“A perspective on the operation of an economy that has unfortunately entirely disappeared”

Here is a very nice review of my Classical Economic Theory and the Modern Economy in The History of Economics Review, written by Nathan Saunders, linked here. I can only say how grateful I am to find a review of the book written in sympathy with its aims and arguments. Here is his opening para:

The aim of Steven Kates’s latest book – Classical Economic Theory and the Modern Economy – is for readers to appreciate John Stuart Mill’s deep and broad understanding of economics along with the whole of the classical school from around the middle of the nineteenth century through to its final and complete disappearance with the publication of The General Theory in 1936. Moreover, Kates argues, it is our loss that we have primarily ignored the timeless principles embedded within classical theory. Presented between the covers are many arguments as to why Mill and his classical contemporaries should be front and centre within the economics discipline to this day. The following are five arguments from his book, presented in no particular order, with which I strongly agree.

He then goes through the five reasons why classical theory should be at the forefront of our understanding of how economies work. Of course the main reason is that modern economic theory, with its Keynesian demand management ethos embedded at every stage in the process, has never been able to provide a solution to a single economic downturn on even a single occasion since The General Theory was published. As discussed in the review:

Kates presents Mill’s fourth proposition on capital: ‘Demand for commodities is not demand for labour’. This proposition has not been refuted by the Keynesian revolution, nor by anyone else for that matter. Kates states: ‘The level of employment was unrelated to the level of aggregate demand … [and Mill] understood the errors embedded in any such attempt’ for policy-makers (221). Mill emphasized the harm embedded in such policies, an understanding that has disappeared, even as an issue to be debated. Mill kept all four of his propositions on capital pragmatic, commonsensical, and timeless. Moreover, Kates defends this momentous fourth proposition not only by drawing upon his knowledge of the history of economic thought, but also through a discussion of the many failed efforts to short-circuit recessions through increases in public spending.

Dead on. Let me recommend the book to you, but also might I suggest that you ask your local library to order a copy both for yourself to read along with others.

BTW the heading is taken from Nathan’s own text.

Genesis, a poem by David Solway

The Sun, Edvard Munch, 1909  


                 I strongly believe in the existence of God, based on intuition, observations, logic, and also scientific knowledge.
                           —Charles Townes, inventor of the laser

The earth was without form, and void
and darkness was on the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God hovered over the face of Nothing.
Then God said:
Let there be a zero-point field;
and there was a zero-point field.
And God saw the zero-point field,
that it was good.
And God said:
Let there be a quantum vacuum.
Let it fluctuate in ceaseless waves
in a rippling sea of quantum radiation.
And it was so.
Then God said:
Let matter be sustained
by the underlying sea of quantum radiation
for it is a force that opposes acceleration
and gives a body to things.
Let stochastic electrodynamics be the order of the day.
Let there be inertia.
Let matter be solid.
And it was so.
Thus God created an electromagnetic spectrum
and called it light
which was not the light of the sun, moon and stars
but the light of Creation.
And indeed it was very good. 

From The New English Review. Should also mention:

David Solway’s latest book is Notes from a Derelict Culture, Black House Publishing, 2019, London. A CD of his original songs, Partial to Cain, appeared in 2019.

Brave New World narrated by Aldous Huxley

Why Is It So Hard to Adapt ‘Brave New World’? helps explain why there have been  no movies made from the book that are worth your time.

Much of the novel is short on incident and long on ideas, effectively climaxing with one character arguing why the dystopia of New London, however awful in its implications, makes sense as the only recourse against humanity’s excesses. Which speaks to the book’s other tricky element: Brave New World’s 600-years-in-the-future society—one that’s banned monogamy and family, done its best to erase history, mandates the use the euphoria-inducing drug Soma, and uses a combination of genetic engineering and brainwashing to create a rigid caste system—is quite functional, maybe even desirable. After all, war has been eliminated. And what’s the difference between drug-induced happiness and the real thing when you get down to it (to say nothing of all that attachment- and consequence-free sex)?

But it is an odd experience to read it in our own time since you can see just how close it is to the ideal being sought by much of the world, at least in the West. It hardly feels out of date as an ideal amongst so many at the moment.

