Oct 12, 2017

Razer: the three kinds of therapy we self-apply to make sense of this world

The first two are essentially quick-fix drugs or peppy self-help. Only the third has the power to heal and instruct over the long term.

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

There are three kinds of therapy our minds tend to apply to life as it is lived in our era. (Well, four if we don’t count binge-watching crime TV where bluish corpses are so grim and several, we think, “Well. Things could be a whole lot worse.” Unless it’s only me who does this on Sundays?)

The first is to take a Steven Pinker or Bill Gates or World Bank type hallucinogen, which allows us to view endless war as peace, wealth accumulation by a few as “billions being lifted out of poverty!” and private financial institutions being really awesome places that just want to, you know, help little ladies, or whoever. See also the cruder antidepressant of a Tony Abbott that allows climate change, if it even exists, to be not a bad thing, but more like free heating for the poor.

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29 thoughts on “Razer: the three kinds of therapy we self-apply to make sense of this world

  1. Rebecca

    I’m feeling better already. Thank you, Helen.

    1. Helen Razer

      I aim to please/torture!

  2. craig

    Thanks for the recommendations, Helen. I think you mentioned Ann Pettifor on your podcast with Wil Anderson the other day, and thank goodness it’s thicko proof! I might actually be able to understand a thing or two about economics and the movement of money. Hooray!

    1. Helen Razer

      Oh, Craigles. When they start putting x over organic composition of labour, or what-have-you, my brain turns into that of a fifteen-year-old who hates maths. She wrote it for us to get the picture. (And I may have mentioned it to Mr Anderson. I do not know as the podcast is about seventeen hours long, and also I was a bit nervous because he’s quite famous, so had to get a bit drunk. Not much of a memory for what I said through the Dutch courage.)

      1. craig

        Helen, that podcast was awesome! He gennnnuinely would have let you sit there and talk for another two and a half hours if he didn’t have that gig to get to.

        I’m also relieved by your revulsion of maths. I’ve avoided it like the plague for too long but I need to understand more about numbers.

        1. Helen Razer

          Very nice chap, that Anderson.
          Re numbers. I don’t think it’s necessary. I believe Varoufakis, the game theorist, when he says that it’s more important to get your head around the concepts.

          1. jasmine

            yes that’s probably, mostly right. Until you want to know the one bit of numbering that requires the aggregation and algorithms of a lot of other numbers to make it simple enough to digest. Then we need some numbers people.

  3. Dog's Breakfast

    Cool Helen. While the first two, and the fourth, may appear to be options, ignorance is not bliss and although all are born ignorant, I’m not sure that there is a choice about remaining ignorant. You are either comfortable with it, or you abhor it and will do what you have to to avoid it.

    Where do you buy your books? I did click on the links to see, but they seem to be un-australian (yeah, joke). I would like to be able to support a local supplier if there is one.

    I am good with numbers, but only to the extent of someone who did 3 unit maths in 1979, and has since made it part of his daily living. That was more than enough to understand all but the most esoteric rubbish in relation to economics, and you and Varoufakis are right, in that it is getting concepts that is more important than the maths.

    Pettifor’s book in particular looks like a doozy. I’ve had some numbers people explain it to me, many years ago, but they are invariably poor in language, so I had to work it out from various reading and getting my head around the concepts. Bill Mitchell’s modern monetary theory is great to make you realise that it is actually about concepts rather than numbers too, and I know you have read him.

    As for the free market, oh yes. Business wants anything but a free market. What they want is ‘certainty’. You hear them say exactly that word whenever a non-friendly policy position is being discussed. They want a downhill ride, no stops, all the way. That is probably the biggest lie of the current economic theory. Once you see through that bullshit, all else pales.

