Archive for May 25th, 2006

Beyond Economics, Beyond Medicine

First you have to read the piece I wrote below.

The reason other disciplines were so upset about economists who branched out into Public Choice was because they were no longer just economists. They stopped just talking about supply and demand and started acting like experts on the whole subject of life as a balance.

Let us first acknowledge that the critics’ fears were perfectly justified. Public Choice now pervades every social science.

The reason Hippocrates’s Do No Harm is so popular is because it limits doctors to making choices about how to keep a person’s heart beating for a maximum period of time.

At present, the only function Medical Ethics has is to keep a person functioning physically for as long as possible.

Here is crucial difference:

A physician’s only ethical obligation is to keep a body functioning physically, something which is measurable for the maximum period of time, something else that is measurable.

A theoretical human being would find that satisfactory. A theoretical Economic Man only wants to make as much money as he can. A theoretical Do No Harm human is only interested in keeping his physical functions measurable for as long a period as possiblw.

But there are a lot of us who are not Economic Men or Do No Harm beings.

What about US?

The argument for the Do No Harm approach is that doctors can just remain physicians. They don’t have to make any calls except those that relate to keeping you physically functioning.

Pro-lifers and other tell us that if doctors broke out of the Do No Harm bit the way economists broke out of the Economic Man bit, they would have to make some IMPORTANT decisions.

It wouldn’t just be life and death any more.

Is this life WORTH living?

Such a question was once in the hands of theologians — you know, the folks who brought us the Inquisition.

The Spaniards have a saying, “If life were worth living, we would not need so many philosophers.”

Or theologians.

So if life is horrible, you can’t end it because you will go to Hell.

The fact is that Collective Decisions/Public Choice was an inevitable developement.

Economists had to break out of suply and demand.

They wil make a mess of it, of course, butit is hard to imagine how they can make more of a mess of it than the Marxists did with the Economic Man.

Doctors in the twenty-first century will have to break out of this Do No Harm nonsense.

They will make a mess of it.

But it is hard to imagine theycould make more of a mess of it than the theologians did.



Do No Harm and The Economic Man

When I took my first economics course, the first proposition was The Economic Man.

The Economic Man was theoretical being whose only interest was maximizing his income. The course then went on to explain how, in a world of supply and demand, this Economic Man would maximize his income.

The Economic Man was very useful. Once you posited a human being whose only interest was in making money, you could then go on to showing, in terms of supply and demand, HOW this theoretical person would maximize his income in a world of pure supply and demand.

All this was fine until people started taking The Economic Man SERIOUSLY.

Ayn Rand built a whole world of Economic Men and Women who maximized their incomes and had no children. As every parent will testify if you want to end up with the maximum amount of personal assets, the LAST thing you will do is have children.

Socialists took the Economic Man seriously, too. They said that total output would be maximized if “intellectuals” told everybody what to produce and how.

Then came Public Choice, originally called Collective Decisions. It began with the obvious statement that there is no such thing as an Economic Man.

This gets so childishly basic it is hard now to explain what a revolution it was at the time.

It began with the idea that a person earns money to BUY things.

One of the things a person will buy is liesure time.

The Economic Man never bought liesure time. He only wanted money.

Economists were very worried ahout this whole concept of a non-Economic Man.

Here I run into the problem I always have when trying to explain what Mommy Professor believed fifty years ago. You think I am joking.

But the idea was that if you did not posit The Economic Man, economics would turn into something beside the nice safe area of supply and demand. Once you start talking about a human being as someone who wants more than money, a real human being who balances priorities, you are n o longer just an economist.

Psychologists and sociologists began to reaise hell about this new field of Public Choice.

The first person to ask me to be a discussant on academic papers was a sociologist at the University of Chicago.

Public Choice uses suply and demand to go into how a person leads a balanced life. It becomes sociology, psychology, philosophy.

All the other social sciences who worried that economists would get out of their safely bordered world of supply and demandwere right. But we’re out of htat stage now and Nobel Prizes are awarded in Public Choice, and nothing shows something is accepted by the least imaginative minds than a Nobel Prize.

So we grew out of The Economic Man crap a generation ago.

Today we still have a medical ethic based on Do No Harm.

Do No Harm to WHAT?

Do No Harm goes back to Hippocrates. The idea is that the first rule a doctor must follow is not to HARM his patient.

For couple of millennnia doctors treated patients by taking our an unsterilized knife they had recently used on somebody with smallpox and using it to cut their veins and take out a quarrt or so of blood.

In emergency cases they would take out two quarts.

I do not possess an MD degree, but I strongly suspect they were Doing Some Harm.

But it never occured to any of them to check and see if they were doing any harm.

Today, Do No Harm means that you do not cause a patient to be in danger of his life.

There is an exact parallel between Do No Harm and The Economic Man.

The Economic Man was based on the idea of a person who had no object in life except to maximize his income.

Do No Harm is based onthe concept of a human being whose only motivation is to maximize the number of years his heart keeps beating.

One assumes that an Economic Man would not have the slightest happiness in his life. For most people, working day and night would be miserable.

One assumes that a person whose only goal is to keep his heart beating for the maximum period would be miserable.

So what?

The economist has his supply and demand and the doctor has his Ethics.



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President Washington’s Genius

Once again, let us look at an overwhelming fact:

George Washington was not bright.

People who know they are not all that bright on an IQ test react in one of two ways:

1) They hire people who are even less IQ bright to make themselves feel good;


2) They hire very, very smart people to do what they know they can’t do.

