Sunday, August 15, 2010

Zorg and Bastiat

So I was watching Fifth Element on TV yesterday, and this scene caught my attention:

Zorg needs to read his Bastiat. Then again, he seems to focus on the flow of wealth and not the stock of wealth - and as I always emphasize -as long as you keep that as your focus you are not committing a "broken window fallacy".

And the way Zorg puts it, it also makes me wonder - how do you square Bastiat with what we know about evolution? In economics we sometimes like to pretend that seeking out the good is enough for progress. The fact is, reacting to the bad is also a motivator of progress. I'm not embracing broken windows here - it's just food for thought. Reality is a lot more complicated than Bastiat would have us believe.

UPDATE: I figured this sort of thing didn't escape people's attention - Wikipedia already documents it. Anyway, yesterday was the first time I made the connection.


  1. Well, there is no "good" or "bad" in evolution - there is just change over time.

  2. Or to put it more baldly, good and bad are entirely human created concepts. Outside of that context it is hard to see, for example, why the body which struck the Earth 65 MYA and radically altered the nature of the nature of the flora and fauna of the planet was a "good" or a "bad" thing. Then again, I have an entirely naturalistic view of things.

  3. Well of course. See my post on teleological thinking and evolution:

    I didn't think I needed to note that "good" and "bad" is an assessment by subjective agents, based on context. But if that does need to be noted, then I hereby note it :)

  4. I think we also analogize these sorts of things - using our own self-consciousness to impute meaning to events for others.

    We know that a comet hitting earth now would be "bad" for us given our goals and valuations. Assuming that flora and fauna millions of years ago have the same sorts of goals and valuations - they're simply not self-aware - we can impute something similar as being "bad" for them too. It's probably not an entirely useless exercise, although as you note we need to be careful.

    Really, the difference is self-awareness. The goals, the yearnings, the prioritizing, etc. isn't what's unique to us. Our ability to identify those things and reflect upon them is what is more unique (although even that isn't entirely unique).

  5. BTW, that was one of the first movies that my now wife and I saw together. We recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. :)

  6. Congratulations.

    Ya - it's a real romantic one, isn't it :)

    The first moving my wife and I saw together was Braveheart. A real romance too... until her throat got slit.

    You and I can really pick them, huh?

  7. In my defense we saw it as friends when we watched it together.

  8. Mostly "Braveheart" made me cringe ... the whole way through it I kept on thinking "That's not right." Same thing happened when I watched "The Patriot." That was the last Gibson film I've seen. I am no absolute stickler for historical accuracy (as if such a thing exists), but I have my limits.


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