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Human motivation

By Thomas E. Brewton
web posted March 28, 2011

Can human behavior be programed by social engineers and economic planners?

Keynesian macroeconomics reintroduced and popularized in the 1930s the presumption of the 19th century's socialist philosophers who had expected to emulate in the social sciences the methodology of Newton's physics and mathematics. 

In their ideological vision, intellectuals were to derive laws of social action analogous to Newton's laws of motion.  Those sociological laws would then be applied by social engineers and economic planners to implement an entirely new social and economic structure that was to resurrect the primordial Garden of Eden, a society of socialized equality, with an abundance of goods and services equally available to all citizens.

Today's liberal-progressivism is the heir to that egalitarian, socialistic ideology.

Implicit in it is the belief that human individuals and humans in the mass react to external stimulae, and that their reactions can be conditioned and manipulated by state planners. 

That, of course, was the significance of Russian scientist Pavlov's 1890s experiment with conditioned response in dogs.  By training dogs to expect to receive a meal shortly after hearing a bell ring, Pavlov was able to induce salivation in the dogs whenever the bell rang.  His later work involved human responses and initiated the field of behavioral psychology.

Today's propagandists like Paul Krugman are blindly confident that humans, like Pavlov's dogs, can be channeled by government regulation and deficit spending into the egalitarian socialism championed by Obama, Pelosi, and Reid.  If the Federal Reserve System creates enough fiat money and the Federal government engages in enough deficit spending, according to Keynesian macroeconomic theory, the economic boom of the housing bubble will automatically resume and be made perpetual.  If wealth is transferred by punitive taxation from "the rich" to everybody else, unemployment will disappear and social harmony will reign.

In contradistinction, today's school of Austrian economics, along with earlier economic studies by Classical economists such as J. B. Say and Nassau W. Senior, assert the opposite: human behavior is characterized by purposeful action.  Judging from the abject failure of Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s and Obamanomics today, most people are fearful of a future clouded by the Democrat/Socialist Party's continual threats to their way of life.  People obviously don't rush out the door and immediately recommence spending and piling on credit card debt in automatic response to a melange of government stimulus programs.

Individuals have private desires and aims, which they endeavor to attain through their actions.  Those actions often may involve temporary inaction, deferring immediate gratification to achieve greater future benefit. And those aims and actions focused by them are massively varied, lying to a considerable extent outside the parameters prescribed by Democrat/Socialist Party economic planners.

Thus, a fundamental reason for repeated, and inevitable, failures of Keynesian macroeconomics is simply that individuals and humans in the mass do not uniformly, or even generally, react like automatons to the regulations and monetary inflation prescribed by Keynesian state planners. ESR

Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. His weblog is The View from 1776. Email comments to viewfrom1776@thomasbrewton.com.

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