Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Economic Benefits of Beauty

Does beauty cause happiness? In “Beauty Is the Promise of Happiness”? Daniel S. Hamermesh and Jason Abrevaya argue that "The majority of the effect of beauty on happiness may work through its effects on
economic outcomes." If this is universal, as they argue, we should expect to see the correlations exhibited in literature, insofar as literature is a mirror on the (human) world. Thus, we should see exhibited in literature the following:

1. Personal beauty raises happiness.

2. The majority of this positive effect comes about because personal beauty improves economic outcomes – incomes, marriage prospects, and others – that increase happiness. Thus much of the positive effect of beauty on happiness is indirect – through its effects on aspects of economic life that increase happiness.

3. The total effects of beauty on happiness are about the same for men and women. But the direct effect is larger among women – beauty affects their happiness independent of its impact on their incomes, marriage prospects, and other outcomes.
Considering the fact that literature is about problems, one should not be surprised to find these claims both confirmed and problemetized.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Hesiod, the Muses, and Mises

Daniel James Sanchez gives us an analysis of Hesiod in Of Muses and Mises: A Prelude to Natural Philosophy. Particularly note the distinction he points out between two kinds of "truth" -- a distinction no doubt Nietzsche had in mind when he argued that "Art tells the truth in the general form of a lie" and "Art lies, and lies like the truth." These are very important features of art. Art is an imaginative place space that allows us to safely try our alternative worlds. Better we try them out there and reach tragic conclusions (what happens when you reject family, religion, and money and claim all of these powers for the state? read Sophocles' Antigone and find out) than try them out in the real world (what happens when you reject family, religion, and money and claim all of these powers for the state? look at the experiences of the communist countries and find out).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Creative Artists and Creative Entrepreneurs

In The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida argues that there is a positive correlation between the presence of "bohemians" -- literary and artistic types -- and the economic growth associated with the creative class, including programmers and inventors. The reason for this is that in places where such people congregate -- in particular cities, in particular locations in those cities -- one gets ideas generated by creative people talking about their work, regardless of that work.

Thus, Florida argues that the very presence of writers and artists contributes to economic creativity. It should not be too much of a stretch to argue that it see that this is equally applicable to creative power of the products of those artists and writers. How might literature positively stimulate ideas that lead to economic innovations? Even if it but creates an imaginative space, it may be there is a strong benefit to literature -- and the more complex, challenging, and mentally liberating, the better. This of course would be harder to measure than saying that X story resulted in Bob Smith inventing Y, but it is probably closer to the truth of what art and literature does for one's creativity. I certainly know it to be true that when I dabbled in painting for a while, it stimulated my literary creativity. Creativity seems to generate creativity. It is a positive sum game. More, it is a positive feedback loop.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shifting Economic Patterns, Shifting Literary Themes?

I'm currently reading Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class. He of course argues that cities are an important part of this class, and he also argues that artists and writers are vital elements of it. Of course, writers have always been part of the creative class, even when it was small. Now, Florida argues that the class is over a third of all workers -- at least, in the United States. How does this affect the creation of literature? Do we see more or fewer people writing because there are so many more creative outlets? How does writers interacting with so many more creative people affect their own creativity? How does it affect the themes of literature? How do writers affect the creativity of others? Is it through discussions in public forums? Poetry readings and play performances?

Along these lines, how did our having gone through industrialization affect literature? There is, of course, a lot of work on this, but it is primarily from Marxist, Freudian, and postmodernist perspectives. The time has come for free market-based critiques. But at the same time, we have also gone through a time period during which the service industry dominated (in fact, it still does, looking at numbers of workers, though the creative class is catching up). In what ways did the service economy affect literature and its themes? I am unsure how much work has been done on this topic.

