Reading Questions

I am currently reading The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, one of the more important political/economic treatises since World War II I think.  (It is certainly up there if not that high.)  In the book, Mr. Hayek is arguing against socialism of the era in the form of an entirely or mostly planned economy which he saw coming to power in England and already holding power in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Communist Russia.

Essentially, planned economies take away individual liberty according to his argument.  I am not here to analyze that part though. Instead, what if we are going towards a planned economy regardless of our politics through something that Hayek may not have foreseen?  The new thing is technology and this advent of big data and wearable technology etc.  We are slowly gaining the ability to get data on practically every moment of our days.  I do not think that Hayek foresaw such an occurrence while writing and I wonder what he would have to say.

In short: are we building ourselves into a planned society without even intending it?

Regardless of what we do economically/politically, technology is becoming wearable, mobile and ubiquitous.  Ubiquitous technology generally tends towards ubiquitous data as can be seen with our “Big Data” issue coming up and as the smart city movement gains momentum towards measuring everything.

The problem with all of this is it is data from measurable things only, technology cannot make value judgments it can only take in what it is told to take in and focus on that information in whatever measurable way it is told.  There are severe limitations in that.  This ability to change values was one of the strengths of money, an individual could use their money in ways that aligned with their individual values (thanks, Hayek!),  instead of being limited to what was deemed “worthy” money could be used in multiple different ways by different individuals because the money earned did not already have a value judgment built into it and was not limited in measuring like data is when it is being gathered. Technology and data, instead can only focus on view things and generally that information is used to increase “efficiency.”  So, the information gathered, especially in reference to time, can generally be used to increase productivity but it becomes harder to use it in other ways.

So, in essence, technology measures productivity and nothing else.

The problem is, as humans, sometimes the lack of productivity is the most productive thing to do.  Meditation as a contemporary example, the day of rest as a biblical one, sleep as a fact of life one. Also, productivity, as we all know is NOT necessarily quality.  Producing millions of cheap plastic chairs may be producing “more” in a measurable way but it is not the same as a craftsman finding wood, carving it and putting it together into a rocking chair on their own.  Money helps us show that difference through the different price tags I believe.  But, our data, as compared to time, would still probably find it more “efficient” to produce the plastic chairs instead and that would lead to a higher profit margin.  I would argue that, as technology becomes more ubiquitous, these sorts of value judgments are going to end up happening without us necessarily realizing it.  Meaning we could end up with a planned society based on efficiency without ever actually intending it.  Especially as we slowly let our human ability to decide value languish thanks to those decisions being made outside of ourselves.

I simply wonder, what does Hayek have to say in response to this?

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Small Town Economics

As I spend more time in a small town and compare it to my experience(s) in cities and even just regions closer to larger population centers, I am starting to learn one of the primary problems in small towns: lack of competition.

I mean lack of competition in an individual sense.  There is no need for self-improvement or even, maintenance of quality in small towns for many positions just because there is no one else to take that place if it is an essential job.  For example: middle management of any business.  Once an individual gets into that sort of position in a business that stays stable within the community and can get comfortable, they really have no need to improve themselves or the business really.  No other business will likely move in due to it being prohibitively expensive to move in and start a new business and there are not many new candidates moving into town to cause competition in the field itself for promotions etc.  So, it becomes very easy to fall into a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” attitude about everything.  This hurts small towns most when it comes to leadership.

Having dynamic leadership is one of the best ways to promote expansion, development and improvement I think, having managers/mayors who are always willing to try new things and help those below them become more capable.  Dynamic leadership happens when non-dynamic individuals filter down/are limited in their promotion abilities because of competition or cannot get into higher levels due to a lack of initiative.

A mayor and/or board which is not dynamic, not curious and willing to look into new ideas and not really in competition because of no one else running for those elected positions ends up leaving a town stagnant.  The stagnant individuals essentially create a ceiling of potential and end up pushing those with more initiative, abilities or curiosity out and away (this tends to be associated with the younger generation) which then means that there are fewer opportunities which leads to even more people leaving essentially filtering down to those with the least amount of dynamism or initiative so that those who stay end up being the people who get up, go to work, come back and just sit in front of the television and doing nothing really at all with their spare time and becoming unhealthy and disconnected.

The question then becomes, how can small towns reverse this cycle now that it has generally started?  The obvious solution is to get more people coming to promote competition but, they need to be able to have a viable life there, which is very hard to do since it seems that most of the possible work in small towns is either healthcare or construction related, with the latter requiring driving where it could be more efficient to simply live closer to the worksite.  Thanks to cars, small towns are not self-sufficient anymore with small stores employing small amounts of people in the town to service everything unless they have some major industry which has yet to move away or is not mobile.  The problem with those industries is that if they could move they probably already have at this point and those that are not mobile tend to be seasonal (agriculture, waterways, tourism).   Seasonality does not make for a stable life, especially without being able to get land for oneself either.  The other job industry growing right now is technology.  Technology requires infrastructure which, sometimes, does not exist in small towns or it is not up to the requirements of the technology yet.  The only way to improve that infrastructure though would be through an increase in funding which would only happen if, instead of shrinking and aging, the population of small towns was growing and younger.

We come back to, how does one stop this cycle?  It seems that the most effective way would be for leadership to recognize its own failures – something that only happens through competition.  Not to mention, recognizing the problems, which is another major issue for most of the small towns I have seen; they simply cannot recognize that there is a fixable problem that could benefit the town often because, no one wants to change at this point and everyone is afraid of dynamism.  People want the same things that have worked for their entire lives to apply in the exact same way to everyone else and then magically everything will be dandy.  Quite an interesting world those people live in so, next time you’re listening to a small-town friend of yours complain maybe just ask them, what have they done to help their small town besides simply existing in it?

