The Dismal Science vs. Community

by Mark T. Mitchell on April 13, 2009 · 24 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Economics & Empire,Writers & Poets

 

RINGOES, NJ. In 1944 two very different but related books were published. The first was F.A. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. In a world that seemed to be succumbing to the socialist ideal, where planned economies represented a glorious future, where the turmoil of the market would be replaced by the peace of a directed economy, Hayek’s was a lonely voice warning that a command economy would necessarily entail the loss of freedom. With the demise of the Soviet Union and the apparent victory of market capitalism, Hayek’s views appeared to be vindicated. The second book painted a very different picture. In The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi argued that a self-regulating market was a utopian fantasy. Polanyi, an economic historian, attempted to show that a market economy required a market society where all things were reducible to market terms. With this homogenization of reality, the very things that once provided a cushion against market forces were absorbed into the market. Where Hayek worried that socialism would jeopardize freedom, Polanyi worried that market forces themselves would erode the social and cultural contexts that made freedom possible.

The current economic trials besetting the global economy provide a good opportunity to consider some of the basic questions raised by Hayek and Polanyi. There are, of course, those who argue that our troubles are the result of government meddling in the market and recovery will best be achieved if the government stays its hand and allows the forces of the market to correct the effects of governmental mischief. On the other hand, there are those (and these seem to be in the majority) who argue that unregulated market forces led to the abuses that have made necessary increased regulatory oversight as well as significant federal intervention into financial markets and certain business sectors. So sixty years later, we find ourselves facing the same questions Hayek and Polanyi grappled with in 1944: are unfettered markets good or are they harmful?

In his recent book, The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community, Harvard economist Stephen A. Marglin enters this discussion, albeit elliptically, by putting to question the nature of his own discipline: could it be that economists, when they are thinking like economists, bring at least as much smoke as light? Could it be that the academic discipline itself, when faithfully practiced, blinds the practitioner to crucial verities and thereby produces what are at best half-truths? Could it be that thinking like an economist actually undermines community? Marglin’s account is not flattering to economics and is sure to ruffle the feathers of plenty of economists. His thesis: “over the past four hundred years, the ideology of economics has fostered both the self-interested individual and the market system, and has undermined, and continues to undermine, the community” (1, italics added).

Economics has, according to Marglin, become an ideology, a self-contained worldview with its own set of values as well as a particular epistemology and ontology. In short, modern economics is not simply a means by which exchanges can be described or even a set of tools that ensure optimal efficiency of market transactions. The ideology of economics is a way of seeing the world. It forces reality into a preconceived structure and subsequently deigns to rule this truncated world with all the authority of science. The modern discipline of economics is, among other things, imperialistic in its aims and destructive in its consequences. This unhealthy development would not have surprised Lord Copleston, Provost of Oxford’s Oriel College, who in the early 19th century balked at the establishment of a chair of political economy precisely because that discipline is “so prone to usurp the rest.”

Marglin shares many of the concerns voiced by Polanyi. “The market bears a large share of the responsibility for eroding…community, for undermining the centrality of community in our lives.” The term “market” of course, can mean a variety of things, and Marglin takes care to define exactly how he intends to use this word.

By ‘market’ I mean something different from the variety of markets that have been with us since time out of mind and exist in virtually all societies….I mean with Karl Polanyi a self-regulating market system, a world in which markets collectively allocate resources, set prices, determine the distribution of income—in short, a system in which markets provide for our needs and wants and from which we derive our sustenance. And something more: a system that not only regulates itself but also regulated ourselves, a process that shapes and forms people whose relationships with one another are circumscribed and reduced by the market (2).

Marglin is not, though, unaware of the many ways that markets make the world better. Markets have fueled innovation in medicine, and people are healthier for it; markets have made possible better production, and distribution of food and hunger has been abated; and labor-saving devices have relieved people from many grueling and dangerous jobs. He does not dispute these good things. He does, though, take issue with those in his field—and if Marglin is correct this is most economists—who applaud the benefits of markets without admitting the dark side of the same dynamic force. There is, it seems, an implicit faith underlying the economist’s creed.

Consider the following example. Lawrence Summers—currently the head of President Obama’s National Economic Council—for a time served as Chief Economist of the World Bank. While in that position he sent an internal memo to a colleague arguing that the World Bank should encourage poor countries to sell space for western pollution. “A given amount of health-impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest-wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.” The Economist got hold of the memo and, while acknowledging that the language was “crass,” went on to admit that “on the economics his points are hard to answer” (37). If “economic logic” leads to the obvious conclusion that it is good for developing countries voluntarily to assume the “health-impairing” toxic waste of developed countries, then perhaps there is something wrong with economic logic. Could it be that it is blind to important facets of reality?

Or consider the concept of a free market in labor described in idealized form by Frank Knight:

Every member of the society is to act as an individual only, in entire independence of all other persons. To complete his independence he must be free from social wants, prejudices, preferences, or repulsions, or any values which are not completely manifested in market dealing. Exchange of finished goods is the only form of relation between individuals, or at least there is no other form which influences economic conduct. And in exchanges between individuals, no interest of persons not parties to the exchange are to be concerned, either for good or ill.

While Knight’s description is admittedly idealized, Ludwig von Mises makes the same point which, he argues, holds true in “the real world.” If workers “did not act as trade unionists, but reduced their demands and changed their locations and occupations according to the requirements of the labour market, they could eventually find work.” Indeed, that might be true, but it is the economist’s constricted view of reality that makes it impossible for him to acknowledge that something good might be lost in this world of nomadic wage-seekers. Wendell Berry defines community in a way that clarifies the issue: “By community, I mean the commonwealth and common interests, commonly understood, of people living together in a place and wishing to continue to do so. To put it another way, community is a locally understood interdependence of local people, local culture, local economy, and local nature.” If, as Berry suggests, a healthy community consists of placed people who depend on each other and expect to share a future together, then it is precisely community that falls victim to the economist’s reductionism.

According to Marglin, the ideology of economics posits a truncated philosophical anthropology—the individualistic consumer; it posits an inadequate theory of knowledge—rationalism; and it posits a false conception of community—the nation.

In adopting a particularly extreme form of individualism, in abstracting knowledge from context, in limiting community to the nation, and in positing boundless consumption as the goal of life, economics offers us no way of thinking about the human relationships that are the heart and soul of community other than as instrumental to the individual pursuit of happiness. Economics takes very much to heart the famous dictum of the nineteenth-century physicist Lord Kelvin that we know only what we can measure. Indeed, economics takes the dictum a step further, from epistemology to ontology: what we can’t measure—entities like community—doesn’t exist (9).

