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"Private Vices into Public Virtues" - Elf M. Sternberg
"Private Vices into Public Virtues"
Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations is widely regarded as the first comprehensive and systematic treatise on how merchantilism and capitalism actually work.

Smith's observation is twofold: First, the nation-as-marketplace involves the interaction of all the people of the nation, and their interactions have emergent properties (desires either translated directly into products and services, or slaked by others in their desire for wealth) that aren't actually intended or planned by any one human being. Second, that these emergent properties turn private vices (greed, laziness, lust, gluttony, envy, even anger and pride) into public virtues.

Brad DeLong points out that there's an intermediary in all of these relationships: the state. The state enables and creates the market. And in those cases where it is impossible to turn private vice into public virtue, the state is not only morally obligated to step in, it must step in to ensure its survival, as well as the survival of all those whose private vices are not a threat to the long-term stability of the state.

Once you agree that state intervention in matters such as methamphetamine or fentanyl addiction is a must-have, because such addiciotn is so apparently compelling that it is destroying rural communities and their tax basins, you're at the point of haggling.

But this isn't just about poor drug addicts. It's also about money addicts. Oligarchal capture of the levers of power happens regularly in our culture. It's a generational thing; every three or four generations, the oligarchs make another play for rulership, only to collapse the whole thing as they suck all the energy out of the system; recovery is painful but involves a lot of genuine systemic reform, but distributive reform is never enacted, so the oligarchs keep proportionately most of their money; a chastened generation of oligarchs plays along, but the next generation starts the cycle all over again. The ultimate private vice is greed, and it's going to take a lot of political pressure for incremental reform to rein that in, even for one more generation.

Current Mood: amused amused

2 comments or Leave a comment
From: galadrion Date: May 3rd, 2016 03:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
The ultimate private vice is greed, and it's going to take a lot of political pressure for incremental reform to rein that in, even for one more generation.

The unstated (and unsupported) assumption in this statement is that it (greed) should be reigned in. Bear in mind that this oligarchal capture-societal stagnation-societal reform cycle is the ratchet mechanism which has driven social advancement for as long as we have historical records.
elfs From: elfs Date: May 13th, 2016 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
The term "reined in" implies transitioning a horse from an out-of-control, careening gallop to something the rider can manage without fear. It's not the same thing as "stop."

The unstated assumption in your rebuttal is that painful cycles are a necessary part of the economic cycle.
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