Como trabajar 30 horas a la semana?

Hoy fui a comer pizzas con un montón de geólogos. Como era de esperar, de tanta pizza (y unas copitas-shops-de-medio-litro por ahí), a más a de alguien le dio sueño y comenzó a ofrecer el alma por una siesta. La creatividad floreció con excusas para faltar a las pegas fomes reuniones de la tarde. Como no somos abogados, no podemos ocupar la clásica: “a la tarde no llego, sigo en tribunales”. La “intoxicación masiva por pizza” no se compra hace rato. La “intoxicación masiva por alcohol”, si bien era más sincera, no era ad-hoc.

Resignados, se escapó la añoranza de un iluminado, que mirando el horizonte soltó: “Deberíamos trabajar 30 horas a la semana”. Casi sacó aplausos. Sin pensarlo mucho, y como si estuviera esperando mi momento de humillar un geólogo, le dije: “Yo trabajo 30 hrs a la semana” (deal with it). Quería seguir siendo arrogante y explicarle como lo hice, pero el tiempo no me lo permitió.

Pero ahora tengo tiempo, así que aquí va mi receta de las claves para conseguir trabajar 30 hrs a la semana y no morir en el intento:

  • Tener un motivo fuerte (un motivo “The Real”): Si bien la siesta es tentadora, no debe ser el motivo principal. El motivo fuerte sirve par darte el espíritu para poner la mejor cara de raja cuando vayas a hablar con tu jefe.  Aquí hay que mirar a largo plazo y visualizarte en algo que quieras hacer. Yo decidí hacer una página web, y fue suficiente para mí. La siesta viene de yapa. Andar harto en bici ha sido lo mejor después de la siesta.
  • Una buena excusa es un “curso para perfeccionarte”: Si ya tienes tu motivo fuerte, es probable que tu jefe no lo comparta. Si bien creía (y creo) que la jornada de más de 40 hrs es para esclavos, no es un buen argumento para ir a hablar con tu jefe: a nadie le gusta que le digan esclavo, tampoco a los jefes esclavos. Pero a los jefes sí les gustan los conceptos de perfeccionamiento y/o capacitación. Estos conceptos son más fuertes de lo que uno cree. Ni siquiera hay que explicar mucho más. Hasta una “capacitación en cerveza artesanal” podría pasar. Un curso por internet es la mano.
  • Llevar al menos 6 meses en el trabajo: Esto también sirve para elevar el espíritu para ir a hablar con el jefe. Si bien se podrías negociar la jornada antes de comenzar a trabajar, generalmente tienes poco poder de negociación, por lo que las chances de conseguir imponer jornada no son las mejores. 6 meses serían tiempo suficiente para que demuestres que trabajas bien y no eres un fresco de raja.
  • Trabajo eficiente: Esto es bien obvio, pero si no haces bien la pega, el jefe va a estar esperando la oportunidad para mandarte a la chucha reprenderte. A pesar de lo que los jefes creen, en realidad haces tu pega mejor cuando trabajas menos: te preocupas de ser más eficiente y pasar menos rato en Facebook . 
  • Trabajar en el sector privado: Quizás este no es un requisito tan fuerte, pero es verdad que ciertos trabajos tienen estructuras duras como “jornada completa”. Además, no es bien visto en el sector público que te estés forrando trabajando 30 hrs a la semana. En el sector privado, tampoco, pero a nadie le importa que se robe como político en el sector privado.
  • DESVENTAJAS (son más bien los costos, pero como no me gusta hablar mucho de lucas, le digo desventajas nomá)
    • Aprender a vivir con un poco menos de lucas: Pasar de 40 hrs a 30 hrs me llevó a una reducción proporcional de sueldo. De esto viene que es requisito no estar muy corto de lucas. Si estás más ajustado que frenada de gusano a fin de mes con las lucas, hay que empezar a darle unas vueltas al asunto. Una de las cosas que viene de yapa de trabajar 30 hrs a la semana, es que estás más tranquilo, y no gastas la plata en weas caras solo por angustia.
    • Levantarte temprano: Para trabajar 30 hrs a la semana, trabajo desde las 7.30 a las 13.30. Si tus sábanas tienen una especial fuerza de atracción por las mañanas, esto no es tan terrible.
    • Horario no social: Como tienes un horario fuera de la manada, es posible que te pierdas la tomateras a la salida del trabajo. Es probable que te encuentres un poco solo, a lo que le puedes sacar harto provecho en tinder.
  • VENTAJAS (“beneficios” para los money makers)
    • Siestas.
    • Todo el día libre para hacer las cosas que quieras Si sales del trabajo las 13.30, que es la hr en que te levantas los fines de semana, cuando ya se te ha pasado la caña, entenderás que todo el día libre para hacer lo que quieras (siempre y cuando las siestas sean moderadas, y no sea más de una al día).
    • No more tacos. A las 7.00 y 13.30 no hay ni un wn en las calles  tacos.
    • Mayor seguridad laboral: Al principio, puede parecer contra-intuitivo, pero es fácil: cuando tus jefes estén considerando despedir con una patá en la raja a alguien, eres el último en la lista negra. Para que van a despedir a un trabajador barato que trabaja bien?
    • Gastas menos en weas: Eso po, ya no estás deseando viajar al caribe o al sudeste asiático, porque simplemente estás más contento con el día a día de la semana. También puedes aprender a cocinar y ahorrar lucas para el almuerzo.
    • Leer y escribir weas: Nunca me gustó leer, hasta que me compré un kindle. Descubrí que hay libros mas entretenidos que los libros charchas que dan en el colegio. Un kindle y estai picho caluga.
    • Mejor estado físico: Andar en bici es bkn: tienes más energía para hacer cosas. Puedes ir al cerro San Cristobal y andar tranquilo sin tanto weón que se te cruce.
    • Te preocupas de otras cosas: Como ahora tienes más tiempo libre que funcionario público, descubres páginas como TED.com, filmsforaction.org.

