Saturday, September 24, 2011

Mystics envy

Why do physicists keep getting mystical on us? A review of "The Tao of physics".

"The Tao of Physics" took the world by storm over three decades ago, leading to a mini-industry of East-West mind-melds and tortured theories of grand spiritual unification. Has anything resulted from this, or changed? No, I don't think either physics or mysticism has changed in its wake, though perhaps our cultural recognition of the universality of certain psychological tropes has increased. I happened across this book recently, and thought it might make enjoyable reading.

Fritjof Capra gives very nice introductions to the physics of his day, and also capsule summaries of the major Eastern spiritual traditions, especially Hinduism, Buddhism, and the somewhat complementary Chinese systems of Confucianism and Taoism. His technique is generally to mash up the most mystical-sounding quotes from leading physicists with the most physics-sounding quotes from various mystics. Naturally, the questions each are grappling with have some resemblence, in that they are highly mystifying. And each are thinking about deep aspects of time, space, matter, and change. So the Buddhist Ashvaghosha is thought to have said:
"Be it clearly understood that space is nothing but a mode of particularization and that it has not real existence of its own ... Space exists only in relation to our particularizing consciousness."
What can one make of this? Probably something along the lines of mind-over-matter, perhaps an extreme Platonic sort of conception that "reality" doesn't exist outside our minds, and that with enough mind-power, we can fundamentally alter our relation to reality, even reality itself.

When placed within a discussion of Einstein's relativity, (as it is), this doesn't really make a great deal of sense. Einstein didn't dispute the existence of space, indeed he created a mathematical system of unprecedented accuracy to describe it and its relations to time, light, and gravity. The nature of space in modern physics is certainly odd, since it serves as the matrix for gravitation's effects, and generates virtual particles all the time, especially in the vicinity of condensed forms of energy that are regular particles. There is far more to the nature of space than we currently appreciate.

So there is no denying that space is a strange beast, (among much else in the phantasmagoria of fundamental physics), but whether the mystics understand anything about it, rather than offering empty riddles, and perhaps taking some ultimately subjective view of all forms of reality in relation to their personal voyages of meditation ... is, frankly, doubtful. And so it goes through the book.

A typical problem is the enormously different standards of evidence demanded of the two fields. The mystics have only to make bald and piquant assertions (hopefully also agreeing with each other on some vague metaphorical plane) to be taken seriously. In contrast, physics hews to an empirical standard where theories can actually fail. For example, in the epilog, Capra bemoans that lack of unified theory of relativity and quantum phenomena, which continues to this day:
"At present there are two different kinds of 'quantum-relativistic' theories in particle physics that have been successful in different areas. ... A major problem that is still unsolved is the unification of quantum theory and general relativity ino a quantum theory of gravity. Although the recent development of 'supergravity' theories may represent a step towards solving this problem, no satisfactory theory has been found so far."

That is a remarkable statement that no mystic would ever make. Do we have a thorough understanding of reincarnation? Has it been "solved"? How could we ever tell? With such imaginary, ethereal ideas, it would be simply impolite to press for details or evidence.

Yet Capra has previously in the book pushed the analogy far, far beyond the breaking point:
"Anybody who wants to repeat an experiment in modern subatomic physics has to undergo many years of training. Only then will he or she be able to ask nature a specific question through the experiment and to understand the answer. Similarly, a deep mystical experience requires, generally, many years of training under an experienced master and, as in the scientific training, the dedicated time does not alone guarantee success. If the student is successful, however, he or she will be able to 'repeat the experiment'. The repeatability of the experience is, in fact, essential to every mystical training and is the very aim of the mystic's spiritual instruction."

But just what is being experienced here, what experimented with, and what found? These journeys are introspective, finding things that are already there, indeed finding mental contents and instructions in large part put there by the culture and the teachers. While the traditions may generate and carry great social and psychological wisdom from this focus on the mind, they are on a great navel-gazing merry-go-round that could not possibly develop insights into physics and cosmology. They are humanistic disciplines all the way down.

Most unfortunately, Capra spends the climactic chapters on a theory of the constituents of protons/neutrons, called S-matrix theory, which has since been carted off to the scap heap of failed science. It has been replaced by the quark theory, with its gluons and very well-worked out chromodynamics. This wasn't just a scientific blind alley, but also a mystical one, since S-matrix theory denied the very existence of particles like quarks, and led to inflated claims of consciousness being the royal road to conjuring the particles themselves:
"Such a theory of subatomic particles reflects the impossibility of separating the scientific observer from the observed phenomena, which has already been discussed in connection with quantum theory, in its most extreme form. It implies, ultimately, that the structures and phenomena we observe in nature are nothing but creations of our measuring and categorizing mind."

