Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Stuart Kauffman Likes Austrian Economics

After telling Stuart Kauffman in an email that I used his work in my own, including in some upcoming papers, I received the following reply:

"Glad to hear you are using my work with Austrian economics. They are not, I'm glad, so wedded to equations. Kind regards, Stu Kauffman"

Which answers one of the questions I have always had about the Santa Fe group when it comes to economics: why aren't they reading the Austrians?!? Well, apparently, at least Stu Kauffman is.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Call for papers -- Economics and Literature: Beyond Praise and Disparagement

Deadline for submission: November 1st , 2012
Planed publication of the issue: 2013
Editors: Estrella Trincado Aznar, Jérôme Lallement

Since the nascent of political economy in 17th century, and even before, literature has been both a place for broadcasting and challenging economic ideas through idealizing fables and pastiches. In turn, economists could borrow from literature some ways to present their own ideas or to criticize alternative doctrines. The purpose of this special issue is to reflect on the transformations of the frontiers between economics and literature: to investigate how literature can reflect economic ideas and arguments and to see how economics and economists have dealt with literary presentations of economic ideas.

Regarding the complex links between economics and literature, it is quite certain that very different national traditions can be identified. For instance, it is sometimes said that the 1848 Revolution in France established a clear-cut divorce between economics and literature. Similar breaking points may have occurred at different times in different countries. Later on, economists that were against the use of mathematical symbolism and reasoning would be labeled “économistes littéraires”. From this last phrase, one is allowed to think that, from the marginalist revolution onward, not only literature had become of no use to the development of political economy but also that it was now something incompatible with its development as a science.

Things are probably not that simple, since the boundaries of literature itself have necessarily changed in parallel with the transformations of society, and that what could be expected from literature at the end of 19th century, after the burst of modernity, was quite different from what could be expected in the end of 17th century. Literature has always evolved in relation to the development of society and human knowledge, taking as its own raw material the representations of the world expressed in all fields of science and philosophy. Therefore, literature has always redefined its own boundaries as it was progressively facing the development of political economy, moral philosophy and political thought as organized discourses. Again, it would have to cope with the rise of other social sciences in the 19th century, and more largely with the institutionalization of the production of knowledge and the rise of disciplinary boundaries.

Therefore, the interplay between economics and literature is twofold. On the one hand, political economy progressively developed as an autonomous discourse, where arguments, ways of thinking, proofs, debates, contradictions, examples, commentaries, hypotheses, conclusions, have been progressively normalized in such a way that literature would no longer appear as an adequate means for broadcasting its own discourse and representations of the world. On the other hand, as political economy was progressively organizing itself as a discipline, literature would reflect in a different way upon the development of economics, either to ridicule its logical and abstract way of thinking, or to condemn its development as a « dismal » science, or possibly to make it a source for literary inventions and novelty.

OEconomia – History / Methodology / Philosophy plans to publish papers dealing with this subtle and moving links between economics and literature. It welcomes articles dealing with a particular work, author, national tradition, or providing a broader view of the relations between economics and literature through the study of specific genres and sub-genres (farces, comedies, pamphlets, fables, novels, philosophical novels, essays, utopias, etc.) and the way it is bound to reflect upon the transformations of economics. Articles dealing with original economic ideas from well-known writers are also welcome.

Authors are invited to submit an article (in English or in French) at:
http://www.editorialmanager/oec. For any complementary question, please contact us at

Editors should retain the right not to go ahead with the special issue if they do not receive enough papers of sufficient quality. If there are some strong papers, but not enough, then they could be published as stand‐alone papers.

HT: Peter Klein

Monday, November 21, 2011

Welcome Morgan Brown

I would like to officially welcome Morgan Brown to Austrian Economics and Literature. He is the author of the piece immediately below this one. I asked him to join us after reading the piece he wrote on Shakespeare, to which I linked. I must say that his first contribution here has not disappointed!

