The ethic of efficiency has to be replaced with an ethic of efficacy. Efficiency focuses attention on selected details of a process. The most efficient way to capture the greatest amount of energy from the burning of sugar has no efficacy for a living thing. What matters for life is that the burning of sugar is integrated into a matrix of chemical reactions and pathways, interconnected and self-supporting; and oh yes, that a sufficient amount of energy is captured to supply the system. The maximum capture of the energy would destroy the living order.I only read Yglesias when someone asks me too, found this link in a comments thread elsewhere. Every time I happen upon Yglesias, the android like nature of his writing is what makes a far greater impression than anything he says. To borrow from Ken Jennings' description of Watson, the Jeopardy! playing machine, it almost appears that there is a thinking, feeling human being with some measure of empathy behind the writing, but if you look closely you can see the cracks.
Our economic systems have come to be dominated by the ethic and the excuse of efficiency: humans must accept painful outcomes so that economics can function efficiently – that is just insane.
Something that I think we don’t hear enough about in the inequality debate is that it’s not just median wages that have been stagnating recently, it’s equity prices as well:
It’s a pretty classic “capital crushes labor” kind of story that goes along nicely with Ronald Reagan’s political agenda of helping capital to crush labor as an inflation cure. But for the past 20 years, median wages, stock prices, and per capita GDP have shown a similar basic pattern.
The Immiseration of Capital
The rise of economics as primary lens through which many of us see the world and its problems is a subject I've been thinking a lot about lately. In the west, we've come to subordinate human welfare to the aesthetics of our economic theories. The media, as such, often discusses and judges a policy or plan by how well it is supported by the values of economic doctrine rather than human welfare. They explain issues, problems and solutions first in economic terms, not how they relate to human beings. What ultimately gets lost is a sense of the author's humanity. This is what is nauseatingly creepy about reading someone like Yglesias, even when in some measure of agreement with any of his points.
For instance, here is his solution for preventing a system where fireman stand around and watch a house burn to the ground because the occupant has neglected to pay a $75 fee.
[P]art of what’s odd here is the mayor’s refusal to provide ex post firefighting services at any price. Since putting a fire out is much cheaper at the margin than rebuilding a burned-down house, it should be easy to set a pricing scheme that doesn’t entail any substantial adverse selection issues.I really have nothing against Yglesias personally, at least nothing more than I have against guys like David Brooks or Thomas Friedman. My problem is that our system produces people who think like this. Try to imagine the horrifyingly warped and hollowed out transformation your personality would have to undergo for this to be the way you made sense of the world.
I think there’s a surprising amount of inefficiency in the world deriving from the fact that people with various competencies—fighting fires, organizing rock concerts, cooking tasty food—don’t really understand optimal pricing.