Sunday, March 30, 2014

Why PoMo is Self-Defeating (iv)

15th century, unknown Spanish (Valencian) author.  [A]

"And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the Dragon; and the Dragon fought and his angels" (Revelation 12:7. KJV).


Correct me if I'm mistaken, but I bet you've seen those heated Internet debates about politics, economics, philosophy of this or that; sociology of knowledge, theory of this, post-that-ism.

If you take those discussions at face value (say, if long words impress or intimidate you) you probably think you're witnessing epic battles of ideas. Good versus evil stuff. I mean, only experts write about ergodic thingies, ontology, epistemology, metaphysics, idealism versus materialism, the teleology of supply and demand (Yup: link Not related to the hermeneutics of quantum gravity!). Experts don't argue about trivial things, like the rest of us. So, you must approach these enlightened people hat in hand, with near-religious awe. Right?

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Take for instance Philip Pilkington unleashing his righteous PoMo/PoKe fury on the old PoMo of Deirdre McCloskey (about whom I wrote a few weeks ago).

Pilkington begins with a little product differentiation: his hipster-style PoMo brand (think of Wheaties), versus McCloskey's old boring PoMo (think of no-frills bran flakes): "Wheaties is The Breakfast of Champions. Bran flakes is, well, just bran flakes". Link.

A blow-up model of a Wheaties box to commemorate
the opening of Glory Road on the UTEP campus,
November 29, 2005. [B]

With the lines drawn, the situation acquires an apocalyptic tone.

Next, archangel Philip inspects his winged regiments (already armed, assembled in close formation, and ready to do battle), and harangues them about the frightful possibility of defeat:
"I'll tell you who wins the day should that nonsense [D. McCloskey's relativistic PoMo] ever be accepted: the group with the most institutional power. That is, the group of economists from out of which McCloskey comes." [link]
But, what exactly happens if -- God forbid -- archangel Phil loses and Big Bad D's institutionally powerful army of demonic economists wins the day? Would we, together with Phil, "be cast alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulphur"?

It's only at the end of his second post on McCloskey, when finally Pilkington makes clear the issues at stake and the tragic and disastrous consequences of defeat (and if you enjoy ironies, you'll love this):
"In her relativism McCloskey forgets that, well, … some economists find it more difficult than others to get jobs and publications". (Emphasis mine)
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There you have it: whatever the rhetoric advanced by these PoMo champions and exponents of philosophical idealism (both avowed debunkers of all forms of materialism), for Pilkington this wasn't about ideas or principles. It was all about something more prosaic, and tangible; something as material, as who gets what (distribution, in one word): Pilkington fears that McCloskey and the mainstream crowd will keep on hogging all the goodies (from lowly lecturer positions, to prestige professorships, and associated perks: conferences, lecture circuits, advisory roles, book deals, networking opportunities, why, even prizes!), leaving young up-and-comers like himself, with big-shot aspirations, locked out in the cold. Quite proletarian, if you think about it.

(Have you guessed it? Our very precocious Phil is this close to discovering historical materialism, class and class warfare!)

Remember Mitt Romney and his 47% speech? Well, like him, this time Pilkington spoke candidly. The whole brouhaha boils down to this: at stake is Pilkington's career.

Only one question remains unanswered: why should we, working class rabble, take sides in that conflict?

Pilkington's "product differentiation" doesn't work with me (and shouldn't work with you, either): he and McCloskey are more similar than they care to admit. Whatever else marketing would have us believe, Wheaties still are bran flakes.

For example, Pilkington and McCloskey aren't critics of capitalism. For them, capitalism is the only dish on the menu: Au naturel, pour Madame; avec le sucre, pour Monsieur. (More on that, here).

The best one can say about Pilkington and McCloskey is that both are enfants terribles of mainstream economics (at very different levels of competence, with McCloskey actually providing evidence she understands the subject she criticizes; while Pilkington, well, whatever).

To compensate theoretical shortcomings, Pilkington (who seems to have a flair for show business) has made a career of embarrassing senior mainstream economists. (Ask Paul Krugman, one of his whipping boys of choice: link)

Whatever their real differences, as opposed to self-serving amateurish marketing spin, Pilkington and McCloskey share the same goal: to shore up capitalism, with themselves starring in the role of High Priests/Priestesses (eventually Grand Inquisitors?) and you and I guest-starring as the sacrificial offerings.

That's all there is to it. Now, choose: Wheaties or no-frills bran flakes?


