Comments: H.L. Mencken Explains Economists
...American political economy...

The hope here is that globalization is a two edged sword (or at least two edged).

It has the capacity to wane nationalistic gibberish and contaminate the American political economy with humane socialism that (obviously) works, as well as distribute pain trans nationally when caused by the hyper-class transnationalists. Plus, the information sharing provided by the intertubes can offset some of the negatives if global regulation actually takes place to do good -- such as global regulation in banking in finance that is focused on transparency for the sake of baselined humanity rather than what is currently done for the sake of political combating and de-funding "terrorism".

I don't know why I'd put terrorism in quotes there but I felt compelled to.

The Mencken piece is excellent. Can you run it through a GenY filter?

Posted by Labiche at November 3, 2008 10:32 AM

Good piece but Mencken is so utterly confused about French academia. Not sure what happened to Gustave Herve, but the guy was a fascist, a great admirer of Mussolini. So if he had trouble with the French state, well, too bad.

Mencken's point about Jaures is ludicrous. Jaures always enjoyed the full support of university deans. The only time in his life he was denied a teaching assignment was at the U Paris when, as a socialist leader, he offered to teach about socialism. But his PhD thesis was on German socialism (he approved) and that got him a professorship.

In general, Mencken is so off-base about state-controlled academia. It's in French universities that you find (by far) the most rebellious, "freest" (in his sense) thinking in the country. In fact I cannot think of any anti-establishment movement in France in the 20c that didn't have its roots in academia, from the Dreyfus affair to the May 68 events. French academia is almost systematically opposed to the government. (Something very refreshing I no longer find in the US and have rarely found in the UK.)


Posted by Bernard Chazelle at November 3, 2008 01:36 PM

I love this:

"An interesting thing about Stutts is that professors, in order to mingle successfully at parties, must simultaneously (1) have enough cultural literacy to know who social critics like H.L. Mencken were, and (2) never read anything by them."

I never would have believed it while I was there, but it explains SO MUCH. I came around to this view when I read Chomsky (no surprise). His specific example is Adam Smith's "invisible hand", and the ways in which the modern interpretation of that phrase has nothing to do with his meaning.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at November 3, 2008 02:12 PM

To back up Menken, one need only look at who established the London School of Economics and the the University of Chicago (think Milton Friedman).
To further back up Menken, it is extraordinary the number of the economically trained who don't know how money comes into existence or, if they do, who does it.

Posted by JamesS at November 3, 2008 04:18 PM

Perhaps the problem with (American) academia doesn't lie with the %1 of (American) 'pedagogues' who rock the boat or the (American) administrators who discipline them, but the %99 percent (of Americans) who queue up to the party line.

The %99 who let fear rule. (Numbers pulled from my imagination) Fear of any ideas out of the mainstream, or that threaten the precious status quo. I hate the term sheeple, but this is very sheeplike behavior. Perhaps admirable in sheep, but thoroughly repulsive in humans.

Labiche: Centralized national governments don't work well, so you advocate global centralization. My God, give the bankers the ability to regulate internationally and they won't even have nationalism to hold them back. Now that is something to be afraid of! Oh my, your post is going to give me nightmares of what 'baselined humanity' could mean over the evolution and devolution of a global system like yours.

Bernard: Shame about the French, really. I would say most of the highest ideals that our nation was created with were French in origin. The very concept of liberal politics itself, no? Such a shame to see charlatans on the Right use the term as an insult, and the Left's version of the same equate it to socialism.

Posted by tim at November 3, 2008 06:51 PM
My God, give the bankers the ability to regulate internationally and they won't even have nationalism to hold them back.

Heh. Either I misstated or you misunderstood. I never intended to give the bankers the ability to regulate internationally. Instead, I advocated a collectivist utopia that's global, where the collectivist masses regulate.

See the difference?

Nut up dude; don't have nightmares over what baselined humanity means. It means something relatively simple like the UN convention on human rights where the same criteria on human dignity and freedom from molestation extends beyond nationalist borders.

See, unlike you, I don't have a lot of faith in nationalist solutions because I don't think that borders or laws that stop at borders fit real well in a closed ecosystem.

Posted by Labiche at November 3, 2008 09:07 PM

All of this has actual biological roots: the most primitive part of the brain, the so called "reptilian brain" has embedded the three most basic instincts for humans:

Nourishment
Reproduction
Submission to the leader.

Yep, just that, submission is a basic human instinct. But unlike sex, nobody tells people they have to control it. Bless organized religion.

Posted by Zanchito at November 4, 2008 02:49 AM

Reminds me of John Kenneth Galbraith from 1972:

"Economic instruction in the United States is about a hundred years old. In its first half century economists were subject to censorship by outsiders. Businessmen and their political and ideological acolytes kept watch on departments of economics and reacted promptly to heresy, the latter being anything that seemed to threaten the sanctity of property, profits, a proper tariff policy and a balanced budget, or that suggested sympathy for unions, public ownership, public regulation or, in any organised way, for the poor." (The Essential Galbraith, p. 135)

Not much has changed. And it does seem strange that few, if any, economists have studied how economic doctrine responds to supply and demand. Surely, if there is a demand for certain positions the marketplace of ideas will supply them? And, unsurprisingly, it does...

I would recommend Edward S. Herman's article "The Selling of Market Economics" (pp. 173-199, New Ways of Knowing, Marcus G. Raskin and Herbert J. Bernstein (eds.))

Posted by Anarcho at November 4, 2008 03:52 AM

"an offense almost as heinous, in a college professor of economics, as giving three cheers for Prince Kropotkin."

I'm sure that Kropotkin, who rejected his position to become an anarchist, got really sick of people referring to him by his title... But, yes, three cheers for Kropotkin:

"Political Economy has always confined itself to stating facts occurring in society, and justifying them in the interest of the dominant class . . . Having found [something] profitable to capitalists, it has set it up as a principle." (The Conquest of Bread, p. 181)

Posted by Anarcho at November 4, 2008 03:59 AM

Heh. Either I misstated or you misunderstood. I never intended to give the bankers the ability to regulate internationally. Instead, I advocated a collectivist utopia that's global, where the collectivist masses regulate.

See the difference?

No. This version might even be scarier. Just as an example of what collectivist masses regulate, see Prop. 8 in California. What happens when you don't like the outcome? For the record, I advocate a collectivist utopia too. I also realize that such a thing is not possible. You realize that too, right? Please tell me you do.


Nut up dude; don't have nightmares over what baselined humanity means. It means something relatively simple like the UN convention on human rights where the same criteria on human dignity and freedom from molestation extends beyond nationalist borders.

I won't have nightmares over what it means, only over what it could mean. Kind of like how the "final solution" sounds awesome when I'm taking a math test.. but not so great in other contexts. I meant the way that people can take phrases like that and turn them to their whims.

Posted by tim at November 4, 2008 03:00 PM

Bernard - in the US, before the first world war, the anti-war left considered Herve an icon of anti-militarism (as it was called at the time) & also of anti-patriotism. See for example "Insurrection rather than war" (http://www.marxists.org/archive/herve/1906/insurrection.htm) I don't know when Herve made the transition from this to fascism but I think the picture that Mencken has in his mind of Herve is different from the picture you have.

Posted by Erik at November 5, 2008 05:26 PM