Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ebeling on Machlup on Austrian Economics -- for Literature

There is an excellent interview of Richard Ebeling on his blog that will be appearing in Spanish in a volume entitled, Economistas Austríacos. Historias Personales e Ideas [The Austrian Economists: Personal Histories and Ideas] (Madrid: Unión Editorial, 2011), edited by Adrian Ravier, professor of economics at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala.)

What I want to emphasize from it, however, is the point that the interviewer makes of an interview Ebeling himself did with Fritz Machlup, in which Ebeling asked “how did the Austrians distinguish their own economics from others in the 1920s.” Machlup answered with the following list:

1. Methodological individualism.
2. Methodological subjectivism.
3. Marginalism.
4. Individual tastes and preferences.
5. Opportunity costs.
6. The time structure of consumption and production.

Ebeling defines each (and I will follw each definition with a brief note on why this is important to understanding literature):

"Methodological individualism refers to the idea that all social and market analysis should start with the actions and interactions of individuals." In other words, "all tastes and preferences are individual and personal, as well. There are no “community” or “social” preferences"

If you are going to understand a work of literature with characters, it should be clear how this can be useful. How else can one really come to understand those characters except through their expressed tastes and preferences, looking at their actions and interactions? One could ask the same of each author -- are their works not an expression of their tastes and preferences of the time of writing? Is not a work of literature itself an action, with the intention that it be an interaction with its reader (or viewer, if a play)?

"Methodological subjectivism emphasizes that in the social world, we can only understand and interpret people’s actions in terms of the meanings they assign to their own activities in relations to others and the objects of the world."

This is almost the definition of what a good literary analyst does with a work's characters. Further, one could argue that this is also what any good literary analyst should be doing in regards to the author. The author has not died -- but is a real entity whose meanings need to be interpreted to be understood.

Marginalism, for Austrians, means "the weighing of choices and the making of trade-offs in terms of ordinal rankings of discrete alternatives. The focus has been on “margins of use” and not amounts or degrees of satisfaction or utility."

Each author weighs his/her choices and makes trade-offs in what they choose to represent. More, an author's characters are always doing this. One may even argue that it is the conflict between or among characters' choices and trade-offs that drive the plot in stories.

"Opportunity Cost refers to the next best alternative foregone in an act of choice. From the Austrian perspective, only individuals make choices and, hence, cost is always personal and “subjective.” Since choices only relate to possibilities that the individual still views as open to him in the future (whether that future is a moment from now or a month from now), the opportunities are those the individual imagines in his mind, as he sees and evaluates them."

Characters' internal conflicts can often be uderstood as their weighing of opportunity costs. Also, as the story unfolds, we see characters reevaluating and changing their minds and actions.

The last is self-explanatory. Neo-classical economics of the time ignored time. Yet all production and consumption necessarily takes place in time.

It should be obvious, too, that literary production takes place in time, as does literary consumption. This may be more important for longer works, such as novels -- which are so long that they require detailed long-term memory to either write them or to enjoy them -- or plays, but it is surely a factor for poems, which take up more time than one typically imagines.

Ebeling then adds two more elements:

"What I find interesting, looking over Machlup’s list of distinct aspects of the Austrian perspective, is the absence of any reference to “unintended consequences” and “spontaneous order.”"

I have written about literary production and spontaneous order, of course, throughout this blog, and in my article on the spontaneous orders of the arts. Much work on unintended consequences can already be found in literary studies, as this was also an emphasis in postmodernism. I think a more economic emphasis on this, particularly an Austrian economic emphasis, could expand on this idea.

There is of course much of interest in the rest of the interview with Ebeling, but I thought this was a great set of fundamentally distinct elements of Austrian economics that also helped explain why this approach has so much potential for analyzing literature.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Jane Jacobs, Austrian Economist (of sorts)

I have lately written a bit on Richard Florida, though he is hardly an Austrian economist. He is, however, greatly influenced by Jane Jacobs, and Jane Jacobs came to essentially the same conclusions as Mises and Hayek in regards to the city that they did in regards to the economy as a whole. She was talking about the details of a microcosm, while they talked about the general features of a macrocosm, but they both were in fact discussing the same thing, as Jeff Riggenbach argues. Not all Austrian economists were either Austrian, influenced by them, or even economists.

The lessons of Jane Jacobs and those she influenced are thus of great interest to us here. More than that, as I have often heard Pete Boettke say, it is more important we be good economists than Austrian purists -- even as we are, in fact, in the Austrian tradition precisely because we think it is the most correct understanding of social order, particularly the economy.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

What Cities Facilitate Flow?

Richard Florida makes an excellent point about the nature of creativity, which is that it requires the ability to enter into a state known as "flow." To be creative "You need time to get into flow, and once flow is interrupted, it cannot be magically wished back. Stress and anxiety disrupt and damage the creative process" (The Flight of the Creative Class, 203). This is an important element to take into consideration when it comes to understanding what cities are in fact best for artistic creativity, since "Density and spontaneous interaction are important elements of creative development, but not if they are tethered to too many complications" (203), such as high crime rates, congestion, etc.

