Sunday, February 26, 2012

Prostitution and the Alienation of Wage Labor

Do most people only ever do things out of love? Must that be the immediate cause of everything we do?

I have been trying to figure out the Marxist arguments against wage employment, which they claim alienates a person from their work and what that work produces. With this as their ultimate argument, this is what has to be addressed -- economic arguments are ultimately irrelevant to them.

I think I have figured out the answer. It came a few nights ago in a discussion my wife and I were having about prostitution after watching John Stossel on Fox News. The issue was not whether or not prostitution should be legal -- we both agree it should -- but rather whether or not it should be considered acceptable. My argument was that if one considers having sex without love acceptable, then whether or not there is a money transaction is irrelevant. Anyone who believes one should never have sex without love is being consistent in their opposition to prostitution; anyone who believes sex without love is acceptable is being inconsistent if they then persist in opposing prostitution. Why is having sex with a different person every night for free better than having sex with a person every night for money? Is it because we consider sex to be a gift?

A startling conclusion! Yet, it fits into our attitudes regarding gifts and the gift economy. Suppose you offered someone a gift, and they offered to pay you for it? Would you not feel offended? The person who does something out of love -- who creates gifts -- feels morally superior to those who do something out of a profit motive. We consider the gift-giver to have higher status than the profit-maker ; the gift-giver, too, is in fact doing what they are doing for status. This is inherent in the fact that the gift economy is precisely about gaining status; this is its currency -- and its danger. The danger lies in the development of the potlatch, where the participants try to outdo each other, even at their own detriment. Promiscuous men and women have high status -- they are popular -- and are participants in a kind of sexual potlatch. This occurs when the gift-giving is separated from love. Yet, that original motivation is often assumed, so the gift-giver gains status despite the lack of love.

We see this attitude at work in all areas of the gift economy. We respect poets who publish for free in literary journals, but not those who work for Hallmark. We respect (and trust) university scientists over corporate scientists. The philanthropic organization (or even the government in its role in the gift economy) is considered purer in purpose than corporate givers. Those who (at least appear to) create and give out of love are believed superior to those who create and give out of a desire for profit. Many consider charity-givers to be better than job-givers, though it is only the latter that creation wealth.

This brings me back to the alienation argument. The Marxist believes all work out to be in the gift economy. All work ought to be out of love. And if it's not, it's alienating. To the Marxist, all age labor is prostitution, and ought to have the same stigma attached to it. Thus they declare wage labor to be immoral and something which ought to be prohibited -- for the wage laborer's own good. Indeed, this is the most common justification for keeping prostitution illegal: that it is for the prostitutes' own good. Further, you often hear arguments that prostitution is "alienating," etc. for the prostitutes -- the same arguments Marxists make against wage labor, prostitution opponents make against prostitution.

Ultimately, if you agree that prostitution is "alienating" for the prostitute, you agree with the Marxist analysis of wage labor. But if wage labor is not alienating, then neither is prostitution. Ultimately, those who oppose prostitution believe sex should be freely given away, as though that transaction is good in and of itself, but making it a money transaction sullies it. The question those who oppose prostitution and/or wage labor need to answer is: what is it about money that makes its use (in making transactions easier and more rational) immoral? With the understanding that the first preference is a loving relationship, if that's an option, why would people prefer their daughters (or sons) to be poor sluts rather than rich prostitutes? Why is it better to not be paid to do what I love than to be paid? And why should I not be allowed to be paid to do things I don't love?

The ultimate question, then, is: must everything we do necessarily be done out of love? Is that the only legitimate motivation? Or, specifically, the only legitimate immediate motivation? I think mistaking the immediate for the ultimate is where the problems lie.

