Home » Intelligent Design » The Problem of Quantity and the Importance of the Immaterial

The Problem of Quantity and the Importance of the Immaterial

I am a big fan of numbers. One of the reasons that I like Intelligent Design is because it presents a quantitative approach to many issues and questions that were previously unquantifiable. However, sometimes an over obsession with quantity can cause one to get a distorted picture of reality.

Read More

  • Delicious
  • Facebook
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feed

22 Responses to The Problem of Quantity and the Importance of the Immaterial

  1. Excellent.

    This is an important point to be made when discussing socialism versus capitalism. Socialism depends upon Marx’s labor theory of value: that all labor is equally and objectively valuable. No one should therefore be paid more than anyone else for the same amount of work, which supposedly can be measured quantitatively and objectively.

    Capitalism says that value is relative. Something is worth whatever someone, or a large group of someones, decides to pay for it. Thus value is determined directly by the people involved in the transaction, not by some objective third party trying to impose equality. Therefore capitalism runs contrary to socialism precisely because it allows individuals to determine value, and thus it would never value 100 million street sweepers the same. At some point a capitalist system would stop paying them because yet another street sweeper adds no value.

    But Marx’s theory of labor cannot distinguish between the value of excessive street sweepers versus necessary ones, since all labor is considered to be equal. That’s a great thought experiment. I’ll save it for later. ;)

  2. That is only a small part of capitalism’s story, tragic mishap. More important points are, that:

    a) Mining the earth’s resources to exhaustion, as quickly as possible, simply to maximize profits in the shortest space of time and for the smallest number, is an abomination.

    Unsurprisingly, the justifications they claim for the policies favouring their goals, which they pay the political parties to promote, are utterly specious. With specific reference to the US, the article below analyzes these myths which the media that they own has been propagating, until it has become the received wisdom:

    http://www.alternet.org/econom.....uld-fudged

    In fact, the 1% endlessly siphon an ever greater proportion of the nation’s wealth, to the increasing loss of the incomes of ordinary families (astonishingly, all the more so, now that families are forced to face these ‘austerity’ policies) until the polarization is such, that, also as a result of resource depletion – not least, oil – we now appear to be facing an economic Armageddon; and

    b) The proper priority for Christian and hence, practical, sustainable and stable societies, is not the maximization of profits, but FULL EMPLOYMENT and a LIVING WAGE, with some disposable income for the lowest paid.

    However, such is the damage that has been wrought by the dominant, immoral, neoliberal economic policies imposed by Western governments in recent decades, industrial society as we have known it, looks as if it has run its term, and cottage industries, peasant farming, horse-drawn barges and clippers may make a come-back. Let’s hope so, anyway.

  3. A very interesting article, and not unreminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s saw about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing – personified in the UK by Thatcher’s Tory and Blair’s NuLabor(c) Governments.

  4. Axel, you were making sense until you referenced the 1%, thus showing that you never bothered to read the article. You can’t group people by number. There are just as many people in the 1% as in the 99% who are harming the environment. Who do you think buys all of the harmful products? There are just as many people in the 1% who are actively helpful as there are in the 99%. If you are referring to the 1%, you have, quite simply, bulldozed over every proper distinction to make among people, and have boiled it down to a quantity which doesn’t even reflect the point you are trying to make.

    Again, if you read my article, you would have at least seen why full employment is not necessarily the goal. The “living wage” stuff is problematic, too, because it doesn’t allow for the whole range of human living. For instance, a person who has just graduated and is living with their parents doesn’t need a living wage, they need experience. Having ultra-cheap ways of gaining experience (i.e. not paying a living ways) is the best way to improve that person’s life in the long-run.

    I would suggest that as a beginning point, you should read the referenced article as well as Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics: A Common Sense Guide to the Economy. It’s not the whole story, but it is certainly a good starting point.

  5. One of the issues I forgot to address in my previous comment is the immense problem with saying that people need jobs. A “job” is a servile position. There’s nothing wrong with it – I have a job. However, to insist that we *need* jobs for everyone is to say that everyone needs a master, and that we must force ourselves into dependency on our masters.

