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Showing posts from May 10, 2015

Famines and Slumps: Galiani versus Smith, or a rehearsal for the Keynesians versus Chicago part one

It struck me as a bit of a revelation, yesterday, that a now obscure debate about trade legislation in 18 th century France resonates in economic thinking to this day, as the sides that were drawn in that debate took a form that was inherited by political economists who, over the last two hundred and fifty years,   have variously called themselves by different names: liberal or conservative, radical or orthodox, saltwater or freshwater, etc. They are even now arguing about the meaning of the business cycle - which has a much more insistent position in economic thinking, now, than famine. Yet it was famine that first prefigured the division, within the circle of enlightenment thinkers, between what one might call, anachronistically, the pragmatists, and those that represent the economic mainstream, from Smith to Robert Lucas.  Until Keynes, the pragmatists had no central, doctrinal figure – but in the eighteenth century they did have Ferdinando Galiani, whose Dialogue on the com

the parable of methods

In a letter to Sophie Valland, Diderot gave an account of an argument concerning method between his friend Grimm and M. Le Roy. Grimm hated method, or at least talk about method – either you knew how to arrange things through the force of things, or you do not. Le Roy took the opposite opinion. Just then the secretary of the ambassador of Naples in France – Ferdinando Galiani – spoke up: “My friends, I am reminded of a fable: listen. It will be, perhaps, long, but it won’t bore you. One day, in the midst of the forest, there arose a dispute concernng song between the nightingale and the cuckoo. Each vaunted his talent. “what bird, said the cuckoo, has a song as easy, as simple, as natural and also as measured as me?|” - What bird, said the nightingale, has one that is sweeter, more varied, more lively and more light and more touching than mine? - The cuckoo:  I say little, but what I say has weight, and order, and is thus memorable. - The nightingale: I love to talk: but I am

Gehlen on alienation, Marx, and instituted freedom

In 1952 the conservative sociologist (and literally, I should note, a former Nazi one of whose students, Fritz Arlt, was a key functionary in the destruction of Poland’s Jews) Arnold Gehlen published a famous paper entitled “Over the birth of freedom from alienation.” The paper had two goals. One was to establish the essentially idealistic geneology of Marx’s notion of alienation. Gehlen traces it back to Fichte’s notion that the I in actualizing and externalizing itself experiences some essential loss of control. That feeling of loss and the desire to reestablish total control of the ego’s activity is compared, by Gehlen, to the French revolutionary terrorist program to establish total control in order to have total freedom – except, as Gehlen amusingly puts it, Fichte was just storming the Bastille of his own head. The idealistic assumption about the total I, here, is then traced through its appearance in Schelling and Hegel up through Marx and, to an extent, Freud. As Gehlen says