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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Economics and Ideology — Redux

I have to wonder: do the commentaries on Marketplace have such a predominantly neoliberal tilt because of the producers' own bias? Or does it just reflect what they think their listeners want to hear?

The latest is by one Susan Lee, who recently shared a stage with the Archbishop of Canterbury. She says this is because she has a degree in theology as well as one in economics, but she sounds indistinguishable from any capitalist apologist. On one side, she says Canterbury's (admittedly fuzzy) definition of an ethical economy is met by "capitalism in the U.S." Although she only speaks of capitalism in general subsequently, she thereby creates the impression that her arguments justify the particular choices made in this country, ignoring the evidence that different choices — choices not reflecting the priorities she argues for — actually produce better results in human terms.

On the other side, she doesn't offer any coherent description of what Canterbury stands for, defining his position only by the assumptions of hers that he doesn't share. This results in what looks like a cartoonish caricature of whatever his real position might be. This is what I wrote in response on their comments page:

Mind-boggling. Lee speaks as if the United States had the world's only functioning economy. Can she really be unaware that most developed countries actually function better by human criteria — average longevity, infant mortality, illiteracy? And that these better-performing economies are based on different social choices, with less inequality of wealth and income?

This is only logical since, as any economist should know, the more equally income is distributed the larger the proportion that will be invested in necessities rather than luxuries, with beneficial consequences for the species.

And as any biologist knows, what nature ultimately cares about is not accumulation but reproduction. So if an economic system is based on democracy and transparency, the most productive individuals will be correctly identified and rewarded with greater reproductive opportunities, which is all the incentive anyone needs. For further discussion of these concepts, see the essay "Making the Right to a Job More Than a Slogan" on my blog Gondwanaland.

The last paragraph is responding in particular to the most overtly neoliberal part of Lee's commentary, where she accuses Canterbury of believing in "work without incentives, enterprise without income inequality, investment without market-rates of return." Where, in other words, she assumes implicitly that the only kinds of incentives possible are the kinds that exist under capitalism.

Eric Hamell

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