Friday, September 17, 2010

Assault of Thoughts - 5/17/2010

"Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assault of thoughts on the unthinking" - JMK

- Jonathan Catalan has a new article up at Mises Daily on Richard Cantillon, identifying him as the true father of modern political economy. I don't know too much about the early history of economic thought, but in some sense this designation seems a little odd. The most that can be said, it seems, is that Cantillon was the first of the classical economists. He certainly wasn't the first to write a thorough treatise of political economy. If we ignore bursts of insights in Spain or Greece and look at continuous traditions of political economy, we have - at the very least - a mercantilist tradition that long pre-dates Cantillon. So I assume this is what Jonathan means - that Cantillon is the first classical political economist. Now, perhaps that's important if we take "mercantilism" to be synonymous with "protectionism". I've been reading a lot lately, though, about how mercantilism was much more of a monetary disequilibrium theory than critics of it from a "gains of trade" angle give it credit for. If this is truly the case, then Cantillon hardly deserves these sorts of accolades, I would think. Mercantilism in the hands of self-interested politicians started to get a dirty name (just as classical economics in the hands of crony capitalists got a dirty name). But if we look past all that and look at the economic theory behind the classics and behind the mercantilists we may find that we have to revise our pantheon. Anyway - I'm not nearly educated enough in all this, but I'll continue to post thoughts as I learn more. If anyone has any good resources or sources on the mercantilists I'd be very interested. If it's just mercantilism-as-protectionism that is disproved by Cantillon and Smith and whoever else, I'm not particularly interested - I am definitely with the classics on that end and that line of thinking isn't exactly news.

- Conor Friedersdorf on Dr. Francis Townsend's work agitating for pensions in the thirties. Pensions and unemployment insurance were the two of the major policy initiatives that Lovecraft always cited when he advocated his "fascism" (which is one of the reasons I think branding him a "fascist" is a little overstated... he wanted an active executive pushing through reforms, and in the period before Hitler really came into his own it was plausible to call that "fascist". Now, in retrospect, the terms don't match up of course). Anyway - this gets away from Townsend, but it's related. One of the reasons why I've enjoyed reading Lovecraft's writings in the thirties (and Drieser's and Sinclair's, and several others') is that I think it's good to get a sense of what regular people thought about and pushed for when it comes to economics and policy. Too often we parrot the views of politicians and economists and think that we've properly identified the parameters of the debate at the time. But it doesn't work that way. What did this failed physician in California think? What did this pulp fiction writer in Rhode Island think? Where were they surprisingly right? Where were they dreadfully wrong? Why were they wrong? How did their views relate to or depart from the views of "professionals"? These are very important questions for anyone concerned about economic policy making in a liberal republic. We are not ruled by philosopher-kings, so understanding how the general public thinks of these issues - when they're right and when they're wrong - is very important (not to mention just plain interesting).

- The Civil Rights Commission is debating its own future. It's a tough debate to have, and I think both sides have important concerns they raise.

- The woman that inspired "Draw Mohammed Day" - a day for satirizing extremists in a world so quick to fight violence with more violence - is now in hiding, has assumed a new identity, and is being protected by the FBI. Very sad news, but hopefully she stays safe.

1 comment:

  1. Cantillon may have written one of the first treatise of economics that encompasses economic science in general. That is, economics is relation a wide range of subjects within that science. Nobody before Cantillon, that I am aware of, wrote a treatise on economics. They may have written essays on specific subjects that make up economics (like money, interest, et cetera), but never a treatise on the science in general.


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