Evolution for Everyone

The term “market fundamentalism” was popularized by George Soros in his 1998 book The Crisis of Global Capitalism and has led a lively existence ever since. It’s a great epithet, but what does it really mean to call a set of beliefs fundamentalist? Can the claim be proven? And what’s wrong with subscribing to fundamentalist beliefs?

I began thinking about these questions while studying usages of words such as “altruism” and “selfish” in everyday language. These words refer to behaviors that effect the welfare of both self and others, so I made a 2×2 table with effects on self (+ or -) as the rows and effects on others (+ or -) as the columns. I then categorized word usages by placing them in one of the boxes of my table. For example, in a letter that William James wrote to his mother asking for money, he expressed concern that she might find his request selfish–meaning that he was trying to benefit himself at the expense of her and the rest of his family. I placed this usage in the top right box (good for self, bad for others) of my table.

One might think that all usages of the word selfish would occupy the top right box and all usages of the word altruistic would occupy the bottom left box (bad for self, good for others). After all, isn’t that how the words are defined? What I found was more interesting. In Oscar Wilde’s children’s story The Selfish Giant, a giant selfishly forbids children from playing in his garden, only to discover that winter descends permanently on his domain. Only when he develops a more loving attitude toward the children does spring return. This usage of the word selfish belonged in the lower right box (bad for self, bad for others) and the redeemed giant’s behavior that counted as unselfish belonged in the upper left box (good for self, good for others). Authors who liked to think in terms of enlightened self-interest, such as Bertram Russell, spoke of selfishness as good for everyone (upper right box) and unselfishness as a form of stupidity that is bad for everyone (lower right box).

The same words occupying more than one box of my table? It seemed confusing and inconsistent until I realized that single authors tended to be very consistent. The heterogeneity existed because different authors were using the same words in different ways. A single language–English–was concealing a community of internally consistent belief systems that could be identified by taking note of how the words were being used. Fascinating.

Regardless of which words are used to configure a given belief system, it might seem that all four boxes should become occupied by at least some words. After all, life is a matter of tradeoffs. Some behaviors result in win-win situations, others in lose-lose, win-lose, or lose-win. If your view of the world doesn’t include all four possibilities, you’re not describing the real world. Win-win and lose-lose situations are no-brainers when it comes to deciding what to do. The hard decisions involve resolving the win-lose and lose-win situations.

My first insight into fundamentalism came when I coded a Hutterite epistle of faith written during the Protestant Reformation. I categorized every word and phrase indicating effects on self and others. When I was done, two boxes of my table remained empty. According to the epistle of faith, there aren’t any win-lose or lose-win situations. Life consists only of actions that are good for everyone or bad for everyone.

Surely, this was not a description of the real world, but I could still admire it as a system of beliefs for motivating action in the real world. For anyone who becomes a believer, life is a no-brainer, a simple matter of choosing win-win over lose-lose situations. The construction of the belief system was not a no-brainer, however. A lot of intelligence–or some other designing process–was required to create a system of beliefs that makes decision-making so easy for the believer.

I now had a serviceable definition of fundamentalism–a system of beliefs that alleviates serious decision-making on the part of the believer. A fundamentalist belief system is manifestly false as a factual description of the real world; otherwise the believer would be confronted with messy trade-offs. Nevertheless, a fundamentalist belief system can be highly adaptive in the real world, depending upon the actions that it motivates. It can even outcompete a more realistic belief system that leaves the believer fretting endlessly about all those messy trade-offs.

My second insight about fundamentalism came when I coded Ayn Rand’s book of essays setting forth her creed of objectivism titled The Virtue of Selfishness, along with a more obscure book titled The Art of Selfishness written by a self-help author named David Seabury. Once again, after dozens of words and phrases had been coded, written by Rand with her highbrow pretentions or Seabury in his homey style, two boxes of my table remained empty. Judging by the absence of tradeoffs, their tracts were every bit as fundamentalist as the Hutterite epistle of faith. It didn’t matter that Rand was an atheist who called herself a rationalist. She used her talents to create a belief system that becomes a no-brainer for anyone who steps into it. She even stated explicitly in one of her essays that “there are no conflicts of interest among rational men.”

