Python training time (was)

John Ochiltree johnochiltree at
Sat Feb 1 12:17:01 CET 2003

<posted & mailed>

Alex Martelli wrote:

> Laura Creighton wrote:
>    ...
>>> > indeed between a whole nation's impoverishment and enrichment.
>>> I hate to break it to you, but gratuitous complexity *maintains*
>>> relationships of power.  Consider lawyers, for instance.  On the open
>>> market, my C++ skills are worth more money to more people than your
>>> Python
>>> skills.  It's going to be quite some time before that picture changes.
>    ...
>> I think you are confusing 'getting paid' with 'creating wealth'.
> I think Laura is right on the spot, as usual.  Let me elaborate
> in my own usual (i.e. verbose :-) way.
> David Ricardo's "The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation"
> (not a _pleasant_ read IMHO -- I find Ricardo's style ponderous, the
> very opposite from the delightful, sparking English of e.g. Adam
> Smith -- but deep and important) goes into that quite well, IMHO.
> The whole book is available online, by the way:
> You'll find the distinctions between "value" on one side, and "wealth"
> or "riches" on the other (essentially the former meaning "value for
> exchange", the second "value for use") debated throughout the history of
> economics -- and often in much more brilliant language -- but never, IMHO,
> with deeper insight than Ricardo exhibits.  Chapter 20 of the book
> is entirely about this issue, and one key paragraph is:
> """
> It is through confounding the ideas of value and wealth, or riches that
> it has been asserted, that by diminishing the quantity of commodities,
> that is to say of the necessaries, conveniences, and enjoyments of
> human life, riches may be increased.
> """
> I'm talking about "riches" aka "wealth" in Ricardo's terms -- the
> abundance of necessaries, coveniences and enjoyments of human life --
> and specifically about those of a *whole nation*.
> Brandon seems to think that there is some relevance to this that,
> by creating or maintaining some scarcity, certain individuals can
> be enabled to capture more "value" ("more money").  Either he has
> not studied Ricardo, or he thinks _I_ haven't...
> One of Ricardo's examples discusses the possibility of a scarcity
> of *water* -- in his times (1820's) a paradox, today anything but
> (usable water IS scarce and costly in many places in the world).
> If you could create or maintain a scarcity of water, and control
> some of that scarce and therefore valuable resource, you, as an
> individual, might well profit for it, by diverting larger slices
> of the nation's wealth into your pockets; but the nation's wealth
> as a whole would inevitably diminish.  You'd get a larger slice
> (possibly even larger in absolute terms) of a diminishing cake.
> Similarly, professionals since age immemorables have striven and
> often succeeded in creating an artificial scarcity of their own
> services by restricting entry and practice into the profession
> (invariably with the noblest of motives, of course -- ensuring
> the public's safety, the quality of professional services, and
> so on -- it is, no doubt, just a side effect that this kind of
> barriers to entry increases the income of those already in...;-).
> Much the same goes for "programming productivity" -- it can be
> made artificially scarce, temporarily enriching those who can
> command it to the (greater) detriment of everybody else, and
> that will invariably be done for the noblest of motives.
> Some of us are keener on *growing the pie* for everybody, than
> on appropriating larger slices thereof.  Admittedly, such an
> attitude is easier to hold when one has already enough saved
> resources set aside to live comfortably, and/or absolutely no
> doubt that, whenever more income should be needed, it will be
> relatively trivial to obtain it (perhaps by doing some spell at
> an unpleasant but highly remunerated skill one has).
> But, it IS a choice each person needs to make on their own.  If
> you want to artificially maintain scarcity, impoverish everybody
> but possibly enrich yourself, then high-productivity tools such
> as Python may be seen as a threat to your prospects -- this may
> explain why some people get so venomonous in their attacks against
> such tools.  If you prefer to increase wealth and reduce poverty
> all around, then you should know that increasing the productivity
> of all factors of production (labour first and foremost) is really
> the only way -- thus, technological developments that lead to
> higher productivity, and in particular high-productivity tools
> such as Python, should be welcome, embraced, and evangelized.
> What kind of world we are going live in, will be in part determined
> by the choices made by everybody along this particular axis.
> Perhaps a more interesting question would be, what social
> arrangements (enforceable by law) would help Adam Smith's
> "Invisible Hand" work more expeditiously in ensuring that the
> wealth-increasing technologies are ALSO value-increasing in
> the not-too-long run (in the long run, we're all dead...:-).
> Here, I know Laura and I partly differ.  I agree with Smith
> that what allows some groups to capture wealth by impoverishing
> everybody are mostly social arrangements that interfere with
> the free market: intellectual property laws, limited-liability
> corporations (allowing the creation of lumbering giants that
> can and do use all sort of tricks to maintain their privileged
> position to everybody's detriment), legal sanction of the status
> of privileged professional groups and castes.  What we think
> of, today, as a "free market", is anything BUT, and rereading
> Smith (besides being utterly pleasant;-) is a helpful reminder
> of that.  Others may believe that the best answer to the
> inevitable distortions of markets by such laws and regulations
> is, _MORE_ laws and regulations (the latter, by some unexplained
> magic, will NOT be captured and exploited by special interests
> and lobbying groups as all the previous ones have always been;-).
> But, this is admittedly quite a different issue, anyway.
> Alex
This is the most wonderfully off topic post I've come across. You are a 
genius to get from a debate about C++ & Python to a debate on value. I 
salute you.

BTW I think Marx deals with the topic with far greater clarity than Ricardo 
or Smith, though Smith's Law of the Cartel is not to be sniffed at.



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