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Information take two

from Peter Radford

Keeping the conversation going.

Let’s start with Shannon, from his personal papers published in 1993 …

“The word ‘information’ has been given different meanings by various writers in the general field of information theory.  It is likely that at least a number of these will prove sufficiently useful in certain applications to deserve further study and permanent recognition.  It is hardly to be expected that a single concept of information would satisfactorily account for the numerous possible applications of this general field.”

So Shannon is fine with an eclectic vision of information, and expects a variety of definitions to emerge as useful.  This seems extremely wise.  Especially given his own somewhat narrow version.

Weaver, in 1949, expanded on  this ecumenical approach when he proposed a three pronged approach to understanding information.  He broke the analysis of information down into three basic areas of concern: technical issues to do with the quantification of information [which was where Shannon’s greatest insights lie]; semantic issues relating to meaning and truth; and a final category to do with the way in which information affected human behavior.

All the above information is summarized on page 81 of Luciano Floridi’s “The Philosophy of Information”  which is an excellent read.  Floridi has also provided us with “The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Computing and Information”, which gives the topic a broad survey and is well worth the effort.  For those of you who want to get a taste of the way Floridi surveys the topic I suggest chapter four in the Blackwell Guide, which is simply entitled “Information” and begins thus …

“Information “can be said in many ways” just as being can [Aristotle, Metaphysics] and the correlation is probably not accidental.  Information, with its cognate concepts like computation, data, communication etc., plays a key role in the ways we have come to understand, model, and transform reality.  Quite naturally, information has adapted to some of being’s contours.”

Information, then, is a tangled web and anyone making assertions of perfect understanding or singular definition is on thin ice.

But I am less interested in the philosophy of information than in its practical impact.  I want us to live in that third aspect of Weaver’s analysis.  Why?  Because, being most interested in how information appears in economic analysis, I am concerned with design.

Economists have for too long ignored the effort it takes to produce the goods and services we consume.  Such entities enter the scene fully formed and are then exchanged.  As I have argued before, production and the infrastructure needed for production is an immense portion of aggregate economic activity and yet is always — or nearly always — shunted off to one side as uninteresting.  Economics concerns itself predominantly with what happens after production, when stuff hits the market.  The problem with this focus is that it is far too narrow.  Production is just as important, and production is essentially an information process.

Yes, information is embodied into products.

We call that information design.  And it is design that allows us to impose order on the previously disordered natural environment so as to extract value from it.  Imposing order requires energy, and so we have the three components of fundamental economic analysis: information, the natural resources of the environment, and energy.  I have argued that these three are more useful to us than the standard capital and labor because they elevate information onto center stage, which is where it belongs.  Besides if you think defining information is difficult try parsing out exactly what we mean by either capital or labor.  Shannon’s dictum about the variety of definitions applies equally well, if not more, to them.

For those of you skeptical of this consider a typical product you use.  Imagine it being broken.  Imagine, as an example, a motor car after a major accident.  The car is unusable.  It has lost considerable value.  Perhaps it can be repaired, but in its damaged state it is worth a lot less.  Why?  The metal and other natural resources of the car still exist.  They have not been lost.  So it is not the resource base of the car that is the core of value.  We will need to consume more energy to fix the car, so there’s a source of loss.  But what is that energy doing?  It is allowing us to re-order the material of the car to re-capture its design.  It is the design of the far where the largest value resides.  And design is information.

Incidentally for the truly pedantic we can also argue that consumption of a good or service is also the destruction of design.  The loss of form, the dissipation of order, is the very definition of consumption.

Our ability to impose ever more complex designs onto the material substrate of our environment, by combining energy with design, is the source of our prosperity.  Doing that en masse requires an ability to replicate the process, so encoding the design appropriately is the essence of mass production.  Increasing our effectiveness in both design and in the combination of energy and materials is where we extract rising productivity.

For those of you still skeptical, I took the above example of the motor car from Cesar Hidalgo’s excellent book: “Why Information Grows.  The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economics”.  Hidalgo uses a Bugatti as the car in his example, which is on page 12 of his book.  Of course I have taken liberties with his original story, but the message is the same.

As Shannon indicated in the quote I gave above, we can get drawn into endless and tiring debates as to what information is or isn’t.  Clearly it is an elastic term.  I have just given a very short description of how I see it being useful in economics.  This is beyond the normal use of the word in economic discussions.  Economic is not simply about prices and the communication of prices.  It is also about discovery and the production of goods and services.  Approaching questions of productivity and growth through the lens of information and its accumulation in society is a more fruitful one, especially when we consider the difficulty economists have with the notion of ‘total factor productivity’.  Had we been using information in our production functions all along TFP would be a less daunting object.

