I’m Not One For “Family Values”, But …

When I was young and heard politicians extol the virtues of “family values” and blame a decline in them on moral atrophy, I wondered how they couldn’t see that it was their economic policies, with deleterious effects on the social safety net and job security, that most undermined these “values”. Then I turned 3, and saw how naïve I had been. They never cared about those values. They just wanted an explanation of social disintegration that exempted from blame their class-interested attacks on the living conditions of general populations the world over.

If these politicians really thought “family values” were a good thing, they would want to ensure that young people could gain access to affordable housing and a steady income. It doesn’t take moral atrophy for a person to resist parenthood in the absence of these assurances. Resisting parenthood is arguably the responsible course to take when there can be no confidence for many would-be parents that they will have an income a year, let alone ten years, down the track.

If these politicians thought “family values” were worth preserving, they would seek to create a future in which the would-be children of today had the prospect of a free, prosperous and fulfilling life. Instead, they concoct lies and fairy tales about currency sovereigns running out of money in an effort to deny future generations the life they could easily have if only, today, we set about developing the productive capacity and social infrastructure to provide abundance for tomorrow.

If these politicians cared about “family values”, they would stop pushing for war and promote peace, dramatically cut back the size of the military, and employ the freed up real resources and technological know-how in more humane and socially beneficial ways. What morally responsible person would want to bring a child into a world of military aggression, global inequality, and extreme poverty for many? To the extent people do so, it is in the hope that these things will soon be changed for the better.

If politicians were serious about “family values”, environmental sustainability would be integral to every economic policy decision they made, and there would still be every reason to bring new life into today’s world. Adequate health care would be available to all. Education would be a high priority and accessible to all. Otherwise, many young people will think twice before inflicting this misery on another generation, and rightly so.

Personally, I am not big on “family values” unless we are talking about an extended global family in which everyone and everything is afforded the opportunity to live life to the fullest, free from the effects of economic barbarism and the deliberate butchering of life. But if politicians at least pursued policies conducive to their own professed narrow, small-minded, provincial morality, it would be a significant improvement on current efforts.

As for the rest of us, are we really going to stand by and allow everything to be botched up big time? We can make big changes almost overnight by formulating concrete demands and sticking to them until they are met. An end to poverty and inequality? Easy. We could have a job and/or income guarantee immediately. Free housing for all? Easy. There is a surplus of housing, poorly distributed. Free health care, education, public transport? Easy, easy, easy. An end to private debt? Easy, if we want it and insist on it. And much more can be easily within our grasp if enough of us wake up and make it happen.


17 thoughts on “I’m Not One For “Family Values”, But …

  1. By coincidence I came across this article today. It seems to tie in with your post and some recent discussions on here.

    As I was driving to work this morning I was thinking about the job guarantee and why neoliberals should be in favour of it. Although sacking everyone in a downturn may increase the political power of capital in the short term, it has the reverse effect in an upturn. If we get any kind of a recovery from this depression then there’s going to be demand pull for labour. Electronic money has decreased the lag in monetary circuit paths and technology has increased the lag in production circuit paths (because it takes longer to train people). This means the lag between labour demand and supply is increasing. Therefore capital should favour crowding out in the labour market during bust periods at all levels of employment. A job guarantee that only mops up unemployed people is not a great buffer stock because the level of human capital in the buffer is low. If top level technologists are crowded out with the promise of complete freedom to research (in the public sector) then there is a crowding up effect where everyone moves up to fill in gaps drawing people into the private sector at the bottom. Of course this doesn’t preclude making guarantees to unemployed people as well. The public sector may not be able to crowd out the private sector effectively with money but if I were offered a choice between freedom and money, I would choose freedom. This goes back to my premise that the main role of the state is to maximise freedom by maximising opportunity. This increases potential paths for exploration, therefore maximising information gain and accelerating the progress of society. The increasing stock of human capital in the public sector is also leaky, following the principle that positive externalities of real capital are greater than the benefits to owners. In addition to the benefits of a more efficient employment buffer, the private sector also gains from the information that is leaking from the public sector.

  2. It is not about politicians, unfortunately. Politicians we get are the politicians we deserve. The whole populace needs a massive reeducation.

  3. I’ve always wondered whether we should have an unwritten rule that anybody that wants to stand for office should be immediately barred from doing so.

  4. Education and democracy are highly correlated but the debate on education in the UK is subject to mental accounting with only a selective view of costs and benefits. It’s almost impossible for education to be malinvestment in the context of broader society but politicians have somehow managed to justify policies on the basis that we can’t afford it.


  5. Hey Pete

    Unlike me, you’re young and savvy in these new communication technologies. I have a question for you: how can I make a jpg file available to this thread?

    I’d like you to see something I’ve found in a lecture on ecosystems energetics.

  6. Hi Magpie. Check out the html code in the second comment in this thread. I think it should work if you insert the appropriate file name and title.

  7. Oh, well!

    WTF, let’s try the old fashioned way:

    The briefest explanation: this is how biologists measure what they call “primary productivity”. If you feel intrigued, I can provide more details.

