Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Theory of Historical Costs

"..sure, there's some graft, but there's just enough to make the wheels turn without squeaking. And remember this. There never was a machine rigged up by man didn't represent some loss of energy. How much energy do you get out of a lump of coal when you run a steam dynamo or a locomotive compared to what there actually is in that lump of coal? Damned little. Well, we do a hell of a lot better than the best dynamo or locomotive ever invented. Sure, I got a bunch of crooks around here, but they're too lily-livered to get very crooked. I got my eye on 'em. And do I deliver the state something? I damned well do."

The theory of historical costs, you might put it. All change costs something. You have to write off the costs against the gain. Maybe in our state change could only come in the terms in which it was taking place, and it was sure due for some change. The theory of the moral neutrality of history, you might call it. Process as process is neither morally good nor morally bad. We may judge results but not process. The morally bad agent may perform the deed which is good. The morally good agent may perform the deed which is bad. Maybe a man has to sell his soul to get the power to do good.

The theory of historical costs. The theory of the moral neutrality of history. All that was a high historical view from a chilly pinnacle. Maybe it took a genius to see it. To really see it. Maybe you had to get chained to the high pinnacle with the buzzards pecking at your liver and lights before you could see it. Maybe it took a genius to see it. Maybe it took a hero to act on it. 

Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men

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