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Friday, January 2, 2009

Bad Economics as Disturbing Performance Art

The power of art lies in its reduction of complex abstractions to the perceptual level. For example, a sculpture of a strong, intelligent man represents the metaphysical value judgment of the artist that man is efficacious in an intelligible universe. Holding a wide abstraction in his immediate perceptual awareness is powerfully necessary to a conceptual consciousness. Just as fine art reduces complex abstractions to percepts, there are everyday perceptual level experiences that can concretize economic and political abstractions although it does not really constitute art since it is not a selective re-creation of reality - it is reality. However, such processes can still serve a similiar function in terms of giving us a simpler form with which to hold a more complex idea.

For example, if one were to drive on I-95 in southern Florida, one would witness hundreds of miles of decrepit, potholed concrete, suddenly shifting curves awkwardly designed to avoid construction, lack of lane delineations, idled equipment, traffic jams, and frequent breakdowns and deadly car accidents. Such an experience enables one to hold in his perceptual field the following abstraction: government intervention in the economy. In other words, in a cursory glance one can perceive the destruction, inefficiency, and suffering that results from state intervention in the marketplace . The same abstraction can be concretized by observing a public housing project, a public school, public transportation, etc. In fact, I submit that all of I-95 in southern Florida be regarded as a work of naturalistic performance art dedicated to the theme of capitalism vs. socialism or life vs. death.


Monica said...

It doesn't seem that obvious to me that our road conditions are a manifestation of socialism. I think most government interference is very evident, though, for rational people who know about any given industry.

For example, at Thanksgiving we were talking to another fellow about the evils of the FAA. The problems with FAA don't seem very evident to me, but he convinced me at the end of the conversation that planes would be much cheaper and much better made without the FAA. It was completely shocking, actually.

Education is pretty obvious. The IRS is pretty obvious. But other agencies, not so much. People don't think of the USDA as too troublesome, for instance, but based on what I've been able to learn, it's woefully corrupt and has an enormous (and often negative) influence over our food supply.

Practically every government agency is like this. Seemingly good on the outside (how would survive without agency X?) but rotten at the core. It's just a matter of showing it to people and getting them to accept it.

Galileo Blogs said...

Nice analogy. Every day I find examples of "performance art" that shows the evil of government intervention. Some are more obvious than others. The ability to see it is simply a function of one's philosophical and economic knowledge. As an Objectivist with a fair degree of understanding of economics, nearly every thing I see can be an example of it. Moreover, as a resident of New York City, I am bombarded by this "art" every day. To mention a few, random examples:

* A large, empty bus goes by that has one "handicapped" passenger in it. It is a heavily subsidized or free taxi service for the handicapped.

* A public housing project in a choice location in Manhattan with a parking lot. Its residents get free or low-cost parking. Presumably, they are poor, which is why they live in public housing, but they are presumed to have cars! This is in a city where private parking typically costs $500 per month, and is taxed at 18% on top of that.

* Young men walking around the city during the day with walking sticks. Most of these are able-bodied men who are scamming the city for "disability" payments. Undoubtedly, they have been told that they must never be seen without their cane or they could lose their benefits. Those canes also serve as useful weapons to fight people with.

* Garbage crews that can complete their shifts in under 4 hours, and yet earn over-time on a regular basis. (I learned this "secret" from a garbage man I happened to speak to once.)

* Public school students who display such obvious ignorant stupidity when they leave their classes in the afternoon. Imagine that these people are the future workers, and often just welfare recipients, that will populate the city.

* Community activist busybodies that stop the construction of:
--tall buildings
--and demand that ever-more parks be built, including some that turn abandoned industrial property into permanent "art" junk piles (e.g.: new park on West Side of Manhattan)

* Sundry pipsqueak community "charities" that clamor for and receive perpetually larger "grants" from the City Council. These grants essentially buy votes for the council members from the thankful members of these charities. Often, no accountability at all is required from these groups, which are often started by relatives or friends of council members. They pay themselves salaries but often supply no financial statements.

* The skyline of New York. If you look closely at it, you will see many ziggurat or "wedding cake" shaped buildings. These are tortured, short buildings, sometimes adjacent to taller, straight ones. They are the result of zoning laws that ban height for the alleged purpose of preserving "light and air" for the city. Instead, all they do is make those parts of the city dark and dreary. Go to the garment district in Manhattan to see what I mean.

Every day I see these signs, but that is why the rare sight of a tall, straight building is incredibly inspiring to me. I don't think about what political pull it took to make it, nor how utterly excessive the costs of acquiring land and "air rights" were (both of these a consequence of restrictive zoning laws, the latter solely a creature of zoning).

Instead, I simply look at the skyscraper and enjoy the sight of greatness. That is what New York means to me. All the rest is the gooey muck that tries to stop the ascent of man, but in the end, they cannot stop that ascent, even if for a particular time and place they are temporarily successful.

The Rat Cap said...

Thanks for the comments.

I guess another way to think about this is just to imagine painting a real life image that represents the essence of socialism. I submitted the I-95 example. Galileo Blogs, your example of the young men with walking sticks killed me. That's got to take the prize.

Monica, I am creating a new post to address one of your comments.

Thanks again!

Monica said...

Great! Can't wait to read it... just FYI, I didn't mean to suggest that the philosophical angle isn't important. But that people can often be reached philosophically on via the pragmatic arguments.