Note the subtle switch from the structures of phenomena, which may very well be functions of how we look at them, to the phenomena themselves. He goes on.. "The Eastern mystics tell us again and again that all things and events we perceive are creations of the mind, arising from a particular state of consciousness and dissolving again if this state is transcended."

And there is the basic problem, since if we know anything, (which itself is not a certainty, indeed, but what else do we have?), it is that we are not a dream and the world is real, both in its capacity to afflict us and in its vast beauty. Transcending it is a pipe dream, while escaping it is all too easy, through such means as drugs, meditation, philosophical day-dreaming, or death. Intellectual adventures are laudible, but only give us the reward of truth if they are disciplined by the usual mundane attention to logic and evidence.

  • Roubini lays down the law on what must be done.
  • An essay in religious guilt.
  • Community decay is part of the middle class decline.
  • Obama- change ain't coming from the top.
  • Granholm on our public policy decline.
  • Cartoons become reality: "... detonating an explosive device that was hidden in his turban."
  • On licensing shoplifting.
  • Economics quote of the week, from Bill Mitchell:
"... why the hell is the ECB prepared to bail out banks but not countries – with what are effectively unlimited low-cost loans? Similarly, why is the US Federal Reserve prepared to proved unlimited US dollar credit lines to Europe with no firm collateral? The words 'appease elites' creep in when I wonder about those questions and 'damn the unemployed'."
"Who is benefiting? In each of the nations which have engineered a major redistribution of national income away from wages towards profits, it is the elites who have usurped what growth has been achieved."
  • Economics graph of the week, from Fed data:
Morning in America- consumer debt started to rise (light line),
and assets fall (dark line), in the early 1980s.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Meme War

Reflections on a lost decade.

I am reluctant to add my drop to the flood of 9/11 commentary, but an article by George Packer got me thinking:
"The attacks of 9/11 were the biggest surprise in American history, and for the past ten years, we haven't stopped being surprised. The war on terror has had no discernible trajectory, and, unlike other military conflicts, it's almost impossible to define victory. You can't document the war's progress on a world map or chart it on a historical timetable in a way that makes any sense. A country used to a feeling of command and control has been whipsawed into a state of perpetual reaction, swinging wildly between passive fear and fevered, often thoughtless, activity, ata high cost to its self-confidence."
We used to fight wars of territory, or at least principle. But now we are in a psychological war of unusual depth and complexity. The "clash of civilizations" formulation is too grandiose, while the "war on terror" alternative is both vague, as noted by Packer, and solipsistic, as though we were making war on hobgoblins and nightmares.

Yes, some of us were terrorized. Many were and remain hurt. And yes, we reacted shamefully and stupidly. It is a story of a power bestriding the world after the collapse of its conventional adversaries, only to face internal strife, complacency, and needling from Lilliputian adversaries.

As the title indicates, I'd suggest that the meme concept is well-suited to this challenge. The militant Islamists may be few in number, but their approach has a long history, and enjoys many levels of cultural support. The ideological conflict is extremly deep-seated, with the US and Islam each drenched in world-historical missions with presumptions of purity and superiority.

The conflict is most pointed with Islam-centric countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan; by turns resentful, hot-headed, duplicitous, bigoted, and mortified by their systemic weaknesses, including, except for the oil countries, poverty. Islam's global culture has long taken a back seat to the West, exchanging its status of colonizing foreign lands (like India) with the experience of being colonized. The West is now headed by the US's military, economic, and cultural dominance, and Islamic culture responded by becomming passive-aggressive; first against the Western outpost of Israel, and more recently against the US directly.

The broad culture proclaims Islam to be a religion of peace, even while jihad is spelled out with great specificity, and its bequest of a shrunken world empire is a matter of identity and pride. Revanchist mullahs preach of renewed dominance and empire, were their listeners only dedicated and pure enough in their religious devotion.

As Mao taught, revolutionaries swim in the river of the people. We may kill every member of Al Qaeda, but militant Islamism will go on, fed by an unending stream of fodder from the madrassas of Pakistan, taught by the Wahhabi mullahs of Saudi Arabia. It is a battle of ideas / ideologies / memes, far more than a battle of individuals or nations. An ideology that can routinely employ suicide bombers is more than a tactical adversary- it is the fruit of a much larger cultural tree.