Literature is of course affected by its social environment. These kinds of things should be looked at. One can imagine, too, considering how the stagflation of the 1970s, which is in part a transition period from industrialization to the service economy, affected the literature of the time. I am certain writers were trying to understand the economic situation, while being ignorant of the real reasons behind what was happening -- much like we saw with works of literature from the Great Depression.

In fact, I am thinking particularly of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, in which he argues that farmers were destroying oranges out of greed. This demonstrates, of course, an ignorance of basic economics, but also an ignorance of the fact that it was the federal government that had dictated that large quantities of food be destroyed to drive up prices, under the false belief that high prices would help the economy (thus getting the cause and effect backwards). Are there works of literature from the 1970's that similarly deal with the stagflation of the time? If so, how do they deal with it? It is of course too early to see how contemporary literature deals with the current Great Recession. It will, of course, be interesting to see what narrative -- literally, in this case -- wins out in our literature.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Free to Write

James Seaton's review of Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox's Literature and the Economics of Liberty (Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2010) in the The Weekly Standard can now be read at LvMI.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Frederick Turner's Epic Poems Re-Released!

Contemporary epic poet, Frederick Turner's, scifi epic poem THE NEW WORLD is in print again, from Ilium Press. An excerpt can be read here and it is now available through Amazon's Kindle. The new print edition will be out soon.

Ilium Press will also be reprinting his other great epic, GENESIS: AN EPIC POEM in the next few weeks.

Turner's epics are pro-market, and Turner is influenced by the Austrian economists to some degree, and thus these epic poems should interest anyone interested in Austrian economics and literature.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cantor on Greenblatt and Shakespeare

Paul Cantor's review of Shakespeare's Freedom, Stephen Greenblatt's latest book, appears in this month's issue of the The American Conservative. Greenblatt's book will mean that my forthcoming article on "Shakespeare's Place in Law and Literature" will be dated upon publication, but that's okay, because the trend of liberty is more important to me (and society) than the timeliness of my research.

Cities and Writers

What is the relationship between literature and cities? The ancient Greek tragedies and comedies were all written for the Great Dionysia held annually in Athens. Virgil wrote his works while living in Rome. Shakespeare of course wrote his plays in London. Milton was a lifelong resident of London. The list of authors who lived in Paris or New York City could go on and on and on. How many works of literature either address the nature of the city itself (Frederick Fierstein, whom I have written about here is the contemporary poet of New York City life), or are written in response to city life (many works, particularly poems, in praise of country life)? Frederick Barthelme advises his creative writing students (of whom I was one) that they cannot become a real literary writer until they have lived in a large city like New York (I asked him if Dallas was good enough, and he said it was, but there are times when I really wonder if that's really the case).

This of course raises questions about how and to what degree cities affect the creation of literature. Cities allow for knowledge spillovers due to density. Surely this affects literary production and themes. It might be an interesting thing to consider in a scholarly paper; the research for such a paper would of course be difficult, but not impossible. One might consider the complexity of knowledge in a person's personal canon, comparing rural authors to urban authors, for example.

What other effects might the city have on writers?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Road to Cultural Serfdom: America's First Television Czar

Paul Cantor has a piece on LvMI on The Road to Cultural Serfdom: America's First Television Czar. In it he describes what happens when beauracracy controls content in culture. Whether it is direct central planning or Keynesian-style intervention, it is bad for the system in question. When you turn a bottom-up spontaneous order into a top-down hierarchical organization, you get a reduction in creativity, experimentation, wealth and value. This is true in both the economy and in the spontaneous orders of the arts.

