28 October 2008

Wise Words

"Almost all the governments, which exist at present, or of which there remains any record in story, have been founded originally, either on usurpation or conquest, or both, without any pretence of a fair consent, or voluntary subjection of the people." --David Hume, "Of the Original Contract" (1748)

"In actual history, it is a notorious fact that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, in short, force, play the greatest part." --Karl Marx, Das Kapital, vol. 1 (1867)

20 October 2008

Wise Words

"Natural science will in time include the science of man as the science of man will include natural science: There will be one science." --Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, "Private Property and Communism" (1844)

(Sounds very like the thesis of E. O. Wilson's 1999 book, Consilience.)

05 October 2008

What I'm Reading

The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, by Christine Kenneally. This book was recommended to me by a former colleague and friend, but, because I have only just begun it, I cannot yet recommend it myself. It is a fascinating topic, however, one that cuts across many disciplines: history, anthropology, linguistics, political economy, and evolutionary biology.

Up next on my list:

Language Evolution: Contact, Competition and Change, by Salikoko S. Mufwene. I met Professor Mufwene briefly when I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago and he was chairman of its linguistics department. He is a very impressive person. I look forward to reading his book, especially since "invisible hand" is one of its central organizing concepts, and appears already on p. 2 and throughout the book.

02 October 2008

What I'm Reading

A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, by Gregory Clark. A fascinating new entry into the debate about (1) why there was an unprecedented explosion of wealth around 1800AD, and (2) why some places got so much wealthier than other places. Clark's intriguing suggestion is that culture--not, e.g., institutional structures or geographical features--is the most important single factor explaining both (1) and (2).

A remarkable passage from the book:

". . . much of modern quantitative economic history has been a search for empirical confirmation of his [Adam Smith's] vision of growth. These empirical studies of past societies, however, rather than confirming Smith's hypothesis, systematically find that many early societies had all the prerequisites for economic growth, but no technological advance and hence no growth. [. . .]

"Economic historians thus inhabit a strange netherworld. Their days are devoted to proving a vision of progress that all serious empirical studies in the field contradict." (pp. 146-7)

And later:

"Indeed, based on the Smithian conception, it is not clear why economic activity has not completely ground to a halt [in today's many countries with "high taxes on economic activity, combined with generous provision of income and services independent of effort"]." (p. 150)

01 October 2008


I have resumed blogging at the History News Network's blog, Liberty and Power. I had blogged there a few years ago, but am returning now after a hiatus. I am pleased to join several other distinguished bloggers on the site, whose focus is politics, political philosophy, economics, and educational policy.