Saturday, July 06, 2002


Burn the rich or steal from the poor? You decide.

The bias towards one class or another in public discourse is usually simply a presumption, but an experiment by two British economists, which attempted to give a concrete measure of envy, has produced another result, one that allows us to quantify, to a certain extent, the bias of reporting.

Here is how Mindpixel reported on the experiment:

"The researchers, Professor Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick and Dr. Daniel Zizzo of Oxford, designed a new kind of experiment, played with real cash, in which subjects could anonymously burn away other people's money -- but only at the cost of giving up some of their own.

Despite this cost to themselves, and contrary to economists usual assumptions, 62% of those tested chose to destroy part of other test subjects' cash. In the experiment, half of all the laboratory earnings were deliberately destroyed by fellow subjects. "

Mindpixel's final graf contains this summing up of the burners:

"The researchers found that those who gained the most additional money at the betting stage burned poor and rich alike, while disadvantaged laboratory subjects mainly targeted those subjects they saw getting what they perceived as undeserved financial windfalls."

Reason picked up on Oswald and Zizzo's article, too. It's science reporter, Ronald Bayley, reported on it under the headline, Burn the Rich. Since, of course, the experiment reports that both the rich (in terms of the experiment) and the poor burned each other's money, one wonders why the rich are singled out as the victims in the headline. Interesting, no? Even in Bayley's own column (which insinuates that here, at last, is the explanation for the opposition to the abolition of the death tax in Congress), the fact that the rich and the poor alike burned each other's money is clearly stated:

"Zizzo and Oswald found that nearly two-thirds of players happily paid for the privilege of impoverishing their fellow participants. Even as the price of burning went up, the percentage of people who chose to burn other players did not fall substantially."

Now, what the phrase fall substantially means is unclear. Did it fall at all? That the poor might resent the rich is a part of common sense wisdom. That the rich burn the poor is part of the common sense wisdom of the poor. And that Reason would only see the rich being victimized by the resentful (read liberals, Democrats, and left wing lowlifes) is also part of common sense wisdom. It is nice that all this common sense wisdom is vindicated.

Here is the article itself. (be careful. It is a PDF file). Zizzo and Oswald have labels for two classes of burnings, depending on the rank of the burner. One they call rank egalitarianism. Most of the burners who were poorer sacrificed to burn the rich. The other they call reciprocity. Their thesis is that the rich burners were simply responding to being burned.

"In the case of our money burning experiment, advantaged and disadvantaged subjects may,
because of the existence of the advantage, perceive the game differently. This different game
perception implies that subjects prime differently two social categories, one based on deservingness
and one on reciprocity. For disadvantaged subjects, what matters is the fact that advantaged subjects
got the advantage undeservedly, and they did not. Advantaged subjects may think not only in terms
of deservingness, but also in a different light, namely, in the light of the fact that disadvantaged
subjects will burn them. They may then want to reciprocate the �favour.'"

But how does this explain their earlier result, that the rich burn the rich? Moreover, hidden in the paper is an interesting paragraph about the behavior of the "undeserving" rich -- those who accrued money arbitrarily (in the experiment, money could be made by betting, but money was also randomly allocated at intervals, thus randomly favoring certain individuals). This paragraph is certainly not discussed in Reason:

"In the twin experiment run in Oxford, Zizzo (1999) crossed advantage and deservingness in a factorial design, and found that deservingness mattered. More specifically, he found significantly more negative
interdependent preferences in sessions where the advantage was induced unfairly than when it was
induced according to a relatively fair procedure. Moreover, in one condition of that experiment,
stealing was possible. Zizzo then found that there was substantially more stealing by advantaged
subjects if they had got the advantage undeservedly. One possible interpretation of this interaction
effect was that undeservedly advantaged subjects expected themselves to be stolen or burnt
significantly more, and behaved using a reciprocity logic, in defending their own gains significantly

Ah, I wonder, oh I wonder, why this paragaph was ignored by Mssrs. the editors of Reason. Maybe the headline should have read, the Undeserving Rich will burn you. But of course, of course, those heirs 'deserve" their money, don't they? After all, they did make the effort to be born.