  4. Manny

    thanks for those recommendations, Helen. And the scary thing about the whole idea of the free market is that the metaphors about it not only aren’t accurate/don’t work in the economic context but keep being applied into other areas like human rights, where we are told that free speech is sacrosanct and we (for we, read: the relevant marginalised group, not actually ‘us’ at all) must all put up with hate speech because it is a necessary part of ‘the free market of ideas.’ This ignores the whole international jurisprudence around the balancing of rights, with none having primacy (there’s a talk about this at Sydney law school at 6pm tonight if you hurry). The other economist I find really interesting is Bill Mitchell from Newcastle, whose theory (as far as I can understand it) is that any sovereign nation can actually print money without causing inflation if it uses it for appropriate projects like schools, education, hospitals, infrastructure…. we have actually won the lottery but we are too stupid to realise it! this is no doubt a gross oversimplification – I sent away for his basic text so I can try and understand better. It arrived yesterday and the size is a bit daunting but it seems quite accessibly presented…”Modern Monetary Theory and Practice, an Introductory Text”. But if he’s even only partly right…. that would change everything.

    1. Helen Razer

      Yeah. I am not sure about MMT. I need to read more, but I sort of suspect that it only works for the world’s most dominant currency. In a global context (and there’s no other context) I see problems.
      Anyhow. The thing that likely will happen is UBI. Which is just gonna be so bad!

      1. Manny

        UBI (Universal basic income) doesn’t HAVE to be bad. There are a lot of different models, some better than others, and we need to find the one that works best. Several models of UBI depend on the “Federal budget is a closed system like your household accounts” model which is clearly incorrect because the federal budget is obviously only a small part of the Australian economy and should not be seen in isolation. I understand Bill Mitchell is opposed to UBI because there are so many social (and perhaps economic – this is where I fall behind – I’m no doubt oversimplifying again) benefits of everyone being able to have work. And agreed it could be mis-used by corporations wanting to pay less than a living wage. There have to be protections around it. But at the very least it would free the unemployed from the horrors of Centrelink robo-debt….

        1. MAC TEZ

          UBI doesn’t have to be bad… although I can’t help but think it will be rolled out here one day as a cashless welfare card from those lovely folk at Indue !

    2. Helen Razer

      Oh. But lovely point about the market exchange being the model for all other “freedoms”.

  5. PG

    Thanks H. My summer reading now settled.

    1. Helen Razer

      I should have mentioned this, but don’t start with Polanyi. The other books are way more fun.

  6. Linda Connolly

    That’s a lot of reading for an old lady who has tired herself out with Marxist analysis over many years. At this point I might just get smashed instead

    1. Helen Razer

      I thought you were talking about me!
      Hey. You could just watch the YouTube lectures. While drinking.

  7. Decorum

    That was an article, but I have three reactions. First, *every* book on money explains its creation by banks – try JK Galbraith’s “Money: whence it came, where it went” (or some such) for a well-written and accessible exemplar – and obsessing on that extra ordinary mundanity (is that a word?) will have you in the nutty but welcoming arms of Social Credit in a few weeks. Second, millions of people have, in fact, grown out of poverty in recent decades (but they are darkies, so fair enough: it’d be un-Australian to think that’s actually positive.) Finally, Jane Kelsey has warmly and very prominently recommended Polanyi to all and sundry for at least two decades, so I think it’s a bit forward to suggest he’s “getting a little attention now” that you’ve discovered him.

    Yes, I guess I am suggesting a bit more reading!

    1. Decorum

      Later regret: sorry for the unnecessarily snarky tone of those comments. The points still stand, I think, but I could have tried harder to live up to my internet moniker and next time I’ll try and let time pass before leaping in. My apologies again.

      1. MAC TEZ

        Yeah/nahh, don’t go changing…
        continue with the snark and pop “Lack of” in front of your internet moniker.

  8. ert ert

    Can we make suggestions?
    How about Game of Mates by Dr Cameron Murray and Prof Paul Frijters
    A very readable expose on the rent-seeking mates who have our economy all stitched up!

    1. Ruv Draba

      Thank you for the suggestion, Ert Ert! With some two decades of experience encountering cronyism in government I’ve found it at every level — and it seems that the worst of it is nigh invisible to public scrutiny. Perhaps it is indeed the dark side of Australian mateship culture. But if it is, it doesn’t just favour the wealthy — it goes far further than that. I’ve bought the monograph and look forward to reading.

