Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Urgency of Lockean Revolution

I am slapping together four past essays into one big article that tries to resolve some modernism issues. What follows is some fresh introductory material that will cover themes that are familiar to you folks, but that uses new language. Comments welcome.

==The Context of History==

After fifty years of anomolously egalitarian civilization, there are signs that the United States may be returning to more classic social patterns. Patterns that did not work well in other cultures, but that nevertheless may draw us back in.

Take one example. The notion of inherent conflict between social classes.

Ideological polarization used to be secondary in American political life, pushed aside by a singular attitude of modernist pragmatism. This pragmatic attitude - essentially rooted in the Enlightenment - recognized several facts about history that are inconvenient to ideologues.

1) Despite willful efforts by conservatives and libertarians to distract from the historical record, socialism is not the primary enemy of free market systems. True, we all grew up faced with a malignant Soviet Imperium that was surficially socialist (though actually a cabal-aristocracy of nomenklatura families). But looking across 4,000 years of recorded civilization, the story is brutally clear; by far a majority of opportunity and innovation markets were ruined by conniving alliances of clergy and inherited wealth.

2) There are no recorded examples of socialistic “leveling” doing any better at providing human happiness and opportunity. While based on somewhat nicer moral grounds than aristocratism, the socialist notion of enforcing cooperation as an alternative to competition (e.g. in regulated markets) simply does not work. It may be effective on some other planet. But not here. Not with human beings.

The verdict of history is blatant and clear. So why do the same hoary cliches keep arising, over and over again?

This quandary dates back to the origins of the Enlightenment. The platonist essentialists, Hobbes and Rousseau, presented us with twin views of human nature - that we are devils in need of hierarchical social control... or else innately angelic, needing only a toppling of all hierarchies in order to slip into our natural condition of beneficent bliss. Locke responded to both of these models as any reasonable person should, by saying “you are both right... and you are both crazy.”

What Locke emphasized -- and his followers gradually implemented -- were systems designed to take into account the devils within us, the ever-present temptations to oppress, cheat and exploit our neighbors, while creating new opportunities for the angels within to act and to grow. Such systems simply cannot arise out of ideological prescription, since they have to adapt and learn from every generation’s capabilities and problems. Indeed, some of the “angels” are highly competitive, while the worst devil - the one most responsible for human suffering - is the impulse of oppressive elites to cooperate with each other.

Elsewhere I talk about the incredible sophistication that Lockean pragmatic systems have achieved after close to three centuries. (For a rather intense look at how "truth" is determined in science, democracy, courts and markets, see the lead article in the American Bar Association's Journal on Dispute Resolution (Ohio State University), v.15, N.3, pp 597-618, Aug. 2000, "Disputation Arenas: Harnessing Conflict and Competition for Society's Benefit.")

All of our synergistic systems appear to depend upon the one core element of every pragmatic solution to human problems -- reciprocal accountability.

So, how does any of this apply to the modern era?

If any lesson should be blatant from the last six decades, it is that the reforms spurring progress in civil rights and social justice were supported in large part by a market-based system of incentivized innovation that paid for many productive social endeavors, like a university system that is still the envy of the world. In the decades following the Second World War, uniquely clever approaches to social engineering -- typified by the GI Bill -- resulted in a blended miracle that no ideologue would ever have predicted or even called possible. The typical human cultural pattern of a privilege-pyramid, dominated by a narrow aristocracy, was reshaped into a diamond, in which the well-off actually outnumbered the poor.

While disparities of wealth between the rich and middle class -- and even vs. the poor -- plummeted to their lowest levels in human history, total or median levels of wealth and well-being skyrocketed, all without employing the kind of draconian confiscation that has long been prescribed by social-levellers. Indeed, this flattened social order accompanied the healthiest phase of market capitalism in history, with small businesses routinely taking on established powers in open competition (the truest test of a free market).

One litmus of social health that has been touted by moderate conservative thinkers: look at the fraction of a nation’s monied aristocracy who derived their status from inherited position, as opposed to having earned their place by delivering competitive goods and/or services in a truly open marketplace. These conservatives point with pride at the fact that a majority of European elites appear to attain their rank as birthright, while most of those with high status in the US climbed there by merit and hard work, without much help from family connections.

It is a matter of faith among conservatives that Americans disdain the notion of “class warfare” because, individually, they like to imagine that each person has a shot at getting rich. But this was not always true, even in the days of the open Frontier. Certainly during the Gilded Era and then during the Great Depression, social rancor increased as wealth appeared to grow more dependent upon inheritance... then declined sharply in wake of the post-WWII blended miracle.