Pueden haber otras cosas según tu estado civil o si tienes hijos reconocidos, pero no me constan. 

 

MIT Media Lab; Amazed and Disappointed

In 2013 I had the opportunity to visit the MIT MediaLab. I was lucky, because I was doing a “half-gap-year” and during my stay in Boston, a lot of chileans gather at MIT Media Lab. I just had to join them. It was pure luck. I was there at the right time at the right place. The gathering was called Encuentros2013. During the meeting I was amazed, and disappointed.

2013_1-0

(I’m the guy with the arm supported on the box of glass, left to the baby carriage. By the way, where is the baby?)

I was amazed because all of the great people you could find there: Humberto Maturana, who was more philosophical and human than I expected; Francisca Valenzuela, famous singer who was incredible friendly (I had to bought her song Salvador); Alfredo Zolezzi, which happily is trying to give low-cost-clean water wherever is needed;  and a guy called Cesar Hidalgo who gave soul to the place (this guy remind me of “El Quijote”). All of these people were just great.

The theme of Encuentros2013 was “Inspiring Innovation“. And it really had a part of that. I remember a guy talking about a method to use vegetal cells into skin to produce oxygen and have a better skin after injuries (not ugly scars). The skin was green for a while (because of the vegetal cells). The project was called HULK. Brilliant! I also remember about Alfredo Zolezzi, who was developing a machine to produce fresh drinkable water using plasma. I could not imagine a better use of plasma. That’s a lot of innovation and it was made by chileans.

The americans did not bad either. I was touched by the work of Hugh Herr, professor from the Media Lab who lost both of his legs, and he was using all of his resources and passion to build the best bionic legs to people who had lost them. He even made a bionic leg to a dancing girl (Adrianne Haslet-Davis) who lost one of her leg because of Boston Attack in 2013. How could you not being inspired?

When Encuentros2013 finished, I felt disappointed. Why? Because, why do we need inspiration and innovation anyways? I mean, there always been great and brilliant people working together in other places and time, but it doesn’t seem to be improving that much. What problems are we solving with inspiration and innovation?.

This just doesn’t make sense. Can’t we, with all our developed tools, give a better life to most of the people? Can’t we give a better life to people who can not pay for it? By the way, why is this so important? why is so important to give the best opportunities to most of the people? Because we are facing HUGE problems, and we need all of our power to solve them. Because that’s how we solve big problems; dividing them in small ones that we could handle. That’s the power of society. With society we can solve problems that we can not solve by ourselves. That’s why. That’s why this is so important. That’s why we need to give better life to most of the people; we need all of the human resources to avoid diminishing life quality as we know it.