Of course, the fundamentalist beliefs of Rand and the Hutterites differ vastly in what they impel the believer to do. Hutterites are impelled to abandon self-will and objectivists are impelled to pursue their own interests as the highest moral virtue, but both are comforted with the certainty that everyone will benefit in the end.

It is on this basis that I can use the term market fundamentalism, not as an epithet, but as a verifiable fact. Use my 2×2 table to code the way that words such as “market” and “regulation” are used by market fundamentalists and I’ll bet you money that the win-lose and lose-win boxes will remain largely unfilled. That is a manifestly false description of the real world that eliminates the possibility of resolving the hard tradeoffs of life.

I have defined fundamentalism and provided a method for proving that a given belief system qualifies as fundamentalist. Now I must address my final question of what’s wrong with subscribing to fundamentalist beliefs. Let me praise fundamentalism before criticizing it. If we had to make reasoned decisions about each and every aspect of our lives, we would be incapacitated. Every belief system must simplify our decision-making environment, and is therefore fundamentalist, to a degree. A belief system that provides a reliable guide to human thriving without excessively taxing our brains is to be valued, even if it departs from factual realism along the way. Some people need simplifying belief systems more than others, not because they are stupid, but because they don’t have the personal and institutional resources to spend all their time cogitating or because the problems they confront aren’t the sort that more decision-making will resolve. When we think of human belief systems from an ecological and evolutionary perspective, we can recognize them as like species occupying different niches in an ecosystem. Fundamentalist belief systems thrive in some environments and are replaced by more realist belief systems in other environments. That’s why they coexist over the long term.

The same ecological and evolutionary perspective can be used to show what’s wrong with fundamentalist belief systems. Species are designed to perpetuate themselves, not to benefit the whole ecosystem. The same goes for belief systems, which can be virulent, predatory, and aggressively competitive in addition to commensal or mutualistic. When the goal is to manage human society at the “whole ecosystem” level, belief systems that are highly adaptive for their own perpetuation can be part of the problem. Fundamentalist belief systems are inherently incapable of critical self-examination. Their strength–making life a no-brainer–is also their weakness. Fundamentalists can even suffer from their own beliefs and never realize it because they are trapped within their own web of words. They remain true believers to the bitter end.

At the end of the day, the most pressing problems of modern life require an accurate description of the real world so that the inevitable tradeoffs can be managed for the common good. Fundamentalism interferes with this enterprise and needs to be recognized for what it is. Fortunately, we can go beyond epithets and prove that a given belief system counts as fundamentalist by calling attention to the absence of tradeoffs. Market fundamentalism can be as plain as the nose on your face when you know what to look for.

Resources: The reference to the academic article describing my word usage study is Wilson, D. S. (1995). Language as a community of interacting belief systems: a case study involving conduct toward self and others. Biology and Philosophy, 10, 77-97. See my chapter of Evolution for Everyone titled “Ayn Rand–Religious Zealot” for more about this study written for a general audience. Michael Shermer has also written about Rand’s fundamentalist ways in an article titled “The Unlikeliest Cult in History” and elsewhere. Finally, a 1999 Atlantic Article by Harvard Divinity professor Harvey Cox titled “The Market as God” is even more timely now than when it was written.

Comments

  1. #1 James Haughton
    April 11, 2010

    This point about fundamentalism as a cognition-economiser and its desirable (and undesirable) society wide effects was made rather wittily by Cornford in Microcosmographia Academica back in 1908:

    “The principle of Discipline (including Religion) is that ‘there must be some rules’. If you inquire the reason, you will find that the object of rules is to relieve the younger men of the burdensome feeling of moral or religious obligation. If their energies are to be left unimpaired for the pursuit of athletics, it is clearly necessary to protect them against the weakness of their own characters. They must never be troubled with having to think whether this or that ought to be done or not; it should be settled by rules. The most valuable rules are those which ordain attendance at lectures and at religious worship. If these were not enforced, young men would begin too early to take learning and religion seriously; and that is well known to be bad form. Plainly, the more rules you can invent, the less need there will be to waste time over fruitless puzzling about right and wrong. The best sort of rules are those which prohibit important, but perfectly innocent, actions, such as smoking in College courts, or walking to Madingley on Sunday without academical dress. The merit of such regulations is that, having nothing to do with right or wrong, they help to obscure these troublesome considerations in other cases, and to relieve the mind of all sense of obligation towards society.