Americans, for all of their uncommon traits, are human beings. The recent severe rise in social and economic disparity is not simply a matter of left-right rhetoric. It will reliably and predictably seed and then nourish the kind of resentment that has been seen in every other culture. Possibly to the severe long-range detriment of those who are now benefiting most from self-interested manipulation of the system.

Let’s step back for a moment. Is it possible to summarize the problem in a nutshell?

We are genetically little different than our ancestors who dwelled in caves; and yet, equipped with neolithic brains, we seek to design and operate an increasingly complex human civilization, while plunging headlong into a century of rapid change. Nor does our arrogant ambition stop there! Not only do we want the machine to continue functioning, we demand that it achieve a series of new miracles that our ancestors would have considered next-to impossible.

Together -- utilizing tools of both competition and cooperation -- we are supposed to maximize human happiness, achieve sustainability on a limited planet, maintain individual liberty, and continue to open new levels of opportunity for everyone on the planet. Moreover, we must do this while treating the future like the dangerous territory that it surely is, avoiding pitfalls and grievous errors that might lead us to destroy ourselves with powerful new tools. Does that about sum it up?

In this paper I do not hope to resolve every aspect of the problem. Like blind philosophers stroking an elephant, we are limited by our assumptions and by our limited ability to conceive many dimensions at once. (Hence our over-reliance on an insipid and misleading “left-right political axis” -- applying that moronic yardstick to a myriad multi-dimensional problems.)

At best, I can hope to shine light from a few unusual angles and hope that some of them make a little sense. These topic areas will be:

The context of History

The context of Human Nature

The context of Technological Change

The context of a Shift from Professionalism to Citizenship

35 comments:

Rik said...

1) Perhaps you should cross-post this at CRN;
[ 2) Link it with the need Chris Phoenix expressed for limits].

3) I think you are exaggerating the coming resentment. There may be more superrichies than ever, but they - like the rest of us - ain't gettin' any smarter. (paris hilton, anyone?)
Of course you mean the superrichies in government, but as far as I'm concerned, they don't count. It was claimed not too long ago that the US was becoming less European; but if what you are saying is true, it's looks as if it is beocming *more* European. It will become less exceptional.
I think you are too pessimistic about our new supertools. Humans are makers (= making money; making love; making merry; troublemaker; etc.) and we're very good at what we do. Once we have supertools (and I'm all for them), I think we have a fledgling global civilization on our hands. This will be a time of great upheaval, but surely, with seven billion minds, someone might come up with a solution for the worst problems?

All of this is funny though: back to the future has turned into 'back to the 17th century'. Good show by Neal Stephenson.

How are we to solve all of the coming problems? Since at present virtually no one is worried by machines 'printing' meat, I suspect people will be little more upset by more advanced versions. Been there, done that.

fpoole said...

Free markets are subject to fate and entropy. Success on a grand scale doesn't necessarily equate to similar success on the individual's scale. We can't all succeed, and the lasseiz-faire capitalist model does nothing to rectify the plight of those individuals who do not succeed. It's easy to say that the markets were successful, because in a quarter-by-quarter basis you'll probably see plenty of growth and ROI, but much of the "growth" we see today is based on people plunging themselves into irreversible levels of debt to buy stuff or simply to survive (due to the complete lack of anything worthy of the name "social welfare system").

To write off socialism seems a bit hasty because it means so many different things to so many different groups of people. Socialism doesn't have to mean state-control in the sense that we think of ex-Bloc nations. When I think of socialism I envision projects like ESA, the social market economies of Western Europe, et cetera. One reason for slow growth in the West may just be that we're beginning to reach a sort of threshold of success, so to speak. Only so much sustained growth can occur without the exploration of new frontiers. I think the "free-market" pundits on this side of the pond attribute low growth in Europe to a Cold War-rhetoricisim of the "inferior performance" or "inferiority" of social markets, but when we compare the indicators of human development, the US has somewhat of a way to go to catch up. Let's wait until we reach parity with Europe before giving growth rates that much credence. I think many economic systems can work, it's just how effectively they are deployed and what kind of participation is given that determines their success. I think the US is in for a crash soon because the success is inflated... by debt and by an unhealthy (and sort of irrational) love of consumer products. Perhaps the low demand for goods in places like Germany is an indicator that classical consumerism isn't something worth our hard-earned money.