So the ideal city for creativity in general and artistic production in particular would be one that is dense, safe, affordable, and full of face-to-face interactions (the Jane Jacobs ideal city, in other words). On the other hand

The sprawl that demand and in turn is demanded by traffic congestion also wrecks havoc on our competitiveness. A stretched-out, sprawled metropolis, where professors no longer live near universities, where laboratories and high-tch firms can not co-locate, where entrepreneurs and newcomers are forced to the economic periphery, will ose the advantages that come from proximity, density, spontaneity, and face-to-face interaction. (200)
Might this be the reason the big cities are known for their art and literature, and not those cities' suburbs? And what cities are the safest, densest, most affordable, and best structured to facilitate a high level of interpersonal interactions? I have little doubt that these are the world's new and/or emerging artistic/literary centers.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Culture's Economic By-Product

If strong economic growth is a positive externality of a strong culture, as Richard Florida claims, and there is an inverse correlation between the strength of a culture and the strength, size, and power of government, as Nietzsche claimed, what can we therefore conclude?

Look at those countries whose governments are most culturally oppressive. How are their economies?

The Chief Function of the City, for the Arts

The chief function of the city is to convert power into form, energy into culture, dead matter into the living symbols of art, biological reproduction into social creativity. -- Lewis Momford

How can a city convert power into form, and what attributes of different cities contribute to variations in form? How can a city convert energy into culture, and what attributes of different cities contribute to variations in culture? How can a city convert dead matter into the living symbols of art, and what attributes of different cities contribute to variations in the arts? How can a city convert sex into social creativity, and what attributes of different cities contribute to variations in social creativity?

Different cities have famously been centers of different kinds of creativity. Paris has been the artistic capital of the world at various times. New York has been the theater capital of the world. L.A. has been the film capital. Blues run up and down the Mississippi velley, but always in cities: New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Chicago. Even country musicians go to Nashville. What is it about these cities that contributed to the creation of particular genres, including their own variations on already-established genres (such as the Blues)? I mention these American cities only because it would be easy to dismiss comparisons among New York, Sydney, and London as examples of different cultures playing themselves out. But how to explain the same range of variability within national borders? Surely the answer is the indiviuality of the cities in question.

A closer analysis of patterns of literary development and their relationships to cities seems to be something that would be worth investigating, if it hasn't been. Looking too at the roles of institutions in those cities -- similarities and differences -- would certainly be worth investigating. These are bound to contribute to some of the variations and similarities among artistic genres.

Of course, all of this plays out across time as well as space. As Richard FLorida observes in The Flight of the Creative Class, citing Sir Peter Hall's Cities in Civilization:

The actual geographic locus of the world's centers of creativity and innovation varies from one era to the next. Classical Athens, Hall notes, was the "scene of a unique creative explosion." Florence "pulled off the same trick" some two thousand years later and one thousand miles away. Just as Britain forged the Industrial Revolution but then lost its lead to Germany and America, so were Manchester, Birmingham (UK), the Ruhr Valley, and Detroit once the "smart places." (160)

He is talking about technology, but one can just as easily trace artistic booms through the same time periods. During Detroit's economic and technological heyday, it was also a musical center: Motown. Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century was an industrial center -- and a literary one as well. There developed there the “Chicago School of Literature,” characterized by the kind of gritty realism found in the works of Theodore Dreiser, Edgar Lee Masters, Sherwood Anderson, Richard Wright, Saul Bellow, and Studs Terkel. Not all of these were born -- or even stayed -- in Chicago, but Chicago contributed to their world views and, thus, to the kinds of literary works they produced.

How cities do this is vital to understanding artistic production.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Artists' Externalities

Richard Florida repeatedly argues that the presence of "bohemians," which of course includes artists and literary writers, positively correlated with the presence of the creative class that provides the driving force of most economic growth. The interactions among artists/writers and other creative people, ranging from programmers to advertisers, thus create the conditions for creative-based economic growth. Thus, the presence of artists/writers acts as a positive externality.

How might artists and writers gain a return on their contributions? Or are externalities inherently impossible to "cash in" on?

Is More Literature Being Written in Australia?

In The Flight of the Creative Class, Richard Florida argues that new regions around the world are emerging to compete with the U.S. for creative talent. In fact, he shows that the U.S. is showing negative annual growth in 1995, while places like Ireland, South Korea, Mexico, Israel, Turkey, Bulgaria, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, and Germany top out the top ten in creative class growth rates. No doubt that top ten has changed (one can imagine that the drug-related violence in Mexico has damped that trend somewhat). Places like Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Denmark, and the Netherlands are all increasingly attractive to creative people. The U.S. was already slipping behind in 1995, but since 9-11, we have shut down our borders even more, blocking access to many more creative people who want to come here. This is harming us economically and creatively.

One would expect this to be expressed too in the arts and literature. Do we see more literature coming out of places like Australia and New Zealand? The Lord of the Rings movies were all made in New Zealand, of course, but do we see more literature coming from there? Or Australia? Was there a resurgence in Irish literature during their boom? Creativity tends to generate other kinds of creativity, so one would expect to see more art and literature produced. But is this in fact what we do see? What measures would one use?

