[From Bill Williams 2 February 2OO4 ]
In selecting a thread caption, "Running Naked Through the Forest"
seem to have a lot more drawing power that would "User Costs" or
"The Savings and Investment Identity." Economic Theory may not
be everyone's favorite topic for a conversation, but it has in
recent weeks economic threads have dominated whatever has been
in second place on the CSGnet.
Rather than engaged in a lengthy methodological preface
concern ring what I hope to accomplish on this thread, I will
begin with an answer to a question that I have been asked.
Doing so will insure that I have at least one reader.
The question is what people here, students especially, think
of the stuff that I have been posting in my net war in defense
of economics. In particular, the question has been have I asked
what people think?
My answer is, I don't have to. People tell me without my asking.
First, their reaction is, and I don't think this is an exaggeration,
one of astonishment. You have to understand that after a student
has been studying economics for a few years, especially if they
are a graduate student, and they go to a new place to study, all,
or nearly all, the people they interact with are in the economics
department. I don't think myself that this is a good thing.
However, the way the university is administered, this is how it is.
The American (read U.S.) sort of university that has developed
since World War II has been an extremely fragmented organization.
Within this fragmented organization structure there is very little
communication going on between the various specialized departments.
As a partial result of this fragmentation, it is easy to develop
an unconscious assumption that everyone in the university is more
or less like the people one knows. The constant interaction by
people in the Economics department fellow grad students, faculty
and staff seems to result in an unconscious assumption that
everyone knows all this stuff about economics. After all everyone
that one talks to does, more or less, know this stuff. You can in
some sense "know" that this isn't true, but even so most people
I think develop the assumption, or expectation that economic
thought is what you see going on in the Economics department.
In abstract terms, one may know that this isn't how it really
is, because in the history of thought course. Well scratch that.
I was going to say that in the history of thought course one
encounters the various popular "crank" schemes -- Like the but
it has been so long since I studied this stuff that I can't
bring up the names. And, we don't offer a graduate level history
of economic thought course. And, if we did, it is unlikely that
it would include anything other than the mainstream professional
economic theory stuff.
So, a preconception develops that no one thinks about economics
outside economics departments, a few state offices, people in
Washington. What goes on in the minds of corporate world isn't
really considered economic thought.
Into this cosmology suddenly appears this stream of economic
discourse that is totally unexpected. People, I mean people
out there, are arguing with great vehemence about things like
for God's sake the appendix on "User Costs." And, Keynes is
described as "the Great Satan." The most common reaction, I
suppose is, "What got into these people?" The closest thing
I can think of to explain the reaction is to imagine what
people now living in Hawaii might think if the few remaining
natives decided that everyone who wasn't a pure blood native
had to leave the islands. And, to back-up their demand the
natives proposed to construct a new sort of weapon based
upon entirely new principles that no one had ever heard of.
And, that the head designer for this project had, as he
admitted, never so much as attended a secondary school.
Never taken a course in physics, chemistry, or mathematics.
But, as he claimed he was pure in heart, and his soul had
been cleansed by the frequent practice of running through the
forest naked. This running through the forest naked was the
essential requirement. But, to complete their work the
head designer had somehow come to the conclusion that he
needed a pair of the departed Princess Diana's sunglasses.
With Diana's sunglasses he was convinced that he was going
to be able to read Kant's _Critique of Pure Reason_. In
the _Critique_ he was convinced he would find a set of
plans which would tell him how to modify a refrigerator
using simple hand tools into a truly terrifying weapon.