Image Credits:
[A] Saint Michael and the Dragon. Author: unknown Spanish (Valencian), early 15th century. Wikimedia.
[B] "A blow-up model of a Wheaties box to commemorate the opening of Glory Road on the UTEP campus, November 29, 2005". License/Permission: GFDL-SELF-WITH-DISCLAIMERS; Released under the GNU Free Documentation License. Wikimedia.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why PoMo is Self-Defeating (iii)

While popular among a part of the anti-mainstream economics blogosphere, I'm not a regular of this blog.

Credit is due, however, to the blogger (who uses a peculiar moniker) for this Noam Chomsky quote on Postmodernism/Post-structuralism:
"Some of the people in these cults (which is what they look like to me) I've met: Foucault (we even have a several-hour discussion, which is in print, and spent quite a few hours in very pleasant conversation, on real issues, and using language that was perfectly comprehensible-he speaking French, me English); Lacan (who I met several times and considered an amusing and perfectly self-conscious charlatan, though his earlier work, pre-cult, was sensible and I've discussed it in print); Kristeva (who I met only briefly during the period when she was a fervent Maoist); and others. Many of them I haven't met, because I am very remote from these circles, by choice, preferring quite different and far broader ones-the kinds where I give talks, have interviews, take part in activities, write dozens of long letters every week, etc. I've dipped into what they write out of curiosity, but not very far, for reasons already mentioned: what I find is extremely pretentious, but on examination, a lot of it is simply illiterate, based on extraordinary misreading of texts that I know well (sometimes, that I have written), argument that is appalling in its casual lack of elementary self-criticism, lots of statements that are trivial (though dressed up in complicated verbiage) or false; and a good deal of plain gibberish".
Chomsky's entire comment.

The author also links to Richard Dawkins' "Postmodernism Disrobed", reviewing "Intellectual Impostures", by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont,  published in Nature, 9 July 1998, vol. 394. The link given is broken, but the file is available from New York University: link.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Why PoMo is Self-Defeating (ii)

It was a mouse! [A]
A mountain was in travail pang;
The country with her clamour rang.
Out ran the people all, to see,
Supposing that the birth would be
A city, or at least a house.
It was a mouse! (Jean de La Fontaine, "The Mountain in Labour")

There was a time when the work of Deirdre N. McCloskey (Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago, link) received extremely hostile reviews from prominent Austrian economists.

Take Hans-Hermann Hoppe (Professor Emeritus with the College of Business at the University of Nevada, link) reviewing McCloskey's "The Rethoric of Economics" in 1989, as an example.

Supposing, contra McCloskey, that I understood Hoppe's argument (:D sorry, couldn't help it!): Hoppe denies that McCloskey inquiries about what is true, because PoMo/hermeneuticians like McCloskey believe truth is unattainable:
"It [i.e. McCloskey's argument] exists not for the sake of inquiring about what is true, but for its own sake; not in order to convince anyone of anything based on objective standards, but in the absence of any such standards, simply in order to be persuasive and persuade for persuasion's sake".
For Hoppe, the argument hermeneuticians (and McCloskey) make "can merely be understood as contributions to their and my entertainment".

McCloskey's efforts, however, did not entertain Hoppe:
"McCloskey's talk clearly would not fall into any different category from that of a novelist or poet. But as compared with their prose, and in direct competition with any novel or poem written for our entertainment, I submit that McCloskey's book is merely boring and fails miserably in its objective". (link, my emphasis)

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As a second example, Murray N. Rothbard, like Hoppe, also lambasts the "hermeneutical invasion" of "discipline after discipline, from literature to political theory to philosophy to history" and singles out McCloskey, as "hermeneutical economist", for special treatment from among the "arrogant band of hermeneuticians". (link)

For brevity's sake, I will not go into Rothbard's critique, except to say that to the list of baddies Hoppe provided (Paul Feyerabend, Richard Rorty, Hans G. Gadamer, Jacques Derrida, G.L.S. Shackle and "at the fringes of the Austrian school of economics are Ludwig Lachmann and the George Mason University hermeneuticians"), Rothbard adds Thorstein Veblen (!?), Michel Foucault, Paul Ricoeur, Martin Heidegger, Juergen Habermas, apparently Milton Friedman (believe it or not!!??) and "a cluster of renegade Austrians and ex-Misesians gathered in the Center for Market Processes at George Mason University", headed by Don Lavoie.

To make it clear how sinister this apostasy was, Rothbard added to his list "one of the grandfathers of the movement" (!?), the really Big Bad incarnate, the chief "Collectivist" himself: the Boogeyman… err… sorry… Karl Marx. :D

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Fast forward to December 2011. No longer one hears Austrian economists shooting point blank "banal or idiotic", "unintelligible", "empty, vapid, dreamy, woolly, rhetorical" (duh!), "less than pellucid", "high-flown gibberish" and "imbecile fancies" at the work of McCloskey. (I don't think the courtesy extends to all PoMo/hermeneutical authors, though).

