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Supermarkets, Free Markets and why the Evolution Analogy fails

Freitag, 2. Dezember 2011 23:31

The Guardian has a very informative article on how supermarkets have taken over the country (in this case of course the UK), virtually wiping out small shops and changing communities for the worse. Some of the numbers:


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From gift and credit to money — did markets make us Homo Oeconomicus?

Sonntag, 18. September 2011 13:11

Via Chris Bertram on Crooked Timber I read an article by David Graeber, a social anthropologist, called „On the Invention of Money – Notes on Sex, Adventure, Monomaniacal Sociopathy and the True Function of Economics“. It is sufficiently long to really cover all these topics, and I agree with Bertram that it is „one of the most informative and entertaining pieces I’ve read in a long while“. Do read the whole thing!

The core argument is about how money came to be — which in most economic textbooks is explained as a logical development from a barter trade system, where you have to find somebody with a complementary need and offer in the marketplace. But this assumption about our economic past is soundly refuted by actual anthropological and historical research. It is very fascinating to follow the research as to what are actual probable pathways to money usage. And how economic activities were organized before that tells us a lot about how the economic system shapes even deep-rooted human qualities. The bottom line there is that behavior in accordance with „Homo Oeconomicus“ models probably only really came about after markets were invented. And it is because economists cannot (or don’t want to) imagine a human being with different ways of decision-making that they persist on the „money developed from barter trade“ myth despite solid evidence to the contrary. This is, again, in the service of not acknowledging the own status as a „reflexive“ social science which not only describes but also strongly influences human behavior and social processes.

So, first of all, how did people go about their business before money was around?


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Capitalism vs. Free Market — what’s in a name, and is Fascism in the picture?

Sonntag, 5. Juni 2011 13:30

Despite my best efforts, this Sunday is on the best way to being a random-web-surfing day, reading (among many other things) critiques of Capitalism using an Indian company’s mobile network in remote Tanzania…

This randomness is of course the source of what we often deplore as procrastination, but I’m realizing it can also set free creativity, by presenting side by side concepts that seem only very loosely related at first. So here is my starting point, a very insightful remark on what difference it makes if we speak about Capitalism or Free Market Economy, from John Kenneth Galbraith, Canadian-American economist and author, published in the article Free Market Fraud in The Progressive magazine in 1999:


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What’s wrong with evolutionary explanations of human behavior (as commonly understood)

Mittwoch, 1. Juni 2011 18:10

The evolutionary side of human behavior is something which is always good for heated discussions, having strong implications for important social issues. And often enough, people criticizing the evolutionary perspective find themselves in the trap of being seemingly unscientific. This, I believe, is a symptom of how the prevailing positivist („objectivist“) understanding of science is narrowing the scientific discourse, and the public discourse about science. But „political correctness“ is not the only way to oppose these (pseudo)evolutionary arguments.

I liked watching the first few classes of Robert Sapolsky’s „Human Behavioral Evolution“ course at Stanford from 2010, which are available for free on iTunes U (yes, you need iTunes). Even though the pointedness and entertainment of his arguments can be a little too much for a European audience, I highly recommend it for everybody who wants to fill in gaps in his or her understanding of evolution. And for people who consider themselves solid on the basics, I recommend a 20-minute summary of the criticism of evolutionary biology, at least as it is perceived and used by the public. I’m talking about the last 20 minutes, starting at 1:14, of the lecture 3 — Behavioral Evolution II (April 2, 2010). Here is a brief summary:


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Reflexive Economics — Freak-Freakonomics

Dienstag, 24. Mai 2011 19:56

Special thanks to Matze for pointing me to the first ever (even though humorous) example of something I have been asking and looking for for a long time: In allusion to the „Reflexive Social Psychology“ I had the pleasure to attend with Heiner Keupp in Munich I’d like to call it „Reflexive Economics“.

The idea is to, as a social scientist, be aware of the impact of one’s theorizing in the „object“ studied, and also of the fact that you are subject and object of your theories at the same time, because as a social (and in our times also unavoidably economical) being you are always also explaining your own behavior. Let’s have more of that, and more serious!

But this is a good start. The topic chosen as a humorous exercise in the article by Ariel Rubinstein titled „Freak-Freakonomics“, published in Economists’ Voice in 2006, is the hugely popular 2005 book „Freakonomics“ by Levitt and Dubner, which I partly read and (I think like Rubinstein) both enjoyed and felt a little uneasy about.

Let’s start with his definition of the problem of lacking reflexivity:


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US politics in Israel and party donations

Samstag, 21. Mai 2011 9:59

One detail from a „Informed Comment“ discussion of Obama’s recent Middle East address (already briefly mentioned in a tweet of mine) stuck to me and got me thinking. It is the explanation of why Obamas (moderately) critical stance towards Israel and his push for pre-1967 borders as the basis for peace negotiations are politically daring:


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David Hume, the Arab Spring and Capitalism

Mittwoch, 11. Mai 2011 22:28

Happy Belated 300th Birthday, David Hume! And thanks to Crooked Timber for a pointer to both this anniversary date and his neglected influence on social sciences. I’ll re-quote two parts of a re-quote from there (happy internet copy-paste days). They do a very good job at explaining what happens in the Arab world and our own homes.

The first one deals with power of the masses, and why they so often don’t use it:


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Inequality in the US, and who makes its politics

Montag, 9. Mai 2011 20:04

Economist Joseph E. Stiglitz has an accessible article in Vanity Fair talking about rising inequality (of income, wealth, all sorts of things associated with these like education and health, and lastly, opportunity) in the US. He then comes to a brutal description of the association of wealth and power, one of the cornerstones of my „NeuerPlan“ (NewPlan) criticism of capitalist society. Which happens both on a personal level and on that abstract level of „corporations“, that is, businesses:


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Conditional Cash Transfers for the Poor

Donnerstag, 13. Januar 2011 22:46

In an interesting online series called „Fixes“ the NYTimes showcases existing „solutions to social problems and why they work“. A recent post starting with an example of Brazil got me interested, maybe because I’ll be there this year. Also, the ever-present topic of how to help poor people in our own countries and abroad seems to be especially intensely debated these days, both in the US and in Germany.

What I didn’t know is that with Brazil and Mexico, two rather big newly industrializing countries are implementing on a large scale programs that transfer cash to the extremely poor, on conditions that mostly center around caring for your and your children’s health and education. And they seem to do a surprisingly great job at reducing poverty:


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Bisphenol A — Wirtschaft, Wissenschaft, Politik

Freitag, 26. November 2010 0:52

Ich hoffe, dass die Nachrichten über diese Sache bald ein Ende haben — nachdem ich schon vor drei Jahren darüber gelesen habe bin ich wohl sensibilisiert, und stolpere immer wieder über einen Artikel. Nachdem sich am Beispiel Bisphenol A sehr gut die Gefahren von industriefinanzierten wissenschaftlichen Studien zeigen ließen, und in den USA die Regulierung voranschritt, liefert die Substanz jetzt den Anlass für einen Artikel in der ZEIT über die Verquickung der EU-Lebensmittelbehörde EFSA mit der Industrie. Viele Mitglieder sind gleichzeitig einer Organisation der Chemie– und Lebensmittelindustrie. Entsprechend lax fallen ihre Regulierungen aus:


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