This is what the MIT Media Lab should work on; the Media Lab should work on solving the huge problems that mankind faces. The Media Lab has the unique opportunity to use all the actual technologies, even create new technology, to solve the huge problems. The Media Lab has an unique mix of talented and diverse people who could give us the tools we really need right now. Could we use new technology to address old problems?

With the right media we could channel our efforts and help us. We need us. We need the right media.

Underground Economists

Before the Victorian Economists, Economy was called Political Economy. So the Political part means it was related to people at least. Probably related with how people organized themselves to fulfill certain objectives. But Political Economy changed to become Economics, in order to get along with exact sciences. In these exact sciences the concept of equilibrium was key. How could we understand forces and movement without the concept of equilibrium? How could we understand economy if we don’t have the equilibrium of supply and demand?
But, and here is the main concern, could we describe societies as a system in equilibrium? Aren’t societies in a dynamic struggle of economic or political forces? wasn’t there people talking about a war between social classes?

In Heilbroner words, “suddenly capitalism was no longer seen as an historic social vehicle under constant tension but as a static, rather history-less, mode of organization”.

Maybe this is the part when economics started to get way from morals. Do we question should we trade?}, should we consume this? should we buy this from them and sell it to those others?. It seems that we just do it. Now, with all the mathematics and technology we had developed we have very good tools to trade, just because. This is a reason why an underworld of economists always existed. They never quit wondering these questions.

Underworld economists didn’t got wide eyed opened with all the beautiful mathematics; they preferred to kept wondering about the driving causes of society; society’s goals. It isn’t popular to think like this in the academic world. There are not many tools to be used in this area to build a good paper. Underground economists did just not fit.

Some of them shone for a while as an eccentricity, others are still waiting to be respected. Malthus started from the underworld with his crazy idea of overpopulation and shortage of resources (and talking about an issue that still goes on), just to become the first profesional economist. Of course all the utopians could all be labeled here too and probably they will be for a long time, by definition.

Some others, not well known economists could labeled as part of the underworld of economics. Some of them are:

  • Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) He could be called polemic at least. He described a noisy community of bees that suddenly become honest and virtuous. Without their desire for personal gain the bees just decided to live simple lives in a hollow tree. So the busy-working-community of bees became a chilling-out-community of bees. Of course, no more honey were produced. Could we say this change of lifestyle is an improvement?Mandeville probably meant that without private vices there is no public benefit. Without that noisy group of individuals outside struggling to make a living, no matter what they do, they should keep doing it because that’s how societies works. Probably this was the idea behind the Famous Adam Smith’s quote ”It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest”.So every time you go party hard, surely you expend a lot of money. It happens that because all of that money, business exists (night clubs, drugs, and all the good things), and those business feed families. So there you go spoiled children, every time yo bro goin’ party hard, you’re keeping society to work (you are very welcome).
  • Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850) Have you ever heard the concept of opportunity cost? Well, this guy coined this idea. But the best of this guy was his humor sense: sarcasm at its best. A troll if you prefer.Some of his points were:

    “It goes to enormous efforts to tunnel underneath a mountain in order to connect two countries. An then, what does it do? Having labored mightily to facilitate the interchange of goods, it sets up customs guards on both sides of the mountain and makes it as difficult as possible for merchandise to ravel through the tunnel.”

    Or when en 1840 the Chamber of Deputies were discussing about establish higher taxes to foreign goods in order benefit French Industry, Bastiat, in the same line proposed to cover the sun to improve the sales of candle makers. That artificial increase of demand would certainly improve the local economy. Genius.

    But the most important present that Bastiat gave us was wondering: does the world makes sense? could politics get along with economics? are these currents going to the same way? Good questions that are still looking for an answer.

  • Henry George (1839-1897) This was the guy who noticed (Ricardo noticed first)  the nonsense of great incomes:

“Sometimes fabulous incomes derive not from the services they rendered to the community, but merely from the fact that they have had the good fortune to hold advantageously situated soil. So, you can get rich if you have been lucky to buy a piece of good land.”

This is greatly summarized by Piketty as  the rate of return from capital is greater than the rate of economic growth, or just r>g.

The problem that Henry George found was even more deep than Ricardo. He argued that this injustice was the cause that got society to his knees from time to time. He was convinced that rent led to high levels of speculation that would lead to a collapse (2008 crisis anyone?).

