Cleaned by Capitalism IX

by Don Boudreaux on September 3, 2009

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Complexity & Emergence, Environment, Everyday Life, History, Standard of Living

Here’s a picture of another unsung device that protects us modern folk from pollutants; in the picture below you’re looking out at my deck through an aluminum wire-mesh screen attached to my kitchen window — and in the background you can see plastic-meshing on a gazebo that Karol, Thomas, and I enjoy on our deck.

Without such screens, opening one’s home or business place to fresh air would be to open it to flies and other irritating, often disease-carrying insects.  But the lowly screen keeps those unwanted pollutants out while letting fresh air in.

I’m not sure when the mesh-screen was invented or (more importantly) when it became affordable to the masses, but I know that it was sometime during the 19th century.  H.L. Mencken, writing of his childhood in late-19th-century Baltimore, noted that the copper mesh screen was a great advance because, before it arrived (sometime, Mencken suggests, in the 1890s) the only mesh screens that people had were made of iron.  These iron screens rusted and proved to be unreliable.  Copper — and later aluminum (and more recently plastics) — solved the rust problem.

(See H.L. Mencken, “Two Benefactors of Mankind,” in H.L. Mencken, A Second Mencken Chrestomathy, pp. 161-163.)

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{ 73 comments }

Gil September 3, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Obviously Don is having fun with his ‘definition’ of pollution. He’s doing it because knows his defintion is the polar opposite of the normal defition. The standard definition is that of ‘human waste despoiling the environment’ but Don’s having fun by defining it as ‘mother nature invading people’s living quarters’ (instead of using ordinary words such as ‘innovations in sanitation and hygiene’.).

Perhaps the next invention will be the hunting rifle because it protected people from getting mauled by bears and wolves. Or asbestos for making homes and buildings fireproof.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 4:41 pm

“human waste despoiling the environment”No, Gil. You are missing the point. What constitutes “waste” is defined by man. The earth, the moon, the stars, are matter and energy, don’t care about anything, have no concept of waste, and do not form categories. Likewise, “environment”, if it has any meaning at all outside of “the universe”, is in reference to man. Likewise “despoil”.As such the whole purpose of man categorizing things as waste is for man’s purposes. Man defines “despoil” as a kind of damaging of man’s values. Usually it refers to values pertaining to health and esthetics–particularly air, food, and his unenclosed surroundings. All of the things that Don talks about fit into these categories. They address what man labels “waste”, and reduce what man considers “despoiling” of what man defines as his “environment”.

Gil September 4, 2009 at 3:33 am

No, vvista, ask anyone else what they think the word ‘pollution’ means. I’ve heard of a ‘sanitation officer’ or ‘hygiene expert’ but not ‘pollution officer’. Don is obviously anti-greenie as he is using the term ‘pollution’ in a pro-human, anti-environment way. So collecting trash from your home and office then dumping it all in a nearby river is not pollution? It cleaned up your living quarters.

On the other hand, a big innnovation in Sanitation and Hygiene would be the Microscope in identifying germs and any other invention that showed why people shouldn’t live in their own filth. After all, the pea-souper smogs that afflicted London during the Industrial Revolution wouldn’t be pollution in Don’s vocubularly as the factories would have been considerably cleaner and the smog is merely proof of productivity in action.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 7:01 am

“he is using the term ‘pollution’ in a pro-human, anti-environment way”

Instead of the usual anti-human way of the environmentalist? You may be on to something there.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 4:56 pm

My great-grandfather invented and developed a screen making machine in the late 1880s and early 1890s in New York City. He was an immigrant from England who came to America to be a part of the culture of having dreams, ideas and opportunities. He went on to invent many other things of a diverse mix including musical instruments.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 5:16 pm

When I was a wee lad (several ice ages ago) we had galvanized wire screens that had to be painted every now and again–we used a tool (sortakinda like a moderns sanding block) that held a piece of carpet for daubing on the paint. If it had been invented, we would have used a paint roller, I expect.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 6:17 pm
sandre September 3, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Question for you: How long have you been on a vegan diet?
Vacaville is in my neck of the woods.

MWG September 3, 2009 at 7:00 pm

I want to see the undercover video of muir’s house after he volunteers to take in 200 million male chicks a year.

sandre September 3, 2009 at 7:35 pm

I don’t expect an answer from Muir. Here’s why: From his picture on Kaiser website, George is a physically “well rounded” man, who seem to have an insatiable hunger for meat, eggs, and milk. I wonder if he prescribes medicines with gelatin coating on it.
Hypocrite!

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 7:04 pm

I saw that recently too.

I don’t think this is a problem with capitalism per se – just the excessive tendancy to commodify. I’ve made comparisons before to the market for sex. Yes, you COULD make sex a commodity and market it, and in many ways that would make the allocation of sex more efficient. But it is also cheapened by commodification. That’s not a case against prostitution – I’d actually support legalized prostitution – it’s just a recognition that things can lose value if their value is commodified. The advantages of the market are real – but too many people jump to the conclusion that that means we can turn anything into a commodity and be better off for it.

I had a similar thought when I saw this chick video a couple days ago. When market forces alone dictate our relationship with baby chicks, stuff like this happens. For most of human history market forces did govern our relationship with baby chicks – but so did a sense of environmental interdependence/food chain/circle of life/Lion King type stuff. Those forces (along with legitimate market forces operating in the chicken market!) had their own balance and equilibrium. If you take that away and simply treat animals like a product, that balance can go by the wayside.

