Friday, March 25, 2011

Zombie Economics

John Quiggin of Crooked Timber has published a book and more, and often talks about Zombie Economics - bad economic theories that just won't die.

He's been taken to task by David Henderson, a prominent libertarian, recently, over his faith in government - Henderson asking well, isn't that a zombie idea that won't die - that governments can be benevolent? 

The easy retort of course is that equally, the belief that governments are always and everywhere malevolent, which underpins all libertarian dogma thinking on anything, is equally a zombie idea by that logic - both points of view are essentially beliefs and some evidence has to be discarded to support each.

Today marks 100 years since a horrific fire at a factory in New York which killed over 100 workers. In the account linked, the horrifying part is that workers couldn't get to the stairway because the doors were locked by factory owners unwilling to let them take breaks for fear of shirking. The more modern practice of timing call centre workers taking pees is kind of similar. In the years since, as the linked article points out, regulation has increased, but attitudes of owners of workplaces hasn't. Limiting pee time may be a whole lot less deadly than locking the only exits from a workplace with flammable materials, but it exposes the same kind of attitude of managers and owners of businesses - a callous disregard for the humanity of this particular input called labour.

So I challenge the libertarians and right wingers around regarding your blind assertion that markets do best and governments are always evil. How are such work practices not evil also? What makes a government so much more malevolent than this? Of course I'll hear a response about health and safety (though maybe I won't since right wingers don't really like that concept any more), but even if you pass legislation on health and safety, it still needs to be enforced. What is the hope of that when Cabinets are filled with MPs with clear corporate ties and interests, exactly?


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