I also find it a bit bold to call a university system that squeezes the middle class for all it's worth "the envy of the world". I just can't see University of Helsinki students flocking to Baylor.

You did bring up some solid points on the subject of competiton, however, but the old bastion of competiton, the United States, is set to face some near-unprecedented challenges from the international competitors who aren't always presented with the best life opportunities when compared with our own, but often achieve greater things despite this. Until world markets stabilise and begin to reach parity (years away, as we all know), I think that flexibility and versatility will be key. The stable, one-industry, one-career-per-lifetime model is in my view doomed because industries are constantly moving all over the place in more senses than the geographic. The more things we know how to do, the more able we are to move, the better suited we are to coping with the effects of globalization.

Before anyone replies angrily, please keep in mind that this is just a scattered set of opinions and musings stimulated by this post and a recording of a clubnight in Stuttgart. ;)

Anonymous said...

Cripes . . .

The nice thing about the administration being beholden to theocratic nut-jobs is the latter's willingness to brag and pontificate.

First we get Pat Robertson predicting a Godly Smiting for Dover, PA because they voted out a school board infested with Intelligent Design cranks.

Now a conservative evangelical doctor has been caught on tape BRAGGING about his role in helping the ideologically co-opted FDA kill a contraceptive:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/11/AR2005051101812.html

"I argued from a scientific perspective, and God took that information, and he used it through this minority report to influence the decision," Hager said. "Once again, what Satan meant for evil, God turned into good."

So God works his will through the bureaucracy of the FDA?

When the administration calls for more government functions to be turned over to "faith based" programs, this kind of blatant social engineering from the margins will get more and more common.

Stefan

Steve said...

Unless you are coining a term, "surfically socialist" is probably "superficially socialist."

When looking at the boom in wealth in the US after WWII, it is important to consider the increase in worker productivity. The one time it flattened out was in the early 80's, but since then it has continued to increase. This is probably the best single indicator of a country's wealth-generation capability. It drives the "diamond" you propose if the workers get at least a piece of what they create. It becomes interesting then to consider why the productivity increased, how it continues to increase, and how to maximize to the workers what they are ultimately responsible for achieving with that productivity. It is also interesting to consider what it means when other countries rate of productivity improvement surpasses ours (though they have not caught up yet...)

I am a huge fan of the emergent behavior of a competative market, but I think anyone except a Randite would agree that laissez-faire capitalism leads to dangerous paths. In our current system, those who are middle class and above stand a much better chance of improving their lot than those below, and we must ask from whence did their good fortune come? Go back far enough and you find that either a talented ancestor broke out of poverty, from which many of their decendents benefitted, or a fortune built on the exploitation of workers under laissez-faire.

While all men (and women) are created equal under the law, individuals have varying talents and abilities. An ideal society would find a way to maximize the ability of all to contribute to the wealth of the nation. Our system does not do that. But we do a better job than many.

Steve said...

Oh, and if you haven't yet, definately check out Freakonomics. It will startle and delight you.

Dr. Brin, I don't know if there is a way, but it would be cool if books we bring up here could be linked to amazon so you could get credit for anyone buying it there.

Frank said...

David Brin:
"...the fact that a majority of European elites appear to attain their rank as birthright..."

Why 'appear' ? What 'rank' ?

david larry said...

Did you post this?

http://www.domeafavorbuddy.com/favorfull.asp?id=256&catid=7

Matthew said...

I agree with fpoole that writing off socialism might be a bit premature, because it encompasses so many different philosophies. I've called myself a socialist from time to time, but it's an essentially meaningless term without a more detailed explanation or modifiers. "Socialists" include both Hitler and Gandhi.

The forced levelling you speak of has, of course, always failed, but because of the force, not the levelling. There was never a true levelling anyway, the people with the guns wind up with the goodies.

While fpoole thinks about social-democratic traditions when he thinks of socialism, I think about ideas that come from the anarchist-inspired side of the equation, including such non-threatening concepts as co-operatives and credit unions or mutual banks. They don't eliminate markets or competition, just shift the focus a bit toward the co-operative side of human nature.

I know you're creating an analogy of your views with Locke's, pointing to the sane alternative between repressive state socialism and aristocracy. And I'm right there with you. But the middle ground probably has more room in it than you believe. Probably the best thing we can do in the next few years is make sure there are a lot of alternatives available to people. Would ParEcon work, or be desirable for the entire economy? I doubt it very much. Would it be a useful tool for planning health care delivery in one city? Maybe. It's at least worth a shot.

David Brin said...

