Thursday, March 27, 2008

Fuck Ricardo and his Ricky Ricardo Face

Okay, maybe if I set foot in Balifornia again I will be repelled by some magnetic force or maybe I will have some new form of culture shock as the slow process of migration from brain to taint and taint to brain take place.
Inshort I have inverted. I am surprised to find myself sympathetic with anarchists (wtf?) and anti-globalisation movements, well not the movements really, infact I will definitely not be attending any socialist alternative meetings and continue at politically active functions to look at them and wish I had the balls to laugh out loud at them.
But here now I wish to talk about globalisation. And David Ricardo coiner of the turn of phrase 'comparitive advantage' which basicly says we are always better off letting a free market run its course.
Which I believed. And was educated in at University and was also fortunate enough to not experience firsthand...yet.
But having travelled I proudly can throw this theory out the window, not completely, I mean really it just refers to the same old law of competition or darwinian natural selection.
No I throw it out because of the inherant flaw in all economics - pointlessness.
Take anything, any consumer good in the world and take it to its most advanced, efficient ultimate say for arguements sake a television.
Now I'm not aiming to go all Arthur C Clarke and lay down prior art patents but logically if we made televisions more better than they are now and just continuously improved them they wold get flat, flat to the point of being adhesives that you scrunch up like a hanky and then slap against any surface you want to stare at for entertainment, you could even make them organic so they can be stretched and regrow provided you have some material for them to consume and produce. Or you could dispense with that all together and have them just project from a mobile phone, which logically would eventually combine with all such wireless technology, communication or entertainment, you would set up phones in there logical continuation of current technology to be ultra secure personal assistents a Universal remote for your home, car, work, office, holiday house, banking, and online life.
Or take paint, you could go organic with that as well, introduce chromatids and use your phone to change it to different themes at will customising your household, again perhaps having it organically regrow itself to cope with day to day wear and tear.
Or take something more obviously meaningful, like medicine and further modernise it, so you have a package like a bandade and just stem-cell it up, shark removes a chunk of your calve muscle? no problem just press down a bunch of stemsheets to staunch the bleeding and replace and rejuvinate the missing material. While your PA mobile phone already informs your insurance company and has ordered more stemsheets from australia post.
All the everything making life faster more convenient more advanced, more futuristic. And then what? you go sit and watch TV. Or whatever TVs have become.
Because Economic theory is a funny thing, it is basically a philosophy that in a limited scope works like a science, say on a production line you can apply a bunch of economic theory to achieve real results, greater profitability.
But on the larger scale it is exactly like philosophy although it doesn't ponder a deeper question - what's the point?
Italy kind of highlights this, at times Italy is an infuriatingly inconvenient and inefficient place - example I had to make a police report the other day, because I was stupid, in Australia you wander into any police station, the person at the front desk gets out a notebook takes down the details and then you wander out, a few days later you recieve a reference to the police report and a number to call if you need to add/change anything all stored on a central database.
In Italy, there is no queing technique, you wait about 2 hours before the officer you need to make a statement to emerges and informs you to sit while they go on lunch break, in a manner reminiscent of Major Major Major in Catch-22.
Then after another 25 or so minutes someone else comes and takes my statement, which in fact was a slight modification of an existing one, which I had promised an impatient lady behind me would take 2 minutes.
The italians though found a way to make this take 30 minutes, including a very inefficient system for creating copies which involved what I can only guess went on behind closed doors, some kind of 3km cyclocross circuit.
At anyrate I realised at some point that of the 2hrs of activity I had remaining to achieve that day, I had approximately 8hrs left that these activities would be convenient for. And immediately relaxed.
Perhaps though if jigsaw piece puzzled and wetly forced into place in your mind after being stuffed in your armpit to moisten up - this Bill Hicks outtake might help you:

Not only do I think pot should be legalized; I think it should be mandatory. (mocks driver honking horn in traffic) "Shut up and smoke that, it's the law" "I'm sorry officer, I was taking life seriously for a second. Who's hungry?"

Or perhaps this is more to your liking?
They lie about marijuana. Tell you pot-smoking makes you unmotivated. Lie! When you're high, you can do everything you normally do just as well … you just realize that it's not worth the fucking effort. There is a difference.

That is to say, these are deep ponderous questions for us all. What is the rush? why bother? where is it all going?
I am not an advocate for marijuana, I am also not an advocate for just accepting the normal reasons to be against it as gospel either, there is a degree of truth that it is only illegal because it left the US with a cotton monopoly and other such things marley enthusiasts bring up in order to try to disguise the fact that they are basically deadbeats.
But here's the clincher, economics is cold and framed narrowly, basically all of them revolve around the same thing - tangibles. And basically all of them will do the same thing as the grand great purpose of it all, produce a big pile of stuff with market value.
Its the intangibles is where it fucks up.
For example - economics looks at wages to tell you in all its great theory how well off you are and there greater efficiency in Ricardo's way of free markets can demonstrate quite scientifically how we are all better off under free trade and more efficient use of resources.
Say you are an artist, and it can take you 80 hours or two weeks to produce for yourself one water colour still life of a bowl of fruit which you can sell for $100. Not very efficient eh? What though if we reshuffled the process a little - you are still an artist, just one of 1000 korean artists sitting in a factory around a conveyer belt, and the still life has been printed off a stencil with numbers indicating the colour codes, now all you need to do instead of painstakingly paint a bowell of fruit is colour in number 43 with your one colour. It's always in the same place and thus you after one hour con confidently complete 26 paintings an hour by colouring in section 43 with your designated colour, and the rest is allowing for changeover time.
Brilliant, so in the same 80 hour period you and lets be honest a couple of hundred employees can produce 2080 paintings, which now albeit only sold for $5 a piece still results in your cut being $104, that's 4% better than what you got the old way.
So clearly your job is much better now as a new efficient type of artist than it was as an old inefficient type of artist.

