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Michael, we hardly knew ye - Comments

remijdio's Avatar Comment 1 by remijdio

Updated: Mon, 30 Aug 2010 19:29:52 UTC | #508138

God fearing Atheist's Avatar Comment 2 by God fearing Atheist

Michael, we hardly knew ye

Quite. I'm baffled.

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 19:44:52 UTC | #508158

Cluebot's Avatar Comment 3 by Cluebot

Line up, line up! Lots more money in the pot...

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 19:51:16 UTC | #508163

The Plc's Avatar Comment 4 by The Plc

But let’s not get carried away. As every economist knows, the market system, based on the free exchange of goods, is the greatest prosperity-generating machine ever invented.

Is that so? Every economist? As I understand it, the consensus amongst those who aren't massive ideologues is that things are rather ambiguous regarding the causality of economic growth, due to the massive numbers of variables and data involved in judging these things. In fact, economic historians argue that protectionism and state intervention are correlative to economic success, citing the evidence of the societies that have massively relied, and continue to rely on, high levels of protection and state intervention - namely Britain, the United States and Japan.

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:03:13 UTC | #508176

Cestriana's Avatar Comment 5 by Cestriana

In greed we trust.

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:06:43 UTC | #508181

jcs's Avatar Comment 6 by jcs

As every economist knows, the market system, based on the free exchange of goods, is the greatest prosperity-generating machine ever invented.

Prosperity = amount of money There is a fixed amount of money (economy is a closed system) Therefore prosperity cannot be generated. It can only be moved around.

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:15:37 UTC | #508188

Ryou Concord's Avatar Comment 7 by Ryou Concord

In greed we trust.

By greed we are motivated. (Not necessarily a terrible thing if you snatch a human infant from a hungry bear 'cause you didn't want to see it get mauled and hurt!)

Also, the link for this article is dead or something, I can't access it.

Updated: Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:18:20 UTC | #508189

Adrian Bartholomew's Avatar Comment 8 by Adrian Bartholomew

I’ve been saying it a long time but Shermer always seems a bit of the “pick the evidence to fit my conclusions,” kind of guy to me.

Evidence FIRST then Ideology folks… Not the other way around.

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:17:39 UTC | #508190

Cestriana's Avatar Comment 9 by Cestriana

@Ryou Concord

'In greed we trust.'

It's a play on words.

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:21:23 UTC | #508191

TIKI AL's Avatar Comment 10 by TIKI AL

23 years in the car business netted 2 honest and fair capitalists.

Had I carried a lamp I might have found more.

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:32:23 UTC | #508197

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 11 by Jos Gibbons

How apt that support for capitalism be bought.

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:41:14 UTC | #508203

at3p's Avatar Comment 12 by at3p

Isn't this belief in the magic spirit of the market a kind of religion? ...just one more apologist.

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:52:46 UTC | #508209

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 13 by bendigeidfran

Comment 11 by Jos Gibbons

lol! You should still do long ones though - your fans expect them.

Updated: Mon, 30 Aug 2010 20:54:05 UTC | #508210

Deley's Avatar Comment 14 by Deley

Comment 6 by jcs :

As every economist knows, the market system, based on the free exchange of goods, is the greatest prosperity-generating machine ever invented.

Prosperity = amount of money

There is a fixed amount of money (economy is a closed system)

Therefore prosperity cannot be generated. It can only be moved around.

Prosperity encompasses more than just money/wealth (health, happiness, etc).

There is absolutely not a fixed amount of money. Money is simply a medium of exchange. Exchange of what? Things of value...goods, services, time, etc. In order for there to be "things of value", there must be "things that value", e.g., people. As the number of people in the world grow, the amount of "things that are valued" will grow accordingly, thus the money supply will grow.

It sounds like you're claiming that the first law of thermodynamics applies to prosperity. Saying that "prosperity cannot be generated" is akin to saying that happiness is a zero-sum game. Do you also believe that there's a fixed amount of happiness in the world? That in order for one person to be happy, another person must be made equally UN-happy? That as the number of people in the world grow, we all must dine on increasingly smaller pieces of the "happiness pie"?

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 22:09:29 UTC | #508244

Tiende Landeplage's Avatar Comment 15 by Tiende Landeplage

"... capitalism promotes morality."

Who else was reminded of these comedians:

European Economy Hurt by Secularism?

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 22:43:44 UTC | #508261

caharris.harris's Avatar Comment 16 by caharris.harris

I think part of me just died...

