Cooking the Books: A Nobel Prize for Non-Economics

October 2021 Forums Comments Cooking the Books: A Nobel Prize for Non-Economics

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  • #91984
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I am glad that Brian and Steve, at least, think that it is important to persuade people that socialism is in their interests. I am myself undecided on this issue. I still self-label as a socialist but that is because I love the idea of socialism. However, if I had the power to turn on the revolution tomorrow (irrevocably) I would not do so: I feel that further research is necessary. Anyway, here is my response to Ed's original question

    Ed wrote:
     please could you expand on exactly which kind of evidence you're looking for?

     First, a lack of good sources of evidence that socialism would be better than our current society is not a reason to support socialism in the absence of good evidence. Suppose I were to propose that we all commit ritual suicide so we can ascend into heaven. You ask me for evidence that we would indeed ascend into heaven. It would not be satisfactory for me to say "well people don't come back from the dead so I can't access such evidence.". Being rational, as all members of my suicide cult will be, you would say that this is not good enough and that I better find some evidence some where or your off to the pub.The case for socialism has considerably more support than my case for ritual suicide. But it is still the case that if there is little evidence for socialism being an improvement on the current society then people shouldn't support a socialist revolution; irrespective of how easy it is to gather such evidence. The difficulty of gathering evidence should only affect support for research into the feasibility and practicality of post-market societies (There are exceptions but I don't think they apply here.).In an ideal world we would have data on the poltiical systems of other species (on other planets). Alas, this is lacking. So instead I would ask for a plausible well researched set of solutions to the problems that a socialist society would face. This would be a partial blue print; something that could be changed in the process of a democratic revolution should people think there is a better way of doing it. There is nothing undemocratic about knowing at least one possible way of feasibly running a socialist society before embarking on a revolution (Brian). If I suggest to my friends that we go on holiday I can make a concrete proposal for a destination, housing and means of transportation without overriding their democratic rights. The concrete proposal makes it easier for us to go on holiday and often inspires, through its concreteness, counter proposals and ammendments. I don't know how convincing the following analogy will be but it describes my way of thinking about the problem of gathering evidence for the feasibility of socialism. Imagine someone proposing that we should go into space before any space program had been developed. But when asked questions about how we would do it they just said "well the engineers can decide that if/when they get started". I do not think this is a satisfying answer. A slightly better answer would be "well we could use those rockets that they were using in WW2". But this would still not be very satisfactory (I describe this as an argument from hand-waving; I believe this to be close to the current level of evidence provided for the feasibility of socialism). However, if they exhaustively listed the problems that space flight faced and gave meticulous solutions to these problems based in scientific theory and experimental evidence then we would be considerably more convinced. We might even say (if we were knowledgable enough about the relevant issues; or if we trusted them) that this is strong evidence that we really could go into space. So, I would ask for analgous evidence to the well designed rocket: a partial proof by partial construction. I would prefer examples of functioning socialism to such a proof but, as we have already stated, this is not on the table.Here is a none exhaustive list of the problems that such a proposal would have to deal with.1) How do we stop democratic oppression of minorities?2) How do we get people to put in the sufficient effort to make informed decisions when their votes will have negligible weight (no individuals vote will make a difference to any big decision)?3) How do you stop capture by entrenched executive committees with specialised knowledge of the current workings of the system?4) How do you get people to work hard on boring/unglamorous/hard jobs of which there will still be many?5) How would “scarce" goods be allocated?6) How do you find out what to produce?The answers to these questions will require sound empirical and theoretical work to support them, handwaving is not sufficient. Take question (4) as an example. If there is no property (or wages) then there may well be a good old fashioned public good problem: why should someone do a job she doesn't enjoy if  she can get what she needs to enjoy her life without doing the job. This problem becomes more accute the more fun stuff there is to do because then even nice jobs might seem like a real burden. A common answer (which is popular amongst members of the SPGB) is social pressure/reward will make people work. A variant on this answer is that providing labour within a socialist society will not be seen as a chore (This argument is put forward by Morris in "News from Nowhere". ).Such answers make many assumptions about social dynamics and the nature of human beings. These assumptions may be correct but I am uncertain. I know from personal experience (shared house problems and the office kitchen), empirical evidence from the field (see, e.g., the work of Elinor Ostrom), from the lab (see, e.g., the work of Richard Thaler, Ernst Fehr, Sam Bowles, Herbert Gintis, and well ask me if you want a bundle of references) and  from theory (see, e.g., Kandori's paper on community enforcement; although its pretty technical) that such systems of social enforcement frequently fail (it is difficult to say whether they fail more than they succeed). If our answer to problem (4) is social enforcement then we need to examine those cases of failure. We need to understand why they failed and if it is possible to design them in such a fashion so that they don't fail. It may be the case that we can't work out how to do this, in which case we would need to find a different mechanism for solving the "I don't want to do that shitty job!" problem.It is no mean feet to deal with this one problem never mind all of these problems. Neither is my list exhaustive; unkown unknowns may be the worst unknowns of all. But this is not rocket science; rocket science is trivial.All these difficulties granted, I think that these are real tangible problems that can be worked on which actually move us closer to a socialist revolution (or some other form of organisation so far unconsidered).