Rik, I hope you are right to be optimistic. Certainly there are tools for making a great civilization. But 4,000 years of history shows that the main failure modes of civilizations were:

1 - committing unknowing or deliberate environmental ecocide

2 - collapsing before foreign rivals

3 - cabals of aristocrats and clergy joining forces to suppress dissent, stifle markets and eliminate the benefits of criticism.

In fact, #3 very often led to either #1 or #2, since conspiratorial aristocratism automatically leads to bad statecraft. This is not lefty or righty talk. It is simple history.

And it is a process that is fully underway in this nation, before our eyes.

fpoole, alas, you are making the same mistake from the opposite direction. Socialism as most of us would define it is proved to be just as dangerous (though possibly nicer) than aristocratism.

You claim that Soviet style insanities weren’t a proper test of socialism. I can accept that. The European welfare states are far better experiments and they are dying before our eyes. Indignant beneficiaries and state largesse will not accept any changes in a system that rewards laziness and sloth. At a time when Europeans need a dynamic work ethic, to make up for declining populations, they are instead in love with their vacations, which expand every year.

Look, I don’t like the opposite extreme either. Americans now work harder than anybody on Earth, in part just to keep up real income against the creeping pressures of corporate excess. But there IS a middle ground and Americans are closer to it than Europeans are. Because part of the reason that Americans work harder is that Americans still LIKE to work.

Even if Corporate injustice ended, and CEO robbers were replaced by honest managers who planned and innovated and worked with labor, Americans would probably not take very many more vacation days than they already do. Because vacations aren’t a reason to get up in the morning. DOING things. That’s a reason. Making a difference with the job you have to do.

Oh, btw... there is no way that Europeans have that much better a quality of life index. Those measures emphasize, again, social welfare metrics and ignore dozens of others that Americans clearly value higher... or they would have voted themselves a welfare state.

Matthew, I agree that we need lots of experiments and alternatives! I’m the guy demanding more than one “political axis” remember?

I just think it’s vital for liberals to admit that fair competition can be good for everybody (creating wealth that can be tapped gently for “cooperative” endeavors).

Liberals must also perceive that ENFORCED cooperation can be at best a suspect alternative to competition and at-worst hypocritically self defeating.

And it is vital to force conservatives to admit that conspiratorial elites do not make for good or productive “competition.” 4,000 years of history shows that this is the worst enemy of markets. In comparison, socialists are wimps.

michael vassar said...

Is that nostalgia I hear David? The post WWII period had much good and much bad with respect to competition, freedom, etc, but its economic growth rate was not better than that in the early 20th century, nor were numbers for improvement in basic quality of life measures like life expectancy or GDP. Pollution was monstrous, society massively conformist, and literacy was declining. Art and culture were wretched, but pure science was going along fabulously, probably better than today. I think "The Aviator" shows the good and the bad pretty well.

Ecocide was far less common that the opposite, a civilization being casually crushed by natural climatic change, natural disaster, etc. Examples include Crete, Native Americans, and Lanier to the contrary Greenland.
I don't think that there have been enough instances of clergy and aristocrats NOT banding together and eliminating criticism to evaluate it as a failure mode. Until recently it was nearly universal except among the smaller tribes. Civil wars have also done in not a few societies.

I think that literacy and life expectancy can be seen as the most fundamentally clear metrics, and socialist western Europe kicks America's a** in those fields. I see essentially no evidence that Scandinavia is dying from welfare. Italy may be doing well too, it's always an exception.

Anonymous said...

Europe was a better environment for "social democracy" than the United States due to the homogeneous nature of most European countries, which in general are delineated on cultural and linguistic lines. When everyone in the country is more or less like each other it's easier to agree on common goals and then implement them in government policy.

Europe now has to play catch-up to the U.S. as immigration makes their countries less homogeneous and the question "what do we, as French/German/Swedish/etc. people think is the right thing to do?" has much less obvious an answer. The EU is a stab at moving more to a state based on an idea rather than on shared culture, and you can see the fault lines appearing where the different states have different priorities.

Japan has it even worse as they are dedicated to keeping non-Japanese out, and they just aren't breeding.

India is an interesting place to look - they have even more diversity than the U.S. does, and a democratic scene that is appropriately more complex. (They have three communist parties! And one of them is sponsoring guerillas who are roaming around the countryside blowing up mid-level officials! Do a web search for "Naxalites".) Bruce Sterling wonders in his blog if America will turn into India as opposed to the reverse; instead of economic development spreading out from India's high-tech cities and lifting up its impoverished masses, will we instead see massive widespread poverty in the US hinterland with 21st-century high-tech prosperity in key urban areas?

