Monday, March 9, 2009

Red Herring with that Cheese?

Anticipating an argument which may be made against that which I've argued down below, I have this to observe:

"There are limitations of the claims made by the law of supply and demand; there are things that it is supposed to do, and those it does not propose to do. For one, it presupposes an economic situation and stands as a way of predicting what will happen in a market."

So, at first glance, my example of a friendly gift of cheese is far-removed from the law of supply and demand...

The argument would continue, "Had Joe chosen to sell the cheese to his friend, then his ownership of the wanted quantity would enable him within the 'market' in a remarkable way, which would be captured by the law. But, supply and demand is not supposed (nor is it claimed) to create the situation or the choice whereby Joe would end up motivated to sell his cheese."

I know this. And I know that market apologists know this. And I hope that these apologists would concur with the argument I've presented on their behalf as at least not conflicting with their view (even if it is haphazard). But the existential fact which these same apologists miss, and which is the gist of my little anecdote, is this: an "economic situation," or, rather, man's economic life, is not other than his day to day life. The Welt in which man operates as an economic agent is the same one in which he plays with his children and eats cheese and drinks beer with his friends. But the economic Weltanschauung today either isolates the "economic sphere" (from the aesthetical and ethical), or claims to invade and overshadow them. Man is too often homo economicus.

So, we get into a situation nowadays where market apologists are always downplaying claims about the extent and applicability of their economic "laws," while at the same time but in a backhanded way they are seeking to methodically assert an economic rationalization or materialism over the systems of ethics which run our lives. Granted that the cheese emporium itself was not a market situation; my point is that the individual human beings within that cheese emporium might the next day occupy a cheese shop, or a cheese factory. And they will continue to be shaped by the same philosophies, the same prejudices, the same affections, the same biases which so strongly influence their appetites (intellectual and other) in that former place and time.

When I was a child, there was a toy phenomenon known as "Pogs." These were little collectable cardboard chips worth cents apiece, with images of various cultural icons (or pagan totems) drawn on them. They became a trading item on the playground, and some schools even banned them. A situation had begun developing where kids would trade items from their packed lunches or snacks from home for "pogs" with which their classmates were willing to part.

Once an economic anthropology and worldview begin to overtake the other sources of ethics and motivation in man's life, the laws of economics will begin to beg recognition further from their conventional locations and they will also begin to be asserted to have the same "necessity" (which is an inherent characteristic of law) as the laws traditionally felt in those spheres (e.g., on the school playground). The law of supply and demand will never contain within itself the means of creating a situation for its application. But the law is at the service of human beings; and mankind, in our current cultural milieu, will be more and more tempted to rationalize in economic ways and to turn situations into ones which can be exploited by economic laws.

So, my illustration holds water. A situation existed for which an economic rationalization existed which would have been (scientifically) as satisfactory as other modes of rationalization. But it would not have satisfied in other ways: there is something deeper, something on the level of being, in man which repels from this temptation even though all of culture and media pushes him toward it. We would do well to empower and encourage this part of man before it is too atrophied by disuse to ward off the lure of mammon.
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