    #91985
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant

    Alaric,I'm happy to discuss the feasbility of socialism, but you took us off on the wee tangent about whether people should (that word again) have a balance sheet of risk/benefit before they go about making socialism.To take your rocket analogy, though, at the early stage of such a project, all that is needed at the early stage is the idea that it is possible.  Once rockets ame into being, people realised that space flight could happen.  The senate committees that approved the project didn't concern themselves with the colours of the rockets, or the precise mechanisms of the valves on the air feed pipe.  What they did satisfy themselves of, was that there would be enough minds sufficiently capable of dealing with such problems on the job.  The idea was agreed in principle, and then people began to work towards the minutia.Currently, 1 in 20 of the available human workforce is unemployed.  Many millions more are involved in tasks that exist only to support the existing system of society, and millions more in administering and we can call this planning it.  If we consider repurposing every accountant, actuary, insurance broker and stock broker, with all the ancilliary mathematical and computational expertise that associates with them, we know we have the capacity to work out a lot of difficult problems.The answer to most of your list above is: we'll have a ruddy long and fierce argument about it.  Different methods will be used in different bits of the world, as happens now.A partial answer to point four above, though, is that we could look at minimising the amount of work anyone has to do.  If the claim that we could feed, clothe and house every man woman and child for two days work a week each holds up (and I think it does), then that's what we're looking at, divvying up the two days work (of course, I'd expect a lot of other work to happen in the other five, but they'd be "hobbies").

    #91986
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Master Smeet,You're unwillingness to make a prescription (should) is disengenuous. It makes me wonder if I "should" continue the discussion. Because you can't say that we "should" try to establish a socialist society. Or that we "should" require evidence before making our decisions. And why "should" you care? After all socialism is going to advance by finding people who already believe it will work irrespective of the evidence. I am not in that category.But.. Rocket Analogy: I believe the party case is at the: "oh look we fired a rocket 30 yards" stage. Not the stage of discussing the colour of the rocket nor the precise workings of the valves. I don't believe we are yet at a stage of understaning analagous to understanding escape velocity, the physics behind maintaining a stable orbit, or whether it is ether or vacuum out there.Less work: Actually we do not know if there will be less work. We know that given the current political economy a certain fraction of man-hours is speant on providing essential goods. We do not know that this will be run as efficiently under different political economies. You also presume the labour going into "planning" in capitalism is more than in socialism. Yet again this is not obvious. We do cut down on guard labour. But even if all this is granted it still requires people to choose to spend a couple of days working rather than not; people can be selfish arseholes, maybe socialism will change people but I don't want to bank on it. I've lived in houses of students and the unemployed who have close to no work to do but yet still find that there is a failure to get people to wash their dishes and do an hours work a week on the common area. Another problem is that many jobs require people spend years of their lives training: Doctors; or engineers; or well anything. There will be some willing to do it as a hobby– but enough people: we have no idea.Should we think that it is feasible to solve problem (4) based upon such evidence? Should we have a socialist revolution based on such flimsy evidence? I don't think so. These are handwaving arguments — they are not real answers to the problems. But you say that this is the wrong way to think about it. Because the revolution is inevitable and future people will work all this out when the revolution is happening.I object to the attiude that we treat social processes as being indepent of human will, individual or collective. If we are to act we need to embrace agency and make choices. I sure believe that my choices could be predicted but that doesn't mean I don't have to make them. So I believe we do have to make the choice as to what society to struggle for. If we don't have to make the choice then we might as well stop discussing this, because its all out of our hands.A crisis of capitalism will lower the bar on the quality of evidence requires, for obvious reason. But I believe that if the crisis of capitalism happens, and there is a revolution, then socialism is going to be competing on a field with a whole series of other propositions. And if there isn't a damn good argument for why the revolution "should" be socialist and why socialism will work then the revolution may not be socialist at all. I can't see people going for world socialism unless they really believe it can work and that it will be better than the alternatives.

