Archive for the ‘An ideal life’ Category

Hi!  It’s me, Trivium, posting for the first time in a long while.  I tried doing the song lyrics analysis thing here last year for a while and it was fun, but I know that mostly why people still come here is for the trenchant, often economical analysis of various topics that matter.

I’ve been wanting to do something on this for a while, since the Black Lives Matter movement exploded a year or two ago, but well, a) it seems like blogs have moved on a bit, and are now a bit 2008, and b) time, time time, which they are attempting to squeeze out of even professors now more than ever.  I am resisting, but one can only resist one’s employer so much and still stay in the good books.  Basically as my professional life has taken off, it’s meant so much less mental energy for blog posts.  Today in fact, I should be organizing a conference and writing the intro to my latest edited volume, but…

So here’s a topic which interests me, the long-term economic historian, so much.  And where I think I have a genuinely useful voice to add to the din, and perhaps help people to get over their own bigotry and prejudices, and get more into actually solving today’s most serious problems.

Ok, so the world has gone a bit crazy over ‘identity politics’ in the last year or so.  This is a natural development of what has been going on in intellectual circles since about 1990, and in some ways, decades before that.  It is the trend where identifiable minorities become the darling hero of progressives.  So basically for progressives the more minority you are, the better.  So if you’re gay, great:  if you’re a gay pirate, better, if you’re a substance-abusing, sadomasochistic, gay pirate, even better~!  I know a professor who got a coveted tenure job writing about these:  no joke.  And in progressive circles, i.e., around liberal arts departments, one can hardly get a job now unless one is a minority, or ‘at least’ a woman:  a recent university of chicago ad said:  we want 3 things from candidates:  a list of publications, a list of teaching qualifications, and a statement of how you have contributed to campus diversity in the past.  Wow.  And yet, they tell you if you ask, that there is no ‘bias’ towards minority or women candidates.  In fact, while women and minority progressives harp on about how they can’t get equal pay etc., in academia, the pendulum has demonstrably turned against white male new hires, at least.  I know the old boy network is still white male, in many cases, but for new hires, you’re up shit’s creek without a paddle if you’re a white dude, who happens still to be the majority of applicants in topics like say, European philosophy.  But if you’re black and do European history or literature, you have 10 job offers in one year, while if you’re white with a much better CV of publications, you have 1 offer in 10 years if you’re lucky.  Now I exaggerate a bit, but I’ve been around and seen a lot, and this is the clear trend in academic hires.

Fine.  My point is that the conservative movement does have a bit of real ammunition, when they argue that things have moved perhaps a bit towards the hysterical regarding ‘the nightmare it is to be black in America today’ as a recent slate article about a movie about black people put it.  It assumes that at every moment, to be black in the US right now is to inhabit a special type of torture.  And I’ve been following the police brutality thing:  I am the very first to admit please note, that there are massive problems with police racism and that US cops in general are way way too aggressive:  (a lot of this has to do with the fact that guns are legal and so they are always facing death:  this might get people more on edge.) (more…)

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* “Evil” being shorthand for a combination of:  Irrational/Anti-scientific/Angry/Selfish/Cynical/and/or Bigoted.

Now we know that the South has some good qualities; politeness, manners, duty, fairness; I was born there and half my family is from there, so I’m not just “whistling Dixie” with this post.  It is meant to be a serious beginning of a scientific inquiry into the following conundrum:

When one looks at all of the societies in the ‘developed’ world, the US South stands out for routinely electing politicians who are, for lack of a better set of words:  dumb jerks.  Angry, selfish, brutal, cynical, short-sighted, anti-environmental, anti-empathetic, bigoted, irrational, anti-scientific, even anti-economic stability.  Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin (an honorary member, since it’s southerners who respond to her brand of politics, mostly).

Why, alone in the developed world, does the US South do this?  Here’s a short list of probable causes, which it will be remembered, in any social system contribute varying percentages of causality:

1.  Slavery.  People who moved to the US South originally, knew that it was a slave area.   (more…)

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That is the question, isn’t it?