    A better option is to say that we are all free, and can engage in commerce independent of our masters if we so desire. In order to do that, we must get rid of the massive regulations that prevent microbusinesses from starting and thriving – and notions such as a “living wage” actually hurt such enterprises the most. If we want families to be able to get by independently, we have to remove the things in their way.

    Let’s say a mom is an excellent cook. Can she sell the cakes she bakes to friends? Currently, this is illegal. Can she employ her children to help her? Also illegal. Can she employ her friends’ children at extremely low wages to help her get started? Also illegal. Such laws as health laws, child labor laws, and living wage laws don’t harm large corporations, they harm the microbusinesses which are the vehicles people can use to drive themselves out of poverty whether or not there are jobs available elsewhere.

    And it allows them to do it as free people, not as servants to a fascist state.

  6. tragic mishap posted this:

    Socialism depends upon Marx’s labor theory of value: that all labor is equally and objectively valuable.

    I have no idea where you got this idea, but it has nothing remotely to do with Marx’s labour theory of value.

  7. 7
    Kantian Naturalist

    To build on timoytha’s remark @ 6:

    The “labor theory of value” is actually not Marxist; it’s an theory developed by John Locke, Adam Smith, and David Ricardo, all defenders of capitalism as it existed at the time. Marx’s project was an ‘internal critique’ of capitalism (hence the subtitle to Capital: “a critique of political economy”) — he wanted to show how the labor theory of value contradicts itself.

  8. timothya and Kantian –

    Marxism isn’t really my area of expertise, but from my understanding Marx held the labor theory of value, and used it as a weapon against those taking disproportionate profits. This is precisely the problem the article addresses. Rather than labor being an indicator of value (as most capitalists held), Marx viewed labor as the whole thing. In other words, he mistook one of the material indicators for being the whole of reality. And, as I pointed out, that tends to really distort one’s view of reality. Smith recognized that labor was one component of value, but did not mistake it for the whole thing.

    However, Smith himself is much too materialistic, as, at least from my limited reading, seems to focus almost solely on profit motives. This is where Austrian economics shines – it holds the person higher than the economic forces, and refuses to reduce economics to the sum of forces acting on the system. It emphasizes human choice, action, and creativity in the development of the economy.

  9. johnnyb, I certainly wouldn’t dispute that there are just as many people in the 1% harming the environment as in the 9%. I’m afraid it’s you who are living in a fantasy world, in this regard.

    To dismiss the significance of the insatiable rapacity of the 1% and their general peer-group constituted by a few more percent is very ingenuous, and, as a meaningless number, is, well, incomprehensible.

    In order to make sense of the world, it is necessary to generalize. This was no less true for Christ than it is of the rest of us. You will recall that it was Joseph of Arimathea, the rich man, but a good man and a disciple of Christ, who donated his tomb to Christ – in fulfilment of the O. T. prophecy that he was to be buried with the rich and the wicked.

    The contortions made by exegetes, mostly American, I suspect, in order to explain away what is a recurring theme in the O.T. as well as Christ’s own strictures concerning the baneful effects of wealth, is a wonder to behold. One such exegete even disparages Matthew’s Gospel to do so; and this, despite the oft-reiterated apposition of the rich with the wicked in the O.T., most notably in the Prophets, and the poor man with the true Israel – not to speak of its emphatic affirmation in the Mary’s Magnificat. There, too, it’s not so easy to dismiss references to the rich and poor with mere the general poverty of spirit of the latter and its absence in the former.

    In fact, realising that they are almost all incorrigible, Jesus gave up haranguing the ‘usual suspects’ in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man, and couched the requirement of charity, and the eschatological ’cause and effect’ of damnation, in the simplest, almost mechanical terms. As if Abraham were saying, ‘I’m not criticising you, just saying the way it is. My suspicion is – borne out by his unfavourable comparison of the rich man with the hapless, stumbling compassion of the street-dogs – that by this time, Jesus was too incandescent, and all together resigned to the knowledge of their obduracy, to use any polemic other than this brutal rhetorical device.