Some of the meme dimensions that come to mind:

Power- Next to group identity, worship of power is one of humanity's very worst traits. The irony of Islamists complaining about the overweaning power of the US, while at the same time dancing over every victory of their own with pronouncements that the US is a paper tiger to be shortly swept into the dustbin of history, is pathetic, but not unprecedented. What are they talking about? They are talking about power.

Islam is more power-hungry and power-conscious than most religions, with a bloody political militarism in its scriptures and early history. One of its deepest cultural failings is that power is respected more than principle, implicitly legitimating one despotism after another. But the culture draws the line at infidels, who should never rule over Muslims, however powerful. Worship of power neatly takes second place to group identity.

But worship of power makes its absence felt so much more keenly, activating the deepest memes of honor and group in a quest for dominance, even when hopeless. Why aren't other small and weak countries chafing under the US thumb, like, say, Norway, or Gabon? Perhaps because they are not as power-obsessed and ideologically resentful in dreams of past & future glory.

Religion- While religion is the thread woven throughout this conflict, both explicitly and implicitly, the problem is not confined to crazy theologies and believers who are more or less devoted to wholly imaginary saviors, eschatologies, and prophecies. No, the specifics are more or less changeable memes- the Balkans exhibited the same fusion of group and religion but diversified among Catholicism, Islam, and Orthodox Christianity. The problem is how base human traits are egged on in a systematic way by the cultural structures of Islam- how its Arab inheritance of bigotry and honor re-expresses itself so persistently.

Compare Islam with Christianity and Buddhism, which together form a sort of spectrum of decreasingly violent religions. Each has its mystical, pacifist elements. The Sufis have done yoeman's work in reinterpreting Islam in pacifist, introspective ways, and are reviled for it. In contrast, mystical introspection forms the main path of Buddhism, with its occasional violence and other defects very much the exception. Christianity lies at the center, with a great profusion of both liberal and militaristic elements, drawing from a central wellspring of heavily conflicted teachings, combining some pacifism and positive ethics with a great deal of hellfire in both testaments, and power & war major themes in the old testament.

Democracy & Progress- Do they "hate us for our freedoms"? In way, yes, since the dominant power is free in a way that no lesser power is. We are free to bludgeon Islamic countries, while they are not free to do the reverse. Freedom and power are intimately entwined.

This contrast contributes to the many conspiricy theories that abound in the Islamic world, ascribing all manner of hidden influence to the US, even though the facts of the matter show that when we do consciously exert our power, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, that power is a shockingly blunt instrument.

At any rate, there is more to US influence than pure power, and this is where our ideology of democracy, freedom, and progress comes into play. These memes are central to the "hearts and minds" operation by which the meme war will really be won or lost. The legitimacy of US power abroad hinges not on how much ammunition we have, but whether we truly support the interests and self-determination of other peoples. Most people want democracy, and though squaring democracy with Islam can be a challenge, Islamic countries such as Turkey show that democracy and progress in economic, human rights, and civic spheres go hand in hand.

So my take on the war is that the tide turned not with the death of OBL, but with the Arab spring and its thorough coverage on Al Jazeera. This showed the way forward for the Islamic world at large, under their own power, with the mostly helpful, and occasionally decisive, influence of the US in the background. Clearly, our next step should be to put Palestine on the same road to self-government and independence.

One hesitates to say it, but the more or less stable conclusions to the horrors of Iraq and Afghanistan are in some measure consistent with G. W. Bush's instinct to "shake things up" in the Middle East, though whether he retarded or speeded regional progress is hard to say. Perhaps our bravura show of incompetence disabused Muslim onlookers and especially intellectuals about the external origins of their various travails.

Consumerism- Along with all the positive memes from the West, of better political systems that fulfill Islamic goals even better than the Islamic formula does on its own, (i.e. more organized and legitimate ways to select leaders, leading to peaceful and effective government), is the more insidious influence of Western consumerism. The TV shows, the prosperity, the shameless commercialism and greed. All this is highly conflicting when viewed from the other end. People do individually want to live better, with more goods, education, and sanitary conditions. But do they have to give up their souls to get there?

Western consumerism is rather intensely anti-spiritual, not to mention amoral. It breaks down barriers of taste, propriety, and tradition. The spiritual equanimity and community of Islam is put at risk by its advance. Muslims look at the spiritual corruption of the Saudi royals, and must be deeply disturbed. This has the power to undo the political logic/meme of democracy in the balance of Western influence, or at least to inspire persistent and principled opposition.

