Phil Hauck's TEC Blog

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Chautauqua: An Overload of Stimulation

Recently, Kitty and I had a chance to spend time with good friends who are regulars at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State, an intellectual/spiritual/arts paradise on the shores of Lake Chautauqua in New York State since 1874.  (See  It creates nine theme weeks each summer within programming for symphony, opera, theater, books, religion and exercise at a place with no cars allowed.  Our theme week was:  "Markets, Morals and the Social Contract".  They bring in experts, many of them famous, to speak on the theme ... as well as arranging more than 40 events daily to meet all interests.
Some of our takeaways from very stimulating and dynamic speakers:

Michael Sandel, Harvard's "rock star ethicist"
•  There are very few things that money can't buy.  You can hire people to stand in line for you so you don't have to (  In Santa Barbara, as a prisoner you can buy an upgrade in your accommodations.  We've drifted from being a market economy, a tool for organizing productive activity, to a market society, where everything is up for sale.
•  If wealth provides access to only a few luxury things, it doesn't matter much.  But when it influences the big things in life for all of us, then inequality matters more.
•  At a certain point, money changes perception of what's good.  Should kids be paid to read books:  Reading as an essential intellectual endeavour in itself, vs. pay me to do it.  A Swedish audience was asked, would you be willing to live near a nuclear waste site?  51% said Yes.  Now, if we offered you 6,000 Euro to do it, would you?  Only 25% said Yes.
•  Today, perhaps too often, we are yielding the responsibility for a moral decision/behavior to a market value, allowing a pride-money decision to determine validity/value.  We have fallen out of the habit of reasoning.
•  Our country was founded on philosophies, not economics.

E.J. Dionne, Washington Post columnist
•  What are our core values that shouldn't be compromised by money?  For children, education, food and health care.
•  We are constantly tempering morality with money, and individuality with community.
•  Markets work, but only when they are enforced by moral limits (some of which are defined by government regulations).
•  Capitalism is great at serving needs where demand is sufficient to allow a profit.  But, what about insurance for sick older people?  
•  What is a FAIR rule or regulation?  One where there are no exceptions.  No corruption or payoffs or "special considerations" to insiders.
•  If liberty is to thrive, we must make each other's condition our own.

David Brooks, New York Times columnist
•  Augustin writes of the two worlds we are considering this week as represented by Adam I and Adam II.  The contrasts:  Success vs. Love/Redemption.  Accomplishment vs. Understanding.  Economics (input leads to output, investment leads to return) vs. Moral (give to receive, surrender to gain strength, conquer craving, to find yourself you have to lose yourself).  Too much we live in the world of Adam I and let it dominate Adam II.  Not good.
•  No person can achieve mastery on his/her own.
•  Defeating weakness means quieting the self ... finding the external strengths you need, finding your Purpose.
•  It's ironical:  You build your internal self by understanding outside your self.
•  You can't teach the heart in the classroom.  The heart is developed by experiences, by living.
•  What feels good today?  There is lots of social repair going on.  We've gotten really good about blending people from around the world into our organizations and structures.  Socially we're in pretty good shape.  Politically we have a problem, but social movements usually will take precedence.
•  Per Aristotle:  1.  Develop your Habits ... small things within your control, and do them well ... morally well.  (Remember people's names!)  2.  Be around good people, and copy them.  Be a Model!

Ali Velshi, commentator who is moving from CNN to Al Jazeera America in August
•  Markets, the essence of Capitalism, are amoral structures, which can be used for good or ill.  We make it moral by surrounding it with regulations and habits that we consider moral.  They are important, because in their uncompromised state they have brought more to more people than any other system in the history of mankind.
•  Two moral values are essential to markets/capitalism:  Justice and Equality.  (Equality in the sense of equal access to the marketplace; not equality of reward/output/takeaway.)  Government's role is to translate the will of the people into regulations which bring appropriate morality to capitalism.  What's bad, what compromises its integrity, and deflates people's confidence in the system ... is when regulations are created to benefit one group at the expense of another ... instead of benefitting everyone.  Another is when the representatives of Government benefit from doing the regulation they put in place for the benefit of special groups.  That corruption creates injustice and inequality ... and diminishes the effectiveness of markets/capitalism.  We've gone overboard with that today.  Other countries are much worse.
•  Is it criminal for a CEO to make several hundred times the income of the lowest workers?  
•  It's our job to turn markets to the social good that we need them to ... insuring a better society.  Balance between individualism and community.
•  Bangladesh:  Low wage workers in unsafe conditions in poor countries ... vs. the income the business provides that wouldn't be available otherwise.
•  Government becomes the problem ... SubPrime Mortgages:  In the past, wouldn't have happened because the issuing bank would have been on the hook.  (Self-interest!)  But, then mortgages could be sold to a government entity (which turns around and packages them as derivatives, which can themselves become losers), allowing the bank to book profits while passing on a "moral hazard" (the likelihood of default).
•  Human nature is a bit dishonest, so we need to have regulations in place.  Regulations tip the scales against one party for another party ... but that second party should be society, not any "special interest."
•  The challenge:  Protect Ambition while Protecting the Weak.

Tom Kinnear, University of Michigan Business School professor
•  Sometimes we don't like the results of markets, yielding prices too high because supply doesn't meet demand.  Think gasoline.
•  Too often, "negative externalities" aren't priced into the system ... such as pollution by plants.  These are called "market failures."
•  Three types of markets:  1.  Products/Services, where money is made for most people.  2.  Capital/Savings ... Reduction of savings via government deficits, trade deficits, and consumer spending without accompanying saving ... hurts our ability to invest because we must borrow.  3.  Financial ... Takes money from the product/service market and invests it in financial instruments.  Very easy to make a lot of money there by behaving badly over a short period of time.  Didn't happen in Canada because banks there are reasonably regulated and behave morally.
•  Unjust regulation:  Can't buy a car on the internet because of dealer lobbying against it.
•  Messing with markets:  Washington DC legislates a $12.50 living wage, so Walmart pulls out, costing an estimated savings of $2500 annually for a poor family.
•  Keynes:  We have it all wrong.  Go back to his writing.  What he advocated was deficit spending ONLY for capital projects that would produce fully-offsetting income later ... for nothing else.  Not for entitlement projects and many earmarks that have no payoff.
•  This past recession/depression was different.  It was an Asset Value Deflation recession, not a Reduced Spending one.

All interesting comments.  At least thought-provoking, because the relationship/tipping point between unfettered markets and regulated ones is unclear ... our public debate.

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