Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Pet and Two Gentle Men- Friedrich Hayek and Michael Oakeshott

Here is an interesting article by Shoba Narayan in MINT which asks several questions and finds some answers from economists that is too from conservatives but Hayek is not a conservative!  Indeed he is true liberal.

“The question needs to be rephrased. Why do middle-aged parents choose to acquire a pet? And here comes the masochistic part. For the children — because pets teach children responsibility; pets will help them take care of one another, be compassionate towards other species and eventually save the earth. The simple act of getting a pet will reduce global warming; or at least stop the glaciers from melting. Or so we think. The reality is that kids are programmed to shrug off responsibility. They lose textbooks, forget mid-term exams, forget favourite (and expensive) toys at faraway birthday parties and treat a pet as another plaything. Sure, they will fill up water in the bowl once, maybe twice. After that, pets fall under the purview of the same beleaguered parents who were foolish enough to think that they could pass the buck. 

Since my husband thinks economics delivers the answer to most questions, I did a search on “the economics of intangible objects”, reasoning that pets offer only intangible benefits. This led me to Adam Smith, who offered a fascinating discourse on the topic of “vendible commodities”, but didn’t quite address the issue of pets. After several detours into “assertive modesty” and the economics of intangibles; into the meaning of “disposition”, ranging from progressive and conservative, I finally hit upon two gentlemen called Friedrich Hayek and Michael Oakeshott. The former, a Nobel-prize winner, is hot stuff among economists, but it was Oakeshott’s essay, On Being Conservative, that gave me answers to my questions. 

Oakeshott talks about how a conservative mindset regards change and innovation.

“Innovation,” he says, “entails certain loss and possible gain, therefore the onus of proof to show that the proposed change may be…beneficial rests on the would-be innovator.” The problem is that the would-be innovators in my household, aka kids, didn’t use this logic with respect to the dog. There was no onus of proof; only mere badgering and endless repetition of “we want a puppy”. 

Oakeshott, not surprisingly, prefers a slow rather than rapid pace with respect to innovation. In other words, get a goldfish before a puppy. He also says that the “most favourable occasion for innovation is when the projected change is most likely to be limited to what is intended and least likely to be corrupted by undesired and unmanageable consequences.” Yes, but what if the change agents didn’t have a clear view of what was intended from the change and instead got themselves mired in all kinds of unmanageable consequences, such as having to turn down all party invitations because the puppy is howling? Clearly, Oakeshott hadn’t thought that far ahead; or perhaps he hadn’t encountered irrational kids — or pups — when he came up with his clearly outlined theses”. 


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