The red Coates is coming

Let’s do a bit more psychology today: this from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Captain America Comic Suggests Jordan Peterson Is Worse Than Hitler.

A recent of issue of Captain America written by Coates features the villain Red Skull apparently sounding a lot like Jordan Peterson.

Wow! And with a book written by Mr Skull titled, “Ten Rules for Life”. These people are beyond caricature and not very subtle either. But here’s a reply from someone who gets Peterson.

I wanted to use the word “depraved” to describe what I read, but I don’t want to sound too harsh and negative because how are we then to open a fruitful dialogue with these people who obviously only have our best interests at heart?

“A beautifully crafted and eminently fair review”

I’ve just written a book review for the website which I would not normally mention except that it attracted this comment from Tom Humphrey, one of the great historians of economics writing today:

A beautifully crafted and eminently fair review by Steve Kates. He takes a strong stand. But he does so in a spirit that few scholars could object to even if they disagree with him. In overall quality and readability his review rises far above the level of the average review. Wish all reviews could be so good. Nothing is as helpful and valuable as a good book review, if done right. Reviewing is an un- and under-appreciated art.

This is how my review begins:

There was a time that one might have said that economic theory was comprised of a series of concepts that help explain the way communities provision themselves and became more prosperous over time. Economic theory as it developed came in the wake of the pamphleteers of more ancient days who saw the world around them and thought there had to be a better way of getting things done. They therefore wrote polemical accounts aimed at addressing various problems as they saw them, to try to persuade others to take up the approaches they were attempting to advocate.

Meanwhile, almost from out of nowhere came the Industrial Revolution. It was not a consequence of Adam Smith having written his Wealth of Nations. The two just appeared on the scene at roughly the same time, and some — observing the world they were living in, while also reading Smith’s account of how economies worked — came to the conclusion that there was some actual theoretical knowledge that might assist in the improvement of the way in which economies grew and prospered. That is how we came to have the classical school first, and then the major critiques of the socialist writers, with Marx and Sismondi among the most significant.

The classical economists observed the world, saw the tremendous growth in output and living standards and, correctly in my view, came to the conclusion that it was the role of private entrepreneurs that had made the difference. Within the community, if it were designed in a way that allowed individuals to pursue their own best interests as they saw them, there would be a rearrangement of productive forces in response to where the greatest return on investments would occur. Output rose, innovations occurred, and as a direct result living-standards rose. It may appear to many of us looking back on those times that the social costs were immense, but many of those who were living at the time were content that England should exchange its “green and pleasant land” for a highly productive economic structure that allowed many individuals to move forward in what they could earn and in the range and quantity of the goods and services they could buy.

But the costs were high, and memories were short. Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, which he began in 1849 as an investigative journalist and which was finally published in 1861-62, brought the tremendous social costs into the limelight (Mayhew 1985). He was hardly the first to do so, but Mayhew’s work stands out as a depiction of the burdens that had befallen the newly formed proletariats of the industrial age. It was the appearance not just of poverty, which had till then been universal, that mattered, but the agglomeration of entire industrial suburbs that focused attention on the world as it had become. Dark satanic mills had become the way of the world.

What also was new in the world at the time was the business cycle, the periodic ebb and flow of economic activity which came at such a tremendous cost to the working classes. It was one thing to be mired in poverty. It was another thing entirely to find that the low wages upon which individuals depended would suddenly disappear, and for reasons utterly beyond the control of the workers themselves, indeed beyond the control of anyone. And while there was no denying the spectacular growth not just in the volume of output but in the assortment of goods and services that came into existence, there was also disquiet at the disruptions and harm that could be visited on individuals and their families because of the disruptions in their working lives.

And while this overview of the years of the Industrial Revolution is part of the background knowledge of every economist, the need for a means to account for how the industrial world operated was required as well as some means to control the forces that had been let loose upon the world. There was the positive side that came in terms of production. But there was the negative side that came in relation to the polluted cities that had sprung up and the uncertainties that had become embedded within the lives of so many individuals. And this is where the history of economic thought comes into the story.

Economists are the inheritors of the latest manifestations of the theory of the economy that more or less satisfies most of the profession. There are now theories of such astonishing abstraction that it is almost impossible any longer to look into what economists believe they know and truly understand how the economic world is structured or what can and should be changed to improve the operation of the productive aspects of our economies.

If you would like to read the rest, you can go here.

Woody and Mia

I had offered to review Woody Allen’s autobiography for Quadrant but thankfully I was beaten to it by Rob Long in this wonderful piece in the March issue: In Search of Woody Allen (and if you’re not a subscriber to Quadrant, you should be). If I had written the review, however, this is the kind of thing I would have said: Woody Allen is the greatest comic movie writer-director-producer alive today, our own Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. He is also a socialist-Democrat of the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama variety, so from a personal political perspective he is poison. But oddly and pleasantly, very little of that shows up in his films. In fact, if anything, his movies are almost completely conservative from a plot perspective. Whatever you might think of Annie Hall as a film, to the extent there is a moral to the story, it is hardly about socialism and share the wealth. It is about the complexity of human life.