Before going further, we should seek out Marglin’s definition of community, for the word has been much used in recent decades, and many shades of meanings have emerged. According to Marglin, “the distinctive feature of community is that it provides a kind of social glue, binding people together in relationships that give form and flavor to life” (20). Communities, unlike associations, are central to who we are, for they “create a common future for their members and remember a common past” (28). Furthermore, community includes the natural world. But seeing the natural world as part of one’s community is polar opposite of seeing nature “as an input into a calculus of the self-interested individual’s utility.” Giving voice to a conception of the natural world that is more akin to Wendell Berry than Milton Friedman, Marglin continues: “A community extending to animals and plants, fields and rocks, rivers and mountains, a community extending backward in time to the ancestors and forward to generations yet unborn, will find the language of trade-offs and opportunity costs as alien as the calculating self-interested individual will find the idea of responsibility and ethical obligation” (50). In this context, the “economic logic” of selling the right to pollute one’s own community is unthinkable.

It is thinkable, though, when we conceive of the maximizing individual as the only legitimate player, or when we conceive of the nation as the only community that matters. If individuals are the primary unit of analysis, and if individuals are concerned only with maximizing their own interests, then surly a business owner could see the economic logic of acquiring toxic waste for a profit (so long as it is not stored in his backyard). At the same time, the nation can agree to sell pollution rights because the nation per se will profit. Perhaps, though, there are goods that cannot be calculated in economic terms. Perhaps there are future consequences that, while they can be intuited, cannot be clearly factored into a rational calculus.This problem of knowledge is at the heart of Marglin’s book. According to Marglin, modern economics is modern precisely because it partakes of the basic assumptions of the modern project. Central to this project is what Marglin terms “the homogenization of knowledge.” This is not an unfamiliar story. With the various changes that occurred in early modern Europe, including the Cartesian revolution and the new science espoused by the likes of Francis Bacon, a prejudice was formed in favor of knowledge that was completely explicit, rational, and verifiable. Marglin calls this “algorithmic knowledge.” Algorithmic knowledge prides itself on being rational and moving in clear steps from premises to conclusion. It is analytic in that it seeks to break a problem down into its constitutive parts and grasp those parts clearly and distinctly (to borrow the terminology of Descartes). Subject matter that does not yield to this particular methodology stands outside the purview of knowledge and, for all intents and purposes, outside the realm of reality. The so-called fact-value distinction comes into play in this context, for facts are those things that can be grasped by algorithmic knowledge while values are merely subjective preferences. The value of community, then, drops off the radar of the economist who, due to his philosophical commitments, finds himself capable of speaking only in terms of efficiency, for efficiency can, in fact, be measured and what can be measured and analyzed is what is real.

When efficiency is elevated to the status of the one universal economic value, conclusions emerge that seem strange to anyone who has not learned to think like an economist. Mandeville’s famously industrious bees seemed to prove that private vice could actually lead to public benefit. This sentiment is a far cry from the ideas of personal responsibility, self-control, and stewardship, virtues necessary for sustaining a healthy community.

The titan of twentieth-century economics, John Maynard Keynes, in a 1930 essay titled “Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren” argued that under the steady hand of economic progress the problem of scarcity might one day be solved. Until that auspicious day, though, we must continue to pursue economic growth. And to accomplish this, “we must pretend…that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not” (205). Eventually, Keynes admitted, we may one day be able to order our lives according to “the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue” but that time is still far off (204). We must act in ways that most efficiently promote economic growth, and that means we must organize our lives according to self-interest and greed. According to Keynes, then, instead of sacrificing our material good for our posterity, we must sacrifice our souls in the dim hope that our grandchildren will have the luxury of being virtuous. Clearly something has run amiss.

According to Marglin, these are precisely the kinds of problems we should expect to encounter when we fail to admit forms of knowledge other than algorithmic knowledge. For Marglin, the legitimacy of what he terms “experiential knowledge” is denied by the modern economist. Experiential knowledge is knowledge based on intuition, authority, tradition, and the like. Notions such as these will not impress the modern rationalist who rejects appeals to authority and demands that all knowledge be explicitly accounted for. Yet, “in a world of uncertainty, in our world, we rely on convention, authority, and intuition—on our own, but even more so, on the community’s experience. When economics erases community, it at the same time erases, or at least marginalizes, an important source of the knowledge that individuals need to navigate an uncertain world” (116). In short, Marglin argues that community is an important source of experiential knowledge, but the modern economist denies the validity of experiential knowledge in favor of algorithmic knowledge. Thus, the community becomes invisible to the economist as a source of knowledge. The rational, calculating, maximizing individual becomes the prime unit of analysis precisely because such a creature (not a human being) can be grasped in purely algorithmic terms. In the process, virtues more robust than minimal demands to tell the truth and honor contracts grow dim. Efficiency is the handmaid of growth, and economic growth is the unquestioned good to which economics bows. Thus value of community is lost in the rush to promote growth. But, in the words of the economist E.F. Schumacher, “the idea that there could be pathological growth, unhealthy growth, disruptive or destructive growth, is to [the modern economist] a perverse idea which must not be allowed to surface.” Such questions can only be answered by considering non-algorithmic knowledge. We must, as Schumacher puts it, learn to think in terms of quality and not merely in terms of quantity.

To the extent that Marglin shows how thinking like an economist is harmful to community, this is an important book. At the same time, his epistemological analysis is not original. Those who have read Röpke, Oakeshott, or Schumacher will find this somewhat familiar territory. But perhaps his accusation of epistemological reductionism will be news to Marglin’s fellow economists. And herein lies the book’s best feature: it is a serious critique of the fundamental assumptions of modern economics written by a member of the guild. It is an insider’s look at a science that has overextended itself and in so doing has separated itself from the complex world of human beings. Schumacher, expressed some of the same criticisms of his own discipline: “Every science is beneficial within its proper limits, but becomes evil and destructive as soon as it transgresses them.” Marglin’s is a call for limits. It is a call for the reformation of economics. He is challenging his fellow economists to engage in the painful task of self-reflection and to consider how something as powerful and useful as economics has become a harmful, as well as a dismal, science. May his voice be heard.

A version of this article was previously published at www.firstprinciplesjournal.org

 

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Jason Peters April 13, 2009 at 7:38 am

Thanks for this, Mark. I haven’t been able to carve out the time to read Marglin’s book yet; you’ve provided an ample amount of it for me to live on for a while longer.