2020: Orwell or Huxley? is a question worth asking. I kinda agree with the answer here as well. This is Ron Dreher being quoted:

Soft totalitarianism exploits decadent modern man’s preference for personal pleasure over principles, including political liberties. The public will support, or at least not oppose, the coming soft totalitarianism, not because it fears the imposition of cruel punishments but because it will be more or less satisfied by hedonistic comforts. Nineteen Eighty-Four is not the novel that previews what’s coming; it’s rather Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The contemporary social critic James Poulos calls this the “Pink Police State”: an informal arrangement in which people will surrender political rights in exchange for guarantees of personal pleasure.

Soft totalitarianism … makes use of advanced surveillance technology not (yet) imposed by the state, but rather welcomed by consumers as aids to lifestyle convenience—and in the postpandemic environment, likely needed for public health. It is hard to get worked up over Big Brother when you have already grown accustomed to Big Data closely monitoring your private life via apps, credit cards, and smart devices, which make life so much easier and more pleasurable. In Orwell’s fictional dystopia, the installed “telescreens” in private homes to keep track of individual’s lives. Today we install smart speakers into our homes to increase our sense of well-being.

We are not being menaced with the gulag but with visions of safety and the good life. Might add that the issue is itself of no interest to anyone under the age of fifty, most of whom have never heard of the books, let alone read them.

Whatever sort of new world we are in it cannot be described as brave

Just been to the National Gallery and when I walked in I asked about masks and was told they were completely optional so off mine went. But of the other patrons of the arts down here in DanAndrewStan, 90% kept them on. Whether they did it to protect me from them, or to protect themselves from me I do not know. But that these same people are also terrorised by global warming seems a virtual certainty. The only question now is when will they start the distribution of soma. Perhaps they will mix it in with the vaccine.

Political crime and punishment

Fyodor Dostoevsky: philosopher of freedom, the opening two paras:

ODecember 22, 1849, a group of political radicals were taken from their prison cells in Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress, where they had been interrogated for eight months. Led to the Semenovsky Square, they heard a sentence of death by firing squad. They were given long white peasant blouses and nightcaps—their funeral shrouds—and offered last rites. The first three prisoners were seized by the arms and tied to the stake. One prisoner refused a blindfold and stared defiantly into the guns trained on them. At the last possible moment, the guns were lowered as a courier galloped up with an imperial decree reducing death sentences to imprisonment in a Siberian prison camp followed by service as a private in the army. The last-minute rescue was in fact planned in advance as part of the punishment, an aspect of social life that Russians understand especially well.

Accounts affirm: of the young men who endured this terrible ordeal, one had his hair turn white; a second went mad and never recovered his sanity; a third, whose two-hundredth birthday we celebrate in 2021, went on to write Crime and Punishment.

I’m not sure I knew this, or if I did, I didn’t remember. I remember the story but not that it was Dostoevsky who had been about to be hanged. The article should be read in full, as anything by Gary Saul Morson should be read in full.

Andrew Bolt launches The Art of the Impossible

LAUNCHING STEVE’S BOOK AFTER BEING ATTACKED was the title of Andrew Bolt’s column from 6 June 2017. Book still available here: The Art of the Impossible at Amazon and hopefully elsewhere. BTW the attack took place in the street just before Andrew arrived to launch the book. I might note that I had never seen this video until I came across it today. A video of the attack I had seen but not all of these which portray just how cowardly the attacks were and how brave Andrew was. Very very unusual for the streets of Melbourne, and we can only hope it stays that way.

As for the book, I have always thought of it as an important historical piece since it is made up of my blog posts on the election of Donald Trump, beginning in July 2015 through until election day on November 9, 2016 (as it was in Australia). It gives you an as-it-happened look at the way the election developed and how Donald Trump eventually won. More than ever the book is worth reading since it reminds you of just how important the policy matrix that he represented was and remains.

John le Carré (1931-2020)

John le Carré was the greatest spy novelist of my generation and may have been the greatest ever. He passed away yesterday and here are three obits if you would like to catch up on the details: this from The Guardian and this from the BBC. This is the one from The Oz. As it happens, I have just finished reading (and given the nature of memory re-reading) some of his greats and am now in the middle of The Russia House and The Honourable Schoolboy, the one in my hands at any moment depending on the place I happen to be at the time.