I think we have a very interesting, very diverse group here, made more interesting and more diverse with the addition of Morgan. I hope we can have the kinds of discussions like the recent back and forth on culture. It is excellent that we can disagree agreeably! More, I think the fact that there can be agreeable disagreements shows the strength of our position. Surely, if we can agreeably disagree amongst ourselves, we are in a good position to defend our position against those who disagree with our approach.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How College English and AE Go Hand-in-Hand

I recall what it was like to take introductory courses in college English during my undergraduate studies with the University of Georgia. We showed up to class, wrote on various topics, and received minimal grammar instruction--just enough to get by the Regent's Test. We read plenty of literature, we were introduced to MLA format, and we were taught principles of PC discourse. The grad students who taught the courses assured us that if we managed to handle these principles responsibly, avoiding plagiarism through superb parenthetical citations, we would be equipped for critical analysis and logical discourse.

This always struck me as a strange approach to argumentation. I had been much influenced by the more philsophical American Transcendentalists as a teenager, and had taken my first look at Kant during high school. I revisited the Critique of Pure Reason many times during my years at UGA, since I knew the principles of method and argumentation that Kant sketched out were at odds with nearly 99% of what I learned as an English major. By way of Kant I approached Mises, and have since seen what Austrian Economics has to offer both Logic and Literature: 1) Mises provides a brilliant method for a critique of reason (in many ways more like the Scottish Common Sense Realist, Thomas Reid, than Kant), and 2) Austrian Economics provides a safeguard against the erros of Historicism, Socialism, Postmodernism, Lacanian psychobabble, and nearly every other fallacious system of thought promoted by "English" academes.

The amount of time that introductory college courses dedicate to "formatting" is absolutely mind-boggling. Colleges routinely train students in the principles of citation drafted by the Modern (Menshevik) Language Association, yet the formal principles of logic and argumentation have been abandoned for experimentation with the infinitessimals of MS Word's "Paragraph" tab. I used to be embarrassed to admit that I learned nearly everything I learned about grammar and logic outside of the college classroom. After all, my college degree had equipped me with little more than routine indoctrination in multiculturalism (my sophomore year was the year that he college made multiculturalism a mainstay of the curriculum), an ability to arrange a superb Works Cited page, and ninety-nine ways to turn literature into an apology for welfare economics. But while working for a Master's Degree at Georgia State University, I learned pretty quickly that no other student of my generation had received any formal training in the two fields that justify the existence of English Departments: Grammar and Logic.

Anyone can read literature, and anyone can have an opinion concerning meaning. But how do we know where intellectual fallacies lie? Where do interpretive fallacies lie? For these questions, we require logical exercise.

Everything I learned of any lasting value was learned outside the classroom. When teaching my first English courses as a paid teacher, I nearly laughed out loud when looking at the quality of instruction provided by contemporary textbooks. Remedial students received heavy instruction in grammar, and ENGL 1101 students were simply assumed to have the skills necessary to engage in logical argumentation. They were instead given tips on how to develop a "critical attitude" or a "social outlook." Why should students develop any critical or social outlook if they cannot spot a fallacy at first glance or an error in verb agreement or pronoun agreement? What good is a fallacious theory, or a socially-sensitive apology for a fallacy?

I have been working as a teacher over the past couple of years to strike a balance between grammar and logic (working up from the Subject-Predicate standard to Universals/Particulars, and then onward into Bastiat's "That Which is Seen") which lends itself to a method of logic and argumentation fit for the college classroom. It is amazing to see what students are capable of achieiving if you simply place good materials in front of them. Logic, as Mises and Kant repeatedly urged in their works on human action and philosophy, is the only critical apparatus that man possesses to criticize society. And thanks to intellectual bankruptcy of college English departments, legions of literati and would-be college elites are exiting American "Institutes of Higher Learning" completely unarmed.