Mon, 30 Aug 2010 23:28:04 UTC | #508281

Questionator's Avatar Comment 17 by Questionator

Comment 11 by Jos Gibbons :

How apt that support for capitalism be bought.


Tue, 31 Aug 2010 00:44:51 UTC | #508313

Fouad Boussetta's Avatar Comment 18 by Fouad Boussetta

There's an excellent (and scathing) review of "The Mind of the Market" on Skepdic, comically entitled "Shermer's March to Nirvana": HERE

Updated: Tue, 31 Aug 2010 00:52:23 UTC | #508314

the archangel's Avatar Comment 19 by the archangel

I am actually reading Mind of the Market at the moment and I have to say it is an interesting book. Ok I am no economist, but I find some of the ideas raise some interesting questions. Which the skpedic review seems to typically characature in order to easily have a go at it. In fact the review is ridiculous, the guy seems to not have understood anything that Shermer was trying to say. Instead just ranting. I do not think the book is fantastic but the Skepdic review and Coyne's blog entry are rather reactionary.

Don't know why he would want anything to do with Templeton foundation, but I can't criticise him for supporting capitalism. His book isn't really an issue of irrational thought, it seems fairly well thought out. But lending any support to Templeton is definitely a bit ill thought out.

Calling the ideas in the book Social Darwinism is a bit extreme when we know what kind of images they invoke from its history. Jerry Coyne says he hasn't read the book yet, so maybe he would do well to read it first. A bit disappointing this whole thing really.

Dinesh D'Souza endorsing the book is a bit of a joke. Yet again that man does not understand things properly.

Updated: Tue, 31 Aug 2010 01:38:04 UTC | #508322

SPS's Avatar Comment 20 by SPS

If morality exists, why would we need need money/capitalism to regulate and tell us what is moral and what is not? What kind of morality says "you'll feel the effects of morality when you participate in a (so called) free market, but not before then". It only serves to show us who is best at getting money/power, not who deserves things and services of value. It's a false means of sorting out people into categories, and justifying to yourself why you have something like healthcare coverage and the guy down the street does not.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 01:56:13 UTC | #508323

KJinAsia's Avatar Comment 21 by KJinAsia

Templeton and D'Souza are unfortunately bed fellows in this case, but Shermer is on the right track. Our impulses towards greed and fairness are not opposing instincts, they both emerge from self interest and how we measure ourselves against others.

Wealth is not a zero sum game and the utopian notion of totally even distribution of resources is neither possible nor desirable. Exchange of goods (economics, capitalism) is a complex system of human culture. An uneven distribution of those goods is a mathematically inevitable outcome that provides the structure upon which the system develops efficiencies (technical and logistic) that add to total material well being.

Concentration of wealth is an emergent property that CAN occur by the restriction of access to wealth of others but by no means does it require this. The emergent economy doesn't grow by restriction. Think Bill Gates. Our challenge is to regulate trade and commerce so that wealth is generated via efficiencies rather than restructions. That means promoting interconnectivity and openness.

Exchange of goods most definitely requires an application of the fairness impulse and self interest. Of course morality is involved. When trading activity increases, the fairness impulse is being extended - by definition. Call it greed if you want, but you risk throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Why do you think the classical Greeks became our venerated contributors of inductive reasoning? Were they genetically more rational than other cultures of the time? No. They were in the right place (scattered, loosely connected island and coastal communities in the Med) at the right time (after the Phoenicians developed better shipping technology) to rapidly emerge as a great trading culture. Exchange of ideas go along with exchange of goods. When they started trading with the Egyptians, they started re-examining their own myths. Voila.

What kicked off the Italian Rennaissance and all that followed? The emergence of Venice as a great trading culture that was able to bypass the stranglehold on pan-regional trade by the Arab empires (plus other flashpoints of increased trade such as in Moorish southern Spain).

Those of us that have the luxury to spend time thinking about matters (such as science) that are not directly related to growing food and finding shelter are all beneficiaries of trade driven by self interest and fairness.

It's time to stop with the knee jerk reaction that the whole commercial enterprise is ridden with a version of self interest we call greed. This is just a(nother) unfortunate lagacy of our Christian heritage. Those bad bad money changers and filthy merchants. That kind of thinking is the product of xenophobic, jealous goat herders.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 03:47:11 UTC | #508352

Laurie Fraser's Avatar Comment 22 by Laurie Fraser

Oh, please. Enough with the peans to the free market. Capitalism is based on the aggrandisement of some at the expense of others, including the environment. It is predicated on unsustainable growth, and the simultaneous need to exploit both humanity and the natural world. Proponents of Smith's 'invisible hand' mythology forget that the invisible hand is regularly followed by the invisible boot to the testicles.

