It seems to me that one of the most underrated notions in the world is that of the “optimal” arrangement. You hear a lot of folks talking about things like “exploitation”, “growth”, “fairness”, “maximizing profits”, etc, etc, but it seems to me we don’t talk nearly enough about how to structure the world in the way that best benefits the most people, ie to seek the optimal arrangement given the needs and contributions of all the players involved.
Nearsighted conservatives will sometimes mistake that kind of discussion as “socialist” because they see it as veering away from the competitive, individual forces that very effectively drive highly productive economies, but they forget that in the game of economics we should generally be looking at metrics such production divided by number of people (GDP), and this number will be bigger if we optimize correctly.
The left in this sense is usually too “far sighted”, looking to distribute the wealth that may vanish if we eliminate those individual and corporate competitive structures that are the hallmark of industrialization and the spectacular rise in the average standard of living in the industrialized world over the past century.
So, how to optimize things? Economist Vilfredo Pareto (OMG he’s Italian?! economic credibility challenge alert!) had some neat ideas with respect to optimizing systems where we’d examine them to find ways to increase the well being of some participants without decreasing that of others. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_efficiency
I think this simple basic idea should factor in a lot more, especially for those who fret a lot about the inequitable distribution of production towards the rich. Those folks generally, and very wrongly, assume that redistribution won’t have negative effects on production. It will, although that certainly does not mean we should not redistribute anything. It just means we need to redistribute with *great caution* to avoid the catastrophic kinds of problems faced by basket case economies like North Korea.
I think the single greatest challenge of optimizing is the degree to which you factor in the needs of other nations. Optimizing with the rural Pakistan peasantry in mind is different than if we draw our lines at the US border and say to heck with the needs of everybody else. Although I believe we have a moral imperative to take the needs of the world into much better account than we do now, I also recognize that it’s not practical or even possible for those of us who enjoy the many benefits of industrialized capitalism to successfully integrate our economies with those of countries like North Korea or China or even very friendly “economic allies” like India. Fortunately for those guys – and probably for us too – industrial globalization and the communications and technology revolution are handling much of this task, often via the invisible hand of Adam Smith style free marketeering.
The future … is better optimized !