Friday, September 2, 2016

Historical context for the economics of this blog

Possibly the most stupid, embarrassing, social faux pas I have ever made came when I was in Finland trying to promote a book.  I was introduced by an earnest grad student who claimed I was most like the American Sociologist C. Wright Mills.  Now I happen to be a big fan of Mills.  I am pretty sure that I read no book at the university that was more interesting and important as his Power Elite.  I have read more interesting books since but at 21, Mills hit me like a lightening bolt.  So being compared to Mills was enough to trigger a major humility mode.  I'm surprised I didn't try to dig my toe into the floor.  "Oh no no," I actually heard myself say aloud, "I am not like Mills at all."

The kid who introduced me looked baffled.  As well he should have been.  After all, by merely reading my book he had deduced the Mills comparison.  He had no idea the role the Power Elite had had on my very survival as a student.  In fact, he should have been given an A+ for insight.  Besides, he was merely trying to locate me in the intellectual universe and this reference was a LONG way from misleading.

One of the more interesting intellectual exercises that fascinate the Veblen scholars is the question, "Where DID he get his ideas?"  He didn't learn much from his (very reactionary) economics professors like John Bates Clark and in fact spent the rest of his life refuting their beliefs.   His Ph.D. was on Kant.  So there isn't much there.  The attempts to link Veblen to Marx border on ridiculous.  So we are left with the obvious possibility that Veblen was a genuine original.  Of course, we cannot discount the fact that his original exposure to economics was the struggle by his family and neighbors organizing an economy at the very edge of civilization using the tools that could be hauled in a small wagon.

Veblen would become impatient with "scholars" who did nothing but categorize schools of thought.  One of his more withering criticisms was to call some intellectual pursuit "mere taxonomy."  Of course the people who do organize intellectual pursuits into roots and branches perform a useful service (if done well) but merely naming something explains almost nothing about the thing being named.

With those disclaimers, I must admit I found the following explanation for the various schools of economic thought very interesting.  It was produced by a group (or person) who wrote: SOCIAL DEMOCRACY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY: AN ALTERNATIVE TO THE MODERN LEFT

I have highlighted where I find myself.  This may be mere taxonomy but it is damn good!

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