    The Roman sword would never have conquered the world if the grand fabric of Roman Law had not been elaborated to save the man behind the sword from having to think for himself. In the same way the British Empire is the outcome of College and School discipline and of the Church Catechism.”

  2. #2 Sharon Astyk
    April 12, 2010

    What an interesting and potentially useful way of defining fundamentalism. Presumably you identify this fundamentalism only in the primary subject areas that engage the subject – that is a religious person might be fundamentalist about sin but quite un-fundamentalist about what to eat, an economist might engage in market fundamentalism but sports team ambiguity ;-). This is of course a frivolous reference, but it enters the question of what it means to be fundamentalist – can one be fundamentalist in extremely narrow quarters, and widely open in thought?

    My own take is that certain kinds of economics are actually more vulnerable criticism on academic intellectual grounds than they are on grounds of fundamentalism – that is, at least in the US, a fairly narrow range of economic theories are taught and presented as permissable viewpoints. The US has no really significant economic left in the world sense, for example – there are a few marginalized Marxist economists, but few, and students are discouraged from pursuing economic models outside the narrow accepted range. The underlying presumption is that free market capitalism, more or less regulated, is the only viable worldview. I’m not making the case for Marxism or ecological economics or any alternate view, but I’m troubled by the received principles that are essential to American economics – having to take your basic assumptions on faith seems fundamentally to undermine their value.

    Sharon

  3. #3 abb3w
    April 12, 2010

    Hm. Which raises the question: under this measure of fundamentalism, which of the current batch of “Affirmative Atheists” such as Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, and PZ Meyers qualify as “fundamentalist” atheists?

  4. #4 abb3w
    April 12, 2010

    Oh, and another thought that wandered past my mind:

    “Nell,” the Constable continued, indicating through his tone of voice that the lesson was concluding, “the difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.”

    — from Neal Stephenson’s SF novel The Diamond Age

  5. #5 G Felis
    April 12, 2010

    David Sloan Wilson said:

    Every belief system must simplify our decision-making environment, and is therefore fundamentalist, to a degree…

    Dr. Wilson, I realize that your purpose in the paragraph I’m quoting from was to explain the positive value of fundamentalism (such as it is), but I think even so that you overstate the case. Heuristics – simplified decision-making procedures – can do the job of simplifying complex situations for the purpose of making rough-and-ready decisions in everyday life without insisting that all such decisions are win-win or lose-lose. Fundamentalist belief systems about a given subject area may indeed simplify decision-making, but not all belief systems that simplify decision-making need be fundamentalist, not even “to a degree.”

    That is to say, unless you offer some evidence to the contrary, you appear to have confused a necessary condition for a sufficient condition: You’ve made a good case that if a belief system is fundamentalist in character, then it simplifies decision-making (and ignores messy reality). But you have made no case whatsoever that if a belief system simplifies decision-making (and thus to some extent ignores messy reality), then it must be fundamentalist in character.

    @ abb3w (comment 3), I can answer your question: None of the “affirmative atheists” you cited are fundamentalists, not even in the sense DSW has articulated here – for none of them deny that religious beliefs and practices can have benefits. Thus, religion is not exclusively a lose-lose for any of them, nor do any of them declare that irreligion is a win-win. They all just argue – quite persuasively, in my opinion – that the negative consequences of religious beliefs and practices far outweigh the benefits. They also argue persuasively that such benefits as there are do not attach exclusively to the religious character of those beliefs and practices in any case, so the benefits are potentially available without the negative consequences. In contrast, some of the negative consequences – those which attach to the epistemological disaster area captured by the word “faith” – do seem to be largely inextricable from religious belief and practice.

