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News Economic (Mis)Education in Europe

  1. Jan 8, 2008 #1
    Wow! I guess I didn't know how economically illiterate they are in Europe, until I read this article: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=4095 [Broken]

    I guess I can't blame them, when the public schools are teaching this unsubstantiated garbage.
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  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 8, 2008 #2
    LOL, that is funny.
  4. Jan 8, 2008 #3


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    Would anyone say economic development has no cost, especially no human cost? Is it "some kind of free lunch," as they say in French?

    I think the French textbook isn't wrong; although it may be selective. It could have added "despite these costs, lack of economic growth is even costlier."
  5. Jan 8, 2008 #4


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    It may not technically be wrong, but its purpose is: conditioning people to accept a life of mediocrity. French malaise will kill France as surely as Russian malaise killed the USSR.
  6. Jan 9, 2008 #5
    The Russians overthrew their own Imperial government, contributed a big part to the overthrow of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, got a satellite into space before the U.S. did, and came to control nearly half the world. You can call that malaise if you want to but it seems rather vigorous to me. I would say that the USSR's demise was far more attributable to violent dictators, political corruption, and provoking unwise wars. The U.S. certainly isn't as bad as the USSR was on those counts but we've got to stay on top of things, we're certainly prey to them.

    Economist I think you were looking for the phrase "medically illiterate", though I don't agree with your assessment: economics is not what you'd use to prove whether or not overwork causes cancer. I agree with EnumaElish that taking an unalloyed positive view of industriousness and enterprise is foolish.

    Conditioning people to think they're a special snowflake that deserves an SUV, an ipod, and a mansion of a house is just as much a sign of lost vitality and brittle national infirmity as the French wanting to kick back and take it easy is.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2008
  7. Jan 9, 2008 #6


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    Conditioning people to think that they can be something and to understand if they work hard they can get something valuable for their family is just as much a sign of lost vitality and brittle national infirmity as the.. oh wait: no it isn't.
  8. Jan 9, 2008 #7
    Yes, if we start teaching those kind of values in the U.S. so that we hold them as dearly as, say, India and China do now we'll be doing well. But you don't really think that working really hard for your family is as central a part of the American attitude as it was in the past, do you? It seems to me like Americans expect to get alot more for working alot less than they ever have before. We're definitely having smaller families that don't get in the way of our personal recreational activities as much. If the French are uppity for pointing out health problems that can be caused by overwork we Americans are just as uppity for other reasons.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2008
  9. Jan 9, 2008 #8
    There is no such thing as a free lunch, and what that phrase means in economic terms was not developed in france. In fact, that economic phrase was developed by American Economist Milton Friedman.

    I'm not saying economic development has no costs, but I doubt it has the costs mentioned in the quote.
  10. Jan 9, 2008 #9
    No, actually I was looking for the term "economically illiterate." And you would still need economics to see if development causes cancer, or even if development causes overwork. It's very possible that people don't work as hard when nations become more developed. Either way, you'd need to be able to measure development which is all about economics.

    I highly doubt we condition people to want these things. Rather people want ipods, SUVs, etc, because they add to the quality of life, and generally people already took care of their basic needs so they can spend the rest of their money on these luxuries.

    That's fine if people want to kick back, as long as they are willing to pay for it. For example, if someone says that they don't want to work a 40 - 50 hour work week in a difficult stressful job, so they find an easier and more enjoyable job, that is great as they are exercising their freedom and pursuing the lifestyle that will make them happy. That's wholly different from saying you don't want to work hard, and therefore you want to impose legislation and abuse the governmental force to tax people who make more than you do and redistribute the wealth to you. Don't you recognize the difference?
  11. Jan 9, 2008 #10


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    My bad; I meant "hours d'oeuvres" ("happy hour" in English) :smile:

    The mental image I was having when I typed <<"some kind of free lunch," as they say in French>> was the phrase "some kind of free lunch" being pronounced in a heavy French accent. I should have posted <<"some kind of free lunch," as the French would say.>>

    But I digress...

