Skip to main content


Showing posts from May 2, 2010

Out of the mouth of the old order

“In 1619, male and female far servants (karler and piger) in Denmark who were dissatisfied with their wages or terms of employment could immediately be put into irons and sent to a public works or to a spin-house. Stavnsband, a compuslsory residence system for males aged between 18 and 36 (intended to secure the supply of soldiers and labour force), was extended in 1742 to cover peasant boys from eight years up, and two decades later the lower age limit fell further to four years.” [Centuries of child labour: European experiences from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, 55] We forget how often our nineteen century ‘thinkers’ lived in the aftermath of the hot breath of the ancien regime, which had burned their parents and grandparents. This was especially the case with Soren Kierkegaard, who carried within him the anguish of his father, Michael – or rather, Michael as the boy Soren never knew, one of the karler, a shepherd boy who cried out in the harsh night and loneliness of th

Pareto and the libertarian myth of the just Other

In his General Sociology – I’m using the French version – Pareto writes of two categories of “new” man in the ranks of the governors. The one consists of those who spend nearly as much as they gain, and the other is “constituted by those who take away from their gains not only the amount needed for supporting their great expenditures, but still more, what they have constituted for their patrimony.” And he observes how the modern economy works in Italy: “in Italy, one can observe that almost all the great, recently constituted patrimonies come from government concessions, the construction of railroads, enterprises subvented by the state, tariff protections, and that in this way a number of people have elevated themselves to the ranks of first honor in the state.” (1471) Although Pareto is the idol of the classical liberal school a la Hayek, his observation rings much truer than Hayek’s fantasy that there existed a golden liberal period in which the great fortunes were constituted by so

Pareto and petit bourgeois nietzschianism

“His belief in man's freedom of thought and action, whether in the marketplace, in the press or in the university lecture halls remained unshaken till the end of his life. His economic liberalism was similar to that of the classical school; he upheld the freedom of markets, defended the merits of a free competitive system and was responsible more than any other economist for turning economics into a positive science, devoid of ethical considerations.” Such is the summing up of Pareto’s work by one of his modern admirers, Renato Cirillo. The last phrase, with its combination of the petit bourgeois and Nietzschian grandiosity, is meant seriously. But of course it is nonsense: you do not uphold the ‘freedom of the markets”, or think that “freedom” even has a meaning in relation to ‘markets’, unless you are jammed full of ethical considerations, unless they dictate your whole view of the social hierarchy. Pareto optimization, or “efficiency”, has been enfolded in the neo-classical

From need to efficiency

In the Idea of History, R.C. Collingwood wrote: “so far as man’s conduct is determined by what may be called his animal nature, his impulses and appetites, it is non-historical; the process of those activities is a natural process. Thus, the historian is not interested in the fact that men eat and sleep and make love and thus satisfy their natural appetites; but he is interested in the social customs which they create by their thought as a framework within which these appetites find satisfaction in ways sanctioned by convention and morality.” Christopher Berry, in his book, The Idea of Luxury, quotes Collingwood in order to set up a contrast with Marx, who, Berry contends, is generally given credit for ‘historicizing’ needs and satisfactions. For Berry, what needs to be understood, before one makes the contrast work, is the distinction between basic and instrumental needs. The need to eat, for instance, might make a man go forth from his house in search of food, but if the man lives i