain: Telling Lies Desensitizes Amygdala To Dishonesty; Increases Chances Of Being A Pathological Liar

    “When we lie for personal gain, our amygdala produces a negative feeling that limits the extent to which we are prepared to lie,” said Dr. Tali Sharot…

    …However, as we continue to lie, this response fades, which may lead to a “slippery slope” where small acts of dishonesty can evolve into more significant lies. In other words, lies breed lies as the brain gets desensitized to dishonesty.

    Bullshitting and outright lying is key to commissioning the thefts that I will address in my post. I would suggest a similar mechanism at work here: it is not that the “think-tank” fails to understand the difference between wants and needs, but that they are deliberately conflating these.

    I believe that this reflects to a degree what the author is ultimately stating, but being the son of an “aspy” from whom I’ve Inherited certain characteristics, I lack the author’s discretion and diplomacy.

    1. steppenwolf fetchit

      If by “greed” you mean “greed for money or physical possessions”, there were at least 3 continents full of millions of people whose whole societies were based on ” non-greed for money or physical possessions”.
      Those continents were what we now call North America, South America and Australia. The current survivors of those “non-greed-based societies” still try to live what “non-greed-based” lifeways they can.
      They are out there in current realtime today. They can be met in current realtime today.

  6. chris

    I’d love to keep more of my money. I disagree with a lot of what my government does at the local, state, and national levels. Of course, I also like clean water. My standing army isn’t too great either, so all the people who would raid my property for supplies due to their needs would be a problem. My ability to pave roads is similarly awful. So perhaps taxes are a better way to handle these large scale problems afterall…

  7. Starry Gordon

    It seems to me that if we are talking about government or the state, that is, a social institution which has the power of life and death over its subjects, as well as many other powers, such as the power to create, appropriate, or destroy property or other goods, or to impose standards of even intimate personal behavior, we might want to be a bit more careful about distinguishing between _needs_ and _wants_. For instance, certain persons _wanted_ to start a war in Ukraine or to pursue genocide in Palestine, but in my view they didn’t _need_ to do this; they could have gotten along quite well in life without such state-mediated exercises of violent sociopathy. Yet if one declines to support their efforts one can get into a lot of trouble with this state. And on the other hand, viable communities can be pointed out, at least in history, which lacked such an institution. I suppose I am being tediously obvious.

  8. John D.

    “There is no such thing as society.”

    Anyone remember this little gem from Margaret Thatcher? She was completely serious of course…and then massive rioting broke out across Britain due to her economic policies and she had the sheer hypocritical gall to appear on television to appeal to her peoples’ better natures. As the late Christopher Hitchens wrote in his Nation column at the time, it turned out there was such a thing as society after all. At east when the concept was of benefit to Thatcher.

    I do hope they kept a pit in hell hot enough for her

    1. steppenwolf fetchit

      Since Thatcher and Reagan were a political bonded pair, perhaps we should think of them as ” one person” for purposes of politicultural and politiconomic analysis. We could call them ” Thatchereagan”.

  9. Rob Urie

    While I certainly agree with the gist of the article, as far as the actual economics go, there is a methodological explanation for why economists can’t speak coherently of needs.

    In the late nineteenth century economists borrowed ‘elegant’ models from physics under the theory that the economy is a natural system like physics is considered to be.

    Having dismissed Marx’s labor theory of value and replaced it with the psychic quantum of ‘utility,’ wants expressed via ‘utility functions’ were what these models could accommodate.

    The ideological interests of the modelers (economists) were reflected in this favoring of utility over physical measures of need.

    But then, as now, economists got lost in the ‘elegance’ of the models and lost sight of their alleged purpose.

    If you want a laugh, go back to the discourse around ‘utility’ by the modelers. None of the economists defined it the same way.

    This means that there was no more consensus around wants, defined via utility, than needs. I wrote a thesis partially around this point.

    Like American ‘philosophy of science,’ capitalist economics is a confidence game. Once people start asking questions, the whole thing falls apart.

    1. Kilgore Trout

      “Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men, for the nastiest of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all.”–J M Keynes

    2. ChrisPacific

      The whole idea that economists could perfectly model all of human behavior on both an individual and a societal level by reducing everybody’s wants and needs to a single number and then making predictions based on their relative values is laughable on the face of it. Partial orders, and the idea that not everything is directly comparable, were already well-established in mathematics by that time, as were higher dimensional vector spaces and calculus. There were so many tools available to them, and yet they chose the mathematical equivalent of a preschool crayon drawing.

      That’s why the whole ‘elegance’ thing rubs me the wrong way. The utility maximization models are not ‘elegant’. They are facile, simplistic and based on a host of over-generalizations and outright false assumptions. They were only ever useful as a thought experiment, not as a serious theory, and they are far past their use-by date.