  9. [email protected]

    Re: which allows us to view endless war as peace
    in the words of Ron Paul, ““It is no coincidence that the century of total war coincided with the century of central banking.” Central banking is a tenant of Communism. That said the all powerful American Federal Reserve is controlled by a monopoly private interest with the guns of the state at its side. Yet, it does not matter who has the forced monopoly, the fact remains the container of peoples value (money) is too dangerous for a centralised authority to have exclusive power over.

    Re: “billions being lifted out of poverty!”
    This is undoubtedly true and should be celebrated. Capitalism has been the most powerful way for society to thrive. The wealth accumulation of a few, at the expense of everybody else, is due to the Central banking system & cronyism. Inequality is a fact of life, as just as much as people have different skills and personalities. Without a centralised coercive economic system there will be inequality – but not as vast as it is at present. More importantly however is that prosperity will be available for all without them.

    Re: private financial institutions
    regarding our financial institutions as ‘private’ – in the sense that they are independent sovereign responsible market accountable organisations is highly incorrect. When central banks set the price of money, governments regulate, control and grant to private financial institutions the ability to create currency out of nothing (Fraction Reserve Banking) then it is not so black and white. It is a self-serving crony system.

    It is good to see Razer extending her knowledge in economics by reading Pettifor! Indeed, Razer “whose economic education has been about as solid as air” needs it! One who would extol Marxism obviously has no idea of the science of prosperity – economics.

    Re: “laissez-faire was planned”
    What a complete oxymoron! The free market, that is to say, the exchange of value without coercion, was planned?? This makes no sense and Razer does not elaborate on it. One can only surmise that parasites/politicians realised it was in their interest to allow people to be free and profitable in order to sustainably siphon off their wealth. ??

    Re: Hayek’s view remains popular to this day.
    Rubbish! Most people would not even be familiar with the name, let alone his concepts. People and politicians are more likely to cry for more regulations and controls, tariffs and subsidies. The odd Liberal politician may give the ideas lip service – but only if it suits their agenda for the business deals, cronyism, religious affiliations etc. Razer seems to have some idea of Hayek, ‘Let the government plan our market, they’ll plan us into slavery’ but I doubt she has read him. Hayek does indeed warn us off centralised economic control but also also shows us the beauty of spontaneous order. This is best exemplified in Leonard E Read’s book ‘ipencil’.”

    The “free market” DOES NOT require a lot of state machinery – the state requires the free market. Poli-tics -the many blood suckers need a healthy host. It is good to see Razer expanding her economic education. I dare her to extend it more by reading Hayek, but better still Ludvig Von Mises and Murray Rothbard, as Razer suffers from thinking all free market ideology is synonymous with cronyist Neo-liberalism -or viewed from the other way – crony-communism.

    1. Ruv Draba

      A nameless reader wrote from an opayq account:
      > The “free market” DOES NOT require a lot of state machinery – the state requires the free market.

      Certainly, free markets don’t require states — any community can create a free market. But how does a free market benefit a state more than it benefits (say) non-state communities?

      You could argue that communities benefit from free markets (They certainly can, but I think they sometimes don’t, because free markets can utterly destroy community economies and wipe out whole societies.) Yet of states, mightn’t it be truer to say that states themselves benefit from sovereign market control more than they benefit from market freedom? The free movement of goods, services and labour can massively undermine sovereignty, governance and national security. And taxation itself is a form of market influence, in whatever form it occurs — and what state can exist without taxation?