That’s not a problem with the market, though. It’s a problem with the way we interact with our surroundings.

sandre September 3, 2009 at 7:38 pm

it’s just a recognition that things can lose value if their value is commodified.

In other words, elites don’t like it when the value and hence the price of something falls to such an extent, that it becomes a consumption good for the common man.

You can expect a progressive to Insinuate that this devaluation is a terrible thing

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:00 pm

What are you talking about? This has nothing to do with elites.When we don’t think of animals as products our relationship with them is based on other factors. When we do – when they become a commodity – our relationship with them changes. As I said quite clearly, it’s often a very good change. Sometimes it’s not. No single person can judge for everyone else if the change is good or not.Do you think it would be bright and cheery if you threw a male dog in a meat-grinder while it was still alive because someone was willing to pay you to do that?Markets and property and commodities are great things. But that doesn’t mean that the best thing we could do to any given object or organism is turn it into a commodity. It seems to me slavery was based on a similar logic too. And why did we conclude that was wrong? Because we realized the people we were enslaving had a certain degree of liberty and dignity. Now obviously animals have a lesser degree of inherent dignity and liberty (or so we have decided), but that doesn’t change the underlying logic.The efficiency and goodness of the market for chicken meat is not a justification for grinding up male chicks. There may be a justification out there. But the market doesn’t provide one. And like I said to muirgeo – just as the market is not a justification for grinding up male chicks, the wrongness and inhumanity of the fact that people grind up male chicks is not a valid indictment of the market – ie, muirgeo raises an interesting point but not one that successfully refutes Don.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:05 pm

“There may be a justification out there. But the market doesn’t provide one.”In other words, the efficiency of the market is entirely conditional on the justice and efficiency of the property rights arrangements on which the market is based. If we invent unjust property arrangements (slavery, inhumane authority over animals, etc.), we can’t expect a market to produce a just or socially efficient result. That’s not an indictment of markets, it’s just a statement that just because something happens in the context of a market it doesn’t guarantee that it is good.

sandre September 3, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Do you think it would be bright and cheery if you threw a male dog in a meat-grinder while it was still alive because someone was willing to pay you to do that?

Bright and Cheery? No. But the legality of the issue should be purely based on whose property the dog in your example is. If the person paying owns the dog, then there should be anything illegal about.

It seems to me slavery was based on a similar logic too. And why did we conclude that was wrong?

From what I have read in history, I have not heard of any large scale practice of eating slaves. No, slavery was not based on similar logic. There is nothing wrong with slavery, if the slave is doing it out of his own volition. while the slavery, as practiced historically, might have been wrong, I don’t find any reason to conclude that all forms of it are necessarily wrong.

Animals are property and they don’t have right. I will admit, that if I ever smash the head of my golden retriever against a concrete wall, it will be because I’m a sick person.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:13 pm

“Yes, you COULD make sex a commodity and market it, and in many ways that would make the allocation of sex more efficient. But it is also cheapened by commodification.”

Hmmm, isn’t that last sentence an elitist personal value judgment, my duplicitous one?

But, regardless; got news for you son, sex is for sale right now in River City!

Yes, it is available anywhere and at anytime to those who seek it and are willing to pay the price. Sex, as you put it, became a commodity oh those many many hundreds of thousands of years ago, perhaps even millions.

And you know, son, we don’t have to make it, we don’t have to pass laws, we don’t even have to suggest it. Just GTF out of the way and watch the market work.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:19 pm

“Hmmm, isn’t that last sentence an elitist personal value judgment, my duplicitous one?”

It’s not elitist, but it is a personal value judgement. Other people have their own personal value judgements on the issue, which is why I said prostitution should be legalized… I think there’s a coalescence around that view, though – which is why I don’t lose sleep over the illegality of prostitution. The difference with sex is the participants get a choice in that market… it’s somewhat less voluntary for these chicks how they are treated.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:13 pm

“you COULD make sex a commodity”

No. History shows instead that you can’t STOP it from being a commodity.

And I fail to see how paying for a one night stand is cheaper than getting one for free. I suspect that those who pay make more careful decisions, and are less likely to wind up getting more (in a negative way) than they bargained for.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:23 pm

The argument is that the value of a sexual encounter declines if you have to pay for it.

Think of it this way – you bring a nice girl home, have a good time, and then she says “that’ll be a hundred dollar please” (I’m proud to say I have NO CLUE what the actual going rate is… that’s a random number). Obviously you’re a little disappointed, and not just because you may have to pay $100. It’s because the value of that sex to you has decreased.

Take indulgences as another example. Salvation isn’t all that inspiring if you have to pay for it. This isn’t a tirade against paying for things – it’s just a statement that not every relation needs to be or should be a market relation.

But that’s a personal valuation thing – people have different thoughts on it, obviously.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:43 pm

1. Nobody owes anybody anything that they didn’t agree to ahead of time.

2. Yes, (sex) is more valuable to me than (sex minus $100). And if I could get my Whoppers for free, that would be more valuable too. What is your point?

3. You are conflating different issues. If it is JUST sex I want, then I will seek and likely obtain more value if I know I must pay than if I don’t. That doesn’t cheapen it–just the opposite. I have incentive to seek MORE value.

If it is a mate to bear my children, or a life partner, or an extended friendship that I want, then that is a completely different issue that can and should be treated separately. It is, in effect, being in the market for something else. And if my soulmate still wants to charge me for sex, it is STILL a different issue, because we are talking about two different valuations–one for sex, and one for a different kind of relationship.