I would like to think that a new generation of teachers may be on the rise, which is jaded with the failures of the "Sixties" paradigm. My experience with peers tells me this. The daunting scholarship of the Austrian tradition is an assurance that we do not have to start from scratch if we want to make a change.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Rise of Ayn Rand on Campus

Over at Minding the Campus, there is an interesting article on The Rise of Ayn Rand on Campus. The reason Rand comes up occasionally here is because of the fact that she identified Mises' economics as closest to her own. She is thus in the Austrian economics tradition (even if her literary theory is not necessarily valid -- or necessarily invalid -- to what we are doing here). The article is of note because if Rand's works are increasing in popularity on campuses, this suggests the conditions are improving for our kind of analysis of literature.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Market for Shakespeare has a nice piece on Shakespeare by Morgan Brown titled Shakespeare: The Ultimate Market Product. I am sure anti-market types would argue that this diminishes Shakespeare, but in fact it does nothing of the sort. The market cannot successfully market things nobody wants.

Lessons from The Lorax

Steve Horwitz quotes a student paper on Facebook:

The situation depicted by Dr. Seuss [in The Lorax] in which the Onceler destroys the environment does not describe a market failure because the land in which it takes place does not adhere to the principles of a market economy because it lacks clear property rights.
It turns out that there is an excellent piece in The Journal of Private Enterprise on the Lessons from The Lorax.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why My Economics Is Austrian

I probably came to the Austrian school in the most unusual way possible. I started by academic career by majoring in recombinant gene technology and minoring in chemistry at Western Kentucky University. I had every intention, at the time, of getting a Ph.D. in molecular biology and doing biology research. But I ended up getting sidetracked – and it all started with an Intro. to Philosophy class I took with Ronald Nash. Among the works Ronald Nash taught from was his book “Poverty and Wealth: A Christian Defense of Capitalism.” Yes, among the oddities of my path, I was introduced to free market economics in a philosophy class. I found the topic so interesting, I went to the library and read everything I could find on economics. I read Walter Williams, Milton Friedman, Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and Ayn Rand’s Capitalism the Unknown Ideal. The last of course led me to Atlas Shrugged and to the rest of her philosophy. In my case, it didn’t start with Ayn Rand, but her work was an important point along the path. Through her I discovered Nietzsche, whose ideas have been vital to my journey.

At the same time, I was also reading books on chaos theory, complexity, and self-organization – topics somewhat closer to my scientific interests. Nietzsche’s philosophy made sense in light of these ideas, and certainly economics seemed to fit well into them, even if nobody I was reading at the time made the connections. Of course, chaos theory, etc. were fairly new theories, so it was not too surprising to me that the connections were not necessarily being made.

One of the consequences of my increasing interest in complexity, philosophy, and economics was that I grew increasingly bored with biology. Rand’s influence, though, resulted in my deciding to go into fiction writing rather than economics. As a result, I dropped out of a Master’s program in molecular biology to pursue a Master’s in English instead. From there, I was accepted into a Ph.D. program in the humanities at UT-Dallas precisely on the basis of my background in molecular biology, philosophy, literature and creative writing, and economics. Little did I know at the time how good a fit it actually was for me.

At UTD I first met Alexander Argyros, who had published on time, chaos theory, and literary theory, and then Frederick Turner, a poet and philosopher who has published two epic poems, several collections of poetry, and works on philosophy and on literary theory that make use of evolutionary psychology, time, complexity, and free market economics, among which is his “Shakespeare’s 21st Century Economics.” I was thus introduced to people who were thinking the same way I was. More, it was in Turner’s “Game Theory and the Humanities” class that I was truly introduced to Austrian economics, when we read Hayek’s Individualism and Economic Order and Polanyi’s The Logic of Liberty. Hayek of course introduced me to Mises. And both Hayek and Mises ended up in my dissertation Evolutionary Aesthetics.