But that is not why Allen is being brought to our attention today. This being the era of the wronged woman, he has fallen foul of the cancel-culture thought police. Woody, while boy-friending Mia Farrow (they never married or even lived together) is accused of molesting his adopted daughter, Dylan, when she was seven. These accusations were made after Allen began an intimate relationship with another of Mia Farrow’s adopted children, Soon-Yi, who was at the time 21. These are the details of their association according to Woody Allen’s Wikipedia page:

Allen and Mia Farrow met in 1979 and began a relationship in 1980; Farrow starred in 13 of Allen’s films from 1982 to 1992. Throughout the relationship they lived in separate apartments on opposite sides of Central Park in Manhattan. Farrow had seven children when they met: three biological sons from her marriage to composer André Previn, three adopted girls (two Vietnamese and one South Korean, Soon-Yi Previn), and an adopted South Korean boy, Moses Farrow.

In 1984 she and Allen tried to conceive a child together; Allen agreed to this on the understanding that he need not be involved in the child’s care. When the effort to get pregnant failed, Farrow adopted a baby girl, Dylan Farrow, in July 1985. Allen was not involved in the adoption, but when Dylan arrived he assumed a parental role toward her and began spending more time in Farrow’s home. On December 19, 1987, Farrow gave birth to their son Satchel Farrow (later known as Ronan Farrow). According to Allen, his intimate relationship with Mia Farrow ceased completely after Satchel’s birth and he was asked to return her apartment key; they maintained a working relationship when they filmed a movie, and he regularly visited Moses, Dylan and Satchel, but he and Mia were only “social companions on those occasions where there’d be a dinner, an event, but after the event she’d go home and I’d go home.” In 1991 Farrow wanted to adopt another child. According to a 1993 custody hearing, Allen told her he would not object to another adoption so long as she would agree to his adoption of Dylan and Moses; that adoption was finalized in December 1991. Eric Lax, Allen’s biographer, wrote in The New York Times that Allen was “there before they [the children] wake up in the morning, he sees them during the day and he helps put them to bed at night”.

Whatever you may think of his taking up with Soon-Yi, and they have now been married for a quarter of a century and have two adult adopted daughters, the issue is Mia’s accusation brought into living rooms across America by that four-part series on HBO. You can either think Mia is telling the truth, or that she is a madly deranged woman out for revenge. So clear is it to me (and Rob Long) that it is Mia who is a madwoman beyond sense that I can only watch in sadness and wonder as the events unfold. Weirdly, it is the left in America that has ganged up on Allen, with only someone such as myself even game to defend him. Read ‘Allen v. Farrow’: Intellectually Dishonest Propaganda Meets Emotional Blackmail for the Woody Allen side of the story. It’s long, but not as long, nor as wildly entertaining as Woody’s autobiography, Apropos of Nothing. From the book, what I got was that while he is astonishingly funny, he is not very bright and generally anti-social. But of this particular crime, he is completely innocent. He must have been a nightmare to teach – class clown material at its worst – but also no scholar, as he readily admits time and again in the book.

As for our taste in movies, at least so far as his films are concerned, there was this from his autobiography:

To me, my most disappointing film was Hollywood Ending. I felt that movie was funny and it did not do well. I executed it well, my leading lady Téa Leoni was wonderful, the supporting cast came through, the idea was fraught with potential. A film director goes psychosomatically blind and, unwilling to lose a chance to direct a comeback film, fakes his way through, pretending he can see. In Chaplin’s hands, or Buster Keaton’s it would’ve been a masterpiece. Even in mine, it was funny – or so I keep telling people. (pp. 342-343)

And so I also keep telling people. See it if you can. As for this Allen-Farrow dustup, it’s Hollywood and it’s decadent but what’s new? Woody didn’t do what Mia says, so as sordid as the story is as she tells it, it is irrelevant to anything and to anyone other than themselves. But similar to Ovid being sent into exile by Augustus, the world is being denied a comic genius, and that is not good.

