Microeconomics and Jeffrey Epstein – assume a can opener, power, fantasy, and the corruption of neoclassical economics (or, marijuana)

I jotted the title to this post in a notebook a few weeks ago, after meditating while stoned.

Not too long ago, I gestured in the direction of a post about weed (or, as people my age call it, “pot,” or as people my parents’ age call it, “grass”).

I smoked a fair amount of pot in high school and college – always with others, in social situations. I bought it a few times, but more often, I was a mooch. [Once, I bought an ounce with a couple of hundred dollars I had raised for the Sandinistas in a several-day fast. I atoned for that about twenty years later, donating that money, plus some gesture at amends, to some organization devoted to the betterment of things in Nicaragua. In retrospect, mostly what I’ve learned from the trajectory of Nicaragua lo these last 35 years is that shit’s complicated.]

In any case: I smoked a bunch. Back in the day, it was possible to sit in a circle, pass a joint, and get nicely high. In more recent years, marijuana’s gotten too strong for me. I’m a lightweight. I had a date with a woman who had me remove all posts about her, because reasons, ten years or so ago, and she gave me a 10 mg mint. It FUCKED ME UP FOR A SOLID 24 HOURS. I have a good friend – S – who is high most of the time, and when I hang with him, I often partake. More than once, I’ve just wrecked myself. I feel, when I smoke with him, like I’m taking one for the team, like I’m subjecting myself to something for the good of our friendship, but which isn’t, really, for me.

About 18 months ago, though, I got myself a legal marijuana card in my state (where weed isn’t, really, legal, but it’s on the way). And I began experimenting. Add to that, in the last year or two, I’ve been in Massachusetts, which has a robust, legal, recreational marketplace. And I’ve been experimenting. With THC/CBD ratios. With Indica vs. Sativa. Lozenges vs. capsules vs. tinctures. Vapes vs. flower. Chocolate vs. gummies. And I am having FUN.

Best I can recall when I jotted down the title of this post, along with the inferences I can make, what I meant was something like….

A physicist, a chemist, and an economist are stranded on a desert island with no implements, and a can of food. The physicist says, “I will devise a mechanism to open the can. It will take me about a week to design, and then, I hope, another week to build.” The engineer says, “I’ll do you one better! I’ll devise a machine to open it – it’ll take me a few hours to design, and no more than a day or two to build.”

“You guys are crazy!” said the economist. “Just assume a can opener!”

Classical and neoclassical economists (pretty much everyone who teaches economics in the United States) teach an economics characterized by a few fundamental – and, oddly, willful – errors. For example: in any microeconomics course, pretty much the first thing you’re told is, “Assume perfect information and no transaction costs.” In English, that means, “Just pretend, for the entirety of the course we’re starting now, that everyone knows everything that might have any bearing on anything, and anything that can be done can be done not just easily, but effortlessly. Obviously, both of these assumptions are ridiculous. But, for the duration of the course, you have to pretend they’re true. There’s a third such assumption that’s so deeply embedded in economic thought that no one ever even articulates it – and, in fact, to articulate it explicitly basically marks one as a Marxist: assume no imbalance of power between parties.

In other words, micro-economics, as it’s taught in the United States today, basically requires everyone to pretend that, when I make a decision to use a product – say, iTunes – their power and Apple’s are equal; that, if I don’t want to use iTunes I can just as easily use a competing service. Of course, that’s not true, especially if I have an iPhone, because Apple has a lot of power over me – and because the way it uses that power is to make the transaction costs I face if I want to use a competitor prohibitively high. Add to that: when I join iTunes, I have to click past some incredibly lengthy, incredibly Apple-friendly “agreement,” in which I agree to all sorts of things I can’t even understand, because a) it’s incredibly lengthy, b) it was written by high-powered lawyers who know a lot more than I do about just about everything regulated by the “agreement,” and c) even if I had the time and the knowledge to read, and understand the document, Apple’s power is so much greater than mine that, if I am unhappy with the agreement, my only option is not to use the service. And remember the predicament my iPhone has put me in…. So, I agree. (Or, I would agree, if I had an iPhone.)

All this came to mind in my stoned meditation because I was thinking about Jeffrey Epstein, and how economists have to abandon their orthodoxy when they think about his relationships with the girls he raped and abused, many of whom, presumably, imagined themselves to be consenting to his arrangements with them at some point. Or maybe not that they have to abandon their orthodoxy so much as that those relationships illustrate how profoundly flawed that orthodoxy is.

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