    Two points:

    1. If the phrase you quoted was meant as an introduction to the concept, it is lopsided, and has the comical effect that the French often inadvertently produce from an Anglo perspective. A similar example could be to introduce the concept of "life" with the opening phrase "life is the leading cause of death."

    2. However, if the phrase is being used more as a caveat, then it certainly has a point. Otherwise, why pay people wages? Responsibility does produce stress, and stress does contribute to cardio dysfunction. If "the system works," then each worker is paid sufficient wages to afford regular exercise and thus avoid a breakdown.

    3. I've just read the rest of the article, and let's just say that I get the drift. I also read some of the related articles (referenced at the bottom of the page). A quote that I love is: "September is also when the nation is back from holiday, which in French logic means it’s time to go on strike." (http://www.foreignpolicy.com/story/cms.php?story_id=3833 [Broken])
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  12. Jan 9, 2008 #11


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    For students not to be taught of the potential pitfalls and dangers of globalisation and unregulated capitalism would lead to economic ignorance. Don't you agree?? Or do you believe it is better to leave people in a state of ignorance? Are you yourself aware of the conditions in Europe 150 years ago which led to the beginning of the regulation of industry? Such as workers being paid their pittance in tokens that could only be spent in the company's overpriced shop or the match factory workers whose faces rotted away with 'phossy jaw' or 9 year old children working as chimney sweeps and other children as young as 8 working 16 hour days in the coal mines and cotton mills all without healthcare or education of course.

    Personally I believe it is very important people understand their heritage and appreciate and cherish the rights they have secured after 1000s of years of near slavery and the potential threat to these hard earned freedoms from globalisation. For example it is hard for a western worker to compete on labour costs with a factory employing child slave labour in China!! That's one of many similar reasons why Western jobs are being out-sourced to these 'developing' countries and why globalisation needs to be adopted in a sane and fair way.
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  13. Jan 10, 2008 #12
    And what, you wouldn't need to measure any of these things? "hectic form of life, producing overwork, stress, nervous depression, cardiovascular disease and, according to some, even the development of cancer" I think we can say that measurements necessary for examining the issue would involve both medical and economics knowledge.

    But if there's some kind of scientific knowledge or principles out there that denies a connection between these things, such that unfamiliarity with it is tantamount to illiteracy, that's going to be medical knowledge.

    Cripes dude, what do you think advertising is except conditioning people to want those things?

    I do recognize the difference, and I also recognize the difference between those two things and the statement that economic growth can be correlated to health problems. You're overreaching in both calling that illiteracy or asserting that it has to be accompanied by the attitudes you describe above, or that its presence in a French textbook means that the U.S. is free from those attitudes and France isn't.
  14. Jan 10, 2008 #13
    Perhaps your schools do not condition people to want these things, but our consumerist society does. Personally, I believe there are a lot of things that would improve the quality of my life a whole lot more than an iPod or an SUV; like everyone else I'm bombarded countless times a day by marketing attempts, sharing a common message - spending money will make you happy. Intended or not, this too is indoctrination, and it is more powerful than any state-education scheme considering current regulation (or lack thereof).

    This is a matter of defining what role governments should play in education. As much as I disagree with the anecdotal evidence from the article, I believe there is good sense in matching consumerist indoctrination which promotes individualism and materialism with [edit] social indoctrination, promoting[/edit] values such as solidarity and altruism.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2008
  15. Jan 11, 2008 #14
    Says who? "The system" is one of voluntary exchange, where a buyer/consumer decides that he/she is willing to pay a certain amount for various tasks, goods, services, etc, and the seller/supplier decides that he/she is willing to except certain amounts of payment (usually in the form of money) for various tasks, goods, services, etc. An exchange only takes place when the demands of both are satisfied.

    How does the consumer decide how much he is willing to pay? By seeing how much value the good/service/task adds. Then he has to see if there is actually someone willing to sell him the good or service at (or below) that price. Notice this has nothing to do with whether it will afford regular excercise. The excercise part will enter only into the decision of the seller (and only if he/she finds that an important criteria). Not to mention, regular excercise will be a decision made by the person himself/herself, and as is evident many people could excercise if they wanted to (they have the income and the leisure time), but they choose not to.