What’s Wrong with the World as seen in 1910

The woman beside the man, Frances Chesterton
GKC with his wife Frances

This is from What’s Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton in 1910. Not all that much seems to have changed. This is from Part III: “Feminism, or the Mistake about Women”, Chapter VII: “The Modern Surrender of Women”. And just what was it they surrendered. They capitulated in accepting that work outside the home was better than work inside, and the things boys did were better than the things girls did, which until then they had denied

But in this corner called England, at this end of the century, there has happened a strange and startling thing. Openly and to all appearance, this ancestral conflict has silently and abruptly ended; one of the two sexes has suddenly surrendered to the other. By the beginning of the twentieth century, within the last few years, the woman has in public surrendered to the man. She has seriously and officially owned that the man has been right all along; that the public house (or Parliament) is really more important than the private house; that politics are not (as woman had always maintained) an excuse for pots of beer, but are a sacred solemnity to which new female worshipers may kneel; that the talkative patriots in the tavern are not only admirable but enviable; that talk is not a waste of time, and therefore (as a consequence, surely) that taverns are not a waste of money. All we men had grown used to our wives and mothers, and grandmothers, and great aunts all pouring a chorus of contempt upon our hobbies of sport, drink and party politics. And now comes Miss Pankhurst with tears in her eyes, owning that all the women were wrong and all the men were right; humbly imploring to be admitted into so much as an outer court, from which she may catch a glimpse of those masculine merits which her erring sisters had so thoughtlessly scorned….

For the truth is that they go mainly by precedent; by the mere fact that men have votes already. So far from being a mutinous movement, it is really a very Conservative one; it is in the narrowest rut of the British Constitution. 

And that, let me remind you, was written in 1910. Women, he wrote, sought the vote because men had the vote. As for drink, we have seen how well they hold up on a night out with some chap but that is still the ambition. And we know how well they withstand the pressures of politics. As for sport, we now have this:

A girl can do anything, once a guy does it first and then shows her how after she has “glimpsed those masculine merits” as Chesterton has put it.

Incitement to assassination

We just went to see New Movie Looks Through the Eyes of the Man Who Killed Israel’s Prime Minister. In Israel, the film is called Yamim Noraim which has a religious meaning, but in English is it titled, “Incitement”. This is an interview with its director followed by some passages from the above-linked article.

At the core of “Incitement” (“Yamim Noraim” in Hebrew) is an artistic decision that will cause the Israeli viewer’s heart to skip a beat: The decision to turn Yigal Amir, the man who murdered former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, into a cinematic hero. This is a choice that appears, at least at first, to be completely unreasonable if not outright mad. After all, Amir, in the eyes of most Israelis, is the number one enemy of the Jews – not a national hero. He is the man who crossed the line that nobody crossed before him. We thought that a Jew doesn’t kill a Jew. But Amir did. And he even found a justification based on halakha (Jewish religious law) for it.

Is it ethical to discuss Yigal Amir’s motives? Is it ethical to decipher his personality, to give him volume and feelings?

Twenty-four years after he committed murder, Amir has become the hero of a full-length feature film which was screened earlier this week at the Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in the coming weeks in Israeli movie theaters. The very idea of watching such a film causes great unease. We have become accustomed to loathing him, to regarding him as an abomination.

What happens when we suddenly see him as a well-rounded character, like the medium of cinema requires? Is it ethical to discuss Yigal Amir’s motives? Is it ethical to decipher his personality, to give him volume and feelings? What happens if we identify with him? What happens if the sharp and clear boundary we have drawn between ourselves and the murderer for the past 24 years begins to fade? Will we find ourselves understanding Yigal Amir?

The plot of “Yamim Noraim,” directed by Yaron Zilberman (who also wrote the script with Ron Leshem) begins about two years before the assassination. Amir, portrayed well by Yehuda Nahari Halevi, is a law student at Bar-Ilan University, who participates with his friends in stormy demonstrations against the Oslo Accords and then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. 

And the issue is not whether you agree with the policies adopted by Rabin. The issue is whether there are circumstances when the assassination of a political leader is legitimate. A fascinating film that had me gripped the whole way through since following the logic of the debate is what it is about.

Should Hitler have been assassinated? By1945, the answer was easy. But any such assassination would have had to occur in 1933-37 to have mattered. History just unfolds with all of its might-have-beens that can never be answered. I will say only this. That a political leader with a majority of 61-59 in Parliament should not attempt such divisive policies. And for more on that, there is this article to consider: Religious Zionism and The Rabin Assassination.

Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated by Yigal Amir, an Orthodox Jew, a student in the law school at Bar Ilan University, and a graduate of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, two of the most prominent educational institutions of Religious Zionism. Amir claimed religious justifications for his act, quoting halakhic arguments widely discussed in rabbinic circles of Religious Zionism at the time. He determined that Rabin’s policies endangered Jewish lives, which placed Rabin in the category of rodef (pursuer), whom one is permitted to kill. It has not been determined whether Amir had specific rabbinical approval for his act. He has denied it, saying that the permissibility of the assassination was sufficiently clear that he could act on his own. His brother Hagai, who was convicted as an accomplice to the assassination,
has repeatedly asserted that there had been rabbinical approval, although
he has not mentioned a name. In the broader community there remain strong suspicions that Yigal Amir’s actions were approved by many Religious Zionists, including rabbis, even though only a small fringe has openly said so.
But religious approval is also not a justification for murder. The movie however does go through the various considerations that went into the assassination, as well as the personal circumstances that surrounded Amir. It tries to explain why he did what he did, not in any way to justify what he did.

“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.