So, having identified the problem, the solution: a massive tax on land. This remedy would

“raise wages, increase the earnings of capital, extirpate pauperism, abolish poverty, give remunerative employment to whoever wishes it, afford free scope to human powers, purify government, and carry civilization to yet nobler heights”.

Beautiful. But depressions also happened where land values were not that inflated.

But the most important thing is that  George was talking nothing else than morals. why people should get so highly incomes? are they that productive? is this what economy needs? is this how a society should work?.

  • John Hobson (1858-1940) Given the  imperialism movement of nations, this man was the first to notice the dangerous tendency of imperialism that tended to war. This the biggest moral issue against economy ever said.Influenced from Ruskin (and maybe the Austrian school of economics) Hobson saw economics as a humanist than an exact science, so he did not developed a model neither got embraced by the beauty of mathematics.As a good utopian economist he believed in cooperation rather than competition as a way to improve society.Taking Mummery idea, Hobson argued that the cause of cyclical economic downturns where excessive savings. Accumulation showed the inability of society to distribute enough purchasing power to buy products back. This is an argument against extreme wealth accumulation of rich people, not regular family savings. Hobson shows how accumulation led to inefficiency in society, and idea that Joseph Stiglitz will show hundred years more.

    Notice that this is completely the opposite of the idea that accumulation increases capital which was used then to pay more people to work.

    Marx claimed that capitalism would destroy itself; Hobson suggested that capitalism might destroy the world. This was based in an unnoticed aspect of capitalism: unequal distribution of wealth. Massive unequal distribution of wealth has been always a moral concern, but Hobson saw it in economical terms. From Heilbroner:

    “The inequality of incomes led to the strangest of dilemmas, a paradoxical situation in which neither rich nor poor could consume enough goods. The poor could not consume enough because their incomes were too small, and the rich could not consume enough because their incomes were too big!. In other words, said Hobson, in order to clear its own market, and economy must consume everything that it makes: each good must have a buyer. Now, if the poor cannot afford to take more than the bare essentials, who is there to take the rest?. Obviously, the rich. But while the rich have the money, they lack the physical capacity for that much consumption…so.. the rich were forced to save”.

    Not a problem yet; the savings could be put in building new machinery to produce more, but here is the problem, who is going to buy it? the poor people (most part of society) were always struggling just to survive. They just lack of purchasing power.

    So what to do with the money? It could be invested overseas Hobson replied. This is imperialism: the hobby of the wealthiest when they find out that local market is not enough  and they need more (will it ever be enough?). But considering all of the wealthiest people from all of the world countries are doing exactly the same, what are they going to do when they find out that the earth is finite? Conflict arises; here comes the war; capital driven war.

    What if Hobson was not completely nonsense? Lets assume that is right, that accumulation of capital leads to war. Now consider Piketty’s r>g. So, just because of Hobson and Piketty’s model, we could put a blind bet that greatest capitalist country with enough wealth accumulated would be in war right now. Doesn’t seem to be a bad model after all, does it?.

Here laid some of the underworld economist that widen our vision of economics mixing with morals. They did not produce beautiful mathematical models but they did produce beautiful ideas to discuss and that’s what matter to me.

Victorian Economists

Usually after Marx (1818-1883), economic books goes to the next great economic genius: Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) and the establishing of marginalism analysis. Of course Marshall was a noteworthy mathematical genius, but, is there more people in between? I mean, there are 52 years between the Manifesto and the “Principles of Economics” (the ruling book of economics written by Marshall). Heilbroner noted some interesting people between Marx and Marshall and divided these people in two groups: The Victorian Economists and The Underground Economists. Rather than a time division, it is a style division.
The Victorian Economists were characterized by they academician love for rigorous mathematical models. They wanted to describe economics just as physicists and mathematicians were doing in their fields. Maybe this is the reason why during this time, Political Economy was now being called just Economics. Some of these Victorians were:

 Johann Heinrich von Thunen (1783-1850) a landowner mathematician that came with this pearl:

R=Y(p-c-Fm)

Where:

R: Rent.
Y: Units of comoddity per land.
p: Market priceper unit of commodity.
c: Production expenses per unit of commodity.
m: distance to market.

