Monday, December 30, 2013

On A Christmas Carol. Again.

It's Christmas. That means the annual "A Christmas Carol is not anti-capitalist" link!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Ruth Bendict, Spontaneous Order Theorist

Austrian economists ought to familiarize themselves with the work of anthroplogist Ruth Benedict. Her book, Patterns of Culture argues that cultures are, essentially, spontaneous orders (though she does not use the term). Consider the following quote, wherein Benedict argues that the integration of the various parts of a culture into that particular culture

is not in the least mystical. It is the same process by which a style in art comes into being and persists. Gothic architecture, beginning in what was hardly more than a preference for altitude and light, became, by the operation of some canon of taste that developed within its technique, the unique and homogeneous art of the thirteenth century. It discarded elements that were incongruous, modified others to its purposes, and inverted otehrs that accorded with its taste. When we describe the process historically, we inevitably use animistic forms of expression as if there were choice and purpose in the growth of this great art-form. But this is due to the difficulty in our language-forms. There was no conscious choice, and no purpose. What was at first no more than a slight bias in local forms and techniques expressed itself more and more forcibly, integrated itself in more and more definite standards, and eventuated in Gothic art.

What has happened in the great art-styles happens also in cultures as a whole. All the miscellaneous behavior directed toward getting a living, mating, warring, and woshipping the gods, is made over into consistent patterns in accordance with unconscious canons of choice that develop within the culture. (47-8)

What we see here is art as a spontaneous order. She also mentions the catallaxy (getting a living), the institution of marriage, the political order and instituttions (warring), and the religious order and institutions (worshipping the gods), but if we generalized this out, we would see the same arguments made for language, morals, technology, science, etc. These are network effects resulting in a variety of orders and institutions within those orders.

I am currently reading Benedict's Patterns of Culture, and I must say that so far I keep seeing her describing spontaneous order after spontaneous order. If Austrians have not yet discovered her work, they should.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Best Novels and Plays About Business: Results of a Survey

Ed Younkins shares the following with AEL readers:

The Best Novels and Plays About Business: Results of  a Survey

My Koch Research Fellows, Jomana Krupinski and Kaitlyn Pytlak, and I conducted a survey of 250 Business and Economics professors and 250 English and Literature professors. Colleges and universities were randomly selected and then professors from the relevant departments were also randomly selected to receive our email survey. They were asked to list and rank from 1 to 10 what they considered to be the best novels and plays about business. We did not attempt to define the word “best” leaving that decision to each respondent. We obtained sixty-nine usable responses from Business and Economics professors and fifty-one from English and Literature professors. A list of fifty choices was given to each respondent and an opportunity was presented to vote for works not on the list. When tabulating the results, ten points were given to a novel or play in a respondent’s first position, nine points were assigned to a work in the second position, and so on, down to the tenth listed work which was allotted one point. The table below presents the top twenty-five novels and plays for each group of professors. Interestingly, fifteen works made both top-25 lists. These are noted in bold type.

The Best Novels and Plays about Business

Business and Economics Professors

English and Literature Professors

1.   Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
1.   Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
2.   The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
2.   Bartleby: The Scrivener, Herman Melville
3.   The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
3.   The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
4.   Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
4.   The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
5.   Time Will Run Back, Henry Hazlitt
5.   Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis
6.   The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
6.   Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet
7.   The Gilded Age, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
7.   The Rise of Silas Lapham, William Dean Howells
8.   Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet
8.   American Pastoral, Philip Roth
9.   God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
9.   The Confidence Man, Herman Melville
10. Other People’s Money, Jerry Sterner
10. The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
11. Bartleby: The Scrivener, Herman Melville
11. A Hazard of New Fortunes, William Dean Howells
12. A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe
12. The Octopus, Frank Norris
13. Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis
13. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
14. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Sloan Wilson
14. Nice Work, David Lodge
15. Rabbit is Rich, John Updike
15. The Big Money, John Dos Passos
16. Major Barbara, George Bernard Shaw
16. The Gilded Age, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner
17. Dombey and Son, Charles Dickens
17. Rabbit is Rich, John Updike
18. The Goal, Eliyahu M. Goldratt
18. Seize the Day, Saul Bellow
19. The Driver, Garet Garrett
19. Mildred Pierce, James M. Cain
20. Executive Suite, Cameron Hawley
20. The Financier, Theodore Dreiser
21. The Way We Live Now, Anthony Trollope
21. Dombey and Son, Charles Dickens
22. American Pastoral, Philip Roth
22. Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
23. The Octopus, Frank Norris
23. The Last Tycoon, F. Scott Fitzgerald
24. Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
24. The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
25. North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell
25. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Arts Funding Debate at The Economist

