Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Two Quotes for the Day

Anyone that knows me well, knows that I have a schizophrenic streak to my thought patterns which often reveals itself in my daily reading choices. Today, I happened to be walking with two books in hand and bouncing back and forth between them. The first, How Cities Work by Alex Marshall reveals a quote by Lewis Mumford in his 1958 report "The Highway and the City" (emphasis mine):
The purpose of transportation is to bring people and goods to places where they are needed, and to concentrate the greatest variety of goods and people within that limited area, in order to widen the possibility of choice without making it necessary to travel. A good transportation system minimizes unnecessary transportation; and in any event, it offers change of speed and mode to fit a diversity of human purposes."

Get that? Transportation only where formalized transportation is needed, minimizing public expense per capita, thus damning federal highway spending that scattered people about the countryside.

Next, from John McMurtry in The Cancer Stage of Capitalism castigating one of my favorite targets, the theocrats of neoclassical economics. I'll paraphrase the preceding few pages:

McMurtry discusses the manner in which rigorous and objective science has overhauled economic theory. Thus, anything that could be perceived as subjective becomes value-less in a construct where everything in the formula must have a value. How does one place a value on clean air or clean water? Do I arrive at a number or does Exxon Mobil? Therefore, anything subjective MUST be externalized and anybody that questions their methods is immediately marginalized as NOT being a rigorous and objective academician.

He concludes:
If value theory is banished from a subject whose every object of study IS a value, then it is disordered at the base of its conceptions.

Therefore, neo-classical economics are fundamentally flawed. I see two ways to excise this cancer stage. One, we arrive at a consensus valuating the invaluable, i.e. clean air, clean water, etc. But, once again, who decides and do we trust them? Do the people in a democratic republic really have the authority the Constitution bestowed upon them? Is consensus possible?

On the other hand, our democratically elected representatives in a market economy DO in fact create the rules of the game. Newsflash: governments create markets and our government creates the rules of the game. Rather than assigning an arbitrary value to such life sustaining (giving?) elements as clean air and clean water, how about we set up the rules of the game to profit those who do the most good and make those who do the most bad or cynically try to do business slightly less bad with a smiley face make that into a failing business model.