  6. #6 abb3w
    April 13, 2010

    G Felis: They all just argue – quite persuasively, in my opinion – that the negative consequences of religious beliefs and practices far outweigh the benefits.

    I would generally agree with that assessment (and suggested it largely for rhetorical consideration); however, both PZ and Dawkins have made a few remarks that seem to have edged to-or-over this line. While I infer they are intelligent enough to maintain the distinction in their thought, their “preaching” is less careful. So, while they themselves may not be fundamentalists, some of their occasional rhetoric and some of their followers might be fundamentalist.

    On the other hand, they do not take any points of doctrine as Inerrant, which I consider another hallmark of a more worrisome kind of fundamentalist.

    Aside from that, I’d largely agree with your comment.

  7. #7 bob koepp
    April 13, 2010

    … not fundamentalist with respect to atheism; but maybe fundamentalist with respect to materialism?

  8. #8 G Felis
    April 13, 2010

    @ abb3w: I have little patience with those who are perpetually concerned about the rhetorical “tone” of outspoken atheists. In the face of constant assaults combining intellectual absurdity and moral depravity from religion’s staunchest defenders against any and all criticism – see, for example, anything and everything ever said by official Catholic League spokescreature (and probably the only member of the “organization”) Bill Donohue – I think the occasional burst of intemperate rhetoric is not only something to be expected, but that it is positively warranted. Trenchant, unalloyed criticism is wholly justified in some cases, and criticism cannot be trenchant when too much weight is given to the feelings of those who might be offended or hurt. If I say, for example, that the Catholic Church is a corrupt and evil institution and its current Pope is guilty of crimes against humanity for spreading lies about HIV in Africa and for shielding child rapists from discovery while giving them access to more victims, I am not obligated also to say something to mollify the hurt feelings of everyday Catholic believers who are not themselves in any way responsible for those crimes. I am not obligated to preface my remarks by saying, “While believers themselves cannot be held accountable for the crimes of the Church and its Pope, and while many Catholic charities have done much good in their communities, …” If Catholics feels hurt or offended when I call the Catholic Church corrupt and evil, too bad: Maybe they should consider no longer supporting a corrupt and evil institution.

    @ bob koepp (comment 7): Materialism, or more accurately naturalism, is a conclusion supported by ample evidence, not a fundamentalist ideology in the terms articulated by Dr. Wilson, or by any other reasonable definition of “fundamentalist.” The distinction between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism is a red herring in this respect: The success of methodological naturalism is exactly what justifies the conclusion of metaphysical naturalism. That is, the historical and ongoing *success* of the naturalist approach to learning about the universe – gathering evidence, generating hypotheses, performing experiments that attempt to eliminate alternate hypotheses, etc. – is sufficient reason to accept that naturalism in some form or another is basically correct. Or, to look at the same question from the other side, what genuine knowledge has ever been acquired by coming at any question whatsoever from a non-naturalistic set of assumptions? None at all. (It’s worth reading the many fine essays by Tom Clark outlining the substance of a thoroughgoing materialist/naturalist perspective on naturalism.org.)

  9. #9 bob koepp
    April 13, 2010

    G Felis -
    “Materialism, or more accurately naturalism…” I call “conflation.” Also, there’s a difference between making non-naturalistic assumptions and not making naturalistic assumptions. What, pray tell, are the naturalistic assumptions on which, say, Chomskian linguistic are based? Or is linguistics not an example of “genuine knowledge?”

    As I read the history of science, the tremendous progress of the last few centuries is due, at least in part, to our having learned to put questions about metaphysical foundations “on hold,” to pursue non-foundational questions where empirical methods can get a grip. But that doesn’t mean the foundational questions we’ve placed “on hold” are in any sense misguided or illegitimate.

  10. #10 G Felis
    April 14, 2010

    Saying “[T]he historical and ongoing *success* of the naturalist approach to learning about the universe… is sufficient reason to accept that naturalism in some form or another is basically correct” is simply not the same as saying “all learning about the universe necessarily depends on taking a naturalistic approach.” Is there something in the water hereabouts that causes people to confuse sufficient and necessary conditions?

