Quotebag #78

“In the far future, when science rules the world and religion is dead, time travelers will come back to scan the brains of the atheists of the past at their moments of death and recreate them in new immortal bodies in the future. Those annoyingly preachy religious folks will be left behind and stay dead. Stop believing now if you want to live forever.”—Chuck1863

“The Puritan presumption that ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ is not just repressive, but also completely misdescribes human nature and culture at the start of this century.”—Pat Kane, quoted by Jack Saturday

“People deserve the benefit of the doubt. Institutions do not. And the more powerful the institution, the more important it is to challenge it and hold it to scrutiny.”—Marja Erwin

“But are people’s wants really infinite? ‘Infinite’ is the word they actually use in the textbooks. If literally interpreted, it would mean that everybody desires to obtain the whole universe. Which is absurd.”—Adam Buick

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One Response to Quotebag #78

  1. Rad Geek says:

    Marja’s post is fantastic. Thank you for relinking it.

    The quote from Adam Buick is wrongheaded and uncharitable to the economists. (As is the whole hand-waving passage that it is a part of.) The position that Buick is dismissing certainly is absurd, but it is not the position that economists are asserting when they describe people’s wants as “infinite.” For two reasons. First, because not all economic wants are a matter of “obtaining” or having or owning things in the first place. But even when what someone wants is a relationship or a human engagement or an experience or a state of being or an accomplishment or indeed giving something up or letting it go or passing it on, all those wants still involve a cost — you have to choose it over other options and this involves a certain amount of work and expense, either for yourself or for other people or for both. Which is potentially relevant for any distribution based on at-will demand. Second, because there is just a thudding mathematical error involved here. Infinite means without end; it doesn’t mean all-encompassing. If The Count wants to count all the natural numbers then his wants are infinite but there are also infinitely many numbers that he doesn’t care about counting at all. (And this is of course potentially relevant to the rationality of his desires — since just the real interval (0,1), let alone R as a whole, includes an uncountable infinity of numbers that he could not possibly ever reach no matter how much time he had to do it.) Now, maybe The Count’s desires are also absurd. But if so, not because he wants to count all the numbers; anymore than the textbook Homo economicus‘s infinite desires necessarily encompass “obtaining the whole universe.” And perhaps there is a good argument against the claim that people’s wants are infinite, given the specific meaning that economists attach to all of the terms in that phrase. But Buick is attacking a strawman, and so hasn’t given the argument yet.

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