Frank Rich points out a few more of Lawrence Summers’ iniquities in yesterday’s NYT, including this little morsel:

We discovered, for instance, that Lawrence Summers, the president’s chief economic adviser, made $5.2 million in 2008 from a hedge fund, D. E. Shaw, for a one-day-a-week job. He also earned $2.7 million in speaking fees from the likes of Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Those institutions are not merely the beneficiaries of taxpayers’ bailouts since the crash. They also benefited during the boom from government favors: the Wall Street deregulation that both Summers and Robert Rubin, his mentor and predecessor as Treasury secretary, championed in the Clinton administration. This dynamic duo’s innovative gift to their country was banks “too big to fail.”

What discourages me is that it will apparently take the hardships of a real catastrophe for the economic fundamentalists to be chastened into admitting what many of us long-skeptical of the dismal “science” have been saying for some time now. Whether they can shed their hubris is another matter.

avatar Albert April 13, 2009 at 10:37 am

Mark, thanks for the great overview of the issues at stake in the discussion. May Mr. Marglin’s voice indeed be heard. Modernity has corrupted the marketplace, just as it perverted individuality and made it individualism (with its attendant disorders) and perverted community and made it collectivism (with its attendant disorders). It’s for this reason that I place the blame for contemporary bi-polar reactivity, oscillating between individualism and collectivism, on modernity’s rejection of creaturely limits and human finitude under God.

I would caution thinkers to look deeper when pointing out the “good side” of free markets. There is a tendency in these kinds of essays to, in an effort to be fair to the object of criticism, list the benefits of free markets. Marglin does so as follows:

“Markets have fueled innovation in medicine, and people are healthier for it; markets have made possible better production, and distribution of food and hunger has been abated; and labor-saving devices have relieved people from many grueling and dangerous jobs.”

While advocates of free markets may appreciate the tossed bone, such pragmatic considerations of benefits tend to fall short of addressing and revealing the truest reasons to support free markets which are normative in nature rather than consequentialist. In addition to providing a place for individual responsibility and decision-making (not necessarily opposed to communal responsibility but complementing) free markets do justice to the diversity of nature and changes over time. Marglin is right to say that there are some things that are not properly understood as commodities whose values change depending on need. But, as creatures who live with diverse needs in diverse places, certain things have value contingent on these differences. A gallon of water is worth more to someone living near a desert than it is to someone living next to a river. And a free market can respect these differences of need, when modernity’s assumptions and cultural forces have not perverted it, because a choice to buy does not have to reflect enslaved desire, but may reflect a sober assessment of need (informed by the community).

I felt this minor point of suggesting a greater emphasis on the role of modernity was called for because of the way “experiential knowledge” is approvingly described. But knowledge based on “intuition, authority, tradition, and the like” is still subject to the corrupting forces of modernity. Intuition can be warped into emotivism. Authority can be warped into tyranny. Tradition can be warped into self-congratulatory staleness. And proponents of algorithmic knowledge will surely make these points.

In an effort to reduce a sense of talking past each other, then, it would be helpful to acknowledge the vulnerability of experiential knowledge to abuse.

avatar polistra April 13, 2009 at 11:03 am

Absolutely brilliant. I’ll be thinking about this for the rest of my life.

One thought at the moment:

>>For Marglin, the legitimacy of what he terms “experiential knowledge” is denied by the modern economist. Experiential knowledge is knowledge based on intuition, authority, tradition, and the like.<<

I’d be inclined to separate authority from the others. Modern academics, including economists, are diligent followers of internal authority. The tenure process insures that the theories of current “big boys” are propagated to the next generation, and pushes out any idea that displeases the personal authority of present leaders. However, any academic who tries to use external authorities such as the Pope will be dismissed.

In other words, academics don’t really follow pure rationality, they follow their own tribal leaders and traditions …. which would be fine if the academic tribe didn’t have such absolute power over the other tribes.

avatar John Médaille April 13, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Stephen Marglin is a pretty important figure based on his seminal book, What do Bosses Do? about the actual role of capital and the division of labor. The actual role is surprising and not what it claims to be. He is a “Marxian,” which is Marxist in its analysis of capital, but not in its solutions.

It is interesting to compare Marglin with Novak. For Novak, communities like family, city, nation, are “hegemonic” (he gets this from Mises) and inferior to “voluntary” communities like corporations. In fact, for Novak, corporation (not church) is the highest form of community: “Yet when they form communities, they choose them, elect them, contract for them. The natural state of political community for persons is arrived at not by primordial belonging but by constitutional compact.” Of course, the role of the Church must be subordinate to the role of the corporation: “Yet if Jewish and Christian conceptions of human life are sound, and if they fit the new social order of pluralism, the widespread nostalgia for a traditional form of social order may be resisted…For the full exercise of their humanity, being both finite and sinful, free persons require pluralist institutions.” (quotes from The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.)

It is a mad world we live in when the Marxist is more traditionalist than the “neo-conservative.” Neo indeed. But I take it as an infallible rule of thought that one should always reject anything with “neo” or “post” in the title; The neo is never as good as the paleo, and the post always ends up secretly accepting what it set out to reject.

avatar D.W. Sabin April 13, 2009 at 12:52 pm

“You Lie and I’ll Swear By It”….old motto of the Professional Empiricist, otherwise known as the hired hands used by Government, an institution invented to allow a few wise guys to suspend reality for a period certain, in order that they might take advantage of as many external costs as they can before departing, to hand the numbers parlor off to somebody else who is different, only somewhat the same. The citizenry, always willing to suspend their doubts if the lark sounds entertaining or that it might actually work in a miracle , they then start an accounting that measures not success but failure and usually awards prizes based upon the sizes of failures with really big failures accorded monuments. Funny, but there seems to be a very close relationship between the size of armys held and the level of failures generated. By the time everybody is done shooting and are battle fatigued, the original farrago is forgotten and one simply celebrates victory…if one won….and lauds the military for their victory. If one loses, well…thats the one story where honesty actually lives but is not much spoken of due to fears of bad form.

It’s so very sporting that Keynes might have given the peasants an attaboy by telling them that paradise and spiritual fulfillment might exist some day before getting down to the brass tacks of an “oh Sh#*” and telling the scammee that in order to be “real”, we must accept the Faustian Bargain and turn the wheel over to the Scammer so that they can sell mother, or father, or little baby too if it is deemed “prudent” in the “reality of the marketplace”.

Summers comment about franchising pollution to the Wogs is one of the Immortal Truths chanted by the Neo-Con who loves floating above it all and bandying about stirring anthems to “Creative Destruction”.

In truth, much of the economy can be reduced to an act of extending pipes as far as possible to avoid looking at the discharge.

What I most enjoy about the current chapter of Economics as Contact Sport is that the Stimulators are ceremonially offset by the presence of that old anti-inflationary warhorse Volcker in a clear display by the New Ottomans that they really do know what Inflationary Measures are and have secured the wizard who shall cure them when they occur even though they will not even ask him what he thinks now because that might rain on their parade. 8 Years of Brazen BS is now to be improved on with a more nuanced and theatrical B.S..