“not every relation needs to be or should be a market relation”

Maybe not, but paying for something does not, all else being equal, make it cheaper.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 12:51 am

“Think of it this way – you bring a nice girl home, have a good time, and then she says “that’ll be a hundred dollar please” (I’m proud to say I have NO CLUE what the actual going rate is…”

Daniel I think it’s about $100. Interesting that you guessed it exactly!

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 7:53 pm

“Cleaned by capitalism?”

That plant looks practically sterile. I bet slaughterhouses 200 years ago were nowhere near as clean. So, I guess the answer to you is “yes”.

And I again am puzzled why you think you’re countering Don’s point when clearly you are supporting it. You really are an enigma, muir.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Naw, VV, muirduck is not an enigma. Enigmas are interesting, where muirudkc is just plain stupid and becomes tiresome in the first sentence you ever read from him.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:43 pm

It’s the hidden cost of unmitigated capitalism that is the problem. Externalities are “Cleaned by capitalism”. The average person negotiating the price of chicken nuggets rarely knows the true cost. Some like yourself may not care but for others we do care deeply and will adjust are personal habits and coonsumption patterns based on things other then cost.

sandre September 3, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Question for you: How long have you been on a vegan diet?

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:52 pm

“The average person negotiating the price of chicken nuggets rarely knows the true cost.”

Hidden cost? Are you saying that the average person eating chicken doesn’t know that a chicken had to be killed?

At any rate, this has absolutely nothing to do with Cleaned by Capitalism–other than you providing yet another great example of how capitalism has cleaned the environment, in this case by cleaning up slaughterhouses.

Or do you just like making random irrelevant posts?

Justin P September 3, 2009 at 9:01 pm

I think he has a hard time understanding because I don’t think Muir has ever haggled for anything. There are tons of people out there, that would rather pay a higher than market price for things, so they don’t have to haggle for a better price, then they get all upset because they paid too much.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 10:15 am

“Hidden cost? Are you saying that the average person eating chicken doesn’t know that a chicken had to be killed?”

Did you realize that half the chickens were killed, not for meat at all, but because they were too expensive to house. Maybe you have deep insights into the chicken industry, but I don’t think this is common knowledge.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:06 pm

It is passing strange that the nutcases that rip their hearts out over a baby chick or a snaildarter fish, seem to never find their way into an abortion clinic and take sneaky photos of live babies left to die as trash, other live ones having scissors rammed into their heads to kill them and create a hole for the brains to be sucked out.

Ah the wondrous twisted warped broken brain of the left looney, particularly the enivrowhacko brand of left looney.

sandre September 3, 2009 at 8:21 pm

I concur. These heartless jerks support delivering crying babies 4,5,6,7, and 8 months into pregnancy, and then throwing them into a bucket.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:53 pm

Yeah that happens all the time. We throw crying babies in buckets and we’re communist too. Sorry I’m just not up to the moral standards of people like you who can rationalize away the real world in place of a better one you can make up in your own mind. Talk about moral equivalency.

Sandre… where do you live? Lets go get a beer.

sandre September 3, 2009 at 9:07 pm

Okay, so, you don’t deliver crying baby. where do you put the aborted non-crying non-bloody baby?

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 10:28 pm

“Yeah that happens all the time. We throw crying babies in buckets and we’re communist too.”

Yeah unfortunately it does, more than you’d like to admit to, and yes you are basically a communist, at least as long as redistribution thing does not effect you. That’s for those other people you want to help. LOL!

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 2:45 am

Cleaned by capitalism?

This is relevant to the topic – how?

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:28 pm

RE: “But the legality of the issue should be purely based on whose property the dog in your example is. If the person paying owns the dog, then there should be anything illegal about.”

BINGO!!!! I think he gets it now. Some people would dispute the extent to which you have exclusive rights over another living creature. True, you have the right to kill it and get meat from it. I don’t know if many would argue with that. But brutalizing it and torturing it are considered by many reasonable people not to be in the repetoire of rights that you are free to exercise.

You can have specific or residual property rights over a piece of property. I’m simply arguing that insofar as we have property rights over animals they are specific property rights, not residual.

RE: “There is nothing wrong with slavery, if the slave is doing it out of his own volition. ”

BINGO AGAIN!!!!

RE: “Animals are property and they don’t have right. ”

Is that your elitist opinion? This is the crux of it. I don’t know who you think died and made you king of deciding the rights of animals. Nobody made me king either, granted. The brilliance of the market is the efficiency of voluntary exchange. But you make those exchanges based on what you claim as your rightful property. If that rightful property is unjustly claimed, then don’t count on markets to get the right answer.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 8:57 pm

“There is nothing wrong with slavery, if the slave is doing it out of his own volition.”

Whoa. Then it would not be slavery. There is no such thing, by definition, as slavery by choice. It is safe to say simply, “Slavery is wrong.”

sandre September 3, 2009 at 8:36 pm

Is that your elitist opinion? This is the crux of it.

Yes, it is. I unabashedly believe that human beings are superior to other creatures on the planet. It is elitist in that sense.

I don’t know who you think died and made you king of deciding the rights of animals.