I have wondered why people react in the 1) way.

If you are a boxing promoter, you hire people who could beat the hell out of you.

Any boxing promoter who only hires people he can whip in a fistfight would be sent to a rest home.

Washington hired people who could beat the hell out of him when it came to smarts.

Now I get to one of the absolutely unique things in American history.

Anybody with an understanding of human beings, which definitely does not include historians, would assume that a man who knew he was not bright would get himself a group of underlings were even less bright.

When Washington became president he had a Cabinet consisting of, I believe, four men.

I forget the other one, but three of them were Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson.

You cannot say that GW took on three men who were “intelligent.”

They were not just intelligent, they were damned near transcendental.

Nobody has EVER gotten three giant geniuses at one table that is anywhere near Washington’s first Cabinet.

You know, Old Dumb George.

George wasn’t all that bright.

So he HIRED genius.

Which, in my definition of the word, was genius squared.


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How Washington Won the Revolution — Sort Of

When you see an entire hill disappear in an explosion, the reason it happened was because someone pushed the pluner that set off the blast.

You could, however, push the plunger all day long and get nothing but a squeak out of it unless certain preparations were made in the pre-plunger stage.

Washington watched while his army nearly starved and he despaired many, many times.

What confuses historians is that all that time he was also writing letters about what land he intended to buy after the war was over.

This is not confusing if you understand that GW was not looking at the Revolution as a Path of History or in terms of Glory or disaster. He just didn’t think that way.

GW saw that things could go two ways: 1) He could lose and be hanged or spend the rest of his life as a guerrilla fighter with all his property confiscated or 2) He could win.

There is no good way to plan getting hanged.

So he planned what needed planning. He wrote letters about land purchases, detailed instructions to Martha about hwat to do on his plantations while he was away, and he knew and remembered every detail about each of his holdings, down to the health of each of his slaves and which overseers should be gotten rid of.

The average historian cannot understand that. I can understand it, but I could never DO it.

I have been in situations where people were trying to kill me. In those cases I never wrote one single calm letter about hwat stock I planned to purchase if the market looked promising.

George Washington assassination plots were everywhere. The British Army could appear out of nowhere and wipe his tiny frozen army out at any moment. But Old Dumb George kept writing letters reminding Martha to get those damned overseers out of bed at dawn.

I am sure that most historians consider him Old Dumb George, a man who simply did not understand how serious things were.

I have heard some of them say so, but not in print.

Actually, the Revolution was over in July of 1776, so long as GW kept his army in one piece.

By July 1776 every single colony had chased its Royal Officials out.

There was no going back.

The Revolution was costing Britain a fortune every day it kept going. Britain couldn’t afford it forever.

So GW lost New York, but savedhis army.

GW lost the nation’s capitol, Philadelphis, and kept his army in being.

We lost Charleston. We lost Savannah, which was about there was of the pitiful little colony of Georgia.

It was exactly like Napolean when he took Moscow in 1812. By all the rules, he had won.

Dumb George didn’t understand why those rules mattered. Britain was bleeding, and possession is nine points of the law. They had all the places that constituted Victory.

GW just sat around and thought about it, and he realized that none of that mattered. He just kept bleeding Britain.

That, my friends, is GENIUS.

Every historian understands why Napolean’s conquest of Moscow in 1812 destroyed him.

But they cannot see that GW foresaw all that in the 1770’s.

The point is that Napolean was a high-IQ type. GW was a genius.


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George Washington, the None-Too-Bright Genius

Washington towers above the other Founding Fathers, but you almost never hear a quote from him.

If you do hear a quote from him, it was probably written for him by Hamilton or somebody. If you read biographies of GW you simply cannot conclude that his IQ would have tested above average.

I have studied and worked with testing a LOT. I worked with my doctor brother and we came up with testing methods he was especially invited to Walter Reed to talk about.

PLEASE don’t get bogged down into what IQ tests test. Analogy tests are better, becasue IQ tests were developed to tell the difference between the LEGAL, not medical, categories of idiot, imbecile, moron, subnormal and normal.

Mensa be damned, IQ tests are admissible in court, but they are NOT admissible to talk about how BRIGHT someone is. The analogy test is better for that.

The point is that even the best “intelligence” test, the PERFECT intelligence test, would have classified GW as about average.

But Washington was a genius.

There is a CORRELATION between intelligence and genius. There is a CORRELATION between I and height.

But Napolean was still highly intelligent.

Genius is CORRELATED to tested intelligence. But GW was a genius.

You see, intelligence is largely a matter of how fast your mind works, among other things. So while a highly intelligent person will LEARN to read fast, a genius like GW will never read fast.

Charlemagne tried hard, but he never learned to read at all.

So while a high-IQ person could leap from mountaintop to mountaintop in an hour, old George could ponder and ponder and ponder and finally come up with something said high-IQ type would NEVER come to.

That is what GENIUS is: Thinking of something no one else would EVER think of.

When the fighting in Boston got under way, a lot of people tried to jockey their way into being the Commander in Chief of the inevitable new American Army. They spoke, they made conncetions, they did the whole thing.

There is no record that Washington ever said a thing as a member of hte House of Burgesses. He figured he couldn’t compete that way.

So he just showed up at each session with his uniform on, six feet two inches of Silent Dignity. That was genius.

No big speeches, those were for politicians. No jockeying. That just made the other jockeys hostile.

He just showed up in his uniform saying, “When you stop babbling and want to get serious, I’m here.”

Actually GW wasn’t much of a general.

I will now do a separate piece on how he won the Revolution.