Friday, June 23, 2006

For the Record

About forty-one years ago, my parents decided they were sick of living in the slummier part of a class-ridden, snobbery-ridden society that offered them few prospects for upward mobility and dragged their arses, and mine, and those of my siblings, 13,000 miles around the world to a country where, they hoped, prospects were better. And so they were.

One of the things you might reasonably expect would also be left behind, was the ingrained snobbery of the old country, with all its manufactured excuses for one class to look down on another. The last thing I would have expected was to see it replicated, however unwittingly, on a blog but, a few weeks ago, this post appeared at catallaxy. I had one of those "oh for crying out loud" moments but, apart for a little too much off-line bitching about the author of the post, I decided not to make too much of it.

A little later, I found Rafe Champion's paper on Bill Hutt (PDF) at the HR Nicholls society site, where that Lion and the Ostrich post turned up again, this time as an appendix to Rafe's exposition of eight myths of trade unionism. Once again, I ignored it - what was it to me if the impartial seekers after truth at that august society were having a few giggles at the idea of English slum-dwellers of the 1930s doing wee-wees and poo-poos in cupboard drawers? I decided, again that it wasn't worth writing about.

This week, it turned up once again, at catallaxy, where Rafe presented his Hutt paper once more, in instalments, with this introduction to the first episode:
The capitulation of Kim Beazley to the unions on the issue of work contracts has ensured that industrial relations will be a live issue for some months to come. We are likely to hear endless repetition of a number of myths about the role of the trade unions and it may be helpful to have an alternative point of view for balance.
This differs a little from the introduction he gave it in his presentation at the HR Nicholls society:
Question: How long will it take us to get to a labour market regime based on freedom?
Answer. Some time after Bill Hutt becomes a household name among people who are interested in industrial relations

The centralized system of wage fixing in Australia was designed to replace the “rude and barbarous” situation in the nineteenth century with a “new province for law and order”. This expectation was based on a number of assumptions about the nature of the economic system that evolved in the Industrial Revolution and the place of the workers and their associations in that system.
Both introductions convey the impression that Rafe's paper on Hutt is intended to have some bearing on the Australian situation, but Rafe assures us that this is not so. He wishes to be considered a non-combatant in the political, or ideological, battle over that subject. I'll return to Rafe's wish later.

It's sobering to realise, that even a mere ten years in a slum environment can leave you with a chip on your shoulder big enough that you are angered even by accidental, and no doubt unintended, disparagement of slum-dwellers thousands of miles away and decades ago. And clearly it's unreasonable, and bespeaks the existence of a few ishooze, to be angered when a historical consensus that largely agrees with your own family history, is questioned in a spirit of free and open intellectual inquiry. Over the past couple of days my on-line persona has become decidedly unpleasant, so it's time to take another break.

So, as far as I'm concerned, Rafe is welcome to his non-combatant status. I'd suggest that if he wishes to keep it, he needs to refrain from a few activities, such as:
  • Posting reading lists for other bloggers;

  • Decrying the failure of post-modernists (whoever they are) to engage with critical rationalism, the failure of trade union ideologues to engage with the ideas of WH Hutt - non-combatants do not seek engagement with anybody;

  • Decrying the shoddy and dishonest scholarship of TEH LEFT - non-combatants do not concern themselves with the relative merits of the contending forces;

  • Decrying TEH LEFT as slaves to a false paradigm - neither do non-combatants concern themselves with the merits of the combatant's strategies.
That is not an exhaustive list - there are no doubt a few things I've overlooked that Rafe could do to jeopardise his non-combatant status but that's not my problem. I'm on hiatus again.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Make Money for Commenting on Blogs!

There's one small catch - it all goes to Medicins sans Frontieres.

Another Bloody Meme!

Yes, those new memes keep on coming. I nearly missed this one. Apparently it's bog-paper Monday.

What the hell - here are some bog-roll pictures for you all to enjoy. Just remember - ultimately they all come from trees. Like banknotes, except in Australia, where the banknotes ultimately come from oil wells.

