13 October 2006

There is such a thing as society

The right therefore has an affinity for market economies, both because people will always be more motivated to work for themselves and their families than for something called "society," and because no planner has the wisdom, information, and disinterest to run an economy from the top down...And since we are always teetering on the brink of barbarism, social traditions in a functioning society should be respected as time-tested workarounds for the shortcomings of an unchanging human nature, as applicable today as when they developed, even if no one can explain their rationale. ... The idea that people have a right to paid vacations, central heating, and a college education, for example, would have been unthinkable throughout most of human history...my freedom to have my teeth fixed impinges on my dentist's freedom to sit at home and read the paper. Steven Pinker, quoted in EconLog

While I agree with the comment, I cannot dismiss 'society' as readily as Dr Pinker appears to, and as many policymakers definitely do. There is such a thing as society, and its loss or erosion means a lot to people who aren't lucky enough to fufil all their social needs in their daily lives. We are not just adjuncts to an economic system, and perhaps we think we have rights to housing and holidays because we regard these things as a quid pro quo for our society's being systematically dismantled by government policies - of all parties - that favour their large, global buddies (via subsidies to big business, infrastructure; the externalising of social and environmental costs; and a biassed regulatory system) at the expense of the small and local.

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