One final note: the reciprocity hypothesis seems, to us, a desperate maneauver to deny the evidence of the experiment itself. Oswald and Zizzo accord the egalitarian strategy a sequential primacy that exists psychologically, even if it doesn't exist empirically. That is, the rich could be striking in the expectation that they will be struck. However, one should notice -- or an old deconstructive veteran like myself notices -- the binary which is operating here. While the rich are operating on "intention" -- that is cognitively -- the poor are operating on "passion" -- the envy aroused by riches. Why, actually, don't we think that the poor are striking pre-emptively, like the rich? Especially as Zizzo's earlier experiment shows that the perception of the "unfair" accrual of wealth, which is prevelant among its benificiaries as well as among its victims, prompts further "unfair" action among its benificiaries. I.e., the undeserving rich steal. The unconscious bias of the experimenter consists in this: poverty denies one a full sense of self-interest. Thus, we interpret the actions of the poor, sacrificing to burn the rich, as envy, while we accord a sense of intellectual strategy to the wealthy who do the same thing. Oswald and Zizzo show themselves to be the worthy heirs of those nineteenth century economists who saw the laboring classes as so much betail, so much dangerous animality. An entity to be organized by the police, always liable to filch from the fortunate.

To put this another way -- we think the reciprocal thesis explains too much, is bounded by a circular definition, and is ultimately inseperable from passion itself. This passion expresses itself in the wealthy burning the wealthy -- surely, here, we aren't seeing a response to rank egalitarianism, but the play of pure power. Let's suggest to O. and A. a most non-Anglo explanation for their findings, one explored by Mauss in his classic essai sur la don: one of the attributes of being rich is the ability to destroy. Destruction is the ultimate luxury. This is as true among Manhattanites as among the Kwaikutl. Zizzo and Oswald might want to reference such classics, in this vein, as various Beverly Hillbilly episodes, the tv show Dallas, and the dot com parties of 1999.

Friday, July 05, 2002


"...the rise of capitalism involved the disembedding of production and distribution from all extra-economic institutions , led to the growth of an autonomous market economy that operated in terms of profit-maximisation, and even required the adaptation of essentially non-economic social relations and institutions to the demands of economic reproduction. Polanyi expressed this as follows:

"Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social
relations are embedded in the economic system. The vital importance
of the economic factor to the existence of society precludes
any other result. For once the economic system is organized in
separate institutions , based on specific motives and conferring a
special status, society must be shaped in such a manner as to
allow that system to function according to its own laws. This is
the meaning of the familiar assertion that a market economy can
function only in a market society."

-- Bob Jessup, Regulationist and Autopoieticist
Reflections on Polanyi�s Account of
Market Economies and the Market
Society, New Political Economy, July, 2001

The rather long citation is issued as a warning: LI is not contending that the market nexus is the essence of society. Even though Polanyi's contention that there are economies without markets is, in our view, rather doubtful. Perhaps, as a cautionary measure, we should just maintain agnosticism on this perspective. At least, the conservative critique of this view, mounted by Douglass North and reprised in this essay about Polanyi seems to point to large empirical holes in the thesis that the market system arose only in Western Europe in the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, and that before that time there were ecomomies in which distribution had no market aspect.

The reader might say: the likelihood that Polanyi fanatics are going to flood your e-mail is about a million to one, so just relax, buddy. But we always operate on the prudent side, around here...

So, okay, LI has thought long and hard about regulation. Which speaks volumes about the vacuum in LI's head. Sexual fantasies eventually fail and fade, and we all lose our charms in the end, so: I've taken to thinking about regulation and governance. So sue me.

To speak of regulation is to speak of associations, institutions, and markets as the sites in which regulation is effective. It is not necessarily to speak of the state -- all associations, institutions and markets require some ordering, and this ordering is achieved by regulation enforced by some medium of governance. So, that's clear, I hope. We are going to speak of specifically state sanctioned regulation, because this post is supposed to be continuous with the last one, in which, you may remember, I laid out my disagreements with my friend X. about gun control. The aim, here, is to give some sense of the determining factors in the successful or unsuccessful state regulation of markets.

I'm going to use the term markets in an expanded sense -- markets, in my terms, will be taken to exist when a good or a service is possibly commoditized. That is, it can be exchanged. This makes it possible to talk of such things as the market in homicide, which is a service. That doesn't mean that all services or goods are marketed. Your kids could wash your car, because that is a family chore, or you can take your car to a car wash and have it washed. In one case, the act of washing the car is an extra-market operation, and in the other case it is a fully marketed service.

