24 June 2006

Crutches for weak thinkers… …or else manipulative tools exploited by those who want to be our masters

A lengthy but worthy screed by David Brin concerning “Allocation vs Markets” &mdash an ancient struggle with strange modern implications. Another of his invectives that rails against the so-called "left-right political axis".
As most of you know, I have long inveighed against the hoary and almost-meaningless so-called "left-right political axis," a metaphor to which (absurdly) countless millions of people still cling, 250 years after the French (of all people) thought it up -- a "spectrum" that mindlessly narrows and channels all political debate. A tidy model that halves every political IQ, forcing sophisticated, 21st Century minds into enmity with folk who may share many values, and compels you into alliance with others who want a world very different than you do.

Brin details the fallacies of Guided Allocation of Resources (GAR) versus the modern "fetishism" of Faith in Blind Markets. First exactly, what is GAR?

This notion contends that society’s best, brightest and wisest should decide how capital will be invested, which goods will be produced, and who will work at what tasks.

To those who were raised in the 20th Century, this description surely sounds like socialism. But that is a narrow and parochial view of GAR. A glaring logical and historical fallacy. An absurdity, in fact. (As a test of your own flexibility and sagacity, stop here and ponder for a moment why I call this reflex association preposterous. Why do I say that socialism is NOT the foremost or exclusive exemplar of guided allocation? Think "history" and stretch your assumptions a bit, before reading on.)

In fact, GAR has been the fundamental principle of governance and economics in nearly all human societies -- not just socialistic ones -- ever since the discovery of agriculture! Take the cabals of kings, nobles, and clerics that ruled over most of them. Those oligarchs felt just as sure of their superior ability to manage and allocate resources -- including human labor -- as the Soviet nomenklatura commissars were. Perhaps more so!

But what about the logical trap at the other end, the postulation that the wise opposite of GAR is Faith in Blind Markets (FIBM):

In other words, because we have learned that GAR (all capital letters) stinks as a general system, that means we must flee as far as we can, to extremes in the diametric direction! We should reject any use of "gar" (lower case) tools to help markets work better. In extremum, this teaching calls upon us to reject the entire suite of problem-solving methodologies that involve political deliberation, prioritizing and allocating a certain fraction of social resources toward the accomplishment of thoroughly considered and democratically-chosen consensus goals.

Um, has anyone else pondered the unbelievable reductio meaning of this cult incantation? That an ideal human society should make little or no use of our great facility for planing and foresight?

Individuals may peer ahead. Corporations are allowed to do so. Aristocrats may do so in small collusive groups and in secret. But en-masse we must spurn our hard-won propensity for gedankenexperiment and precautionary action!

Astonishingly, those who seek a fetishistic opposite to GAR seem to be declaring faith and fealty to a new godhead. A non-promethean deity who demands quiet from humanity's collective prefrontal lobes. In blithe and devout expectation of externally-delivered salvation, they pray to an idol of mass-social unsapience.

The crux of the matter?

…history shows that we have absolutely no basis for blindly trusting that creative cornucopia explosion to happen all by itself! The engendering of those creative millions is too serious and important a task to leave to such a simple dogma! Especially to a blithe nostrum, that has no support in the long history of nations.

True, hierarchical guided allocation proved dangerous and stupid countless times in the past. But not when it has been applied toward well-focused tasks that enhance the capability of millions of human beings to become sagacious individual citizens and market participants! Our universities and internets and democracies and civil rights and commercial codes and free education and subsidized roads and nutrition programs and countless other measures that mitigated the tendency of society to slump into a pyramidal hierarchy of inherited privilege. By helping each generation of kids to believe - in some confidence - that they are able to innovate and cooperate and joyfully compete, we created the world's first diamond-shaped society.

And we did it using judicious dollops of carefully considered gar... (lower case)... not GAR.

If the left is never satisfied in pushing for such things, sometimes forgetting what they are for, the right has no claim to be smug. They take all of these things (like civil rights) for granted, glad to accept the benefits, forgetting that conservatives fought against every last one of them, and now resist every new fine-tuning that might help the great cornucopian machine to work better.

While I don't agree with Brin on other issues, this polemic here is on the mark and it is my hope that many will grok it and get it. That they will see through the subterfuge advanced by partisans of the two party power base, to grasp the root political principles from which legislation should be based on.