Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For an Austrian Sociology of the Arts

Steve Horwitz has a good blog piece on What Austrian Economics Is and What It Is Not. In it he uses Pete Boettke's list of what makes Austrian economics distinct:

1. Only individuals choose.
2. The study of the market order is fundamentally about exchange behavior and the institutions within which exchanges take place.
3. The “facts” of the social sciences are what people believe and think.
4. Utility and costs are subjective.
5. The price system economizes on the information that people need to process in making their decisions.
6. Private property in the means of production is a necessary condition for rational economic calculation.
7. The competitive market is a process of entrepreneurial discovery.
8. Money is nonneutral.
9. The capital structure consists of heterogeneous goods that have multispecific uses that must be aligned.
10. Social institutions often are the result of human action, but not of human design.

There are a few things one can point out here. One, from the perspective of using Austrian Economics to analyze the economics in a work of literature, these stand as they are. However, there might also be some possibilities in the list for the overall analysis of literature/the arts. Some we obviously cannot use. Others, we can use with modification. Consider:

1. Only individuals choose.
2. The study of the artistic order is fundamentally about artistic behavior and the institutions within which the creation of art take place.
3. The “facts” of the arts are what people believe and think.
4. Value is subjective.
5. The system of art/literary criticism economizes (or should) on the information that people need to process in making their decisions.
6. Private property in the means of production is a necessary condition for freedom of expression.
7. Competition among artists is a process of entrepreneurial discovery.
8. Artistic/literary institutions often are the result of human action, but not of human design.

Please note that I had to eliminate only the original 8 and 9. Works of literature in fact confirm 1, as we are interested in the individual characters and what and how they choose. Much of the rest speak to a possible sociology of the arts -- the spontaneous orders of the arts I have written about. Some of the rest of these could use further development. 7 has in fact had some attention in the interest in the competition between Picasso and Matisse that resulted in their developing new ways of seeing. There is also the somewhat less-well-known competition between The Beatles and The Beach Boys, with "Rubber Soul" giving rise to "Pet Sounds" giving rise to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." This competitive elements needs much more work done. The same can be said about the relationship between private property and freedom of expression. In other words, there is a great deal of work that can and should be done in developing a sociology of the arts using the methods of Austrian economics, properly adapted.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thoughts on Where We Go

On pg 53 of Reason Papers No. 21, Fall 1996, Robert Campbell raises some interesting questions in the opening paragraphs of his short piece titled When Avoiding Scholarship is the Academic Thing to Do: Mary Midgely's Misinterpretation of Ayn Rand.

Contemporary academia is a long way fiom being a free marketplace of ideas. The customs of discipline, speciality, and faction closely regulate who is allowed to participate in the intellectual disputes of the day. Those deemed unworthy are preferentially ignored. When they can't be ignored, they must be dismissed - the quicker the better.

Ayn Rand conducted her entire career outside the university, and preferred to present
her ideas in novels. That is already a huge strike against her; taking the popular road excites distrust (if not envy) in most academics. Some labor is needed to trace the genealogy of Rand's ideas, and her closest living relatives in academia, the neo-Aristotelians, are distinctly diclasse'. Her rejection of altruism and advocacy of laissez-faire capitalism are about as welcome in most Departments of Philosophy, as calling for the disestablishment of public schools would be in Colleges of Education.

Much of this is as true today as it was in 1996, and applies not just to the ideas of Ayn Rand, but also to pro-market ideas in general, and perhaps Austrian economics in particular. Naturally, there are pro-market outlets. But when one takes that route, one is in danger of merely preaching to the choir. I have heard Pete Boettke say that it is important for Austrian economists to get published in non-Austrian journals, and that the way to do so is to just produce good economics work. This can work within the realm of scientific discourse, but it seems more difficult in the realm of the humanities, where truth claims are somewhat more ambigous than they are in the sciences.

