Saturday, 29 September 2012

Libertarianism vs an RBE

Ben McLeish of the Zeitgeist Movement and Graham Wright, author of the above blog, are having an interesting debate on the merits (or not) of an RBE cf the libertarian Austrian Economics model.

There are surprising points of agreement, which make me wonder whether AE isn't closer to an RBE than the current economic system.

But I have lighted on Wright's response to a comment on his blog, here separtaed into individual points with my thoughts:
  •  "Economics is the study of the logical consequences of human action". Maybe. As many know, economics is more literally something like household management, and I prefer that as a definition or starting point.
  • "Political philosophy is about devising a set of principles for ownership (i.e. who has ultimate decision-making jurisdiction over which resources)". In an RBE there is no need for ownership, only access. As to decision-making, decisions would be arrived at by applying the scientific method.
  • "economics can teach what consequences we can expect from different ownership principles being used in societies". Maybe it can, but in an RBE we are not interested in "ownership models".
  • " Economics is the body of knowledge that can tell us whether resources will be used more efficiently for satisfying human desire [in one or another system]". In economics the word 'want' covers what would commonly be distinguished as 'need' and if 'desire' is used in the same sense as 'want' it has the same problem as far as I am concerned.
What is the overarching aim of a system for operating planet earth (which is what economics should be about)? Ownership isn't a first principle. You own something so that you can exclusive and unlimited access it - thus access underlies ownership and it is what an RBE seeks to optimise.

Somewhere in their discussion, McLeish differentiates 'good' growth from 'bad' growth and Wright asks him to explain/clarify. I don't know if he has done so, but Robert Kennedy's critique of GDP/GNP will serve (see

"Our gross national product ... counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. .... Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile."

So, we are looking for growth in the good things Kennedy lists here. I'm sure that's a close enough description of 'good growth' for McLeish.

As appealing as quality of life and/or happiness are as indicators, they are tricky to enumerate. If you are healthy and happy you will presumably live longer. Maybe life length is a good enough proxy for 'good growth'. That said, if people live longer there will be more of us on the planet. Maybe populatiin is the simplest proxy for good growth? Obviously, there is a limit to how many people the planet can sustain. If our resource efficiency is optimal, we will be sustaining as much population as those resources can allow.