      Given that, you could almost define a would-be state as any entity pursuing sovereign market control, a failed state as one whose sovereign market control has utterly collapsed, and a successful state as any sovereign entity that controls and feeds upon its market commerce well enough to sustain itself. 😀

      1. [email protected]

        A nameless reader wrote from an opayq account – yes, someone who may value their privacy perhaps? Someone who values their safety via anonymity? Someone who wants to get across an idea rather than a disracting ego? Why does the anonymity matter to you?
        re: mightn’t it be truer to say that states themselves benefit from sovereign market control – true, states benefit from market control through monopoly, manipulation and theft called taxation. Control of course is what states do – they are not producers.
        “what state can exist without taxation?” – no they cannot. The state is a parasite. It can only survive through theft. The state is the same modus operendi as a Mafia Protection Racket – it provides involuntary service & involuntary payments. Whereas a mafia may rely solely on the iron fist with some softeners – free (stolen) Thanksgiving turkeys, the state wears a velvet glove. The velvet glove is really the Emperors New Clothes – we have 12 years in indoctrination camps to manufacture the collective delusion.

        “a successful state as any sovereign entity that controls [through a monopoly on violence] and feeds [parasticaly] upon its market commerce well enough to sustain itself.” – so yes, my point remains – the free market does not need the state, but the state needs the productive sector – the free market.

        re: The free movement of goods, services and labour can massively undermine sovereignty, governance
        – The free movement of goods, services and labour can massively undermine [state] sovereignty – and it should!
        There are two ways for humans to interact:
        voluntarily, with consent, permission, through agreement and contract
        through force, coercion, madation & compulsion.
        You have either the free market or the coercive market.
        The only defensible sovereignty, is the sovereignty of the individual. Any forced association is a form of slavery. Any ‘governance’ which is not voluntary is slavery.
        Thanks for your consideration!

        1. Ruv Draba

          A nameless reader who has engaged a site that routinely allows the creation of multiple pseudonymous posting accounts wrote:
          > Why does the anonymity matter to you?

          I understand the attraction of opayq, dear fellow Crikey reader. It’s not what happens at the individual level, but what happens at the community level that I think is the issue. Speaking only personally, as a member I’ll interact less, and with less trust, with accounts supporting multipseudonomy, and on the sites I moderate, wouldn’t myself support Opayq accounts. That’s what my form of quote connoted. But it’s not on topic, so I don’t mean to debate it here. 😀

          > Control of course is what states do – they are not producers.

          A state is a polity connoting both government and the governed, so states can certainly produce. But I believe you may be talking about government not being a producer, which is also untrue. Government agencies can and do produce, including the production of valuable intellectual property. I can’t myself think of a form of government that can function without some sort of positive productivity measure. I’d also argue that while governments do control, control isn’t all that governing requires. There’s planning, organisation, direction, influence, compensation, incentivisation and disincentivisation, separation, consolidation, negotiation, arbitration… These might involve applications of different kinds of power — and hence warrant legitimate moral, ethical and sociological questions, but for various practical reasons, I wouldn’t class them all as forms of control. Control means a great deal more and less than that.

          > The state is a parasite. It can only survive through theft.
          I understand what you’re saying, but think the ‘is’ and ‘ought’ may be getting conflated here. It seldom helps the argument when ‘is’ statements are turned into ‘ought’ arguments, or vice-versa. I think David Hume first pointed that out in 1739, and I’ve yet to find anyone who can lucidly refute him. 🙂

          > The only defensible sovereignty, is the sovereignty of the individual.
          (Ah, now I know why you’re using opayq — you’re actually Malcolm Roberts, trying not to prejudice his High Court citizenship deliberations! :D)

          More seriously, that could be a great topic to discuss or debate somewhere else. I don’t think it would be respectful to the focus or spirit of Helen’s original article to try and engage it here. 😀

          1. [email protected]

            Hi Ruv,

            re: Anonymous accounts
            – I certainly respect your right to moderate your forum with transparency but would disagree with the following:
            It’s not what happens at the individual level, but what happens at the community level that I think is the issue.
            I would actually argue the opposite. If I were to contract with you -individual to individual – disclosure would beneficial. In a forum discussing ideas, anonymity can allow for people to speak their mind -without fear of personal retribution by those with aggressive intentions.

            re: A state is a polity connoting both government and the governed
            – Doug Casey sums this up nicely
            “states were cobbled together from small kingdoms and miscellaneous ethnic groups. They were put together either by force and conquest, or the marriage of some ruler, with no consent of the ruled.”
            The state is nothing more than a group of marauding warlords who found it more profitable to settle down and tax farm a region. Democracy makes no difference. Citizens for the most part only have the illusion of control within the behemoth called the state. Lysander Spooner:
            “A man is none the less a slave
            because he is allowed to choose
            a new master once in a term of years.”
            The individual has all most as much no say whether they wish to be governed as a someone born on a cotton slave plantation.