I don’t need to be a king to determine whether I have the right to my property.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 9:08 pm

Rights are only relevant with respect to those who can respect them. That is not a value statement, but one of fact. It makes no sense for me to assert my rights to a rock, or to an animal, and I have never experienced the latter doing so to me. In a world consisting of only me (and rocks and animals), rights has no applicability whatsoever. If that was the kind of world I grew up in, then the very concept of rights would not even exist. It is irrelevant, since all choices are unilateral and cannot be negotiated.I love animals. I may even support some laws protecting them–because of MY valuation of them. Such laws can only be regarded as human rights–agreements between people about how people will behave–since they have no effect on what animals choose to do. But as a matter of fact, I have never encountered an animal that can be said to have rights. Who knows, evolution may one day change that.

sandre September 3, 2009 at 9:03 pm

Well, I don’t know if there is a word to describe it. All that I was trying to explain was, that if a man wanted to sell himself to somebody else, it should be okay to do so.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 12:48 am

If I’d of sadi that it would become a muiridity? sp. Actually NONE of my muirpidities are THAT illogical.

Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 9:14 pm

I understand. Indentured servitude was such a relationship (in most cases).

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 12:39 am

“I don’t need to be a king to determine whether I have the right to my property.”
sandre

Actually you do. If you are not the king then where do your property rights come from?

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 9:50 am

“Yes, it is. I unabashedly believe that human beings are superior to other creatures on the planet. It is elitist in that sense.”Well I think we’re superior too. That doesn’t mean they have no rights. In many ways a parent is superior to their child, at least as long as that child is a minor. That doesn’t mean the child is devoid of rights.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 12:47 am

“…agreements between people about how people will behave…”
vikingvista

Wow that sounds communistic… tyranny of the majorityish…

-We could agree to respect property rights
-We could agree to not have multi-billionaires or to send chicks through meat grinders alive..
There are lots of things we can agree to regard how we will behave. The libertarians problem is that everyone needs to agree only to the degree HE wants to agree.

That’s what this debate is basically all about… what we agree to agree on with respect to our mutual behaviors. Again anything outside of the libertarian sphere must be communism.

That’s what’s ridiculous about the libertarian position… it’s tyrannical to the anarchist.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 10:05 am

“Rights are only relevant with respect to those who can respect them. That is not a value statement, but one of fact.”

A fact? It seems to me that that’s an axiom. That’s very different from a fact, vikingvista.

Babies have rights, right? Many of us would even agree that fetuses do (no need to delve into that now… besides I’m on the fence on that issue too, so I know people will get frustrated). Do they respect their rights? I don’t think so. At best they get scared when their rights are violated (same as the baby chicks, I might add). Often times they might not even realize it. Let’s say a baby has rights to a trust fund, and it gets illegally siphoned off by their parents. That baby still maintains a right to the money – they can make a case for that right in court years later. But they don’t respect it at the time. It doesn’t mean it’s not their right at the time.

You seem to just be making this up as you go along, vikingvista, and confusing facts with definitions that you furnish to us.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 1:01 am

I’m a pediatrician I attempt to save every viable baby I can and even the non-viable ones if the parents give me the go ahead. But if I’m handed a non-viable baby and the parents don’t want it resuscitated I wrap he or she in a warm blanket, introduce her to the parents, then cry with them for a bit then stand outside the door in case they need me. No trash cans.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 1:08 am

MinarcMan( wagpaphp),

Yeah , I AM a communist. That’s why I support you taking from my salary to provide for you pension and for your health care. I think it’s a good deal.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 money just fixed the highway that I commute to work on. What a nice smooth road. They did a great job. I think your money went for that vidyohs .. so thanks.

Of course it’s kinda weird because some of the taxes you pay go to pay for your pension and your government health plan. You should thank yourself too.

vidyohs apparently there was this guy at a townhall who yelled at his congressman to “….KEEP HIS GOVERNMENT HANDS OFF MY(his) MEDICARE”. You should hook up with him. I think you’d have a lot in common.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 10:17 am

“and yes you are basically a communist, at least as long as redistribution thing does not effect you”

He’s a pediatrician. Do you really think he’s the one getting the sweet end of the deal from any redistribution he supports? I doubt it.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 2:50 am

Actually NONE of my muirpidities are THAT illogical.

That you admit they are somewhat illogical is rather funny.

Gil September 4, 2009 at 3:21 am

Touché muirgeo!

sandre September 4, 2009 at 6:01 pm

“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”

That was Frederic Bastiat – Just think about it for a second George – give yourself some credit – you can do it, before you launch yourself into one of those senseless tirades. Ask which came first: legislation or property? Think hard about that quote. You can do it. Try harder.

Gil September 4, 2009 at 3:24 am

I agree with you vvista. I’m surprised at Libertarians who say “what if I want to voluntarily sell myself into slavery?” But as you pointed out – it wouldn’t be slavery now would it?

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 3:40 am

I certainly pray the corporate government is taking from your income the money it needs to keep its commitment to me, as a matter of fact and as a matter of justice I hope it is all coming out of your income. Ha Ha Ha, how sweet that would be!

There is something you could do about that, but you won’t, because you’re a chicken-shit craven thumbsucker.

But, actually no, my pet, none of my money paid for your road improvements. LOL, and that makes me feel really really good.

As for having something in common with a thumbsucker, no my pet, that is for the looney left hypocrites like yourself and the deceased Teddy Kennedy. As with everything else you write and post here, the intelligent ones know you for what you are, and we all agree that that isn’t much.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 6:58 am

Well Mr. Non Sequitur, there’s nothing more I’d like than to talk about this, but I have ABSOLUTELY no idea what you are talking about, and I’m dead certain you don’t either.

Are you sure you are a physician and not a patient? And are you sure it is pediatrics and not psychiatry?

