4.16.2009

This'll Never Happen, but...

I would like to cordially invite anybody who is reading this to check out some books from their library -- some books that I think have been lamentably under-read*:
  1. The Open Society and its Enemies, by Karl Popper (1945)
  2. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, by Max Weber (1904-05)
  3. The Law, by Frédéric Bastiat (1850)
  4. On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill (1859)
  5. Capital, by Karl Marx (1867)
  6. History of Economic Analysis, by Joseph Schumpter (1954)
  7. Catechism of a Revolutionary, by Sergei Nechaev (1869)
  8. Theory and History, by Ludwig Von Mises (1957)
  9. Principles of Economics, by Carl Menger (1871)
  10. Individualism and Economic Order, by F.A. Hayek (1948)

I'd be happy to debrief if any of you want to talk about any of these. Most of these are available on the internet (see hyperlinks). Most of them lean in the direction of defending the free market, but Nechaev and Marx certainly don't. I've just been disappointed lately by the dialogue (both theoretical and historical) concerning economic regulation. Each of the books I've listed offers a clear epistemology, and that is something I cannot find in our contemporary discourse. If the preference is currently for regulated markets, I'm interested in what ways of knowing have led intellectuals to adopt that position.

Not just platitudes or a priori commitments to one system over another, but substantive discourse involving the debate between historical examples, on one hand, and theoretical deductions, on another. It has seemed to me that we are relying on outmoded definitions -- that modern economies defy terms like "Capitalist" and "Socialist," and in the place of that lack of reliable definitions, I am calling for a clarification of terms. For example, calling George W. Bush a "capitalist" seems wildly inaccurate and unproductive, and referring to China as a communist state allows for many, many contradictions and counter-examples ("Free Trade Zones?", Hong Kong).

I understand that new wine requires new wineskins -- maybe all of this old literature will ultimately not be helpful. But, for example, despite the fact that we aren't living in the world of Kant, a word like a priori occasionally proves useful, and that is a word contemporary intellectuals would not have access to unless they studied some Kant. I suspect that the definitions used by the writers I'm recommending may need amending -- but that discourse would be highly preferable to the one that currently exists, which effectively includes Paul Krugman on one "side," and David Brooks on the other, and a trickling goo of half-literate snipes that follow on the comments page of the Times' op-ed section.

So to put the question more directly: I just want to know why regulators believe regulation is what's needed. In other words: I understand the libertarian argument, even if I don't wholly accept it. But I don't understand the democratic-socialist argument, and feel (therefore) incapable of endorsing or rejecting it.

2 comments:

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Do we see a syllabus forming?

Casey said...

Well, I'm actually not qualified to teach this stuff, "officially," and at my small liberal arts college, the demands of the accreditors and the existing curriculum... blah blah blah...

And actually, I don't like how ideological economics is. I'm not convinced that "people" can fruitfully discuss it -- it might all be propaganda, in which case I'm not comfortable participating. I'd rather withdraw back down into my "Tr-th-cave," thinking about eternity and the relationship between abstractions like Time and Identity.