    3. Skip Intro

      Excellent. I had a less subtle understanding of the economist’s role, as exemplified by the dumb argument that inspired this rebuttal post.
      I assumed that it was their job to come up with simple catchy stories to justify their oligarch owners’ wealth and power to their subjects. They make a story that may stick with focus groups, and get a bonus.
      For every effective frame, there are probably dozens like this or worse. They even admit it was put out just before the xmas — a half-assed rush job on the way out the door. Tank thinkers are workers too after all, they have to earn a living, or at least make their parents think they are working.

  10. Synoia

    This is why greed is considered as the worst of the 7 deadly sins.

    The sin of Greed is unique in having no limit.

    Look at the rich today: Is there a possibility of the wealthy being driven by greed? Is it possible our whole civilization is driven by greed?

    Look at wars, and ask oneself if the desires to conquer drive wars.

    Look at the US Congress. is they driven by greed?

  11. notabanker

    Hypocrisy, mixed with straightforward incoherence, knows no limits on the right wing of politics.

    Um, yeah, sorry, the right wing can claim no exclusivity to this domain. Frankly, I’m pretty fed up with the whole political spectrum and do not really differentiate anymore between one wing or the other. They both needs to be clipped permanently. Politics are just as much a problem for humanity as organized religion. In fact, I’m not sure what the difference is between them anymore.

    1. JonnyJames

      Yes, the US is clearly an empire and is ruled by a ruthless, cruel, and parasitic oligarchy. The Bipartisan Consensus (Washington Consensus) and the almost unanimous and unconditional support for the genocide of Palestine should make it even more clear. Democracy and freedom are just empty PR slogans, but still too many people believe the nonsense and get caught up in the contrived drama of superficial D/R politics.

  12. Adam Eran

    One remedy for unmet needs promoted by MMT is a job guarantee. This is either a bold proposition or something cluelessly naive, given the history. First of all, the US actually has a “job guarantee” — it’s called the military. The suggestion such a guarantee be employed in the service of social peace is certainly in play. That it could be unrelated to militarism is the boldness in that proposition.

    However, given the amount of effort and policy choices made in service of job uncertainty, it’s certainly a change from the currents of history. Recommended reading in this connection is Astra Taylor’s work (try Remake the World). For one example, student loan forgiveness is backpedaling in service to the needs of military recruiters. Apparently unpayable loans are the whip urging youngsters to join the US military. Another example: Worker collaboration (unions) was illegal virtually from the beginning of the industrial revolution. Such collusion among employers was a commonplace.

    1. Butch

      The criteria for the military are quite different from the Job Guarantee, which is willing and able to work.

    2. Vicky Cookies

      William James called such programs the ‘Moral Equivalent of War’, with some merit. We have limited non-military programs of the type, like Americorps. One problem is, government as currently constituted will likely always foul up these programs to a degree which makes them intolerable to thinking people. Teach For America, for example, has all sorts of incentives, like loan forgiveness, for those who go teach in written-off districts. What this well-intentioned policy becomes, however, is young, inexperienced teachers with no roots or stakes in the communities they serve trying to teach some of the worst-off kids in the country. I’ve seen it with my own eyes: a 22 year old white teacher screaming at black 3rd graders. No one learned anything.

      There is actually so much necessary work to be done, and no shortage of willing people; our society is just really bad at incentivizing pro-social behavior. We might have a government program which would provide training and apprenticeships in carpentry, HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and the building trades, fixing up some of our 16 million (!) unoccupied homes, granting the titles to homeless, killing two birds. But we’d rather leave it to the market, which restricts both the trades and housing. Maddening.

      We will have to move on from the idea of a market society, and its constituents, wage-slavery and unemployment, and be more rational in our form of organization, or we are in the last few generations of being a viable species.

  13. Gulag

    “Selfishness cannot be the basis of society.”

    “The goal of survival does, after all, have merit on occasion. I am not dismissing it.”

    Maybe more than on occasion.

    On the one hand all nation-states and their respective societies exist within the architecture of an international system in which there is no higher authority and in which each state/society must discover the best way to protect itself–the best way to survive.

    On the other hand what role does individual psychology/human nature play in an inter-state system which is so anarchic?

    To what degree is aggressiveness due to an individual will to power and to what degree is it due to the anarchy of our international system?

    1. Paris

      It seems you do want to have even more powerful people (unelected?) at the international level to tell us how we should conduct our lives lol. Funny #not

  14. ArvidMartensen

    Selfishness is behind the bitter chasm in politics, especially in the US. And entitlement.

    Those who went to the best schools and have degrees, no matter how trivial the subject matter, know they are far superior to anybody who hasn’t. Far smarter. More moral. More cultured. More impassioned about righting the right wrongs.
    They know that the country belongs to them to rule as they see fit. Coincidentally, their superiority will create the best of all possible outcomes not only for the country, but also for themselves. If they become richer because of how they run the country, it’s because they deserve to be rich. And the richer they become, the more they deserve it.

    They know with a visceral hatred that Trump does not deserve to be President because the people(but are they really?) that vote for him are stupid and coarse losers, failures, morons.