Given this expanded sense of markets, I'm going to use regulation as a term designating all acts by which the way in which goods or services are composed and offered are modified by the state. Traditionally, regulatory scholars, like Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer, have concentrated on the state's regulatory role in allocating goods and services, with less attention paid to the state's role in enforcing transparency, for example. We are going to leave the categories of regulation up in the air in this post, since our concern is with the general factors that impinge on the regulation of goods or services generally. Our parochial point, re gun control or the drug trade, is to show how these factors lead to successful bannings, or mitigate against bannings. Our thesis is simple: if the state tries to ban a good or a service without consideration of its popularity, abundance, and the existence of networks that facilitate the good or services production and distribution, the ban has a high chance of being will inefficient, or pernicious to the preservation of civil rights, or counter-productive. We don't think that efficiency itself provides a metric that should determine absolutely the state's use of banning -- for instance, we think banning murder is probably inefficient, but we think the state should ban murder. However, when the ban is ineffective, injurious to civil liberty, and counter-productive (i.e, the objective of the banning is actually negated by the mechanism of the bannning), we think that banning shouldn't occur.

Oh oh. This is truly turbid prose. Soon I am going to reduce the readership of this site to one: myself. But I am going to do one more post on this topic, and then, I promise, we will return to our regularly scheduled progam, nude pictures of Britney Spears Live!

Wednesday, July 03, 2002


My friend X., who lives in Memphis, is a tireless proponent of gun control. Actually, that understates her passion -- she believes in the most draconian form of gun control in the case of hand guns, namely making handguns the new Desaparecidos of the body politic, although she concedes some gun ownership to hunters. Now, as readers of this page know, LI has a jaundiced view of gun control, especially as it edges into gun banning. X. has been stirred up by recent events in Memphis. This year has beeen, to quote the Memphis Commercial Appeal, a "murderous year for children." Here's a list of "children shot:"

"Damien Woodard, 10, was killed by a stray bullet in gang-related shooting at 1267 S. Willett on April 14. Five men have been charged: Herman A. Parham, 17, Rodricus A. Johnson, 18, and Patrick J. Brown, 20, with first-degree murder; Patrick Parham, 18, and Jeremy Parham, 19, with facilitation to commit first-degree murder.

Marrqutte Mason, 9, was killed by a stray bullet May 26 at Deadrick and Bradley in Orange Mound in a gang- and drug-related shooting. Brian Keith Young, 24, was charged with first-degree murder.

Amber Jiles, 10, was fatally shot at 2473 Boyle on April 25. Joe Nathan Williams, 74, angry with Amber's mother, killed the child and wounded her mother, Michele Hopkins, 36. A police officer shot and killed Williams."

This is shotgun blast America, an endless movie of domestic brawls ending in shots through the head, blood splatter in junkie hallways, gang versus gang exchanges of fire, and so on. Pictures are rarely worth a thousand words -- why waste the words on em? -- but this site has a nice photo of what a bullet can do to your average stomach which will do more than LI can do to help you visualize the yaw, thrust and expansion of a missile displacing the tissue in its track. If you want the thousand words anyway, here's a nice little site to explore the effects on the corpore sanus (if not the mens sane) of that essential equation in criminal forensics, "KE = WV2/2g, where: W=bullet weight, V=velocity, g=gravitational acceleration."

LI recognizes X.'s disgust and anger about gunshot deaths, wounds, and threats. We disagree with her about gun control on both rational and irrational grounds. Let's get the irrational grounds out of the way first: we think that an armed population, whatever the price in gutshot and baby wounds, is a bulwark against tyranny. We have an intuition on this -- which is philosopher speak for saying, we believe this but fuck if we know why -- that our freedoms have a systematic cast that makes it the case that the elimination of one of them injures others of them. Now, if there is a compelling reason to eliminate one of them, so be it -- but by our standard, the harm done by eliminating the right to bear arms isn't made up for by the healthful effects ensuing from the disarming of a population. And plus, to balance the Memphis stories of civilian deaths, there is always the issue of the armed policia. As in the tendency of the cops to use unnecessary force and then need for some counterforce to vividly work against this tendency. X. concedes her disarmament strategy should apply to the police, but we think that is the most unlikely outcome of gun control as she envisions it.

These may simply be our manias. Let's get on to the more interesting, the more rational reason we oppose extreme gun control.

One way of putting it is this: X.'s perspective on gun ownership is that it is ultimately a question of public health. Given an epidemic of gunshot related deaths, we do the epidemiological work of looking for causes. Since the correlation between gunshot related deaths and guns is, uh, pretty irrefutable, we eliminate the cause -- the guns -- and so eliminate the deaths. It is an issue, in this perspective, much like typhoid, or AIDS, or influenza. A disease that spreads by contagion is contained by containing its carriers. Gunshot deaths are spread by gun possessors.

