In Search of Summers Past


A couple of years ago, I went looking for alternative economic theories. A few demented readers will note that this turned into an effort to understand mad wave sequences based on the Fibonnaci curve, what precisely generalists who talked about distributism actually meant, and why libertarians never engaged with human nature. The odyssey turned into a pootle, really, and what I really remember of that Summer can be mostly summed up in the phrase ‘David Johns’ Pie Shop’.

 However, the side of me that has some (frayed) credibility as an intellectual historian has been out and about lately, and I’ve become very interested in the recrudescence of Modern Money Theory, which independently and on a number of fronts, appears to be emerging as a source of discussion in sundry economic circles. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has been pointing out the similarities between recent IMF papers on the nationalisation of money by Benes and Kumhof, the English monetary acts of the restoration, and some of the more radical thinking of the New Deal with some aplomb, and various web efforts have been laying out the groundwork of a new-old theory based on an argument that money is merely an invented claim on wealth which should be socialised. Similarly, John Medaille and Steve Keen, whilst rejecting traditional 'bastard Keynesianism' (I think rightly) seem to have emerged at a similar conclusion. Totally unexpectedly, goldbugs and private-money people have reemerged on the opposite side.

There’s an Alice-in-Wonderland feel to all of this, and I have to admit being torn both ways as usual, but it is interesting to see such fierce and interesting debate. Tellingly, professional economists are either wary or dismissive in the main, and battle is being joined by people with other sources of income or training. As in the debate over legal positivism*, I think that differences are cultural. Americans in general just won’t understand what the point of an objective, non-utilitarian, non-Liberal view of the economy which didn’t tell them about rational choice and consumer reasoning is, and European economists are either all silenced employees or mad. It’s also the case, having coached people from the likes of the LSE, that all economists go through a mathematical brainwashing in which concepts that a bright sixth former could easily dismiss are slipped through. It’s hard for them to resile from orthodoxy, especially when so much of it seems so right and when human nature has been privatised and subjectivised to the point that the only common thing which can be expected is the least common—unihibited and unbiased reason.

Still, the debate is welcome. I want to blog about it some more, when I understand it, but I thought that I would put up a post just to jog me along. I’ve been neglecting the blog lately in favour of work and facebook, but writing in this wee small hour of a cold October morning does make me feel as though I am coming home to the Big House once again.

*by which I mean that Dworkin didn't understand Hart because Americans are only really into judicial reasoning as an active, individuated political process and want to explain it, whereas Hart wanted to explain the sequence which the Right Sort Of Chaps could identify as Law and assumed that everyone else would obey. Neil McCormick squared the circle for them and then the jurisprudentialists all went out with reasons to pretend that they were teaching a proper subject rather than carpet-laying with calculus....

Comments

Martin said…
Martin,

If you are reading either Dworkin, or Hart, or McCormick, you are a better man than I am. I wouldn't read them any of their works for all the money in the world.
Martin Meenagh said…
I'm teaching their works and land law in the evenings, Martin, since Christmas is coming and my better half wants to go to Prague. You'll understand my point, as a fellow student of history, that once you historicise these people and put the desperate desire of jurisprudentialists to be taken seriously as a separate discipline alongside, that it's very hard to treat their work with any philosophically proper methodology. I was in Oxford in the aftermath of HLA Hart's time--stayed at his summer home in Cornwall as part of a Balliol undergraduate group when he was long gone, courtesy of Jenifer. I can't help but read his book and think about him wandering down past the old tuck shop wondering about students like Dworkin and friends like Berlin betraying him. I know that's inflated language but you do feel sad for some of these people--for what happens in their lives. I also project onto him the idea that he was a barrister who found a safe berth in academia by writing about how people should recognise the rule of the Right Sort of Chaps, and have pencilled in such a cushy number for myself around 2025. First, though, you need the quality bullshot.

As for Dworkin, at least he has the sense to realise that most Americans are liberals (especially the modern 'conservatices') and to admit it. I had to lead a very bright LSE person of Chinese extraction through a summary of his prose the other night though, and was not much impressed. Perhaps it's as in Karate Kid--after enough of this polishing, I'll know how to do that Pelican thing to my own convoluted sentences.

I did put Neil Maccormick's biography of Hart on my kindle last year, and tried to read it on a cold trip down to my mum's in the buffet car of a train. I think that it was East Midlands finest Shiraz that I was knocking back at the time.
Martin Meenagh said…
Geoffrey Marshall is much more to my taste, though I never knew him (his widow, Pat, is a lovely person). One of my best friends is married to his son, and I therefore have some of his books on my shelves--nice, straightforward version of an academic barrister and a very able Master of House, apparently.
Martin Meenagh said…
I meant to write 'conservatives' in that first comment. I have no idea what a conservatice is, though it sounds like something from New Joisey.