Prominent C20th Economist Explains How the Lie is for Our Own Good

Infamous footage of Paul Samuelson, posted by Mike Norman, explaining why we can’t be trusted with the truth. Just believe the scary bedtime story about the big bad Budget Deficit and stay asleep now. There’s a good child.

5 thoughts on “Prominent C20th Economist Explains How the Lie is for Our Own Good

  1. I’m not sure it was or even is crazy. There has long been a distrust of “the rabble” among the educated going back to ancient times. Even Aristotle, who is supposedly the philosophical father of democracy, was concerned with this. True democracies have been few and far between. What passes for “democracy” is the republic, which the deliberations of the US founding father show was chosen over participatory popular democracy, advocated by Tom Paine, for instance, owing to rabble-phobia.

    While I am a proponent of participatory popular democracy, I am under no illusions about challenges and take the criticism of the past seriously. Government of the people, by the people and for the people can only work long term if the people are capable of self-governance. This doesn’t happen automatically. Suitable conditions — culture and institutions — must in place.

    Economic historian Ravi Batra has examined this in light of the four class model of the caste system, which Plato replicates in the Republic — the intelligentsia, the warriors, the acquisitors and the laborers. He traces out a theory of history about control passing serially ad cyclically among these classes, but the laborers have never been able to hold onto power and govern as a class so far, which is why we have not had a successful socialist society. I am skeptical of theories of history, but he makes many interesting points on the way to making his point from historical example.

    My own view is somewhat akin to Plato’s as put in the mouth of Socrates, where the class structure is fluid and not completely hereditary. People can rise and fall based on ability and performance. This is quite different from the way the caste system was ultimately interpreted in Brahmanism.

    The way I envision participatory populist democracy working is through recognition of natural leadership and promotion based on ability and demonstrated performance. From what I have been able to determine, most people are not interested in devoting themselves to public service other than for a short time, perhaps. They are quite content to let others perform this type of service as long as they trust them. One of the problems now is that trust has been betrayed.

    In my view, the major political problem today is that the cultural and institutional selection process favors people that are not qualified for leadership at all, let alone holistically. Leadership requires a special kind of person and his envisioning of an enlightened leadership I would say is a sine qua non of an ideal society. Plato got this right in my view.

    However, Plato put forward the notion that an institution should be developed to create this kind of person. I would say that the more pragmatic solution is to create the kind of society that produces that kind of person, as well as the able to recognize that kind person and to select only those people as leaders. We are not doing that now, but we could be.

  2. Like I said, there’s nothing a philosopher won’t rationalize, and justify, and spin… to make it sound good.

  3. We’ll that’s what philosophers do. But even philosophy is becoming more empirical these days, and there is some historical evidence for what I said above. Heretofore, it was thought, reasonably it can be argued, that the exercise of citizenship and especially leadership require not only education but also “liberal” education, that is, broad education rather than narrow education for a specific type of work. This meant development of virtue or excellence in addition to knowledge of technical subjects such as mathematics.

    Until recently, with the increase in productivity that technological innovation has brought, most people had to work to produce enough for the society so that the leisure necessary for a broad education was available only to a few and these, of course, were the elite. That is changing rapidly, however, and the potential exists to change it more in developed countries and to extend it to emerging nations.

    At the same time, there are also some challenges arising, as evidenced in the US with the rise of the populist movement called the Tea Party, where we are seeing the results of a rise of a “rabble.” The Republican Establishment embraced it until it realized that it was riding the tiger, and now is seeking, unsuccessfully so far, to control it.

    Where this is going is uncertain, and there is a real possibility of nutters taking the reins of power. That is giving a lot of people not only pause but also heartburn. It’s a lot simpler to generate ideas than make them work. Getting to participatory populist democracy without sinking the ship may be a challenge.

  4. The other big challenge is the challenge of pluralism and multiculturalism in what is still a rather nationalistic and tribalistic world. This is severely curtailing the capacity for participatory populist democracy in the US, which was founded on pluralism and a somewhat multicultural from the beginning. We’ve been at it for several hundred years and while there have been great strides, there is along way to go. It is still one of the biggest hurdles we face. This is a reason that the elections of President Kennedy (first Catholic) and President Obama were such a big deals, as well as the election of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, who stands directly after the vice-president in the the line of succession. Hillary Clinton is now the frontrunner in 2016 and regardless of whether she wins, most expect a woman president before long. These are markers of the American class system with a WASP male Ivy-league educated elite breaking down. I grew up under that system, and I can report from experience that it is a big deal. There is real progress being recorded in getting past the elite syndrome.

Comments are closed.