Even those who have never used the phrase social-Darwinism themselves have probably heard it or heard about what the phrase means. In this very good post about the origins and meaning of social-Darwinism Eric Michael Johnson also makes a very good case for using a more apt term instead, social-Spencerism. The major reason being that Darwin never wrote about economic issues or economic justice. This essay continues the unfortunate use of Darwin as an example even though the substance of his view is correct. Darwin May Replace Adam Smith As The Greatest Intellectual Contributor to Modern Economics
This book applies evolutionary theory to economics, arguing that consumption can, like evolution, run wild — to the detriment of society as well as individuals
In view of the recent economic meltdown, I am sure it’s no secret to anyone that unregulated or poorly-regulated economic competition can run wild — to the detriment of society as well as individuals. But this outcome is hardly surprising to those who paid attention to Darwin’s ideas about competition in the natural world — ideas inspired by the extravagance of the peacock’s tail or by the sheer size of a stag’s rack of antlers.
This is the main argument made by New York Times economics columnist, Robert H. Frank, in his recent book, The Darwin Economy: Liberty, Competition, and the Common Good [Princeton University Press; 2011: Guardian Bookshop; Amazon UK/kindle; Amazon US/kindle] — a book that pushes back — hard — against Libertarianism. The author is so sure of his argument that he predicts that 100 years from now, Charles Darwin will be recognised as the greatest intellectual contributor to modern economic theory, replacing Adam Smith as the intellectual founder of economics. Frank writes;
I base my prediction on a subtle but extremely important distinction between Darwin’s view of the competitive process and Smith’s. Today Smith is best remembered for his invisible-hand theory, which, according to some of his modern disciples, holds that impersonal market forces channel the behavior of greedy individuals to produce the greatest good for all. [...I]t’s fair to say that the invisible-hand theory’s optimistic portrayal of unregulated market outcomes has become the bedrock of the antigovernment activists’ worldview. They believe regulation is unnecessary because they believe unbridled market forces can take care of things quite nicely on their own.
Darwin’s view of the competitive process was fundamentally different. His observations persuaded him that the interests of individual animals were often profoundly in conflict with the broader interests of their own species. In time, I predict, the invisible hand will come to be seen as a special case of Darwin’s more general theory. Many of the libertarians’ most cherished beliefs, which are perfectly plausible within Smith’s framework, don’t survive at all in Darwin’s. (p. 17).
In this book, Frank argues that Smith’s invisible-hand idea is actually a special case within the general rule of competition based on Darwin’s observation that the “survival of the fittest” individuals is not always best for the group. This leads to “arms races” where behaviours that provide short-term gains for particular individuals can lead to enormous harm to the group.
That writer even perpetuates the old myth that Darwin coined the term “survival of the fittest”. That term was first used by Herbert Spencer in Principles of Biology(1864).
It is remarkable how the bizarre notion that the best people make the most money or have the most money has caught on as a cultural meme in the USA especially. It is Randian philosophy gone wild. The guy in the truck in front of you on the freeway with the airbrushed eagle and Limbaugh bumper sticker really believes that no one can do his job as well as he can and that he is an economic island of achievement all to himself. He sees no connection between his income and the social and economic infrastructure required to provide the framework that makes his income possible. He looks at the FICA totals on his check and damns the government for paying people to live in mansions and drive BMWs on his dime. Yet of the value of his labor – which is commendable – the corporation that owns the shop where he works takes far bigger percentage of the capital he produces than the government. The government even pays him back if he should become disabled or when he retires. He may hate those government programs, but there is no way he could pay his retired father’s medical bills if it were not for Medicare. Even if Medicare suddenly ended and he did not have to make payments, a similar private policy would be either a huge financial burden or completely unaffordable.
This story is interesting though it covers some of the same ground as the one above with more particulars about Medicare and Medicaid. There is also a comment that gives you a good idea of the kind of flawed logic and bone headed ideology that enlightened Americans have to deal with – A safety-net, not a hammock
Allow me a moment to express my disgust with some comments made by Rep. Paul Ryan.
He’s out selling a House Republican budget whose stated particulars include $4.6 trillion in tax cuts weighted strongly to the affluent alongside punishing cuts to social programs and the denial of health insurance coverage to tens of millions of people covered under health reform.
A troll stopped by to leave this remarkable observation.
Mike Kaplan says:
April 10, 2012 at 7:40 pm
Why am I paying taxes to take care of your brother-in-law Vincent? He is your family – why don’t you take care of him? Why do you want to force me to sacrifice my time and labor – in taxes – to do what you are not doing?
All of us need to be responsible for ourselves and our families. The federal government currently borrows over 40% of what it spends. We just don’t have the money to continue this way.
There are several deep flaws in that argument, but I’ll get to the most obvious. You hear this a lot when it comes to social safety net programs – I’m being forced to pay for other people. Medicare and Medicaid are simply insurance program writ very large run by the government. If Mr Kaplan wanted to completely privatize Medicare, guess what. he would be part of a risk pool. Not everyone pays exactly the same in a private insurance risk pool – smokers pay a little more for instance. Though all the people who own those private polices do what – they pay for the health care costs of everyone in the risk pool. Mr. Kaplan may have medical expenses that exceed what he has paid in premiums. Guess who pays for that. Everyone else in the risk pool is forced to pay for it. That is the way insurance works whether it is Medicare or Prudential. If Kaplan wants to opt out of insurance completely that means when he gets sick society is forced to decide between treating him with little likelihood of receiving full payment for services or letting him die. Thus people like Kaplan and the multitude of like minded social-Spencerists will indeed be forcing some morally treacherous decisions and burdens on society. Kaplan and his ilk are the real parasites who have something akin to the fever of cultist religious zealots, who believe that their nightmarish society where humankind’s basic humanity and frailties are denied is good for the national character and cost nothing.
“We’ve created approaches that open a previously untapped portion of the electromagnetic spectrum for consumer use and life-saving medical applications,” said Dr. Kenneth O, professor of electrical engineering at UT Dallas and director of the Texas Analog Center of Excellence(TxACE). “The terahertz range is full of unlimited potential that could benefit us all.”
I believe the good doctors have nothing but the best intentions and we will see some amazing benefits from this technology. Though they are naive to think that just because they plan for the rays to only work within short distances, that it will not be made or hacked to do otherwise. Limbaugh’s dream come true, perpetual porn.
J.Viewz – Smooth Criminal