Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Makers Vs Takers

I just learned from Duane J. Oldsen about a book by Jane Jacobs, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politicswhich was published in 1992. It is a fascinating look at the two major systems of morality that we find in the world. Commercial Morality and Guardian (Political) Morality. Or what I like to call Makers vs Takers. The two are complimentary (neither does well without the other) and yet stand in opposition to each other. Things get really nasty when the spheres of influence are mixed without consideration for consequences.

Let me start with a couple of references. First The Wiki which provides a short look at the major points. Second is this pdf which is much more detailed with many excerpts from the book. However, I must caution that it is somewhat hard to read due to the many typos.

I want to start first with a table of contrasting moral precepts. Which I have modified slightly from the wiki to make the contrasts a little clearer.

Moral Precepts for Systems of Survival

Guardian SystemCommercial System
Shun tradingShun force
Be obedient and disciplinedBe efficient
Adhere to traditionBe open to inventiveness and novelty
Respect hierarchyUse initiative and enterprise
Be loyalCome to voluntary agreements
Take vengeanceRespect contracts
Deceive for the sake of the taskDissent for the sake of the task
Make rich use of leisureBe industrious
Be ostentatiousBe thrifty
Dispense largessInvest for productive purposes
Be exclusiveCollaborate easily with strangers and aliens
Show fortitudePromote comfort and convenience
Be fatalisticBe optimistic
Treasure honorBe honest

I think the commercial class is rather self explanatory but the political/guardian class needs some explanation. In the American system the political class is supposed to provide oversight to the warrior class in order that those in the warrior class are kept within their proper bounds and operate with the maximum of efficiency and the minimum of corruption in their own sphere. This is their prime function. Their motives are most closely aligned with the warrior class since the political class are by definition takers. However, they are also entrusted with seeing that the commercial class is kept honest as well. This explains why we have two systems of courts. The check on the political class is that they are watched by the civilian courts and civilian prosecutors. They are also checked by being elected by the civilian population.

Science and its handmaiden engineering are inherently a commercial endeavors only more so. They depend on a level of honesty not often found in ordinary commerce. They must not be just accommodating of truth but ruthless about it. The check on science and engineering is replication of the work. It is not true science until some one can repeat the experiment and get the same result within the margin of error. Of course there is continuous effort to reduce the margin of error. That leads to economy both in engineering and science.

Well that is a nice short over view. Let's look at how the systems can fail. The number one failure within the warrior class is a failure of loyalty. In the true warrior loyalty is bidirectional. It comprises loyalty to subordinates, equals, and superiors. The reason loyalty is so important is that all warfare is based on deception. Commerce is dependent on honesty above all. Honest measures, truth in advertising, and the fitness of the goods for the purposes contracted. The good working of both systems is most ensured by promoting excellence, in people, in goods, and in services. And to make it all work the two systems must be kept as separate as possible. The peace keepers (soldiers, police) will demand loyalty from the political class and the businessmen will demand honesty from the political class and each must be satisfied in its own sphere.

I have been going on and on and you can probably see for yourself many avenues for corruption and the misuse of one system by the other and most easily the misuse of both systems by the political class who are in charge of keeping both honest. So let me end with a number of quotes from the Jacobs book extracted from the above pdf.