One never seems to pay so much attention to economists as when we’ve done what they say to do and have ended up in the ditch whereupon we ask the same people how to get out of the ditch. The house is burning but oh goody the firemen are on the way but oh heck, the arsonists are manning the hoses. Suicide boxing…that sport where the champions scream…”you think you’re tough…oh yea…well watch as I kick my own ass”. We shall call it Alcoholeconomics Anonymous.

One would think that after all these years since Socrates was killed for telling the truth and allowing that skepticism was fine occupation for the citizen that we would understand and actually find solace and productive avenues in the simultaneous use of Experiential Reason and Moral Spirit. But then we’re still gibbering about yon shadows cast on yon cave wall .

avatar Mark T. Mitchell April 13, 2009 at 1:04 pm

Marglin speaks of experiential knowledge based on intuition, authority, tradition, etc. For anyone interested in exploring this in more detail, I recommend the work of Michael Polanyi. His magnum opus is “Personal Knowledge.” If you are new to Polanyi, it might prove useful to start with the sorter “Science, Faith and Society.”

avatar Samuel Bass April 13, 2009 at 3:23 pm

Mises’ theory of the business cycle may be on to something, but his insistence that every knee shall bow, every tongue confess the maximal division of labor, the corporation, the pursuit of maximalized profits and “methodological individualism” is something I have always found troubling. Mises bases his system on this methodological individualism and claims, a priori, that the individual is always and everywhere logically prior to society (which can mean any human grouping). Society is a mere reification of aggregated individuals. There are many roads to serfdom, it appears, and they lead through such atomization of the individual. The individual may be atomized either by the omnicompotent state (a Mises term) or the omnipotent market, in which the state exists symbiotically with the “too big to fail” financial corporations. Hayek was an Anglophile who loved the minutiae of English manners (see “Hayek on Hayek”), but this order of English society was not “spontaneous” at all, but rather the product of centuries of community.

avatar John Médaille April 13, 2009 at 9:06 pm

The problem with Mises’s methodological individualism is that the group is prior to the individual; we are all called into being by the ready-made community of the family. From them we receive certain gifts, not merely physical ones, like food and shelter, but others, like language, culture, norms, etc. All of these are cultural artifacts. And they are all gifts, not exchanges. Indeed, it is impossible to be human without being social and cultural. Apart from culture, you cannot find humans. Even the occasionally found feral child has to be taught to become human. Even our most “animal” actions, like eating, are all cultural. Like any animal, we must eat to live, but what we actually eat is cuisine, the product of some specific culture. Italian Speghetti, Chinese egg rolls, American hamburger. Even if we go out to the woods to much on nuts and berries and fungi, we will still be exercising a cultural knowledge. Or else we will likely choose the wrong things and die. Like that guy in Alaska.

Mises thought Hayek a “socialist” because he departed from the true religion of methodological individualist; he thought that the slightest departure was the slippery slope to socialism.

And he was right.

avatar Mark T. Mitchell April 14, 2009 at 12:50 pm

John,
Your final line is loaded. Could you unpack it for us? How does departing from methodological individualism lead to socialism? It certainly opens the door to sanity.

avatar Hans Noeldner April 14, 2009 at 2:13 pm

Mark,

For more than a year I have been struggling with little success to put words to my great fears about the pernicious evils of Growth Economics – i.e. the overwhelmingly dominant religion of our time.

What a joy to find that you and other fine writers here at FPR are expressing these ideas with such great insight and eloquence.

THANK YOU!

avatar John Médaille April 14, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Mark, sanity is social, if not actually socialism; the madman is locked up in his own room because he is first locked up in his own mind; he is the purest of the methodological individualists. The line was meant to be loaded, but I mainly meant that it would lead to what Mises calls “socialism,” which in his system is everything that is not Austrianism. If Mises can label Hayek a “socialist” (as he does) than socialism is a pretty broad field.

avatar Robin Goodfellow April 15, 2009 at 7:16 pm

These are fairly derivative ideas, argued for in a slipshod manner, with rather pedantic conclusions. The conclusions only suggest unwarranted nostalgia-mongering as far as I can see. But this isn’t surprising for a paleoconservative/Southern Agrarian movement that is ideologically confused and searches for its bearing in the most irrational of sources, such as “knowledge based on intuition, authority, tradition, and the like.” We even have “left conservatives” and “tory anarchists” affiliated here. Again, it isn’t surprising — given that the Volkish movement garned much of its support from the gradual withering of any appeals to “rational” and “scientific” knowledge (heaven forbid!) by appealing to voluntarist irrationality, feudal and pre-industrial modes of production, intuition, holiness and Volkish rural communities. These are merely reactionary tendencies — attacking Enlightenment values in such shoddy and lazy ways that Grand Hotel Abyss seems wide open.

Others have markedly critiqued Descartes, etc. in a far more interesting way. Others have also critiqued the functions of capitalism and the aporiae of the Enlightenment and modernity in more progressive and fruitful ways — without appealing to vague, crypto-racist, homophobic and theological vocabularies. All you’re gathering here is host of ideologically-confused and aimless ecologists, agrarians, paleo-conservatives, Malthusians, Burkeans, Aristotle-yearners, et al. under the incoherent banners of “community” and the “front porch.” But let’s keep in mind the hubris of authority as well — with history having shown us that nostalgia-mongering of this sort hardly merits such yearning. Recorded history reveals instead a series of documents of barbarisms under the ideologies of “tradition”, “authority” and “community.” We can fly past the contradictory nets of capitalism, ecological destruction, the Iron Cage, etc. in far more rational and coherent ways. But I’m not sure what’s being argued for here in any way assumes a proper critique of the prevalent.

avatar John Médaille April 15, 2009 at 9:29 pm

I am happy to plead “guilty” to nearly all of Robin’s charges, except for being a Malthusian. Of course, I’m not sure what a crypto-racist is; it seems to me that one is concerned with race or one isn’t. I am not particularly concerned with that topic, but I guess I am “homophobic” if that is a description of anybody who thinks “gay” marriage is just silly. And I certainly make appeal to a theological vocabulary. So I suppose that, all-in-all, I fit his description pretty well.

But not to be too puckish about it, I can ask Mr. Goodfellow why he is so concerned with the “barbarisms” of what he calls “authoritarianism” when we have just passed through the most secular AND the most violent century in human history. Of course, this is not news; such secularism throughout history has always led to violence on a grand scale. Even the so-called “wars of religion” of the 17th century were not about religion at all, but about the desire of the secular arm for the wealth of the Church. The secularists won, of course, but they have been blaming religion for all of their failures ever since their victory. Further, I wonder why a “proper critique of the prevalent” must exclude (a priori) that which prevailed before the prevalent?

