Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hourra pour/haro sur les dockers de Marseille

Yesterday, François Meunier, a professor of finance at ENSEA, published an interesting history of the organization of Marseille dockers on Telos. I learned from the piece but at the same time thought it curious that it came from a professor of finance. Cheers for trade unions aren't often heard from that quarter. Today a companion piece appeared, which reveals the logic of Meunier's position. Yesterday's article, it turned out, was an historical account of the origin of what economists call a "situational rent." Today's article explains how situational rents serve particular interests at the expense of the general interest and should therefore be eliminated, either by side payments to the beneficiaries or, as a last resort, by government action. Both articles are worth reading, even if one disagrees with the analysis, because, taken together, they expose with great clarity, and with the aid of a very concrete example, the way in which an influential body of political-economic thought views the world. Subtly but insistently, moreover, Meunier is suggesting that the debate about retirement reform be refocused from the insoluble question of fairness to the perhaps more tractable one of what will it take to compensate the losers for the situational rents that reform will force them to sacrifice. The passage of legislation has not resolved the issue, because the losers will continue to exact a price anyway in the form of work stoppages, which can be very costly to the economy as a whole while still satisfying the protesters only by gratifying their desire for vengeance even at the expense of their own material well-being. On this spiteful or "disinterested" form of vengeance, see Jon Elster, Le désinteressement, vol. 1 (currently available only in French but forthcoming in my English translation).

For a very different view of the world and an introduction to the concept of "raisonnement en équipe," see here.

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