Some Further Notes on Libertarian Science Fiction

Jeff Riggenbach has an article at LvMI on Some Further Notes on Libertarian Science Fiction

Friday, March 11, 2011

Cultural Capital II

Some further thoughts on cultural capital, looking at what Mises says about economic capital:

"Capital is a praxeological concept. It is a product of reasoning, and its place is in the human mind. It is a mode of looking at the problems of acting, a method of appraising them from the point of view of a definite plan. It determines the course of human action and is, in this sense only, a real factor." (Human Action, 515)
But of course, in the case of cultural capital, there is less of a material content to it than for economic capital goods. There are of course physical objects: art works, books, etc. But their value is not in their physicality, but in their being absorbed into some human mind. There is thus a continued feedback between the physical object and the human minds in a particular culture, which constitutes cultural capital. In this sense, it is doubly "in the human mind." It informs cultural creators as they create their own works. It is thus a product of their reasining, a mode of looking at the problem of acting to create a new cultural work, a method of appraising that work from the point of view of a definite plan. The cultural creator cannot act without cultural capital -- and the more cultural capital one has, the more likely one is going to create a complex work that fits into the culture's artistic order.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cultural Capital

There are some concepts that are obviously transferable from economics into the field of literature, and others that are less obvious -- or even a bit of a stretch. I'm going to take a stretch and discuss the idea of cultural capital in light of Mises's Chapter XVIII. Action in the Passing of Time, Section 6. The Influence of the Past Upon Action (Human Action, 505-514).

A person born into a particular culture at a particular time and raised in that culture accumulates, over his or her lifetime, cultural capital. That is, a variety of world views, concepts, ideas, etc. accumulated from what is read, heard, seen, etc. In Western culture, that includes the Bible and a variety of literary and artistic works. In English-speaking countries, that would include the Bible -- particularly the King James Version -- Shakespeare, Blake, Milton, etc. We may not necessarily know where phrases like "Even the devil can quote scripture" (mistakenly believed by many to be from the Bible, but actually from "The Merchant of Venice" by Shakespeare) or the concept of the serpent in the Garden of Eden being the devil really comes from (again, not the Bible, but Milton's "Paradise Lost"), but they are part of our heritage. One reads Shakespeare and proclaims, "Oh, that's where that comes from!" One is also familiar with the Oedipus complex, if not the Oedipus plays (which, ironically, disprove the Oedipus complex). The DNA of Athens and Jerusalem runs through the West -- we cannot escape it.

Literature within a culture must build upon its cultural capital for it to be comprehendible to that culture. Changes can be made, but they have to be made in light of that original captial.

First, let us get out of the way what Mises says about capital and how it is not applicable to what I am discussing:

"Capital goods are intermediary steps on the way toward a definite goal" (503).
First, cultural capital -- ideas -- are always intermediary and can never be anything else, precisely because there can never be a "definite goal" of culture. This is where the equation between the two falls apart. But if we keep the modification in mind, the idea can still generate some potentially fruitful avenues. Mises points out that, "The more the accumulation of capital goods proceeds, the greater becomes the problem of convertibility" (505). This is likely true too of cultures. The more capital goods have been accumulated by a populace, the less likely it is going to have new ideas penetrate it. Nevertheless, we see the same thing happening in culture as we have seen in the economy, where

The spirit of sweeping innovation may get hold of men, may triumph over the inhibitions of sluggishness and indolence, may incide the slothful slaves of routine to a radical rescission of traditional valueations, and may peremptorily urge people to enter upon new paths (506)
The result sometines is that

Doctrinaires may try to forget that we are in all of our endeavors the heirs of our fathers, and that our civilization, the product of a long evolution, cannot be tranformed at one stroke (506)
If you did not know this was from a work on economics, you would swear Mises was talking about the arts and literature. Indeed, this is true. We have had those who have tried to radically break with our cultural past -- particularly with postmodernism -- and the consequences have been problematic at best. More and more the average person is uninterested in the arts and literature as those works become less and less relevant to them precisely because of their cultural capital. Works that succeed continue to tap into that cultural capital, even as they encourage people into new directions. But one must first make it clear to the reader or viewer that they are in familiar territory while at the same time showing them new ways.

