Author Archives: MattBailey
We assert a simple proposition: that fundamental shifts in popular understanding of how the world works necessarily produce fundamental shifts in our conception of self-interest, which in turn necessarily produce fundamental shifts in how we think to order our societies.
Ok. This is going deep. Go on.
Today, most of the public is unaware that we are in the midst of a moment of new understanding. In recent decades, a revolution has taken place in our scientific and mathematical understanding of the systemic nature of the world we inhabit. …
In traditional economic theory, as in politics, we Americans are taught to believe that selfishness is next to godliness. We are taught that the market is at its most efficient when individuals act rationally to maximize their own self-interest without regard to the effects on anyone else. We are taught that democracy is at its most functional when individuals and factions pursue their own self-interest aggressively. In both instances, we are taught that an invisible hand converts this relentless clash and competition of self-seekers into a greater good.
Now diving into our outdated understanding of self-interest:
Over time, the rational self-seeking of the American has been elevated into an ideology now as strong and totalizing as the divine right of kings once was in medieval Europe. Homo economicus, the rationalist self-seeker of orthodox economics, along with his cousin Homo politicus, gradually came to define what is considered normal in the market and politics. We’ve convinced ourselves that a million individual acts of selfishness magically add up to a common good. And we’ve paid a great price for such arrogance. We have today a dominant legal and economic doctrine that treats people as disconnected automatons and treats the mess we leave behind as someone else’s problem. We also have, in the Great Recession, painful evidence of the limits of this doctrine’s usefulness.
But now a new story is unfolding.
Is this vision of self-interest overly aspirational?
True self-interest is mutual interest. The best way to improve your likelihood of surviving and thriving is to make sure those around you survive and thrive. Notwithstanding American mythology about selfishness making the world go round, humans have in fact evolved—have been selected—to look out for others in their group and, in so doing, to look out for self. We exist today because this is how our ancestors behaved. We evolve today by ensuring that our definition of “our group” is wide enough to take advantage of diversity and narrow enough to be actionable.
This is a story, in short, about self-interest that is smart, or “self-interest properly understood,” as Tocqueville put it. …
The contract between the new and old stories of self-interest —like any paradigmatic shift in the public imagination—is not just a philosophical curiosity. It plays out in how we interpret and understand—and therefore, prepare for or prevent—calamities like global financial meltdowns or catastrophic climate change or political gridlock. And it will transform the way we think about three basic elements of a democratic society: citizenship, economy, government.
Lamar White is known throughout Louisiana and even in national circles for his tenacity, intellectual acuity, and sharp wit. He’s the guy who has held our leaders’ feet to the fire and expertly exposed political shenanigans since he started the CenLamar blog back in 2006. Just as he changed the landscape through his writing, he is now shifting the paradigm of professional, progressive politics in Louisiana with the launch of a new communications firm – Imagine Louisiana Communications.
Together with a moderate Republican friend and former law school classmate, Lamar is fully entering the fray of Louisiana politics to deliver consulting services and communications savvy to what will most certainly be a diverse set of important clients. Read the rest of this entry
Bob Mann thinks Louisiana legislators should be working with a greater sense of urgency given our state’s dire financial circumstances, and I agree completely.
“Louisiana government is burning and lawmakers are fiddling around. To be sure, lawmakers must address important non-fiscal matters. But remember, our fiscal house is on fire. Unless lawmakers find another $750 million in cuts or tax increases before July 1, state hospitals will close and universities will be crippled. The work of the regular session, no matter how important, pales in comparison to our immediate fiscal emergency.
“Given the dire situation, lawmakers should consider working longer hours, including weekends, and wrap up their current session a bit early, maybe by late April or early May. That would give them time for another special session to fix the fiscal disaster they only partly addressed in February. …
“It’s not that we lack a way out of our crisis. We lack the political will.”
Instead of directing water toward the burning house, lawmakers have been busy considering some very urgent and important legislative initiatives like:
- Allowing hunters to wear bright pink instead of bright orange
- Perennial political legislating around the periphery of a woman’s right to choose
- Discussing the monuments and statues in Louisiana cities
- Wondering whether we should allow people to be buried with their pets (no, really)
- Suggesting that would-be exotic dancers should have to wait until they’re 21 to take the stage (who knew this was an issue?)
And on top of everything, legislative leaders are suggesting no cuts for their budgets despite the state’s $750 million budget gap for next fiscal year. Amazing.
The Daily Kingfish needs more contributors to be the vibrant outlet for original political analysis that it can and should be. Because there’s only so much time in a day, I am limited in how much I can write. We’ve had a few good contributors thus far, yet we need more. Ideally, we need a few folks willing to write on a regular basis. Read more on what we’re looking for!