    I think you're missing a key point. Capitalism and globalization have lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. So to not teach this, and instead teach people that globalization is bad, is a very dangerous indoctrination. Not because it will hurt people in France (who on world standards are already very rich), but rather because it will lead to people from the developed world intervening, and making globalization more difficult for the people of the third world (and therefore not allowing them to rise out of poverty).

    But yes, if there are pitfalls and dangers of globalization then they should be taught. However, I think you're also missing another key point. Why do people from third world countries choose to work for these multinational corporations? Don't you realize that capitalism and globalization is built on voluntary exchange, meaning that anyone who does not want to take part in "the system" does not have too? For example, if someone in America does not want to work, then they don't have to, as they can be homeless or they can live in the wilderness and fend for themselves (even building there own house, etc). Likewise, if you live in a small third world village and Nike sets up shop, you do not have to work for them. My point is that even if there are some negative aspects of capitalism and globalization, people are still choosing to take part (as Nike can't make anyone work for them). Why would someone subject themselves to these "negative" aspects? Well, usually because they are better than the alternative choice. The stress of a capitalistic lifestyle is better than the hunger, low life expantancy, etc, of the alternative lifestyle. There is something called "revealed preference" which basically means that you can tell someone's best possible option given their behavior. And, to interevene with someones best possible options will usually make them worse off.

    I agree that you would need to measure these things in order to see if globalization causes these things. However, I believe that analysis might not do a whole lot of good, and in fact often misses the boat. I mean, obviously stress has many negative side effects, and obviously globalization and capitalism cause stress. Once again though, we need to ask ourselves why people are choosing to live this sort of stressful lifestyle. IMHO, the most logical conclusion is that people choose to because it is far better than the alternative. Many of us went to college, which is a very stressful time. Does that mean that France textbooks should be writing about the "pitfalls" of college? No, because people choose to go to college, and if they do go to college then we must assume that they felt it was worth it even in spite of the negative aspects. Furthermore, any attempt to interevene in their choice to go to college could only make them worse off. Or take dangerous activities that humans choose to take part in, such as, bungey jumping, sky-diving, drinking alcohol, doing other drugs, driving, unprotected sex, etc. Notice first, that someone could choose whether or not they want to do any of these things. Second, ask yourself why people choose to do these things (given they are all dangerous, cause death and other health problems)? Third, ask yourself if you should have any say in whether or not other people do these things?

    If the only purpose of the research you mentioned is to inform people about the dangers and pitfalls of these things, then that is fine. Unfortunately however, often times this type of research is used as an excuse to implement legislation, regulation, and other policies, and essentially used as an excuse for intervention. In my opinion this is both dangerous and disgusting.

    I used to believe that, but I don't anymore. First of all, humans seem to like goods and services. Therefore, once you have a standard of living that affords basic needs (food, shelter, etc) people will choose to spend their money on other things, some of which you and I will call fairly materialistic and useless (but it's their choice). Are you telling me that you don't enjoy (and probably own) plenty of things that others deem as useless? And are you also telling me that the only reason you own these things is because you've been conditioned? Second, in order for companies to inform you about their product they usually need to advertise (and advertise well). That doesn't mean they don't try all kinds of clever little things to get you to notice and buy their product. However, the companies existence will mainly come down to whether or not consumers find the product useful and whether they enjoy the product. Lastly, if people were conditioned then we'd expect that companies would be able to charge higher prices. However, a very popular study showed that advertising actually causes prices to decrease (because advertising increases the competition among companies).

    Again, I disagree. I think people want SUVs and Ipods because they can potentially improve the quality of one's life (enough to compensate for the price of obtaining one). Like I said above, there are plenty of things that we don't need, but we do want them. Just because you don't want an Ipod doesn't mean I don't. I like music, and my Ipod allows me to listen to music very conveniently at pretty much anytime and place. The beauty of capitalism is that you can choose to spend your money on the things that you like, and I can choose to spend my money how I like. If you think Ipods are a waste, then you don't have to buy one. All three of my living grandparents think cell phones are useless, so by choice they don't own one.