It’s a pretty fundamental one.  If you answer no to that one, the rest of your flow chart doesn’t mean much.  At least, not in any way that us alive in this cosmos can register.

Do I believe in an afterlife?  I strongly suspect that there are links with our cosmos/universe that we don’t entirely get.  Does that mean that our souls continue on in a recognizable form, that we ourselves recognize, after death?  I would really like to think so, although of course it seems pretty far fetched at first.  There are some reasons to believe that the universe is not randomly created–intelligent design people aren’t entirely evidenceless; and that leads me to hope that, somehow, our universe is a birthing place for new ‘gods’, that is, souls/creatures which eventually have an existence/life beyond our universe; or which can travel through it and spacetime.  If there is a god/gods, then they obviously want us to do things mostly ourselves.  But we’ve said this a bit before.  And I would go so far as to say that the theologians at work today have come up with some pretty interesting stories, which do engender hope; I am talking partly about John Polkinghorne, and Alister McGrath, and Thomas Torrence.  These latter make a case for a specifically Christian theology, but again, this need not be incompatible with other theologies entirely.

Of course, our current state of scientific knowledge would tell us that indeed life is meaningless; we are manifestations of DNA wanting to reproduce ourselves; we have no more purpose than cancer cells, which mindlessly propagate (and then die) as long as we are in a situation where we are not annihilated entirely.

And so many intelligent people have been, in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, quite cynical as to the ‘meaning of life.’ They point to the billions on the planet, the existence of toil, suffering, filth, pain, loneliness, debility, ageing, corruption, cruelty in the lives of so many.  The internet is full of people copulating; cities are full of horrible buildings; television and movies are full of gore and torture.  Freud was right:  we are bestial, murderous animals.

So why bother?  If we’re, as a doctor friend pointed out, about 15 cents worth of chemicals, why do it?


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Because the wealthy have been in power since the beginning of civilization, they have been very keen to stigmatize poverty as an evil to be cured, but never wealth.

In the Enlightenment, people began to realize that wealth, like poverty, was an evil to be cured; Marx and Engels took over this banner, and unfortunately all talk of being against extreme wealth ended up being powerfully associated with Marxism/Communism/Socialism.

But, now, we’re finally moving into a post-Marxist society, where we can once again, after 100 years or more of Marxism/Communism, begin to talk about extreme wealth, or more specifically extreme disparities of wealth, as a social evil which should ideally be cured.

Note there is also a distinction between theory and practice:  de facto, democracies tolerate extreme wealth only because we have not yet come up with a social system which can create wealth for the many which does not also have the (unfortunate) side effect of creating extreme wealth for a few.  Really, if we could create a society with more equality, democracies would do that, because the many will inherently be jealous of the few, if they realized that there was no good reason to have wealth.  As it is, even the most learned economists realize that we need extreme wealth in order to have entrepreneurialism, innovation, incentives, etc, and that our economy can’t do well without these things.  So there is no push, at the pundit and elite level, to do away with extreme wealth, even in France, which is one of the more anti-wealth societies yet created.  (more…)

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Dear Readers,

Indeed trivium has been mute for a while, only stopping by to approve comments (which are always welcome), and to post a few links here and there.

This is because he has been entirely whorled up in the process of securing tenure, or something like it.  This has been good for his academic writing, but his extracurricular writing has been on hiatus… since those energies have generally been taking up by teaching, and by learning yet another language.  I realize that I started this blog during a hiatus in my teaching, and that indeed teaching has taken up some of those same energies that gets me fired up to write here on the Platonist.  I think that much good work has been done, and indeed the readership here is growing significantly every month it seems, so I want to keep the site up, and current, and let everyone know that we’re still here, and planning on maintaining and furthering the ideals set out here.