    #91987
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant
    Alaric wrote:
    Less work: Actually we do not know if there will be less work. We know that given the current political economy a certain fraction of man-hours is speant on providing essential goods. We do not know that this will be run as efficiently under different political economies. You also presume the labour going into "planning" in capitalism is more than in socialism. Yet again this is not obvious.

    I presume no such thing, in fact it could take more work to actually plan socialism, but we have the resources to actually expand the supervisory/planning aspects of production.  The assumption of less work is made on the basis of the fact that under-capitalism labour saving technology means harder work, but under emancipated labour will mean actually not needing to work.

    Alaric wrote:
    Rocket Analogy: I believe the party case is at the: "oh look we fired a rocket 30 yards" stage. Not the stage of discussing the colour of the rocket nor the precise workings of the valves. I don't believe we are yet at a stage of understaning analagous to understanding escape velocity, the physics behind maintaining a stable orbit, or whether it is ether or vacuum out there.

    When the Wright brothers flew 200 yards they proved the concept, within ten years there were tens of thousands of planes in the air flying thousands of miles.  We have a plethora of different mechanisms for non-monetary interactions.

    Alaric wrote:
    If we don't have to make the choice then we might as well stop discussing this, because its all out of our hands.

    We have as much choice in this as we have in falling in love and with whom.  I'll never fall in love with someone I'll never meet.  We can imagine relationships, we can hone our social skills and prepare ourselves for seduction and proposition, but we still have to wait for circumstance and biology to play their part.

    #91988
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Smeet, First, "under-capitalism labour saving technology means harder work". No. There is no evidence for this position. All evidence points to the contrary. Hours worked per week has fallen in OECD countries (cyclically adjusted) over the last 20 years, the last 50 years, the last 100 years and the last 200 years. This underestimates how much it has really fallen. I can live at the standards of the median person at the turn of the century if I choose to work 15-20 hours a week (or in fact do on the dole). This is, in large part, due to technological advance.Regardless of this inaccuracy you didn't engage with the substantive issues that I raised regarding your answer to question (4). We clearly do not have the same standards for evidence: I do not believe we have had a Wright brother moment or anything close. You raised your earlier point again — that not all human interactions are based on money — I refer you to my earlier answer with which you did not engage, I think it is on page one.We clearly do not have the same beliefs about how people should make choices about what political activities they should engage in. I believe support for political activities should be based upon evidence that they might make the world better (in some sense). I don't want to spend time trying to persuade someone of this.

    #91989
    Young Master Smeet
    Participant

    1) Fewer hours don't negate harder work, the simple actions of working with machines can be construed as harder more intensive work (and of course, job seeking is work too, which is definitely made harder).2) You mean your spurious atom and walking analogies?  OK, the difference between the nucleus of an atom and non-monetary economic activity is that the same ends (transfer of resources, division of labour and produiction) can and are achieved by co-operative methods as can be and have been achieved through market mechanisms, thus money can be demonstrated to be non-essential.  You're thus more on the ball with your walking analogy, which does achieve the same ends as driving: and whether that is better is a judgement call; we could do away with cars and walk everywhere.3) Vast enterprises are run on a co-operative basis, with people working together and not charging each other for their time, with administered  quality controlled processes of production from beginning to end.  We're well past the Wright brother's moment.  Good science is looking very hard at the obvious, which goes under our noses every day.4) I believe people should make political choices based on the cards they're dealt.  At the minute, we've got 7's high, but we might be able to bluff our way through to the redraw and get a better hand later.

    #91990
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    Point (1) goes against my experience of the jobs I have done, the jobs that I have seen other people do and my experience of looking for work.  All of which seem to be less arduous when there is more technology involved.  Working on a low-tech farm was much harder than working with my laptop. Looking at road builders the job seems easier in the UK than in China; because they sit in a steam roller all day while in China they swing a 5Ib jack hammer all day. But to be honest this point is superfluous to the debate so lets not waste more time on it.Point (4) makes no sense to me. I don't understand what this means.I want to establish some kind of common ground from which we can move forward. I will try to avoid analogy as much as possible. I am going to put it in a separate comment as I would like input from other people on the debate.