  1. February 18, 2021 at 6:47 pm

    Production is just as important, and production is essentially an information process. Yes, information is embodied into products. We call that information design. And it is design that allows us to impose order on the previously disordered natural environment so as to extract value from it. (Paragraphs deranged)

    I am familiar with this way of thinking. Takahiro Fujimoto, a professor of production management and a well known specialist of automobile industry, with whom I have written a paper, also considers that a production is a design information printing process. I agree with Peter and Fujimoto although you use the terms in different order.

    Economic is not simply about prices and the communication of prices. It is also about discovery and the production of goods and services.

    I agree with you. Discovery of new products and production techniques is the real source of economic development. This was the main theme of my recent paper: A new framework for analyzing technological change(2020). However, I believe the following remarks is not very exact, because there is a strand called evolutionary economics which pay attention on the production process and product design. See my paper of 2004. As I have argued another day, complexity and evolution go together.

    Economists have for too long ignored the effort it takes to produce the goods and services we consume.

  2. Ikonoclast
    February 18, 2021 at 11:36 pm

    I have now read the posts on information take one and take two, I hope people don’t mind if I say that this is a very difficult arena and we are all floundering to greater or lesser extents. I don’t mind admitting to floundering myself. These are preliminary remarks. I hope to post a couple of more times on this thread.

    The hopeful sign is that discussion in heterodox economics is moving towards the development of a basic ontology for economics. Economics today is still in a kind of infancy which one could equate to the infancy of science in the centuries of the transition from alchemy to early classical (Newtonian) science. Modern conventional economics is still stuck in its alchemy period. We only have to hear the prescriptions and calls for endless growth, dematerialization of the economy and disregard of the natural systems of the biosphere to know that conventional economics is still in its alchemical infancy and that we are dealing with magical thinking, not scientific thinking.

    The puzzle is why conventional economics had remained in its infancy so long while science has progressed so far, from Newton to Darwin, Einstein and onwards. Given the knowledge accrued since the classical and modern revolutions in the hard sciences, conventional economics gives more the appearance of arrested development than true infancy. What forces have arrested this development? This is a key question and I will come back to it, maybe in a subsequent post on this thread.

    In this thread we are really grappling (I think) with what is required to develop a scientifically supportable ontology (and ethically supportable programs) for modern economics and to jettison the alchemical-magical-ideological thinking of conventional economics. This requires a revolution in thinking as great, in some ways, as has been required for the revolutions in science.

    The argument about information is one key aspect of the conundrum of developing a scientifically supportable ontology for economics. Recently, both Peter Radford and larrymotuz IIRC, and others, have been writing about how conventional economics fixates on markets and transactions and commonly ignores other crucial phenomena from production, to the issue of of needing income to participate in the market system at all even as a consumer, and right down to the basic issues of energy and information (not to mention ethical treatment of humans and nature).

    The market of course is just one institution, nested in a whole set of institutions (many more prior and fundamental to society than the market), nested in a socio-economy or political economy, nested in a set of natural systems. How it came to be thought that modelling the market and its claimed equilibria or even its empirically noted disequilibria would provide a causal model to explain the whole economy, and an adequate distributed command system to adequately to manage the entire political economy, has to be another example of the ideologically driven magical thinking which is so typical of conventional economics.

    These are my prefatory remarks. I will come back to post more specifically about economic or rather political economy ontology.

    • February 19, 2021 at 4:06 am

      I am happy to share this recognition with Ikonoclast:

      Economics today is still in a kind of infancy which one could equate to the infancy of science in the centuries of the transition from alchemy to early classical (Newtonian) science. Modern conventional economics is still stuck in its alchemy period.

      The word “alchemy” can be as well replaced by “astronomy”.

      The puzzle is why conventional economics had remained in its infancy so long while science has progressed so far, from Newton to Darwin, Einstein and onwards.

      Ikonoclast’s question is reasonable, but he should know why I have been talking about the importance of complexity and Weaver’s three kinds of problems. See here, here and here.