    Note the ironically-benign tone of father Abraham when laying it out before him. As if to say, ‘Take it or leave it. It’s the way it is. You have; he hasn’t. He will have; you won’t.

    The clincher, were there a dearth of confirmatory indications, however, has to be Christ’s own stricture that where our treasure is, there is our heart, too. We don’t get rich by accident. The residents in the leafy suburbs don’t necessarily get there for being Mr Nice Guy, although some, of course, will be.

    James in his Epistle explicitly states, perfectly in line with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and Beatitudes, that God chooses the poor to be rich in faith; not the worldly-wise, although clearly God can and does make good such deficiencies, in some measure, to many who might otherwise remain, unregenerate, generic worldlings. Note the mood of gratitude on Christ’s part, conveyed by him in his Sermon on the Mount, as if he was thanking the Anawin, his people, for teaching him – since, like us, he would have learnt experientially – for teaching him the true, spiritual priorities, even in the desperately hard circumstances of their struggle for survival.

    So, this notion that people of little worldly wisdom – what we are pleased to call ‘intelligence’ – can all start up cottage industries is plain foolish. Should everyone be a shoe-shine man? Or make raffia handicrafts? A ludicrous thought, though a bartering of skills may be the order of the day before long. Many are simply too unworldly to be ‘sole traders’. And many that did manage such a start-up would doubtless be ripped off in our overtly criminal commercial culture.

    Incidentally, Adam Smith held the merchant class to be, at best, quasi-criminals, who needed the closest monitoring, since, even ‘amid their merriment and diversions’, they would seek to conspire against the common good. As for taxation, he stopped little short of Communism. Taxation according to the individual’s means.

    And the 1%? “All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind,” was Smith’s assessment.

    I note johnny, that you have made no reference to the potential, economic and social cataclysm in the pipeline, – if indeed, as seems likely, it is unavoidable – proximately caused as a direct result of the polarization of wealth, NEVER for any good reason, in any case.

    If a person has a high level of worldly intelligence, it would be a gift to be shared with the more spiritual’ less worldly, to be used to promote their survival and welfare.

    You master-employee stricture is facile, in fact, incomprehensible. ‘Master’ has many shades of meaning, but even at its most innocuous, I hardly think it reasonable to designate your employer as your ‘master’.

    Moreover, though Christ was more exercised by the extortion and economic oppression of the poor by the monied Establishment, polite society, than most other crimes of the latter, he spoke parabolically about a servant serving his master his meal, before sitting down to his own.

    A fact of life, that some will have more than others, and employment is not normally shameful; indeed, rather the rule, throughout history. Even Communist workers had bosses, as did their managers and politicians.

    As the encyclical, Rerum Novarum states, capital is to serve man, not man, capital – hence the requirement of full employment, as a necessary contribution to a man’s well-being – something the Quaker economist, Ernst Schumaker alluded to.

  10. Axel –

    There are several issues with the way you lay things out. First of all, most obviously, it is absurd to think that Abraham was making the simple statement that people that had would not have, and people that would not have would have, for the very reason that Abraham was one of the wealthiest people of his day! And it kept increasing! And God was behind its increasing! This would have been even more well-known in Jesus’ time than in ours, so to have Abraham on the side of Lazarus means that it cannot be a simple have/doesn’t have dichotomy.

    The point, it seems to me, is that God had materially blessed many of His servants, and people in Jesus’ day had made the incorrect assumption that material wealth is a de facto sign of God’s blessing. Jesus quite consistently broke that simplistic equivalence, from all sides. “Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them–do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?” Then, to the centurion, Jesus said, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” The centurion was certainly part of the 1%, yet Jesus gives him the stamp of approval over and above the oppressed in Israel.

    I think this can be resolved with the story of the man who built bigger barns.

    And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry. But God said unto him, Thou foolish one, this night is thy soul required of thee; and the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. (Luke 12:18-21)

    Here Jesus himself gives the explanation – (a) storing up treasure for yourself and (b) not being rich towards God.