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 10:12 am

“2. Yes, (sex) is more valuable to me than (sex minus $100). And if I could get my Whoppers for free, that would be more valuable too. What is your point?”I think you may be willfully missing my point because I said it in plain English. For many people, not all, selling sex itself cheapens the sex act – makes it less valuable. So it’s not just value of sex – $100. It’s value of sex – $100 – value lost by commodification.And as I said elsewhere, prostitution is (presumably) a transaction where both people are willing partners. Which makes it a little different. That’s why my example was not one of ex ante prostitution. I specifically used an example where the guy didn’t realize the woman was charging him until afterwards – he thought it was a date. There is something inherently less valuable about commodified sex for a lot of people – perhaps all people (of course I don’t know that). That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any value – people still pay for it obviously.RE: “Maybe not, but paying for something does not, all else being equal, make it cheaper.”In most cases, yes. I’m glad if nothing else you still agree with me on that.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 8:14 pm

“he thought it was a date.”

I didn’t miss your point, but you clearly missed my point-which I wasted my time explaining at length. As I said, you are confusing two different issues. You thought you were getting a pear, when instead it turned out to be an apple. So, you were disappointed, because what you really wanted was a pear, which you value more. The price charged for apples does not cheapen pears in any way.

If the woman of your dreams, a true soul mate, someone you’ve established a wonderful multi-year relationship with, says that you are going to have to get a house, a job, and a minivan to tote your future kids around in, and put away for their future education, that is all a lot more costly than one night of sex, and there is a good chance even that you will pay that price, because it is worth it to you. Those are two very different things that you are buying, and you are conflating the two.

A night of sex is cheaper to you than a life partner–commodification has nothing to do with it.

Commodification, all else being equal, does not cheapen anything. Of course, people’s minds can work in irrational ways. A person like you can say that he values 1 gold piece more than 2, and I can’t get into his head. But I’m pretty sure you are not crazy, and instead you just don’t know what you’re talking about.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 8:22 pm

“You thought you were getting a pear, when instead it turned out to be an apple. So, you were disappointed, because what you really wanted was a pear, which you value more. The price charged for apples does not cheapen pears in any way.”

That was quite clear, don’t worry. The point is, as you say “what you really wanted was a pear” and why? because “you value [the pear] more”.

You’re raising this weird tangential issue of a wife and kids. This girl COULD have been a one night stand. You might not even know her name. The point is for a lot of people (maybe not you), commodifying sex cheapens it. It is the fact that you are paying for it that makes the product itself less valuable.

RE: “A night of sex is cheaper to you than a life partner–commodification has nothing to do with it.”

Right, but for an entirely different reason than what I’m talking about. You’re throwing in a red herring.

What about a sweater that your grandma knits you. In one scenario she gives you it as a gift. In another she charges you $20 for it. The gift sweater may be priceless to you – worth well over $20. But you wouldn’t value the $20 sweater the same way? Why? The sweater is fundamentally altered by the commodification. It becomes less value because it is a different product – it doesn’t entail your grandma’s love and compassion. Because commodification PRECLUDES that additional value.

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Why would there be so many one night stands, given the personal and monetary investment it takes to get a girl you just met in bed if it didn’t cheapen it? Why wouldn’t more people pay for sex? Yes, it’s illegal – but even in areas where it is legal this is still true. Why is that?

Because commodified sex is less valuable. That doesn’t mean it’s valueless – that’s why you still have a market for sex. But it is made less valuable. You raise the example of gold. I’m not sure why you think because I think commodification lowers the value of some products it does that to all products. I don’t think that.

Anonymous September 5, 2009 at 5:21 am

“Did you realize that half the chickens were killed, not for meat at all, but because they were too expensive to house.”

Well, I assumed that not every chicken killed was eaten, but if you think it would be earth-shattering news to people that 2 chickens are killed for every one they eat, I just have to respectfully ask, why would you think chicken eaters would care?

Anonymous September 5, 2009 at 5:37 am

“The point is for a lot of people (maybe not you), commodifying sex cheapens it. It is the fact that you are paying for it that makes the product itself less valuable.”

I understand that people may even have been conditioned to become physically sick at the sound of the word “commidification”, but their actions will almost always belie that stated aversion.

“But you wouldn’t value the $20 sweater the same way? Why?”

I wouldn’t? Why wouldn’t I? If my grandmother knits me a sweater, my grandmother knits me a sweater. The only reason I might feel differently about it is if I did not possess it, because I didn’t think the price was worth it, or I couldn’t afford it. If I did think the price was worth it, and if the price was substantial, you can bet I’d take care of that sweater.

As it is, people do NOT treat gifts as well as they treat property they pay for. If a kid gets a gift from his grandparents, he’s more likely to neglect it than if he worked and saved to buy it for himself. This holds true for adults as well.

And if some woman comes in an tells you that she wants to have free sex with you, but right afterwards will want to leave and never see you again, and has no particular feelings for you (“all else being equal”), why would her additionally asking money possibly cheapen that experience? In other words, why is a hooker who charges cheaper than a hooker who doesn’t? (“ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL”)

ALL ELSE BEING EQUAL. CETERIS PARIBUS.

I still maintain that you are conflating different products. You say paying cheapens sex. It doesn’t. You thought you would get sex + something else. When instead you find out you get sex – $100, and without the something else, then you realize you are getting less than you hoped for. “Less” is cheaper than “more”. That expectation is the only cheapening that occurs.

Anonymous September 5, 2009 at 5:45 am

“Why wouldn’t more people pay for sex?”

What do you mean “more”? Why not less? I have no idea how you think the quantity of prostitution (and there is a lot) somehow proves or disproves your case.