Just put it here because it is funny to think in a landowner german writing equations. Can someone please make a caricature of this guy? (put some pigs, beer and a mustache).

Francis Ysidore Edgeworth (1845-1926), a man fascinated with political economy only because it deals with quantities, and anything that deal with quantities could be translated to mathematics. Edgeworth based his analysis on the assumption: “every man is a pleasure machine” (I only say that when I’m drunk). So, based in Jeremy Bentham principle of human pleasure mechanisms competing for shares of society’s stock of pleasure, it could be show that in a world with perfect competition, each pleasure machine would achieve the highest amount of pleasure that society could ever reach. Edgeworth could be one of the first economists to treat this practice as a world phenomena, just as physics or mathematics, and not that human (can I say that this is the beginning of the end?).

León Walras (1834-1910) Famous for proving that you could deduce the exact prices that would clear the market (supply equals demand on the general equilibrium theory), if you have an equation for every single economic good on the market. Now is up to you to solve these millions of equations. His masterpiece was Elements of Pure Economics, published in 1877. In the future, Schumpeter will have some words to Walras:

Walras is … greatest of all economists. His system of economic equilibrium, uniting, as it does, the quality of revolutionary creativeness with the quality of classic synthesis, is the only work by an economist that will stand comparison with the achievements of theoretical physics

These men were great academics, but, is it necessary to be a mathematical genius to talk about economics? isn’t economics a day-a-day issue that we all have to fight? could a simple man say something about main economic issues?

Academic economists could and do great job modeling economics, but, is their work really improving our everyday life? is their rigorous labor paying off? I mean, we are now around two hundred years since Adams Smith and all the great minds that followed him; all them geniuses dedicated to economics and we still have people dying from hunger everyday. So, if we consider economics aimed to the material welfare of all, we are clearly missing some points.

Some guys did believe the same. Some guys did believed that they could say and do something about economics. The academic world largely ignored them. Maybe because of not being part of them. Maybe because these new guys touched some really weak points of the economics development (none of the academics wanted to change a model where most their work rested).

These guys are called The Underground Economists.

Dedicated to The Boss, the only one with the social pressure to read this.

Owen

Maybe not that popular, but Robert Owen was a really a hero in his time. Could be described as one of the first utopian socialists (with Thomas More permission). The amazing thing about Robert Owen, is that he wasn’t only utopian, but practical. He transformed a little mill village (New Lanark) in something not far from utopian society. He changed the life of hundreds for good!. Owen’s main contribution to socialist thought was the view that human social behavior is not fixed or absolute, and that human beings have the free will to organize themselves into any kind of society they wished.

During Malthus and Ricardo days wasn’t that hard to understand why that gloomy vision of economy and life in general. From Heilbroner:

“In 1828, The Lion, a radical magazine of the times, published the incredible history of Robert Blincoe, one of eighty pauper-children sent off to a factory at Lowdham. The boys and girls (they were all about ten years old) where whipped day and night, not only for the slightest fault, but to stimulate their flagging industry. And compared with a factory at Litton where Blincoe was subsequently transferred, conditions at Lowdham were rather humane. At Litton the children scrambled with the pigs for the slops in a through; they were kicked and punched and sexually abused; and their employer, one Ellice Needha, had the chilling habit of pinching the children’s ears until his nails met through the flesh. The foreman of the plant was even worse. He hung Blincoe up by his wrists over a machine so that his knees were bent and then he piled heavy weights on his shoulders. The child and his coworkers were almost naked in the cold winter and (seemingly a purely gratuitous sadistic flourish) their teeth were filed down!”.

Probably this story was exaggerated, but surely inhuman practices were accepted and was none business. Even in these days news about slaves appears once in a while in my own country.

Not only bad practices at job were a problem. Technology was the rage, and machinery meant displacement of laboring hands by efficient machines. In 1779 a mob of 8.000 workers attacked a mill and burned it to the ground, because it was taking jobs.

Even Ricardo, who was very respected, admitted that maybe machinery did not always operate to the immediate benefit of the workman. To an observer, the working class were getting out of control, and something must be done. Repression is the first thought, but not the only one.

