Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Two questions on productivity
A couple of quick ones:
1. Turn on, tune in, drop out
Robin Hanson says we are living in a "dream time", when survival instincts have been dulled by wealth so that Nature has (temporarily) let us get away with acting stupidly. I recall the old saying, "From clogs to clogs is only three generations" (i.e. the middle generation spends it all).
In this context, it's also interesting to note how at a time when we're drugging children and old people to stop them being a nuisance, libertarians are calling for young adults to have the right to zombiefy themselves with "harmless" mind-altering substances. Yes, they will still be able to work, some of them, for some time; I guess the same argument goes for functioning alcoholics. Dream on... until, as the Germans say, "Aus der traum, lieber Freund."
I've known black people who maintain that drugs liberalisation (and the associated laissez-faire approach to law enforcement) is a plot to keep their children in subjection. I tend to put it down to middle-class selfishness, instead; but I can see why they might think that.
2. Think big, think small
As higher taxation looms, some are already trying to draw a distinction between "productive" and "unproductive" workers. Well, effectively, practically everybody (including the poor) pays 40% tax already, when you look at the combination of income tax, National Insurance and sales taxes; though I do agree that a proposed 50% higher-rate income tax rate is likely to generate various avoidance strategies that will mostly wipe out the hope-for extra revenue.
But if Mish's friend "BC" is right, we are entering a "Schumpeterian Depression", during which big biz uses its access to finance to crush small enterprise; and so it may be a decade before young entrepreneurs develop the muscle to get out from under and start to succeed.
Besides, how much big business is founded on destroying small businesses and the self-employed? What, for example, if we looked at it closely, would be the real, total net benefit of the giant supermarkets? Weigh up the cheaper prices against the exploitation of their suppliers and the ruination of small shopkeepers - and the smashing of one of the ladders by which the aspirant working class - and their children - could rise and become self-supporting.