7.7 The Relation to Entrenched but Implicit Values in Social Economics

The consensus of economists averaging the political biases of the world seems to be that a free economy, with adjustment occurring continually through the market, is the soundest condition for the main body of society. With this there must be such government or other tactful touches on the helm, and such support of not-directly-earning activities (research, education, maintenance of morality) as can prove remunerative only for the community as a whole. In a freely competitive system supplying what people need, by competing corporations, the managerial class is constantly under selection for enterprise and inventiveness; the worker is motivated to acquire new skills as they become wanted and to migrate where the best wages are to be found, and the educational system is moved to supply at least in technical fields the kinds of education that the community needs and for which students will pay fees. Comparative studies of real standards of living among various countries suggest that where such free invention, migration, and adaptive education exist, there is less misery and want than where they do not.

The crucial question of principle which soon arises, however, concerns the correctness of extending the free competition in supply and demand from goods to people. The writings of most economists get quite hazy here and one sees their personal political or temperamental prejudices breaking through. Oddly enough, Karl Marx and the Catholic Church (though not the Protestant Ethic as interpreted by Weber) come together here (as in some recent papal encyclicals) in asserting that the individual must be placed above the market. But one must insist that the premises and the consequences of thus intruding with values from outside the system have not been clearly stated or understood. In both Marx and the Catholic encyclicals the principle is born of an ad hoc intuition. Yet as we have pointed out above, the expressions of economic laws offer one of the most realistic contacts with general biological and cosmic energy laws that we have. If the demand for a certain type of man in a certain type of culture is low say for a low-browed, massively muscular type in an intellectually demanding, electric push-button society this will show in the wage distribution. If this wage falls very low, and is only restored to a good family sustenance level by what we may call the unmitigated welfare priniciple, then the adjustive selection trend in society, both educationally and genetically, is destroyed. This complex matter of supply and demand of persons is looked at more closely in Chapter 8; here we are concerned only with the value judgment.

It was part of the lucidity and integrity of Ricardo's basic approach to economics that he recognized that a worker is, as far as economics are concerned, essentially another commodity[11], and that a producer's contract with his help required that "like all other contracts, wages should be left to the fair and free competition of the market." Further, he supposed that just as the supply of goods would decline adjustively when the selling price ceased to be rewarding, so the supply of persons with certain skills (or lack of skills) would decline when the need, and the willingness to provide wages for that kind of work decline. Incidentally, Ricardo is a shock to welfare state social workers because he recognized that "privations" might reduce the supply of, for example, an excess of unskilled workers. That reduction has in the past often occurred by famine, but by foresight and intelligence it could occur by family planning directed by economic incentives, migration, alert shifts in adult and general education, and other adjustments.

If we begin at the basis of economics with the principle that both men and goods should be primarily exposed to the same law, and each only secondarily brought under its specific modifying laws, the picture becomes more consistent and the directions of moral action more clear. For example, we may surmise that if society permits the production and education of the average man to cost more than his value to the given society, its resulting economic bankruptcy is likely to be part of a total group life bankruptcy. If a viable society is the evolutionary aim, it is morally desirable that every man should repay or more than repay the cost of bringing him to adult effectiveness. He might fall short of this in many ways, e.g., by dying too early, by being lazy and parasitic, or by being born with defects which prevent his ever becoming averagely effective.

Now it may well turn out that secondary principles to this primary one that a man should be paid what he can in some real sense earn are quite compatible with the goal of survival of a group. For example, trade unions forcing up the basic wage, or welfare for the unemployed, may have survival value, e.g., in tiding a society over what could otherwise become costly disturbances. But these advantages have not been demonstrated by social science, and the real reason for these customs is that Christian and other ethical values, which move us for the plight of the unfortunate, favor these defenses against the strict application of the law of supply and demand.

For example, if a certain educational system is producing too many qualified in area A and too few in B, the earnings for A will fall, and the fashionableness of paying for schooling in A will decline while B will increase. (This could be exemplified precisely in India fifty years ago when there were too many lawyers and too few engineers. Young lawyers complained bitterly of absence of jobs and requested government action to support them.) The primary economic principle will automatically adjust the situation, but the special sub-principle might be that those who, "through no fault of their own" (except following the crowd and lacking foresight) are sufferers might, from humanitarian principles, be given financial help. Use of a "dislocating" sub-principle, however, always requires further adjustments, unless efforts are made to keep it temporary and "contained." For example, a leading economist points out "there is a surplus of unskilled youths seeking jobs because the government makes it illegal to pay less than the legal minimum wage."

