Economics Philosophy Politics

Markets and morality

Professor Michael Sandel Reith Lectures 2009
Professor Michael Sandel Reith Lectures 2009

I am listening to the 2009 Reith Lectures – the prospects of a new politics of the common good. How do you create a better society? Kudos to my Ma who sent me this link, following on from a very interesting discussion last night.

A New Citizenship – Professor Michael Sandel

Conventional economic reasoning would suggest that if you want to create a certain behaviour, you create an incentive for that behaviour. Self interest is the name of the game; you either give a reward good behaviour, or you set a fine for bad. Makes sense? The problem is that what starts off as an incentive quickly becomes the norm. Market incentives quickly crowd out other norms, such as social norms of morality.

A child that is given a dollar to read a book quickly sees reading not of value to him or her, but a way to make money. A parent that is fined for picking up their child from school late will start treating the fine as a fee payable to the teacher for looking after their child. In the wider world, the carbon emission trading scheme of the Kyoto protocol was designed to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, some of the worst polluters and environmentally negligent nations are some of the richest, and can easily buy their way out of their obligations.

This is really a fascinating listen. I am looking forward to the next lecture, but quite depressed by what I am finding out.

The Trap – Adam Curtis

Adam Curtis has made a television series on a similar theme, The Trap, how attempts to engineer and regulate society through economics have weird and terrible consequences.

Game theory is a dangerous and broken model for human interaction; a system driven by suspicion and self- interest does result in an equilibrium, but at what cost?


Chicky Boom Boom

I got a women’s clothing catalog today with not only sizes but levels of curvyness. ‘Curvy’, ‘really curvy’, and ‘super curvy’.
Ah, I think I might enjoy shopping at Bravissimo…cos I have me curves.


You’ve got to respect a clothing line that does not obscure the main assets in its print or online materials with words such as breasts, bust, chest or other. No no, they are ‘boobs’. And they are so prettily framed and presented and ruched.


ooh! the builders are out!

I’ve had builders in for the last 2 weeks, constant tea and noise and dust and mess. Though relieved, I think I might actually miss the early start and seeing the progress every few hours. But look! I almost have a bathroom! almost, you say? ah, yet to put in the floor. Oops.

Photos to come of what was done downstairs, its still full of raw plaster and dust.


Growing Fresh Air

I watch TED talks frequently. Where else can you find Elizabeth Gilbert on genius, Clifford Stoll on everything, and James Kunstler on suburbia? The chance for richness in this randomness is awesome. Tony Dowler who put me onto the site a few years ago, and have been enthusiastically recommending it to everyone ever since.

I came across this talk about growing air a few months ago, and was determined to collect the plants that were mentioned.

  • Areca Palm
  • Mother in Laws Tongue
  • Money Plant

Each have got to be about two times as big as you, leaves cleaned by hand every day, and grown hydroponically, but apart from that it seems doable… 🙂 I am hoping I’ll still get some clean air out of them even though they are more compact and the roots are in dirt.

The palm and the tongue plants were easy to get hold of at a garden centre, but the money plant was a little scarcer. I put out a call for cuttings on Cambridge Freecycle and got a Jade plant – commonly called a money tree here in the UK – which is lovely but not quite what I was looking for.

It turns out that there are many plants called ‘Money Plant’. It’s possibly the most overused and misleading name ever.

Crassula ovata - Money Tree or Jade Plant
I got this
It should have been this
But what is this?
And this??

WordPress, it’s probably too soon but I think I love you

Can I just say how much I am liking wordpress? OK, admittedly I haven’t tried to do anything particularly crazy or complicated. But I did upload a bunch of images, and it made this pretty little gallery module in my post with automatic pages for the details and a larger image display.

I am impressed.

Miscellaneous Personal

Strawberry Fair and Gothometer


I spent the day at Strawberry fair yesterday. I was helping in the arts area, which was fun and lovely but very tiring.

My favourite bit was the ‘Gothometer’, an art work by Colin Dewar. This was a device that detected how ‘goth’ you are. It looked to be a monolith with a stand in front of it, with a semi-circular display and pointer. The display goes up to eleven. A camera with a laptop was situated away from the main apparatus.

A voice instructs you to ‘please mount the podium’. No one that I saw interpreted this in the dirty way, and most people somberly and carefully stepped on the stand to wait for the the visual information to be processed.

The computer determines the ‘gothness’, a buzzer goes off, and the result is displayed, and a snippet of a song that appropriately reflects the result plays. Despite my imploring, Colin thought it best not to have Raffi’s ‘Banana Phone’ as level 1 (“too annoying” he said!), instead opted for alternating between Kylie Minogue’s ‘I should be so lucky’, and Alvin and the Chipmunk’s ‘Stayin’ Alive’.  Other artists included the expected The Cult, Ministry, Siouxie and the Banshees and The Cure, but also Billy Ray Cyrus, Bauhuas, The Fall depending on gothness.

If someone was determined to be really really Goth, and got an 11, then not only would a song play but a little puff of a smoke would be expelled from the smoke machine behind the podium.

The whole thing was genius. Really fabulous. What might come as a surprise is that there really is a complicated algorithm to determine gothness – how many black and purple pixels could be found on the image from the webcam! I guess the results could be compromised if the view was obscured, or the lighting was bad. Also not all goths limit their wardrobe to black and purple. The scene has developed in some rather odd and fantastic ways, such as what my friend Si would call ‘Fluoro-goth’ where the person forgoes black entirely for bright acid colours in clothes and hair, but recognizably goth make-up.

Anyway, here are a couple of pictures from the day. I helped set up, including digging trenches for the power, servo and audio and went through the entire day with really grubby hands.

Note to British porto-potty providers – a sink with water is really cute and all, but utterly useless if THERE IS NO SOAP. Running cold water on hands doesn’t help with sanitation. Your hands are now dirty, germy and wet. I would have been happier with hand sanitizer, though would not have got rid of the dirt under my fingernails but I would have felt that I was not carrying festival toilet germs around with me everywhere.

The films were brill. I even liked my stint heckling punters from my 1945 programme stall with the union jack bunting and George Fornby playing out of the Tannoy. I wish the weather was better, but the real misery from the sky happened today so it could have been worse. JC, Simon Mullen, Cathy Dunbar, Helen Judge, Colin Dewar, Jen and all the others did a fantastic job with the arts area, and should be really proud.


Hello world…again

So I was just trumpeting that I had installed a blog, and it really only took five minutes, and feeling very smug and happy with myself.

And then I deleted ALL my posts.

Oh the horror.