At the same time, places with boom economies tend to have higher costs of living, which make being an artist in those areas harder. Artists need cheap places to live. Thus, one would expect those places that have more of a Jane Jacobs-type of urban setting to have more artists than planned urban settings. Do we see this? Does this moderate creative growth? Or contribute to its distribution?

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Dispossessed

Jeff Riggenbach gives us some more interesting thoughts on science fiction, this time focusing on Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Reading Literature Makes You More Cosmopolitan

"Openness is the real motor force of economic growth. Recognizing this means we have to rethink the way that culture affects economics." -- Richard Florida, "The Flight of the Creative Classs" 68

Florida then goes on to argue that "The economic importance of culture"

lies in its ability to absorb and harness human talent. Since every human being has creative potential, the key role for culture is to create a society where that talent can be attracted, mobilized, and unleashed. All of this turns on an expansive, open, and proactively inclusive culture (72)

In other words, it depends on cosmopolitanism. And cosmopolitanism is something one typically finds in cities, and is also something that is encouarged by free markets -- indeed, Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger's main complaint about capitalism was that it was cosmopolitan, and was thus "unrooted."

But let me propose something more in line with our concerns here, which is that literature itself is able to create a more cosmopolitan individual, and thus could act as a driver of economic growth. This is something I suggest on my blog Interdisciplinary World, but let me reproduce some of that argument here.

Literature allows you to inhabit the life and world of an other. This is how it helps one to become more cosmopolitan. Men can experience what it's like to be a woman; women can experience what it's like to be a man. I've experienced being an African-American woman through Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, being an African-American man through Langston Hughs, being an African tribal priest through Chinua Achebe, being Hispanic through Gabriel García Márquez, being a Czech expatriot through Milan Kundera, being a Czech Jew through Kafka, being French through Andre Gide, Victor Hugo, Baudelaire, Stendhal, de Beauvoir, Camus (really, French-Algerian in this case), Balzac, Michel Houellebecq, etc., being German through Goethe, Hesse, Rilke, Celan, Gunter Grass, Heine, Holderlein, Nietzsche, and Thomas Mann, being an Indian woman through Arundhati Roy, being a Japanese man through Kawabata, being ancient Greek through Homer, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus, and being a contemporary Greek through Kazantzakis, just to name a few. I have inhabited these in the only ways actually possible, and it has made me more open, cosmopolitan, and creative. (I have even been described by a few Europeans as the most European American they had ever met.) This opennes, this cosmopolitanism, contributes to creativity, by opening up new ways of thinking. New ways of thinking do not occur just among disciplines, but among cultures as well. These cultural differences have resulted in geographically distinct economic developments. There were cultural elements that contributed to these patterns. If a person can tap into these different ways of seeing the world, different ways of thinking, different world views, that cannot help but contribute to their creativity. The more perspectives one can bring to a problem, the more creative solutions can emerge to solve it. Or even discover the problem in the first place. From this stems entrepreneurship and, as a consequence, economic growth and an increase in wealth.

It seems likely that increased cosmopolitanism is what in fact drives economic growth, as Florida suggests. This drives economic growth, creating opportunities more people from more places are attracted to, creating even more cosmopolitanism. It's a virtuous circle. Literature has its place in that circle.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Readers may be interested in the journal TELOS, whose editor is Russell Berman, whose work I discussed in my article "The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts," and whom I have mentioned before. As you can see if you go to the site, they are also a publishing house.

Problems With Government Funding of the Arts

Every so often you read someone somewhere advocating more government involvement in the arts. You get it from both the left and the right. The right want government involvement to help steer content; the left just want money thrown at them, and naively imagine that it won't come with strings attached. Since there is no way that government is going to just throw money at everyone who decides to call themselves an artist, we have to consider the real consequences of government funding of the arts. That is, we have to deal with reality.

The reality is this: government does not fund entrepreneurs. Of any kind, whether it be entreprenreurial businesspeople or entrepreneurial artists. Of course, in both cases, that is where innovation and growth occurs. Government supports what is known, what is well-established. That is why they support the building of opera houses, large theaters that will show popular plays, and symphonies. Subsidies go to established organizations and businesses. Entrepreneurs are funded by venture capital, if they are funded at all. Peter Thiel funds entrepreneurs -- but one may jsutly wonder, where is the Peter Thiel of literature and art? Artists are often on their own, which is no doubt why so many dream of government funding. But government funding will never come -- it is a waste of time to dream of it, because no government is going to fund entrepreneurial activities. All governments are too conservative in that manner, and will always be. That is their nature. And that is as it must and should be.

This is why Nietzsche correctly observed that there is an inverse correlation betweenthe strength of a nation's government and the strength of a nation’s culture. All a government ever does is support those that have already established themselves as not needing government’s help. Further, with government money inevitably comes government restrictions. Who wants their art controlled from Austin, TX, let alone Washington, D.C.? I don’t want my plays to have to conform to Republican or Democratic world views. Nor do I want my survival attached to my ability to bribe — er, donate to the campaigns of — elected officials. Worse, there is good evidence that government-funded art comes in at the end, when the culture is dying, to try to prop it up. When government funding comes to dominate, that is truly the sign of a dying culture.