I write poems and plays and do scholarly work because I do have an immediate love for doing those things; however, I want a job in which I earn a wage because I have an ultimate love for my wife and children, and I care for their (and my own) material comforts. My love for my family and for myself (self-preservation) drives my desire for working for a wage so I can provide for those I love. I do not need to love everything I do to earn that wage (it would probably be best if I did not hate what I do; but I could be neutral, which would include some balance of liking and not liking) for me to have a fulfilling life. My life and work is alienated only if I work only (or primarily) for unknown others rather than for my loved ones. If most of my wages are taxed away so others may benefit, that would cause me to feel alienated from my wage labor. The same is not true if I reap all the benefits for my loved ones. Ironically, then, Marx's heavily graduated income tax (in The Communist Manifesto) would in fact create alienation among the workers, not their wage labor.

It is a lovely idea to think that everyone ought to be able to do only what they love. But that is what those in the gift economy do. And not everyone could or should be in the gift economy. Even in the poorest places, gift economies exist -- but it is only when there is widespread wealth that the gift economy can come into full fruition and spread its benefits. Science, the arts, and philanthropy find their fullest fruition in wealthy countries. And the wealthiest countries are those with the freest economies. Wealth-creating profit-making is the foundation for a healthy, robust gift economy. But the two are not the same thing, and should not be considered the same thing. Wage labor is not alienating just because it's not in the gift economy. It's not supposed to be. We are judging market activities with foreign values, and when we judge one system with the values of another, we are prone to make mistakes in judgment.

In the end, Marxists want people to have nothing but personal, loving relationships, to all be as close as we all, as a species, once were in primitive tribal conditions. But that's not a realistic option in such a complex society as ours. Thus, spontaneous orders emerge which allow us to interact with a wide variety of unknown others in such a way that we are able to coordinate, cooperate, and otherwise get along. Those who hate the market in fact hate the social relationships which both cause and emerge in spontaneous orders. We cannot all love each other; sometimes, we just have to tolerate each other. Not all of our relationships can be personal; sometimes we have to cooperate on a single project, then part. The Marxist dream that we will all know each other in a personal fashion is impossible.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Last 1 1/2 Weeks

As one can probably imagine from my last posting, I have been too busy to post much of late. It did not help that I attended, last weekend, a Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference on higher education.

Having three children is chaos. Utter chaos. Daniel is having a hard time of it. I had to take him out on a father-son date to help him feel better. A little time, just him and me, at Starbucks, playing with cars on a table. It seemed to raise his spirits for a few days.

At the FSSO conference, we basically concluded that revolutionary change is both unlikely and counterproductive, that any changes will likely be marginal, and that probably most students are getting what they want, anyway. This is what happens when you believe in social change on the margins, keeping tradition in consideration at all times. Of course, not all traditions are good, and that is why change is sometimes necessary. But what happens when the professors have a different concept of what education is than most of the students? And what if many professors prefer the students' attitudes, because that means far less work for them?

The good news is that the new baby sleeps well, wakes up to eat every 3 hrs, like clockwork, and is not fussy at all. In other words, Anna and I can actually get some sleep. This differentiates Dylan considerably from both Melina and Daniel when they were his age. With them, we did not get sleep for about 8 weeks.

Now that the FSSO conference is over, on to the next round of projects. I have a book review to get done asap, and a paper on the Basic Income Guarantee vs. the Negative Income Tax, which is due in June. Those are of immediate importance. I also need to work on my paper "Why Economists Ought to Go to the Theater" and I am thinking about a paper on the relationship of higher education to the various spontaneous orders. The latter was, of course, inspired by the FSSO conference.

This is my life right now: alternating between domestic life and a life of the mind. I read philosophy, economics, and literature, and Dr. Seuss, Biscuit phonics, and princess stories. I attend conferences and play with trucks. All I need now is a job, and my life will be perfect.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Dylan Francisco Camplin

Today, at 1:30 pm, Dylan Francisco Camplin was born.

And there was much rejoicing. (Yea!)

He is #3, and he will be the last.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Thoughts on the Evolution of Social Complexity in Humans

Whenever I engage in discussions with people who object to evolutionary explanations of human behavior, I discover the same underlying misconceptions of evolution.

