Friday, July 27, 2012

Atrocious comment watch...

I don't usually read comment sections of articles online... they're even worse than blog comment sections.

But a facebook friend was particularly critical of the invisible hand article I linked to earlier, so I took a look at a few of them. This one was like nails on a chalk board:

"The only "invisible hand" operating in economics is greed. The notion that there is an Invisible Hand which, if left to its own devices, will make our economic system All Just Work is on a par with 19th century beliefs in the ether and phlogiston. Are ate totally imaginary creations, invented because nobody knew what was really going on.

There is nothing about uncontrolled greed that ensures it will result in desirable economic result."

1. So, no, the invisible hand is not what happens to actions motivated by "greed". I personally don't think of my desire to put food in my belly, a roof over my head, and a small nest egg aside so my kids can go to college one day as "greedy".

2. Phlogiston was a 17th century theory that was thoroughly debunke by the 18th century. It was already derisive to reference it by the 19th century.

3. It's spelled "aether" not "ether". "Ether" is very real.

4. "Aether" actually survived as a theory into the early 20th century. Not long into the 20th century, of course, but a few years. That's 0-2 on your 19th century claim.

5. The sentence "totally imaginary creations, invented because nobody knew what was really going on" really bothers me. Isn't that what all scientific theories are? Good scientific theories are imaginary creations that are better at explaining things than our last imaginary creation.

6. Expanding on that point, it also bugs me when people mock phlogiston or aether. These were examples of good scientific explanation in their time. Same with Ptolemaic astronomy. When people use these as buzz-words for an unscientific view of things, it gives me the impression they don't really understand how science works. Of course our political climate is such that one can't reference creationism as an example of an unscientific view of things. Which is strange, because creationism never makes any claims to be a scientific explanation. It's pretty transparently intended to be a revelation, not a scientific answer. Anyway, we're getting far afield... don't knock phlogiston. You work with the evidence and the theory you've got.

7. His last sentence is obnoxious too. It's not "uncontrolled greed". The whole point is greed is controlled by other peoples' greed (again, if you insist on calling it "greed"... I prefer "self-interest".


  1. Greed is not controlled by the greed of other people.

    Greed is only controlled by political power.

    1. Let's say one greedy person has something they want to sell that another greedy person wants to buy.

      The seller is greedy. All they care about is profit. They want to sell at an outrageously high price to get as much profit as possible.

      The buyer is also greedy. They don't want to pay for what gives them benefit. They want to buy at an outrageously low price. Hell, what they want is just for someone to give it to them - they want to get it for free.

      Now, I'd imagine if these two people meet what would actually happen is that they'd exchange but the price would be no higher than the benefit the greedy buyer gets from it (and that upper bound, I think we'd all agree, is a quite reasonable price for it), and it would be no lower than the cost of producing it for the greedy seller (again, I don't think anyone would dispute that lower bound as a reasonable price either.

      I don't know what the actual price would be but I don't think I'm being unreasonable in suggesting that it would fall between those upper and lower bounds.

      And those upper and lower bounds define, I think, are what most people would consider the extreme bounds reasonable, non-greedy price for the good or service.

      It seems to me its precisely each person's "greed" (and we're assuming it's greed here, but this could also work with someone like you and me who are arguably not greedy but just self-interested) that guarantees that the exchange price will be eminently reasonable. The greed of the seller is controlled by the greed of the buyer and vice versa.


      Now - you, AH, don't post any comments half-assed. You are quite sure of most of what you say on here. And you seem sure of your assertion above.

      And yet I seem to be able to provide a very reasonable and very generalizable situation that would contradict your first sentence.

      Clearly either I'm confused or you're confused.

      I'm guessing it's the latter.

      But understanding that it could be the former, I'd invite you to point out where my reasoning is flawed.

    2. OK, so each person has a price limit, such that it is possible to agree on a price in between those limits. Power plays a role in determining the final price. Generally, the person with more power can get a price closer to the less powerful person's limit. Greed also plays a role. The greedier person often gets a price closer to the less greedy person's limit.

    3. Yes - I'd agree (although I don't know why greed and power are being so closely correlated in that last sentence).

      What I'm wondering is why this isn't reasonably referred to as "greed controlling greed".

      Political power, which AH suggests, can just easily exacerbate the problem of greed in this case. That seems less likely with two greedy people trading with each other.

      I'm not afraid to use political power, of course. I think you all know that. I just don't think AH can really defend this strong claim. If he can, I can't think of how and he's welcome to share with the rest of us.

  2. And phlogiston and aether were both fine theories that just happened to be wrong. Phlogiston was basically just "anti-oxygen" -- you just had to reverse phlogiston theory and you have the correct theory. Aether was never shown not to exist: it just turns out you didn't need it to explain what it sought to explain. Those who use these derisively have no idea what they are talking about.

    1. Oops, I hadn't read as far as #6! Teach me to comment hastily.

    2. Hey, I always like validation!

    3. I'm gratified that you also defend Ptolemy, who for some reason is particularly prone to attack in discussions among hostile economists. What Ptolemy did was to take Aristotle's model of the universe -- which couldn't explain the empirical fact of planetary regress -- and added features that made it empirically predictive. His system survived for 1400 years not because people were stupid, but because it worked really well. He deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest scientists of antiquity, and held up as an exemplar; instead, he is ridiculed (and his followers misrepresented as having added "epicycles upon epicycles", which never actually occurred). Sigh.

  3. Sigh* I can't help but be disheartened by the comment you linked too. The person is likely well-intended and merely upset with a culture that is seemingly governed by vague principles for self maximization of rational autonomins at the expense of social and ecological health. But, lacking the moving force required to DuckDuckGo - or dare I suggest read a book - about the topic that troubles him, he spills an already sloppily construed thought on the floor and presents it to the world as-is, resulting in poor philosophy (awful use of word "greed") and sloppy science. But then again, it's also merely a comment. Perhaps some are best left unchallenged?

    After all; we dno't awlyas eddit and sesnor oruslevs, amd hte safwst plcae' too scrue up and colelct Yuor thuoghts is otfen offahnd Blobging coments.


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