    Nor, incidentally, does pointing out that making non-naturalistic metaphysical assumptions has always led to epistemic failure amount to saying that naturalistic metaphysical assumptions always lead to or are required for epistemic success. In fact, I largely agree with you that simply setting aside the metaphysics and investigating whatever can be investigated has been one of the key factors in the growth of scientific knowledge. But the very act of investigating (looking for evidence, conducting experiments, and all that), and for that matter the very notion that pretty much anything *can* be investigated, is based on the operating assumption that the universe is knowable through our actions in it – which is exactly what methodological naturalism amounts to. And the fact that methodological naturalism has proven so successful is what provides evidence that metaphysical naturalism is basically right, or at least that there are no plausible alternatives if one insists on making metaphysical claims at all – as many philosophers will insist, even if some working scientists would rather not. And perhaps that is as it should be.

  11. #11 abb3w
    April 17, 2010

    G Felis: I have little patience with those who are perpetually concerned about the rhetorical “tone” of outspoken atheists.

    I don’t have much either.
    My objections are not to their phatic tone, but occasional erroneous semantic content.

    G Felis: I think the occasional burst of intemperate rhetoric is not only something to be expected, but that it is positively warranted.

    Expected? Of course; they’re still human.
    Warranted? That depends on whether the objective is shifting of the Overton Window of discourse or maintaining a reputation for exacting accuracy.

    I’m not objecting to the intemperance in general, but noting occasional inaccuracies in the specific.

    G Felis: If I say, for example, that the Catholic Church is a corrupt and evil institution and its current Pope is guilty of crimes against humanity for spreading lies about HIV in Africa and for shielding child rapists from discovery while giving them access to more victims, I am not obligated also to say something to mollify the hurt feelings of everyday Catholic believers who are not themselves in any way responsible for those crimes.

    True; however, you are obligated to give “evil” semantic meaning.

    Which, in part, requires a frame of reference to compare. Evil compared to what? Compared, using what ordering relationship? How can a thing that IS (rather than a choice of OUGHT) be “evil”?

    G Felis: That is, the historical and ongoing *success* of the naturalist approach to learning about the universe – gathering evidence, generating hypotheses, performing experiments that attempt to eliminate alternate hypotheses, etc. – is sufficient reason to accept that naturalism in some form or another is basically correct.

    No; you also need an assumption to allow resolving Hume’s problem of induction, and thus it is not sufficient. Furthermore, such assumption gives much that result directly; thus, it’s also not necessary to take as additional premise.

    bob koepp: What, pray tell, are the naturalistic assumptions on which, say, Chomskian linguistic are based? Or is linguistics not an example of “genuine knowledge?”

    The Chomsky heirarchy of grammars is mathematical, not scientific. It takes self-consistency of joint affirmation of the ZF axioms (or equivalent) for assumption. The mathematics underlies the resulting application to linguistics.

    Science involves the additional assumption that experience has pattern; however, this is the only “assumption”. Technically, the basis of Chomskian linguistics is not naturalistic assumptions, but naturalistic inferences.

    Mathematics deals with abstractions, not merely those abstractions corresponding to experience.

    G Felis: But the very act of investigating (looking for evidence, conducting experiments, and all that), and for that matter the very notion that pretty much anything *can* be investigated, is based on the operating assumption that the universe is knowable through our actions in it – which is exactly what methodological naturalism amounts to.

    Technically, the assumption is that reality produces experience with a pattern.

  12. #12 G Felis
    April 20, 2010

    abb3w: You want a definition for evil? I think every decent person can probably agree that raping children is evil, and that shielding child-rapists from discovery in a way that enables them to rape more children is also evil. If you insist that an abstract, formalized definition of good and evil is required to make such a claim, you are an evasive hair-splitter of the worst sort. And when a professional philosopher calls you a hair-splitter, take note.