Global capitalism a virtue? Tell that to a Nike slave in Indonesia.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 04:56:40 UTC | #508357

zengardener's Avatar Comment 23 by zengardener

Free trade benefits both parties. That is how a moral person would conduct their business.

If one wants to compromise their sense of fairness and the golden rule, one can become quite rich with very little actual talent by taking advantage of a sucker.

'A sucker is born every minute.' P.T. Barnum.

Capitalism has produced terrible disparity in living conditions.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Capitalism has it's benefits, but it must be kept in check or we will see more situations like the ones that can be found in the religions of the world.

A image comes to mind of the pope and an AIDS infected child somewhere in an African gutter.

Thank goodness Bill Gates isn't like that.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 07:33:21 UTC | #508388

godsbelow's Avatar Comment 24 by godsbelow

Jos Gibbons' and Coyne's criticism of Shermer as being 'in the pay of the Templeton machine' reminded me of something Christopher Hitchens wrote regarding Edmund Burke's critics:

It is a frequent vice of radical polemic to assert, and even to believe, that once you have found the lowest motive for an antagonist, you have identified the correct one.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali has also contributed to the Templeton "Big Questions" page on free market economics: (other contributers to "Big Questions" include Christopher Hitchens, Steven Pinker and Lawrence M. Krauss - it's worth taking a look).

She begins her essay thus:

There is little consensus on what is moral, let alone on what corrodes morality. A man of faith measures moral character by one's ability to abide by the demands of his God. A socialist might measure moral strength by one's dedication to the redistribution of wealth. A liberal - by which I mean a classical, Adam Smith or Milton Friedman liberal, not a liberal in its American meaning of "pro-big government" - might be religious, and he might see the merits of income equality, but he will always put freedom first. This is the moral framework to which I subscribe.

I wonder if Coyne would attribute her stance on economics to 'being in the pay of the Templeton machine' too.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 08:28:27 UTC | #508400

pekkaa's Avatar Comment 25 by pekkaa

I can't deny that a scientist giving credibility to the Templeton Foundation should be criticized. However, I don't agree all the points Jerry made:

After all, don’t you have to trust people to do business? Isn’t a good businessman one who earns his customers’ trust by behaving fairly? Maybe, but is that really morality? Isn’t morality something that you intuitively feel is the right thing to do, not just a way of behaving that helps you make money? Is it something you do—like driving below the speed limit—simply because you know you’ll be sanctioned if you don’t? Is Apple moral? Is General Motors moral? The questions make no sense. These corporations may act morally by donating money to good causes and so on, but it’s ludicrous to claim that selling cars or computers promotes morality.

Does it really matter if we behave morally right because of reward instead of "intuitively feeling" that something is moral? Most people, religious people especially, think that reward/punishment (heaven/hell) is necessary prerequisite for moral behavior. I don't agree, but I don't think that makes religious people automatically immoral. Sam Harris believes that science can, at least in theory, provide answers to moral questions. If we do something because science tells it's morally right (increases well being), is it less moral than something we do because we "intuitively feel" it's right?

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 10:23:06 UTC | #508429

gos's Avatar Comment 26 by gos

I find it very disturbing that people still take Ayn Rand's and Milton Friedman's economic ideas seriously after 2008 (I'll give Adam Smith a pass for now, as he seems to have realized a lot of the problems inherent in capitalism).

After similar market freedom led to similar behavior and a similar crash in 1929, at least most people in the world realized that markets cannot be trusted to regulate themselves, nor provide basic necessities to all people. Even in the United States, communism became quite popular, and FDR felt that Keynesian economic measures by the state (which Friedmanites would call "socialism") were necessary - even though it's a certain bet that business interests lobbied just as strongly against that idea as they do today - incidentally bringing about the greatest age of prosperity for the American middle class in history after the economy had fully recovered.

It took over 4 decades for people to start taking free market ideology seriously again that time, but it seems that the latest crash didn't even faze capitalism's fans this time around. It hardly even seems to embarrass them.