So where does that leave those of us in the humanities who believe in heterodox (within the humanities) ideas? It seems odd to suggest that free market economics is completely heterodox within the humanities -- unless you are in the humanities -- but even something as well-established and accepted within the rest of academia as Darwinian evolutionary theory is not accepted as a legitimate interpretative strategy within the humanities, particularly literary criticism. It is as heterodox as free market interpretations of literature (while Marxism, discredited in economics and the real world, is alive and well in literary studies). So where does that leave us as literary theorists who use free market economics as an interpretative strategy, let alone Austrian economics, which is heterodox within economics?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fiction Sets You Free

For those who don't know, Russell Berman's book Fiction Sets You Free is one of the few pro-market works of literary theory out there. Spontaneous order theory is detectable all throughout the book. One could have a good time refuting most of what is said in this review, which starts off discussing another of his books that has nothing to do with literary theory -- or free markets -- which the author does primarily to prejudice his readers against the book before he even begins to review it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Deirdre McCloskey on the Arts and Economics

Economist Deirdre McCloskey on the arts and economics. Some really interesting ideas here. A challenge to artists to represent more of the world than we typically do.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hyperreality, Metaphor & Currency

I remember sitting in the James B. Duke Library at Furman University in December 2003 and pulling a book of poetry off the nearest shelf. I flipped through the book, admiring its contents and pausing over a particular sonnet that ended with a rhyming couplet. I can’t remember the exact words in that couplet; but I remember the poet rhymed “shore” with “metaphor,” and also that he was talking about a currency of sorts: sand-dollars.

The author’s point was that money is metaphor

and nothing more.

And his point begs the question: what does this metaphor

stand for?

The answer is that in a time and place in which currency has no clear referent—such as a fixed weight of gold—the metaphor signals more metaphor. The currency becomes a seemingly endless chain of signification: a repetition of an artificial worth. Pieces of paper are assigned value, and value obtains to the paper and the polis only because the polis allows it to. The paper in itself is worthless; but as a metaphor it is powerful. I’m surprised that with all its attention to hyperinflation, Austrian economics hasn’t dealt with the literary implications of currency (fiat or otherwise). Or perhaps I’m not surprised, given that literary theorists have used the term “currency” to refer to every sort of social phenomenon without regard to the complexities of market forces or central banking or monetary policy and on and on. The case can be made that gold itself is a metaphor for value, and that’s true. It is. But at least its value is tied to rarity and demand. People do not demand paper until it bears the right syntax and becomes culturally accepted as a medium of exchange: until a centralized authority coerces and convinces the polis to accept a metaphor as something more.

Paul Cantor has talked about inflation as a form of hyperreality. I have talked about hyperreality using a Baudrillardian paradigm. I did not use hyperreality to address hyperinflation, but I wonder whether such a theory would illuminate the way we talk about currency. Will couching our studies in terms of hyperreality lead us down the tired path of deconstruction toward postmodernist tactics of ideology critique? Or would it generate critical thought and theory about value and our role in creating and sustaining and exploding metaphor?

A Language-based Approach to Measuring Scholarly Impact

This method of tracing scholarly influences might be a good way to trace literary influences as well, which would contribute to creating a fuller network model of the spontaneous order of literature. It would be particularly useful in discovering the weak ties -- much lesser-known works and unconscious influences that contributed to a work's creation -- and strengthening the case for strong ties that scholars are typically able to discover pretty easily.

The Poetics of Spontaneous Order

The Poetics of Spontaneous Order: Austrian Economics and Literary Criticism - Paul A. Cantor.

Mises on Literature

Ludwig von Mises himself on History and Fiction. How might this inform an Austrian literary theory?

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cowan on the Spontaneous Orders of the Arts

Tyler Cowan on the spontaneous orders of the arts, though he doesn't quite use that term. He points out that the arts are like any other spontaneous order system -- with increasing division of labor/specialization (or, more genres, in artistic language). The free market thus gives us more choices precisely because of its increasing heterogeneity. Markets are homogeneous only insofar as they provide all those choices to everyone equally.

"free trade civilizes, enlightens, and enriches"

Donald Boudreaux has an article on Free Trade and Globalization that talks about how free markets result in cultural diversification and, thus, a flowering of the arts. He notes that

Aristotle, Euripides, Thucydides, Grecian urns, the Parthenon, and most of what we rightly celebrate today about the learning and culture of ancient Athens would have been impossible had it not been for that city's extensive foreign commerce.