Unfortunately, consumerism is such a natural and emergent property of democratic systems and their allied prosperity that there is little we can do to separate them or cancel one half of the equation. The best we can probably do is to tend to our own hearths and try not to lose sight of point of a free economic system, which is to afford useful work and decent living conditions to all its citizens, and in that way (if we are successful) to continue providing a positive cultural path, warts and all.

"The evil cycle of neo-liberalism is circular – the ideology inflicts damage which is then explained by there not being enough damage which then leads to policies which cause further damage which then is rationalised …. and so it goes. "
  • Economics graph of the week, from Paul Krugman's blog:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How much inequality?

What is the optimal setting for economic inequality in a society?

Many utopias have foundered on the dream of egalitarianism. Communism promised equality, yet delivered the ultimate inequality- despotism. Nevertheless, we keep dreaming of egalitarian systems, because we originated in substantially egalitarian societies of the family, band, and tribe that predated the unimaginably vast forms of wealth and power possible today. People owned little more than they could carry, and relied on social networks within a very small hierarchy for insurance against their various reverses and calamities.

In the primitive setting, some social hierarchy is natural, though quite variable. Some cultures practiced matriarchy, and few could (or wished to) support chiefs or kings in any kind of lavish style. In Afghanistan today, the rural Pashtun culture carries on the typical practices of tribe / small-group leadership, which break up and coalesce continuously, along with exemplary hospitality, strong codes of honor, intense male domination, and uniformly impoverished conditions.

So our natural setting seems to be some relatively modest degree of inequality, little of which was economic, rather taking political and social forms. The diversity of primitive power systems is an indication of the various human temperaments and psychologies that will have great difficulty agreeing on a single optimal system in a huge culture such as our own. Thus we have constant debate, if not warfare, over visions of how much hierarchy, how much differentiation of power, how much inequality, is best.

The advent of democracy, equality before the law, human rights, and similar ideas dramatically curtailed the scope of raw social/political power. This enlightenment complex of ideas has been an enormous step up in our level of civilization, (if one favors egalitarianism), and perhaps in some way back towards our native state, as expressed in the formulation of "natural" rights. One wonders sometimes why libertarians, tea partiers, and other denizens of the far right don't frankly fight as much for inequality and freedom on the legal and political planes as they do so vociferously on the economic plane. For a return, in essence, to the Darwinian struggle in all its bloody dimensions.

The economic dimension remains the main battlefield of class and power, with inequality possible to levels undreamed of in any other aspect of social relations, outside the few remaining political dictatorships. Concentrations of economic power have grown immeasurably with the advent of storable wealth, with individuals amassing wealth equivalent to the GDP of small countries.

In primitive societies, great wealth creates obligations to share and distribute, it being generally perishable. In our society, wealth can be held indefinitely and compounded infinitely. Our current crisis is characterized by an unwillingness to spend, despite the  availability of veritable oceans of money (in corporations, in banks, and amongst the wealthy). The poor and middle class have lost spending power as they have lost income, employment, and credit, so this crisis, (if one views high unemployment and stagnant economic activity as a crisis), is fundamentally related to the unequal distribution of wealth and income.

Left to its own devices, the capitalist system creates ever greater inequality. Outside of boom times, such as during World War 2, there is always an army of unemployed that lowers wages. As living standards at the bottom are maintained at a minimal level to forestall riots, the political system is engineered to preserve the position of property and wealth, and the corporate system is turned into a club of cronies. This story has been repeated in countries all over the world, as the gains from technology and economic development have flowed into the pockets of the few.

This process is generally corrosive. Do the rich in the US sponsor great philanthropies and public works? The short answer is no- the greatest concentrations of wealth are captured by the financial elite who are the most psychopathically immoral and greedy of all. The accumulation of wealth has finally, in our specialized and advanced age, been severed from practically any human or civic virtue, so that its benefits lie sterile, behind gated compounds and in the clutches of people whose greatest ambition is to cheat the government of a few more pennies.

If they fail to invest their wealth in new enterprises- in the grand cycle of capitalism- then we may wait a very long time indeed for deliverance if we rely on the the invisible hand alone, in the current crisis.

Yet inequality remains the engine of capitalism, from the basic market proposition of finding the best deal, to the channelling of labor into the most productuve pursuits and the destruction of poorly run companies. Hayek was certainly correct that market mechanisms process some economic information far more efficiently and subtly than any explicit control mechanism could hope to. Inequality, even greed, is the invisible hand behind a good deal of what we see as excellence, efficiency and innovation.