      We must recognize that there are fundamental differences between physics from Galileo to Newton (problems of simplicity), that of Boltzman, Gibbs, and Plank (problems of disorganized complexity), and sciences that treat problems of organized complexity (which includes biology and economics). The essential difference between problems of disorganized and organized complexity lies at the point whether the hypothesis of independence (in the probability theory) can be applicable or not. This difference make problems of disorganized complexity a suitable objects for treating them statistically. When there are strong interactions between elements or events, the hypothesis of independence (and hence the law of large numbers) does not hold. We need a new kind of scientific reasoning. One successful example is Darwin’s idea of evolution. It gave a general scheme of understanding of extremely complicated and varied biological world. However, we should also know that physiology or molecular biology depends basically on physics and chemistry. The principle of evolution gives only a general scheme of understanding the extant complexity of the real world.

      We should take into count that the nature of complexity and the structure of research objects determines how we can develop our understanding and science. I have an impression that Ikonoclst is a bit hasty in pursuing his objectives without considering the difficulty of the research defined by the complexity of the object. Ontology arguments without consideration of complexity of the object are often misleading, because they do not consider the subjective conditions that researchers face. We should keep in mind the third aspect of complexity, i.e. complexity for researchers.

      • pfeffertag
        February 21, 2021 at 2:52 am

        I have been pondering the trifold division: simple, disorganised complex, organised complex. I see more of a hindrance than a help.

        What is gained by conflating biology and social science as “organised complexity”? Biological processes are well understood whereas social processes are a mystery. If we are talking about problems what is the point of giving these a common designation? Surely it would be more logical to distinguish them: i.e., distinguish the biophysical from the social—which is what everyone in fact does in distinguishing “science” from “social science.”

        The “disorganised complexity” appears to be a special category confined to the molecular level (mainly to do with heat and pressure). The behaviour of molecules (and their smaller components) in large numbers can be treated statistically. (Though the “simple” relations between molecules and between their parts are also well understood.) What insight is to be gained from singling out molecular statistics? From the perspective of the social scientist it and the “simple” are all just science.

        Well, encouraged by people like Weaver, social scientists have for the last 50 years been treating human beings as molecules and trying to statistically analyse them. Right this minute there are thousands of psychologists, sociologists, political scientists and economists hunched over their computers pressing the statistics buttons, trying, as someone put it, to “torture the data into submission”—so they can submit a paper which will join the millions already published. And whereas scientists distinguish between different kinds of molecules, social statistics treat humans as an amorphous mass and try to use statistics itself to distinguish different kinds. It is useless.

      • February 22, 2021 at 4:08 pm

        pfeffertag,

        have you really read Weaver’s paper? And, have you reflected on why and for what purpose Weaver wrote his paper at that time?

        He is proposing that a new category of problems exist before us to be solved. He gave two reasons why we can now attack those problems. If biology and social sciences are different objects to research and different structures to make clear, we have to find proper method to approach them. There is no necessity to conflate biology and social sciences. It is pfeffertag who conflated them.

        pfeffertag > The “disorganised complexity” appears to be a special category confined to the molecular level.

        No, this statement simply proves that pfeffertag did not understood the difference between three problems. As I put it,
        The essential difference between problems of disorganized and organized complexity lies at the point whether the hypothesis of independence (in the probability theory) can be applicable or not.

        Do you not know why life and non-life insurance works? The insured events (death of a person, or a marine accidents) are not related to behaviors of molecules, but insurance works as long as independence assumption holds.

        Weaver referred to problems such as
        “what is the description of aging biochemical terms?” and
        “Do complex protein ‘know how’ to reduplicate their pattern?”
        These are questions on the behaviors of molecules, but obviously ones that cannot be treated as problems of disorganized complexity.

      • pfeffertag
        February 23, 2021 at 2:52 am

        Reply to Yoshinori Shiozawa at February 22, 2021 at 4:08 pm

        “If biology and social sciences are different objects to research and different structures to make clear, we have to find proper method to approach them.”

        That was my point!! So what is to be gained by conflating them under a single designator called “organised complexity”? It is a pointless category.

        If Weaver’s “disorganised complexity” refers to some things other than molecules, for heaven’s sake just tell me what they are.

        The distinction between “disorganised” and “organised” complexity is uninformative. Apparently, it distinguishes between inorganic molecules and everything else. It is fatuous.

        “Do you not know why life and non-life insurance works?”

        Dear me. How many times have I remarked that statistics are essential for administration? This has been so for thousands of years. I have also pointed out that there is no understanding to be found there. Proof of that lies with the millions of useless statistical social science papers. Statistics yield no theory. At best statistics yield scattered factoids, no more.

        As I have also said before, ad hominem is irrelevant. It’s probably best to eschew the second person pronoun altogether.

