On Jul 23, 2016, at 4:46 PM, 'Alan Forrester' wrote:
> A note on "Time will run back" by Henry Hazlitt
> Summary: “Time will run back” is interesting to read for the socratic discussion presentation of economics. But it has some sucky philosophy.
> "Time will run back" is a novel about why socialism sucks. In the novel the whole world has become socialist: wonworld. Stalenin the dictator of wonworld is about to die and summons his son Peter Uldanov. Peter has been raised in isolation from the rest of the world and doesn't know any politics or economics. He was raised by his mother who thought Stalenin had not carried out socialism properly.
> As Peter learns more he begins to question how wonworld is run. He has lengthy discussions of politics and economics with the number 3 in the socialist party. And together they start to work out by critical discussion that socialism produces tyranny and isn't much good at producing stuff.
> The book had lots of good discussions of difficult issues, like the theory of value. From chapter 23:
>> “Let’s go back to the point where I interrupted,” said Peter. “It seems to me that Marx is arguing in a complete circle. Under capitalism, I gather, people were permitted to exchange commodities with each other, and it was found that these commodities exchanged with each other in certain ratios. Now the problem that Marx set himself to solve was: What determined these ratios? And he answered: the amount of working time embodied in each of the commodities. But then he found, say, that one man, A, worked one day to produce a given unit of commodity X, and another man, B, worked one day to produce a given unit of commodity Y; but that as a matter of fact this one unit of X did not exchange against one unit of Y, but ‘experience showed’ that it took ten units of X to exchange for one unit of Y. So Marx then said that one day of B’s work ‘counts as’ ten days of A’s work.” “Yes,” replied Adams; “because B’s work is skilled and A’s work is unskilled.”
>> “But all that comes down to in plain Marxanto,” said Peter, “is that Marx isn’t measuring the value of the commodity by the working time, but by the relative skill embodied in it—or rather, by a complex measuring rod of working time multiplied by skill.”
>> “He reduces skill to working time, chief.”
>> “But how does he discover, Adams, by what multiplier or divisor to make the reduction? He does it by looking at the actual ratios in which the commodities produced by the labor actually do exchange, So his explanation is wrong; and he tries to justify it by arguing in a complete circle. He tells us that commodities exchange in proportion to the relative working times embodied in them. But then he is forced to admit that ten units of X commodity, for example, in which ten days’ work have been embodied, exchange in fact for only one unit of commodity Y in which only one day’s work has been embodied. And he glosses over the contradiction by blandly telling us that one day’s labor of Comrade B, who made commodity Y, ‘counts as’ ten days’ labor of Comrade A, who made commodity X—because, forsooth, ‘experience shows that it does! But what experience really shows is that the exchange ratio of commodities was not measured—certainly not exclusively measured—by the hours of working time, but by other factors, one of which is relative skills.”
>> “But isn’t it true, chief, that skilled labor does count as concentrated or multiplied unskilled labor?”
>> “But if it does, Adams, Marx should have explained why it does. This was the real problem that he had to solve. He simply said that it does—because ‘experience shows’ that it does. As a matter of fact, experience shows that commodities don’t exchange in relation simply to the working time embodied in them. Experience shows that Marx is wrong.”
>> “But Marx didn’t say,” persisted Adams, “that one hour of skilled labor actually was two or five or ten hours of unskilled labor, but merely that it counted as that in fixing exchange relations.”
A factor they aren't discussing is mistakes.
A guy might take 5 hours to do something because he fucked up and had to start over after 2 hours.
They also aren't discussing demand. If you make something no one wants (including yourself), then it's worthless even if you spent a year on it.
Mistakes about demand are common and important. I spend some time on something. You spend some time on something else. Whose is more valuable? This depends heavily on what we made and whether people want it. I may have thought people wanted dolls and made dolls, but it turns out they don't want dolls very much, so my dolls aren't valuable. My mistake. You may have made thai curry instead and it may turn out people really like that and were being underserved, so you can sell it for lots of money.
mistakes about supply are a big deal too. if i mistakenly think there's no dolls on the market, when there are, then i'll get demand-relative-to-supply wrong even if i get demand right.