    This is the chemical equation for photosynthesis

    6*CO2 + 6*H2O + energy —> C6H12O6 + 6*O2

    What’s your reaction?

  8. I’m definitely curious, Magpie, and would be interested in more details. My knowledge of chemistry is on a par with my competence with jpg files. 🙂

    (It worked for me, honest!)

  9. If you think about it, what they do is measuring the oxygen surplus produced by the phytoplankton!

    You see, living organisms, including green plants and phytoplankton, require oxygen to function, to live: they all consume oxygen, which they appropriate from the environment.

    But only green plants and phytoplankton produce oxygen. In order for other living beings to survive, phytoplankton need to produce more oxygen than they themselves consume. And, as they cannot accumulate the surplus, save it, they release it in the environment. The other living creatures live on this surplus.

    In fact, as the equation of photosynthesis shows, phytoplankton and green plants also produce glucose (the C6H12O6 molecule), which the herbivores, their direct predators (components of the zooplankton, among others) also consume.

    This is the chemical equation of cellular respiration:

    C6H12O6 + 6*O2 —> 6*CO2 + 6*H2O + energy

    Exactly the same as the equation for photosynthesis, but in the opposite direction! The output of one is the input of the other.

    Abstracting the lost energy (which once released through respiration in the environment cannot be retrieved, according to the laws of thermodynamics), in principle, it would seem possible to build a perpetual cycle, where the material, physical, output of phytoplankton (the part of the biomass they produce) would be entirely consumed by zooplankton and the material, physical, output of zooplankton would be entirely consumed by phytoplankton.

    In reality, this seems impossible because there are material and energy losses, partly random in nature, in the process. In a way, leakages, as in the circular cycle of the economy. Even though the sun provides more than enough energy to compensate for the loss of energy, not all material output is entirely transformed: there are efficiency considerations which were not reflected in that slide.

    And yet, while both chemical equations clearly obey the principle of conservation of mass, the biomass in reality increased enormously in geological times.

    While there are obvious differences (there doesn’t seem to be any obvious analogue of money, for instance; or for investment) it seems to me, human economy can be surprisingly similar to the economy of oxygen…

    I think an exploration of this similarity could shed some light on human economy. For one, this could be useful in proving both the Marxist notions of exploitation and surplus value.

    Doesn’t this sound so very different to what Marshall said?

  10. Pete and all,

    The link below is for an ABC doco series titled “The time traveller’s guide: Australia”. That’s the homepage of the series and at the bottom there is a timeline. Check the information for the Archean geological era. It seems that originally, Earth’s atmosphere was very different to what we have today. There were vast amounts of CO2. In Western Australia there are fossils of the first green algae: it seems they played a role in the transformation of the atmosphere.

    Another evidence of their existence is nothing less than the deposits of iron ore in the Pilbara.


  11. hi Magpie,

    The ideas you’re looking at are probably categorised as either systems theory..

    or sometimes cybernetics..

    The two names above are just catch-all terms for ideas that cut across most of 20th century technology. These are the ideas that Steve Keen is incorporating into his software. The fact that these have not been incorporated into economic models is willful blindness and to a large extent arrogance by economists. I first came across these ideas when I studied control theory nearly 20 years ago. Since then I have seen the same ideas used in many contexts. In population ecology, predation is considered a negative feedback path. Humans are “out of control” because we are out-competing predators and there isn’t a negative feedback path to restrain our behaviour. The oscillations of the business cycle are typical of positive feedback. Keynes used the term “animal spirits” to refer to the positive feedback that is innate in human behaviour. This innate behaviour is encapsulated by the expression “make hay while the sun shines”. Species have this innate behaviour because all life attempts to maximise information gain.

    The concept of information gain is not part of systems theory. This is a relatively new idea which has roots in information theory (Claude Shannon, etc.) but didn’t really take hold of computer science until the advent of evolutionary computing in the 1970s. This concept has been accepted by geneticists and is incorporated in the field of bioinformatics.

    The concept of information is a subject of major dispute between computer science and physics which focuses around the 2nd law of thermodynamics (entropy). The controversy began with Maxwell’s demon and at present there is no satisfactory resolution between information theories and thermodynamics.

    The major flaw of systems theory is the belief (by many systems theorists) in equilibrium. The long run disequilibrium of life over a 4 billion year period is just one example of time’s arrow.

    In engineering we invert the medical view of homeostasis and say that homeostasis is needed to enable change, rather than to maintain stability, because change is inherently unstable.

  12. That is why the debate over “family values” has been so strident. On both sides people feel that it is the central battle in the culture war that now grips Americans (or at least American elites). They are absolutely right. To many liberals, family values means a reassertion of male authority, a reduction in the hard-earned rights of women, and a license for abusive or neglectful parents to mistreat their children free of prompt and decisive social intervention. For some liberals, family values means something even more troubling: that human nature is less malleable than is implied by the doctrine of environmental determinism and cultural relativism—that it is to some significant degree fixed, immutable. To many conservatives, family values is the main line of resistance against homosexual marriages, bureaucratized child care, and compulsory sex education in the schools. For some conservatives, the family means a defense against the very idea of a planned society.

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