When something is subsidized, you can expect it to grow. Subsidize culture, and of course you are going to have a “vibrant” culture. But its a false vibrancy, much like the housing bubble created a false strong economy. Every fool will take advantage of the cheap money, and eventually everything will end up wrecked. You have to understand that my opposition to government involvement has everything to do with my loving the arts and culture and wanting it to actually be strong. A bubble is a cancer on the economy — including the cultural economy.

In any case, there is no evidence the U.S. is hurting for artists of any kind. There are more, and more successful, artists of all sorts than anyplace else ever before in history. That’s a result of the free market and a general lack of government funding. Regardless of what Britain does and how it does it, you have to be pretty clueless about American politics to believe that government funding here is ever going to be untouched by partisan issues. One side demands the government not fund anything even remotely religious or potentially offensive to a wide variety of groups, while the other side demands the government not fund anything deemed anti-religious or offensive to their sensibilities. What the heck is left? Never mind works that are explicitly political, or are understood to be. That’s what happens when the U.S. government tries to fund the arts, as anyone who has paid attention to the news knows. In a real sense, this is fortunate, because real innovation has taken place as a result, without the threat of a bubble economy developing. You’re going to have a stronger culture and art scene when you have people who are serious about the production of art rather than who are in it because they are following the easy money.

Of course, many people complain that the average person doesn't support avante garde work, so the government has to. It's true that the average person is conservative in their tastes. The tastes of the average filmgoer, for example, is conservative and not avant garde. Many complain about how this means the avant garde films have to go to the art houses; but what these people don’t seem to understand is that without the free market, there wouldn’t be art houses for such films to go to. The market is actually providing the minority with their tastes, as well as the majority with their tastes. Sometimes, an art house film goes mainstream. The market allows everyone to get what they want, and does not impose anyone’s values on others. This of course is the problem for those who want government to fund their avante garde work. They want to impose their tastes on others. I, on the other hand, do not want to impose my artistic values on anyone else — I am happy to pursuade, but unwilling to use government force to impose it on others or to force others to support works they don’t like.

The bottom line is that if you want works of a certain kind, you should feel free to try to provide them. Sell pieces, or tickets —- get private funding from those who agree with your vision. That’s how it really works with private funding: you provide the service, and get people who agree with your vision and service to donate the money. Or buy the piece. Voluntary giving or exchange are the only ethical forms of funding art.

I would love to see a more vibrant art scene in the U.S. -- in the world in general. But government funding will destroy what does exist, not improve it. Here in Dallas, the publicly funded opera house, Dallas theater, and DMA give us the great works of the past — which have their place, to be sure — but they are not spuring anyone to create new works. They do not contribute to a vibrant art scene. Private galleries, private theaters, etc. do. Create a market for these things, and the art scene will flourish. Look to government, and you will stagnate it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