Anonymous said...

If we are able to "save" ourselves in the long run I think our "Supertools" will be a major part of what makes that possible. But, I do not see empowerment of that kind coming anytime soon (as in mine or my childrens life times). Both technology and societies take time to mature. I think both technology and society have major hurdles to overcome before we are capable of "saving" ourselves in the long run. I don't think major advances in one or the other alone will do the trick.

My idea of saving ourselves in the long run is attaining the decent, exciting, society most on this blog seem to want in a manner that is sustainable, and that retains a large measure of the natural beauty and species of our planet. Of course motorcycles are a must too!

It seems to me that one very important "Supertool" that will be required to achieve this is the capability to get OFF this planet and be able to harvest and make use of off planet resources, and to have room to grow, and have new frontiers to challenge those who need it (hopefully most). If we fail in this I think population growth would, sooner rather than later, cause us to lose the game. To many people and to few resources, even if we are all nice to each other.

Thanks for the GREAT blog.
Darrell

Anonymous said...

Population growth is not a really big problem ... developed countries right now have a problem with population decline.

Developing the technology required to support massive off-planet development will most likely result in technology that makes living on Earth much nicer, obviating the need to move off-world.

fpoole said...

Wow, some great comments!

David, I can see your points about the struggles Europe currently faces, but a really big problem is just that the birth rates are declining and the retirement benefits are staying the same, so more and more is being invested in to the retired population. It's not a bad thing, but their potential to generate revenue to pay back debts and correct indescrepancies in state funds isn't as great as that of working people in many cases.

I think michael vassar, however, made some clearly great points as well: Europe is very fragmented because people still haven't learned to simply live despite their differences and apply standards equally (rather than saying that this person is "French/German/etc." and that some other is "Turkish/African/etc."). I think there's a lot more potential here than most people recognise, including the Europeans, which is why a "coming together" seems so far off. The homogeneity of welfare states is often cited as the reason for their success, but homogeneity isn't the key, if we could simply learn to live without our biases. The "welfare mom", "freeloader", "job-leecher", and other stereotypes are the real problems, not the economic or social ideals and infrastructures themselves. Europe faces the same problems as America, just with different magnitudes on either side of the Atlantic.

Anonymous said...

"Population growth is not a really big problem ... developed countries right now have a problem with population decline."

I am not so sure. Some developed countries may be having problems at present, and I am aware that the higher the standard of living the less children per family, but, even in the US our population is growing. Not to mention that the populations of undeveloped countries outnumber those of developed countries by quite a bit at the moment. Also the average life spans of most peoples is increasing and science is likely to enable us to increase life spans dramatically at some indeterminate time in the future. Also, I was thinking of the long term as in 200 or even 500 years from now.

"Developing the technology required to support massive off-planet development will most likely result in technology that makes living on Earth much nicer, obviating the need to move off-world. "

Possibly. But, I can't envision a level of technology that could indefinitely sustain the human race with no other resources than those available on the planet. At least any scenarios I do come up with don't seem very inviting. You are giving me visions of the Caves Of Steel. By the way, I didn't mean moving the human race off the planet, just exploiting space.

David Brin said...

good points. But --

1. US universities are still the envy of the world. By almost any measure. And the world still sends its brightest to them. The DIFFERENCE is that now Asian scholars have vastly better chances to get rich if they go home than if they stay here.

2. After eons of wealth and welfare state support, and supposedly having vastly better schools, why hs only ONE European nation caught up with the US in % of asults who attend or graduate from university? Rich & homogeneous Norway. This despite our huge immigration (fully half of the world’s immigrants.)

3. Don’t get me wrong. I think the euros have some right ideas. We suffered a tragedy when Hillary Clinton insisted on a big Health Care fix all, instead of doing it incrementally. If she had said “insure all children” no one would have dared say no. the 94 election would not have been a neocon landslide and BC could have done more than be just the best administrator this country has ever seen.

4. I agree the euros cannot become one nation. Those who judge the EU on THAT basis are missing the point. The aim of the EU is not to become a “United States of Europe.” It is to become the world’s model for multinational supra-governance. And it is that, de facto, because there is nothing on this Earth short of nukes that will prevent the EU from gradually absorbing half of the nations on the globe.

