on July 3, 2013
This book is critical reading for any survivable, collective path forward. Over the last hundred years, Economics' mission was to support mass debt expansion, by answering the question: "How can we create and expand 'growth', endlessly, to 'preserve our way of life'" That wasn't just erroneous, religiously-inclined, false thinking, it was dangerous. Economists all then have sought to replicate the short-term `success' of developed countries, and to get less developed countries into this program of non-reality.
The results? An exponentially growing list of social sicknesses and maladies associated with relying on markets and consumptions of all kinds, to solve problems: epidemics of obesity, mental illness, stress, inequality, time-sucking, poverty, and vast, unchecked pollution. (Add information pollution to that list. Citizens of the developed world are now exposed to roughly 3,000 ads a day, adding to public health crises in the same way that asbestos, DDT, lead and cigarette smoke did.)
The neo-classical economics relied on and taught have little to do with reality, and it shows - plainly.
We're now experiencing the mass and deadly symptoms of financial addictions to "endless growth" programs on a finite planet, and it's time for an intervention. This book adds immense insight to finding ways out of the insanity pushed, ingrained and taught for several generations. Even the London School Of Economics (Mick Jagger's alma mater) endorses it. Five stars. Read it, don't just look at the pictures like the one reviewer did.
on May 9, 2013
The book Meme Wars is basically itself a collection of memes, underpinned by short works, designed to suck the reader into a mindset. Cleverly, first memes are presented to prep the readers mind, and then the (often specious) academics are appended, so the reader will be under the influence of the meme and easily swayed. Very much a modern advertising campaign, i.e. you see cool people drink this, you are told it is good for you, and you conclude (submit) it must be good for you because cool people drink it.
Beneath this technique, just what is the over-arching message of Meme Wars? It is a twist on Marx's Labor Theory of Value; a new Ecological Theory of Value.
This reminds me of the old saying "The Greens have Red roots." I don't know what the accepted classification of the Meme War contributors is. Are they Post-Marxists? Neo-Marxists? They all agree, if to differing extents, that more government intervention in markets will produce more desirable results. I'll call them Post-Neo-Marxists, though to be fair, I doubt some of them appreciate being lumped in with the others.
Like with Marx, once the belief (dogma) is set, everything that follows is contrived to support this. As Marx was not an economist, but a moralist, so too is Meme Wars not an economics text, but a cultural engineering text. And, like Marx, Meme Wars succeeds where it identifies problematic circumstances, and fails where it proposes naïve and sometimes even barbaric solutions. The imposition of a potential new Cultural Revolution every bit as deadly as the last.
One of the earliest examples of this is the false choice presented: "an economy must be centrally planned by the government or by the banks." This is a ridiculous statement, intuitively disproved by the Hewlets, the Davidsons, the Wosniaks, the Disneys, the Jobs, Knights, Packards, and Harleys et al who started companies in their garage and built them to become Titans of Industry.
But, in a typical leftist ploy, "planning" is re-defined. So Nike doesn't sell a billion shoes because Ray Knight figured out what kind of shoe people desire, but because at some point he probably borrowed money from a bank to buffer his cash flows. So, the banks plan the production of shoes, which is why we have too many shoes in too many styles, in violation of the Ecological Theory of Value. It is the antithesis of the foibles of Soviet central planning, but obviously much much worse. Those dirty banks.
Because if all those people weren't brainwashed (their word) by advertising (presumably at the behest of the banks) then they wouldn't buy all those shoes and waste all those resources. But here is the rub: if people can be brainwashed so easily, then how can we know if we are being brainwashed too by Meme Wars, or the new government, or the new economy? Indeed, how do I know I am not being brainwashed to believe that I am no longer being brainwashed? It's The Matrix all over again (Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation was required reading for the cast members.)