Why do people have one night stands without paying? Is this really a question from an adult? Hmm. Let’s see. Sex vs. sex-$100. Even a drunken frat boy can do that math.

But as always, for a person who was hoping for sex + something more, sex alone, or sex-$100 is cheaper. But that is straight valuation. Commodification itself adds NOTHING to that.

Ceteris paribus means ceteris paribus. It means everything including all forms of valuation, including emotional valuation, hopes for the future, etc. It isn’t the commidification, it is the realization that the interaction is less than you wanted.

Anonymous September 5, 2009 at 9:32 am

ME: “Rights are only relevant with respect to those who can respect them”

YOU: “A fact? It seems to me that that’s an axiom.”

Wasn’t trying to be technical, but that particular truth certainly is stronger than any pure empirical observation (“fact”), but not quite as categorical as an axiomatic concept or a tautology.

Of course people use “rights” in different ways. You can assert a right by law, but that hardly gets to the philosophical principle of rights that we would like the law itself to follow. Some people want to simply assert rights for those things they value most. To make it seem grounded, some of those folks will further assert that rights are the product or definition of some supernatural power–thereby placing the foundation on the supernatural.

But there is a mundane and objective concept of rights that underlies most of the rights people like to claim. It is a notion whose validity has no cultural or religious dependence, but is necessarily true regardless of (consistent) beliefs. It is a concept that applies as equally today as 10,000 years ago, or in any other possible world where the right conditions apply.

As I said, nobody’s notion of rights is relevant if I am the only person in the world. In such a situation I may assert that I have a right to life or not. I may assert any contradictory things as rights for anything in my world. It has no effect. My actions are unilateral. I can do what I want–respect or not respect anything that I label as rights.

The PURPOSE (and concept) of rights derives from our desire to control our environment. As the only person in the world, there are certain ways for me to control my environment. I can kill pests, hunt food, construct shelter from wind and rain, etc. No place for rights.

But add another person to the mix, and suddenly a whole new option for control has developed. Now, I can still apply force to try to control that other person (just as I have always done with pests, game, weather, etc.). In addition, I can now offer persuasion. That is the nidus of all rights. I control that person by communication of what I want him or her to do. It may or may not work, but it never worked against the non-human elements in my environment.

Naturally people want rights for things they value. But those things are not the mundane source of rights. The source is the possibility of control through communication. Without that possibility, rights simply have no meaning. You still have values, but there are no rights, in any nonarbitrary nonmystical objective sense.

We already have a word for values. Rights is something else, and should be recognized as a distinct concept from values. Rights may not apply to things I value most, and may apply to things I value not at all. Although, it always applies to something that SOMEONE values.

So the object of rights is to promote someone’s values, but its relevance is only among things capable of identifying values, and capable of effectively communicating and responding to behavioral requests.

Expand this to a common consistent set of minimal negative rights for a civil population of such relevant entities, and you more or less wind up with the rational interpretation of natural rights that emerged from the Enlightenment.

So, can people say that animals or any other things have rights? They do, but it is often only rational to the extent they are asserting not “rights”, but their own personal values. It is people (who value animal protections) trying to influence the behavior of other people. It is really, then, rights for themselves that they are trying to assert.

And in the case of people wanting the right for animals to be protected, that is clearly a whole new addition to the minimal consistent set of rights for a civil society. And often the the rights that people claim simply are not consistent with that set. In that sense we can say objectively (and without regard to any laws or consistent belief system), that those rights DO NOT exist. Another example would be a human’s so-called right to health care. Objectively, such a right never has and never can exist, if rights are to be consistent with the basic minimal set.

But in the sense that I was saying that animals have no rights, is in the sense that I have never found or ever heard about any animal capable of agreeing to my request to respect my values. If such an animal should be found, then it would have the possibility of rights.

Anonymous September 5, 2009 at 10:46 am

“You say paying cheapens sex. It doesn’t. You thought you would get sex + something else. When instead you find out you get sex – $100, and without the something else, then you realize you are getting less than you hoped for.”EXACTLY. With respect to the sweater I already said “The sweater is fundamentally altered by the commodification. It becomes less value because it is a different product – it doesn’t entail your grandma’s love and compassion”, didn’t I? The point is, what MAKES it a different product. The difference between sex + something else and sex – $100 is the difference between a gift and a commodity or an experience and a commodity. The process of commodification doesn’t JUST add $100, it TAKES AWAY the something else. You act as if it only adds the $100 and then just randomly it’s a different product. It’s a different product BECAUSE of the commodification.

You see the commodification as a transaction alone. It’s not. The transaction happens when you decide to pay for the sex or not. The commodification IS the change in the product from sex plus something else to just sex. And sometimes for certain things that change diminishes value (most times it obviously doesn’t do anything to value at all).

Anonymous September 5, 2009 at 10:55 am

“Why do people have one night stands without paying? Is this really a question from an adult? Hmm. Let’s see. Sex vs. sex-$100. Even a drunken frat boy can do that math. ”

You’re really being unfair to the drunk frat boy (and I’ll use my age as an advantage here – I’m sure I’m closer to drunk frat boy stage than you). Even if prostitution were cheap I think he’d prefer a one night stand. Most people don’t like the idea of sleeping with prostitutes. Maybe paying to see someone take their clothes off, but prostitution is usually considered a far inferior good. It’s resorted to when someone CAN’T get sex on their own, not because it costs too much. And that’s really my whole point. Even a drunk frat boy – if given the choice between a willing one night stand and a willing prostitute who’s services are completely covered by a third party will definitely choose the willing one night stand. Of course none of us can prove any of this so arguing about it is a little futile – but I’m surprised if you really think there’s no inherent difference between the two.