While is true that cultural capital, like

Capital goods are a conservative element. They force us to adjust our actions to conditions brought about by our own conduct in earlier days and by the thinking, choosing and acting of bygone generations (506)
it is also true that without this contact with the past, we are lost, wanding aimlessly, not knowing where to go, or even where we are. We are impoverished immensely by this. We have to start all over again, from nothing, building on nothing. This is not a path to greater cultural wealth; it is the path to cultural destruction and poverty.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Audience Entrepreneurial Discovery

Michael Richards took up the discussion we had here on his own blog Academy of Human Action on entrepreneurial analysis in literature." He correctly argues that "not only are readers entrepreneurs, but judge works of art based on their entrepreneurial nature." When the reader is reading, he is engaged in a discovery process. Part of the joy of reading is discovering what will happen. One kind of bad literature is that which is predictable. No discovery process takes place. Another kind of bad literature is that which is not post-dictable, meaning that when you look back on what you read, it doesn't make any sense how you got to where you are. Again, no discovery process takes place, because the world you just encountered does not hold together. It is pure chaos. Great literature is neither predictable nor chaotic -- it is unpredictable, yet post-dictable. You are surprised it turned out that way, but at the end of the work, you realize that it had to have turned out that way.

Now, one may object that this is not really an entrepreneurial discovery process, as what we are talking about here is discovering what was placed there by someone else, and not something unknown by others. Yet, truly great literature does allow you to discover such things within the works. It may be an insight into human nature, a realization about yourself, etc. Literature is both public,having a public meaning that can be understood by everyone, and private, having a personal meaning. Part of that first meaning involves how the work holds together, but it involves everyone discovering for themselves how it comes to mean for everyone. We all know of the existence of Mt. Everest, but climbing the mountain yourself -- or even just seeing it in person -- is another thing entirely. WIth art, the entrepreneurial discovery process is a personal one, one that affects us at our deepest levels. It is no objection that we are discovering what was placed there -- the discovery must be made by each individual, and thus remains a true discovery.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Andersson on Llosa

David Emanuel Andersson on Mario Vargas Llosa.

What is the Ultimate Left-Wing Novel?

What is the Ultimate Left-Wing Novel?

An interesting post on the relationship between political rhetoric/philosophy and literature. Ayn Rand of course comes up. Great literature always espouses a world view -- which necessarily includes a politics. But when does it go too far and overwhelm the work?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Time Preference and Literature

What effect does time perference have on literary production and the enjoyment of literature?

A novel constitutes a considerable amount of time investment for the reader. The reader has to decide that the book he is reading is going to be worth the time invested. Thus, the book's rate of return has to be higher than the time investment, when the reader could be doing other things (how many stories can one consume from watching movies or T.V. shows during the same time period?). So a novel is going to have to give the reader more than a T.V. show or film can give. The postmodern minimalist novel may thus be the wrong direction for the novel, since such works typically read much like films. Why read what seems to be a novelization of an unmade film? Frederick Barthelme's* novels are good reads, but they have this element to them. It is done on purpose, to be sure, but does that fact mediate the problem of time preference?

The novel, to overcome the problems of contemporary time preference (made worse by not just T.V. and film, but by various options on the Internet), must provide what no other media can provide. What, then, is unique to the novel? That is what the novelist must investigate to keep the novel alive.

It would seem that poetry would be something short enough to overcome these problems, but a good poem requires a great deal of time investment to understand the poem in its fullness.

Theater would seem to have the same time preference elements as film, but for various reasons it actually requires a longer time preference. Films advertise on T.V., so you do not have people having to invest as much time learning about the work. More, the cinema is more casual, while theater is still a bit more formal, requiring people to get ready to go out. Thus, there is more planning ahead for theater.

People with short time preferences, it seems, would be less likely to read literature or go to the theater than to watch T.V. or go to the movies. Has this particular angle been investigated?

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* Frederick Barthelme was my Master's thesis chair at the University of Southern Mississippi. I am forever thankful to him for maturing my writing style in a single -- devastating -- critique of a short story.