Introduction: Allen Mendenhall

Per Troy Camplin’s request, and following Gabrielle Shiner’s lead, I’m hereby introducing myself. I’m Allen Mendenhall. I blog on this site. I was born in Atlanta and raised in Marietta, Georgia, home of the Big Chicken, Dobbins Air Force base, and Travis Tritt. My childhood was, I suspect, fairly normal, although comparing one’s childhood to other childhoods is inane: like comparing who’s uglier, Randy Johnson Lyle Lovett, or Steve Buscemi. I was raised in a conservative family. I have a brother and a sister—both younger. We didn’t own pets until I was in middle school. At that time, there was this very un-neutered cat named Henry who roamed the neighborhood, prancing about yards and depositing dead chipmunks and squirrels on various neighbors’ porches, and my brother and I would go to great lengths—leaving doors and windows cracked, placing cereal bowls on the back porch, and, eventually, sacrificing my sister’s mouse-like stuffed-animals—to get Henry inside the house, where we knew he would find himself, well, at home. Dad found out about these shenanigans and forbade the cat’s presence inside. “That cat’s got worms,” he kept saying. But as usual my brother and I found ways to subvert dad’s commands, and at some point Henry became part of the family. We officially adopted the cat, chiefly, I think, because we paid for his vaccinations, or rather dad paid for the vaccinations, and dad was loath to part with anything he’d paid for. I spent high school playing sports during the day and secretly reading Keats, Wordsworth, and Byron at night. I was a nerd who tried to pass as cool, but I wasn’t too good at passing, so I looked more like what we used to call “posers.” I’m not sure what the proper terminology for “posers” is these days. Anyway, by the time I got to college I had become too pessimistic for Romanticism. A dramatic break-up with my high school girlfriend, a move to a new state, the death of a grandfather—all these things and more transformed me into a different person. And the person I was becoming was in love with literature. Or obsessed with it. Sometimes even angry at it. Hell, I was jealous of the writers I enjoyed reading, and that jealousy motivated me to try my hand at poetry—something I wish, to this day, that I could do better. Indeed, if I could be anything in the world—anything at all—it would be a poet, but, alas, my efforts on that score have been tragically Faulknerian. I didn’t know what to do with myself after college, so I moved to Japan to teach English to Japanese students. I taught in a juku, or private school. My youngest students were three; my oldest were thirteen. I’ll never forget my time there. I wish I could, though, because whenever I think about Japan too hard or for too long, my throat wells up and I get tears in my eyes and the tugging, aching longing for the past becomes just too much for me. After my “stay” in Japan, I went to law school, where I learned to despise lawyers, act arrogant, and pretend expertise. The only thing that saved me from myself during this time was my decision to pursue a master’s degree in English. I went to law school during the day, and took literature courses at night. Did I mention I was in West Virginia? I don’t think so. Well, I was in West Virginia—Morgantown to be precise—and one day I came across something, I can’t remember what, exactly, but something really compelling. It was an article or a book or a website. Whatever it was, it was libertarian, and it struck my fancy. Before long, I was familiar with the Mises Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Institute for Humane Studies, and I was reading all the libertarian things I had time for—and even some I didn’t have time for. Right away I thought I understood libertarianism, thought I knew a lot more than everyone else, thought I was great and special, but over time I realized how little I knew, how dumb and impulsive I was, and I now try to remind myself every day that I have definite limitations and that I can never be complete or satisfied with my knowledge. I’ll always need more. And the more knowledge I’ve gained over the years, the more libertarian I’ve become. I’m relatively new to Austrian economics, but I find it striking and illuminating—and strikingly illuminating. I met my wife while studying in Brazil. Yes, she’s Brazilian, and we try to get back there as often as possible, but we’re not too good about that. I’m currently finishing the LL.M. in transnational law at Temple University—a degree that has taken me entirely too long to complete. I’m also a Ph.D. student in English at Auburn University. That makes me a non-practicing lawyer who teaches and researches and writes and wakes up with book and goes to bed with a book and who has far too many degrees for his own health or benefit. I’m a member of the Georgia bar, and next week I’m getting sworn into the D.C. bar. Oh, and I teach in a penitentiary on Thursdays. I should probably say more about that, but I won’t. I have a dog named Elvis, with whom I’m irrationally enamored. The dog, I mean. Not the human. Although I like the human Elvis too—that’s why I named the dog after him. I used to play golf, but I no longer have the skill or the time. Every now and then I like to stare at myself in the mirror until I think my reflection is someone else, an autonomous, rational being with his own agency and personality. I like dark beer and red wine. I like music but know nothing about it. I’m an ideas person. I enjoy thinking about thinking. The mind fascinates me. So does death and dying—but that’s neither here nor there. I’m an open person—too open, usually—and I have a tendency, despite myself, to feel strongly about things and people and ideas. In general, I think humans are a rotten lot—but I’m frequently taken aback by the profound generosity of others, by the human capacity to love, and by the probably universal impulse, again among humans, to want to make sense of life and existence. I’m a rambler and a mute, depending on time or circumstance. Most of all, I’m just a guy. Another person on this big earth. Another person who has come and will eventually go. I hope to make my short presence here as meaningful as possible.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Culture of Liberty

The last two works of Deirdre McCloskey, The Bourgeois Virtues and Bourgeois Dignity both argue that culture is the vital element to a society adopting free markets. Indeed, one must have a culture of liberty to have political and economic liberty. This seems to be the thing missing in people’s attempts to get political and economic liberty. We too often think that we need to go right to the top and make political changes there. This is ironic considering the fact that one of the bases of our support for economic liberty is the realization that the most efficient, wealth-producing system is one that is a bottom-up spontaneous order. It seems logical, then, that we target society in a bottom-up fashion as well. And this means changing the culture. But how does one get a culture of liberty?

First, one does not get a culture of liberty through propaganda. You have propaganda when you place politics before art. Propaganda is Important and is, therefore, big and dull. Nobody takes propaganda serious except the propagandist. So it is important that propaganda is avoided.

I am sure that there will be those who will point to Ayn Rand’s novels as the prime example of how I am wrong. But Rand’s novels actually prove my point. Yes, The Fountainhead and, especially, Atlas Shrugged, have their famous speeches – however, one will note that these speeches 1) come at the end of the novels, after the reader has been drawn in by the plot and the characters, and 2) are in fact central to the plot itself. We are willing to put up with Galt’s speech only because we enjoyed the excitement of the train racing down the newly laid Rearden metal tracks and the mystery of the disappearing creators, and because it clarifies what is going on and why.

This brings me to my second, related point: a culture of liberty can be established only with an arts and humanities of liberty. We need poets, novelists, playwrights, song writers, and even musicians and visual artists who have an underlying ideology of liberty creating works of art. Please note that the art must come first; the underlying ideology will come through on its own, in the world view, in the plots, in the characters. We must remember what Bastiat said, that, “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.” Within the arts, propaganda is an inept defense. It shows that the ideas presented are not natural, that they cannot be naturally represented in works of art and literature. Thus, it is important that the work of art be beautiful first and foremost. Among such works I would of course include those of this year’s Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa and poems – including two epic poems – of Frederick Turner.

Another thing that is important is that we have pro-liberty artistic theories. Aesthetic and literary theory is dominated by Marxist interpretations when it comes to the analysis of the political and economic elements of the arts and their production. However, there is good news on this front. First, we have Paul Cantor and Stephen Cox’s book Literature and the Economics of Liberty, which acts as an introduction to the field of free market literary analysis. To that I would humbly add my own essay on “The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts”. Then there is the theoretical work of Frederick Turner, such as Natural Classicism, Beauty, The Culture of Hope, Shakespeare’s Twenty-First Century Economics, Tempest, Flute, and Oz, and Natural Religion. These works could go a long way toward establishing a literary theory of liberty based on the concept of beauty.