In those dark times, one small light shone. That light was New Lanark. And as a good light in the dark, New Lanark was visited by over 20.000 moths who wanted to see the miracle by their own eyes. Tsar Nicholas I of Russia was one of those moths. They all came to see that horrible industrial life was not the only and inevitable social arrangement, some good practices were possible too. Some of the good practices were:

  • Workers had two room houses, the garbage was neatly piled up awaiting disposal instead of being strewn in filthy disarray.
  • Factories: Over each employee hung a little cube of wood with a different color painted each side: black, blue, yellow and white. From lightest to darkest, the colors stood for different grades of performance: white was excellent, yellow good blue indifferent; black bad. At glance, the factory manager could judge the performance of his workforce.
  • There were no children under ten or eleven in factories. Those that did, work only for 10 \frac{3}{4} hours per day (the norm were 16). Most important, they were not punished; discipline seemed to be wielded by benignity rather than fear.
  • The factory manager was available for objections to any rule or regulation, or bad cube rating (just like a good school or university).
  • Little children, instead of being in the street by their own, they played in schoolhouses. The small ones were learning the names of plants, animals and trees. Older boys were learning grammar. Regularly, children gathered to sing and dance under young ladies sight. Young ladies were instructed that no child’s question was ever to go unanswered, not child was ever bad without reason, punishment was never to be inflicted, and that children would learn faster from the power of example an from admonition.

Beside all that marvels, New Lanark was profitable. So, this town was not run only by a saint, but by a business saint: Robert Owen, the “benevolent Mr. Owen of New Lanark”. A man that born poor and made a fortune as a capitalist. From a capitals to a opponent of private property. From advocated to benevolence (because it pays dividends) to urge the abolition of money. So take your time if you want to classify him, you will need it.

So first Mr Owen was an entrepreneur (a successful one), then as a capitalist, a philanthropist. When he ran of money, he became a social leader. Most important, he was able to build his dreamed society, and it did work. At least once.

Napoleonic wars threatened with general gluts. To avoid the coming misery, the Dukes of York and Kent and other respectable people formed a committee to look forward for solutions for the arriving gluts. They called Owen to present his views. He didn’t came with just that, he came with the blueprints for a new society: Villages of Cooperation.

For Owen, the problem was that paupers became non productive in general gluts, so the solution was to make them productive. Paupers could become the producers of wealth if they were given a chance to work, and they deplorable social habits could easily be transformed into virtuous ones under the influence of a decent environment. Why would anyone believe that paupers were not able to produce wealth given the resources?. I mean, being pauper is not an illness. Owen knew they were people, just like everybody else.

Villages of Cooperation were an structure to make people productive. Owen proposed their way of living. From Heilbroner:

The families were to live in houses grouped in parallelograms, with each family in a private apartment but sharing common sitting rooms and reading rooms and kitchens. Children over the age of three were to be boarded separately so that they could be exposed to the kind of education that would best mold their characters for later life. Around the school were gardens to be tended by slightly older children, and around them in turn would stretch out the fields where crops would be grown. In the distance, away from the living areas, would be a factory unit; in effect this would be a planned garden city, a kibbutz, a commune.

The committee thanked Mr Owen’s plan, and his ideas were carefully ignored. Laissez faire was the beauty girl and planned economy, well, none seemed to care. But passiveness was not an option for Owen. He sold his interests in New Lanark, and set about building his own community of the future. He chose the place where dreams came true, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty: America (North America please), Indiana. It’s name: New Harmony.

New Harmony was a disaster (maybe it wasn’t so easy to have a community without the strong support of a stable business as New Lanark did with it’s own prosperous mill). After loosing four fifths of is fortune in New Harmony, Mr. Owen went back to England to participate actively in leading a new section of the country: the working classes. Indeed, he started the english working class movement by the name of The Grand National Moral Union of the Productive and Useful Classes. Some marketing genius changed the name to just Grand National. The Grand National gathered 500.000 members. It was huge!

The Gran National was a fiasco too. It appears that England was prepared for a national trade union just as US was prepared for a community paradise. Local union could not control their members and local strikes prospered. Grand National only lasted for two years.

So, who was Robert Owen? He was not only an economist, but a economic innovator who wanted to change the world (and he did it, a bit). While others wrote, he went ahead and tried to change it.

Mr. Owen, my greatest respect to you.

Malthus

We could consider the faith on the invisible hand as an optimistic view: If society act based on individuals choices everything will be OK. But, is there a pessimist view?. Of course! And it is handled by Thomas Robert Malthus. Most known as poor Malthus, the first professional economist.

