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Showing posts from June 14, 2015

inverted envy

In 1973, A.O. Hirschman, with his characteristic, concealing modesty (it covered up the fact that he was touching on big themes that economists liked to avoid), wrote an essay about envy and the egalitarian impulse in developing economies. For two decades, Hirschman had been at work as an economist and policy maker dealing with foreign aid and plans to elevate the poorer national economies into the league of the developed nations, as they were called back then. This was the era of multi-year plans and the fad for shrinking agriculture and favoring export industries, which often, paradoxically, called for putting barriers on imports. All of this, by now, has been swept away by the Washington Consensus and the aggressive syndicate of international institutions, multinationals, and neo-liberals. In Hirschman’s time, third world countries were experiencing unprecedented growth. He observed that the profit from that growth largely accrued to the wealthy. What puzzled him was that this di

Adam versus Derrida

In a bout of dubious scientific romanticism, Quine, in Word and Object, conjures up the beginning of language learning by positing an extra-linguistic anchor, a physical stimulus, to get us over the bridge from babble to the noun. Quine’s piece on the baby learning the word Mama takes the then fashionable behavioralism of Skinner and embeds it into theory of the onto-genesis of language: “The operant act may be the random babbling of some thing like 'Mama' at some moment when, by coincidence, the mother's face is looming. The mother, pleased at being named, rewards this random act, and so in the future the ap­proach of the mother's face suc­ceeds as a stimulus for further utterances of 'Mama'. The child has learned an occasion sen­tence.” Coincidence plays a hinge role here. The presentation of Mama’s face –its looming – makes this a bit more primitive than Mama pointing at her face, but the logic is the same: there is the extra-linguistic world, the pres