That being said, I think that the social movement that is and probably will for the forseeable future remain closest to my heart is the notion of founding the Institute for Consumer Focused Economics.  I like the fact that the title sounds corporate, and financial.  The point is to get the attention of those who work in those worlds, to let them know that we can speak the same language, and use the same equations, and yet begin and end with a radically different ‘product,’ i.e., an economics which is about the enrichment of the average individual, rather than an economics which is about the enrichment of the nation, the corporation, or the wealthy few (who are so often in conservative think-tanks equated with the best, the most energetic, the most innovative, the hardest working, etc., even though most of them began with signficiantly greater access to wealth, education, and/or intellectual gifts than most of us.

I have been talking about something like the ICFE for a long time.  I am not even sure what form it will take.  I would like to apply for funds to open a center.  I would love to organize the publication of a newsletter, and perhaps turn the Platonist into a hub for the ICFE, or create a new website.  This will require some time and energy on my part which right now is hardly able to be forthcoming:  society has made it so difficult for us to obtain secure jobs, compared with a generation ago, that we have less and less time to pursue those interests which might actually change the world for the better… of course, the powers that be don’t tend to mind this state of affairs, really, either.

So:  let’s call this a foundation.  It is founded.  As of right now, it exists.  The ICFE.  The Institute for Consumer Focused Economics.  What are our goals?


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Dear Reader.  As you may know, trivium makes a living as an economic historian, that is, someone who attempts to understand why and how material wealth has been created over the course of history:  why some are rich, and others are poor, in other words.  The idea, for trivium, is to understand this, so that we can focus our efforts on maximizing the wealth of the many, rather than (as is now, and has historically been the case), maximizing the wealth of the few who are already rich.   

So spread the word:  I have an idea which if adopted by economists, would focus the efforts of economists and politicians on increasing the wealth of the household, rather than on the wealth of the self-serving ‘me‘ (ala Alan Greenspan, Ron Paul, and Ayn Rand), or the wealth of nations (ala Adam Smith, and classic economic theory).  If you create an economy which maximizes the wealth of the ‘rational individual’ (read:  the one with billions to invest), you end up creating an economy in which massive inequality of wealth seems natural and logical.

But, just as humans began by continually fighting, and by organizing themselves into hierarchies, and by having all sorts of brutal religious and political rituals, and by creating states based on exploitation and violence, but have slowly, in some places, created democratic states in which more people have more access to peace, equality, freedom from fear, freedom from oppression, etc., and have even begun to see this as a fundamental human right…

…so we can now begin to see freedom from economic oppression as a fundamental human right.

This means, that we need to turn our attention towards understanding how economics can serve the needs of the many, not merely the needs of the few, or the elite, or ‘the country’ in general (which de facto means the economic and political elite, since, a) these are usually interrelated, and b) the few hold the lion’s share of the capital in any given country).

My crucial insight on this plain has been the fact that the household is the basic unit, which in a given country, has its income set by the powers that be (employers), so that the household will be able to buy what are considered the ‘necessiites of life.’  In turn, the average household income tends to determine the prices of things:  the average household’s expense sheet will of necessity look like this:  (more…)

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I think it was.  Having lived extensively in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, hopping back and forth since the early 90s, I can say that U.S. suburbia really smokes the competition.  Canada was not far behind, perhaps Australia wasn’t so bad either, but it always strikes me as being pretty far from everywhere and thus essentially a bit duller.

Let’s look at the possible competitors for ‘happiest place in history.’  Basically, it’s obvious that there is no competition between pre-WWII and post-WWII societies, since before the war in most societies the vast majority of people were miserably poor.  Even if it was happy to be a rich, or middle class, person in this or that country prior to WWII, postwar developments in medicine, (dare I say it) technology, and just general wealth and happiness have made rich and middle-class peoples’ lives much better since then.

So we can indeed restrict ourselves to post WWII, and to the post WWII west, since almost everywhere else was poor, miserable, communist, or some combo.  Japan was ok materially after the 1950s, but doesn’t strike one as being a super happy society.  Too much stricture, too much crowding, not enough space, too much patriarchy, relations between the sexes are strained, women are restricted, men are forced to play tough guy serious roles to prove machismo, not to mention workaholism.  So Japan is out too.  Which leaves us basically post-1945 U.S., Canada, western Europe, and we’re writing out Aus as a probable runner up. (more…)

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