Do Profits Prioritize Well? Mindlessness In Markets
Our ruling ideas grow evermore ethically evasive. Ignoring evident big picture problems, they have us mindlessly seeking the mathematically and morally absurd. Simple maxims can clarify:
Economics, the study of “what makes us better off,” and virtually our state religion, has made growth its holy grail. Its stern gods, "the markets," dispense rewards and punishments. But profits prioritize poorly.
1. “Letting the market decide” means making musical toilets while millions need food assistance. And the higher profits of lifestyle drugs (like Viagra and its female version) divert effort from life-saving antibiotics. Are these desirable or ethical priorities?
2. Kant said people should never be “merely...a means to an end.” But market theory (or market theology) can categorize people as “human resources,” to be used for market ends. Your worth is only what your skills can be sold for.
3. Economic self-interest often fails Kant’s universalizing test: Only rules that produce good outcomes when used by all are wise. Self-only-maximizing logic predictably produces bad outcomes in many situations (e.g. Darwin’s Wedges, Prisoner’s Dilemmas).
4. Economists generally love Bentham’s “greatest happiness [/good] for the greatest number” principle. But they often don’t incorporate its inclusive impulse: A gain is better if shared among a greater number. Markets can work contrarily to concentrate gains.
5. Greed = growth? Is inequality necessary (or justifiable) for growth? Many artists, scientists, and academics (even economists) do hard, innovative work without huge financial incentives. Markets misvalue much work (e.g. nurses less valuable than economists?).
6. If less loot means some titans work less, great. That creates opportunities for hungrier, smarter aspiring titans (and perhaps usefully limits corporate size).
7. "Growth… has lifted billions out of poverty." True and wonderful. But folly if it relies on “demand” for musical toilets.
8. Free-traders love the non-zero-sum “grow the pie” game. But don’t ignore it’s zero-sum evil twin: unshared gains from growth.
9. All growth = good? GDP growth doesn’t distinguish goods from bads/questionables (e.g. musical toilets or 1/3 of US health care).
10. Everlasting compound growth gets mathematically absurd: 1 cubic meter of stuff in ancient Egypt grown at 4.5% annually would now need 2.5 billion billion solar systems of storage space.
Markets are our ethics enacted. Ignoring their logical, moral, and mathematical problems is—to borrow from Bentham—“nonsense upon stilts.” We must somehow align the massive power of (mindlessly maximizing) markets to intelligently decided priorities.
Illustration by Julia Suits, The New Yorker Cartoonist & author of The Extraordinary Catalog of Peculiar Inventions.
Universities claim to prepare students for the world. How many actually do it?
- Many university mission statements do not live up to their promise, writes Ben Nelson, founder of Minerva, a university designed to develop intellect over content memorization.
- The core competencies that students need for success—critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and cross-cultural understanding, for example—should be intentionally taught, not left to chance.
- These competencies can be summed up with one word: wisdom. True wisdom is the ability to apply one's knowledge appropriately when faced with novel situations.
This is what the world will look like, 250 million years from now
To us humans, the shape and location of oceans and continents seems fixed. But that's only because our lives are so short.
SpaceX's momentous Crew Dragon launch is a sign of things to come for the space industry, and humanity's future.
- SpaceX was founded in 2002 and was an industry joke for many years. Eighteen years later, it is the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.
- Today, SpaceX's Crew Dragon launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS. The journey will take about 19 hours.
- Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, looks at SpaceX's journey from startup to a commercial space company with the operating power of a nation-state.
A new study may help us better understand how children build social cognition through caregiver interaction.
Researchers at UT Southwestern noted a 47 percent increase in blood flow to regions associated with memory.