But how much is enough? It is in some ways a psychological question- how much and what kinds of motivation do the various participants need to create that vibrant economy? I think psychology tells us that much less motivation in the form of money would suffice. Does a CEO need millions in compensation if she already has the reward of having scaled the ladder of success and gathered enormous corporate power? Not really. Only in the crony-ridden closet of executive compensation is it necessary (and possible) to embezzle vast sums from the shareholders in order to satisfy one's status aspirations vs the other CEOs on the block.

Other cultures have shown the way, such as Japan, the Scandinavian countries, and indeed the US of the 50's and 60's. In each case, either social norms or government policies such as high taxation keeps economic inequality much lower than it is in the US. Since social norms in the US are hopelessly out of whack, we need changes elsewhere to reign in economic inequality, and particularly to encourage accumulated wealth back into circulation where it can create jobs and generate income in a more egalitarian society.

For instance, I have suggested 100% estate taxation, and would also recommend a wide-spread financial transaction tax, in addition to more progressive taxation of income and reform of private retirement systems. The point is not to penalize anyone, but to counteract the corrosive wealth-concentrating effects of laissez-faire- one more effect among its many, many other defects that need to be regulated for the common good. For example, the financial industry generates diminishing, indeed negative, returns to general economic wellbeing the larger it gets, and especially the more "innovative" it gets. It needs to be reigned in substantially.

What about the bottom of the ladder? How much monetary motivation and thus inequality is required there? Clearly, economic motivation is essential to drive most people to take jobs and perform whatever services society deems useful. Left to their own devices, most people would pursue other interests of perhaps more cultural significance, (blogging?), but rarely of economic significance. The communists substituted, for the lash of economic necessity, raw state power, which turned out not to be much of an advance.

So conservatives are certainly correct that there is a risk to excessive egalitarianism / socialism which grants benefits to all without some mechanism of bending each person to common duties (i.e. the risk of free-riding). But there are significant caveats. First is to those who are not productive in any case, like the young. In a well-run society, children would be generously supported with public goods like health care, parks, day care, cultural enrichment, and free education to the highest levels. The point would be to work with parents to develop the most well-educated citizens, workers, artists ... persons, without reference to family income and class.

A second important caveat is that running the macro-economic system properly is a central job of the state. It is pointless as well as cruel to apply the lash of unemployment and poverty when there are no jobs to be had. Keynes and his school showed (and continue to show, in the economies cited above) that unemployment is a political matter that the state can remedy when it wishes. The fact that we have fallen into a period of learned helplessness in the US speaks to how thoroughly our putative democracy has been taken over by a callous ideology of capital at the expense of workers.

Specifically, in order to restore overall economic activity and thus jobs, the state needs to direct money from its various inert forms (savings, bank reserves, the Federal power to create money) to the lower end of the economic ladder, by whatever means necessary- conservation corps, public works, payroll tax holidays, helicopter drops, whatever.

In the end, both economic efficiency and morality argue for greater economic equality than we observe in the US today, though certainly not perfect equality. The most sclerotic economies around the world are the most unequal, with small coteries of the powerful feathering their own nests while the majority beg for crumbs. The most vibrant economies, like those of Northern Europe, are far more egalitarian, with high living standards across the board, high cultural attainment, and high happiness into the bargain.

We can do it. This is not rocket science. We can turn another page in humanity's ascent from Darwinism to civilization. We can find and maintain a middle way- a prosperous and humane way- between communism and plutocracy.

  • A discussion of inequality and the withering middle class.
  • The spiritual work of being out of work.
  • Those super-paid American managers ... aren't that good, either.
  • Who matters, in Washington?
  • Stiglitz on our fatal 9/11 over-reaction.
  • Krugman on exactly how not-big-enough the stimulus was. (Several trillion)
  • Interesting notes on gold and gold-like monetary systems.
  • "... protests are not approved in Islam no matter what injustices the ruler commits."
  • Europe, melting down.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Better Business

A new form of business incorporation offers a ray of hope amid the moral darkness.

The limited liability corporation has become an institution of enormous importance. One aspect to appreciate about it is its steadfastly secular nature, organized to make money and little else. Corporations have occupied and expanded the secular space of Western culture, and many imagine that it may do the same in other corners of the world currently under the sway of religous or state ideologies.