I’ve said it before. They have a well-tuned process of “accession” that has no inherent limitation to the word “European”. The very day that the Bahamas and Uruguay apply for membership, the “E” will be dropped from the EU. If you do not like the European model of international governance (and I do not) well, you better get used to it. There’s worse models.

There could have also been better ones. But Pax Americana is currently self-destructing. All the influence that we could have exerted over the design of WCN (Whatever Comes Next) has been utterly blown away by morons.

Anonymous said...

david

At last something you say i really disagree with.

Vacation time,

i can speak with the authority of a well traveled UK expat that we europeans realy like vactions, and we dont understand the american attitude that 2 weeks a year is too long.

indeed my my american freinds tell me that taking your whole vaction entitlement is seen as proof you dont really want your job anymore.

On the other hand there are two quotes which are also worth consiering:

No one on their deathbed wishes they had spent more time at work

and "if work was so good the aristocracy would have hogged it all"

Indeed I belive this extreem "work ethic" far from being a positive thing is in fact detrimental to happiness by allowing us less time to spend with our family and freinds.

fpoole said...

I can't see Uruguay or the Bahamas applying anytime soon, but I think you're right on both points concerning the EU as a model and in principle as well as the problems it's facing.

David Brin said...

If I died tomorrow, I would wish I had watched less TV and - yes - spent less time on vacation! If that meant I could get in one more novel.

The HUGE differences between European and American attitudes toward work boil down to the notion of choice. Maybe half of all Americans CHOSE their professions, and the rest dream of doing so. That means work is partly what they want to be doing.

Oh, with lots of mixed feelings. And NOT always! But we feel it SHOULD be like that, even if it isn't. Just like we tend not to begrudge the rich, because we think that might be us, someday.

Deluded? Sure. And yet, is that really worse than despising the thing that you devote most of your waking hours to doing?

This manifests in countless interesting ways. Americans, at a party will ask each other, "So, what do you do?"

To us, this is a personable way of asking "What did you choose to spend a large share of your life striving to be good at?"

WARNING TO AMERICANS! NEVER ASK THIS QUESTION WHEN YOU ARE IN EUROPE!

I promise you, if you ask that question, in all innocence, the European you are talking to will not hear you say: "So, what do you do?"

He or she will HEAR you say "So, how much money do you make?"

I swear, it's true! It has happened to me and to dozens of people I know. And with persistent recurrence that is positively eerie.

For years I wondered how this universal mis-translation can happen so relentlessly. Theories: (a) because it fits the stereotype of snobby-pushy-money-obsessed Yanks. (Hint, we find money questions insulting too.)

But the real answer is (b) Jobs in Europe are largely about money and class. In the US, they are at least partly about "doing".

I know there are exceptions. My best friend in France is an engineer and graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique. He hates the fact that being a graduate of a grand ecole makes him a demigod. He wants to DO stuff. Not be his status.

And that is the way in which becoming more european depresses me most.

Another day, get me started on why we should become MORE european. There are plenty of ways.

Brother Doug said...

Good writing Brin. Much improved and focused, compared to earlier versions.

jomama said...

From where I sit, it looks to be too late.

Most folks think they have a "right" to the production of others. Call it cucumbers, and most can't tell the cucumbers from the potatoes.

Do you have your donkey yet?

Doug S. said...

Random question:

IS society today really diamond shaped? Perhaps the United States is, but if you include such places as India and China in your analysis, perhaps the world is as pyramidal as ever, with even "poor" Americans near the top of the pyramid.

Anonymous said...

The Americans I know seem to wish they had more vacation time, not less. Most of them are "working class", though, not "professionals".

Anonymous said...

David

same anonymous here.

Ok i get your point but arnt you a very special case a self employed novelist, in fact it would be fair to say that you are very good at something which many other people would treat as a hobby - something to be done in vacation time:

I would suggest that a dock worker, a waitress, or an investment banker (since this is not about money) is unlikly to gain the same level of self fulfilment from their job as you do.

For the vast majority of people work is something we do to feed our families and put our children through school.

Even if we enjoy it and i freely admit to loving my job it doesnt mean we dont also want to spend time fulfilling our own potential in hobbys or just spending time with the ones they love (I see my daughter for about 15 minuites a day during the week).

That given i would much rather have 4 weeks holiday than 2. (i actualy get 15 days but hten im not living in the UK anymore)

I dont think i would mind 7 weeks either but 8 might be a bit too much time off for me.

On the other hand my wife works a part time job (2 days a week)so she can spend more time with our duaghter and not push her off on daycare - is she lacking a work ethic - i dont think so. even though she gets (working it out - 36 weeks a year off)


re the money question well i guess thats true its a cultural thing.