Ha ha Ricardo, infact the intangibles would say it is all much worse now, and that's what economics and economists fucking choke on constantly, it is what nature and earth choke on too, the big tangible dick of economics.
One aspect is there is no real 'true cost' aspect yet, and this allows for 'externalities' say like CO2 emissions, for a long time noboyd had to consider the waste expense of CO2 because it just went out into the air, gone forever no longer a problem, there was no waste disposal cost for burning fossil fuels because it just produced exhaust.
Another is job pleasentness, the difference between being an artist, and being a korean sweatshop animator.
It could even be being one day a PA that types up letters for your boss, and then suddenly having your job role outsourced for the much more efficient process of having your boss type his emails without vowells and then having some indian support staff go through and add them in at a margin of the cost.
I no longer believe in all this globalisation shit, the first and most resounding evidence for me was that all the 'best' (being wealthiest, healthiest and cleanest) countries in the world were not free marketeers but quite protectionist, namely Japan, America and all of the rich part of Europe.
And furthermore that a lot of what made life good for the citizens of these places where hard fought and won ineffeciencies, such as social welfare, workers rights, minimum wages, medicare, industrial relations, overtime, annual leave, sick leave and so fourth.
And I looked as I always did for something analogous to a cut off entity performing better than a big open playing field.
And I realised it was just chunking, one of the most elementary strategies ever. That is instead of working on the whole starting to just work on a small group and fix it, then moving on.
This is what nations do, like a big mathematical algebraic problem of one sort of the other, usually solving for x can be done in several steps by simplifying, expanding or rewriting chunks of the equation at a time.
The world is not necessarily better off being big and flat. If this means that the chunks that have made progress get it stripped away in order to compete with the advantages of the incomplete systems of the chunks that haven't made progress.
Example, manufacturers in Developed nations have unions, breaktimes and if they die on sight, compensation, they have wages that allow them to subsist in their immediate geographical environ. Workers in undeveloped nations have no rights, if they die it may halt production for a few minutes, and they have wages that allow them to subsist (or even live like a billionair) in their immediate geographical environ.
In competition it may be easy to see how this can go backward for the developed nation much more rapidly than say a densely populated nation can go forward.
Maybe in some instances just a teaspoon in a bucket of milk will produce a nice healthy culture of yoghurt, and other times putting a teaspoon of coffee in an urn of boiling water doesn't get you much more than boiling water.
And that's not all because despite this posts title, David 'Ricky' Ricardo isn't the real enemy here. The answer was provided by Ricardo Semler, a Ricardo who is right, when he observed that some economics dude whose name I don't have on hand, before Henry Ford did a whole exercise in reducing a coal workers job down into as small an activity as possible and divied them up to create mass production and economies of scale and thus would have been really popular possibly in Slavery days when workers weren't considered themselves in anything.
Because it is easy to forget that a worker is pursuing happiness, the supposed purpose of life that to some extent (and covered in detail in Growth Fetish by Clive Hamilton) all economic systems tell us that the pursuit of happiness is easiest filled by collecting 'more stuff'.
The corporation had a great quote at least I think it was in 'the corporation' -
the whole system is based on a truth and a lie, the truth is that if you take a person who has no clothes, no food and is standing outside in the cold in the rain and give him clothes, food and shelter, he is going to get much happier very quickly. The lie is that if you give that man twice as much food, clothing and shelter he therefore is twice as happy.'
Beautiful, suscinct and I hope you agree. And that is in summation just about every economic model we have, and it is hard to do better. It isn't hard to see whats wrong, such as having a baby goes against our interests of happiness in economic models because it becomes a competing consumer for limited resources we want for ourselves, and that we would be as individuals much happier if we could live like dracula, incredibly rich in our castle feeding mercilessly off the peasent folk who spit and cross themselves and curse our name. Or like Captain Nemo, alone 20,000 leagues under the sea, shut off from the world but with a considerable fortune.
Well in effect Nemo is probably a bad example because he has indeed decided that for a good portion of his life, exploring the undersea realm is exactly what will make him happy.
But I contend for most people, rather than commanding the most stuff, most of us, being social want to live in a good society. And most of us being intelligent want to spend most of our time engaged in entertaining activity.
And working an 8 hour shift painting section 43 the same colour may be effecient, or working an 8 hour shift putting the vowels into legal memorandums may also be effecient, but damned if they aren't boring.
And considering that there's no particular rush to accumulate 'more stuff' why not pay premium for more beautifully hand crafted paintings, than getting a mass produced poster?
That's where Ricardo, Henry Ford and the Globalisation and Free Market crowds fuck up, because even with the most advanced superintegrated high tech stuff, I'm still going to have a lot of life left to seek entertainment, and don't get me wrong, I'm a believer in systems, but not systems that create desired output x but make worker y miserable in their job, theres better solutions than that.
Give us systems that produce desired output x and make worker y enjoy their job more than before.
And fuck free trade.

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