    While capitalism doesn’t solve the problem of people focusing wealth on themselves, it does change the stakes quite a bit. Mercantilism, which is the state of things at the time of Christ, and seems to be the state of things which politics tends to bend, makes political power and economic wealth more or less equivalent. Therefore, the normal state of wealth is that you have to the exclusion and subversion of others. However, in a free market society, wealth is divorced from political power, and the normal mode of wealth creation is in service to others. Obviously one can do evil under any system, but free markets change the dynamics and make wealth more naturally gained by serving rather than by controlling. Thus, building bigger barns for yourself is actually difficult in a free economy. Most wealth is obtained and kept through active reinvestment – which is what helps the whole society. Greed itself is still bad, but it is tempered because one must think about others first in order to obtain wealth.

    Most of the abuses happen precisely when the political system bends towards mercantilism and away from free markets.

    By the way, I agree with you that the American financial system is heading towards a collapse — and it is precisely because we have moved too far towards mercantilism with its integration of political and economic power.

    Interestingly, if, by “the 1%” you mean the mercantilists such as Soros, Buffett, Immelt, then I don’t necessarily disagree with you. However, this is a much smaller category, and is much smaller than 1%, and is not necessarily defined by the amount of money they have.

  11. Axel -

    I really tried to understand what you are saying. First of all, from your other comments on this site, I expect that you are a believer in Christ. If so I claim you as my brother.

    But, in my humble opinion, you are very confused if your Christianity forces your thinking to the left end of the economic/political spectrum. There are always going to be wealthy individuals. They are always going to have better housing, better health care, better food than the poor. So what. As Christians, envy of the wealthy should not be our song.

    The leftist remedy for a non-problem ( income inequality – or some people owning more than others ) is to use the power of the state to steal from the rich. I find this to be neither Christian nor good. The most covetous are those who insist on controlling what belongs to others. When a man has money, I think the Christian should respect his right to it; NOT vote for political systems that will take it away from him.

    As to your wrong inference that the 1% rape the resources that belong to everyone, you have a naive view of industry that can only come from confusion. Typically the wealthy get to be the wealthy because they are disciplined and believe in delayed gratification. They see a long way off and, for one example, find that petroleum is going to be useful for a long time so they make bold moves to try and discover supplies of it. They scrimp in the short term to reap great rewards later. They are not going to waste their position. The world’s petroleum supplies are in much better hands belonging to a few wealthy free people, then to be owned by the state. I suggest you don’t know any self-made wealthy men. It would do you good to have some in your acquaintance. You might avoid labeling an entire class as one with “insatiable rapacity”.

    I find the general tone of your comments naive and dangerous, and I warn you that the wish of Jesus was that we would not be covetous. That we would not seek private or state sponsored plunder of the resources of others, but quietly labor for our own needs. The Lord has not called his people to seek political solutions for human needs, but to be free.

  12. JohnnyB posted this:

    Marx viewed labor as the whole thing. In other words, he mistook one of the material indicators for being the whole of reality.

    Quite the contrary, a large part of Marx’s critique of “labour only” theories of capital formation was to address precisely the inability of such theories to explain the way in which the “quantities” of economic activity are transformed into the “qualities” of political structure.

    His writings on political economy, the history of capitalist development, the role of religion and other social phenomena in capitalism and so on clearly indicate that he was far from being an economic determinist (though there is no doubt that he regarded the economic base as being primary over the political and social superstructure).

  13. JDH posted this:

    The world’s petroleum supplies are in much better hands belonging to a few wealthy free people, then to be owned by the state.

    Who paid for the Exxon Valdez? The BP blowout? Which “few wealthy people” gleefully participated in the worldwide cartel to prop up petroleum prices during the 1970s and 1980s and guarantee their profits?

    Who fought the first and second wars for oil in the Gulf? Who fought the war in (then) Persia to secure the supply of oil for the Western Alliance during World War 2? Did the “few wealthy people”? Or did they rely on the ultima ratio regis and other peoples’ blood?