But even then, impressed as I was, I was not yet a full Austrian school economist. No, that occurred after graduation, when I was invited to attend a Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference. The paper I submitted used a great deal of complexity theory, etc., but nothing of Hayek. It was suggested by the conference participants that I should really include a great deal of Hayek, since his work was what spontaneous order theory was based on. I was then invited to a Liberty Fund colloquium on Hayek, for which I read a lot on spontaneous order theory – and I was hooked. Why was I hooked? Because of everything I had learned up through that time. I view the world as a complex set of emergent processes. I gained that world view through learning about chaos theory, complexity, self-organization, the theory of time developed by J.T. Fraser, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, and free market economics – tied together through the philosophies of Nietzsche and Frederick Turner. When I really encountered Austrian economics in the fullest sense of the term, I realized that it was the theory of economics I was looking for. It was the school of economics that fit the world view I had already developed before encountering it. The world is a complex set of self-organizing emergent processes. Spontaneous order theory says the economy is a complex, self-organizing emergent process. Thus, Austrian economics best fits how I understand the world to be.

I did not start off life as a libertarian. I did not start off on my libertarian path through either reading Ayn Rand or the Austrian economists. I ended up on that path, and ended up accepting the Austrian school of economics, precisely because they fit the way the world works – at least, the way I increasingly understood the world to work, as a complex, evolving, self-organizing emergent process. The result is that I now write papers on spontaneous order theory, have a view of human action that is basically Misesian in nature, and have found a home in a school of economics that fits the way the world works as whole. My recent discovery of Lavoie's work has only confirmed my connection to Austrian economics, as he brings much postmodern literary theory into the Austrian school, which obviously fits well into my interest in Austrian economics and literature. In the end, the fact that Austrian economics fits the way the world actually works is why I’m an Austrian economist.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Speculations about Baudrillard

The emancipation of the sign: remove this ‘archaic’ obligation to designate something and it finally becomes free, indifferent and totally indeterminate, in the structural or combinatory play which succeeds the previous rule of determinate equivalence. The same operation takes place at the level of labour power and the production process: the annihilation of any goal as regards the contents of production allows the latter to function as a code, and the monetary sign, for example, to escape into infinite speculation, beyond all reference to a real production, or event to a gold-standard. The floatation of money and signs, the floatation of ‘needs’ and ends of production, the floatation of labour itself—the commutability of every term is accompanied by speculation and a limitless inflation (and we really have total liberty—no duties, disaffection and general disenchantment; but this remains a magic, a sort of magical obligation which keeps the sign chained up to the real, capital has freed signs from this ‘naïvety’ in order to deliver them into pure circulation).

—Jean Baudrillard, from “Symbolic Exchange and Death”

Baudrillard’s hyperreality is fascinating. I’ve written about it here and here. I have reservations about Baudrillard, but I think his theories could be useful to libertarians and Austrian economists. What follows is merely speculation. I’m seeking feedback, not advancing an argument that I’m invested in.

What Baudrillard calls the “political economy of the sign,” economists call the “subjective theory of value.” Claiming that his term is inadequate because its signification is allusive and coded, Baudrillard seems to multiply the subjective theory of value until it (and what it evaluates: the good or service for which people exchange currency) becomes something else, something re-signified. In so doing, Baudrillard seems to mimic or participate in the very semiotic processes that he is describing.

The re-signified version of the subjective theory of value can no longer be called the subjective theory of value because the re-signified version is, to a degree, counterfeit; the same can be said of the materiality (the thing used to facilitate or complete an economic transaction) constituting the monetary unit described by the subjective theory of value. Strictly speaking, the re-signified version of this theory is itself a replacement copy of the theory, just as money and other units of exchange are merely signs standing in the place of “worth.”

The subjective theory of value holds that a thing does not possess inherent worth. Instead, worth arises because of the social value that attaches to a thing. Worth, or cost, is the price which one person is willing to pay and which another person is willing to sell. Standing in contradistinction to the labor theory of value, which Baudrillard seems to pooh-pooh (perhaps because of his disaffiliation with the Marxism of his youth), the subjective theory of value maintains that worth or cost depends upon the ability of a thing to satisfy the wants of consumers. A consumer is satisfied to the extent that a thing is useful to him. Utility here is measurable in psychological and not just “practical” terms; a person may want something because it makes him feel good. What seems to bother Baudrillard is the extent to which consumers exchange goods (themselves mediated by signs and representations) to become plugged into a symbolic network rather than to satisfy an immediate need. The satisfaction is what comes with the entrance into a symbolic order.

