Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Allocations vs. Markets, or, Neofeudalism vs., um, Neofeudalism

David Brin, the eminent science fiction author (well, eminent to those of us who pay attention to those things) has a thought-provoking new essay up on his blog: "Allocations vs. Markets" - an ancient struggle with strange modern implications:

I am talking about the struggle between those preaching “prudent sustainability” and those who claim that market forces will solve all looming crises of poverty, pollution, energy depletion and so on.

We’ve all grown familiar with these apparently rigid “sides”, and so let me avow something from the start. If I am forced to choose between them, you can bet that I will side with the New Puritans of the sustainability crowd! They, at least, want somemodernist attention paid to assertive problem-solving, instead of preaching an indolent, pollyanna faith that some grand and superior external force will come to our rescue, averting calamity in the nick of time.

(Did it, ever, in the past? I repeat that challenge. Did such a thing happen? Ever?)

But that’s the point. I will not choose sides between the extreme poles of yet another absurd "devil's dichotomy." As I say here: and here:
... we don’t have to pick between two perfectly opposite positions! In fact, that kind of inflexibility is the surest way to guarantee our failure as a civilization.

So let’s pull back from our immediate troubles, once again, and ponder how these two viewpoints may reflect assumptions that are far older and more similar than any of the adversaries think, reflecting habits of thought going back thousands of years.

In fact, there are certain ways in which doctrinaire leftists are taking up old-time feudalist positions while today’s neo-feudalists of the right seem, at first, to be standing up for the Enlightenment... only to show their truer, reactionary colors when we dig a little deeper.


Returning closer to the topic at hand, how does any of this apply to the cornucopian mythology of Huber and Mills? Of Julian Symon and Bjorn Lomberg? The supreme rationalization of those in the elite who do not want governments, legislatures, universities or other publicly accountable institutions to deliberate or plan strategies for dealing with onrushing change.

Let’s step back. Consider what these authors (and their benefactor/patrons) are preaching. The deliberately provocative title “Bottomless Well” forecasts a coming feast of both energy and human empowerment -- a predicted perfect storm of human problem-solving creativity -- arising from a combination of mass education, freedom and fecund market forces. It is, deep down, yet another expression of what’s recently been called the Copenhagen Doctrine or, more generally, the precept of Faith in Blind Markets (FIBM)

Now first let me put aside any notion that I’m an adherent of the opposite principle -- the general notion called Guided Allocation of Resources (GAR). As you will see below, I most definitely am not!

What I will show is that this dispute goes back a long way. It is an ancient dichotomy... and one that’s deeply misunderstood

As usual, his very unique point of view is independant of easy left/right pigeonholing. Brin is the ultimate centrist, so deep in the center that these days he might as well be a radical. Anyhow, I definately recommend that you hop on over and read the whole thing.

Essentially, Brin argues that the pyramid-shaped economy is the natural form for human societies to take on, and that the diamond of the past two centuries is so is a (highly desirable!) aberration, less a natural structure than a finely tuned machine. He goes on to argue that those in power are inherently hostile to this machine, as, by disabling it, they can - over the short-term - increase their own wealth and power. Furthermore, many essentially goodwilled people will be hostile towards it, as it's structure isnt' exactly intuitive. It works, but all our evolutionary programming tells us it shouldn't.

Now here's the kicker, and the reason why the article tickles me cortex. The 'right', sez Brin, is more dangerous to markets than the 'left', because while all those leftoid profs and politicians and culturejamming antiglobalization activists are openly hostile to capitalism, the libertarian think tanks and corporate lobbies and such claim to be for markets, while deep down acting to subvert them and put in place an old-style oligarchic system. In the final analysis, there's no real difference between the two, because they want to impose essentially the same system: the one dressed up as a socialist bureacracy, the other costumed in the vestements of corporate autonomy, but the basic end-result of either being that our socioeconomic structure slumps back into a pyramid.


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