    #91991
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I left the SPGB a long time ago. One of the major reasons for this was I didn't feel like we had sufficient evidence to answer the following two questions with a "Yes!".a) Is socialism feasible?b) Will it be better than the current system?From earlier discussion I have realised that these questions are very open to interpretation. When I say feasible I do not mean possible in a philosophic sense. I mean do we have good evidence that we could create and maintain, for some generations at least, a world socialist society.I define world socialism as a society that satisfies all the following properties: doesn't use markets; doesn't use slavery; doesn't use punishment to force labour; is not a dictatorship; is global and large; and is technologically advanced.I am open to amending this definition.I will not support a socialist revolution if we do not have good reason to answer yes to both questions (a) and (b). I do not believe anyone should support socialism if the answer to both these questions are not yes (although I would support further research). This is a normative position, I will not be sold on socialism without a yes to these two questions.(I do believe that the answer to these two questions is probably yes at the levels of technology that exist in certain science fiction novels such as Iain M Banks' culture novels. I believe that such levels of abundance are sufficiently far away that it falls outside of the scope of my current political goals. That is, I am not interested in discussing questions (a) and (b) at tech levels more than a couple of centuries out.) I aware of three major types of evidence for saying yes to questions (a) and (b):#1 There are examples of very small hunter gatherer societies that don't use markets; are somewhat democratic; and don't use punishment to force labour.#2 There are examples of  societies larger and more complex than hunter gatherer societies which do not use markets. These societies do use slavery or punishment to force labour. They are nearly always some form of oppressive dictatorship.#3 Non-market processes play a large role in production, distribution and administration within modern capitalism.If there are other "types" of evidence please add them to the list. For example, should a modern state capitalist society be a type of evidence. I am not sure whether or not they can be said to function without markets. It will probably prove fruitful throughout the discussion to use specific examples of these different types of evidence. However, right now I will give some of the reasons why I think these different types of evidence are not sufficient to answer yes to questions (a) or (b). Excuse me if these objections are very general; they are starting points which can be expanded upon.Objections to evidence type #1: We know that scale and complexity matters for the kinds of human organisation that are possible.i) Scale: A society of 600 organising without markets or oppression does not imply it is possible in a society of 6 billion (or 600 000 for that matter).ii) Complexity: A society organising without markets or oppression using a hunter-gatherer mode of production does not imply it is possible for a technologically advanced society with high levels of specialisation.Objections to evidence type #2:i) Scale and complexity again, these societies while larger than hunter-gatherer societies are still a millionth the size of the world population.ii) It seems that slavery and punishment wielded by a minority were fundamental to the organisation of such societies. These examples need  evidence that people would have produced and consumed according to the state's edict in the absence of coercion.iii) These societies did not inculcate technological or scientific development very effectively (compare technological and scientific advances from 1800-1900 in the UK to technological and scientific advances in the Incan empire). This relates more to question (b) than question (a).Objections to evidence type #3:i) Both market and non-market processes are used within capitalism. It does not follow from this fact that it is feasible to have a system using only market processes (anarcho-libertarian) or only non-market processes. Non-market and market processes interact with one another within capitalism. One would need to demonstrate that these processes are somehow separable. I suspect that what we will find when we examine the evidence more closely is that the market serves to aid non-market organisation and vice-versa; we will see as we deal with specific pieces of evidence.ii) Clearly, argument (i) above is even stronger when we replace "feasible" with "better". So, for anyone who has made it to the end of this long comment:What are good responses to my objections?Are there specific examples that do not fall foul of my objections?Are there other types of evidence that we ought to be looking at? p.s. Would there be a better place on the site to post this? In order to get as inclusive a debate on these issues as possible? I think these issues are important and would like to hear lots of positions. Moreover, I think that we are getting far way from the article which this comment thread is attached to.

    #91992
    Brian
    Participant

    Hi Alaric,  My advice would be to start a new thread on the General Discussion section with the title: Evidence for production for use in socialism?  I say this because its become obvious this thread has run its course.  If you do decide to take that course of action – and in order to stay within the guidelines and rules – you would need to copy and paste your last post to this new thread then replace the post here with a comment directing users to the new thread.Whatever course of action you decide to take, once I have time to digest your concerns, I shall be responding to them.  I think its a very interesting topic, but first of all we need to establish whether or not it is in fact a problem for the workers in general and not just for yourself.

    #91993
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I could not edit my last post. I have started a thread beginning with this last post (slightly altered) in the general discussion forum as per Brian's advice. It has the not too snappy tile of:"Is socialism Feasible? Would it be better than the current system? What does the evidence say?"And here is the link:http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/forum/general-discussion/socialism-feasible-would-it-be-better-current-system-what-does-evidence-say

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