The Hazard of Induced Acedia in Supply Side Economics
First published on Monday, April 09, 2007 on the Angry Bear economics blog.
Every journalist, I suppose, has a list of questions they dream of asking some famous person, preferably on live network TV.
My personal daydream at the moment is to stand up and ask President Bush whether he can name the seven deadly sins.
I suppose he would wiggle out of it, look blank, or get a witty comeback courtesy of his walky- talky backpack. But in a daydream like this, it is more the response of the listeners than that of the patsy which matters. In this scenario, the listeners would blink and realize that not only does the emperor have no clothes, but he has no clues. Then a national discussion would arise, driving Justin and Britney off the airwaves. Well, I did say it was a daydream.
This brings us to the one of the seven deadly sins which is called "acedia". Acedia is a Latin word, from Greek akedia, literally meaning "absence of caring".
A great deal of the triumph of corporatism in recent decades has to do with the entrenchment of acedia in western thought, and its wilful spread by authorities who may or may not believe in it. Why deadly?" Because as a result of buying into acedia, ordinary people lose the ability to defend themselves from the pressures of the supply side market.
It shows up in public language, in legal rulings, and in the concerns to which public institutions and pervasive spokespersons grant or do not grant validity. Sun Tzu famously said the best way to win a war is to remove the enemy's will to resist. Acedia is what you have left when that will to resist is removed.
I used to argue with a pleasant, large and kindly co-worker who was a business writer and who had thoroughly bought into the business model. He had heard all my arguments from others, and heard them again from me with, I must say, remarkable patience.
A catalogue of the disasters of pollution, social collapse, slave labour, and the dozens of other worries of typical "left-leaning" citizens, did nothing to ruffle his condescending smile. He really, truly didn't care. He told me often, in response to my diatribes, that he expected to die, and that would be it, and any problems in the living world were his children's problems. The Chinese economic model? "Why should you care what happens to some Chinese guy?" he asked me curiously. Their policies were making the Chinese GDP rise rapidly, and damn the pandas. Everything will die, so what does it matter?
But he didn't not care about everything, only some things. When it came to tax rates, government controls on business, and the interference of human rights and environmental issues with the development of industry, he could wax quite wroth.
The danger of buying into acedia is that when one's own desires and priorities are disparaged, they become quaint and expendable factors, as unimportant as choosing green over brown when buying a shirt — even in areas of compelling human significance.
All economy, all of it, is based on human choice and the allocation of human energy and attention. There are physical limits to the energy and capacity for attention of any individual, so beyond a certain point, extraordinary pressures must be put in place to persuade people to allocate more and more attention and energy toward the desires of industries, which after all exist and survive only because of the participation of human beings..
This is the essence of supply-side economics, and induced acedia makes the process a great deal easier.
Well, I can hear some of our readers asking, "So what if people's choices are subverted and bent to the service of the economy? Isn't a lively economy good for us?"
Maybe. Sometimes. But busier is not necessarily better. As a child learning to swim, I had to be taught that the most efficient swimming caused the least froth. A frothy economy is only good for the very few who can ride the foam.
The GDP is not a measure of genuine wellbeing, but only of froth. Take one hypothetical example: if we cut our sugar industry by 95%, and as a result cut our insulin industry by 98% and the health care industry by 20%, there would be a huge net loss to the GDP and an enormous benefit to our shared prosperity.
When someone sets aside what you really value, and tells you to substitute other values, sometimes they are reliable teachers whose advice will benefit you. Other times, they serve their own desires instead of yours. Alertness to this distinction can serve us well.
The seven are: Luxuria (extravagance, later lust), Gula (gluttony), Avaritia (greed), Acedia (sloth), Ira (wrath), Invidia (envy), and Superbia (pride).