      • February 23, 2021 at 5:27 am

        pfeffertag,
        your two posts reveal that you cannot distinguish problems of disorganized and organized complexity, probably because you cannot understand the significance of independence hypothesis for probability theory and statistics.

        The main thrust of Weaver’s paper was that it drew a clear demarcation line between the sciences before the first half of the 20th century and the sciences that should come in the second half of the 20th century. He was the head of science department of Rockfeller Foundation. The paper was written to define what should be done as scientific researches in the coming years.

    • pfeffertag
      February 21, 2021 at 3:00 am

      Why is economics so backward compared with the achievements of science? This question applies to all the social sciences—of which economics is the least backward.

      It is because science deals with objective, material concepts and social science deals with subjective, mental concepts. The objective are actually out there; the subjective only exist if people think they exist.

      The proof that objective concepts (temperature, pressure, energy…) are out there is that they can be measured and interrelated using agreed measurement units. So scientists can understand each other and compare notes. But for concepts such as money, a chess game, a corporation, a law, there are no units of measure. The same applies to concepts such as cooperation, competition, justice, freedom, blame, envy, heroism, sin, trust… Without measurement, the differing opinions on what the concepts mean affect discussion.

      Scientists also have their opinions but these don’t affect their theories. F=ma means the same for everyone though there are various opinions of the meaning of mass, time and distance. Scientists have agreed relationships, not agreed definitions.

      In social science any purported “theory” depends on the particular theorist’s definitions and opinions. So nothing means the same for everyone. You could say there are no theories in social science. The exception is economics which is why it is ahead of the rest.

      The social sciences have been thrashing around for over a century; they will progress when they formulate relationships—relationships between concepts which are measured so that everyone understands them without any definitions. That is what economics does (to some extent).

      • February 23, 2021 at 5:54 am

        The social sciences … will progress when they formulate relationships—relationships between concepts which are measured so that everyone understands them without any definitions.

        What a rough and wrong prescription for social sciences! pfeffertag does not know how human being arrived to grasp F = m a. The notion of inertia came after a meandering path that starts with concept of impetus of Jean Buridan (a philosopher in the 14th century). More than one thousand years after Aristotle, nobody imagined something like inertia. The most simple physics law such as F = m a requires a long struggle of correct concept formation.

      • pfeffertag
        February 25, 2021 at 1:03 pm

        “pfeffertag does not know how human being arrived to grasp F = m a.”

        Thanks for the history lesson but how F=ma was arrived at is irrelevant. Where theories come from is a much discussed question. They come from human minds. How they get there the philosophers and historians will argue over forever; science is not affected by the question.

        What is relevant is that a science theory is a relationship between concepts which do not depend on definitions. So for social science to be science it has to express relationships (of magnitude, not of count) between concepts that are not specifically defined.

        That is what economics does and it rules the world. The other social sciences do not and are inconsequential.

        “The most simple physics law such as F = m a requires a long struggle of correct concept formation.”

        This history is not only irrelevant but it is also incorrect, or at least misleading. The struggle of science is not to form correct concepts; the aim is to form a relationship (which is what a law is) and it is the relationship which will be tested for correctness. In science theory the only purpose of a concept (temperature, gravity, mass, dark energy, phlogiston, aether…) is to fulfil some relational need. Scientific concepts only exist in relationships. Lone concepts do not exist.

  3. A.J. Sutter
    February 19, 2021 at 3:16 am

    ‘Information’ may have many meanings in ordinary language. But the existence of a plurality of meanings doesn’t imply that any particular meaning is suitable in any particular context where ‘information’ might be usable. E.g., you can’t just randomly choose some usage of ‘information’ and claim it means the same type of information as in Shannon’s 1948 theory.

    The car example is misleading. First of all, the use of energy could have many results: it could be used, e.g., to reduce the components of the car so that they can be disposed of safely. So energy doesn’t necessarily get transformed into a design. Second, the design itself could be non- or dysfunctional. Imagine a brand new electric vehicle, mobile phone or whatever that is designed to operate in an alternating cycle of 10 seconds on and then 10 seconds off. Third and most important, whether the design of the car has value is quite apart from whether it has information. An internal combustion engine-equipped Porsche might have a lot of value in a suitable society. In a society without availability of appropriate fuel, the Porsche’s value may be as a planter or as as piece of sculpture, or scrap. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it doesn’t have any value: it sinks, and may be a source of pollution adversely affecting ocean life. Same design in each case.