Anonymous said...

Same anonymous is the one who made the qoute about not wishing they had spent more time at work

Dave Baker said...

I agree with Anonymous that the Euro work ethic is much healthier than the American one. Obviously everyone should have one or more important projects in his/her life. But why should the single most important project be the one you get paid for?

The fact that we have more of a chance to choose our work is in a way just a chance to make excuses for ourselves. We say to ourselves, "I didn't have to choose this job that forces me to work 55 hour weeks, so I should learn to like it." But all the other options are also 55-hour-a-week jobs!

I've always felt that one of the ways we should reap the benefits of our great productivity as a nation is through increased leisure time. But the US seems to be moving in the opposite direction, for some reason I can't understand.

Tony Fisk said...

I'm inclined to the philosophy of 'working to live' as opposed to 'living to work'.

'What do you do?' will get you a straight answer in Australia.

(and we rather like our 20 days leave pa, despite what Mr Howard would like to think!)

If you really want to blow your mind on what working conditions could be like, try reading 'the Seven Day Weekend'.

-----

Unrelated issues:
The good: Worldchanging has a couple of coolish items:
- LiquidMetal
- DIY Mobiles (wrt to previous posts about the usefulness of peer-to-peer mobiles in NO, and cool summer science projects)

...and the not so good.
In fact, downright ugly:
- Rumours that US troops used White Phosphorus as a weapon in Fallujah

The fresh morning smell...

David Brin said...

Hey, I was being ornery and contrary! (Who me?)

Naturally, I detest the way Americans' work ethic has been exploited and taken advantage of by the new robber barons. They will kill that work ethic, along with the famed Yank lack of class consciousness, with their shortsighted greed.

The same fools who called FDR a "traitor to his class" when, in fact, he SAVED the American upper class from tumbrels and guillotines.

The same fools who are the first aristocracy in US history too selfish to even help pay for a war they will not fight.

As for diamond vs yramid, get with the concept! The whole aim of modernism is to FOSTER the conversion from pyramids to diamonds. The morons want to pound the American diamond back into a pyramid of privilege. They are monsters.

Our real agenda should be to ensure that the REST of the world become diamond shaped. We have done this to a large extent, by the greatest aid program of all --

-- which consists of Americans buying 20 $trillion worth of crap they never needed. Weird weird weird. But true.

Steve said...

Why doesn't the "...same fools who are the first aristocracy in US history too selfish to even help pay for a war they will not fight," meme have legs? Jeez, eight years ago I would have guessed that those words would have been incitement to riot.

I think part of the work-ethic story is that many if not most Americans feel that, even if the job they have is not one they love, the next one might be. It is the awareness of job mobility that makes them work hard even for the job they have now that they don't like so much.

There is also the American belief in the self-made man (or increasingly, woman). Maybe it will be me that is the next Bill Gates (or just get promoted to manager). Maybe not, but maybe if I work real hard it might happen.

I think that both of these factors combine to keep Americans focused on the future prospects of their jobs, and as such they spend a lot of time working hard to try to secure that rosy future. Rather than dwell all the time on how miserable their job is in the present.

All that said, I think we do work too hard and there is a price our families pay. Then I see a lot of people who over-commit their kids to activities because of work-guilt. Then they end up spending all their non-work time ferrying around their kids to the fourteen different activities they have. Personally I think one activity for each kid at a time with all the other time learning how to be adults from their parents is ideal.

But when it really comes down to it, I believe in taking my retirement in installments throughout my life. I run my business and spend a lot of time with my kids and wife. It is not for everyone, but it works for me.

On population, here are the population growth rates from The World Factbook. I believe that in the US we are running 2.1 children per woman, which is near replacement rate or zero population growth. Without immigration and immigrant births, we would be negative as well. I think negative population growth is going to be a real issue for many governments since they can't spend their way out of problems counting on increasing tax rolls to pull them out.

Anonymous said...

The use of white phosphorous is not illegal.

It is not a chemical weapon, as some muck-rakers would have you believe.

White phosphorous is an incindiary that incidentally creates a cloud of choking gas, and may incidentally suffocate those lucky enough not to be horribly burned as it uses up all of the oxygen in the area.

But again . . . it isn't illegal. It just should be. And if the other side had it and our guys started arriving home with wounds and injuries even more horrible than missing limbs you can bet that it would be illegal.

And maybe not even then, since the lives of the sons and daughters of politicians and the wealthy aren't at stake.