First, we need to realize that the presence of a trait does not mean it was necessarily selected for or 100% adaptive. Evolution is not teleological. You can have traits that are adaptive, traits that are neutral, and even traits that are slightly maladaptive, so long as it is not overly harmful. Those of the latter two kinds can act as sort of “preadaptations” for different future conditions, if they end up being neutral in the original environment, but adaptive in a later one. Also, one can have the evolution of a trait that is both adaptive and maladaptive. The dropping of the larynx, for example, is necessary for speech – but dropping it also makes human susceptible to choking. The latter is clearly maladaptive, especially since it does kill some people, but it is also clear that language was so beneficial, that it over-rode the slightly maladaptive element to the adaptation.

Another example of this is our having adapted a hypersensitivity to the presence of intentionality. Those who were able to detect intention – which is to say, those able to see an orderer behind any order – were more likely to survive in a world full of other tribes who were more likely to spear first, ask questions later. It was better to mistakenly see intention than to miss it, so those who overapplied the presence of intention were more likely to survive. Combine that with the unifying elements of ritual and storytelling, and you have religion. This too is adaptive insofar as it enhances social cohesion. Hypersensitivity to intentionality only becomes maladaptive if, once people reject religion, they continue to believe that for there to be order there must be an orderer, and they then go on to adopt socialist ideals. This indeed, was Marx’s objection to capitalism, that it was chaotic. He could not even see the order in it, though it is an exemplary example of self-organization and the patterns associated with such processes.

This sets us up to deal with the specific objection, which is that it makes no sense for people to be so social that they will accept others from other tribes into their own. As it turns out, Darwin himself dealt with this issue – and dealt with it in the way that most evolutionary moral theorists have come around to themselves – which is the “expanding tribe” theory of increasing moral behavior. Insofar as one is dealing with related individuals, altruism is pretty easy to explain. But how do you know who is related to you? This is easy enough if you are a member of a tribe – everyone in the tribe is your relative. However, chimpanzee females leave their troop for other troops once they reach sexual maturity. Humans do the same thing. Both are driven by the Westermarck effect – an evolutionary adaptation that reduces significantly incest. One of the results is that other troops/tribes end up having your relatives in them. For chimpanzees, this is not an issue – if you are a member of another troop, too bad for you. However, bonobos do not go to war with each other. Humans are about halfway in between in behavior. This, in combination with the presence of language, which can act as a marker for relatedness, can tie together a number of tribes. Especially those tribes that used to be united, but divided because of environmental conditions. Religion can also act as a social marker in this sense. Thus, those who speak the same language and practice the same religion could remain closely connected. This was strengthened by trade between such tribes. Bonobos engage in a primitive kind of trading, but human trade is much more complex. It is one of the main drivers of social cohesion, and can even override significant social differences, such as language and religion. In a species which over-applies behaviors, it should not be surprising to find trade being extended to even non-related tribes over time.

There are two things that are distinct to humans: language and trade. I believe both can be explained quite handily using evolutionary theory. One would have to argue that both language and trade are a divine dispensation – that God gave us both language and market activity – as both are sufficient to explain the expanding tribe theory. Social signaling is sufficient – if we can communicate with others we are members of the same expanded tribe, then we are accepted.

I do not believe any of this necessarily denies the existence of God. I would have to wonder at the kind of God who could not create a universe that did not need his constant intervention for things to go right. If you want to believe in that pathetic little moron, by all means do so -- it's just not a God for me. Further, it may be that we are all evolving toward God, emerging toward the ultimate emergence.

And that brings me to the problem of the concept of emergence. Too many people are still rejecting this concept, acting as though all scientific explanation is necessarily reductionist. That is an impoverished science. And it misses half the universe -- the evolving, complexifying half. What is the relation, then between the brain and mind (which is really what I've been talking about, above)? Well, to amino acids, the cell is an emergent phenomenon. And it is, in relation to its constituent biomolecules. It has emergent behaviors, and the existence of the cell affects the kinds of chemical activities that take place, when and where they take place, to a certain degree. Similarly, the (inter)actions of the neurons in the embodied brain in their minding processes give rise to the mind, an emergent process. This mental order in turn is able to affect the underlying neural activity to a certain degree. The economy, for example, is a complex emergent process created by the interactions of a variety of embodied minds. The mind is a complex emergent process created by the interactions of a variety of neurons. A cell is a complex emergent process created by the interactions of a variety of biomolecules. Atoms and their ability to engage in chemical reactions are complex emergent processes created by the interactions of a variety of subatomic particle-waves. You can call this reductionist if you want, but if you only engage in reductionism, and ignore emergent properties, you won’t have the foggiest idea what is really going on. In this sense, Darwinian evolution is not reductionist, and nobody is reducing a thing by invoking it as a proper explanation of biological activities.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