Spy novels are to boys what romantic novels are to girls. Every literate person reads both, but after you have read all of Jane Austen and Emily Brontë, what comes next? And spy stories set in actual historical settings has been my literature of choice for a long time. And with Le Carré, it is the same as Jane Austen, a fantastically deep writing style, unbelievably descriptive abilities with believable characters each with a personality of their own, even the most minor. And whether it is the middle of the Cold War or the middle of Perestroika, the politics of the moment are just the background to the tale. It may no longer be that “it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”, just as it may never have been true that “the Cold War was over long before it was officially declared dead”. But the stories just carry you along by their own momentum. And the writing is unparalleled. This is from the page I am reading right now (The Russia House p 82):

He had made a base camp at his own end of the room on a stiff school chair as far away from us as he could get. He perched on it sideways to us, stooped over his whisky glass, which he held in both hands, peering into it like a great thinker or at least a lonely one. He spoke not to us but to himself, emphatically and scathingly, not stirring except to take a sip from his glass or duck his head in affirmation of some private and usually abstracted point of narrative. He spoke in the mixture of pedantry and disbelief that people used to reconstruct an episode such as a death or a traffic accident. So I was here and you were there and the other other chap came from over there.

So my first theme here is that if you have not read his novels, you perhaps should. But my second theme, which really comes out of the Russia House, an novel set at the end of the Cold War, is that we may find we in the West are heading into a world of samizdat and a world of dissidents. That we live in a world of madness should not be in doubt, but if you do have some residual reservations about where we are heading, read this by Nick Cater today: Worried about teen gender ‘craze’? You haven’t got a prayer. Here are the central points if you cannot open it up yourself:

The Premier who thought it was OK to handcuff a pregnant woman in her pyjamas for something she posted on Facebook has launched a fresh assault on freedoms hitherto thought sacrosanct.

Legislation before the Victorian parliament will make the act of prayer a criminal offence in some circumstances. Yet in an era when it is cool to self-identify as anything but a Christian, hardly anyone is making a fuss.

The pretext for the bill is transphobia, a contagion for which the Andrews government believes the church is a super spreader. It will be illegal to counsel a person to change or suppress their chosen gender identity. Prohibited actions include “carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer-based practice”….

The legislation cruised through the Victorian Legislative Assembly on Thursday afternoon with barely a murmur. The opposition demand for a period of consultation went the way of all Liberal Party amendments and the bill was on its way to the upper house by 10 past five.

Outside parliament, the response has been equally feeble, save for the interventions of the Australian Christian Lobby, the Catholic Church and the Presbyterians. Melbourne’s Catholic Archbishop, Peter Comensoli, wrote: “No government has an interest in what a person prays for, who they pray to, who they pray with, or what conversations happen between members of a family.”

He is so 2019. And here’s the conclusion which may soon make articles like Nick’s illegal to say in public (or private).

We should be encouraging minors to seek a second, third or fourth opinion from doctors, priests, pastors and other professionals before embarking on a path that could alter their bodies irreversibly with a limited chance of improving their mental health.

Yet the Victorian law will make it illegal to do anything other than pat them on the head. The issue here is not the maturity of minors, but the intellectual immaturity of adults who exploit teenage anxiety for ideological ends.

What do you mean it can’t happen here. It already has.

MORE ON LE CARRÉ: This is a bit more on Le Carré and Jews: ‘A spiritual kinship’: When John Le Carre poured out his soul on Jews and Israel. Here is some, but as the cliché goes, read the whole thing.

This interview with John le Carre, conducted by Douglas Davis for the Jewish World Review, first appeared on January 1, 1998 under the headline “Not quite conventional”. It is republished here by kind permission of the author.
Some excerpts.

Not so surprising, perhaps, the most revealing clue to Le Carre’s own somewhat uncertain identity comes in his suggestion about the identity of his celebrated fictional character: “It is a sheer fluke,” says Le Carre, “that Smiley himself is not a Jew.” And then: “Perhaps he is.” …

At age 16, Le Carre finally escaped from the bizarre underworld of his father and the gloomy boarding schools to become what he describes as “a refugee” — again, the outsider — at Bern University in Switzerland and then Oxford, emerging with a degree in German literature.

But it was a visit to the “unbeautified camps” of Belsen and Dachau soon after the war that had a searing impact on the impressionable young novelist-in-the-making and proved to be a defining life experience: “To this day,” he says, “there is no museum and no film, however fine, not even a book, that can compare with the living impact of those places on me.”

One year later, he was back, this time as a young conscript — an intelligence officer — to trawl the “refugee cages” and question those who had been washed up from eastern and central Europe.