Stefan

HarCohen said...

@david b

This discussion or this blog needs to explore the nature of philanthropy in this country when talking about unique American institutions. Something I'm not qualified to talk about in depth, but I understand our practices and behavior are fundamentally different from much of the rest of the world.

Higher education's management of fundraising, grants, development, and alumni relations has much to do with the health of the institutions of higher learning and any 'pre-eminence' in the world.

But what happens as the new Asian professionals decide to keep their money at home and invest in their own institutions for the sake of their children? The same thing that happened when American wealth built institutions that made it less necessary for their children to study abroad.

I also believe great educational institutions arise where the hardest practical problems are being solved because the smart people concentrate there. The ones that can teach as well as solve problems will develop their own institutions.

To repeat, more and more problems are solved and implemented in Asia, wealth arises from the solutions, and new institutions will be built with that wealth. High bandwidth communications will forestall the development but not eliminate it.

Harlan

michael v said...

Count inputs not outputs. More Americans than Europeans go to college because our high schools don't prepare us to be able to make a living wage. As a result, non-elite higher education is very watered down here in the US. In the US, a non-technically oriented person might very well major in German and graduate with worse German than the English posessed by a German high school graduate.

I agree that the elite US schools are excellent, as demonstrated by our scientific and technological achievements, but the US gets no credit for simply sending people to college.

Anonymous said...

Indignation rant mode on.
David B: What a disengenuous defense of work. You can't possibly argue in favor of working more for people in general based on the fact that you, who have been a physicist and a novelist, two dream jobs which are utterly unattainable to the VAST majority of people, value your median work time more than your median recreational time. Of course you do. But you don't even have "vacations" a boss, or even a "job". Just try telling someone with a typical job, say at Wall Mart, driving a truck, or working in some government bureaucracy, that they are doing what they want to do. Any particular such person *might* be said to have made choices that lead them into their job, which they are dissatisfied with, rather than to yours, but it is IMPOSSIBLE that oh, say 1% of the people working at Wall Mart could survive as novelists.

News flash David. For most Americans work is ONLY about money. When they say otherwise, THEY ARE LYING. Thing is, you won't catch them at it because you don't even have to meet that sort of person. In your status AS AN ELITE you get to see them check our your groceries and think "Isn't it nice that they are able to find employment in our dynamic economy".
David. If we all love work so much, why are we all posting on your blog between 9am and 5pm (check), stealing our employer's time? Why is Dilbert the most popular comic strip BY FAR?
OK, ranting isn't good for people. Rant mode off.

Tony Fisk said...

@Stefan:
Does that make White Phosphorus an 'incidentiary'?;-)

The real furore is a video linking use of white phosphorus with civilian casualties.
I don't know the full details of this, and am being cautious about finger pointing. But it needs investigating.

While the teaching of ID as seance is being deliberated, Groklaw reports on other fronts of the 'culture war':
- Massachusetts: The ODF Battle Gets Ugly
- Damage Runs Deep With Sony-BMG Fiasco

reason said...

I think David has been hit on the head enough over his rather silly comment about holidays. So I'm going to add to it! -)
I think most people who chose to work more (in order mostly to make more money) are mainly driven by anxiety. If I'm not sure I'm going to have a job tomorrow I'd better make the most I can today. I think one of the major fallacies of neo-classical economics is that it does not treat security as having a value (hell we don't even measure it in the national accounts). But how can you raise a family without security. The longer average hours people work, the greater the supply of labour and so the more competition there is. And what do people do with the extra income? They compete with other for houses, driving their prices to crazy levels. So now we have couples working 80-90 hour weeks together and living less well than their parents did who together did less than 40 hours of paid work.

I could also point out that a labour scarce society should also see productivity rising faster because raised productivity will save work not cost jobs. By the way, I don't believe the productivity measures that are being reported now are realistic. They are badly biased by poor inflation estimates.

David - I know you once mused about how good it would be to have a labour scarce society again. Workaholicism is not the way to get it! (Yes I know - the lump of labour fallacy - but none the less there are plenty of other good social and ecological reasons to cut down on paid work.)

But on the blog topic itself - I really enjoyed it - I'm looking forward to the rest.

Sometimes I think you are Americans are peculiarly distracted by the disastrous ideological direction of the country and can't see the dangerous ecological, demographic and economic developments that are threatening prosperity throughout the devloped world and demand some really innovative advances in economic theory. (The September Sciam is a start). But America is so big and powerful these ideological developments really frighten me too.