Praxgirl/episode 1

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Description

Praxgirl starts with a brief explanation of the meaning and usefulness of praxeology.

"Praxeology is a framework for understanding the purposeful behavior of human beings. It gives us the universal laws of action." Praxeology grew out of economics "when it was realized that economic logic didn't just explain prices and other market phenomena, but also the nature of all human decision-making." Praxeology is useful in explaining the world we live in, but also implicitly as a guide to what is workable and what isn't (she uses the analogy of physics being useful because it can tell us how to safely handle a live electrical wire). "Praxeology gives us the tools to think about human action beyond just what is seen."

She then gives a hypothetical example of a man who shingles his roof at a cost of $1000 rather than paying a roofer $5000, but who could instead have put the same time in doing paid work and earned $8000 -- thus leaving himself enough to pay a professional roofer and still have $3000 left over. If the goal was enjoyment, then he may have made a good decision; if the goal was saving money, then he clearly did not.

This analysis is apparently being presented as an example of applied praxeology, because praxeology aids with "understanding of the limitations of human planning".

She then explains that "a pencil is the product of the harmonious actions of a vast number of people", and "no one person knows how to make a pencil" because there is no single person who knows every step of the process all the way from harvesting of timber and mining of graphite to final product. The pencil is therefore "a miracle of social cooperation on a massive scale, with no central planner".

She then analogizes from the pencil to more complex entities such as the internet and the global shipping network, and then sums up: "Praxeology is the science that enlightens us to the nature of human action and interaction in a logical structure that we can understand. Praxeology even explains the nature and origin of civilization itself!" Praxeology apparently will also show us the "severe limits" of "all attempts to steer [society] by force".

Analysis

Pencil: it seems unlikely to me that there isn't anyone involved in pencil manufacture who knows and could personally execute every step involved -- but I think her point is not that nobody can do all the steps, but rather that it's a lot easier to do things if we divide up the labor into specialized chunks. That's reasonable.

Roofing: This example assumes a significant wage disparity between the professional roofer and the DIY person. This kind of disparity is certainly common and therefore a valid premise for this example, and does support the premise that different people are better at different jobs. On the other hand, it implies a description of an optimally-functioning economy, which further implies a couple of unspoken assumptions about the situation: (a) the professional roofer is better at roofing than the amateur; (b) the amateur roofer is paid better than the professional because the former's professional work is more valuable than roofing.

The internet was in fact created by the United States government. It is now largely maintained and operated by private companies -- who are busily centralizing themselves by buying each other out while trying to destroy much of the main purpose of the internet, i.e. the free and unrestricted exchange of information. Praxgirl's attempt to leave the audience thinking of this as the product of decentralized and unregulated social cooperation has the potential to be misleading.

Discussion