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Consequences of philosophy and economics

February 28, 2013

Asymmetrically perhaps, lawmakers who actively promote extreme ideas should be held responsible for the human suffering caused by their economics and its philosophy, especially when they consciously deny the facts and reasons. When data accumulate over time it provides history. Here is a good example (going into the “sequester”) of how history can focus the record and the mind, from Brad DeLong and via Project Syndicate.

But let’s back up historically, to the founding of what we might call modern conservatism in early nineteenth-century Britain and France. There were some – Frédéric Bastiat and Jean-Baptiste Say come to mind – who believed that government should put the unemployed to work building infrastructure when markets or production were temporarily disrupted. But they were balanced by those like Nassau Senior, who spoke out against even famine relief: Although a million people would die in the Irish Potato Famine, “that would scarcely be enough.”

Read where we went from there, here. And note the morality; without keeping track of what has been thought, let alone the data, how can we identify extremes? Easy to see how philosophy as a rational discipline gets so easily on the defensive. When you hear that philosophy is just an opinion or that it isn’t relevant or that economics (basically the study of survival) is boring, check your purse or wallet!

Update:

Here’s the article we’ve been waiting for: How Austerity Kills (NYT). And here’s the book! The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills by David Stuckler, a senior research leader in sociology at Oxford, and Sanjay Basu, an assistant professor of medicine and an epidemiologist in the Prevention Research Center at Stanford.

More: Austerity: The History of a Pernicious Idea, Mark Blyth’s History of a Dangerous Idea, reviewed by Ruy Teixeira in The New Republic.

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