On Agriculture
...agriculture can be operated under either guardian or commercial ways. Wherever in the world a clamor arises for land to be divided and given to its workers, the system being attacked is the guardian type of agriculture. {But}...it's basically a commercial activity.... ...when agriculture is operated in accordance with commercial precepts, placing value on voluntary agreement, thrift, productive investment, efficiency, and openness to innovations, it is much more productive than guardian-run agriculture. worker for worker, it supports its people better. Guardian ways are a drag on agriculture. ...the work's natural demands..for commercial morality. It innately requires thrift: the farmer must deliberately set seeds and breeding stock aside, even if it means going on short rations. It also requires industriousness, much unremitting drudgery day after day after day, especially before machines lightened the work. ...trading or bartering is almost invariably associated with agriculture and animal breeding. Farm households everywhere struggle to get something to market if they possibly can. This is true even when members of the household spin, weave, and practice other crafts. For a household to produce food and fibers for itself and for nobody else, and therefore by definition also supply itself with all its other needs, too -- since it isn't buying or bartering -- is so impractical it's uncommon. So impractical it's a guaranteed recipe for poverty. [Agriculture is]...an economic activity that is functionally and morally commercial [and] has historically been skewed to conform to the contradictory values and morals of guardian landowners. Rulers long ago became preoccupied with agriculture because it meshed with their preoccupations with territory. Tradition has perpetuated the fixation. Any ostensible reason for maintaining the tradition will do. ...once guardian largesse and controls are in place, any attempt to abandon them becomes disruptive.... ...nobody knows what agriculture would be like if it were restored fully and truly to the commercial syndrome and its workings, and everybody is afraid to find out.

Casts of Mind
...we're qualitatively different from other animals as ecological presences. But why? ... Trade! Trade pays no attention to ecosystem unit boundaries. It skips over them as it pleases, transferring surplus energy from this and that ecosystem unit into other ecosystem units. ...it's logical for guardian-minded people to identify a given territorial unit by the range of its top predator -- its prince. However, in the real ecosystems of the real world, obscure creatures can identify ecological units more tellingly than animals at the top of the food chain. ... If you care about putting scientific learning to constructive use...then you need guardian-minded ecologists.... And you have to take them with their habits -- fixation on territories and territorial princes, bureaucratic ways of bringing order to reality, and all. ... If something is a large, important truth, many entirely different avenues should lead to it.... Education does not guarantee a cast of mind appropriate to the training. [Referring to a team of researchers] At the institute, [they]...no doubt sincerely thought they were engaging in free intellectual inquiry. Yet their guardian assumptions, their guardian cast of mind, governed the root questions they were putting to themselves.

Military Engineers vs Civilian Engineers
Engineers working in the military-industrial complex are skillful at designing ingenious products but...they fail to combine this skill with thrift of means. ...trained incompetence...it has corrupted the abilities of most of the country's best and brightest engineers over the span of the past forty years. ...lack of cost discipline...has side effects outside the military-industrial complex. ...between 1980 and 1988, our share of machine tool markets dropped from eighteen percent to seven percent. ... American engineers have...remained marvelous at inventing in fields that can afford to support such work. ...the trouble comes from inability to produce the inventions at affordable costs and with competitive efficiency. then, even though invention has given us a head start, we lose out to Italians, Germans, Japanese, and others.... ... Pentagon contracts in the aggregate are enormous. ...engineers laid off from military work will have a 'lethal effect' in civilian production because of their lopsided experience in disregarding costs.

Mixing Guardian Work and Work for Commerce
Plato said mingling kinds of work or meddling with other people's tasks was 'the greatest wickedness,' did the ,most harm' to the community, and was the very incarnation of injustice.

Fair Competition
Fair and square competition is moral in the commercial syndrome. Not in the guardian syndrome, where largesse and loyalty take priority.

The Great Misunderstanding
Francis Bacon: The increase of any state must be upon the foreigner (for whatever is somewhere gained is somewhere lost). ... People with guardian casts of mind tend to carry zero-sum thinking with them into their attempts to understand all kinds of gains and losses.
Kind of opens the mind and shakes out the cobwebs don't it?

Cross Posted at Classical Values


Anonymous said...


I'm going to be ya that the fabric of doing wars has changed. Nothing new about that!

In other words? In today's world, Napoleon's tactics wouldn't function. We no longer even train troops to fire on the enemy "like that."

And, WW2 will be a demarcation point, in the big PATTON picture! (Okay. Arik Sharon, in Israel, in 1967 and 1973) still used tanks to advantage.

But it's gone, now. All gone.

One reason? Well, in Israel, conquered territory didn't lead to peace agreements. Instead? Well, poised in the White House; and, poised at the UN, are the diplomats who've manufactured the new rules. Israel can GO IN. But she can't come out with territory. How so?