    Do you own things you don't need? Do you have a cell phone? Do you have a car? Do you have a watch? Do you have any CDs? Do you own a computer? Do you ever eat at a restaurant? Do you ever go out and buy an alcoholic drink? I could go on and on, but it's pointless. The point I am trying to make is that you obviously don't need any of these things, but I imagine you own/buy at least some of them? Are you telling me that the only reason you own/buy these things is because you live in consumerist society that indoctrinated you? If so, then you should move to a non-consumerist society who won't indoctrinate you, because you'd probably be happier. This brings me to another point, why do so many people want to move to "consumerist" societies? I mean, if the main reason we like this "consumerist society" is because we've been brainwashed, then you would expect others to not want to come here (because they would realize that these things are useless).

    Whether you like it or not, humans seem to enjoy these "materialistic" things. However, I think you are also missing the fact that humans enjoy many other things that money can't exactly buy (friends, family, jobs, volunteer work, hobbies, etc). To say that most people believe that "spending money will make them happy," I believe is a huge exaggeration and one that undermines the dynamics of human beings (and human decision making). Yes, people do spend money on trivial things, and yes, people generally want more money (if all else is equal, such as if someone offered to hand you a billion dollars in cash). However, people make all kinds of decisions that don't rely on money. Even when it comes to jobs/careers, many people often look for jobs that are personally fulfilling even if they have to take a pay cut. In my field, most PhD economists choose to be professors even though they could make double working in the private sector. They choose academia because it's fullfilling and more relaxing in their personal opinion. Others choose the private sector for a variety of reasons. Money is only one part of this decision, and the importance of it varies from person to person, and many people choose their career based on reasons much more dynamic then just salary. Even in college, people often choose majors they enjoy (as opposed to majors that make a lot of money). English, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, etc, majors aren't exactly in high demand in the job market, nevertheless, many people choose these disciplines. My point is that, stereotyping people (even in "consumerist societies") as primarily being money motivated and believing that "spending money will make them happy," is a gross exxaggeration, and misses the dynamics of human beings completely.
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  16. Jan 11, 2008 #15
    Ah, I see... so when people value the same things you do, it's just logical, but when people value things like health or leisure and choose those over commerce it's indoctrination? That's not a very humble opinion.

    But not inevitably. American culture has chosen to spend the wealth and surplus of its society on chattel and possessions and consumer services. But France and other European countries have chosen to spend their wealth and surplus on fewer material things and more leisure and caps on competition in the labor markets: working from 9 to 4 with a two-hour lunch, laws against working on weekends, a year or two of severance pay so that companies have to take hiring and firing very seriously, the entire month of August as vacation, etc. Both approaches have their advantages and drawbacks, and of course there's a heck of alot more going on economically here, but to paint one attitude as reasonable and a product of natural human choice and the other as irrational dogma is silly.

    Your characterization of capitalism as some kind of natural manifestation of human freedom is naïve. Yes, there's alot of exercise of freedom and personal choice involved in American and third-world capitalism but there's a great deal of compulsion, manipulation, and indoctrination involved as well. I personally prefer the dynamicism of capitalism and market-based solutions to problems but that approach is clearly flawed and inferior enough in some instances that the Frances of the world are entirely justified in choosing a different way. I'm skeptical that today's third-world nations really have the option of choosing to follow in France's footsteps, though, given the amount of political power that multinational corporations hold.
  17. Jan 11, 2008 #16
    I think you're really missing my point. Obviously, it's logical to value things like health, leisure, etc, and part of my point is that everybody does. In fact, I think it's logical for people to value whatever they damn well please, as long as they are not infringing upon others rights of life, liberty, and property. However, valuing something does not mean that you should be allowed to force other people to provide it for you (as doing so decreases their freedom).

    That's very different from my original claim about indoctrination which didn't seem to rely on any scientific evidence, and furthermore, didn't argue both sides of the issue.

