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April 09, 2018


Luis Enrique

I don't think I have ever encountered an economist who thinks "preferences are just given", as opposed to socialised (at least in great part). The ethical implications are tricky but granting yourself the licence to decide that people's preferences are a bad guide to their interests strikes me a dangerous territory.

I don't quite understand the last part of this blog. Wouldn't Sen's deprived person, content thought they may be, still prefer to be less poor, exploited, overworked, and ill? Is Sen really saying that the impact on this person's welfare from "giving them anything" is zero because they are satisfied by their lot?

IMO this all just reinforces my belief that crude utilitarianism with diminishing marginal utility of consumption is the least bad approach to welfare economics. If you start from there, you don't get into any silliness like saying, we should help this unhappy rich person more than this content poor person.


I can't believe I'm living in a moment in which a bunch of khaki-trousered nerds on the internet have decided they're Nature's truest and most legitimate predators, and that everyone else (especially icky girls) has to be formally prevented from stealing their authority. It's amazing. But I'm probably only angry about it because I haven't had any recent contact with an infant, I suppose. (FYI, contact with an infant is likely to make you more angry, not less. And also exhausted.)

I think the idea with the satisfied poor person is that people can become such slaves to their cultural context that they become untrustworthy reporters of their own misery. I think this is true, actually; people will actively fuck themselves over to maintain compliance with narratives about religion, or staying/getting married, or having kids, or keeping a "good" job that destroys them so they can maintain or further acquire a mountain of consumer debt. I think the suggestion is that we shouldn't rely on self-reporting in these cases, where some Catholic lunatic might refuse birth control despite recently having a 15th baby they can't feed, but on an assessment of people's material circumstances (just as we rely on laws and ideals about equality when it comes to public policy, rather than the arbitrary, reactionary ideas of any given person or population).

Which somehow turns into a value-judgement about the utility of democracy for people so heavily socialized against economic justice that they perpetually vote against their own interests.* Except that democracy is a contingent social construct as much as a terrible political opinion is, and I haven't seen any better system yet devised by Nature's prime predators.

*I distinctly remember multiple posts on this very blog about that very phenomenon, which stipulate that "research" supports the idea that people don't vote *against* their own interests specifically, but *for* what they imagine to be society's best interests. Which means that Marxists just need a better propaganda machine and more cultural clout, so they can convince all the dumb people that Marxism is the actual cure for what ails them. Rather than Jesus, a return to the norms of the 1950s, or khaki trousers.


Its odd that whenever people make choices that the Left don't like then those choices are declared 'invalid' as the result of 'social pressures', yet choices people make in favour of things the Left approve of are always totally valid and not to be in any way gainsaid.


You could have at least mentioned the Scandanavian thing....

Handy Mike

My own, rather snarky phrasing "maybe there are some other 'examples' you could look at that might tell against the idea that preferences are socialised." was too crude.

I should have asked for examples showing that preferences and other dispositions relevant to the reported 'gender pay gap' are driven more by socialisation than by innate factors.

And not just examples, but some sense of the balance of such findings on the issue, instead of call-outs to a few links that sort-of align with the point you wanted to make.

But, cheap BTL snark notwithstanding, that was obviously the critical point to answer from the previous post, and I can't see how the examples in this follow-up post do answer it.

Nick Drew

You've given a pretty comprehensive list of relevant factors that make the issue(s) complex (including the last difficult point on democracy: we've always known the parents of chimney-sweeps would have voted to allow them to continue that employment, and colliers to fill their lungs with coal dust)

But you haven't followed the logic all the way.

(1) If socialisation is a major factor in defining preferences, the society in question will tend to select for excellence in the 'socialised' desideratum (e.g. "girly behaviour"), which over time will lead, Darwin-wise, to genetically-based (/reinforced) "girly behaviour" - a classic positive feedback loop. This muddies the waters still further

Going back still further along the causal chain ...

(2) ... I take it nobody disagrees that there is a significant natural disparity in physical attributes (e.g. upper body strength), on average, beween men and women (primarily a matter of testosterone). If outright hormonal differences cause clear, significant physical differences (and why wouldn't they?), then unless you wish to assert a very strong form of Cartesian dualism - i.e. that the mind etc is completely, metaphysically different stuff to the body - why shouldn't hormonal / physical differences lead to preferential differences that, (even if also reinforced by socialisation) have their root cause in purely physical, "innate" factors?

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