Economics, the Gay Science
However, in lieu of a new post, I've been holding in reserve this lightly soiled one from a few weeks ago, which was mysteriously disappeared from blogger only to return home to daddy a couple days later, landing among my drafts. I think it was only up for a couple of hours, so here it is:
Dismal science? How did economics ever come to acquire this pejorative appellation?
In reality, "dismal" is any discipline to which liberals affix the word "studies": e.g., Womyn's Studies, Queer Studies, Chicano Studies, Gender Studies, Hip Hop Studies, Peace Studies.
You want dismal? How about feminist economics, which combines the joyless wisdom of Marx with the penis-withering face of Gloria Allred?
It says a lot about liberals that they can reduce even the study of women to a dismal and tedious endeavor. But this is what feminism does: transform a light and beautiful cosmic mystery into a grim and oppressive political animal, a dreary cult of hectoring ex-wives.
Ironically, it says here that "dismal science" is "is an inversion of the phrase 'gay science,' meaning 'life-enhancing knowledge,' a reference to the technical skills of song and verse writing."
But the term was coined by the illiberal Thomas Carlyle, in the context of (mis)using economics to argue for the moral superiority of slavery. This is essentially a proto-Marxian stance that posits a zero-sum economy and rejects freedom because of the bad things people do with it. This results in the anti-gay and homophobic economics of the left.
I didn't always regard economics as so very gay. By now you all know the story of how I jumped or was pushed from business school, so there's no need to rerun that dismal episode. But as it so happens, one of my stumbling blocks was Economics. That and Accounting. And Finance. And Business Law. And Marketing. And Management. And eventually, showing up.
If I recall correctly, one had to complete four years of economics: Principles of Microeconomics, Statistical Methods, Money and Banking, and Macroeconomic Theory. All of this was so foreign to the Gagdad orientation -- my own truth as an economic gay man -- that I either dropped out or was suspended, depending upon whom you want to believe. Only later did I emerge from the closet and openly identify as homo economicus.
Like so many other young men, I was seduced into the lifestyle by an older gentleman I shall call "L."
L made it all seem so thrilling, even dangerous, not to mention transgressive! I remember the very first thing he told me -- that the gay science is not about numbers, statistics, and aggregates, but all about getting a little action.
Eventually I discovered that the gay science isn't even a science, at least in any straight way. For one thing, nothing about it is replicable.
But even more foundational than that is the fact that economics rests on a ground of subjectivity.
And not only that, for it is actually intersubjective, meaning that the real action of economics takes place in the transitional space between two subjects who together determine a thing's "value." There neither is nor can be intrinsic economic value. To a man dying of thirst, a glass of water is priceless. To a drowning man it is worthless.
I know what you're thinking: does this mean that everything is relative? In economics it does. In other words, when we "think economically," we cannot help but to think in terms of constantly adjusting relationships that emerge as prices, and prices are no more stable than the weather, or Keith Olbermann.
But by itself, economics cannot tell us about intrinsic or perennial value, which is why I ultimately had to break off with the older gentleman mentioned above. In other words, while there is a hierarchy of real values in the cosmos, it transcends economics for the same reason truth transcends the closed system of logic.
For beyond the sea of conventional economics is an economics that dare not speak its name. Frankly, I don't know that it has a name. Let us call it Cosmoeconomics, unless I come up with a better term before the end of this post.
Richards addresses this subject in an appendix to Money, Greed, and God, but almost as an afterthought -- like an appendix or something.
As touched on a couple of posts ago, "the creation of wealth has as much to do with spirit as with matter" (Richards). Thus, "Christians should be the first to understand this, since we know that human beings are a unique hybrid of the spiritual and the material" (ibid.).
Spirit and matter can't do much on their own. But incarnate the former in the latter, and you can really get something done down here.
The free market, which embodies the two, is, in the words of Hayek, "probably the most complex structure in the universe" (in Richards). Like anybody could know that!
That's the point -- that we know we can't know something that embodies an infinite amount of information that is dispersed throughout the system. Those who don't understand this -- who pretend to know what cannot be known -- are now called liberals.
Which is (intentionally) confusing, because that name used to go to the enlightened ones who understand this principle, not to the ignorantsia of the left who pompously presume to know the unknowable, which always results in the unthinkable.
The market is the most complex structure in the cosmos because it is constituted of billions of the second most complex structure, the human brain, all linked together.
In the anonymous bathhouse scene of the market, all of these brains are plugged into one another, engaged in the constant intercourse of processing information and making minute adjustments within the intersubjective space of value. Again, without human beings there is no value, because there is no valuing subject -- or subject with values.
"Seen in its proper light, the market order is as awe inspiring as a sunset or perfect eclipse" (Richards).
Which is a pretty dismal understatement. A sunset? C'mon, you can do better than that!
Here is what we believe: that ordered liberty is one of the means through which post-biological human evolution proceeds. It is specifically within the context of freedom and restraint that the human spirit evolves toward its proper attractor, its nonlocal origin and destiny.
In his raptured appendix, Richards reviews Hayek's argument that the market is a spontaneous order. This is surely true, but Hayek either failed to draw out the cosmic implications of this queer fact, or else simply began with materialist assumptions that inevitably result in materialist conclusions.
But materialist assumptions can turn even the most awesome sunset into the trivial side effect of an insignificant planet revolving around an anonymous star.
Obviously Hayek was on the right track -- or at least off the left one -- in writing of "the implications of the astonishing fact, revealed by economics and biology, that order generated without design can far outstrip plans men consciously contrive."
Not so fast, Fred! Is it really true that the emergence of meaningful complexity becomes unproblematic if we just dismiss it as a side effect of open systems doing what they are constrained to do, i.e., generate all this fabulous order from such unstylish chaos and rigid necessity?
That is soooo ungay!