The view that production of types of men should be subject to the same naturally acting economic laws as any other production runs counter to the narcism and ethnocentrism now hopelessly entangled in many "ethical" systems. In as much as a large factor in economic laws is simply a projection of natural laws of survival present in the general real conditions of the universe the opposition to the economic principle is pointless or evil. The worker should be willing to be educated to the types of job which society needs.

The objection to allowing the economic principles of various economists to play a major role in social planning is, first, that, as is typical of what we call the "treacherous alloy" in social science generally in Chapter 2, they bristle with values from Adam Smith, through Ricardo, Bentham, Mill, Weber and Marx that are insufficiently distinguished and labelled as the non-scientific importations they actually are. Secondly, as also stated above, economics is not a science, but only the fragment of a behavioral science yet to come. It is still so little of a science that it is possible today for a distinguished economist such as Colin Clark of Oxford to find the work of another economist, Galbraith of Harvard, so remote from his own reasoned conceptions of economics that he is compelled to call it "garbage"[12]. Only when economic behavior is geared into general psychology as a special branch designated "exchange and earning behavior" are its laws likely to reach those foundations in biology, personality psychology, and learning laws which can give us confidence in what its applications will do.

Meanwhile, economists are invited by politicians to control unemployment, inflation, business cycles, and national currency values, by an array of levers such as bank rates, price controls, printing money, wage adjustments, welfare expenditure levels, with only a partial understanding of how the results follow and no understanding at all of what the long term moral value of the changes may be. For example, an unquestioned "desirable" in economic terms has always been to keep the economic system in brisk action. Here politicians have followed, for example, Keynesian goals of keeping up momentum, regardless of inflation or the possibilities of many unkown effects on population size and quality in relation to resources, pollution, etc. Others have taken it as a matter of course that unemployment should be kept at a minimum, or that interest on capital should be kept at a maximum, by some economic device which has been found empirically to produce this effect, regardless of secondary effects. If physiologists were to put drugs on the market with equally poor knowledge of their secondary "side effects," or long term consequences to health there would be a public outcry. Moreover, it is hard to find any more insight or wisdom at present guiding economic reform and manipulation than is expressed in a cautious "middle of the road" philosophy which hovers between central government economic control, at its extreme in Marxism, and the maintenance of the stimulus and vigor of a free market, by the principles of Marshall and Adam Smith.

From a Beyondist standpoint such a goal as a maximally functioning economy in Keynesian or other terms cannot be taken as a final "good." But the argument for re-valuing economic desirables in terms of further, more remote goals is quite different from merely objecting to economic laws and their consequences when the shoe happens to pinch. The pinch may be, by broader principles, desirable, but in any case signs of economic dislocation are always important, for with the added depth of an evolutionary perspective, economic laws must be respected as indicators of the soundness of general adjustment and progress. Intelligent acceptance of certain socio-economic trends, and novel adjustments naturally obeying economic laws has historically been conspicuously absent in most communities. The unforeseen rise of the bourgeois, i.e., as part of a more flourishing commerce, upset the ideals and living styles of the aristocracy. The bourgeois ideal or at least the notion of laissez-faire in industrial and commercial competition was in turn attacked from such diverse directions as Marx's demand for a regulated economy under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and Ruskin's (and Adam Muller's) indignant demands that a commercialized culture recognize the primacy of the goals of the well-balanced and aesthetic life. Naturally there are as many variants of this immediate discontent with the outcome of economic laws as there are value systems. The hippie, the Hindu holy man, the artist, some researchers in pure science, and all such as teachers and preachers who under-earn, are all bound to show some degree of discontent with economics, but there is no common lesson in or single remedy for their diverse protests.

It should be possible to infer from social scientific research a set of public economic regulations and mechanisms that would be fully consistent with evolutionary morality, but no existing system comes close to it, nor would such an economic system actually encompass all the values of the Beyondist society. Similarly the full ideals of other systems, democracy, private individual enterprise, Fascism and even Communism are not sufficiently definable in economic terms alone. In Russia or China, for example, the Marxist blueprints, written in purely economic terms have not sufficed, for example, to eliminate the absolutism of Czarist days or the family paternalism of China, respectively, or, indeed, massive value differences in the two cultures. Haldane reacted to what he felt was an excessive emphasis on such economic characterization by saying "I cannot accept the American and the Communist ideals because they are too exclusively economic." Economics cannot encompass the translation of evolutionary morality, for one thing because most of its goals are short term ones. A trivial but rather striking illustration of this disregard of longterm social outcomes is found in the way the pressures of agricultural demand were allowed to starve the craft of ocean-going canoe building among Polynesian colonists, with the result that they were marooned, to stay with whatever fate each particular island could offer. They lost the flexibility in survival we have rated high in evolution of cultures. Intensity of attention to current economic demands, as practiced by political-economists, could produce similar catastrophes in our own culture.

Back to Table of Contents