    Concerning Hidalgo’s original car example, his argument rests more specifically on the value of the design as an arrangement of atoms per se. This too is bunk: among other reasons, it ignores the connection between social meaning and value. I discuss his book’s abuse of ‘information’ and numerous other flaws at length in a 3-star (2.5-star) review on Amazon.com (US) from 2015, with 162 helpful votes at this date. The review is visible on other Amazon sites as a 3-star review “from other countries,” though you may need to go to the second page of such reviews. I’d have given it a lower rating, but for the fact that he was a relatively young scholar when he published it. I’d certainly have done so if I’d known that his fallacies would have such longevity.

  4. A.J. Sutter
    February 19, 2021 at 3:40 am

    A couple of further points about Peter’s post specifically:

    1.”[W]e can also argue that consumption of a good or service is also the destruction of design. The loss of form, the dissipation of order, is the very definition of consumption.”

    Isn’t this exactly contrary to the point of “New Growth Theory” à la Paul Romer, whose whole “insight” is that designs are separable from goods? More generally, this is also the basis for our current system of intellectual property rights, esp. as regarding patents (utility and design) as well as mask rights, design rights and other more acrane statutory creations. (Not that I endorse NGT, nor the extant regime of IPR, despite formerly practicing as a patent lawyer.) Another example: when you consume Big Mac or a Cinnabon, the value of those services increases — you haven’t dissipated the design of the service. One should distinguish among a design, an instantiation of it, and in the case of services the physical correlates of it.

    2. “Had we been using information in our production functions all along TFP would be a less daunting object.”

    How would this work? “Information” is just another reification, no less than “capital” and “labor.” Moreover, under the plurality-of-meanings approach outlined here, how does one propose to quantify it? One way might be according to price: e.g. it’s easy to imagine that “blue” has different value as the color of a car vs. of a dental prosthesis. But this will then affect the value of the output Y on the left-side of the equation: you’re sacrificing the mathematical simplicity of the production function. Not sure what you gain from that approach in practice. (Again, this isn’t an endorsement of conventional production functions, either.)

    • A.J. Sutter
      February 19, 2021 at 3:57 am

      To be more precise re my point 2: Of course each variable in a production function has an impact on Y. What I meant was that defining information by its impact on value will pull Y-dependence into the right-hand-side: not a implification, it seems to me. But it’s hard to imagine any other pertinent way to quantify information.

    • February 19, 2021 at 6:32 am

      Re point 1. of your comment on February 19, 2021 at 3:40 am.

      I agree with you that we “should distinguish among a design, an instantiation of it, and in the case of services the physical correlates of it.” (It may be better that we replace “the physical correlates” by simple word “consumption” although the latter is more ambiguous than the first.)

      This said, I support Peter Radford’s general scheme, i.e. production is “information design” instantiation process. Please see also Fujimoto’s idea in my first post in this thread. If the image is contrary (or even contradictory) to “New Growth Theory” à la Paul Romer”, it is a good thing, as I will explain it in Point 2.

      Re point 2.
      The very concept of production function is not a plausible notion for analyzing production, its process, and its effects on the economy. So I do not support Radford’s idea to replace the production function f(W, C, K) by f(W, C, I), for example, where K is knowledge produced by R&D and I the design information. You say you do not endorse the conventional notion of production function. If so, what do you propose in place of it?

      In my opinion, all aggregate production function is a fake concept. Reasons are amply explained in the book by Jesus Felipe and John S. L. McCombie The Aggregate Production Functions and the Measurement of Technological Change. The authors mainly argue logical difficulties of the notion of aggregate production function.

      Moreover, the notion of production function of a single product i.e. x_i = f_i(W, C) for a product i is as problematic as the aggregate version. It may represent a work like tinkering (bricolage of Levi-Strauss), but no production of the modern world.The concept disfigures the nature of industrial production. If you like, I can explain why both aggregate and non-aggregate production function disfigures the modern industrial production.

      • A.J. Sutter
        February 19, 2021 at 2:35 pm

        @Yoshinori: I concur with your skepticism, or disbelief, in production functions, possibly aside from the empirical relation derived in the first part of the original Cobb and Douglas 1928 paper (until around pp. 155-156, when they change their intention from stating results to “illustrat[ing] a method of attack”).

        And also like you, I don’t shed any tears about being contrary to Romer’s theory, since his purported conclusions are hard-wired into his assumptions, making his theory a mirage or trick. Though I think Peter’s idea of designs being “destroyed” by consumption is mistaken, for the other reasons mentioned.