    "America" doesn't spend money on anything, rather individuals who happen to be American spend money on things. Not "American culture" but rather individual decision makers. Did you know that individuals in America give more private foreign aid (and other private charity) than individuals from any other country? I guess you would also claim that "American culture has choosen to spend the wealth and surplus on philanthropic and charitable activities they pay for out of their own pocket (as opposed to forcing someone else to pay for it)."

    This is not exactly true. They have put in place legislation that makes it illegal (or sometimes just very costly) to do many of things. This is very important, because these sorts of legislation have negative effects on other people (particularly the poor and low skilled workers in France).

    It's one thing when someone goes out there and decides that he/she will not work at a job that doesn't have two hour lunch breaks and working on weekends. It's something else to make that illegal, so that people who want to work more are not allowed to do so. To tell someone when and how long they can work is a direct infringement on their human liberty/freedom.

    As many economists have found through researching these topics, France has high unemployement (especially for poor, low skilled people) precisely because of the legislation that you mentioned above. These laws do many things. For one, required increases in vacation and lunch hours, tend to decrease the wages because you've increased the cost of hiring employees. Making it difficult to fire people, makes companies less likely to hire people in the first place (in other words, it's more difficult to find a job). It's better to let individual employees and employers work out these conditions on their own, on a case-by-case basis. Furthermore, these laws disproportionally harm poor people (because they tend to have lower skills). It's not the college educated manager who won't get hired under these conditions, but rather the janitor. In my opinion this is very cruel legislation/regulation.

    Sorry, but I do find it unreasonable to infringe upon the human rights of other people. I think it is dispicable to have laws which don't allow people to marry who they please, say what they want, or be part of whichever religion they choose. Just like I find it dispicable to tell someone when they can work, for how much money, how long there lunch is, and how long there vacation is. Especially when you learn about the negative side effects such legislation causes, it makes them even more dispicable.

    I'm trying to draw a distinction between a system based upon voluntary exchange, such as capitalism, markets, etc, and a system based on using the force of government to impose laws and regulations on people which infringe upon there rights of life, liberty, and property.

    Obviously, all societies are a mix of the two, however, I think we can still generally compare countries which tend to have more of one over the other (such as France vs US). Likewise, I also think that much of the US legislation is also unreasonable and dispicable, because it also infringes upon individual freedom and liberty (however, we're not bad as France yet).

    Sorry but I disagree with you on this point. Capitalism is not created, rather it happens naturally. Furthermore, I don't like other people using the political process to harm me by making choices that decrease my freedom. I'm not saying markets and capitalism are perfect, but rather that they are by far the best system at preserving freedom and improving the lot of the ordinary person. When people hold a utopian vision of Government, then obviously the reality of Capitalism can't compete. However, when people hold a realistic view of both Government and Capitalism, then Capitalism usually wins out.
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  18. Jan 11, 2008 #17


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    You are concentrating on a static partial equilibrium (in the labor market) while ignoring the dynamic general equilibrium (in the economy). If the equilibrium wage cannot provide for maintenance/reproduction of the labor force, then in the latter sense the system is not working "properly" (read: "to my liking").

    As to whether capitalism comes naturally, doesn't that depend on one's definition of capitalism?

    If capitalism comes naturally and therefore represents some kind of historical equilibrium in a society, then how do you explain all this anticapitalist discourse in French textbooks (and more generally in Europe), other than a "vast communist conspiracy"? And just when everyone thought communism was defeated once and for all?
  19. Jan 11, 2008 #18


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    Economist your basic premise is fundamentally flawed. Employers and employees do not have equal bargaining powers and so choice is non-existant other than do as we say or die.

    Employers act in unison with the aim of maximising profits and the only effective counter-measure to this is gov't regulation. When I say without laws employers would exploit their workers it is not a theory it is a proven fact as I detailed in my earlier post.

    The problem with globalisation is it allows companies to circumvent employment, environmental and safety laws by operating in unregulated economies leading to such things as the Bhopal disaster and child slave labour in China.

    This is not an all or nothing scenario, there is a happy medium. Capitalism is good provided it is regulated and globalisation is good provided there is a level playing field. That is the message promoted in parts of Europe.