And to truly scandalize Robin, I admit that everything I say is derivative. In fact, I insist on it. I rather distrust any “original” ideas I might have, and thank goodness, I rarely have any. But when something occurs to me that appears to be original, I get nervous and immediately cast around to find out if it can be connected to some older and better thinker than myself. It is not “originality” but connectedness that I trust. And if I can connect it to Aristotle (or Aquinas) so much the better. I am truly an “Aristotle-yearner,” as you say. I think the only useful “originality” is that which finds new ways to apply old and tested ideas to current conditions

I guess that makes me pretty “ideologically” confused. But on the other hand, the ones who seemed to be most concerned with ideological purity were the communists, the Fascists, and the neoconservatives, no?

avatar Robin Goodfellow April 15, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Re: John.

I make no scruples about appealing to “originality” as I tend to disdain the cult of originality myself. I even like Aristotle a lot, actually (and consider him one of the few philosophers worth studying). In fact as far as philosophy goes, I tend to dislike most philosophers of the 20th century and prefer to stick to those old farts of the 19th century and before. But I digress. My only point was that I see little worth in nostalgia-mongering and yearning for the past if there is no understanding that a fruitful critique of the prevalent concerns the Whole (as Plato maintained), understands history properly and sensitively, and begins with the present — after all, where else can we begin?

Only with these considerations in mind can we even begin to carve out a future from the temporal unities of the past and the present and seek out the full potential of our species-being, of which our substance is both social and individual — and dependent on nature. That’s the sort of coherence that can begin any serious and fruitful critique of the prevalent. I, however, see little evidence that there is any coherence of that sort to any of the scattered and confused harangues that pass for critiques here. Much of it is just a lot of recycled abstractions (argued for in more coherent ways in the past) that are hardly useful to the present.

But not to be too puckish about it, I can ask Mr. Goodfellow why he is so concerned with the “barbarisms” of what he calls “authoritarianism” when we have just passed through the most secular AND the most violent century in human history.

Have I suggested otherwise? Just because something with a secular face is deeply problematic, it doesn’t obviously lend credence to religious institutions and their ideological mystifications. Indeed, what’s distinct about our era (our era of capitalism which probably dates back to the 16th century, at least in its embryonic and primitive form) is that it has resulted in some of the most violent barbarisms possible, whether in secular or religious manifestations (and prying the two apart is hardly as easy as you seem to imply). Capitalist social relations were predicated off genocide, slave-labor, wage-slavery and the eventual thoroughgoing commodification of all social relations by a minority of elites who have managed to ascend to the capitalist classes. Much of this was patently condoned by various religious institutions and figures, allowing their coffers to ring, coyly batting an eye.

Indeed, only need look inward within America to see the violent stain of the confluence of religion, the Southern Aristocracy, chattel slavery, and the broader capitalist social relations that heightened its enormities. Furthermore, as far as pre-capitalist history is concerned, many of the mystificatory and oppressive conditions of various religions have been serviced for social control by way of private property and the controls of productive surpluses of the ruling classes (whether we’re talking about tributary forms of social relations, feudal, or otherwise). Religions, for the most part, have been employed ideologically to mute the masses into dull servitude for, well, a mess of pottage; one need only look to the Anabaptist rebellions that Luther dismissed after positing every man a priest. Yet, with few exceptions, viz., in the practitioners of liberation theology and ecology, this has largely been the case.

This leads me to this:

I am happy to plead “guilty” to nearly all of Robin’s charges, except for being a Malthusian. Of course, I’m not sure what a crypto-racist is; it seems to me that one is concerned with race or one isn’t. I am not particularly concerned with that topic, but I guess I am “homophobic” if that is a description of anybody who thinks “gay” marriage is just silly.

Of course, none of this is surprising. That Marx and Engels were able to point out many of the problems inherent in the ideology of the “traditional family” is worth remembering. They appealed to anthropological and historical research done on various social arrangements of the family across history, and noted the ideological and fetishized function of the family under a recorded history of class relations predicated off private property and social control, pace the first agricultural revolution. Many of the so-called traditional families were mere ideological molds cast to fit the social relations under the modes of production in ancient and feudal societies where a division of labor emerged most sharply in order to maintain the rule of those who controlled the productive surpluses.

Consequently, many of the givens of the “traditional family” became second nature, i.e. “naturalized.” But the ideologues of the ruling classes have merely asserted these historical relations as eternal verities of nature when this has hardly been the case. One need only look to pre-agrarian hunter-gatherer societies to see that none of this was “natural.” Or one could look at many of the divergent social formations of families even in the various post-agrarian societies. The traditional European outlook on marriage, shaped by Christian history, has also been fraught by tensions internally — whether of economic stripes or otherwise. Further, the notion that a marriage is “traditionally” a creative and sacrosanct publicly-guaranteed relation between one man and one woman is rather ideologically bankrupt. All this of course also fails to take into account polygamous and “non-traditional” families that have existed and continue to exist normatively. So, no, the idea of gay marriage is hardly “silly” as you suggest. That’s a rather historically and socially-clueless claim to make — given, also, that fight for gay marriage at present is a fight for many legal rights that are not afforded to gay couples. Unless you want to appeal to some vague mystificatory reasons for why gay marriage is silly, I’m at a loss to see why it is.

But all this, again, isn’t surprising. There’s so many muddled, incoherent and reactionary ideas floating around here.

I guess that makes me pretty “ideologically” confused. But on the other hand, the ones who seemed to be most concerned with ideological purity were the communists, the Fascists, and the neoconservatives, no?

Well, many paleoconservatives have been ideological purists while entertaining simultaneously contradictory impulses. So, being ideologically pure is not necessarily coextensive with ideological consistency and clarity.

But let’s not be disingenuous. I’m not sure anyone can escape ideology. The important point, however, is to ascertain what ideology is interested in broadly seeing the liberation of all people and, I might add, in seeing an end to the destruction of nature. (One need only look to John Bellamy Foster’s recent book on Marx’s Ecology and Ecology against Capitalism to get a sense of this.) Ideologically, many of the viewpoints held here are not co-extensive, historically or otherwise, with the liberation of all. Many of the colluding ideologies finding their voice here are either remnants of feudal and ancient social relations (predicated off social control and inequality), or they are ideologies that have traditionally bolstered the capitalist classes.