Look at Abbas. And, his frustration that the IDF doesn't "clean up gazoo."

Okay. Look at Riyadh, where the hand-holding Bush got bupkis from the Saudi king. Ya know why? Bush failed in the Saudi mission into Irak. The country didn't fall, like a hot potato, into the hands of the oil barons. Instead? General Petraeus works overtime, just getting Irak to function. And, he is! Even when his Commander in Chief is a PUTZ.

Up ahead? You think Israel will over-reach on its VEXING arab problem? I'm going to take it for granted that you can figure out ... that arabs stink at fighting wars. And, what they want HERE AND NOW, is for Israel to make a mistake that causes FINANCIAL WOES. That tosses tourism down the drain.

Because wars bankrupt countries.

Let alone, for Israel, increasing what they want NO MORE OF! No more arabs!

By the way, Lebanon is just a drug store. They sell all the marijuana they grow in the Ba'kakta Valley. Which is why the real controls come from Asad. Moving drugs, ya know.

You thought you could have a religion that doesn't allow alcohol, and you wouldn't increase dependency on hashish? What's it gonna take to make you smell this?

Israel does not have to "open" up to traffic coming to and fro from Beirut, either! The druggies can go fly to Amsterdam, for all I care.

On the very big plus side of the agenda, however, is the reality that the IDF trains its troops to shoot better. (In the American system? A soldier is trained to shoot for the knees.) In Israel, however, shooting is the real deal.

And, every citizen goes through the draft. (Or at least most do.) Hence, in Israel you're a lot safer than you'd be on the streets in Paris.

M. Simon said...

There is a good reason to shoot for the knees if you can.

It then requires two more soldiers to carry the wounded off the battle field. They move slow. That adds two more easy targets.

A dead man can just be left behind or collected once the battle is over.

BTW if you have watched the Israeli plan in slow motion it is transfer. About 80% of the Palis want out of Gaza. Israel sees that they are supplied with just enough (water, food, electricity, oil) to keep them in total misery.

You know what the biggest threat they have to keep the territories quiet? "We will send you to Gaza"

BTW may I suggest you have a talk with the psychiatric intake nurse at your local emergency room about drugs. It has taken me 8 years, but the medical profession is now on board - chronic drug use is self medication. The Drs. know it. The nurses know it.

When the general public know it the stupidity of "fighting drugs" will be over. All that is left is prejudice. And Milton Friedman (nice Jewish boy) says that drug prohibition is a socialist enterprise. Price supports for criminals. So when I said left I meant it.

Neil said...

To the point about the U.S. engineering talent pool being ruined by the sudden influx of refugees from the "military-industrial complex";

I have worked with plenty of those folks (even some from Sundstrand), and I'm happy to say that the engineering mindset recuperates rapidly. Actually, every single one of them found the material constraints of commercial work to be a relief, compared to the bureaucratic constraints of defense work.

She had a nice theory, but happily it doesn't work that way.

M. Simon said...

What I tried to show the folks at Sundstrand that was by thinking differently they could get a lot more bang for the buck.

Fortunately my last stint was in Test Eqpt. and they were usually desperate to get things done as the design groups had all not only eaten our time margin but also our scheduled time. In those circumstances I had very few bureaucratic restraints. Desperation does that.

My usual thing was to get what would normally take a year and and $2 million done in three months for a few hundred thousand.

I was once put on a recovery program and told I had three months and unlimited overtime to get things back on track. I said I wasn't going to do any overtime and estimated I could do it in 6 weeks. Well they frowned (what? a contractor who doesn't want overtime) and went along. I got the job done in four weeks - no overtime. I did have to violate all the rules. Heh.

Neil said...

Hah! Yeah, I'm consulting these days, and most folks are shocked when I give them a maximum number of hours I'll be working on their project in a given week. Usually I quote a max of 20/wk. My rates are high, but total cost is lower than most.

One caveat: I also will participate in a maximum of one (1) "team meeting" per week, and my tasks are narrowly defined. IOW, my clients are contractually required to be a "good boss"...