The Economist is hosting a debate on Arts Funding. It begins with Alan Davey discussing how Keynes set up Britain's art council and arguing that, apparently, there was no art funding at all prior that, and that therefore there was no art being produced to speak of (how else is one to interpret phrases such as "Britain after the second world war didn't have much by way of arts provision" or defining Keynes' goal as being "essentially an attempt to address market failure"?) Mr. Davey is apparently unaware of the appearance of the distinctly anti-establishment Modernist movement that arose at the time and the fact that the artists without any public support were in fact the most productive and most creative of all the artists working. Pete Spence takes up the other argument, pointing out that government spending on art tends to crowd out competitive funding, support safe (conservative in the worst sense) art, and undermine market signals that drive artistic innovation and creativity. In the end, "No elite panel of experts should decide what art is best for us. We should decide what is best for ourselves. The dead hand of the state doesn't have much going for it—we should put it to rest and embrace the messy, diverse, vibrant tapestry of commercial funding."

Monday, April 29, 2013


The first poem at The Freeman is Frederick Turner's Tirzah. It seems The Freeman is certainly starting off strong with this experiment in publishing poetry. If they continue to publish such strong works, that is certainly a good thing. This poem is poetry first and foremost. This shows the people at The Freeman are serious about changing the culture, which is what is truly necessary to get classical liberalism accepted by the general public.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Poetry at The Freeman

The Freeman is now publishing poetry. If you are a libertarian poet, this is a great publishing opportunity. And, like good capitalists, The Freeman will even pay you for your poem!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Shakespeare: Business, Hording, Taxes, and Usury

Just when you thought there could not be more about Shakespeare, scholars are now focused on the evidence that he was a shrewd businessman. Not just in regards to his theater, but also in regards to grain. And though I don't know if he was a borrower, it turned how that he was a lender.

So we have Shakespeare the teacher, Shakespeare the actor, Shakespeare the poet, Shakespeare the businessman, and Shakespeare the lender.

How much this "new" information is being brought forth in order to try to bring Shakespeare down a few pegs, it's hard to tell. The assumption by most scholars is that market activity is morally degrading. If Shakespeare was (horror of horrors) not just a businessman, but a horder, a tax evader, and a lender at interest, how can we revere him?

It seems to me that this is prime fodder for literary scholars influenced by Austrian economics. We can use this information to see just how informed Shakespeare was in regards to business. And the reason Shakespeare was hording grain was, no doubt, because of the famines caused by the Little Ice Age. This would suggest, rather, Shakespeare was as wise in business as he was in his poetry. But that is the argument which needs to be made. Further, we can ask, too, if we see these elements in Shakespeare's works, and what they mean in that light. This is culture as spontaneous order influencing the contents of Shakespeare. This is what the Austrian school of economics can bring to bear.

Foucault, Hayek, Goethe

While doing research on the influence of literature on scientists' creativity, I ran across Nicholas Vazsonyi's Searching for "The Order of Things": Does Goethe's Faust II Suffer from the "Fatal Conceit"? in Monatshefte, Vol. 88, No. 1, 1996. Yes, that is Foucault, Hayek, and Goethe. And the piece comes full circle, beginning and ending with a discussion of chaos theory. How many hidden gems of Austrian Economics and Literature -- early work in the field -- are out there?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On the Business of Literature

Here is an excellent piece on the business of literature.

How will the internet change things? You can now self-publish for free with Amazon -- and your work will be available on Kindle. In fact, I decided to try it with my play Sandy Keenan. What new kinds of filters will emerge? Blogs? Word of mouth? Dedicated online reviewers?

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Population Genetics Methodology and the Evolution of Spontaneous Orders -- Iliad Edition

Spontaneous orders change over time -- but slowly, and always in relation to the tradition out of which the orders in question emerged. Language is such a spontaneous order. Our languages change over time, but not radically so. They change with use. And they change and spread in a way very similar to how DNA mutations change and spread.

Thus, it should not be surprising to learn that one can use the same tools geneticists use for population genetics to determine the age of works such as The Iliad.Using this technique, it was discovered that "in 762 B.C., give or take 50 years," a date that matches much current scholarship. I can already hear the naysayers arguing that if scholarship was right, what do we need this scientific method for? Well, not every text is as well established as is The Iliad, meaning it can be used to both more accurately date a variety of texts as well as help us to learn more about the evolution of language itself.

Given the fact that this method works for both genes and language, perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to suggest that his method might also work to help us understand change in other spontaneous orders as well.