(an aside: at some level it seems the only escape from this absurdity is to believe that at some level people must choose to be brainwashed, and can therefore choose to stop participating. If that is the true goal of Meme Wars, then I applaud them, but it still seems to me they believe people are sheep and the book employs the same "brainwashing" tactics they deplore.)
Thankfully, at least the Baudrilardian destruction of the Labor Theory of Value also applies equally to this Ecological Theory of Value. An easy example: what is the value of the Mona Lisa under this Ecological Theory? Or a sketch by my daughter? Clearly there is value unaccounted for, and it is disingenuous to just declare "that kind of value doesn't matter."
Here is another example I found funny. A great deal of energy is expended to decry neo-classical economics as "model driven." Yet, another theory almost completely driven by models, Anthropogenic Climate Change, is a consistent meme throughout.
Meme Wars does not reconcile with the microeconomics I was taught at OSU in the early 1980's. The book does note that teaching has changed over the last few decades, so maybe this explains it. I would not be surprised if the curriculum has been "dumbed down." But my observations then and since have consistently been that it was the leftists who did not understand or, at a minimum, have the honesty to acknowledge, the truth to microeconomics. I was consistently taught that the supply and demand driven market theories were "all else being equal." In other words, they described perfect markets. My professors would make it a point that "all else being equal" would always be implied, so they would quit having to repeat it for every discussion or exam question. And that was the great value and purpose of understanding supply and demand; it provided the framework to understand the effect of externalities. Of course perfect markets do not exist; of course there are always externalities. That was the whole point and the context of most exam questions: to be able to understand the effect these externalities had, be they shortages, surplus, opportunity costs, etc. For these post-neo-Marxists in Meme Wars to attempt to turn that on its head and say that microeconomics is a failure because it does not take into account externalities is absurd. Microeconomics, as I was taught, was all about externality. They are attempting to create their own dishonest model whereby the externalities they prefer are only positive, and the externalities they reject are only negative. This is a point of contention I have always had with both the left and the right. In general, I have always found the right to be a bit embarrassed by their machinations, whereas the left is wholly unabashed. Meme Wars just takes it to a higher level.
A point I have been making for several years is appropriate to repeat here: the market results predicted by microeconomics are not right or wrong, good or bad. They just are. Society and the individual have to decide how they view and weight these results. Microeconomics just tells us what they will be. Sadly, they are all too often "an inconvenient truth" for those who favor government intervention, on both the left and right. So rather than try and persuade us, for example, that the shortages resulting from their imposed "externality" will be worth the trade-off of more affordable prices, they instead deny there will be any shortages.
In spite of this categorization of "Markets just are," Markets do have one beautiful and righteous characteristic: Markets are self-adjusting. This essential component is generally overlooked by Post-Neo-Marxist interventionalists, and not a component of their proposed intervention.
To be fair, and to reiterate, I do not disagree with many of the problems presented. As a culture we spend energy with disturbing whimsy. Our hyper-consumption is only possible through hyper-conversion of fossil fuels. I agree that the externalities of pollution and depletion are generally not accounted for in the market. But the market is merely the aggregate of the people producing and consuming. So it is not a flaw of neo-classical economics that these costs are understated, but of society. Assign the "right" costs to these externalities and the markets will auto-adjust. If Meme Wars is an attempt to persuade people that we need to re-value resources, I am all on board. But I interpret it to be an attempt to persuade people that "Meme Warriors" need to be given tyrannical powers to "fix things." There will be blood in the streets. Alas, "to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs." Or, as I re-interpret it, if you want to break some eggs, say you just want to make an omelet.
Like Heidegger, at present I am more concerned with how hyper-consumption changes us, rather than how it depletes resources. And I am not prepared to resolve opinions on either side with execution squads, re-alignment camps, gulags, or any of the other trappings of the litany of failed Pre-Post-Neo Marxists.
Meme Wars is not a serious attempt to improve the individual human condition. It is a very serious attempt to subjugate the human condition to the new ecological collective, as defined by those who fervently want to be the masters of that collective.