Saturday, May 15, 2010

Donut Prince Commercial

This is a great pro-marriage ad.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Inequality With Respect and Equal Access is OK

David Halpern, in The Hidden Wealth of Nations, reported on the Blair administration's attempts to improve the lot of the worst off in Britain by removing barriers to achievement. To the discomfort of the left, they discovered that removing barriers didn't do much to reduce inequality because many people at the bottom didn't want to seize more opportunities (and more work).

He also reports that most nations are not opposed to inequality, if they think the process that produced it is basically fair. This is true regardless of how unequal that nation's economic condition actually is.

So Halpern suggests a sensible centrist aim for government. The state should focus on fostering decency, mutual respect, and access to basic services, especially on the part of the state itself. The government should not put its main effort into eliminating inequality or poverty.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Monetizing Good Behavior Cheapens It

This is a point that I have been noticing from other studies of paying people for gifts, but was clarified for me by David Halpern in The Hidden Wealth of Nations.

The economy of regard is a vast gift exchange of labor, respect, and love. If we tried to reduce the many gifts that we give to family, friends, and fellow citizens to the cash economy, we would stop doing those good acts. The economy of regard runs on trust - the trust that in the not-too-long run, what you give will come back to you, and probably several-fold. The cash economy exists for those situations with low trust.

Yet trust is the foundation on which functional social life runs. We try to turn mere cash relations into personal relations all the time - which makes the cash relations work better. The hidden wealth of happy nations is trust. Reducing social relations to cash economies reduces the very social wealth that makes nations happy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Fear of Crime Shows Our Weak Social Ties

David Halpern, in The Hidden Wealth of Nations, directly addresses the culture of fear, which I think is what makes our politics irrational. He reports that Britons fear crime, immigration, and terrorism, even though crime is down, immigration is overwhelmingly positive, and terrorism is extremely rare. Americans share these fears. What these fears have in common is a fear of the Other all out of proportion to the actual threat. Halpern writes

“Fear of crime is … showing a mirror to ourselves – a glimpse into the hidden wealth or poverty of a nation.”

Nations that promote social connections and social trust are happier, calmer, less fearful. They also have less crime. And their discussion about crime, immigration, and terrorism can be conducted in a calmer, more proportionate way.

Fighting fear is not just rational, it actually makes the social order better.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Nations Unite on Social Values, The World Remains Diverse

I am continuing with David Halpern's The Hidden Wealth of Nations today.

Some globalization writers worry that countries are becoming all the same. Some writers on immigration worry that diversity will tear countries apart.

The opposite is happening, says Halpern. Using World Values Survey data, he says that, outside of a small globalized sector in many countries, nations are actually becoming more different from one another. And they are doing so by coming together around their common values - allaying the fears of those alarmed by immigration.

The hidden wealth of nations is the trust and connections that our social relations and shared standards of regard build up.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Economy of Regard

I am working through David Halpern's The Hidden Wealth of Nations. Halpern was a chief policy analyst for Tony Blair. He is starting from a problem I have written about several times recently - the disjunction between high levels of happiness and high levels of income in nations. His argument is that what really makes a nation happy, once its basic needs are met, are the giant web of relationships that we have with family, friends, and fellow citizens. These relations usually take the form of long circles of gift-giving, which more or less even out in the end. We do these things for others not for money, but for regard - our regard for them, and theirs for us.

The economy of regard, Halpern argues, is much larger than the economy of monetary exchange. Indeed, quite a bit of what we work for and buy is to give to others out of regard. Happy nations have a healthy economy of regard. Since we work much harder and better at measuring the economy of monetary exchange than we do at measuring the economy of regard, the major wealth of nations is hidden.