Past Perfect

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Let me turn the jargonator on.  My brain is a bit hyperactive from cigarette deprivation.

Over dinner last night, the conversation with Caffeine Sparks, MLQ3 and JV Rufino ended up on a discussion on the “resurgence” of John Kenneth Galbraith.  Back in college, I borrowed a yellowing copy of Galbraith’s The Affluent Society for reading purposes (I didn’t read a lot of fiction), and was rather intrigued that nobody read the book since it was last borrowed somewhere in 1982.  From what I can remember of Galbraith: poverty, inequalities, and income disparities in the United States after World War II banks on the conventional wisdom of the haves and the have-nots.  The rich grow richer in the private sector, and this stands in stark contrast of the poverty of the public sector.

If my memory serves me right, it was Galbraith who (re-)introduced the world to the ideas of Thorstein Veblen’s “leisure class.”  While no economist worth his or her own salt will be caught dead invoking ideas like “conspicuous consumption” or “barbarism” today, it does make you think; if there’s any good explanation for Starbucks and window-shopping, you have to read Veblen.

So what seems to be a “so last century” study and “obsolete” explanation of social inequalities, what has been relegated to the back rows of libraries, is now becoming vogue.  This is interesting…

For all this brouhaha about anecdotal economics (to put it nicely) of Robert Kiyosaki, I feel that explanations to social phenomena will inevitably revert to aged, yellowing books with ideas that have long been considered “archaic” or “obsolete.”  Theories are tools for analysis – not explanations per se – but answer-seeking seems to be the order of the day in bookstores.  Theories, for me, take the character of lenses; you use a collection of lenses to view something through a microscope or through a telescope, or a pair of eyeglasses.  It’s more for the purposes of examination.

I have this semi-delusional thought that globalization can trace its origins from the exchange of kula beads; a few years ago, people would be laughing in your face for banking on something as ancient as Malinowski to explain global trade and parallelisms of pre-modern societies and free trade, you may very well be somewhat correct.

I was rather surprised at a Plurk discussion this weekend, even; I didn’t take Carlos V. Jugo to read Marcel Mauss’ The Gift for leisurely reading, and make this “anthropologists-only” claim that the origins of capitalism may very well come from gift-giving and reciprocal exchange, and not from Adam Smith’s self-interest model.

I was going around a bookstore when I saw a rather interesting book on the shelf: Alvin Toffler’s “Future Shock.”  I’m sure that the futurist ideas of a former Esquire editor would be considered “serious” or “academic,” but it does make you think.  Maybe the problems of today can be more readily and robustly examined by the old, the clichéd, yet – as my former theory instructors put it – foundational.

It’s quite intriguing that there seems to be a resurgence of old theory.  Karl Marx’s Das Kapital, for example, is apparently becoming a best-seller in Europe, in light of the global financial crisis; it seems that Marx was right all along when it comes to the contradictions in capitalism.  Do we need a revolution?  Not necessarily.  Do we need to reconsider ideas on wage and working days?  Even more so, these days.  You won’t find that in the glossy prints of modern business books that try to sell bollocks like Six-Sigma and snake-oil that is Re-Engineering the Corporation

But that’s another story.  I need a cigarette… or four.

3 comments on “Past Perfect”

    • Jeg
    • February 24, 2009

    Maybe the problems of today can be more readily and robustly examined by the old, the clichéd, yet – as my former theory instructors put it – foundational.

    Indeed. The Keynesian view so dominant today was only launched in the 30s. It proved so seductive to governments that it still is the orthodoxy today despite its failure to predict, let alone explain, booms and busts. Keynes supplanted the old-school laissez-faire paradigm and replaced it with a theory wherein government’s role is huge. And you know we can all trust the guvmint, right?

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    To a certain degree, it pays to heed Keynes. But instead of taking it as gospel truth, like any theory, it’s better to use it as a tool.

    • Jeg
    • February 27, 2009

    I heed Keynes. But only was a warning. 😀

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