The Art In Craft

Craftspeople: those individuals in dialogue with the world around them.

I think art has to be re-humanized and honor brought back to skilled labor and crafts.  In short, we need to start recognizing the artwork that exists in a well built house, a well performed weld.

Have you ever stopped to watch something being built; all the separate individuals moving together towards one, single end goal and knowing their part and place in that whole.  There is a certain beauty to it which generally seems to go unrecognized because we are too busy looking at the environmental issues coming from industry.  I am not saying that the environmental side is not an issue but, what are all of those artisans going to do if those jobs are completely gotten rid of?  That is a question that does not seem to be asked often.  These people have spent years honing their skills to be able to perform their tasks efficiently; something that only writers and musicians seem to gain recognition for.

Why is this important? Not just the political reasons of individuals’ livelihoods etc.

I have a friend who likes to point out that we are “human beings, not human doings.” Generally I think they are trying to point out how, in a corporate type organization humans are expected to constantly be productive and are judged on their “productivity.”  (If I am wrong in that understanding, I am sure they will be in contact with me and I will make the proper edits.)

Generally I agree to the issue they are trying to point out but, at the same time, we are human doings. What is existence besides doing something opposed to nothingness?  Anything that we acknowledge as existing seems to be fundamentally affecting the other stuff around it in some way, that affecting I am calling dialogue because, I think, usually that influence is multi-directional.  As in, the influencing thing is also influenced by the other things around it.  Humans grow in dialogue together, we tend to call it experience.  As someone gains experience they change their opinions, attitudes, habits etc. which then will influence other people they come into contact with. For a more scientific type of example , plants grow from the ground and influence the pH of the soil around it but also their growth is influenced by the pH of that exact same soil.  I call this sort of interaction dialogue.

That dialogue seems to be an important part of existence, of being, as in human being.  So, a human in dialogue with the world they inhabit.  Art is just a very specific sort of dialogue with the world just as, I think skilled craft and labor is too.  A skilled craftsperson/laborer is in dialogue with their medium be it, wood, metal, glass etc.  All of these individuals are learning how to open dialogue between themselves and the world around them using these different things and tools this is why skilled labor and crafts need to be re-honored and brought back to the fore and reconsidered as art also.  Those individuals doing that type of work are doing the fundamental human being thing of being in dialogue with our world.  Something a lot of our current service-oriented work does not do, which is why being “productive” becomes a problem.

First, a lot of current service industries, I do not think really engage in dialogue with the world.  An individual in those industries is not really influencing things around them and then being influenced by those same things, instead they are applying rules and policies because that is what they are supposed to do, without considering context.  That is not dialogue, that is doing things for the sake of doing them.

Whereas, service areas such as, teachers, have to take into affect context in order to more effectively engage in dialogue with students and help them learn.  But, the only way we have to test this “effectiveness” is through standardized tests which do not have context, they do not have a dialogue with that student, they are simply a policy.

This type of “productivity,” applying policies without dialogue I think is an issue we are starting to notice as a community and starting to try to find ways around.  I simply propose, that to continue this line, we begin to treat skilled laborers and crafts people as the artists they are and we all start trying to pick up a craft and re-open dialogue.

 

Short Theory of History

I was thinking about dignity and honor and pride one day and started considering history and the creation of the world we live in today.  I was also thinking about aristocrats and how they are considered as having honor and pride.  Taking aristocracy to be “rule of the best qualified” and considering best qualified to be people who are the ideal type of Greek virtuous person, or something along those lines, I began to wonder if our current world was not created by merchants who wanted to have more pride in themselves but do not understand what they are actually looking for and thought that honor came from the status, not the person.

Yes, I know not all European aristocrats were particularly good people, I am not disregarding the actual history, it is a general theory, one I think worth considering and at least somewhat interesting.  It also provides another critique of materialism and our modern world, which is one of my favorite dead horses to beat.

So, below is the thought process of this theory of history and the economy.

Merchants are considered higher because they bought royal, or aristocratic, status from the aristocracy who found selling and working below their dignity.  As such, they did not focus on making money allowing the merchants, who did not mind working, to be able to buy the aristocrats out.  The merchants though, bought the aristocratic status for various reasons, one of which was to gain dignity, honor or a different sense of pride.

It is impossible to buy what these merchants were looking for though and some of the true aristocrats understood this while the merchant class did not.  So, as the aristocrats faded away or lost their status to money the merchants came to power.  These merchants though simply cannot understand how to get the dignity that they want, they do not understand what it means to actually be an aristocrat.  They always hope that it is the next paycheck or thing or status symbol that will turn the merchants into a proper aristocrat.

This leads to the development of an economic system that needs constant growth and wealth (how else to buy those status symbols to become an aristocrat?).  The constant growth does work for some, insofar as they have more money and can buy more things and raise their status, but money cannot turn an individual into an actual aristocrat.

A Statement on Economists

Economists do math on a giant thing which doesn’t really exist only show the problems of doing anything with it without providing a good solution.

Economists do not want anything to actually happen to the economy because they will be jobless.

Economists also probably recognize that our world is so focused on money as it is currently viewed that any actual change would cause massive problems for a while.

Economists tow an odd line where they are balancing: keeping a non-existing entity which the world relies on in existence in some form and being asked to give solutions to problems so fundamental to this entity that the only way to fix the problems would be to get rid of the entity.