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Suffering? Well, You Deserve It

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Posted on Mar 2, 2014

By Chris Hedges

(Page 3)

“One of the unresolved issues in social science is how does the system hold together,” he said. “We have the economic model of the invisible hand, the miracle of the market, but we know it is not true, since government allocates up to 50 percent of output and income. We don’t actually rely on the ‘free’ market for our prosperity. Even the market sector is mostly dominated by entities with large market power.”

“We have this model that we are all selfish and somehow this generates the miracle of cooperation,” he said. “But equilibrium is only a truism for the well-off. There is money in the bank. The car is in the drive. The shops are full. The semesters follow each other. There is an overseas conference. The world seems to be OK. But if you look the other way, look at these other people, there is a world of hardship, misery and suffering. These suffering people are not always visible to invisible-hand advocates.”

“Experimental economics has, in fact, demonstrated that when people are placed in experimental situations they do not behave as individualistic maximizers,” he went on. “Some of them do. Some of them do not.”

Adam Smith,” he noted, “wrote that what drives us is not, in the end, individual selfishness but reciprocal obligation. We care about other people’s good opinions. This generates a reciprocal cycle. Reciprocity is not altruistic. That part of the economic core doctrine is preserved. But if we depend on other people for our self-worth then we are not truly self-sufficient. We depend on the sympathy of others for our own well-being. Therefore, obligation to others means that we do not always seek to maximize economic advantage. Intrinsic motivations, such as obligation, compassion and public spirit, crowd out financial ones. This model can also motivate a different type of political and economic aspiration.”

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“The free market norm assumes a frictionless exchange which maximizes everyone’s well-being,” he said. “The existence of ... coercive instruments, such as the prisons and the enormous military, makes you think that the theory is not all it is purported to be. There is a gap between what it pretends to be and what it is.”

Offer said that universities, which should be incubators of new and radical ideas, are being stripped of their ability to independently critique the widening gap between reality and the false models of reality that are disseminated by the elites. 

“The kind of willfulness with which I can talk to you now is not guaranteed for future scholars,” he said. “The academic system has discovered it is no longer necessary to provide tenure. This system is fraying. And this is deliberate. This independence is a source of trouble. When Stalin carried out his purges he purged the best and the brightest. These were an alternative source of power. And I think there is a sense in government and business that there is too much independence in academia. We need to be put in our place. The spirit of free inquiry, free expression, and to some extent free teaching, and communality is alien to the corporate and political culture, which are repressive hierarchies.”

Those academics who deviate from the central core doctrines, including in economics, are finding themselves defunded. Oversight committees impose quotas on academics and insist that the work conform to what they call disciplinary norms.

“The golden age of the university was in the postwar years, especially in the 1960s,” Offer said. “You saw great expansion. The university thrived under the auspices of the Cold War. But once the Cold War imperative disappears it is no longer as vital to maintain national capacity. Universities could be privatized.”

“The idea of the autonomous scholar is disappearing,” he said. “I am not sure many people even remember it.”


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