1849. What is economics?

From a new draft of GardenWorld Politics.

Economics is the description and analysis of economies. But curiously the two words in say French are just one – economie.  Non-western languages have no native word that translates “economy”. The very word economy  that we treat so naturally, is a very unique slice through reality, gathering things not really there and leaving out much that is. Imagine discussing the state of the nation using only words like manufacturing, taxes, ownership, class, technology, banks, money. What would be the difference? I think the word ends to hypnotize us into treating economy as real and society as vague.

The way economic history is usually taught has its origin  in the trade and craft world after the fall of feudalism, maybe a bit later during the renaissance, or even pushed toward us in the globalization and factory world of the 19th century.
It is important to have a grasp of how history has been distorted, mostly by simplification, but to some extent by formalism.

Take for example from Joyce Appleyby’s book

The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism

More effective ways to raise food slowly started to release workers and money for other economic pursuits, such as processing the sugar, tobacco, cotton, tea, and silks that came to Europe from the East and West Indies and beyond. These improvements raised the standard of living for Western Europeans…

Note that”release” sound like “free up”. . The reality was farmers were forced off their ancestral farms and driven into the cities. The pursuits were crops planned and harvested by slave labor of giant proportions (the Caribbean produced more wealth than the thirteen colonies until about 1815. Recognition of these facts puts economy in a different spirit, one much more in need of thoughtfulness and good questions. This history can be seen not as the pursuit of quality of life for all, but of maintaining the privileges of the elite and the burdens to maintain them on the poor.

A second feature of economic history is what can be called “triumphalism”. A led to B led to C (as in physiocrats to Smith to Ricardo to Marshall to Mill to Keynes.)… led to the wonderful achievements of today. There is no sense of what was left out, left behind, or left.

This misses much of what happened before Adam Smith, before feudalism, before the Roman Empire. It misses much of what is deeply interesting about economics: what is it, what is capital, what is property, what is ownership? And it misses much of the reality of today’s economics and economy.

This ignores the great Mesopotamian empires. These are very complex social systems. These empires themselves were the outgrowth from nomadic hunter gatherers and small settled cultures. These too are very complex.

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