Finally, we need more pro-liberty philosophers, providing the moral, metaphysical, epistemological, political, ontological, etc. foundations on which a culture of liberty must be established. It is easy to list the Austrians one should read: Mises, Hayek, Polanyi, and Rothbard, among others. More broadly, one should also read J.T. Fraser’s works on the philosophy of time, Aeon Skoble, Nozick, Acton, Adam Smith and the other Scottish Enlightenment philosophers, and, if I may humbly add once again, my own Diaphysics. Works of philosophy provide the intellectual foundations for liberty and, thus, for a culture of liberty.

Philosophy, theory, and the arts and literature all help establish a culture of liberty precisely because they are the humanities. They help to establish the fact that liberty is deeply human, humanizing, and humane. Or, at least, they could and should. We have seen these areas dominated by inhumane, anti-liberty, anti-humanistic, anti-liberal ideologies much more than by the kind of humane-pro-liberty, humanistic, liberal ideologies necessary to establish a culture of liberty. Yet this does not have to be the case. If we begin targeting the culture – by creating great works of art, plays, film, novels, and philosophy, and by patronizing those arts, attending those plays and films, buying those novels and works of philosophy, and talking about them – then we can establish the necessary conditions for political and economic liberty to dominate in our world.

(I thought, in light of Gabrielle's last posting, I would share this piece I wrote a few months ago, since it's on the same theme.)

The Foundations of Change

I am currently listening to The Libertarian Tradition, a lecture series provided by the Mises Institute. In the lecture entitled “More Free or Less Free?” Jeff Riggenbach states:

“There is no political shortcut to a free society. Our primary job is education, not politics, and our victory, when it comes, will come not in the next election but in the long run.”

As a libertarian who believes that change lies primarily in culture, rather than direct politics, I strongly agree with this statement. Of course, culture and politics are inseparable in many ways. They are both present in the funhouse of mirrors that constructs a society, in which everything reflects everything else, making it almost impossible to discern precisely where things originate. In a political system like we have in the USA, or the UK, however, I would argue that – although it certainly fails to entirely reflect the preferences and values of its citizens – our political system does quite accurately reflect the general cultural climate. If we take this to be true and accept that politics tends to respond to culture, rather than the other way around, is it not backwards to be trying to generate a libertarian movement within the political realm?

Libertarianism attracts a number of thoughtful people who are interested in economics and politics, and who understand the benefits of a free-market. This is hugely important, don’t get me wrong, but in my opinion it will simply never be enough. Our current culture does not respect individualism, personal responsibility, liberty, and a human’s capacity for creativity and reason nearly enough to adopt libertarian principles within the political realm. Libertarians should, therefore, be focusing instead on penetrating every aspect of our culture with these values and ideas. The simple fact is that the closest thing we currently have to a free-market is the market of ideas. We can engage in this market as entrepreneurs through literature, art, philosophy, film, or, more locally, through the choices we make in our daily lives and down at the pub with our friends. If libertarians want to see the libertarian movement take hold, they need to start walking the walk and doing so shamelessly. In the market of goods and services the belief is that people copy the more successful entrepreneurs and over time production becomes more efficient and valuable to society. Why shouldn’t the same principle apply in the market of ideas? People need to understand the benefit of a free-market but even more fundamentally people need to value the foundations of libertarianism. The cultural shift that needs to occur in the common appraisal of man and existence is not going to occur solely through politics: Libertarians need to realize the power of the manifestations of values and ideas, like literature, that form our cultural climate and are the foundations of change.

Praxeology and Beauty

Poet/philosopher Frederick Turner defines beauty as "the highest integrative level of understanding and the most comprehensive capacity for effective action." Praxeology as the study of beauty? Only those actions which are beautiful are those which conform to those recommended by praxeology? Other possibilities?

Culture, Literature, and Economic Theory

Don Boudreaux discusses the role of culture in understanding economics at The Pittsburgh Tribune. He points out that because culture is difficult to define, economists resist including it in their analyses and theories. Which of course raises the issue of what we're doing here. Surely the analysis of literature is, to a great extent, cultural criticism. One is of course discussing the cultures of the authors in question, how they perceived those cultures, including the economic situation of the time. But perhaps there is a broader task one could engage in, which is that of helping the economists integrate culture into their models, by helping them understand the nature of culture better. And what better people to do so than those who are trying to understand culture in part by using economics? The great thing about literature is that it captures much of what was going on in a culture at a given time -- at least, as interpreted by the writer(s) of the time. This is an excellent reason why economists ought to be reading literature. Again, is it not our job to help facilitate those readings?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Creeping Aesthetics

Max Borders has an interesting posting at Ideas Matter. Before you read a single word, watch the video. Trust me on this. It will have a greater impact. Then read Borders' commentary. It's all worthwhile.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Was Shakespeare an early advocate for spontaneous order?