    For capitalism's long term future it is in the interest of companies to promote distributed wealth in their own markets to create customers for their products but unfortunately companies do not take the big picture view as they concentrate on the next quarter's results. That is why gov'ts get involved.

    Personally I do not believe the raison d'etre of the human race is to work like busy little soldier ants until they die. There needs to be a balance between work and home. The reason the gov't gets involved in setting the number of hours worked is because otherwise employers would pressurise workers to work longer hours and don't say they wouldn't because as a manager I've done it myself to meet targets set by my bosses.

    Another reason for regulation of working hours is imbalances between work and home lead to other social problems. For eg. With both parents working long hours children get neglected leading to personality disorders and anti-social behaviour which negatively affects all of society.
  20. Jan 11, 2008 #19
    A pretty large percentage of the U.S. national GDP, something like a fifth or a fourth, is tied up in U.S. government expenditure and purchases. Not even including state and municipal government expenditures. This very much is a civic matter rather than an exclusively private one.

    You're asserting that freedoms of commerce are the "true" liberties or something, rather than the freedoms and liberties that the French democracy has chosen to place above them. Believe me, in case you missed the part of your history classes on the French Revolution(s), their choices are founded on valuing liberty and treating people equally, not disregarding freedom. As nations France and the other more Socialist European states have had much longer and deeper experience with oppression of freedom than the U.S. has. They're by no means taking it lightly.

    So has the U.S.! Do Anti-trust laws or OSHA regulations or child labor laws sap our freedom?

    There aren't any jobs like that in the U.S., unless you're already rich or having a large part of your livelihood provided by someone else. That's my point - the French society has chosen to make those sorts of jobs available to the average worker without as great a loss of prosperity and financial and health security that an American would have to accept to pursue that kind of lifestyle. That's what I mean when I say that as a country they've chosen leisure rather than possessions. They've chosen to exchange the freedoms of laissez faire economics (Note how it's a French term for that? D'ya think they might have gotten experience with it at some point, maybe?) for other freedoms which, to be provided, require societal restraint on commerce.

    Of course there are repercussions from these choices. France has lots of economic and social problems. So does the U.S.

    And of course the preeminent position that both countries share in the world as first-world nations is because of imperialism, because much of the wealth that has put them where they are today was sucked out of the rest of the world. So attributing the success of either country purely to its cherished principles requires a bit of a wink wink, nudge nudge.

    Oh, well good thing the janitors in the U.S. are so well off. How many janitors in the U.S. are even American citizens at this point?

    I think what you mean is that it's despicable if a government tells an employer these things, but if a capitalist employer tells it to employees you're A-okay with it.

    In reality I think it's not so hard for an employee to break the law and work two jobs if he or she really, really wants to. It's the employers who really get in hot water, not the employees. The French are much more interested in French employees getting to work where and when they want than, say, Americans are interested in American employees filling jobs instead of illegal immigrants.

    To bring a little current affairs, are you saying that this United States of ours where the government monitors what books we can take out from the library, illegally wiretaps our phones, tortures people in secret prisons, initiates preemptive wars, and supports all sorts of corporate exploitation and corporate imperialism all over the world is the place where freedom is best preserved? And I voted Republican in the 2000 election, by the way, though not for George W. Bush.

    What planet do you live on that people usually choose capitalism for securing their freedoms instead of government?

    Speaking of education and indoctrination, I can't help but think that these views you have are based upon an extremely skewed or lacking knowledge of history, even U.S. history.

