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Cart Before the Horse

Entry 1202, on 2010-06-30 at 19:52:03 (Rating 4, Comments)

We seem to have the cart before the horse. That's an old proverb. In fact after researching it I can inform you that it dates back at least 2100 years to the time of Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC). Given that long history of recognising that things are often the opposite way around to what they should be you would think that we would know by now that it's something to be avoided!

At this point you are probably wondering what I'm ranting on about this time. Well it's our economic system again. You see I just listened to a couple of podcasts from NPR (National Public Radio in the US) and at least one of the guests recognised, as I do, that we've got things badly mixed up.

We've created a system which has taken control of the people its supposed to be benefitting. Businesses, and especially big corporations, have become out of control, self propagating entities which are greater than any one person. The speaker pointed out how pointless it was to demand the resignation (or assassination!) of the CEO of BP for example, because BP, as a large corporation, runs independently of its supposed masters.

It's like a monster which has been created and now is out of control. It would make little difference who was in charge because the behaviour of the monster cannot be changed. And as I have said in past posts, other corporations are no different really. Any big oil company could have created the same disaster. It's just that BP was unlucky this time.

So now people are subservient to the corporations. And governments do what is best for the corporations instead of using the corporation to achieve the best outcome for the majority of people. Even the people who do benefit from a corporation's success lose in the end because the financial gain is achieved at the expense of social justice, the environment, and other factors which are unsustainable in the long term.

The current "golden period" that most of the western world has enjoyed for many years is achieved through exploitation. Significantly through exploitation of natural resources, but also through exploitation of people. For example, we only have cheap consumer electronics because people in China live on a close to subsistence income. And we enjoy our extravagant lifestyles through excessive consumption of fossil fuels.

I'm the first to admit that I'm as guilty as most because technology is an important part of my life and I'm as happy as anyone else to enjoy cheap iPhones, laptops, stereo and audio equipment, etc. But that doesn't change the essential truth of the problem.

There's no easy answer because the big corporations have so much control over the leadership of the world's most powerful countries that they can't easily be managed through government regulation. It's abundantly clear that has happened with BP and the other oil companies and that's why we now have the Gulf disaster.

What makes it worse is that it seems that every day ordinary people are controlled more and more by government regulation while at the same time regulation of the entities doing the real damage is loosened. The NPR guest gave an interesting example.

He described how energy exploration companies are using a technique called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" to collect gas and oil. The process involves pumping millions of gallons of often unidentified chemicals into the ground and these cause a lot of harm to people living in the area, including medical effects and water from their taps which will burn! But there are no regulations to cover this activity because the companies successfully lobbied the politicians so they could be exempt from them.

And why are these chemicals which are harming people unidentified? Because the corporations hide behind commercial sensitivity. They say they want to maintain the secrets of the chemicals they have developed, and apparently it's OK to not tell people what's being used to poison them.

But an individual throwing a small item into a river (say an old car battery) which would cause much less potential harm would be prosecuted if he was caught. Is that fair? Of course not, because most laws are specifically designed to protect the corporations and punish the people.

So our whole civilisation - the economic system, the political system, and the law - is designed to protect these big companies and many people recognise this. The ones that do often say the system has given us the standard of living we have today. That is partly true but it's also given us huge problems, not the least of which is global warming. And it's not just coincidental that a lot of the corporate world denies the truth of climate change, peak oil, etc.

So this whole post sounds like one huge conspiracy theory and I guess it is (however remember that not all conspiracies are untrue, although most of them are). It's not a conspiracy created by a group of people though, it's one which naturally arises out of a system which started out being much more under control. Unfortunately it has got beyond the point where we can control it any more. The cart really is before the horse!


Comment 41 (2810) by OJB on 2010-08-11 at 15:17:16: (view earlier comments)

How can taking a small part of a much bigger quote say everything? Surely you have to admit that the overall theme of that study is contrary to what you believe. Just admit you're wrong!

There is always risk for bias no matter what the source. Wikipedia has been shown to have similar accuracy as other sources. Its references are listed with each article. Errors tend to be fixed quickly. What is the problem here exactly? (except that it contradicts your ideology)

You seem determined to classify me as a Labour supporter. I don't see it that way: I support the party with the policies which best matches my views. About half the time that's Labour, the other half other parties. If I'm still a Labour supporter by your definition then, whatever...



Comment 42 (2811) by Anonymous on 2010-08-14 at 17:25:33:

I think OJB is right this time. The study he quoted overall shows the people who were studied aren't mainly motivated by money. It's a fact because not everyone is interested in just making more money.


Comment 43 (2812) by OJB on 2010-08-15 at 09:54:20:

Yes! Finally someone who agrees with me! Of course I'm right, at least unless anyone can find any data to contradict that study. Real data is better than unsubstantiated opinion: a point my opponents sometimes miss.


Comment 44 (2826) by SBFL on 2010-09-02 at 09:47:24:

I think I already poo-pooed your scientist motivation argument in comment 38. Though I will acknowledge that the part of your quote I highlighted is a general statement and doesn't apply to every scientist.

"There is always risk for bias no matter what the source." - Agreed. "Wikipedia has been shown to have similar accuracy as other sources." A general accuracy doesn't necessarily mean a specific accuracy.

Re Labour supporter: It wasn't a criticism per se. Just acknowledging your comment (and honesty).

Yes, so lets not spend what we don't have. Borrowing (effectively on behalf of the taxpayer) should be a last resort. Do we agree here?

Re Comment 43: "Of course I'm right". Love the self-delusion. What can I say? Your wee supporter is Mr "Anonymous".


Comment 45 (2828) by OJB on 2010-09-02 at 12:47:48:

You didn't "poo poo" anything (unless by that you mean you talked a load of shit!) The original study clearly showed that financial gain is not a major motivating factor. You're just in the standard libertarian denial mode again.

So we agree we shouldn't suggest evidence is unreliable just because it comes form Wikipedia. So why do you make statements like "Yes that right, the biased Wikipaedia page using a biased source. And you expect me to spend time debating such nonsense?"

No borrowing should not be the last resort. Borrowing should be a strategy which is carefully considered along with many others. In many cases it might be the best option.

I'm right because I have quoted a real study which clearly shows commercial gain is not a major factor in motivating scientists. Either come up with some contradictory evidence or admit you're wrong.


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