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Betting That Nobody Will Check the References as an Intellectual Style: Monday Smackdown

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Monday Smackdown: Apropos of David Brooks's ill-sourced imaginings that "cultural Marxism... is now the lingua franca in the elite academy..." and his use of Alexander Zubatov and Russell Blackford to back him up...

I am not sure whether Brooks is simply confident that people will not check Zubatov's references or did not check them himself—he does have to write a full 1200 words a week in his job. But I have long thought that betting nobody will check the references is an intellectual style much more common on the right than on the center or the left. For example:

On Niall Ferguson: Why Did Keynes Write "In the Long Run We Are All Dead"?: In [Keynes's] extended discussion of how to use the quantity theory of money, the sentence 'In the long run we are all dead' performs an important rhetorical role. It wakes up the reader. It gets him or her to reset an attention that may well be flagging.

But it has nothing to do with attitudes toward the future, or with rates of time discount, or with a heedless pursuit of present pleasure.

So why do people think it does? Note that we are speaking not just of Ferguson here, but of Mankiw and Hayek and Schumpeter and Himmelfarb and Peter Drucker and McCraw and even Heilbroner—along with many others.

I blame it on Hayek and Schumpeter. They appear to be the wellsprings.

Hayek is simply a bad actor—knowingly dishonest. In what Nicholas Wapshott delicately calls "misappropriation", Hayek does not just quote "In the long run we are all dead" out of context but gives it a false context he makes up:

Are we not even told that, since 'in the long run we are all dead', policy should be guided entirely by short run considerations? I fear that these believers in the principle of apres nous le déluge may get what they have bargained for sooner than they wish.

And Hayek's bad-faith writing yielded a lot of fruit: cf. Himmelfarb:

Something of the "soul" of Bloomsbury penetrated even into Keynes's economic theories. There is a discernible affinity between the Bloomsbury ethos, which put a premium on immediate and present satisfactions, and Keynesian economics, which is based entirely on the short run and precludes any long-term judgments. (Keynes's famous remark. "In the long run we are all dead," also has an obvious connection with his homosexuality-what Schumpeter delicately referred to as his "childless vision.") The same ethos is reflected in the Keynesian doctrine that consumption rather than saving is the source of economic growth-indeed, that thrift is economically and socially harmful. In The Economic Consequences of the Peace, written long before The General Theory, Keynes ridiculed the "virtue" of saving. The capitalists, he said, deluded the working classes into thinking that their interests were best served by saving rather than consuming. This delusion was part of the age-old Puritan fallacy:

The duty of "saving" became nine-tenths of virtue and the growth of the cake the object of true religion. There grew round the non-consumption of the cake all those instincts of puritanism which in other ages has withdrawn itself from the world and has neglected the arts of production as well as those of enjoyment. And so the cake increased; but to what end was not clearly contemplated. Individuals would be exhorted not so much to abstain as to defer, and to cultivate the pleasures of security and anticipation. Saving was for old age or for your children; but this was only in theory - the virtue of the cake was that it was never to be consumed, neither by you nor by your children after you.

Never mind that Himmelfarb cuts off her quote from Keynes just before Keynes writes that he approves of this Puritan fallacy—that he is not, as Himmelfarb claims, ridiculing it, but rather praising it:

In the unconscious recesses of its being Society knew what it was about. The cake was really very small in proportion to the appetites of consumption, and no one, if it were shared all round, would be much the better off by the cutting of it. Society was working not for the small pleasures of today but for the future security and improvement of the race,—in fact for "progress." If only the cake were not cut but was allowed to grow in the geometrical proportion predicted by Malthus of population, but not less true of compound interest, perhaps a day might come when there would at last be enough to go round, and when posterity could enter into the enjoyment of our labors...


#noted #economicsgonewrong #moralresponsibility #publicsphere #smackdown #highlighted