    Talk about question-begging.

  14. I wanted to respond to your post, point by point, JDH, but it is too demoralizing to contemplate that a Christian should be so benighted as to Jesus’ most primordial teachings. And to revisit each one would be too much. And I had barely begun to read the beginning and end of it.

    What I have said, I have said, and that is all that is required of me. You must judge it as you think fit.

    I have spent a life-time seeking poverty, and rather successfully, so the notion that my post reflects covetousness, either on my own behalf or that of others is beyond risible.

  15. johnnyb, while still erroneous in parts, there is much in your post #10 that is unexceptionable, though not the first paragraph or the last sentence.

    God’s requirements of mankind have grown with the passage of time. ‘Grace’, as St Augustine pointed out, ‘builds upon nature.’ But, like, Rome, not in a day. At least one of the patriarchs, resorted to the service of a prostitute, and it is related without condemnatory comment. It turned out to be his niece in disguise.

    True, Francis Bacon remarked that prosperity was the blessing of God in the Old Testament; adversity, in the New. But that, too, is actually a mischaracterisation, as I pointed out above. Or do you deny that the prophets, like Mary in her Magnificat, spoke of the rich man in apposition to the wicked man, the poor man, to the true Israel, the virtuous man?

    Why would they not, since wealth is actually very hard to come by and keep, confirming Christ’s dictum that where our treasure is, there must also be our heart; unless we have sufficient detachment from it to routinely give significant amounts of it away.

    And more importantly, to use every political means available to ensure that the vicious, Mammon and Moloch-worshipping structure of capitalism with its insatiable greed, is harnessed to serve the common good.

    To do less, to to stop short of seeking to change the very structure of our hideously unjust, Western economic system, would be to strain at a gnat, only to swallow a camel – the reproach by Christ of the punctiliously observant scribes and Pharisees, who nevertheless gave a tithe of their income to the Synagogue.

    What makes it worse is that, as Marx pointed out, their tragedy (and celestial glory) is that they want so little. There is no justification for anyone in this world to be homeless or hungry. The US, the richest country in the world, looks like a third-world country for those with eyes to see.

    Sexually perverse he may have been for most of his life, but Oscar Wilde was spot on when he remarked that America was the only country in the world that had gone from barbarism to degeneracy without passing through a stage of civilisation. And it was never the general public, the poor in your country who were to blame.

  16. I used to marvel at the nerve of the right wing in accusing Socialism of being ‘the politics of envy’.

    However, I have come to realise that while it is a sinful slur on those who have a God-given right to sufficient food and a roof over their heads, Their Socialist leaders, as politicians, inevitably as thorough worldlings as their right-wing counterparts, very much do tend to be motivated by personal envy, as the recent history of Nulab(c) and its architects attests all too clearly.

    That, however, in no way, exonerates the right. In the final analysis, though, it has been the Christian Churches’ failure to preach the Gospel values of Christ to the rich in a censorious vein, that is to blame.

    This article evidently bears reposting:

    http://www.internetmonk.com/ar.....offend-you

    Incidentally, Jesus was most anxious that, while we should exercise the most obvious natural virtues, such as looking after one’s aging parents, we should not confuse the natural virtues (which even the robbers/heathen et al observe) with the supernatural virtues. They do not, of themselves, reflect sufficient divine grace to get us into heaven, but are for the most part, simply natural and even self-serving.

    .. and for a little inspiration:

    http://www.christianitytoday.c.....f#comments

  17. JDH, I have managed to steel myself to read your post, but since I find you live in a fantasy world, I’ll confine myself to addressing your last comment. Freedom in the sense you clearly mean is NOT open to us, as Christians. Indeed, the very word, ‘religion’ is derived from the latin, ‘religere’ to ‘bind’.

    I believe it was St Paul who told us that we have become slaves of God, and the end is our sanctification. If we refuse to become slaves of God, we are not ‘on the sidelines’; we become slaves of the Devil. ‘You are either for me, or against me,’ were Christ’s words.