    Also, by the way, if capitalism is the economic system that comes naturally, that means that almost all of the failed economies and civilizations in history have been capitalist ones. Not a really great advertisement for your principles, you might not want to hang on to that "capitalism is natural" thing.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2008
  21. Jan 11, 2008 #20
    As I said, this is a matter of defining governments' role in education.
    Us humans are a social species. We crave attention and validation from our peers. Stereotypes aside, it's fair to make the following generalization, which is supported by sociological experiments: every group follows certain trends; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment" [Broken], even to the point of betraying their own values. Authority can take many forms. In the western materialist/consumerist society, one can easily point to authorities that urge individuals to consume. The question is: does the government's role include curbing the power these authorities hold? Consider that the key social advances we hold so dear all attempt to prevent the accumulation of power, and consider the size of the marketing/advertising industries.
    Second, absolute freedom, like all other absolutes, is impossible. Whatever choices I make will have some sort of effect on others around me. Personal freedom is forever in competition with other rights, and some sort of compromise is always needed. My freedom of movement is restricted as I cannot simply walk into a prison or a military camp; I cannot hold a rally in a public place without the necessary permits; etc. The government decides where to draw the middle ground between all these rights through the laws it enacts. Moreover, just as the government saw fit to outlaw advertising of alcohol and tobacco to youths, and to promote certain health practices through the education systems, it may decide to limit marketing in general and/or promote certain types of social behavior.
    Perhaps it is not the government's role - but there can never be an authority vacuum. I recommend looking up psychologist Alexander Mitscherlich's "fatherless society" theory.
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  22. Jan 11, 2008 #21
    All I know is when I made the decision to not watch TV or listen to commercial radio, life took an interesting turn. I read more, played more, and ultimately cut back the hours I voluntarily worked from 75+ to closer to 30. My income was quartered. Fortunately a quarter of a lot is still more than enuf to subside. My life has never been fuller, and while I do less medicine, the quality is so much greater that I am convinced I'm doing more good than before. I buy a lot fewer toys, but so much more time to fully enjoy the few I do, and finally even enuf time to understand the artificiality of the toy experience, and the constant craving to do a "bigger dose." That hunger alluded to by Buddhism and other religions which can never quite be filled, as each new toy makes the hole bigger, not smaller. Plainly I agree with the original premise, and wish I had more success in de-conditioning my patients from the materialistic merry go round.
  23. Jan 12, 2008 #22
    Can you explain this in a little more detail, because I'm confused as to exactly what you are saying.

    Well, what I meant by that is that Capitalism, markets, firms, money, etc, all seem to arise naturally. This is a strong distinction (in my opinion) from Socialism (aka Central Planning). The key difference is in who makes decisions. In a Capitalistic system decentralized decision making is what happens (bottom up decision making) while in Socialism you have centralized decision making (top down decision making).

    This doesn't seem supported by the facts nor the theory. Are you saying that because the Employer is the one making the decision to hire the Employee that they have more power? If so, then this would also imply that Safeway doesn't have equal bargaining power as you (since you decide whether to buy the steak or not). Would you claim that you have any real influence over the prices at Safeway?

    Furthermore, what you're saying doesn't explain some of the facts of labor markets. Such as, why do some people make so much money working for companies/corporations if they have such little power? Did you know that people who work for large companies/corporations tend to make 10% - 15% more than individuals with similar jobs for smaller companies? Also, if what you were saying is true then more people should be making the minimum wage. However, the minimum always accounts for a very small percentage of the labor force (currently, I think it's like 2% - 3%).

    If by acting in unison you are implying that they collude to keep wages low, this is also not supported by the facts. The fact is that companies often have to compete with each other for high skilled employees, which is why their wages can get so high.

    Also, collusion rarely works because companies usually have huge incentive to cheat which has been studied by many game theorists (this is why cartels often break down on their own).

    I love how you call it "slave labor." Is anyone forcing these people to work? Or do they choose to work? If the working conditions are so bad, and the companies are so horrible, how on earth do they (easily) find employees that are willing to work for them?

    I agree that there needs to be a happy medium, but I bet we strongly disagree on were that happy medium lies. Not to mention, it has been pointed out again and again that harmful consequences generally result from governmental intervention/regulation in business.

    LOL. Companies may care about the short-term more than the long-term, but they still care greatly about the long-term. This is why companies try to keep a positive image and satistfy customers, because they greatly care about future profits as well.

    If people don't want to work "like busy little soldier ants" they don't have too. But why should it be a law that they can't? Why can't different people choose different amounts of hours to work?

    It's simply not true that companies always want people to work long hours. My buddy works at a movie theatre making minimum wage, and they won't let people work more than like 30 hours a week (and in fact, they encourage less). Likewise, my mother works at a multinational retail/department store making minimum wage. And even there, they will not let her work more than 35 hours a week (even if she wants too).