Last week I completed my Early Modern Drama exam, which asked me to compare the representation of justice in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Ben Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour. The trend that I noticed, once I began thinking over this question, fascinated me. Is it possible that these early modern playwrights had an appreciation for the importance of spontaneous order in society?

At the beginning of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure Vienna is represented as a happy, peaceful place, which seems to be free of violent crime, scandal, and social unrest – despite the presence of brothels and the local drunks. However, during the duke’s staged absence, throughout which he remains in Vienna disguised as a friar, things begin to change. The duke leaves Angelo, his highly reputed puritanical deputy, in charge and Angelo immediately commits himself to reinforcing the law, which the duke has left unenforced for the past seventeen years. Angelo begins his eradication of unlawful sexual activity by sentencing Claudio to death for impregnating his lover, Juliet, before marriage – despite the fact that their relationship is consensual and exclusive. Claudio’s sister, Isabella, is flawlessly virtuous and about to enter a nunnery. When she is informed of her brother’s sentence she goes to Angelo to attempt to persuade him to release her brother and - in perfect accordance with Lord Acton’s statement: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” – Angelo offers to release Claudio in exchange for Isabella’s chastity. Trickery, plots, scandal, and social chaos ensue.

Angelo’s failure to impose his subjective sense of morality upon society, and the law’s disturbance of the social equilibrium, suggests that society is better off in the absence of an enforced sense of “morality”. Morality is presented as highly subjective throughout the play. Angelo’s corruption also suggests that morality is, in fact, unfixed and highlights the fact that the concept of a moral guardian is something that must be questioned. I would argue a similar belief is presented in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which the attempt to enforce an “acceptable” order over the young lovers ends in farcical chaos. Does this hold true in more of Shakespeare’s plays?

Ben Jonson’s Every Man Out of His Humour suggests a similar attitude towards the importance of allowing spontaneous order to develop in society, although Jonson fully recognizes that spontaneous orders can appear extremely chaotic. Throughout the play, nearly every character has money locked in loans or gambles due to their desperate attempts to climb the social ladder. Despite the chaotic appearance of the money exchanges occurring throughout society, the fact that many characters spend incredibly far beyond their means and even the fact that many of these loans are borrowed on false premises, these actions are accepted by society and the law fails to impose any order. Fastidious Brisk, who has managed to fool the other characters into thinking he is a gentleman because of the fashionable clothes he has purchased with loans, is eventually wrongfully imprisoned for starting a riot. Once he has been imprisoned the other characters take advantage of this to demand their money all at once, leading to Fastidious Brisk’s utter downfall, while all the other characters continue to live freely and participate in the socially accepted web of lending and gambling.

Jonson might be more pessimistic about society than Shakespeare but a spontaneous order exists in Every Man Out of His Humour none-the-less. I have looked here only at two rather obscure plays but I would be interested in exploring the extent to which this holds true in early modern drama. Shakespeare and Jonson were the most influential playwrights of their day and their plays would have been seen by everyone from members of the court to prostitutes and thieves. These plays were being performed at the beginning of the 17th century, long before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, long before anyone had heard of the “invisible hand” but I see a clear appreciation for this concept being presented by both playwrights in these plays. If this appreciation for spontaneous order is something that permeates a larger portion of early modern drama, what might we be able to speculate about early modern society?

Hello from Gabrielle

Hello! Thank you Troy for kindly welcoming me as a contributor to Austrian Economics and Literature on Friday. Following your lead, I just wanted to quickly introduce myself before I start blogging:

I am currently working towards a BA in English from Queen Mary, University of London. I am twenty years old and finishing up my second year this month. I was introduced to free-market economics by a teacher in high school, who caught on to the fact that I consistently argued a classical liberal perspective in his class, although at that point I had never heard of classical liberalism or Austrian economics. He got me following the professors at George Mason University (Bryan Caplan, Tyler Cowen, Peter Boettke, Russ Roberts, etc) and from there I became interested in free-market economics and gained familiarity with the work of the Austrian school. Literature, however, was my first love, and it was not until I began reading Ayn Rand that I consciously connected my love of literature with what I had previously thought of as merely an economic philosophy. It was then that I began to appreciate the broader cultural significance of these ideas. It was Hayek's, "The Intellectuals and Socialism" that finally convinced me that many of the problems I saw in society were, fundamentally, not problems with public policy but a deeper cultural issue that art and literature had the power to change.

When I began studying literature at university I was put-off (to put it lightly) by the ways I was being taught to analyse literature and surprised by how heavily biased literary criticism was to Marxist assumptions about people and society. I am currently working on a project that challenges the Marxist paradigm through which literary critics tend to analyse literature by proposing a way to approach literature that is grounded within the understanding of society proposed by Hayek and similar thinkers.

Thank you for inviting me to Austrian Economics and Literature and I look forward to sharing ideas with all of you!

Poetic Networks

Lisa Russ Spaar writes in The Chronicle on Poetic Bloodlines. Such genealogies for literary writers are of course of central importance to understanding literary production as a spontaneous order. The author is the node -- an ever-evolving node -- in a network of influences. To understand the spontaneous order of literary production, one of course has to understand an author's influences. And not just that, but their changing influences. What did they read when? And of course those influences are not just literary. There are philosophical influences. And theological ones. And cultural ones. And personal ones. And of course economic ones. Further, the institutions in each of these orders also matter.