Thomas Malthus was son of Daniel Malthus, an eccentric old gentleman who enjoyed to discuss the utopian and optimistic views of the future. Daniel Malthus found a mate to discuss, nonetheless than his son Thomas Robert Malthus, who was at the oposite side of the optimistic utopian views. Let’s call Thomas directly a party pooper.

According to the party pooper, the basic problem with society was that too many people lived on it and there was a lack of food for all of them. Even worst, there was going to get even been worst with time: people will grow a geometric ratio and food only in an arithmetic ratio.

Thomas wrote his ideas trying to convince his father of the not so bright future. Daniel was so impressed with the brightness and clarity of his son’s ideas, that he insisted to publish them in an anonymous treatise called An Essay on the Principle of Population as It affects the Future Improvement of Society. In that essay Thomas postulated that there was a tendency in nature for population to outstrip all possible means of subsistence. Instead of ascending in higher life standard, society was in caught in a trap in which the humans reproductive urge would inevitably shove humanity to a precipice of existence. Even though he wasn’t the first one to notice (B. Franklin and J.S Mill published previous essays pointing the problem of too many people), Malthus used strong phrases and images that made him well known.

An example of the strong idea: What could save us from geometric ratios of growing? preventive and positive checks. For preventive he meant to delay parent- hood (not that bad). For positive he meant: war, famine and plagues (not that good either. Not positive at all). In Malthus words, there is no more evil in the world than what is absolutely necessary.

But those solutions weren’t finals. They were just weeks forces against the giant power of reproduction. Of course moral restraints would be not enough for such a immense power.

If we consider his scientific interpretation of data was right, and his eloquence admirable. What happened with the doomed view of future? I mean, the essay appeared in 1798 and we are still alive and not dying from hunger (at least, in this part of the world). I hardly say precipice of existence. What Malthus missed in his rigorous calculations? Beside poor data information, he missed an important aspect (here is the key): technology improvement. I prefer, the nonlinearities of the human behavior.

Industrial revolution started, and with it, new ways to produce far more food at cheaper prices. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, European agricultural productivity was no higher than twenty centuries earlier. But from 1700 to 1800, output per worker doubled in England. In France, despite the effects of revolution and war, output grew by roughly 25% between Malthus’s birth and the first edition of An Essay. Several innovation accounted for the leap, including crop rotation, seed selection, better tools, and de use of the horse instead of oxen, reducing plowing time by nearly 50%.

With that quantity of food, why did we not explode having more and more children? Why higher standard of living did not lead to Malthusian birth spiral? I believe the answer is simple: we changed too. More education and job goals persuade us to have fewer children. So we changed, and we changed in a way that was not seeing from the past. The importance of this is that, it can happen again. It surely will be.

Once in a While, we remember the poor Malthus:

  • 1970 Donella Meadows presented The Limits to Growth. In this book (to read) the data and trends predicted disaster within hundred years unless pre- ventatives were taken. Those preventatives were: immediately stop economic growth, stop population expansion, and recycle resources. They even propose, with hard data, that we are already living in a non sustainable way of life. We are living this way since 1980.
  • 1973 Robert McNamara, president of the World Bank, compared the population explosion to the threat of nuclear war. (Malthus surely would have used the nuclear term as positive check.)
  • 1974 Robert Heilbroner published An Inquiry into the Human Prospect in which he concluded that resources could not keep up with industrial demand.
  • 1980 the State Department and the Council on Environmental Quality released Global 2000 Report proclaiming : If present trends continue, the world in 2000 will be more crowded, more polluted, less stable ecologically, and more vulnerable to disruption than the world we live now.

Were those guys just the ghost of poor Malthus trying to gain popularity? Or are those threats really going to happen? (if they are already not happening) Let’s pray for not to.

Maybe more important than his doom prophecy, is his scientific approach (even him missed). In Malthus words:

The principal cause of error, and differences which prevail at present among the scientific writers on political economy, appears to me to be, a precipitate attempt to simplify and generalize…[and not to] sufficiently try their theories by a reference to that enlarged and comprehensive experience, which, on so complicated a subject, can alone establish their truth and utility.

Malthus has been wrong, for a while, and that’s good for us, for a while.