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February 09, 2011

"A Grim Cavorting Whirl"

From Francis Spufford's Red Plenty.

But Marx had drawn a nightmare picture of what happened to human life under capitalism, when everything was produced only in order to be exchanged; when true qualities and uses dropped away, and the human power of making and doing itself became only an object to be traded. Then the makers and the things made turned alike into commodities, and the motion of society turned into a kind of zombie dance, a grim cavorting whirl in which objects and people blurred together till the objects were half alive and the people were half dead. Stock-market prices acted back upon the world as if they were independent powers, requiring factories to be opened or closed, real human beings to work or rest, hurry or dawdle; and they, having given the transfusion that made the stock prices come alive, felt their flesh go cold and impersonal on them, mere mechanisms for chunking out the man-hours. Living money and dying humans, metal as tender as skin and skin as hard as metal, taking hands, and dancing round, and round, and round, with no way ever of stopping; the quickened and the deadened, whirling on. That was Marx's description, anyway. And what would be the alternative? The consciously arranged alternative? A dance of another nature, Emil presumed. A dance to the music of use, where every step fulfilled some real need, did some tangible good, and no matter how fast the dancers spun, they moved easily, because they moved to a human measure, intelligible to all, chosen by all.

February 08, 2011

"Common Sense in Paradox's Clothing"

Albert Hirschman, "How the Keynesian Revoution was Exported from the United States, and Other Comments," in Peter Hall (ed.) The Political Power of Economic Ideas.

But while rehabilitating common sense, Keynes hardly presented his own theory in commonsensical terms. Rather, his message was delivered in a book whose text was uncommonly difficult. Moreover, he frequently presented his propositions as counterintuitive rather than as confirming common sense: for example, instead of telling his readers that converging individual decisions to cut consumption can set off an economic decline (common sense), he dwelt on the equivalent but counterintuitive proposition that a spurt of individual decisions to save more will fail to increase aggregate savings. In this manner, he managed to present common sense in paradox's clothing and in fact made his theory doubly attractive: it satisfied at the same time the intellectuals' craving for populism and their taste for difficulty and paradox.