LI has a different perspective. Our claim is that gun control is an issue like that of heroin, abortion, and the perservation of endangered species -- that it has to do with the forms of regulation that can efficiently shape those behaviors that are expressed in the market, and those forms that grotesquely misapply to market behaviors by delivering regulation to structurally incompetent officers, or misunderstanding the demand side for a good or a service, or by blindly pursuing a particular agenda in spite of the fact that it is not working. And this is where our ideas about the wickedness of banning marijuana, or most drugs, and imprisoning the users and sellers of it, hook up with our ideas about the impracticality of banning guns.

In our next post, we will present a picture of regulation that, we modestly think, is globally unique, even if it is composed of elements that have already been mulled over by economists and lawyers. Unfortunately, both groups seem to believe that theory should start over at every moment, rather like the short term memory loss guy in Memento. Our perspective is that we've learned a lot about regulation in the last eighty years, and we should throw out those parts of regulatory theory that don't apply. But ... we are stepping on our next post.

So, readers (this should squelch our readership for the rest of the week), tomorrow and maybe the next day, look for a super-exciting discussion of Coase's theorem and the paradox of organizational knowledge on this station. Oh, and for those of you looking for Britney Spears naked (a phrase which will now enter the search machine mafia), you are in the wrong place.

Sunday, June 30, 2002


Burning down the house.

Everybody knows that modernism's over, everybody knows the good guys lost -- to cite, with a small change in wording, Leonard Cohen. The abstract expressionists, and their successors, were willing and eager to do what they did for the price of the paint. The adventure, the beauty of it, the reason you'd hock your body, the reason you'd let yourself become a laughingstock at the family reunions, was that painting was dearer to you, as a painter, than heroin is to a junky. It was the stuff. Then the money came down, and at first that was all right. But money comes attached by a million spiderweb-like strings to money-men, and that isn't all right. Not eventually. American art would have been better off, in the last twenty years, if it had been traded by crack-heads and curated by homeless alkies. Alas, it was traded by Saatchi's and housed by such confidence men as 'Tom' Krens, the Guggenheim's director. Deborah Soloman's NYT Magazine story about Krens would do Hans Haacke himself proud. Unfortunately, Haacke has no sense of humor. About Solomon, one should be cautious -- her byline says that she is working on a bio of Norman Rockwell, about which LI's views are pretty clear: I would rather look at the toilet paper hanging on the roll in my bathroom than anything Norman Rockwell ever, uh, what is the word? created? And her let's-all-be-populists now ending is pretty insane -- she has just spent the entire article buzzing among money men from Cleveland, but suddenly they represent vox populi? I don't think so. But to LI's ears, the quotes in this piece are priceless. This is one of the trustees giving us his very raison d'etre:

''People who want to be socially established are attracted to the Met board, but people who want to have fun are attracted to the Guggenheim,'' says Stephen Swid, chairman of Knoll International furniture and a longtime Guggenheim trustee. ''The Museum of Modern Art has David Rockefeller, who sits down with the trustees -- $5 million, $20 million, that's what they give. You have to understand that David Rockefeller is an American icon. But we're like from the shtetl.''

Here's Peter Lewis, the chairman of the Guggenheim, in all his beefy glory:

''I buy pictures,'' Lewis protested. ''Don't call me a collector. I really don't know about art. I love creativity. I love artists, their lifestyle and attitude. How does a businessperson from Cleveland who doesn't want to read books about art connect with the art scene?'' Suddenly, with a quick apology, he removed his artificial leg and placed it across his lap, explaining he felt more comfortable that way. Asked how he lost a limb, he replied dismissively, ''Oh, just doing stupid macho things.''

Here is another wondrous quote from Lewis, explaining why Guggenheim has become, as Solomon says elsewhere in the article, parodying Malraux, a Museum with Walls only. Lewis forces us to ask: are these people real?

" 'Tom resonates more with buildings than with pictures,'' Peter Lewis told me."

Resonance should be confined to the viewing of porn, where it is appropriate. If only LI could find a similar way to fast forward through the endless reel of truly disgusting capitalists, in this, the age of the Jurrassic plutocrat!

Lawrence's Etruscans

  I re-read Women in Love a couple of years ago and thought, I’m out of patience with Lawrence. Then… Then, visiting my in-law in Montpellie...