There certainly are interesting ideas to explore in the relationship between trade and evolutionary psychology - how trust and greed play out in the context of business relations - and it's easy to armchair philosophize about this: I certainly see that you need to trust the people you're doing business with; the problem is that, for larger businesses, the people that are making the decisions that matter are doing business with wholesale suppliers, government regulators, and large stockholders, not the consumers who buy their products. Free market ideologues often romanticize small business settings: mom-and-pop stores, casbahs, and the like, and draw analogies from these situations to modern capitalism without recognizing that the position of the modern consumer and modern business manager is not analogous to that of buyer and seller in a farmer's market in 1776.

The simple matter is this: trade will always happen, no matter what legal framework or political system is in place. There are quite a few things that we can all agree on: money is a good facilitator for trade, trade generally creates wealth, the opportunity for profit motivizes many people. These things are often held up as arguments for unregulated trade. A moment's reflection shows that they are truisms for all forms of trade, regulated or not.

Trade generally creates wealth, yes, and less regulated markets generally create more wealth. It has become pretty clear over the last century that this is true, but it has become equally clear that less regulated markets create great wealth disparity. It seems that the less regulation there is, the more wealth is concentrated in the fewest hands. I surmise that the vast majority of people would choose an appropriately regulated market which would guarantee the majority of all citizens a comfortable existence, if that is possible. Many would probably choose a system that guarantees everyone food, water, shelter, and possibly other things.

The opportunity for profit motivizes many people, yes. But to do what? Greed does not encourage people to do morally good things over morally bad things in the quest for wealth. In fact, when the only measure of success is money, those who can leave aside all considerations other than profit are generally more successful than others.

I'm in favor of trade. It just needs to be carefully regulated so that the wealth it creates is distributed equitably (exactly how should be decided democratically and can vary from place to place), and its bad side effects are mitigated.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 10:30:52 UTC | #508439

KJinAsia's Avatar Comment 27 by KJinAsia

For those of you who equate my endorcement of market based economics with a neglection of the abuses contained within, please get me some credit. We work on reducing those with efficiency, compassion, and long term based regulation and continuously increased transparency.

My point, in response to the original post, is that market economics is a direct outcome of human nature, involving many aspects of our genetically derived moral makeup. When it works, it works extremely well by any possible perspective at the level of population.

The abuses get all the press. Good, but I think it's necessary to remind ourselves that the concept should not be tainted by the abuses, which are rare consequences considering the entire breadth of economic exchange. History has shown very clearly that any concept of wealth distribution that deviates from free market exchange results in far worse abuse.

You can wrap capitalism around whatever grouping of evil you want, but capitalism is just concentration of wealth, which is an inevitable outcome and a necessary condition for growth.

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 13:17:12 UTC | #508531

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 28 by Dr. Strangegod

Comment 21 by KJinAsia

What kicked off the Italian Rennaissance and all that followed? The emergence of Venice as a great trading culture that was able to bypass the stranglehold on pan-regional trade by the Arab empires (plus other flashpoints of increased trade such as in Moorish southern Spain).

Exactly! My intended comment was simply going to be: "Venice, 1400."

I cannot make any judgments about Shermer's argument without having really gotten into it, and nor should anyone else. He may have a point, but I can't imagine that it really boils down to anything beyond the basic fact that when engaging in trade among differing peoples/tribes, people tend to treat each other good to the degree that doing so increases their profit. But as Jerry and others pointed out, if they can profit from mistreating the other stranger folk, they'll certainly do that too. So free trade, or capitalism, does not guarantee moral behavior by a long shot, although in certain specific circumstances it can motivate cooperation between those who otherwise would not cooperate.

Updated: Tue, 31 Aug 2010 14:14:35 UTC | #508564

crocswsocks's Avatar Comment 29 by crocswsocks

NO!!!!! He's gone over to the dark side!!! (i.e. further from the Candle of science)

Tue, 31 Aug 2010 21:42:34 UTC | #508851

Humanist Wikitopian's Avatar Comment 30 by Humanist Wikitopian

Comment 14 by Deley :

Prosperity encompasses more than just money/wealth (health, happiness, etc).

Nic Marks @ TED: The Happy Planet Index:

"Statistician Nic Marks asks why we measure a nation's success by its productivity -- instead of by the happiness and well-being of its people. He introduces the Happy Planet Index, which tracks national well-being against resource use (because a happy life doesn't have to cost the earth). Which countries rank highest in the HPI? You might be surprised."

Wed, 01 Sep 2010 00:35:09 UTC | #508901