Politics got weird because neoliberalism failed to deliver

I think Adam Smith is widely misrepresented and selectively quoted, and mostly misunderstood by economists, who’ve typically only read unrepresentative quotes and excerpts when I press them about it.

Mind you, I haven’t read all the way through Wealth of Nations in at least twenty years myself, so I could be wrong. But every time I hear some economist expounding on Homo Economicus I think to myself, geez, that’s the opposite of what I got out of reading Smith. My reading was that he recognized the irrationality of man and the power of social connection, and wanted to use the latter to constrain the former by building economic systems that made Doing The Right Thing™ both the easiest and the most rewarded activity.


(I know that I’m late…)


Unless you are willing to re-examine these statements in light of alternative evidence, you have no hope of approaching the truth.

so what evidence is there that I’m wrong. You don’t present any.

Look at your national insurance [in the UK] or social security payments in the US. That’s real wealth being transferred to the state.

They owe you as a consequence and you own no wealth in exchange for what you’ve given up.

what i own as a consequence of the money i give to the state is a better, more humane society which cares for its citizens/participants/residents. i’m thinking here of well-funded welfare states with both depth and breadth like the scandinavian model. even more poorly funded systems with less breadth such as the u.s social security provide a safety net greatly reducing the rate of abject poverty among the elderly and the disabled.

many people here have provided you with both thoughts and links providing you with alternative evidence amounting to a thorough refutation of your position. at this point you are either being completely disingenuous and deliberately obtuse or you are deliberately trolling us by taking a controversial position to argue and are deliberately maintaining it to spur on the argument or you just really aren’t too bright.


Hah. It’s not like left and right wing are unfamiliar terms, is it? And although there’s a bit of room for debate at the edges here and there, anyone claiming the terms have no currency anymore is just being absurd.

Assuming we’re starting on the same page, that the whole point of a value system is to promote the flourishing of humanity and the biosphere, it’s a very tough case to make that the set of ideas and values typically characterised as right wing has a shred of efficacy compared to that of the left, given all the available evidence.

‘Conservative’ = opposed to evolution.


[quote=“nickle, post:172, topic:91368”]
so what evidence is there that I’m wrong. You don’t present any. [/quote]
I was merely confirming that you’re open to changing your opinion. Because if you’re not open to that, this is all just a performance.

Given that you’re open to changing your opinion, let’s look at this purported evidence for your position:

Look at your national insurance [in the UK] or social security payments in the US. That’s real wealth being transferred to the state. [/QUOTE]
This is the first statement that you need to re-examine in light of alternative evidence.

Here are three pieces of evidence:

  1. The money Americans pay into social security goes to two things. The first is the cost of running the social security administration. The second is one of two trust funds that are used to issue payments to people who receive social security checks. This is simply how the program works. If you don’t think this is how the program works, you should abandon your current idea.
  2. The payments from social security are heavily weighted to those with the lowest income. It keeps my fellow Americans out of poverty, doing great good for many in their time of most dire need. If you don’t think people actually benefit from social security payments, you need to abandon your current idea.
  3. One current problem facing the SSA is that not taking in enough to cover what it’s giving out, which is evidence in favor of the funds I pay going to people, and not just accumulating in some administrator’s wallet. If you think that social security payments just go to bureaucrats, you need to abandon your current idea.

So you can clearly see that the wealth that is transferred from my paycheck goes toward helping people who need it, not simply to “the state.” I know people who are retired. I am making their lives more livable.

That is of tremendous benefit to me. A bit of economic security is necessary for the respectful treatment of other human beings, especially those who can’t participate fully in our capitalist society due to old age and infirmity. I’d be totally on board with expanding and strengthening the program, so that it can better help more people. I’d even be willing to pay more taxes to see that happen.

What I get out of paying that tax is a world where fewer elderly people freeze to death because they can’t afford heat. I would gladly pay to help keep your grandmother in bus tickets and applesauce and in a heated home until her dying day.

The question naturally arises: why would you not do that for mine?


And according to @aikimo, it’s not clear which position is more typical of right or left wing views. Pff.

Hint: the more selfish and short-sighted option is probably almost certainly not the left-wing one.


It’s hard to argue with that. :slight_smile:

I don’t know if I agree about a “message,” but I do agree that free trade means lost jobs in one place and gained jobs in another.

See, I honestly don’t think that the economists who might strongly disagree with you believe that free markets are any kind of “magical panacea that inevitably would lead to great results for everyone…” This misrepresents the point of view of the opposing side, who, from what I’ve read, would say that free markets lead to mostly good results, with some negative results, as well.