A thing, according to this conception of value, is not worth a lot simply because a lot of people mix their labor with it. Nor is a thing worth a lot because of some essential properties or qualities it contains. Rather, thing A is worth a lot because people think it is worth a lot: because people are willing to exchange something they own (thing B or C or D) in order to own thing A.

For Baudrillard, the subjective theory of value (a term he never uses) has vast implications for the sign in the postmodern world, just as the sign has vast implications for the subjective theory of value in the postmodern world. Because the worth or value of a thing is not tied to labor, it is, in a way, as Baudrillard suggests, subject to infinite speculation and free from all reference to production. Media of exchange (e.g., money) float outside the real—which is to say, outside of material things. They became simulacra for some temporary and contingent concept of value. Perhaps more importantly, the media of exchange are themselves distorted and fabricated by structures of symbols marking various exchanges. Fiat money brings about the complete arbitrariness of the sign, which is entirely divorced from use value. The ability of a green piece of paper (speaking in terms of American dollars) to become exchangeable for products depends upon social signification; the economy itself is dominated by signs and images, which are, after all, what producers and consumers exchange for products.

One could argue that Baudrillard reverses the privilege of consumption and production in the determination of value. At the very least, he insists upon the priority of the sign over the referent of utility. In such an economy, people wittingly or unwittingly exchange fabrications, models, and replicas. Simulacra such as fiat money represent the absence of the referent while supplying a new and different referent only symbolically related to the prior referent; put differently, simulacra signify copies of that which is not there.

Although Baudrillard seems to rely on the subjective theory of value, he also suggests that this theory, like everything else, is plugged into a dominant order of signs and representations. Baudrillard’s semiotics would suggest that identifiable, material referents of value have disappeared beneath layers of distortions, copies, or replications, and therefore that “value,” if such a term may be strategically employed here, is based upon (even as it constitutes) signs and symbols of value. Value, in other words, has been lost through symbolic acts within the realm of exchange and commodities. Therefore, the world today is immersed in an economy of representation; some representation is controlled, some is random, but all of it masks the absence of a basic reality because it has become an order of simulation: a hyperreality.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Llosa on Literature and the Search for Liberty

Llosa on Literature and the Search for Liberty.

"A story's significance as a piece of art cannot be divorced from its message, any more than a society's prospects for freedom and prosperity can be divorced from its underlying principles. The writer and the man are one and the same, as are the culture and its common beliefs."

"All individual freedoms are part of an inseparable whole. Political and economic liberties cannot be bifurcated. Mankind has inherited this wisdom from millennia of experience, and our understanding has been enriched further by the great liberal thinkers, some of my favorites being Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises."

The Tragic View of Human Nature

Is tragedy the literature of Austrian economics? That may be going a step too far (comedy was famously described as "tragedy plus time"), but there is little question that the Austrian school view of human nature is the tragic view. That is how Hayek described it. This is contrasted with the Unrestrained View of human nature. Let me ask: is there such a thing as a literature that expounds the unrestrained view? Or is all literature tragic? If there is no literature of unrestrained human nature, what does that say about that world view?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Atlas Shrugged

A nice little piece on Atlas Shrugged. Of note:

“So long as we have not yet reached the state of censorship of ideas,” she once said, “one does not have to leave a society in the way the characters did in Atlas Shrugged. . . . But you know what one does have to do? One has to break relationships with the culture. . . . [D]iscard all the ideas—the entire cultural philosophy which is dominant today.”
Thoughts on that?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I was in Portsmouth, NH for the weekend for a Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conference, at which we discussed my paper, "The Theater of Tensions," on theaters as organizations on the borderlands of the artistic, economic, democratic, and philanthropic orders. I got some good feedback on it, and I will be revising (and expanding) on it for submission to Studies in Emergent Order. I still have not convinced Gus diZerega (whose work on democracy as a spontaneous order I highly recommend) that the arts are a spontaneous order, so I apparently still have some work to do in that area. (Not that I didn't intend to do just that, anyway!)