Indeed, 20th century Fascism, a truly unique phenomenon, was predicated off rural ideologies, appeals to small communities, while simultaneously keeping the machinery of state capitalism in high gear. There were many things learned by the fascists, also, from American segregation and Jim Crow laws. There was much in the mystical and heroic appeals to racial purity in the National Socialist and Volkisch movement that learned from American Fordism and the crushing of the working classes. Similarly with the Black Shirts and the Italian Fascists. One need only look to Giovanni Gentile’s ghostwriting of Mussolini’s speaches and see Ezra Pound’s (a paleoconservative if ever there was one) lingering fascination with fascist order. As Walter Benjamin once put it, “If you don’t want to talk about capitalism, don’t talk to me about fascism.”

As far as 20th century “Communism”, much of it functioned like state capitalism too. None of this was truly…socialistic or communistic… in its goals, methods and critiques. George Orwell is one of the most famous critics of English and Russian Stalinism and has pointed out as much. Much of what passes for criticisms of “communism” in the 20th century consist of historically-clueless canards.

As far as the neo-cons, well, let’s just look to see where some of them got many of their ideas from. Donald Rumsfeld took much from the Chicago School of conservatives, viz., Allan Bloom, who was a pupil of Leo Strauss, who took much from Eric Vogelin. That the author of the recent post on “Gnostic Economies” doesn’t see this historical pedigree here isn’t surprising either. Voegelin was a sort of conservative hysteric, tying everything modern to Gnostic heresies (of course). Embarrassingly, the author can’t even formulate a cogent response to Marx — who apparently hated creation, life and the flesh (duh!). But I guess all this constitutes a devastating critique — with nary a passage even referred to back up such assertions, of course.

At any rate, there’s much on this site that’s worth picking apart, but I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the time and the effort.

avatar John Médaille April 16, 2009 at 12:40 am

Puck, The problem with your first post is that it did not really engage anything that anyone here was actually saying. It sounded like a set-piece speech, kept in the back pocket and pulled out on all occasions when one wished to display one’s erudition without actually engaging in real conversation. In other words, it sounded like a bore. And the substance of it was mainly that we were old. Well, that is certainly a charge that can be laid at the feet of Marglin and myself, but not at Mark’s and Jason’s, among others. And even we old guys would like to hear a stronger argument than that our hair is white. But that’s all I got from your post: you dislike the paleo because it is paleo. But it is not an argument that works against an article that is, in fact, praising a book by a Marxist, or at least a Marxian.

As to your second post, where is begin? It is difficult because arguing with Marxists is like arguing with Austrians: When you point out that their systems didn’t work, they both say, “But that wasn’t real Marxism/Capitalism.” True, no doubt, but I suspect that they were as real as Marxism or Capitalism can get. Both Marx and Mises promised a withering away of the state; both delivered gargantuan states of unparalleled power, cruelty, and violence. One has delivered states that have mostly fallen; the other has delivered states that are mostly falling.

As to “homosexual marriage,” you argued with somebody in your head, not on this board, since non of us advanced the arguments you countered. In fact, you brought up the subject, not us. Most of us have read the Bible, and have some knowledge, therefore, of polygamous marriage. But we have no knowledge of homosexual marriage because such a thing has never been. There have been many cultures which encouraged or allowed or at least tolerated male homosexuality. None of them spoke of marriage. The subject just didn’t come up. They would have thought it silly to speak of “marriage” for such a relationship then, and it is silly now. Or not so silly. The only reason the subject comes up now is because the socialist/capitalist state distributes certain benefits based on marriage, an artifact of a time when most children were produced in this arrangement and these benefits were deemed necessary for the health of the children and the support of the parents. However, the benefits may not be worth the cost, as the “gay” community will have two new words enter their vocabulary: “community property.”

I do not totally disagree with your analysis of fascism; syndicalism was hijacked by Mussolini to serve capitalism masquerading as nationalism, while Hitler hijacked socialism to serve capitalism masquerading as some Darwinian fantasy. And Christians are not unmindful of the problematic nature of their own history because, unlike historical materialists, we actually study history. But Christians have this thing called “repentance.” Some think it is an aid to the clarity of the soul. Be that as it may, it is certainly an aid to the clarity of the mind; only a confessing mind can be a reformed mind. We are not antiquarians, pining for a past, but traditionalists, using the past to critique the present (or the prevalent) and fashion the future. It is an important task, just at this moment, since it is becoming evident that the Enlightenment had more heat than light. It certainly had more guns and money.

At least, however, you are entirely correct about my ideological weaknesses, mainly because I despise all ideology. Christianity is not about an ideology, but about a sacrament. Or at least, sacramental Christianity is. Some newer forms have newer notions, which are actually accommodations to modern individualism, an individualism which requires no priest or sacrament, other than literacy, and only a contractual relationship with their various communities. But that is not what we are speaking about here. Or at least, it is not what I am speaking about.

avatar John Médaille April 16, 2009 at 12:41 am

I forgot to close the bold around the word “real”. I didn’t mean to make it look like I was shouting.

avatar Robin Goodfellow April 16, 2009 at 2:14 am

Puck, The problem with your first post is that it did not really engage anything that anyone here was actually saying.

Actually, I was responding to one of the conclusions of the presentation here and followed it up with what I sensed was the general tenor here at Front Porch. And if the presentation of Marglin here is weak, that’s not really my fault.

The author says the following: “For Marglin, the legitimacy of what he terms “experiential knowledge” is denied by the modern economist. Experiential knowledge is knowledge based on intuition, authority, tradition, and the like.” If that’s the case, then Marglin’s advance is rather irrational, especially if it is being poised against science, reason, etc. That’s a rather banal false dichotomy. Further, if Marglin’s defense is merely a traditionalist argument against capitalism, as seems to be the presentation here, then I’m not sure what’s so Marxist about his work. It seems more akin to the utopian socialists that Marx rightly criticized, including Owen and Proudhon. But if Marglin is no traditionalist, and his wedding of Keynesianism and Marxism is somehow revelatory, then fair enough. The confusion being brought about here is merely symptomatic, then, of wider confusions entertained by many of the contributors. I have no illusions of a wedding of Keynesianism and Marxism. There are many of that stripe and people like Rick Wolff, Harry Cleaver, David Harvey and Nick Beams have provided ample criticisms of such reformist Marxisms.

. And the substance of it was mainly that we were old. Well, that is certainly a charge that can be laid at the feet of Marglin and myself, but not at Mark’s and Jason’s, among others. And even we old guys would like to hear a stronger argument than that our hair is white.

I’m not sure where you’re getting this from. I haven’t even remotely asserted that being old is necessary and sufficient to being wrong. Neither have I suggested that being old is the problem with many of the articles here. Far from it.

But that’s all I got from your post: you dislike the paleo because it is paleo. But it is not an argument that works against an article that is, in fact, praising a book by a Marxist, or at least a Marxian.