Which is ESPECIALLY odd because in the other comment you said that the difference was sex + something else compared to sex – $100. You seemed to be basing your case there on the fact that they were treated differently. Now you’re running away from that.

Anonymous September 5, 2009 at 11:10 am

As a rule of thumb, I think a classical understanding of rights in that way is fine. But you have to remember that it was thought up specifically with respect to humans – the emphasis you place on communication and behavioral requests should immediately clue you in to the fact that it’s going to be inadequate to dealing with the rights of things that have trouble communicating. And we don’t even have to jump to animals. What about someone that’s a vegetable in a hospital. True, a family member has some legal authority over them at that point – but do they have a right to dump them into a meat grinder? No – rights are retained even if communication is non-existent. I think it’s dangerous to come up with such a deductive formulation of rights. Like I said – it works very well in a general, but it does little to address conflicting rights over something common of value, and it does little when communication or behavioral response are weaker (the rights of infants, for example, is constrained by this as well. An infant’s communication or behavioral response is worse than a grown chicken for a time, and probably even a chick that’s able to run away from what it doesn’t like – but infants still have rights. They have guardians but they aren’t property. You can’t sell your infant. Even an adoption is a payment for the adoption service, not the infant itself).

“But in the sense that I was saying that animals have no rights, is in the sense that I have never found or ever heard about any animal capable of agreeing to my request to respect my values. If such an animal should be found, then it would have the possibility of rights.”

And this just demonstrates the extent to which you assume your own conclusions with that definition. I think the idea that we can have any real definition of an abstraction like “rights” is hopeless. We can make working definitions – and yours is a great, very thorough one – but just because it’s a good working definition doesn’t mean it fully encompasses everything. And to rely on the definition’s biggest blind spot to make a case isn’t a very convincing argument. I’m not claiming animals aren’t property or that animals have complete rights or even near complete rights. And I certainly don’t have a working definition to match yours. I just think it’s wrong – animals do have a right to a certain degree of dignity.

Anonymous September 5, 2009 at 9:31 pm

“prostitution is usually considered a far inferior good.”

There you go changing something else again. We have to be talking about the SAME good, with and without commidification. You can’t be comparing one good without commodification to a different inferior good with commodification and claim that you are looking only at the effect of commodification.

Ceteris paribus. Ceteris paribus. If you are going to be an economist, you have to know what that means.

Anonymous September 5, 2009 at 10:11 pm

“the emphasis you place on communication and behavioral requests should immediately clue you in to the fact that it’s going to be inadequate to dealing with the rights of things that have trouble communicating.”

If you follow my logic, you see that it is not a rule of thumb. It is logically necessary. It may not be “rights” the way many people use it, but is an objective undergirding of at least a subset of “rights” as nearly everyone uses it. It isn’t a creation based on what some person desires to attribute to “rights”, but a logical necessity following from the facts of communication and interaction.

That is, if you are to try to condense “rights” as people use it into an objective concept, free of stipulation, wishful thinking, mysticism, and value conflation, you wind up with the rational concept of rights I described to you.

And being a mundane deduction from a mundane fact, you shouldn’t expect it to have the same emotional appeal as rights conflated with values.

If the world consists only of me and a baby, it is the same situation as if the world consisted of only me and rocks or animals. That is, it is irrelevant in such a situation for me to talk about rights, since I can and must just decide unilaterally to do whatever I want. Likewise, if the world consisted of me and another communicating entity (another normal adult human), rights would exist, but if neither of us had any value for the baby, no notion of “baby rights” would have any relevance.

Values are what we value–like our lives, our children, etc. Rights are agreements between people on how to behave–which of course can only apply to entities who are capable of agreeing on how to behave. We form those agreements to protect our values–values like our babies.

I can’t unilaterally define the English language, and tell the world how to use the word “rights”. But I can (and you can) IDENTIFY a concept, and in particular identify the objective part of “rights” as people use it, separate from the subjectification that occurs when people conflate the objective concept of rights with their own (subjective) values.

Why identify that concept? Because it helps clear up the widespread confused and contradictory ways in which people use the term “rights”, and identifies a (the) solid universal basis for rights with the persuasiveness and utility of simple logic and obvious facts, rather than the flimsy basis of subjective valuation, religion, emotion, or stipulation.

Anonymous September 6, 2009 at 10:32 am

Ceteris paribus doesn’t mean what I think you think it means, vikingvista. Ceteris paribus means “holding all else constant”. You change just one factor, don’t change anything else, and see what changes in response to the change in the one factor.

We’re changing whether the good in question – sex – is a commodity or not. IN RESPONSE to that change, the good itself changes. It goes from being sex + something else to sex. That is the change that happens, holding all else constant. That’s my whole point.

When you say “if there was an increase in demand then, ceteris paribus, the price and quantity of the good will both increase” you wouldn’t respond “no – the price and the quantity wouldn’t change at all because you’re holding everything else constant” would you? Of course not. Ceteris paribus doesn’t mean hold constant what changes AS A RESULT of the single change you make!!!!

Now, a change to the product itself is more unusual, but not impossible. Think about a status symbol good – conspicuous consumption type stuff. If you lower the price for that, ceteris paribus, the product itself changes because it loses value as status symbol. For status symbols, the value of a good is actually a function of the price you pay for it. So when you change the price, the product itself changes.

Sex is such a personal thing that it’s value is a function of who you do it with, and the relationship you have with who you do it with. If it becomes a market commodity, that change will change the sex itself.