Athens opened up trade with the rest of the world, and flourished both economically and culturally. The reason for this is

The wealth, freedom, and diverse experiences of a commercial culture liberate artists and educators both to be more creative and to cater to the demands of the general population. In a poor society in which only a small elite has wealth and leisure, artists and educators cater only to the elite's desires. Art forms disliked by elites, as well as knowledge not useful to them, do not thrive. But as trade creates greater and more-widespread wealth, the range of tastes and opportunities that are available to support and influence art and education grows. With the elites no longer being the exclusive supporters of art, the artist who previously found no support for his musical compositions or his poetry might now find sufficient support from the middle classes. Likewise for the teacher who, earlier, found no market for his knowledge.

More, the proliferation of cultural diversity throughout the world -- often complained about by elites who liked having such things all to themselves -- is beneficial not just because of improved material opportunities, and not just because of cultural proliferation and improved artistic creativity, but because cultural proliferation results in an expansion of our morals, by helping up empathizes with others from around the world.

Review of Jeffrey Tucker's Bourbon for Breakfast

Check out Mises.org for musician Michael E. Lawrence's delightful review of Jeffrey Tucker's Bourbon for Breakfast (Ludwig Von Mises Institute, 2010). Read the review here.

2010 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Mario Vargas Llosa on the Tea Parties

As a writer and a libertarian, I sometimes feel very lonely in my political beliefs. I’m absolutely delighted to have discovered the recent column by Nobel Laureate in literature, Mario Vargas Llosa.

I found Vargas's column about the Tea Parties and translated it through Google translation, which made for some garbled English, but most of it remained understandable.

Here are some excerpts, with emphasis added:

open quoteBecause of his [the Tea Party's] face [is hidden(?)] below ultraconservative, reactionary, populist and demagogic, and the nonsense that can claim some of their leaders, like those who say that President Obama is a Muslim ambush that want socialism for the United States or outbursts of Mrs. Christine O'Donnell, candidate for Delaware, a former practitioner of witchcraft who has accused homosexuals have created AIDS, there are in the core of this movement something healthy, realistic, deeply democratic and libertarian. The fear of runaway growth of the state and bureaucracy, whose tentacles are increasingly infiltrated into the private lives of citizens, cutting and stifling their freedom and their initiatives, the appropriation by the public sector functions or services that society civil could take more effective and less waste of resources, the creation of striking systems of social assistance can be financed only with systematic increases in taxes, which will result in falling living standards of middle and lower classes.

These fears are not free, respond to the reality of our time and originate from problems like living in the First and the Third World. But in the U.S. have a particular resonance, as always lively touch a nerve in a country where individualism is not ever had the bad press it has in Europe, in the collectivist doctrines that have taken deep roots in its modern history. A U.S. European pilgrims came seeking freedom, to practice their religion, it was not official, to defend the right of individuals to be independent, to choose your life without any limitation other than respect for life forms others. In the purest American tradition is not the state but the citizen is responsible first of its failure or success. . . .

For a long time, this ideal design was more or less respected and worked with the extraordinary development and prosperity of the country as a result. . . .

Then, because of wars, economic inequality multiplied, reformist political action was being amended, in many ways to improve it, but sometimes for worse. And among the latter, no doubt, given that inflation elephantine bureaucracy that, as much as in Europe, has reduced the area of freedom and autonomy of the individual, resulting in shrinkage of civil society and, therefore, the responsibility of the citizen against himself, his family and social group. . . .

In modern society, where the State is God, the individual is becoming less responsible, because reality can be just him, it pushes each extra day being only a state-dependent. For almost everything: studying, heal, get a job, enjoy a safe, participate and enjoy the cultural life, retirement account with the State. The idea that that is the final destination of the evolution that has followed the situation in his country is simply intolerable for a significant part of the United States, where the idea of the sovereign individual that should not be coil or exploitation by the State. . . .

If the State is decentralized and slim, if not . . . the individual is no longer free and has become an automaton manipulated by invisible and all-powerful bureaucrats who, in the shadows of their offices, taking all important decisions concerning their fate. . . .

In many cases, they [private individuals] do better and spend less than bureaucrats. In culture, for example, here in the United States, largely, magnificent museums, operas and concerts, dance, major exhibitions, public libraries are funded mainly by civil society. True, there are tax incentives that encourage this generosity, but the main reason is a cultural tradition, not entirely disappeared, which induces people to act, take initiative to invest their money in what they think right and necessary. Unlike others, this message from the Tea Party deserves to be taken into account.close quote