A second positive aspect of the corporation is its standing refutation of Chicago-style economic theory. If everyone had perfect knowledge of economic circumstances, and acted in perfect self-interest, then why would we need the apparatus of the corporation? Instead we might have a perfectly free-lance world were workers and capitalists enter into voluntary contracts for each desired task, priced by a perfect market and renegotiated continuously, while each party serves its self-interest perfectly by serving the interest of the other with perfect fidelity. Not realistic? No indeed, thus corporations arose to organize labor on an explicitly non-market basis (i.e. by direct management) so that actual and complex productive activity could take place without the inefficiencies of the market.

Lastly, the corporation has been an important promoter of personal freedom, especially the freedom of capitalists (we'll call them entrepreneurs!) to generate new enterprises, new goods, and forms of productive activity outside state control. The freedom of employees has been less enthusiastically advanced, but depending on the state of the labor market and the diversity of the corporate landscape, workers may have freedom at least to choose among employers, and can exercise some power and gain a significant share of the benefits of this organizational form. At any rate, better that some be free than none.

On the other hand, with the rising importance of the corporation as the scope of productive activity that needs to be shielded from markets grows in complexity, and as individual corporations have grown, numerous flaws have become apparent. One is that corporations have no morals. Their only admissible ultimate goal is to make money, and (formally at least) to obey the law. While it is helpful in many ways to have such philosophical clarity, it also sentences the majority of the population to spend the majority of their waking hours in the bulk of their most productive years in what are often soul-crushing conditions, dedicated to bilking their fellow-citizens of a few dollars by whatever means human imagination can devise, in a never-ending rite propitating Mammon.

A second flaw is that corporations are not properly separated from the state, but rather control enormous pots of money that have been allowed to seep into the political system, buying the ear of the electorate, buying the personal loyalty of leaders, and buying legislation directly. While pure democracy has its problems, and all associations of citizens deserve a hearing in the public square, the combination of amorality and vast wealth with political influence has created a toxic imbalance in the political system, where vast swaths of the citizenry are effectively disenfranchised, both of their intellectual / media atmosphere, and of their vote.

And corporate money doesn't even represent the corporation as a whole- most certainly not its workers- but typically the cozy self-serving ideologies of its management, who have captured, as they have so many other fruits of corporate existence, the political power inherent in the corporation's concentration of wealth.

In some respects, it was ever thus, from our founding by the most wealthy planters, slaveholders, and financiers of the English colonies. Nevertheless, as we have advanced from our founding state in such other matters as slavery, and as the corporation has gained truly prodigious roles in our culture and government, not to mention ever-increasing legal rights of personhood, it is time to give the corporate charter a rethink.

Thus I am happy that my state representative, Jared Huffman, has offered legislation for California to authorise a form of incorporation that restores some small amount of moral sanity to the concept- the benefit corporation. This corporate form has been set up in several other states- California is not plowing new ground- and exists in the continuum from non-profit corporations and public benefit corporations, (like port authorities and other municipal bodies), to mutual benefit corporations (membership organizations, like country clubs, that may be profitable) to the full-out for-profit corporation.

The distinction from the latter is that a benefit corporation can't necessarily be sued for not maximizing profits. It can adopt binding obligations to other goals, such as fair treatment of employees, the environment, or its customers, in addition to making profits and paying taxes. Thus a company like, say, Google, would not have to rely on a putative corporate culture of "don't be evil" to withstand the pressures of the marketplace and the ire of its shareholders, but could write social obligations of various kinds into its charter of incorporation that are equally binding as the profit motive.

Granted, this is a small step. But it recognizes that corporations are the gorrillas of our culture. If they must be legal people, then at least they should be allowed the possibility of being moral people. As we have recognized that Darwinian evolution is not solely the province of rapine and slaughter, but also of social morals and altruism, so we may eventually evolve the corporation into a responsible social entity, by demanding through the competitive market as well as other avenues that it encode moral tendencies a little more deeply.

"And when a major recession comes along Barro and Co explain this by millions of workers making the same calculation together – that leisure is preferred and so they quit. All at the same time."
  • And.. Maynard Keynes, 1936, from Skidelski's "Return of the Master":
"If nations can learn to provide themselves with full employment by their domestic policy ... there would no longer be a pressing motive why one coungtry needs to force its wares on another or repulse the offerings of its neighbor ... with the express object of upsetting the equilibrium of payments so as to develop a balance of trade in its own favour. International trade would cease to be what it is, namely a desperate expedient to maintain employment at home by forcing sales on foreign markets and restricting purchases which, if successful, will merely shift the problem of unemployment to the neighbor which is worsted in the struggle, but a willing and unimpeded exchange of goods and services in conditions of mutual advantage."