However, before building the actual weapon itself, which
was expected to take some time, the head designer thought
that it would be prudent to attempt something much easier
a project which he called the "TEST BOMB." The Test Bomb
wasn't really intended to do much of any damage. Rather,
what it would do would be to kill all of the people in
Hawaii who weren't 1OO % native Hawaiian. Now, understand
that the head designer had been working on the Test Bomb
for fifteen years, so far some technical problems had
prevented him from constructing a "working model." But,
his senior assistant designer was confident that the
project was nearly complete and would be detonated next
week freeing Hawaii of all those who where not of 100%
native blood. When reporters asked the University of
Hawaii's genetics department how many of the people in
Hawaii were actually 1OO% native stock, the senior
Professor said, "There are none left. All of the
people of Hawaii," he said, "have some non-native
blood." The head designer, however, argued that when
he got a hold of a pair of Princess Diana's sunglasses
it would be easy to see whose blood had been the
contribution of a pure Hawaiian ancestry and who's
was of mixed blood. Contribution was an extremely
concept, an issue that was nearly always occupying
the mind of the head designer, and his chief deputy
the senior assistant designer. Given the length of
the effort to assemble the required materials,--
a copy of _The Critique of Pure Reason_ wasn't hard
to obtain. And, there was always hope of somehow
getting hold of a pair of Princess Diana
sunglasses, but as the years passed, it was
becoming harder for the Head Designer to keep up
his running naked in the forest. So, this was a task
that was increasingly being fobbed off on the chief
deputy, the senior assistant designer.
The head designer, for some reason, suspected
that a physics professor at the University of Hawaii
Allan Sokal had cornered the market on Princes Diana
sunglasses and had stockpiled them somewhere in
the university's physics Lab. Because the Head
Designer's was considered a, for the most part, a
harmless eccentric who provided a diverting element
of local color an accommodation had been worked out
with the universities security staff so that he could
from time to time visit the Universities Physics Lab.
But, the relationship between the head designer and
Sokal wasn't entirely cordial. The Head Designer was
suspicious of the entire notion of Western Science.
It was, he argued really very simple. There were good
people-- the 100 % native Hawaiian's. And, there were
bad people-- the Head Designer thought that somehow
the Physics Department was a secret weapons lab that
from time to time required a 1OO % native Hawaiian
to be melted down to obtain a special grease.
Obviously the Physics department was engaged in a
plot to prevent the Head Designer from obtaining a
pair of Diana's sunglasses-- because, once the
Test Bomb was available it would no longer be
possible for the physics department to kidnap a
native Hawaiian to melt down for grease. From time
to time the Head Designer made phone calls to other
physics departments on the mainland to see if there
was any possibility that they had a spare pair of
Princess Diana's sunglasses. But, the focus of
suspicion over time was growing-- that Sokal was
the principle agent of a combination that had
cornered the market in Diana's sunglasses.
My thinly fictionalize account provides I think a
good idea of how students here view PCT economics.
Le Barre, Weston. 197O _The Ghost Dance; Origins of Religion_
Garden City, New York : Double Day
Ravetz, Jerry. 1994-95 "Economics as an Elite Folk Science:
The Suppression of Uncertainty" Journal of Post Keynesian
Economics Winter vol 17 # 2
Ross, Dorothy 1980 _The Origins of American Social Science_
Cambridge University Press
"... the institution of a leisure class acts to make
the lower class conservative by withdrawing from them
as much as it may of the means of sustenance, and so
reducing their consumption, and consequently their
available energy, to such a point as to make them
incapable of the effort required for the learning
and adoption of new habits of thought.
Stopffle, Richard W. 2OOO "Ghost Dancing the Grand Canyon."
Current Anthropology Vol 41 # 1 February p. 11-38.
Llosa Mario Vargus, 1994 _A Fish the Water_ Farrar, Straus and
The special grease is thought by some Peruvians to be needed
by NASA. There is a student here at UMKC who may think that
I am somehow connected with these kidnappings-- how else
would a Notre Americana know about these kidnappings?
These are not mere anecdotes. They represent a general
phenomenon, a state of affairs that affects the entire cultural
life of Peru... p. 313
Magic, Science and Religion and other essays
... any drawing of conclusions, or arguing by the
law of logical contradiction, is absolutely futile
in the realm of belief, belief savage or civilized.
Two beliefs, quite contradictory to each other on
logical grounds may coexist, while a perfectly
obvious inference from a very firm tenet may be
simplify ignored. p. 220
Medvedev, Zhores A. 1969. _The Rise and Fall of Lysenko_
Columbia University Press: New York