    How can superior, enlightened people of unlimited good will stand by and let morons run the country and ruin democracy? Of course they can’t. They are honor-bound to stop the stupid and uncivilised from contaminating election discourse and despoiling public office. Because clearly these uneducated swill should be taking orders and serving their betters.

    And although it might be distasteful for some, any means that crushes Trump and his deluded followers is ok. Dirty tricks, jail, misinformation to trap them, even police and military operations, are all ok for a noble cause.

    And so greed and entitlement is playing out again for 2024.

  15. Starry Gordon

    Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who can be for me? If I am for myself alone, what am I?”

    It’s similar to the individualism-versus-collectivism game. Human beings, since they are a highly social species, must be able to operate in both modes and probably others, but can pretend otherwise.

    I suppose it’s more fun to divide the sheep from the goats.

  16. Gregory Etchason

    FDR set the stage by paying the oligarchs ransom to go along with the New Deal, followed by the Honey Pot “Arsenal of Democracy”. Why stop a good thing and return to those messy competitive markets. Simply back the Brinks truck up to the Treasury. Be reminded when Howard Hughes died in 1976 he was making $2million/day from DoD and CIA contracts. This had been going on since the Spruce Goose of 1942.

  17. Joe Well

    NC comments are often amazing, but on some posts I wonder if most of the commenters read the post or just the title. Murphy is making specific but broad challenges to economics and there is not much comment on them.

    Murphy is right about most of what he says. But I disagree as to the distinction between wants and needs being important. Local government frequently acts for purely aesthetic purposes, whether public art or limiting signage. Can you seriously argue that that is a need, or that government shouldn’t do it?

    The problem with most economists is they are antidemocratic. People can vote for what they want or need, end of story.

    1. steppenwolf fetchit

      People can vote all they want, but if the Class Enemy In Power won’t do anything which people voted for and won’t stop anything which people voted against, what difference does it make?

      Perhaps people could pay special attention to those areas where voting still makes some kind of actual difference. Such areas exist, and the general smog of cynicism carefully sprayed over the whole social brainscape is designed to discourage people from seeing that.

      1. Shokova the Great

        Dear steppenwolf, have you ever wondered if a republican/democratic government is ever overrated? I surely assume so, as I know human nature/behavior by heart and or like the back of my hand. Afterall all human beings are the same.

      2. Rubicon

        We totally agree with you, Steppenwolf: re: the Class Enemy, but you also note about communities that have politicians who pay attention to their voter’s needs.

        They only communities we know that listen to and keep track of their politicians are those who live in upper level/wealthy communities. After all, they have their financiers, banking/ attorney friends to ensure all their Needs are met by these politicians.

  18. wendell

    I have written a book about this subject. The title is



    My name is Wendell H. Williams

    I would surely appreciate it if you would be so kind as to read it AND give me your opinion.

    Wendell H. Williams
    Former Democratic Nominee
    U.S. Congress (CA10)

  19. Ellen N Moody

    Please do not use the word autistic for this. It is very unkind, unfair, and untrue. Autistic people (of whom I am one) yearn for connection, we love and want to be loved just like everyone else. We just don’t know how. The assumption and social methods that are hard-wired into the brains of the neurotypical are not hard wired into our. If anything I know that the problem for autistic people is they are over-sensitive; we have learned to protect ourselves by donning a carapace. We are often unemployed, broke, isolated. Please don’t make our lives harder by making us an icon for selfishness. Nothing could be further from the truth. You must not understand autism at all.

  20. Dick Swenson

    The Seven Deadly Sins includes ‘greed.’ It also includes ‘pride.’ I feel that many of the comments above ignore pride.

  21. Gulag

    On the issue of the main driver (greed vs pride) in human behavior.

    It seems to me that greed as the main driver is on the defensive these days. As Aurelian recently argued in his essay ” What’s Left…And What’s Left?;”

    “I am very much afraid the real Left may turn out to have been an unrepeatable phase in the evolution of political societies. It relied on clear and obvious injustices that needed addressing on clear and obvious political and economic targets that needed attacking, on a mass working class base, on communities organized around the workplace, on a discussion of class-based solidarity and economic justice, on middle class supporters and on politicians close to the concern of ordinary people. None of that now exists.”

  22. Rubicon

    While folks in “government” are not to be trusted, based on Yves assessment, what we find is the far more opaque crowd of the Wealthy, Super Wealthy; Bankers, those on Wall Street, etc. They rarely reveal the actual pluses and minuses with investing in their plethora of their financial instruments.

    Example, one year ago, we met two “financial advisors” who wanted us to use our $$ to invest in “private equities” and other such things.
    We refused, especially after we dug deep into how private equities are taking over hundreds of veterinary practices. End result: Inexperienced young vets, vet assistants, low quality treatments to heal our pets and a lot of needless vaccinations. Of course, neither of those two “advisors” pointed out the negative sides of investing in “private equities. And that’s just one simple example. We no longer hold any confidence in insurance, banking agents, or anyone involved “In The Market.”

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