        I respectfully disagree about the information thesis regarding production. As I mentioned, it is necessary to incorporate social context to associate value with information. Quite unlike Shannon’s 1948 idea of information, any type of information involved in economics hinges on a question of meaning, which is in turn socially embedded. I don’t see how this simplifies the theory or makes it more amenable to quantification. Moreover, it would make economics the creature of other social sciences, not its queen — although perhaps this inversion of convention, too, like the others mentioned above, is warranted.

      • February 20, 2021 at 12:21 am

        I agree with you in the essence. There would be no big meaning in using or adding the word “information” instead of or in addition to “design.” It is certain that any design of a product contain information, but it has significance only when it is understood as structured information in opposition to quantitative one.

        In this sense, the word “meaning” (as you use) is better than “information” in the Shannon’s sense. He is concerned with correct transmission of information or a series of bits, but it has no meaning if it is separated from the surrounding context. Perhaps a good illustration would be genetic information. A series of DNA has no meaning if it is separated from proteins which interpret the series. So, an expression such as “design information printing process” is best interpreted as a figurative expression. I am also skeptic of the “everything is information and can be interpreted as information” theory (if such a thing exists).

  5. February 19, 2021 at 12:23 pm

    None of the disputants here and elsewhere seem to have grasped that Shannon was not talking about information. He has abstracted that away and left himself with the Mathematics of its Capacity to inform. His concept of “redundant” information, however, was positively paraphrased in Gregory Bateson’s definition of information as “a difference which makes a difference”. That is still abstract, referring to nothing in particular. Where Shannon took this was into how we catch typos by the probability that a particular alternative reading fits best in that context. No trying to predict the future in this: the typo has already happened.

    My conclusion is that Newton’s “cause and effect” science was about how to do things, and Shannon’s about how not to (and how to put them right if they go wrong). The Newtonian way looks to technology to dig us out of the environmental hole it has left us in. The Shannon way of thinking puts a positive spin on Harry Truman’s “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. “if it has already broken”, says Shannon;”here’s how to fix it”. Don’t do what you can’t, as in the story of King Canute on the beach, trying to push back the waves. (Is that not a fair analogy of technologists trying to supply us all with electric cars)? To put right what we have already done wrong, we need not just to stick to pedal cycles and mobility scooters for the disabled, we need to stop chopping down trees and wage war on the backlog in planting replacements. And we need to finance the war not by recycling loans but by giving credit (a right to buy what they need) to those volunteering to do the job.

    Summarily, the economic profession has got it all wrong. It has tried to show us how to create wealth, when it should have been showing us how to recognise and maintain the wealth we already had. It has focussed on managing privatised Government households, and failed to see “the elephants in the room”: the billions of struggling family households around the world, the rising despair in societies and the almost terminal sickness of Gaia (the whole earth). Which for me (and it seems Larry), these are the axioms and priorities with which the professionals need to start again, whatever the political program they may be trying to write.

  6. February 21, 2021 at 7:38 pm

    Perhaps it is ‘true’ that “for the truly pedantic we can also argue that consumption of a good or service is also the destruction of design. The loss of form, the dissipation of order, is the very definition of consumption.”

    Let me say: Consumption is USE of a good or service to obtain a benefit or benefits from that use. Consumption is always goal-oriented. Though consumption sometimes involves USING UP, it does not necessarily USE UP. It does not necessarily require loss of form, or the dissipation of order, both of which are different from wear and tear.

    One problem with the theoretic is that it conflates the act of purchase with the act and future acts of using what has been purchased. It presumes the ‘consumer’ can foresee every possible future use and then builds in this presumption as total utility. Yet, the reality is that one cannot foresee every future use in advance, only that a good or service will be useful to have. Whether the good is learning a skill set or an axe, both of which must be purchased, one cannot know in advance how useful either acquisition will be. One knows when buying a frying pan that it will be put to good use, but one hardly knows in advance … ah, need I go on?

    I very much enjoyed this article.

    • A.J. Sutter
      February 23, 2021 at 2:44 am

      @larrymotuz: I suggest your points are on the right track, but could go even farther. In mainstream economics, consumption of a good or service isn’t the use of that good or service, it’s payment for that good or service. How many people, for example, pay monthly or annually for gym memberships or magazine subscriptions, but never work out or read what they’re paying for? Lots. But their payments still add to GDP.

      In light of that, it’s even more far-fetched than already indicated in some comments in this thread to say that consumption — in the sense that term has in the field of economics — is the “destruction of design,” “disspitation of order,” etc.

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