“To abandon the labors of a century is to betray those who came before us as well as generations yet to come. It would be pleasing – but misleading – to promise that social democracy, or something like it, represents the future that we would pain for ourselves in an ideal world. But this would be to return to discredited story-telling. Social democracy does not represent an ideal future; it does not even represent the ideal past. But among the options available to us today, it is better than anything else to hand.” – Tony Judt, Ill Fares The Land
Tony Judt is right: social democracy wasn’t and isn’t ideal but rather a pragmatic compromise between capitalism and democracy. History has taught us that incremental reforms don’t accumulate to create Marx’s socialists utopia but it is possible to use capitalism as an instrument to achieve Marx’s desire values instead. While it flourished, social democracy delivered prosperity, security and equality to millions. While social democracy has declined, the fruits of its laborers remain in the form of generous welfare programs, high union density and universal access to health care + secondary education. With the proper articulation, it may be possible to remind the public of the triumphs of social democracy and transform the meta-narrative of liberal progress into a meta-narrative of egalitarian stability.
“Class is defined by men as they live their own history, and, in the end, this is the only definition.” – E.P. Thompson
We should never allow the dogma of dead theorists to obfuscate the omnipresent and potent agency of the oppressed. All too often I find myself lamenting the powerlessness of many individuals in American society. This is because I view them as disaggregated data points rather than human beings with their own free will. Every day, both through mundane actions and bombastic statements, they resist the ingrained hierarchies they operate in. They wage battles through the radical musical expression of hip-hop and punk rock. They transform vile, disgusting slurs into terms of affection. They live colorful lives full of hope, optimism, love and sometimes when we attempt to quantify them in order to produce potent conjecture, we forget this. Henceforth, I will try to eschew this tendency and constantly remind myself that I am involved in the social sciences because I care about humans as ends rather than means to an abstract utopia. Rest in power, E.P. Thompson. Your insights certainly won’t be forgotten.
“Talking like a macroeconomics professor always leads to trouble.” – David Plouffe
I don’t mean to beat the horse killed by Paul Krugman but there is nothing more impolite than beginning a conversation using the vocabulary of an economist. Economics is called the dismal science for a reason. At its foundation is the assumption that mankind is inherently selfish and willing to do anything for individual interest given the right incentive structure. As the field has progressed, this assumption has become more nuanced: mankind is inherently selfish but is prone to the irrational desicion-making of a beast rather than the cool calculation of a utility maximizer. The endless list of econ 101 jargon used to describe commonplace human errors that fall outside of the rational actor model compels us to believe we were better off as hunter-gatherers where the consequences of our insatiable yet stupid greed could be properly contained. Yet for all of the jeers economics receives due to its microfoundational assumptions, it manages to be the titan of the social sciences because of its macroeconomic insights. Economics strength lies in its assertion that man’s vice may be systematized into virtue. This is the very essence of capitalism: a counter-intuitive notion. This is why the prescriptions of macroeconomic theory are so easily maligned: the objective of maximizing the collective good is apparently at odds with the market system. Thus macroeconomists are doomed to be ignored to the peril of society. Perhaps if economists were more normative and less positive, their policy prescriptions would be taken more seriously. The reality is that economists like markets because they’re efficient and maximize collective utility, not because of the inherent superiority of capitalism rooted in the morality of productive property ownership. Once economists actively discard the false notion that markets are the optimal mechanism for societal decision-making, their logic will be more easily diffused throughout society. Economists will then cease to be perceived as the useful idiots of the financial sector and gain respect as something greater than mere social scientists. With the right dose of openly normative viewpoints that advocate in favor of a just society defined by tolerance, equity and democratic deliberation, economists have the potential to be viewed as the benevolent architects of civilization rather than the theorem-wielding shills of hedge fund managers. Isn’t wish fulfillment a therapeutic exercise?
“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are
right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly
understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who
believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences,
are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority,
who hear voices in the air are distilling their frenzy from some academic
scribbler of a few years back.” – John Maynard Keynes
My hope is that this blog will not only elucidate the chief concerns of our time but also advance revolutionary ideas. This hope is delusional but so is the idea of an American President with black skin or a political union which contains France, Britain and Germany.
More practically, I’d like to use this blog to strengthen my academic writing skills and flex my cognitive muscles: keynesian dreams within an undergraduate reality.