Again, I completely agree. I’m more of a “whateverworks-ist” than anything. I think believing that one solution or the other is “always the best solution” in complex things like economics (or psychology or sociology) is not a good starting point. I doubt that any particular approach towards solving complex social issues is “always the best solution.” I just think we need to keep our minds open to all the possible solutions.

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IMO it’s unacceptable that there’s any argument here at all. Why the fuck are we still wrestling with this arsehole memeplex?

Fifty years of propaganda and deliberate under-education, that’s why.


one thing i’d like to see are workers rights provisions in trade negotiations. ensure that people are paid a fair wage ( for their country ), that they have the right to organize ( into unions ), and that factory conditions are humane.

we seem to offload jobs to places where these things aren’t well regulated. it gives us cheaper prices, and it does seem to give some people a leg up out of poverty – but, the primary reason seems to be about enriching ceos.

we don’t need to be recreating victorian working conditions, or worse – as some argue is the case for chocolate and sugar – slavery. all to make yet still more money for a very few.


I think that’s too simplistic. You don’t.

Can’t we finally, at long last, agree to disagree? :joy:

I think we’re mostly in agreement, so just teasing out this:

The idea of the free market as a magical panacea by and large isn’t an economist position, it’s a politician/policy position, a position of those with the power to set the rules and laws. They hold this position for largely ideological/moral or selfish/greedy interests.

But, Milton Friedman is also one of the main architects of our current economic disaster. What we’re living through now is a direct outgrowth of his ideology. The economic logic underpinning his ideology has been shown by history and experience to be deeply flawed (he was critically mistaken on ideas like money velocity and price stickiness, and history has been kind to Keynesian intervention). Any criticism of the current situation that doesn’t acknowledge and repudiate much of his agenda is woefully stuck with its head up it’s butt.

But, thanks to his popularity, Friedman enjoys many acolytes among the economic elite (including many of the Chicago school), and, worse, he enjoys many fanboys in those aforementioned camps of the ideologues and the criminals.

Starting with the idea that the free market doesn’t do what most people in America think it should do based on their outdated theories and ideologies is an important step to actually recognizing the change that needs to happen to reduce human misery in the world.


I could get into a long list of complicated reasons behind the starkness of my stance, for instance, when do you ever hear anyone talking about the externalities of the global shipping that goes along with globalisation? CO2, diesel, invasive species like the crown of thorns starfish getting spread around, etc, etc, etc.

It’s the folks on the right who are simplistic; holism is a dirty hippy word to them. The entire authoritarian, inconsiderate, ignorant, dishonest edifice is a massive pile of steaming shit that only has any currency because it has suited the powers that be to do their damnedest to propagate a belief system that leaves the poor divided and conquered.

As I say, perhaps you can tease out one or two notions from bullshit mountain that can actually withstand honest inquiry, but it’s a stopped clock.


It was Lenin who viewed himself and the Bolsheviks as being further to the right than some of the opposing forms of communism (although that’s a long way from actually being right wing).


Typically the right is selfish and the left is short-sighted :slight_smile: though.

A conservative, far-sighted take on it is that keeping people out of poverty and occupied with something is the cheapest and most effective way of keeping the poor from stealing or destroying my wealth. Maintaining armed servant classes (aka cops) is far riskier, and potentially more expensive.


I can’t imagine reading Wealth of Nations twice.

I don’t have a huge problem with Smith or what he wrote other than observing that he was just terribly, terribly wrong about people, and what-people-are-like was the subject of his writings. He takes an extremely reductive approach to emotions. Here’s a revealing quote of Smith:

Thus, if virtue doesn’t consist in (1) propriety, it must consist either in (2) prudence or in (3) benevolence. It is hardly possible to imagine any account of the nature of virtue other than these three. I shall try to show later on how all the other accounts that seem different from any of these are basically equivalent to some one or other of them.

Neat categorization of complex subjects followed by a “don’t worry, if anything appears to not fit my model, I’ll tell you how it actually does.” Try to tell an economist that even the most simple laws of economics don’t work in the real world (e.g., demand curves sometimes slope upward) and they’ll say, “ceteris paribus”* which, in this case, is Latin for “no true Scotman.”

I think Smith is interesting, but he should be read in philosophy classes, not in supposedly science classes.


I’m not sure I’d call economics a “science” but then again, you did say “supposedly.”

And Smith was a moral philosopher, but the category of “economist” didn’t exist back then, either.


That’s the most interesting Wikipedia article I think I’ve been linked to in ages. Thanks!

I keep saying I’m going to, and have even downloaded it twice, yet I never seem to get it done…