    As for bits about Hume and induction, I think you are philosophically confused in ways that would take more effort than it is worth to sort out. Perhaps you think the same of me, since you think simply citing the problem of induction suffices to settle something in as contentious an area of ongoing philosophical dispute as this. For the record, it doesn’t.

  13. #13 hazel-rah
    April 25, 2010

    In the 1995 research on the semantics of ‘selfishness’ vs , Dr. Wilson took on a not-uncommon critique of this realm of evolutionary theory. That is, considering ‘altruism’ and ‘selfishness’ (key concepts in group selection) both the words and the actions they describe hold different meanings, depending on social and historical contexts.

    Allow me to point out two things:

    First, Dr. Wilson suggests that linguistic ‘ambiguity is caused, in part, by the coexistence of multiple belief systems that use the same words in different ways’. The same words can have different meanings, depending upon the users’ intentions and convictions. This is the sort of revolutionary argument that has placed evolutionary science at the forefront of critical studies of language and ideas.

    Second, Dr. Wilson chooses to argue that ‘language and the thought that it represents should be studied in the same way that ecologists study multi-species communities’. So, focusing on a contested term in evolutionary theories, he first discovers that such words do – in fact – have different meanings. However, there are evolutionary explanations for these different meanings. Thus, a critique of evolution cab – itself – be given an evolutionary basis. How focused is this dedication to undercutting all criticisms with the same ideological framework! Fine examples of ‘consilience’ in action!

    hazel-rah

  14. #14 hazel-rah
    April 25, 2010

    ‘thus a critique of evolution CAN – itself…’ My apologies for the misspelling. I have a cold.

    hazel-rah

  15. #15 abb3w
    May 1, 2010

    G Felis: You want a definition for evil? I think every decent person can probably agree that raping children is evil, and that shielding child-rapists from discovery in a way that enables them to rape more children is also evil.

    Those are examples under both your definition and mine; but while examples may assist finding definitions, examples (short of full enumeration of all possibilites) are not themselves definitions.

    Additionally, this does not address the general question of whether entities rather than specific choices are “good” or “evil”, nor (if so) the general question whether an accumulation of other good done may outweigh some particular evil such that the entity may still be considered “good” despite some evil, nor (if so) the specific question of whether the other good the Church does outweigh this evil. (My answers are “albeit in a changed sense”, “yes”, and “no”. Yours may differ.)

    Incidental bagatelles… a defense attorney also could be characterized as “shielding”, but still considered “good” by many due to a higher duty; and the use of “decent” as qualifier is reminiscent of the “no True Scotsman”.

    G Felis: If you insist that an abstract, formalized definition of good and evil is required to make such a claim, you are an evasive hair-splitter of the worst sort.

    No; I’m insisting that a common definition (which abstract formalization is sufficient but necessary for) is required for such a claim to have common syntactic meaning.

    Practical use can still result without that, even when we might disagree whether or not raking the leaves in your yard is “good” or “evil”.

    That I am a hair-splitter seems a fair accusation. However, whether this makes me one of the “worst” sort depends on the ordering relationship for the lattice; and the accusation does not negate the validity of my points within their hairsplittingly narrow scope.

    G Felis: As for bits about Hume and induction, I think you are philosophically confused in ways that would take more effort than it is worth to sort out.

    That the effort is not worth the probable reward, I agree. (That I am confused, I do not; but this response is already approaching the length limit I consider appropriate to my expected reward.)

    G Felis: Perhaps you think the same of me, since you think simply citing the problem of induction suffices to settle something in as contentious an area of ongoing philosophical dispute as this.

    I was merely summarizing the results, which never suffices to settle unless the underlying argument is presented; however, that you note there is controversy itself supports the claim that your assertion may be controverted. I also doubt presentation would settle, even if detailed in full, as the roots are mathematical, and most “professional philosophers” I have encountered dislike working with mathematics.

    The hard part of the second half is largely covered in (doi:10.1109/18.825807); that is, resolving induction from more basic assumption of pattern (and enough set and probability axioms to get to standard math). How science corresponds to an implementation algorithm isn’t worth typing, since you probably won’t accept this prior reasoning on which my further inferences depend.

