I'm not an economist either by profession or avocation, so I'm not in a position to participate in an informed debate about the finer points of economic theory. I haven't read the book you recommend, so I'm not really in a position to discuss that either.
Was it "unthinkable" to engineer an economy before Smith? I'd argue that mercantilism (which predated Smith and to which Smith's work was a reaction) was an effort to "engineer" an economy. I'd also say that government policies regarding tariffs and trade, imports and exports, the setting of interest rates by the Fed, etc. are all efforts to "engineer" an economy. The planned economies of the (so-called) Communist states are a particular approach to engineering an economy. The fact that a single approach fails does not automatically invalidate all other approaches.
Do economies arise by evolution? Well, yes and no. In any competitive system there will be winners and losers. This is "selection" but is it "natural selection" i.e. evolution? A city grows by similar processes, but I don't think this makes cities "organisms". Cities are structures built by people, partly planned and partly unplanned, partly based on the natural environment and partly in opposition to it. The same is true of economies. Also, is the biggest, strongest society that subsumes others automatically the best? This is just what I meant by scale bias. Couldn't it be that it's simply the most ruthless, or the best armed? Can we be sure it's always the best ideas that are winning out? I don't have your faith in this, and I'm not sure it can be proven.
As I see it, economics tries to understand (and predict) why a person, given a range of choices, will opt for a particular one.
This is one
of the things economics does. I think it falls short as a concise, complete definition of economics, however. Wikipedia's is "the social science that studies the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services," a definition that seems centered on the exchange of value, and although monetary value is not specifically mentioned, I think in most modern contexts is can be inferred.
However they also give as an apt definition "the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses" which hews much closer to CWuestefeld's definition. So perhaps I am being too restrictive in my understanding of economics as being primarily concerned with markets, GDP, spending vs. saving, etc. Still, I think this is the "common" conception of the term, even if it is not entirely accurate.
I will admit I was imprecise in my language when I used the word democracy. I was referring to specifically to American democracy (and similar modern forms of democracy) which includes the concept of human rights and personal freedoms. Again, I believe that this is the common understanding of the term, just as "communism" is generally assumed to refer to Marxist states, rather than Shaker communities or Benedictine monasteries. But if you were seeking to ding me just for the extra semantic points, you did it.
There is quite a leap taking place in the bit about cartels/monopolies. It's the necessarily
that bugs me. This is one
example of one kind
of cartel that may
not be bad for consumers. Quite a far cry from providing evidence for a general rule that "monopolies aren't bad for consumers"! And a very, very shaky foundation upon which to base a broader assertion, which seems to be that common wisdom about monopolies is wrong. (And don't think I haven't noticed that we've slipped into discussing "consumers" rather than "citizens" or "people", linguistically flattening the individuals in question into just their marketplace activity.) Anyway, some more succint questions might be:
- Is competition required for a free market?
- Does price fixing among supposed competitors interfere with a free market?
It may be true that governmental efforts to control monopolies generally do more harm than good, but is this really relevant? The fact that response to a problem is incorrect has no bearing on whether a problem is real or not. 18th century medical efforts to control infectious disease generally did more harm than good. It doesn't follow, however, that infectious disease was therefore not a problem in the 18th century.
CWuestefeld saw 2 prongs in Grorgy's post. I saw two examples in support of his main claim: There is virtually no such thing as a free market. I'd agree with this. Free markets are ideal forms and as such do not, and I'd go so far as to say cannot, exist in the real world. The real questions are: "why would we want them to?" and "how much control do we want the marketplace to have over the rest of our society?" I just don't get the whole "power in the hands of a big government is to be greatly feared, but power in the hands of big corporations is to be much desired" school of thought. (Although somehow it always calls to mind that old Bob Dylan lyric "you just want to be on the side that's winning.") The marketplace is responsive and has its efficiencies. But it's got equally large pitfalls and blind spots as well. Also, speaking of circular arguments, the logic behind this ideology seems to be that our elected officials are not accountable enough to the citizenry, so we must turn the reins of power over to entities that are even less accountable. Huh?
To bring things back to the original point, it's clear people must first understand issues in order to act on them in an enlightened way. What's not so clear is the rest of CWuestefeld's equation. The "finite amount of bandwidth" is kind of a bizarre claim, IMHO. I see it as an attempt to justify Google's tactics by taking the old false scarcity created by broadcast journalism and applying it to the Internet, where no such scarcity exists. And let's be clear, we're not talking about charging for the delivery of objective information, we're talking about rates for advertising - the delivery of highly biased information with the specific purpose of promoting a particular agenda.
advertising. It is propaganda. Propaganda is highly biased and persuasive information with a political intent. Advertising is propaganda with a commercial intent. And Ms. Turner's battle cry is simply "Fight propaganda with advertising!"
Also, CWuestefeld later said:
If Google does act unethically, then it's certainly our prerogative to take business elsewhere, but we can only do so if we debate the issue.
I'd say we can only do so if a viable alternative to Google exists. And there's the danger of a monopoly. A monopoly is to the marketplace what an autocratic government is to the political space. Absolute power concentrated in too few hands. Millenia of human experience tell us that absolute power is always
abused sooner or later, leading to corruption and injustice. The only way to prevent the creation of absolute power in a system is to rig the system so that such power is checked before it arises. In the U.S. we have three branches of government that act (so far, mostly) to prevent absolute power from occurring in the government. There is no such mechanism in place in the free market, except for perhaps the "invisible hand" which I don't believe in. That's why I don't think the free market by itself is sufficient to ensure a just society, and why I'm so leery of turning over the functions essential for the functioning of democracy to the marketplace.
Finally, sorry, but I'm not going to do citations. This isn't a thesis paper or a peer-reviewed journal, it's a discussion (in the Living Room, remember?) My opinions are my own, based on logic and my observations and experience. I try to abide by the rules of reason and civil discourse (no ad hominem attacks, straw-man arguments, etc.) but I'm not going to start adding bibliographies to my posts.