View Full Version : The Reality of Modern Life

Gregory Tenenbaum
May 21st, 2009, 05:58 PM
From the creator of the "Power of Nightmares" documentary, heres a documentary I found today about the reality of freedom since WWII.

Seriously fascinating.

Part 1 (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=404227395387111085&ei=WLAWSvD2D6Dk2wK41Ln1CA&q=the+trap&hl=en)

Part 2
Part 3 (http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=4486343328817737043&ei=WLAWSvD2D6Dk2wK41Ln1CA&q=the+trap&hl=en)

About the Documentary.

Its about how some Western societies have become more stratified in the years since WWII, and I believe it to be the best documentary Ive seen for years. I would be interested in seeing fellow WNYers' comments.

May 23rd, 2009, 09:32 PM

May 24th, 2009, 09:56 AM
GT, Jasonik will string you up by your balls; these documentaries are a sendup of his most cherished theories.

May 27th, 2009, 02:57 PM
"He who has stopped to calculate what liberty will cost has renounced liberty in his heart."

~ Hughes Félicité Robert de Lamennais. 1782 — 1854

I rather liked "Power of Nightmares."

I haven't time now, but will watch the above soon.

Of particular interest to me is the Adam Curtis series "The Century of the Self" (http://wirednewyork.com/forum/blog.php?b=120).

May 28th, 2009, 10:19 PM
Recommended reading: The First Leftist (http://mises.org/story/3425) by Dean Russell, 1952.

May 29th, 2009, 12:46 AM
I watched Part One of "Century of the Self" last weekend and will continue with the rest ASAP. It's fantastic! I found myself cursing Edward Bernays all the way through. What an SOB. He changed everything.

May 29th, 2009, 12:17 PM
^ Yeah, don't wast your time with hallucinogens -- that is the real mind-blowing stuff.

I watched the first of Gregory Tenenbaum's links last night and liked it.

Understanding that the narrative was driving the characterization of the thinkers and their motivations, it is a minor criticism to note that Hayek (with his own contextless words) is depicted as an advocate for a civil society as cold and calculating as his economic actors are in commercial transactions.

To excerpt an excellent recent blog posting by Lawrence Lessig (http://www.lessig.org/blog/2009/05/et_tu_kk_aka_no_kevin_this_is.html):

[Kevin] Kelly says (http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_newsocialism?currentPage=all):

When masses of people who own the means of production work toward a common goal and share their products in common, when they contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge, it's not unreasonable to call that socialism.
That statement is flatly wrong. It is completely unreasonable to call that "socialism" -- at least when the behavior described is purely voluntary. It's like saying "Because Stalin set up a competition between different collective farms, it's not unreasonable to call that free market capitalism." Both statements are wrong because they point to a feature that is common, and ignore the feature that is distinctive. At the core of socialism is coercion (justified or not is a separate question). At the core of the behavior Kelly celebrates is freedom.

Kelly's argument is like so many today that has implicitly embraced the view that free market, libertarian sorts believe that the only thing in the world is competition, or people working to non-common goals. It is the idea that we are free only if we are antagonistic, and that free market theorists have been working to create a world where individuals struggle against, not with. A world that aspires to dog-eat-dog as its central value.

But that conception of capitalism/free-market/libertarianism has no basis in fact. And so as I ranted in my head about Kelly's confusion, I was enormously happy to have the chance to hear an economist at the conference I was attending (http://www.scribd.com/doc/15642485) at Canberra present a paper that (unintentionally) completely destroys Kelly's thesis.

Nicholas Gruen (http://clubtroppo.com.au/) is an economist with the consulting group, Lateral Economics (http://www.lateraleconomics.com.au/). His paper (PDF (http://www.lateraleconomics.com.au/outputs/AdamSmithWeb2.pdf)) (blog entry (http://clubtroppo.com.au/2009/05/28/adam-smith-20-emergent-public-goods-intellectual-property-and-the-rhetoric-of-remix/)) was titled "Adam Smith 2.0: Emergent Public Goods, Intellectual Property and the Rhetoric of Remix." And he introduced the paper by remarking a fact that I had missed -- this year is the 250th anniversary of Adam Smith's first (and last) published book, A Theory of Moral Sentiments (http://books.google.com/books?id=xVkOAAAAQAAJ&dq=adam+smith+a+theory+of+moral+sentiments&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=DlkfSsvNCJaCkQXesZ2VBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4) (alas, the second edition). (Last because he finished his 6th edition of the book responding to the terrors of the French revolution just before he died in 1790).

What the modern misunderstanding of markets forgets about Smith is that his aim was as much to understand the provision of public goods as it was to understand the role of the market. Indeed, you could only understand the role of the market against a background of public goods (including civil society), and one critically important question is how a society produces those public goods.

Unlike statists of later years, Smith was fascinated by emergent public goods -- goods that were public goods (since nonrival and nonexcludable, as economists later would formalize the concept), but that were created not by any central actor like the state, but by the mutual and voluntary actions of individuals. Language is the simplest example -- language is a quintessentially public good, but no central coordinator is necessary to produce language. But Smith was eager to describe a wide range of emergent public goods that set the preconditions to a well functioning market.

Obviously, in this focus on civil society, Smith is not alone -- even among the heros to libertarian/capitalist/free marketeers. In this respect, Hayek continues the tradition Smith began. He too was deeply sensitive to the health of civil society, and recognized how civil society was produced by "masses of people who own the means of production [and] work toward a common goal and share their products in common, [people who] contribute labor without wages and enjoy the fruits free of charge." But Hayek too was not "socialist."

The thing that Smith was pointing to (and Hayek too), is not "socialism." It is not reasonably called socialism. Because "socialism" is the thing Smith was attacking in the 6th edition of his Theory of Moral Sentiments (http://books.google.com/books?id=xVkOAAAAQAAJ&dq=adam+smith+a+theory+of+moral+sentiments&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=DlkfSsvNCJaCkQXesZ2VBQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4). Socialism is using the power of the state to force a result that otherwise would not have been chosen voluntarily by the people. As Gruen quotes Smith:

The man of system. . . is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. . . . He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder.

While it's expected that some will jump at the chance to conflate free market economics and Thatcherism with a coarsening of civil society (ablarc?) -- the kinds of Gordian checks and balances on government power favored by classical liberals -- deadlocked counterbalanced power is the only acceptable or manageable kind compatible with a free people. The long history of contracts and secured lending show the same thing.

But I hasten to add that this suspicion/protection only need apply to situations where material gain or harm is possible. This attitude needn't pertain to voluntary social and civil "transactions".


A nice phrase here - "laws which common usage ordain"

Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all the parts of civilised community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. The landholder, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and every occupation, prospers by the aid which each receives from the other, and from the whole. Common interest regulates their concerns, and forms their law; and the laws which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws of government. In fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to government.

~ Thomas Paine The Rights of Man (1792)