Sharing economic ideas
Economics Society welcomes Noam Chomsky to inaugural Boston Symposium
February 29th, 2012
MIT professor and social activist Noam Chomsky said that America’s Founding Fathers designed the Constitution based on the principle of protecting the wealthy minority and subverting the powerless majority.
“They wanted to keep meddlesome outsiders from interfering,” he explained, noting James Madison’s belief that “power should be in the hands of the wealthy and people who have sympathy for property owners and their rights.”
Chomsky, who is known as the “father of linguistics,” addressed more than 300 students, faculty and staff who filled the Curry Student Center Ballroom on Monday evening for the university’s inaugural Boston Symposium on Economics entitled “The Efficacy of World Change.”
The event — which was designed and sponsored by the Northeastern Economics Society, an undergraduate student club based in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities — also featured presentations by Alan Dyer, an associate professor of economics, and Rory Smead, an assistant professor of philosophy and religion.
Viraj Parikh, the student group’s executive director of current affairs, welcomed attendees to the symposium.
The third-year economics major advocated for closing the gap between political parties. “Political labels demoralize and hinder our ability to fix society’s problems,” he said. “We should spread ideas that benefit the human condition as a whole.”
For his part, Chomsky focused on the concept of the propaganda model, which he examined in the 1988 book, “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media.” The theory, he said, posits that corporate-owned print, radio and television media manipulate “uninformed consumers who make irrational choices” into consenting to social, economic and political policies.
“The two goals of the public relations industry are to undermine markets and undermine democracy,” Chomsky said, adding that the industry is “designed to convince you that all kinds of magical things will happen if you buy” particular products.
Smead shifted the discussion from the media to the environment. He employed the principles of game theory to explain how conflicting incentives fuel climate change, which, he admitted, is “too complex and too nuanced to be captured by mathematical tools.”
By way of example, Smead analyzed the so-called Tragedy of the Commons, a scenario in which individuals acting on rational self-interest drain a limited resource in spite of the negative long-term impact on society.
“Individual self-interest drives people to exploit their environment, which leads to a catastrophe on a large scale,” Smead explained. “Making use of public goods is individually beneficial, but costs society as a whole.”
He offered a broad solution to the dilemma, which was first described by ecologist Garrett Hardin in 1968. As Smead put it, “We have to change the interest structure by aligning individual and social interest.”
Dyer offered an unconventional solution designed to promote fundamental change in the financial sector, proposing a monetary system in which money becomes worthless after a set period of time.
He referred to this particular kind of currency as “vegetable money,” noting that “it cannot be used as a store of value because it literally rots.”
“I bet you’re not going to hear anyone propose this in the near future,” he added.
– by Jason Kornwitz