Wed, 07 Dec 2005

Everyone is lazy

Austrian economics reasons out economics by starting from assumptions, and expanding upon them. If the assumption generates conclusions that are not observed in the real world, then the assumption is not correct. It's very useful to know which people prefer: work or leisure. One way you can figure this out is to keep everything else the same, and then see which people choose. That's hard to do since everything else is never the same. Another way to figure it out is to assume that people prefer one to the other and see if it makes sense. Jim Thompson claims to prefer work to leisure. Let's decide if he's right or just confused.

What would someone do if they really did prefer work to leisure (again, keeping everything the same)? The difference between work and leisure is that you get paid to do things other people choose, whereas nobody pays you for leisure of your own choice. Clearly everything is not the same, so let's assume that you get paid for your leisure. If anybody preferred to work under those conditions, then they would prefer to NOT do what they wanted, but instead to do things that other people chose. Does anybody actually act that way? No, of course not. This assumption generates ridiculous conclusions like "employees will never quit no matter how little you pay them, because under identical conditions they choose work over leisure."

Clearly Jim isn't used to this kind of thinking. Why should he bother to learn it? Well, if he thinks economics is boring, he wouldn't. But if he wants to say things about economics which are coherent, then he needs to understand good economics, and where it comes from.

What does this kind of thinking tell us about the real world? Because surely some people work (do what other people want) instead of enjoying leisure (doing what they want). It tells us that everything is NOT the same (because if it were, people would seek leisure). People don't ordinarily get paid for leisure. Further, it tells us that even if people are doing work of their own choice, they prefer to get paid to doing the same thing for free. Similarly, it tells us that if you pay someone incrementally less, some times the person will choose leisure.

A preference for leisure over work is a special case of another principle: that everyone wants to minimize the value (to them) of the things they give away when they trade. People are naturally cheapskates. Again, look at the counterexample: What if somebody didn't want to minimize the value they traded away? Do you ever see people arguing that they should pay a higher price? No, of course not.

Another way of saying this is that everyone is lazy. Racists claim that blacks are lazy, and I've tried to explain why in a posting of that title. Jim claims that my thesis is wrong, but he fails to restate it correctly, so I can't tell if he's claiming that I'm wrong, or if he's disagreeing with his restatement (which surely both of us agree is wrong).

I think that everyone has a built-in tendency to be racist and sexist and ageist and every other attribute with which you can lump people together. Let's call that Xist thought. People are vociferous pattern-matching machines, and we have a natural tendency to find meaningless patterns. With every signal comes some noise. Typesetters try to avoid "rivers", which are places where the spaces in words line up vertically. It's meaningless, but distracting to the reader. It's very easy to create a pattern out of random data, like "blacks are lazy", or "italians are gangsters", or "jews are greedy". Surely some blacks are lazy, some italians are gangsters and some jews are greedy--people will be people--get enough of them together and you'll find any kind of behavior.

Xists are the people who don't understand that they're seeing a false pattern. The rest of us understand that sometimes we will see patterns that aren't real. We all need to struggle against those spurious pattern matches. Blacks aren't lazy -- just that one you saw leaning on his shovel. Whites aren't racist -- just the one that treated you unfairly because of your skin. Jews aren't greedy -- just that one who profited from the letter of the agreement.

Of course, Xism isn't limited to negative attributes. It's Xist to say that blacks jump higher than whites. I could out-jump my brother-in-law any day even if he started on a footstool. It's Xist to say that Jews are smarter than everybody else. On average, they test higher on IQ tests, but you can't say anything about the average Jew because NOBODY is average. NOBODY is normal. Normal doesn't exist; everybody is an individual.

Treating individuals as exemplars of each group they belong to is intellectual error. Let the dummies (oops!) make that mistake--don't you.

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