    For the first… well, you are unlikely (especially after this delay) to care to try and give an example of how one may go from “has worked” to “will work” without resolving Hume’s problem of Induction as prior (nor explicitly assuming the naturalism that constitutes the conclusion).

  16. #16 Amplexus
    May 4, 2010

    Dr. Wilson, could you please clarify your statement that the things such as reciprocal altruism and inclusive fitness are part and parcel of multilevel selection theory as opposed to an alternative?

  17. #17 CW
    May 18, 2010

    the specific question of whether the other good the Church does outweigh this evil.

    So by your standards it is OK that I, for example, participate in the rape of children just as long as I also do enough “good” to “outweigh” that evil?

    I think not, to say the very least.

  18. #18 J. A. Le Fevre
    May 30, 2010

    Shall we continue to pretend that the problem of child abuse is isolated to the Catholic Church and ban the church or recognize that it is a universal problem with the race of man and disband the race? There may, of course, be other solutions to try that actually do some good.

  19. #19 Marcus
    June 16, 2010

    ‘Market Fundamentalism’ is a strawman and you have diagrammed a strawman.

    Markets are all about trade offs. All market transactions deal with trade offs. You cannot engage in a transaction with out making a trade off.

    I challenge you to find a ‘market fundamentalist’ who actually believes there are no trade offs in the market.

    When market proponents talk about transactions being win-win it is because both sides of a transaction believe they will benefit from the transaction. That’s why they engage in it.

    That does not, of course, mean they will always be right.

    Also, isn’t it natural, when someone writes a description of a process that they tend to describe an ideal of that process?

    Take evolution and the fossil record as an example. The layers of rock laid down over geological time is always describe as oldest at the bottom and youngest at the top. So simple. Yet in the real world, it often doesn’t work out quite that simple.

    I imagine descriptions of the market are similar. People naturally describe an ideal process fully aware (except to critics, apparently) that application in the real world won’t be quite so simple.

  20. #20 J. A. Le Fevre
    June 16, 2010

    Marcus
    Let me understand your defense: These guys are not fanatics (who actually believe what they tell you), but liars who have a utopia to sell, but that’s OK because everybody lies to sell utopias?

  21. #21 Marcus
    June 16, 2010

    I don’t know who you mean by ‘these guys’. Please be more specific.

    If you’re referring to the alledged ‘market fundamentalists’, then no, that’s not what I wrote.

    I gave a pretty clear example with evolution and the fossil record. Are you calling geologists and paleontologists liars?

    No, of course you’re not. You and I both know that the real world is more complex than what an article or book intended for laymen can possible go into.

    Instead, those are the kind of bullshit arguments creationists make because they don’t actually want to understand what geologists and paleontologists are saying. They prefer to play word games and nitpick to death the non-technical writing in the media intended for a non-technical audience.

    Yet, that is precisely what our host is doing. Kind of ironic actually.

    But let’s see him go to the literature, the peer-reviewed literature, and see if he gets the same result.

  22. #22 J. A. Le Fevre
    June 17, 2010

    Your example is an excellent case to make the point – the creationists (I read through some of this a few years back – got a laugh but did not save the link, hope you are not too disappointed) grab onto the exceptions to justify rejecting large areas of research and theory (see this upheaval in the strata – the ‘flood’ did it). They can only do this if the original articles, in the professional as well as popular journals, fail to fully disclose the exceptions to the larger rules, and hopefully, as best as possible, rational explanations for why or how these exceptions may have arisen. It is quite common, and fully appropriate to call any ‘expert’ to the carpet for sugar coating any data or theory for any purpose. What’s good for selling used cars is not good for science (or economics), and is a breach of judgment if not ethics.

    A current example is the ‘climate change’ fiasco where selective and ‘simplified’ data and theories were released and then quickly exposed. Not pretty.

  23. #23 red pepper
    June 26, 2010

    I imagine descriptions of the market are similar. People naturally describe an ideal process fully aware (except to critics, apparently) that application in the real world won’t be quite so simple.