For example, if we take a play I wrote, The Cain Apocalypse, one can point to the influences of the Bible, of course, Shakespeare, Racine, Marlow, the Greek tragedians, and Milton. Less obvious is that one can see the influences of the Koran and Nietzsche. More personally, there is the influence of the poet/philosopher Frederick Turner. I would have never been writing in formal verse, let alone verse plays, were it not for Turner's influence. Probably a good scholar could do an even better job of analyzing the play for influences -- pointing out things I don't even realize I put into the work. There's a variety of spontaneous orders which influenced my producing this work. That is true of every artist, and every work they produced.

Economics Haiku: Supply, Demand, and Economic Calculation

Art Carden has a few more haiku to share. (They are under the video I already posted on this blog.)

The Golden Girdle of the Globe

Danny Sanchez at LvMI shares an excerpt from his favorite poem. It is from "Charity" by William Cowper.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Haiku: The Laws of Supply and Demand

Clearly the concept of Austrian economics and literature is taking off. Art Carden attempts economics haiku:

The Power of Metaphors

Metaphors matter. A lot. Paul H. Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsky argue that metaphors influence how we think about a problem, and even how we assess data. Metaphors are thus very powerful.

Literature, of course, makes strong use of metaphor, both as figurative speech and in the works themselves (Kafka's works in particular exemplify the latter). If metaphors affect us as deeply as Thibodeau and Boroditsky suggest, then literature in particular is a very powerful element in our lives. And this puts a lot of power -- and responsibility -- in the hands of literary artists.

How might literary writers in fact affect a nation's discourse about problems through their choices of metaphors? How might speech-makers and other rhetoricians? What potential good -- and what potential dangers -- does this pose for us? Alas, changing one's metaphors may change the way one assesses the data -- but it has no effect on reality itself, including many aspects of social reality. At its worse, a metaphor may simply get us to accept something that is harmful to us socially. At its best a metaphor helps us to better understand reality, including social reality. The difficulty lies in always knowing which is which.

In any case, this seems a prime thing literary scholars could investigate. One could trace the origins and uses of particular metaphors, how the affect our thinking, our discussions, our analysis of data. Any literary scholar doing such genealogical work would be doing important work indeed.

Play Play Talk

Robin Hanson discusses play talk. We of course see this sort of thing in a great deal of literature. Shakespeare is, of course, famous for it -- and rightly so: "Strong drink giveth the desire, but taketh away the ability." (from Macbeth). That's one of his more obvious lines, meant to play for laughs, but we see a great array of play talk among his characters, especially in his comedies. In hsi tragedies, we also see such play talk, but it is play talk that is simultaneously deadly serious, and is designed to be duplicitous.

Why would one see a great deal of play talk in plays? I suppose one could ask what is more obviously play talk than what is said in plays themselves? More, literature can often allow one to say what cannot be said. It has been said that literature says the unsayable -- and it does so through play. But this can also be true for what is unsayable politically or socially as well. A work itself may be a metaphor for some social or political situation. Yet because it's not obvious, because it's play talk (and play action), there is plausible deniability. It may be that plays and other forms of literature came about precisely because it allowed people to say what was politically and culturally unsayable, but which the authors felt needed to be said.

Welcome Gabrielle Shiner

I would like to welcome Gabrielle Shiner to Austrian Economics and Literature.

It occurs to me that none of us cobloggers have introduced ourselves properly to our readers.

So let me begin. I was introduced to free market economics by my Intro. to Philosophy professor, Ronald Nash. Because of him I devoured everything I could at the library on economics. As is often the case, this led me to Ayn Rand, whose fiction convinced me that fiction was a great way to convey ideas -- a realization that eventually led me to drop out of a Master's program in molecular biology to pursue a Master's in English/Creative Writing at the Univ. of Southern Mississippi. I went to UT-Dallas for my Ph.D. in the Humanities, where I met Alexander Argyros, who became the chair of my dissertation committee, and Frederick Turner, whose works and continuing friendship have influenced me in countless ways. Turner (re)introduced me to Hayek in a "Game Theory and the Humanities" class, and it was through Turner that I entered into the spontaneous order work I have since done at The Fund for the Study of Spontaneous Orders conferences, particularly my work on The Spontaneous Orders of the Arts. I have also written on the moral order in relation to Hayek's ideas on the brain as a spontaneous order, and I will have works coming out on Hayek's The Sensory Order and network theory and on the city as a spontaneous order in future issues of Advances in Austrian Economics.

I started this blog because I bagan to see that there was a lot of work that could be done in this area. Little did I know that it would be as popular as it has been -- something for which I no doubt have to thank the Ludwig von Mises Institute for posting us on their blogroll. I know that coblogger Allen Mendenhall has done quite a bit to promote us as well, so I would like to publicly thank him as well. My ignorance of those others who have talked about us does not reflect how thankful I am for that word-of-mouth. I am thankful too for those who disagree with us publicly (you know who you are!), as conflict only helps us grow stronger (though that's more Nietzschean than Austrian economics).

I hope the rest of the cobloggers here will also share (no pressure!) something about themselves with us.