“Every day brought its tales of human tragedy,” he says. “Every day brought its reminders that whatever minor inconveniences I had suffered in my own life, they were a joke when set beside the real thing.

“And every day brought its Jews. Broken families with broken suitcases. These people are my business, I thought. There is something between their eyes and mine.” …

The persistence of Jews who insisted on inhabiting his work led inevitably to a fascination with Israel, but it was not until the early 1980s that Le Carre summoned up the courage to tackle a subject that “had long been in my sights, even if it had always scared the wits out of me: the Arab-Israeli conflict.” The result was The Little Drummer Girl.

“I knew nothing of the Middle East, but then I have always seen my novels as opportunities for self-education,” he says. “Investing my ignorance in my central character — a leftist English actress — and making a virtue of her naivety, I set off on a journey of self-enlightenment, living my character, leaning with each breeze — now toward Israel, now away from it — in a series of schizophrenic visits to Amman, Damascus, Beirut, South Lebanon and later Tunis. Then back to Israel, across the Allenby Bridge or by way of Cyprus.”

Israel, he says, “rocked me to my boots. I had arrived expecting whatever European sentimentalists expect — a re-creation of the better quarters of Hampstead [in London]. Or old Danzig, or Vienna or Berlin. The strains of Mendelssohn issuing from open windows of a summer’s evening. Happy kids in seamen’s hats clattering to school with violin cases in their hands…”

Instead, what he found was “the most extraordinary carnival of human variety that I have ever set eyes on, a nation in the process of re-assembling itself from the shards of its past, now Oriental, now Western, now secular, now religious, but always anxiously moralizing about itself, criticizing itself with Maoist ferocity, a nation crackling with debate, rediscovering its past while it fought for its future.”

“No nation on earth,” he says passionately, ” was more deserving of peace — or more condemned to fight for it.”

A review of Alan Cromer’s Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science

Most people believe that science arose as a natural end-product of our innate intelligence and curiosity, as an inevitable stage in human intellectual development. But physicist and educator Alan Cromer disputes this belief.

Cromer argues that science is not the natural unfolding of human potential, but the invention of a particular culture, Greece, in a particular historical period. Indeed, far from being natural, scientific thinking goes so far against the grain of conventional human thought that if it hadn’t been discovered in Greece, it might not have been discovered at all.

In Uncommon Sense, Alan Cromer develops the argument that science represents a radically new and different way of thinking. Using Piaget’s stages of intellectual development, he shows that conventional thinking remains mired in subjective, “egocentric” ways of looking at the world–most people even today still believe in astrology, ESP, UFOs, ghosts and other paranormal phenomena–a mode of thought that science has outgrown.

He provides a fascinating explanation of why science began in Greece, contrasting the Greek practice of debate to the Judaic reliance on prophets for acquiring knowledge. Other factors, such as a maritime economy and wandering scholars (both of which prevented parochialism) and an essentially literary religion not dominated by priests, also promoted in Greece an objective, analytical way of thinking not found elsewhere in the ancient world. He examines India and China and explains why science could not develop in either country.

In China, for instance, astronomy served only the state, and the private study of astronomy was forbidden. Cromer also provides a perceptive account of science in Renaissance Europe and of figures such as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. Along the way, Cromer touches on many intriguing topics, arguing, for instance, that much of science is essential complete; there are no new elements yet to be discovered. He debunks the vaunted SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project, which costs taxpayers millions each year, showing that physical limits–such as the melting point of metal–put an absolute limit on the speed of space travel, making trips to even the nearest star all but impossible.

Finally, Cromer discusses the deplorable state of science education in America and suggests several provocative innovations to improve high school education, including a radical proposal to give all students an intensive eighth and ninth year program, eliminating the last two years of high school.

Uncommon Sense is an illuminating look at science, filled with provocative observations. Whether challenging Thomas Kuhn’s theory of scientific revolutions, or extolling the virtues of Euclid’s Elements, Alan Cromer is always insightful, outspoken, and refreshingly original.

The political works of Gary Saul Morson

We have previously drawn attention to Professor Gary Saul Morson’s New Criterion essay “How the great truth dawned,” Professor Morson’s New Criterion lecture “Leninthink,” Professor Morson’s New York Review of Books review “The horror, the horror,” and Professor Morson’s book Narrative and Freedom: The Shadows of Time (Steve wrote about it here).

To these I now want to add Professor Morson’s First Things essay “Suicide of the liberals.”

His Wikipedia entry.