Monthly Archives: October 2012

So, where the hell have you been?

Xanga tells me that the last entry was the first I have posted since 1-14-2011. I believe it.

If anyone is still paying attention to this space, it’s possible they’re wondering why I fell silent, as opposed to
making my then-usual irregular updates.

There are a few answers to that question. In ascending order of importance, they are Google Plus, Facebook, and

I was initially intrigued by the possibilities of Google Plus, and still enjoy it quite a bit. It seemed like a good
place to post extended rants (one of two things I used to do here) because of its whole no-length-limit Facebook-
and-also-Twitter deal. The only reason I’m back now is that G+’s community isn’t quite answering to my hopes, and
people often can’t be bothered to go there just to read what I have to say. Basically, Xanga (as a proper blogging
site) seems to be a little more accessible.

Facebook turned out to serve the other use I made of blogging better. When I started out, this was mostly a forum
for me to post updates on my life to friends and family. Facebook is actually *designed* for that sort of thing, and
most of my friends and family are there (and have been for a while,) making that use of this blog irrelevant.

Now the big one. I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD,) as someone who read my old ersatz-Facebook posts
might have been able to guess. This had gone untreated most of my life and generally manifested as a few months
every year where I basically shut down and snapped at people a lot. Last year, my periodic bout of depression never
stopped. At some point, I just stopped writing. Anything aside of the odd comment on Facebook or a blog just seemed
too daunting. I haven’t written code in so long, I don’t remember when the last time was.

But I’m finally fighting back. Therapy and antidepressants seem to be doing their thing, and there’s a future in
sight where I might be a functional human being again. Look, I’m already writing.

Unemployment and the Problem of Abundance

One of the foundational assumptions of economic theory is that human wants are unlimited. In concept, no matter how much we produce, it would never be enough to sate our avarice.

In practice, of course, human wants are actually large but limited. There are only so many hours in a day, you can only drive so many cars, can only eat so much food, etc. There is a fundamental upper limit to how much you can usefully spend (and, for what it’s worth, this limit is well below the income of your average billionaire.)

So what happens when a society is finally positioned to make as much stuff as everybody not only needs but wants?

It turns out there’s actually a fair amount of theory trying to deal with a very specific market failure, where the Market Clearing Assumption doesn’t produce the expected result. This theory, developed by John Maynard Keynes and others, revolves around labor markets and the mystifying problem of unemployment. According to the Market Clearing Assumption, you see, involuntary unemployment (that is, unemployment) can’t exist. Any labor on offer would be sold at whatever price the market would bear.

And yet, unemployment clearly does exist. There are a couple of explanations: markets aren’t as perfect as they’re modeled as being. Finding work can take time (frictional unemployment) and changes in the overall economy may render the skills of some workers irrelevant or unneccessary (structural unemployment,) in turn requiring time to retrain. But there is a third type of unemployment (cyclical unemployment) that simply results from a notionally temporary excess of labor.

Consider, though, a society that can still live comfortably while in this depressed condition. The usual remedy (fiscal extravagance to increase aggregate demand) would seem to be inappropriate. Why have workers dig and fill holes simply because we have nothing else for them to do?

Because labor-saving devices only get more and more effective as time goes on, and because human wants are not truly unlimited, this situation would seem to be inevitable on a long enough timeline. Indeed, the middle-class lifestyle of the First World is already frequently criticized for overconsumption, even as the more enlightened economists scream from the rooftops that we must spend more to put people back to work.

But if your problem as a society is not that you don’t produce enough but that you have an excess of labor, shouldn’t you reconsider the foundational morality of the idea that everyone should work? Involuntary employment, after all, is the definition of slavery.

Why should people be forced to work or starve if society doesn’t need them to?