Instead, nowadays leading Austrian economist Peter Boettke (University Professor of Economics and Philosophy at George Mason University) recommends McCloskey's work, regardless of whether it's hermeneutics:
"In my opinion, McCloskey's paper is required reading for all who want to understand why some nations grow rich while others languish in poverty".
And reminisces:
"Back in the mid 1990s… McCloskey stood before a packed room of 500, dressed in a stylish dress and wig, and proudly announced 'I am an economist in transition'. [pause] 'I am transitioning from a Chicago economist to an Austrian economist'." (link)
McCloskey, l'enfant terrible of economics, the PoMo heretic who in Rothbard's nightmare was next to Marx in wickedness, became an Austrian economist, while remaining a PoMo.

I'll submit that McCloskey's (who describes herself thus "postmodern, quantitative, literary, ex-Marxist, economist, historian, progressive Episcopalian, coastie-bred Chicagoan woman who was once not", link) reputation as maverick was rather overblown. It was, it seems to me, largely built on her personal circumstances and her necessarily wishy-washy PoMo criticism of neoclassical economics.

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Yanis Varoufakis writing about PoMo:
"Despite its considerable oeuvre, postmodern criticisms of economics are doomed to shrivel and be absorbed by mainstream economics; the predator turning into unsuspecting prey." (link, my emphasis)
I cannot imagine a better illustration to Varoufakis' warning about PoMo than McCloskey's "transitioning". Talk about self-defeating.

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McCloskey's otherwise high-profile promotion from Chicago-girl to honorary Austrian and PoMo was, however, utterly ignored by some popular bloggers. One finds that those bloggers also demoted all other PoMo free-marketeer economists to lefties; almost as if they were trying to hide them under the rug. Or as if they were, consciously or not, channeling Rothbard on that:
"The left – particularly the academic left – really went down a wrong path when Postmodernism and Poststructuralism started poisoning its intellectual life". (link)
I can't say I disagree in what regards the left, unfortunately; but I do wonder if the author ever heard of McCloskey or other PoMo free-marketeer economists, including a PoKe one.

Definitely, not flattering for McCloskey.


Image Credits:
[A] Mus musculum, house mouse. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license. Author: George Shuklin. Source: Wikipedia. My usage of the file does not imply its author's agreement or disagreement on the subject of this post.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Paradise is a Brothel.

"People think Amsterdam is the prostitution capital of Europe but Germany has more prostitutes per capita than any other country in the continent, more even than Thailand: 400,000 at the last count, serving 1.2 million men every day. Those figures were released a decade ago, soon after Germany made buying sex, selling sex, pimping and brothel-keeping legal in 2002. Two years later, prostitution in Germany was thought to be worth 6 billion euros – roughly the same as Porsche or Adidas that year. It’s now estimated to be 15 billion euros." (link)

The Gerhard Schröder/Angela Merkel economic miracle: prostitution in Germany.

Happy Women's Day, belated...


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ludlam to Abbott: "You are Reading us Wrong".

Since last year's Australian federal elections, Tony Abbott's "conservative, centre-right, libertarian" Liberal/National government has enjoyed a virtual lack of opposition.

In such an environment, the exceptions become noteworthy; understandably so.

First it was Dr. Sharman Stone's turn. Last month, the government MP from Murray (Victoria) accused Abbott, federal treasurer Joe Hockey and Employment minister Eric Abetz of lying on the subject of wages and entitlements. The three men have mentioned repeatedly alleged high wages and excessive working conditions as explanation for the imminent closure of a series of manufacturing companies.

They were not alone in that: believe it or not, Labor current and former faceless men/trade unionists Paul Howes and Martin Ferguson also came forward to warn about the "high wages" Australian workers extort from their long-suffering bosses.

While it took Stone balls to say that and she deserves praise for saying it, it was a painfully limited statement. The Abbott government is much worse than that.

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Today we finally heard something more substantial.

Scott Ludlam, Greens senator for Western Australia, in a seven-minute speech to an almost empty WA Senate delivered a scathing attack on Abbott's "blundering and technically illiterate" government, for everything, from its "excruciatingly boring three-word slogans", homophobia, attacks on trade unions and racism to its austerian obsession which may still push Australia into a fully fledged recession.

It's a good speech, which you can hear below and whose transcript is here:


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Abbott's government could easily go into history as one of the worst Australia ever had to endure, Or see

Herndon, Colbert and Abbott, or, the Recession we Didn't Have to Have