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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A side of Anthropology I was unaware of

"Some people will never learn anything because they understand everything too soon." - Alexander Pope


Anthropology, Moral Optimism, and Capitalism: A Four-Field Manifesto

"A spectre is stalking Capitalism–the spectre of Anthropology...

With respect to the specifics of our political-economic situation and the condition of capitalism, anthropology urges:

1. That poverty and inequality–globally and regionally–be placed at the forefront of policy agendas.
2. Progressive income taxes and taxes on conspicuous consumption, with revenue devoted to a true national healthcare system: Medicare-for-All.
3. Increasing inheritance taxes and other measures addressing wealth inequalities, with revenue devoted to prenatal care, infant nutrition and early childhood education. Particular attention to the ongoing racism manifest in infant-mortality disparities.
4. Abolition of off-shore tax havens, declaration of all income from investments, and full enforcement of capital-gains taxes, with revenue devoted to reparations.
5. Regulations on credit and banking so the financial industry becomes a boring sector dedicated to allocating investment, not a glamorous parade of outsized returns. Make banking boring again.
6. Investment in mass-transit and regional infrastructure to provide alternatives to individual automobiles.
7. An agricultural plan to phase out subsidies for monocropping, to encourage environmentally-sustainable farm management, and eliminate the tariffs harming the world’s poorest farmers.
8. A true jobs program to increase employment, with work targeted toward infrastructure improvement and environmentally-sensitive retrofitting. Consideration of measures such as reducing the work week in order to address contradictions of a high unemployment rate coupled to overwork by the employed.
9. Comprehensive immigration reform to bring rationality and humanity to a broken system.
10. Investment in education to create truly informed citizens. An educational system based on human holism, not just mono-dimensional economic efficiencies–see Rosemary Joyce Don’t Know Much About History, Don’t Know Much Anthropology… and Alex Golub at Savage Minds In America education should produce citizens, not workers.

Anthropology has expertise and knowledge about each of these issues. Anthropologists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their objectives can be attained only by breaking the shackles of tradition...

Anthropologists and allies of all lands unite!"

At least someone has the sense to comment:

"If you want to bring anthropology to economics, it would be helpful if you didn’t start by constructing a progressive wet-dream straw man of the “fairy tale” “market capitalist religion.” Yes, I know this is what economically illiterate people think are the foundations of free markets, but I would expect more from an anthropologist.

First, free markets do not assume people are wholly selfish (though it may be true that progressives assume capitalists are wholly selfish.) Indeed free enterprise is rooted in the assumption that reciprocity and cooperation are essential for division of labor and exchange. Free enterprise does recognize that people often ARE selfish, but it requires them to pursue their interests in a positive sum way via voluntary, un-coerced exchange.

Your second point starts by conceding that free markets may deliver productive dynamism (over socialism/totalitarianism) but then suggests anthropologists know better because they are aware of older non capitalist cities that were powerful, large and flourishing. Do you really believe Smith, Hayek, Mises and Friedman were unaware of mighty cities of the past? Are you really arguing that standards of living or lifespans or health were better then than now? Seriously? Best estimates are that the masses had lifespans of less than 40 years, with substantially worse health, little or no education, little or no freedom and they lived on the equivalent of a dollar or two per day. Progressive utopia!

You then shift to sustainability — though you concede the prior “flourishing” cities weren’t sustainable either as they all “ebbed.” You then just assume that all right minded readers will agree that free markets are unsustainable and the “worst mistake in human history.” How you can describe something that has helped billions escape poverty and ignorance and slavery/serfdom this way simply escapes me. If you want to argue free enterprise is unsustainable, feel free to do so, but you have not.

Then you suggest free markets have not delivered the goods — indeed it is a “miserable failure.” Would you care to back that statement up with fact rather than friendly quotes? Are any readers of this forum aware of the reductions in poverty over the past 10, 50, 100 and 200 years? Are you aware that it is countries that have adopted free markets earliest and most vigorously that the greatest gains were achieved? Are you aware of East vs West Germany? North vs South Korea? China before and after its embrace of markets? Maybe I just don’t understand your definition of “catastrophic.”

You then go into some linguistic mumbo jumbo on how capitalism is not invincible. Trust me, if your readers can make sense of what you write, free markets are doomed, not invincible.

You then lay out a litany of master planned, top down solutions that just reveal your ignorance of the true power of free enterprise — that it is a bottoms up system of mutually voluntary win/win, positive sum, value creating activities. Your list will get you right back to China of 1500CE, or Rome of 200CE. Funny thing, you actually convince the masses that will be impoverished by your foolishness to clammer for it."

I didn't know anthropology was a Post-Marxist revolutionary political manifesto instead of the study of human interactions, but I suppose the influence was inevitable.

No wonder some people want fewer anthropologists.
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