Again, I’m not sure I was claiming something so tautologous. I was suggesting, instead, that the traditionalism and the paleoconservatism is bound up with a nostalgia for an imaginary past: a past shorn of all the pre-capitalist social relations while still maintaining some of those pre-capitalist social harmonies. But you can’t have it both ways. Pre-capitalist social relations for the most part have been rife with social inequities as I pointed out in my previous reply.

As far as Marglin goes, again, either the author here is not clear on Marglin’s views or Marglin’s views themselves are reactionary. I’m not sure. I haven’t actually read his work. But I am not at fault if the presentation is unclear on this matter. Further, if the views attributed to Marglin are reactionary, then I have a hard time believing otherwise. And I suspect they’re symptomatic of many of the ideological confusions latent here.

True, no doubt, but I suspect that they were as real as Marxism or Capitalism can get. Both Marx and Mises promised a withering away of the state; both delivered gargantuan states of unparalleled power, cruelty, and violence. One has delivered states that have mostly fallen; the other has delivered states that are mostly falling.

I’m not sure any of this follows from Marx’s views or “promises.” Marx’s views were as much prescriptive as they were historically-imbued. Suggesting that Marx merely “predicted” a withering of the state and “delivered gargantuan states of unparalleled power, cruelty, and violence” is both incoherent (Marx didn’t deliver anything of that sort) and fails to follow from anything Marx said. If you have any genuine evidence that suggests that what Marx points out in The Critique of the Gotha Program, the Grundrisse, Capital, The German Ideology, or otherwise, and what actually occurred in Stalinist Russia, I’m all ears. But “socialism in one country” hardly follows from anything Marx pointed out, at least not in anything I’ve read by Marx. Marx was above all an internationalist and never came so close to anything as vulgar as Stalinism.

As to “homosexual marriage,” you argued with somebody in your head, not on this board, since non of us advanced the arguments you countered. In fact, you brought up the subject, not us.

Actually, I was addressing much of what passed for here. And I had in mostly what James Mathew Wilson was advancing as a comment:

“Marriage is a natural consequence of the familial structure of human life. It springs into being because of, and never wholly transcends, the life process of procreation and interdependence as well as the no less natural (though less wholly biological or material) process of cultivation, culture, inheritance, and tradition”

Again, I’ve pointed out why much of this appears to be naturalized when the very function of the family as construed as such has been ideological, mystifying and fails to take into account the variety of historical arrangements of the family. There’s nothing natural about a heterosexual marriage. Indeed one could possibly think of a transvestite-female(s) relationship that would meet such a criteria, but I wonder if that would be objected to. Or:

“A husband and wife, in their nature, i.e. in their essence, have the potential to join these three orientations together, which is why, again, marriage ever came into being as a fact of civilization.”

Yet, marriage as we know it came about as an economic function to maintain certain social relations above all. Etc. Etc. I’ve pointed this out earlier. So, in no ways is a homosexual marriage silly — if it can just as much meet many of the ideological criteria meted out by the very ideologues that do not want to see it occur.

“And Christians are not unmindful of the problematic nature of their own history because, unlike historical materialists, we actually study history”

No kidding? I’m sure that’s why so many irrationalisms and mystifying notions come out of the Christian tradition — blatantly overlooking history and the grubby details right under their nose.

But Christians have this thing called “repentance.”

Oh? What does this have to do with anything? Again, see above.

Some think it is an aid to the clarity of the soul. Be that as it may, it is certainly an aid to the clarity of the mind; only a confessing mind can be a reformed mind.

I’m not even sure what all this adds up to. What’s your point? Reform of the mind? Clarity of the…uh…”soul”? I’m sure all this certainly has enabled many Christians to rise up beyond their blatant hypocrisies, inconsistencies, attempts at social control, conquest, etc. And yet an idle, subjective repentance is offered…for the soul. Which usually does not make its appearance on the scene, even as a mens sana in corpore sano.

We are not antiquarians, pining for a past, but traditionalists, using the past to critique the present (or the prevalent) and fashion the future.

I’m not sure I see the difference really, in content or in form, between an antiquarian and a traditionalist. The traditionalist holds on to antiquated and fantasized forms of the past without any critical views from the present and he seeks to validate such views for the present. Again, see my earlier points with regard to all sorts of nostalgia-mongering for past social relations. We can only adequately look back to the past if we are sensitive and critical to its many grievances and barbarisms. And the past is rife with such problems, predicated off unequal social relations. So, if there is anything we can learn from the past, it is how we can get beyond those fetters.

Christianity is not about an ideology, but about a sacrament. Or at least, sacramental Christianity is. Some newer forms have newer notions, which are actually accommodations to modern individualism, an individualism which requires no priest or sacrament, other than literacy, and only a contractual relationship with their various communities. But that is not what we are speaking about here. Or at least, it is not what I am speaking about.

Sounds like you’re clinging to the antiquarian past — a feudal past, when it made sense to talk about parishes, peasantry, serfdom and bondage. Unless you want to prescribe a monkish life of the sort lived by a St. Francis or a Thomas Merton or seek out an egalitarian fantasy of the Shire. Which I suppose you could do. Although, I don’t think such quietism and fantasy is the answer for most of us.

avatar D.W. Sabin April 16, 2009 at 1:35 pm

It would appear that a midnight oil Marxist has decided to unload upon all the sentimentalists of this site. Great, as one of the self-contradicting sentimental sots, I’m all for it. However, I would like to know how many times we are expected to accept an attempt at Marxism that descends like clockwork into a murderous anti-human personality cult before we decide that there is something inherent to Marxism that begs such a sanguinary and authoritarian outcome?

Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Kim Jong-il, Castro and now Chavez. I really would like to know. After all, Marx made one of the most cogent analytical statements about late stage capitalism and this current American socio-economic crisis when he referred to labor becoming a pejorative in systems such as ours. When labor becomes a pejorative, much of the rest of human existence follows likewise. We are creatures of labor and when it is seen as either crude, demeaning or something to be transferred to machinery, we might as well cash out.

The romantic impulses of those who point positively at certain historic modes are not devoid of value. i do not believe you are asserting this but it is an implication of your group-imprecation. We have been through a period of “reality-inventors” who disdained history and it has resulted in one of the more idiotic interludes in the history of the lapsed republic. Personally, I look toward a future that is informed by history and not simply a re-creator’s version of edited history. It would seem to be the only prudent way forward. Scale and Density alone make much of history a place impossible to recreate even if one were so inclined.