    Also, ‘You cannot worship money and God; you must either worship one and despise the other or vice versa. And ‘if we can’t be trusted with that tainted thing, money, who will trust us with eternal riches?’ And Jesus was not alluding to financial prudence, still less, acumen.

  18. 18

    The problem with coerced redistribution of wealth is that it is not a law of nature; it is a piece of political rhetoric that emotionally resources an idealized notion that cannot be made manifest in the real world.

    The same humans that build and hoard and misuse wealth through free-market capitalism will seize and hoard and misuse wealth through socialism. The only difference is that under socialism, those same humans have the additional power of making laws and the force of the military to execute their machinations and have no competition against their desires.

  19. You seem to see your wall-to-wall, far right parties through rose-tinted spectacles, William.

    Even school-children routinely face electrocution by security personnel. An octagenarian woman was tasered for not mowing her lawn and arguing about it. Another woman for drawing into her drive-way, instead of pulling up immediately a few yards from it. One lad was tasered repeatedly for arguing with a security-man in a library.
    You have drones flying over your own soil, It goes on and on.

    However, I believe you miss some salient points. Christians ought to provide genuine, Christian, socialist governments – nothing like the outright Communist communes of the early church.

    A golden opportunity was missed in Britain, when Keir Hardie, a Methodist lay-preacher started the Labour party. Instead, it was rapidly taken over by the normal, atheist Socialists.

    After WWII, a Labour Government was finally able to be installed, and it was the beginning of what the French call, ‘Les Trente Glorieuses’. As a result, the country became almost civilised. Of course, without a concomitant spiritual regeneration, it was doomed to fail, albeit incrementally, and it’s still a million miles from the shameful state of the US.

    So, initially at least, while its leaders remained unashamed and not personally ‘inconvenienced’ by such a modest redistribution of the country’s wealth, just as the right wing had used the First Commandment as a front, they used the Second. So, the very nature of Socialism forced on them a mitigation of their own wretched personal ambitions at the expense of the people, but, rather forced them to do good.

    I don’t believe the monied Christians in the US, in purgatory, will escape God’s reproach, probably by way of their own self-reproach, when they realise the enormity of the suffering they have colluded in, while finding extraordinary justifications for so doing.

    You sound like a man of the world, William. How can you not be appalled at the recent, catastrophic financial shenanigans in the US, when there were already so many jobless people and homeless families? And those couples in work, each having to hold down two or three jobs, just to get by? The richest nation in the world, a third-world country. ‘Shocking’ hardly covers it.

  20. 20
    sagebrush gardener

    The conceit of atheism is that unbelief equals freedom. Thus the self-admiring term “freethinker”. This is nothing new, of course. Psalm 2 says:

    The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, “Let us break their bonds in pieces and cast away their cords from us.” He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall hold them in derision.

  21. 21

    Axel,

    You are the one making assumptions, not me. I’m not a Christian. Rose colored glasses? Did you miss where I said “…The same humans that build and hoard and misuse wealth through free-market capitalism…” …???

    Human corruption and evil is prevalent throughout every institution on the left and the right. My point was that there is no institution or set of laws that will prevent or change this fact of human nature. No system of rules can avoid abuse by those intent upon it; no resource of power, personal or public, is immune to corruption.

    Life doesn’t get better on earth by subjecting ourselves to government institutions and laws, because those institutions and laws are ultimately corrupt. In my experience, life on earth only gets better when individuals make the personal choice to be good, moral people and obey what god has written in their hearts. There is no government substitute for that, and any socialist, governmental, enforced “charity” or “good will” redistribution will always fail because coerced submission, even in the name of good, cannot produce good. You cannot put a gun to people’s head, take their money and then do “good” with it.

    It must be freely given, freely chosen, by men and women individually opting to do good.

  22. Considering the fate of the unprofitable servant in Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27, it appears that when it came to the world’s mammon, our Lord was nothing less than a hard-nosed capitalist.

    As for socialism, the Lord’s endorsement of private property in verse 15 of the parable in Matthew 20:1-16 is unequivocal.

Leave a Reply