I AM holding all else constant. What the hell are you doing???

Anonymous September 6, 2009 at 11:45 pm

You have much to learn, Grasshopper.

The response variable is YOUR VALUATION. If you hold the product constant–the particular woman and circumstances–and just vary whether or not you are paying, you have to look at how that affects your valuation.

You MAY be confused with the notion of an inseparable correlation. Maybe, because of the available data, it is IMPOSSIBLE for you to design a study that decouples two variables. For instance, maybe the ANOVA in your linear model cannot find a noncorrelated component in the response of your valuation to those two variables.

But that is called CONFOUNDING. It means that you simply cannot answer your own question (assuming the variables are confounded). In such a case you cannot say whether or not mere commodification affects your valuation.

But I don’t believe they are confounded. At the very least, you can do a mental experiment. You can take the same hooker–with and without payment–and ask yourself how your valuation changes. Or you can do the same with the love of your life–with and without payment.

But you CANNOT compare paying a hooker with not paying the love of your life and say that the difference in your valuation is due to payment.

DK, you do not understand ceteris paribus, and I recommend (assuming you are going into statistics or economics, or modeling using partial differential equations) you remedy that situation ASAP.

Anonymous September 7, 2009 at 12:51 am

ANOVA’s are for psychologists – talk multicollinearity if you want to make that case (and it’s a possible case, for sure).

I’m not comparing a hooker to the love of my life. I said quite clearly I’m comparing a one night stand whose name you don’t even know to a one night stand who demands payment afterwards. Moreover, it’s not simply the act of payment. The change – commodification – is that this good is now something that you would pay for, when it previously wasn’t.

I’m going to overlook your mocking because you’re clearly confused. You hold all other inputs constant, you change one factor, you look what outputs change. That’s what I’m talking about. You’re under this weird impression that ceteris paribus or partial differentiation requires you to hold the value of the function constant, rather than holding the other arguments of the function constant. Just pick up an intro econ book, vikingvista – it should lay it all out for you there.

I hope we’re just talking past each other because this is getting weird vikingvista.

Anonymous September 7, 2009 at 2:13 am

“ANOVA’s are for psychologists”

DK, you are digging yourself deeper and deeper. ANOVA provides a perfectly appropriate widely used basic statistical linear analysis for a great many study designs in all fields of study, most of which are likely outside the field of psychology. I gave it to you as an analogy assuming that you at least had achieved that level of education. I was wrong. Forget the analogy, you don’t understand it.

“The change – commodification – is that this good is now something that you would pay for, when it previously wasn’t.”

Then you are admitting to changing more than one thing. I asked you a perfectly clarifying question which you will not answer. The same hooker, the same situation, the same expectations, one with and one without payment. Or if you like, the same one night stand. Or if you like, the same grandma’s sweater.

Now you are telling me that commodification involves changing two different variables. It needn’t. That is your construct. But if that is the construction you want to analyze, then you cannot answer your own question. You cannot tell me if it is the payment, the different product, or some combination of both that alters your valuation.

I’m not sure what more I can add. Until you realize that you are conflating two variables, you will not be able to understand your mistake.

It may be true that things that are commodified are different than things that are not. But that does not prove your point. Absence of commodification would only mean absence of those things that are commodified with no effect on those things that are not. **They ARE two different things.**

I’m not an original thinker on this, and you are not the first to make the mistake. But it doesn’t take much consideration for someone of your interest and intellect to realize and correct the mistake. Detach yourself from whatever emotional commitment you have to this fallacy, use your reason, and you will change your mind, I’m sure.

Anonymous September 8, 2009 at 1:52 pm

“DK, you are digging yourself deeper and deeper. ANOVA provides a perfectly appropriate widely used basic statistical linear analysis”

Oh calm down – I was joking with you. I know it’s valid, I just said that because you don’t hear economists talking in terms of ANOVAs as much.

RE: “Then you are admitting to changing more than one thing. I asked you a perfectly clarifying question which you will not answer. The same hooker, the same situation, the same expectations, one with and one without payment.”

If it’s the same hooker without payment it’s not a hooker. That’s the whole point. What I am changing is the nature of the transaction, holding everything else constant. Without payment, it’s a relational transaction. With payment it becomes a commodity. That’s the whole point – and when you change the nature of the transaction the value changes, ceteris paribus.

“Now you are telling me that commodification involves changing two different variables. It needn’t. That is your construct.”

Which two? It only changes one – the relational basis of the transaction. That’s the only thing that I’m changing. And that change changes the sex act, which I’m assuming is held constant in all other respects except for the relational basis of the transaction.

I don’t know why this is so hard for you to reason through, vikingvista, but I’m not sure what else there is to say. You should read up more on simple vocab like ceteris paribus before lecturing others on it, though.

Anonymous September 8, 2009 at 3:39 pm

“Which two? It only changes one – the relational basis of the transaction.”

You are as dense as muir. What you are calling “the relational basis” is more than one thing that affects your valuation. You are lumping multiple things under one label “relational basis” and claiming it is therefore one thing. It is your valuation that we are talking about as your response variable. You are buying an apple and comparing it to getting an orange, and then asserting that you like oranges more than apples because of “commodification”.

But with or without commodification the world has both oranges and apples. Commodification doesn’t CHANGE oranges to apples.

It is getting repetitious refuting this nonsense. I suspect you know at this point that you are being wrong at the top of your lungs, unwilling to admit it for embarrassment. Whatever the reason, it definitely does not reflect well on you.

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