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Readings: 13 Aug 2016

J.D. Evans and Sam Lebovic compare “the market” to another collective system we all participate in through our daily lives: the transit system.

In the United States, we are used to the term “the market” being thrown around in public discourse, as though it refers to a single thing. In fact, there are many markets, all nested and interconnected. Some parts are private, some public. Optimizing for the growth of the whole loses sight of the goals of the participating agents, which the analogy to roadways makes clear:

If we don’t evaluate traffic systems based on their size, or their growth, how do we evaluate them? Mostly, by how well they help people get where they want to go. The market metaphor encourages us to think that all economic activity is motivated by the search for profit, and pursued in the same fashion everywhere. In a market, everyone’s desires are perfectly interchangeable. But, while everybody engages in the transport system, we have no difficulty remembering that we all want to go to different places, in different ways, at different times, at different speeds, for different reasons. You might prefer to drive, because it’s faster; I prefer the train, because it’s more comfortable. That’s a more appropriate way to think about the economy, too. Like the transport system, the economy is the necessary framework for us getting where we want to go – but we all use it in our own ways, for our own purposes.

Reminds me of a great quote from Tim O’Reilly:

Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations. You have to pay attention to money, but it shouldn’t be about the money.

Physicist Ursula Franklin died a few weeks ago. I’m familiar with her work through the writing of Mandy Brown1 and Deb Chachra2, both of whom recommend The Real World of Technology as life-changing. It’s in the queue on my shelf, unread (because because tsundoku), but I thoroughly enjoyed the 2014 interview with Franklin in The Atlantic:

My main interest then developed into solid-state crystal structure and the concept of structure: The arrangement of the parts to make a whole, and how the properties of the whole are not just the sum of the parts, but profoundly affected by the respective positioning of the parts to form the whole. That was a sort of [interest] that has stayed with me and [transferred] very easily into the political and the social things. So it’s all the back and forth of life – it’s always been navigating around a standing structure and changing them so as to change their properties.

Developmental psychologist and philosopher Alison Gopnik rejects goal-directed parenting.

Instead of valuing “parenting,” we should value “being a parent.” Instead of thinking about caring for children as a kind of work, aimed at producing smart or happy or successful adults, we should think of it as a kind of love. Love doesn’t have goals or benchmarks or blueprints, but it does have a purpose. Love’s purpose is not to shape our beloved’s destiny but to help them shape their own.

What should parents do? The scientific picture fits what we all know already, although knowing doesn’t make it any easier: We unconditionally commit to love and care for this particular child. We do this even though all children are different, all parents are different, and we have no idea beforehand what our child will be like. We try to give our children a strong sense of safety and stability. We do this even though the whole point of that safe base is to encourage children to take risks and have adventures. And we try to pass on our knowledge, wisdom and values to our children, even though we know that they will revise that knowledge, challenge that wisdom and reshape those values.

  1. A Working Library is a huge inspiration to me. Not only does she exemplify my own motto here at (“A digital commonplace book; a place to think in public”), Mandy Brown is clearly a master with the static site generator Jekyll. Her site weaves together excerpts from books, her notes on reading, and her blog posts in a way that I can’t imagine making happen with Wordpress or any other off-the-shelf content-management system. ↩︎

  2. Her newsletter Metafoundry is required reading. ↩︎