R.G. , you have comprehensively stated what and who you are against….now, what are you for?

avatar John Médaille April 16, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Dirk, the reason your critique won’t work with Robin is the reason it never works with any Marxist/Misean. No matter how bloody and miserable their history, they always take the easy way out of denying their own history. “President X was not a real Marxist/Misean!” is the constant and unwavering reply. With no real history to defend (or at least none they are willing to claim) they can always be more concerned with a remote pope than with a near dictator.

Traditionalism may be, as Robin charges, a mere instance of nostalgia. But if so, it is at least a nostalgia for the past. Marxism is a nostalgia for the future. And this is dangerous. The actual effect is that the Marxist ruler is always sacrificing justice in the present moment for justice in the glorious future. Thus the gulag is always justified because (as the traditionalist knows) manana never comes.

Still, there have been many attempts to implement Marxism/Miseanism. And they all end the same way. Now, when a thing is tried many times under many different circumstances, yet always ends the same way, we may take it that it the way it must end. Certainly, the burden of proof is on the Marxist or the Misean, not on the person who merely points to their history. I do not contend that the end we always see was any part of Marx’s intentions. Yet, when we deal with imperfect theories, the unintended consequences will outweigh the intended ones. The burden must be on the Marxist or the Misean to show us that a more faithful Marxism will result in a more compassionate communism. But as it is, we have no reason to suspect this would be true. Robin will have to present some pretty convincing evidence.

I have good reason to doubt that our friend Puck can give us such evidence. My doubts arise from his method of argumentation on marriage, which seem to me to be an exercise in ideology rather than in history. What impresses one when looking at the history of this institution is its relative and remarkable stability over the long span of history and the wide variety of cultures. I don’t know of any instances of transvestite marriage that are recognized in law, and if there were, they weren’t for very long. More evident is that no matter how different the time and place, the core of marriage remains pretty much the same. While there may be infinite cultural variety, there is nevertheless a stable theme repeated over and over again.

Puck argues from what is called the “Pango-Pango” exception. That is, for every relatively stable cultural institution, one can always say “Ah but the Pango-Pango tribe does thus and such!” One can pretty nearly always find a Pango-Pango exception–or claim to have found one–but the very rarity of the exception proves the stability of the rule.

The denial–and ideological rewrite–of history has another effect. Puck sneers at the idea of repentance. But in truth, the person or ideology with no history has no reason to repent. Several years ago, Pope John Paul II held a liturgical service apologizing for this and that in Catholic history. Some were outraged, but I was not, for this recognition of errors is crucial to right thinking. But the Marxist who does not connect Stalin or Pol Pot to his own history has no reason to revise his thinking and to re-examine his premises. (Note, this is not actually true, or quite as true, for the Marxians, who sort of repent in advance.)

History is the only real test of ideas that we have. We cannot put social systems in a test tube; we can only look at how they actually worked. The traditionalist is more like the scientist than is the pure theorist, that is, the pure ideologue. He is at least looking at something that actually was and about which we can have an actual debate. But the ideologue can only refer to his own premises, and his only real debate is whether one is being completely true to the premises. Which is why purely ideological debates always sound the way they do, and why their course is always predictable. Whoever holds power in the party will dictate the interpretation of the premises. The rest will go to the wall, if they are lucky, or to the gulag, if they are not.

avatar Mark T. Mitchell April 16, 2009 at 10:21 pm

Robin,
Thanks for stirring the pot. Now that we’ve heard your criticisms, like D.W., I’m interested to learn what you are in favor of.

avatar D.W. Sabin April 17, 2009 at 8:32 am

John….still, I’d like to see the pedestrian who passed through and broke a lot of windows hold up a little glass of his own. Not because I like to walk on broken glass but because I love Debate and Thought enough to think that it is best when pushed…rather than simply sneered at .

I prattle on about the interesting parallels of a “discursive human and the discursive form of government of the lapsed-republic of the United States” and forget, all too often …..to stress the humble act of listening.

avatar Septeus7 April 21, 2009 at 1:37 am

Quote: “While Knight’s description is admittedly idealized, Ludwig von Mises makes the same point which, he argues, holds true in “the real world.” If workers “did not act as trade unionists, but reduced their demands and changed their locations and occupations according to the requirements of the labor market, they could eventually find work.”

If civilization by definition establishes a permanent and dynamic transformation of the environment by man for the formation of permanent settlement then wouldn’t unrestricted nomadic labor seeking destroy the purpose of civilization i.e. permanent settlement and environmental transformation for greater effect to man’s cultural and material existence i.e. the process of economy?

If free markets are so unstable like natural environments prior to make human existence intolerable in that area rightly causing nomadism then for what purpose is it to man to recreate the jungle via “creative destruction” in civilization?

Man is born ill-equipped compared to beast to handle the “natural environments” having neither the brute strength, fang, talon or claw that beast posses therefore his success must comes from elsewhere i.e. his Imago viva Dei to which the capacity of his mind derives and placing in immortality by the cultural effect shared by humans even after his death.

The point of noting relationship is to point out the proper relationship of man to Earth is to transform his environment and maintain his existence via using and developing his mind.

Therefore because economy is the process of the mind of man transforming environment condition to create conditions to the maintenance of his presence in a area to say “Laissez-faire” or “let it alone” when comes to the economy is essentially saying “don’t think, react like a beast.”

If economy is created by the human mind by discovering and applying physical principle to transform his environment when how can one “let it alone” when there is the process of economic breakdown or how does an one “let it alone” when building an economy?

Won’t “Laissez-faire” essentially mean the end of “economy” and the end of civilization if all “thought out” policy actions regarding economy i.e. “planned economy” are by definition destined to fail but man can only create economy by relating to world by a process thought and conscious application of plans based on those thoughts?

The fact is that what is today called economics is anti-economics and merely stating “let it alone” because you commoners might get in the way if you commoners are granted political power in the task forming the economy you have to live with and we oligarchs of the free market know the truth is that all we have to do look out for ourselves and it will all workout (wink wink).

I can’t resist posting a link to a video dealing with the problems of Cartesian thinking and economics based on the those assumptions.

Here are the urls “http://larouchepac.com/node/9848″ and “http://larouchepac.com/media/2364″ don’t blame me for the fact you brought up Descartes.

avatar Mike Bolar March 29, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Thought provoking write. It defiantly has me evaluating my economic premises. I found this article as a search originating from listening to an Audio Journal from Mars Hill.

My initial response in defence of traditional, self serving, greedy economics is I do not know, and can not imagine what can take its place. I guess it is time to start thinking. Perhaps something similar to what Muhammad Yunus proposes in Banker to the Poor a sort of “social Entrepreneur”. Imperfect as I agree as it is, greed has feed many less fortunate as those who are greedy have employed those who are needy.

The parable of the talents comes to mind, which makes me think the heart of the greedy needs to change.

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