The Fabulous Lombe Brothers

Isn't serendipity wonderful? After writing up Francis Ysidro Edgeworth (one of the late nineteenth century founding fathers of modern economics), I decided to go back to the beginning of Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers and, yes, actually read the whole book. Several pages into the chapter on Adam Smith, after I'd read Heilbroner's exposition of Smith's theory of the market, I found this:
Does the world really work this way? To a very real degree it did in the days of Adam Smith. Even in his time, of course, there were already factors that acted as restraints against the free operation of the market system... And already there were more disquieting signs to be read. The Lombe brothers' factory was more than a mere marvel of engineering and a source of wonderment to the visitor: it betokened the coming of large scale industry and the emergence of individual employers who were immensely powerful individual actors in the market...
I immediately decided that I had to know more about these Lombe brothers, especially given Heilbroner's description of working conditions in the factory:

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Francis Ysidro Edgeworth (1845-1926)

Another Great Dickhead of History

I discovered Francis Ysidro Edgeworth while flicking through Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers, looking for dirt on Stanley Jevons, one of the alleged inventors of consumption theory. Edgeworth was a contemporary of Jevons who, in 1881 published Mathematical Psychics a treatise on economics. According to Heilbroner (p171 in "my" copy):

... Edgeworth was not fascinated with economics because it justified or explained or condemned the world, or because it opened new vista, bright or gloomy, into the future. This odd soul was fascinated because economics dealt with quantities and because anything that dealt with quantities could be translated into mathematics...

To build up such a mathematical mirror of reality, the world obviously has tto be simplified. Edgeworth's simplification was this assumption: every man is a pleasure machine. [original emphasis, my literals and elisions]
Heilbroner continues with a few remarks on Edgeworth's character:
Of all men to have adopted such a view of society, Edgeworth seems a most unlikely choice. Hehimself was as ill-constructed a pleasure machine as can be imagined. Neurotically shy, he tended to flee from the pleasures to the privacy of his club; unhappy about the burden of material things, he received few of the pleasures that for most people flow from possessions... Perhaps his greatest source of pleasure was in the construction of his lovely economic Xanadu.

But regardless of his motives, Edgeworth's pleasure machine assumption bore wonderful intelletual fruit. For if economics was defined to be the study of human pleasure-mechanisms competing for shares of society's stock of pleasure, then it could be shown - with all the irrefutability of the differential calculus - that in a world of perfect competition each pleasure machine would achieve the highest amount of pleasure that could be meted out by society.
On reflection, I don't share Heilbroner's view that Edgeworth seems an unlikely person to have taken such a view of society - it's precisely the sort of idealised conception you might expect a neurotically shy person who shuns the pleasures of human company to take. And I'm inclined to doubt that his lovely economic Xanadu was his sole source of pleasure - my guess is that he had an impressively elaborate line in sexual fantasy as well. But given the era Edgeworth lived in, I'm happy to concur with Heilbroner's suggestion that the economic Xanadu was Edgeworth's greatest source of pleasure.

Edgeworth's character - neurotically shy, spartan, masturbative - would certainly explain his inability to understand why people, who ought if they were rational, to compete with each other for all the pleasure society had to offer - would insist on limiting their pleasures by combining in organisations such as trade unions (or more respectably, professional associations and chambers of commerce). Cut off from the pleasures of society by his shyness, he could not recognise that for most people, just hanging out is inherently enjoyable. And his intellectual solution to this problem - that hanging out, or combining with otheres to gain illusory "common benefit" is only effective in the short run and, in the long run, rationality, that is pure competition, will prevail is reminiscent of the chronic masturbator's belief that one day all the women in the world will come to their senses and break down his bedroom door.

Edgeworth's Mathematical Psychics included a chapter on a bloody struggle that was going on, at the time he wrote it, entitled "The Present Crisis in Ireland". I leave you with this interesting function, reproduced in Heilbroner, which Edgeworth used in his analysis of the crisis. I like to think of it as "Edgeworth's Irish Nationalism Function":