            The only defensible sovereignty is individual sovereignty and the only defensible governance is that which someone individually consents to – in the sense that someone may employ someone to ‘govern’ their finances etc.
            The State may be defined as a ‘polity connoting both government and the governed’ but it is not the ‘people’ – which is nothing but a collective abstraction outside a group of individuals sharing a common interest or a community.

            The main purpose of Government is to govern – by writing ‘laws’ which are no more than rules that are imposed upon a populace under the threat of violence. Every law is a gun pointed in someones direction. Government is first and foremost an institution of coercion and force.
            That which it could be argued to ‘produce’ is only because of FORCED monopoly – and actually performed by individuals.
            “planning, organisation, direction, influence, compensation, incentivisation and disincentivisation, separation, consolidation, negotiation, arbitration” can all be done in the voluntary sphere, the free market -and done more efficiently and with better accountability. Returning to the focus of Razer’s article – economics – it is estimated that one only receives as little as 20c on every tax dollar back in ‘services’.
            The state is not justifiable morally, economically or socially.

            The context/meaning of your point on ‘is’ and ‘ought’ escapes me sorry. I do not know what you are arguing there. Suffice to say, on the topic that the state is a parasite because taxation is theft because it is involuntary – Good ideas do not require force!

          2. Ruv Draba

            (Apologies for responding above the text — we’ve run out of reply indentation.)

            By way of explanation, the is-ought problem was identified by David Hume: we cannot prescribe what ought to be merely by observing what is, nor can we prescribe what is merely by opining what ought to be.

            The is-ought conflation here occurs because you have turned a valid ‘is’ observation: that the polity of a state is dependent on the contributions of its citizens, into a pejorative ‘ought’: the dependency is parasitism and ought not to occur (because parasitism causes illness.) To prove that you’d either have to argue that all dependency is parasitism (so for example, children are parasites on parents and the aged and infirm are parasites on the able), or that all socially-enforced support is parasitism (so that child welfare laws are enforced child parasitism, for example.)

            You haven’t done that. You’ve let the conflation obscure the fallacy in your argument. There might be a legitimate argument, but the ‘enforced dependency is parasitism’ conflation doesn’t make it.

            I offer this by way of explanation. As I said, I think we’re far from the original topic and don’t wish to debate the question of sovereignty here. I’ll acknowledge that the history of states has a brutal, evil past, but would also point out that the history of morality in general does — including the morality in families and tribes, and the history of primates in general. So again, there’s an is-ought question here that hasn’t been addressed.

  10. Ruv Draba

    Helen, thank you for the recommendations. I endorse your recommendation of analysis, even if solution isn’t always going to be enjoyed by the generation doing the thinking.

    While I haven’t read any of the titles (including the first), it seems to me that the volume of commerce itself — the scale of production, distribution and sale — produces middle-men as a matter of course, and that the middle-man position is a very controlling one due to the middle-man’s ability to produce market inefficiencies by controlling information and influencing regulation.

    This is certainly true for banks, but could be equally true when mining becomes rent-seeking, when housing development becomes real-estate speculation, when employment becomes recruitment, when journalism becomes communications, when medicine becomes a corporatised turnstyle dispensary for prescriptions and pathology testing, or when hiring a cab or engaging any other bespoke service becomes an application of centralised social media infrastructure.

    I wonder whether focusing on banks alone — an institution that first came into power in the Renaissance — is not too little too late. I also wonder what ‘cure’ there is (if any) for middle-man power-brokering and corporatised rent-seeking in general, and how the will can be marshaled to apply it.

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