Friday Hodgepodge

Friday, August 27, 2021

Blog Roundup

1. At How to Be Profitable and Moral, Jaana Woiceshyn notes that some of her students wrongly discount the time she spends on philosophical principles in her business ethics course.

She responds to this complaint in part:

Screenshot by the author, who not only grants permission to re-use, but implores the reader to do so.
We need principles even in the era of Google searches and YouTube demos. Once you grasp a principle such as rationality, you can apply it while thinking on your feet -- when there is no time to search the internet and sift through results. Besides, online advice is not necessarily valid, unlike principles based on observing facts. [bold added]
Thanks in large part to religion, it is, sadly, quite common to view the entire field of ethics as a list of commandments, aphorisms, and tips.

This can only stifle thought and cause someone to dismiss ethics as having little or no practical importance -- as exemplified by the complaints mentioned above.

It is quite fortunate for her students and her readers that Professor Woiceshyn is doing her best to disabuse them of this notion: Her examination of this complaint should show them what a disadvantage it is not to be able to make original connections on the fly, and thus make good use of any study of ethics they should care to make.

2. Private property advocate Brian Phillips comments on his city's efforts to work on a solution to the housing crisis by "experimenting" with small doses of freedom-like government permission:
The city's experiments are limited to what ideas government officials can conceive. Even if those officials look to other cities or solicit input from the public for additional ideas, implementation must still be approved by city officials. The number of experiments will necessarily be restricted.

However, if the city simply restored economic freedom to property owners, dozens or even hundreds of experiments could be conducted simultaneously. If owners were free to use their property as they choose, many will conceive ideas that have never occurred to government officials. With freedom, there is no limit to the ideas that can be tried. With freedom, we can solve the housing crisis. [bold added]
This reminds me of two things: Positively, of the economist George Reisman's critique of central planning as necessarily discarding enormous amounts of information; and negatively, of the idea (usually floated by states "rights" proponents) that whatever individual states want to try should go, as an "experiment."

Only individuals have rights, and only when they are free -- including from disastrous "experiments" in tyranny -- can they truly solve problems by innovating with the real prospect of enjoying the fruits of their efforts and trading them with others.

Aside from being immoral, central planning doesn't just throw away enormous amounts of information; it also is an enemy to the imagination -- which is often what we most need to solve our problems.

3. Over at The Roots of Progress comes the good news that it is now a nonprofit organization. Jason Crawford elaborates in part:
My focus now is on two priorities. First is the intellectual content, the history and philosophy of progress itself. I'm writing a book on this topic, The Story of Industrial Civilization, and the new organization is sponsoring this work. But much more is needed: more books, articles, talks, journals, documentaries. We need more histories of different aspects of progress, to make the story accessible to a broader audience. We need progress-oriented solutions to the problems facing the world, such as poverty, climate, pollution, job loss, and pandemics. And we need an ambitious, inspiring vision of the future, of where progress can take us. If you'd like to write on any of these topics, get in touch.

My second priority is building out and strengthening the progress network and community. Stay tuned for announcements here. [bold added]
If you have ever shaken your head in despair at the incredible degree of ignorance about technology, economics, and history on display in practically every public forum and in any discussion of the issues of the day, I would recommend that you consider supporting this new organization's work.

4. Over at The Integrating Investor is a thought-provoking look at the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investment movement.

One virtue of the piece is that it calls into question a major premise of that movement, namely that running a company for profit is wrong:
If one's objective is to better the world through investing, then (nearly) every viable company is worthy. This is because profits are good -- not just for lining shareholders' pockets -- but for humanity as a whole. There is no conflict between ethically good companies and financially good companies. They are the same.

There's a common belief that ethical companies produce poor financial results while offensive ones are among the most profitable. Thus, morally good companies make traditionally poor investments and vice versa. To me, this is backwards and unsupported by reality. [bold added]
Seth Levine qualifies the above by recognizing that government interference in the economy can compromise profitability as a gauge of corporate virtue. Elsewhere, he also points to Alex Epstein's The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels when he discusses now "narrow-minded" some ESG policies are.

-- CAV

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