    What's wrong with letting employees and employers come to mutually agreeable terms?

    I think your also missing a key element to why some people love these laws, which is that they protect them from being out competed. Image I am lazy, and I don't want to work more than 20 hours a week. I know that I will never be able to get a job, because everyone else is willing to work 40 hours a week. However, if I can get a law enacted that says 20 hours a week is the maximum, then I'm no longer at a disadvantage (even though I may have made others worse off by limiting their bagaining power). Or imagine if a business owner doesn't want to stay open 24 hours a day, even though his competitors are. The best thing he could do is get a law passed that makes it illegal to be open any more than 14 hours a day.

    If you don't think this actually happens, you should read Walter Williams book "South Africa's War Against Capitalism." The racist white unions down there were getting killed because low skilled black labor was bidding their jobs away by working at lower wages. The unions tried forever to stop this, but to no avail. Then they had a brilliant idea, if they could get a minimum wage (actually they called it "equal pay for equal work") enacted, people would no longer hire the blacks (because they were lower skilled). If you have to pay $5 for a low skilled worker and $10 for a high skilled worker, then you'll have to weight the costs and benefits of both, and either may get the job. However, if you are forced to pay $10 an hour, then the white higher skilled worker will win out every time. This is the way in which people sometimes use the political process for their own self interest.

    Is it any suprise that being use the political process for their own gain, even at the expense of others?

    I think this is the most valid point you've made so far, because now you're talking about the degree to which one individuals decisions harm anothers. However, I still don't find it very convincing/persuasive as it is a very slippery slope, as it leads to more and more arguments for infringing upon someone else's personal liberties.

    There are many things that people do which can have negative effects on others, so where do we draw the line. You could probably make the same case about drinking alcohol, smoking, unhealthy eating, lack of excercise, unprotected sex, number of sex partners, etc. How much of a decision should we have on the eating, drinking, sex, etc, habits of others?

    Congratulations! I truly find that commendable. However, you did this out of choice, and you can't expect everyone else to have the same preferences as you and make the same decisions as you. It sounds like you are a doctor? Did you work long hours for many years? Because people tend to work more hours when they are younger and then work less as they age. Furthermore, you probably still are able to afford a decent standard of living despite the fact that your income was quartered, and many people would not have that luxury. This is why I am such a huge proponent of freedom, because it allows each individual to make the best decisions for himself/herself.

    P.S. I didn't have time, but I will try and respond to some of the other comments later.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 12, 2008
  24. Jan 12, 2008 #23


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    Economist - I've already detailed working conditions prior to gov't regulation of industry are you disputing the facts?? Are you disputing that employment conditions in unregulated economies today are appalling??

    When I said slavery in China I meant slalvery, here's an example covering both safety and slavery

    In the UK employers collude through their representative body the CBI. Here's an example of their lobbying efforts to suppress wages

    If you think companies include 'increasing the purchasing power of their employees' as part of their long term strategic planning then I'm afraid you live in cloud cuckoo land.

    Not sure why when referring to laws governing max hours worked you cite examples of 20 or 30 hours per week. I know of no country which has legislated for such low levels. In most of the EU there is a 39 hour week with a max permissable average of 8 hours OT per week over a 3 month period, I believe in France their base is the lowest at 35 hours (which is currently being increased).
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 12, 2008
  25. Jan 12, 2008 #24
    That's not really a matter of opinion. Markets are created and maintained by "political" institutions. They are tools. That's the consensus within economics, political science and pretty much everyone else. Markets (hense capitalism) are tools, and because of this, they have no real relevance to concepts of 'freedom'.

    On that note, it's worth noting that even unions are legislative bodies. They exist because of political institutions that create and maintain them.
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2008
  26. Jan 12, 2008 #25


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    A matter of nomenclature then? Yes markets require property rights and the rule of law to be put in place by political institutions before they can exist. But the market itself, an aggregation of free exchanges where both parties agree on the terms without coercion, certainly must spring from you, me, etc acting independently and, well, freely. We need not subscribe to any political institution to participate.
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