Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category
Capitalism and Greed
Christianity has been tried for more than eighteen hundred years. Perhaps it is time to try the religion of Jesus.Dr Milman, Dean of S Pauls
According to the Reverend W D P Bliss, T G Shearman pointed out as long ago as the 1880s that around 0.05% of the population, own 60% of the wealth of “this land” (the USA). Today the distribution of wealth is if anything far worse.
A book by Richard G Wilkinson and Kate Pickett was published in 2009. It is called The Spirit Level, the metaphorical title referring to measuring the level of equality of a society, as the various subtitles added to different editions suggest, or explain:
- Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better
- Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger
- Why Equality is Better for Everyone
The authors compared economic data with social inequality indices such as the Gini Coefficient to show that wealthy societies like the USA and the UK were very unequal in how the wealth was distributed among their people. It led to very bad data in respect of problems such as “homicide, infant mortality, obesity, teenage pregnancies, emotional depression and prison population”.
People’s wellbeing and their social cohesion were high in countries that were less wealthy but in which people felt wealth was more fairly distributed—for instance Finland, Norway and Japan. That sharing is a deep instinct is suggested by academic social studies—usually involving game playing—which show that people will pay to reduce inequality, and that even infants have an innate sense of fairness.
Of course, not everyone has the same abilities. When economics is driven by competition, so that the rule is everyone for themselves and each company for itself, some must succeed and others fail. Though sad and apparently wasteful, we are told the benefit is that the strong, the smart, the shrewd, and the perceptive will rise in the social hierarchy. Capitalist Christians who are often utterly appalled by Darwin’s theory of evolution, suddenly call upon him to explain the way capitalism works for the good of us all. They call it social Darwinism.
In fact, it is often the selfish, the unscrupulous and the dishonest capitalists who succeed best, and this outcome is the result of the basis of the system—competition. The competitive system encourages people of poor character to do well, and because it does encourage them, they may end up as millionaires or billionaires, though many, perhaps most, are no better than criminals!
The avaricious man is like the barren sandy ground of the desert which sucks in all the rain and dew with greediness, but yields no fruitful herbs or plants for the benefit of others.Zeno
Analysis of voter presidential choice from two large surveys of voter choice and personal characteristics—from family income to race, gender and religious identity—allowed sociology professor, Thomas Hirschl, and statistics professor, James Booth, to identify the degree of polarization and its source in the population.
Hirschl said that upper income white Protestants, who believe the Bible is the literal word of God, have more than doubled their odds of voting Republican—from 2.7 GOP voters for every one Democratic voter in this group in 1980, to 6.1 for every one in 2008. Conversely, secularly minded, upper income white Protestants reversed their partisan preference, from 1.9 to 1 in favor of the Republican Party in 1980, to 2.2 to 1 in favor of the Democratics in 2008. A similar but nut less pronounced split happened among upper income white Catholics, albeit evident only in households that had a total income greater than $75,000 (2009) per year. Hirschl added:
There was no comparable trend among lower income white Protestants or Catholics. African-Americans remained loyal Democratic voters throughout the 28 year study period, regardless of their religious identity.
This study of three decades of voter choice has shown that the influence of religion on voter choice among upper income white Protestants and Catholics intensified in the years between the elections of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and Barack Obama in 2008. It suggests that religious identity strongly motivates upper income white voters, but not African-Americans or lower income whites. Poor people are less concerned with religion and politics that the richer middle classes, remaining more loyal to the Democratic party as the party of economic reform.
The trouble is that the graphs shown here suggest that when poor people get even quite marginally better off they think they are rich, and a fair proportion of them start to vote, though they might not have before, and start to vote Republican. It ought not to require any great intelligence to see that very many so called “middle class” voters are actually poor, and fool no one but themselves by pretending they are on a par with Mitt Romney. The GOP has no inclination to wake them up while they are dreaming the American Dream.
Physorg.com reports that Professor Paul Frijters and World Bank economist Juan Baron, economists at the University of Queensland (UQ) and the World Bank in Washington found a pervading and persistent “default belief” among believers and nonbelievers in bargaining with the unknown, and it was greater in times of uncertainty. Professor Frijters said:
There seems to be a default belief that people can bargain with the unknown, and they need a lot of evidence to the contrary before it fades away. Much like some cultures dance for their gods in order to get rain, Western participants will spend money on problems even when that expenditure has no demonstrable effect. Even when witnessing hundreds of occasions where it made no difference, they keep sacrificing large portions of their income to the perceived source of the problem. Only if they personally experience dozens of disappointments will they slowly stop sacrificing.
Professor Frijters said the study was an important stepping stone towards a general theory of human behaviour that will be revealed in a book due later this year called An Economic Theory of Greed, Love, Groups, and Networks, to be published by Cambridge University Press.
In it, 500 participants played a game in which the price for the goods they “produced” was determined by a source of uncertainty called Theoi. Although the price was set completely at random for each of 20 rounds, the participants had the option of contributing some of their produced goods to Theoi. At the start, the average participant donated half of all production towards Theoi, even when there was no relationship between the level of sacrifice and the market price. Professor Frijters said:
Even after 20 rounds, the average participant still donated a quarter of all production. There were no participants who didn’t donate anything for all 20 rounds, and there were very few who didn’t donate anything the last 10 rounds. The wish to sacrifice was very strong. In an experiment where the level of sacrifice was set initially at 10 per cent, nearly all participants changed the level to much higher. Aggregate sacrifices were over 30 per cent of all takings in the main experiments, and only slightly lower if we didn’t use a human name for the uncertainty in price (like Theoi) or if we allowed participants to see what others experienced. Sacrifices only really dropped when the level of uncertainty was lower.
General findings were:
- there was no relationship between the level of sacrificial behaviour and whether participants belonged to a recognised religion
- engineering students donated more than economics students
- participants who were selfish towards others were also less likely to sacrifice to Theoi.
The authors conclude that “any important source of uncertainty” will witness the development of a religion around it in which people sacrifice towards its perceived source.
While this is only a summary by an online agency of the paper, if it is at all accurate, the findings are terrible. The authors totally lack any scientific credibility on this evidence. Their choice of the word Theoi (Gods) suggests they had already a conclusion in their minds when they chose that as the name of this mysterious agent.
It seems the subjects’ knowledge of the mechanics of the game was simply that they could donate some of their money to Theoi (“a sacrifice”) before it decided upon their winnings. To be told that is to imply that the “sacrifice” might influence the outcome. It is therefore quite natural to any inquisitive human being to conduct a series of experiments to determine what the optimum “sacrifice” is. For most people it would simply be a matter of “suck it and see”, and in only 20 tries there is little chance for anything more sophisticated, anything approaching a scientific method. So, on the information provided in the summary, Professor Frijters and Juan Baron have presupposed an outcome—everyone believes in a supernatural agent, so must be at heart religious—and have not even been clever enough to disguise it, by using words like gods and sacrifice that give away their thinking. The subjects, whether atheists or believers are simply trying to get a clue about what strategy will give the best rewards in the game. The superimposition of gods and sacrifice are simply in the minds of the experimenter. One would hazard a guess that they are themselves religious believers!