>> “It’s wonderful what you could do with that phrase ‘counts as,’” replied Peter, “once you got fairly started. For example, you ask the manager of a collective, ‘How many chickens have you got on your farm?’ And he answers, ‘I figure we have a hundred and fifty.’ So you go around there and count them, and you find they have only fifty chickens. ‘But,’ says the manager, ‘we also have a cow.’ ‘What has that got to do with it?’ you ask. ‘Surely,’ says the manager, ‘you will admit that one cow counts as a hundred chickens!’ Or suppose you want to prove that commodities exchange in accordance with their relative weight in pounds. You find, as a matter of fact, that one pound of gold exchanges for 30,000 pounds of pig iron. But you were speaking, you say, emulating Marx, only of ‘common, average’ pounds, and the pounds in gold ‘count as’ concentrated or multiplied common average pounds of the kind found in pig iron. In fact, you continue triumphantly, each pound in gold ‘counts as’ 30,000 pounds in pig iron, because ‘experience shows’ that it does! A mysterious ‘social process beyond the control of the producers’ shows that it does!”
> This book might help some people understand capitalism and the problems of socialism better. Seeing economic ideas presented as a discussion can help refute objections to those ideas.
maybe. if a person has the patience and skill to follow the dialog you quoted, why would they be wrong about these issues in the first place? sure that's possible. but how common is it? especially with people over 30. and on the other end, how many people under 15 would want to read a book with this writing style, complexity, etc? oh and from 15-30 they're busy socializing and having sex and related activities.
> The book has some philosophical stuff that I don’t think is much good. From Chapter 34:
>> “Anyway,” concluded Peter, “it sums up perfectly what I have been trying to say. If we want our new system to endure, we must not only create an institutional framework of law and order, but each of us must contribute toward building up a moral code to which all of us will adhere, not through fear of legal punishment, or even through fear of what other people will think of us,
this actually sounds kinda good so far...
>> but solely through fear of what each of us would otherwise think of himself.”
>> “Could we ever develop such a moral code, chief, would we ever live up to it, unless we revived those very religions that communism has been reviling and despising and trying to stamp out all these years?”
>> Peter looked out again at the rain. “I don’t know. I don’t know.... We can’t just invent such a religion. We can’t just throw together some arbitrary credo about the supernatural and then try to force everybody to subscribe to it. But your question stops me, Adams. I’ll admit this much, even now. I’m not sure that men will accept and abide by a moral code, however rational, based on purely utilitarian grounds.
well, yeah, cuz utilitarianism is stupid and awful.
but they could abide by a RATIONAL moral code. why ever not? it's just a matter of learning. (which, yes, is tough.)
>> Perhaps the masses of mankind will never abide by a moral code unless they feel a deep sense of reverence for something....”
this is parochial.
>> “For the universe itself?”
>> “At least a deep sense of humility, a recognition of their own littleness in the universe, a profound sense of their own bottomless ignorance before the mystery and the miracle of existence Perhaps we need at least a conviction, a faith, that beyond the seemingly blind forces of nature there may be, there must be, some Great Purpose, forever inscrutable to our little minds.”
>> “Isn’t it an example of the pathetic fallacy, isn’t it very unphilosophic anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism, chief, even to use such a term as ‘purpose’ in connection with nature or the universe as a whole? Isn’t it presumptuous, and perhaps meaningless, to say either that the universe has a Purpose or that it has no Purpose? ‘Purpose’ describes a purely human attitude—the use of present limited means to attain future ends.”
yeah. humans need to create Purpose. not find Purpose inherent in atoms.
> The first paragraph mentions only fear as a motivation for sticking to ideas. The rest of the extract talks about reverence and faith. What is actually required is understanding and thought. People who don’t understand capitalism and just feel fear or reverence or whatever won’t stick to capitalism. They will be swayed by the first person who comes along and offers them another system that fits their irrationalities better.
yeah the fear thing sucks.