It’s leisure, not self-interest

nsingman has a comment on catwhite‘s post here. My response articulated a bit of my view on a very important and complicated subject, so I pulled it out and am posting here.
See, there’s a bit of a conundrum here. On the one hand, I strongly resist patriarchal policies built on the idea that people aren’t smart enough to know what’s best for them. Even if the people don’t know enough to come in out of the rain, governments are about the vested power plays of all the wrong people, not the best interests of the public. And I trust private/corporate entities about as far I can throw the government – after all, if it’s private, it’s legally bound to the best interests of the shareholders, not the public.

However, that a lot of people aren’t smart enough to know what’s best for them is as basic and unarguable a fact of social and economic reality as we’re likely to find.

This is one of the great flaws in the democratic/free market system – the assumption that people will act in their best interest hinges on the idea that they’re capable of knowing their best interest. However, this in turn hinges on an assumption that people, given the freedom to act as they will, will logically seek to inform themselves to this end.

Sadly, as Dewey and Lippman have shown us, it’s difficult for even an intelligent person to inform him- or herself sufficiently in an increasingly complex world. More sadly, 230 years have taught us pretty conclusively that most people are not inherently driven toward self-education.

Instead, the defining drive (and here was the same mistake that Marx made, as well) is toward leisure, which is in most respect the opposite of the impulse required to make the democratic/free market system work as intended.

So this isn’t an easy one to sort out. But we need to model theory around what we know of reality. At this moment in history, the people who are enjoying the bounties of our political economic system tend all too often to be the folks who have cynically understood how to capitalize on the rampant sloth and ignorance that characterizes a significant plurality of the “public.”

Not that you should read any of the above as an endorsement of any other system of political economy out there. Unfortunately, our forefathers weren’t the only ones who constructed beautiful, ennobled theories without consulting actual human behavior….


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