Mario Rizzo on rationality. I recommend paying attention to Peter Lewin's first comment, too.

A few thoughts:

Reason is contextual.

Reason is not what you think the person should do, but has to do with the person in question having good reasons given what they know.

Reason cannot assume perfect knowledge.

A rational decision is not monological. For example, I may know that if I want to accomplish X, I must do Y. But I do not want to do Y for moral reasons. Thus, it is rational for me not to do Y, even if it will accomplish X for me, even if someone else does not find doing Y immoral.

Institutions matter. What is rational in one institutional context may be irrational in another.

Perhaps spontaneous order matter as well. That's an idea that needs to be developed more.

Beginning the Marginal Revolution (if I could)

I was asked what I would do if I could begin to make changes in the political economy of the United States. Of course, being a Hayekian and spontaneous order scholar, I understand that the changes that need to take place have to be marginal changes. You have to keep in mind the fact that all changes have to take place within the context of the rules that already exist.

Thus, one has to consider what the elimination of a given regulation will cause to happen. The last thing you want to do is deregulate in such a way that you end up with people demanding to reregulate, because other regulations on the books are now causing different problems. We have to remember that when the government "solves" a problem, it creates regulations that in turn cause their own problems, that the government then blames the market so they can put on more regulations, etc. in a vicious circle. That being the case, one has to be careful, because simply removing the last regulation put in place may result in the problems the layer of regulations preceding it caused. To the extent possible, an analysis of regulatory cause-and-effect would have to be done to figure out how to dismantle the regulations in such a way that few problems would occur.

At the very least, it seems to me that we need to do away with socializing loss. This allows companies to justify taking much greater risks than they would otherwise take, since the profit will be theirs, but the loss will be spread out among the citizens of the country. I suspect a lot of regulations can go once we do this.

Another thing we could do right away is get rid of corporate welfare. There should be no subsidies. Subsidies distort the market, and they go to the already-established as it is.

Remove barriers to entry to allow competition. All federal barriers to entry could be removed, and the states would then be in a position of either adopting them themselves or letting the barriers go away. With competition among the states, there would likely be fewer barriers over time. Indeed, simply de-federalizing most legislation would allow for spontaneous order marginal changes to take place, since competition among the states for both businesses and workers would likely encourage moves toward market reforms, since free markets are most productive.

I would implement a simple flat tax. That would reduce the tax bureaucracy considerably and release a lot of tax lawyers and accountants to do something that creates economic wealth and value.

I would replace all welfare programs, including social security, with a basic income guarantee.

I would begin procedures to decentralize our banking system with the goal of the creation of a free banking system. With local banking responding to local conditions, monetary recessions and depressions would become a thing of the past (except insofar as the rest of the world continues to have central monetary planning, that is -- still, much of that would be considerably moderated by the ability of local banks to react to local conditions).

Cutting military spending and getting us out of everyplace on earth would go a long way to paying down the debt, as would the economic boom that would take place as people were freed to pursue their economic interests and create more new businesses and, thus, jobs. This would help bring interest rates in line with the natural interest rate of interest, too. Having true free trade with the rest of the world (regardless of what they do) would also benefit our economy considerably, as lower prices benefit everyone.

I would also defederalize the drug war.

This all seems like a lot, but in fact much of it really is just tinkering around the edges. There is much more that would have to be done. But simply de-federalizing much of what we do would make a huge difference. Our government should have a power-law distribution of power, like every other natural self-organizing process. The more we move away from such a distribution, the less natural our government and economy become -- and the weaker and less wealthy we all become.