About doug carmichael

Philosophical psychotherapy,Psychoanalyst, organizational strategy consultant, futurist, writer, painter.. "I listen well try to be of use , and take my recreation in the arts" -Confuscius

1830. Issues and thinkers ignored in most economics.

provocation # 78

From Adam Smith till now the trend in economics has been to strip out the human side, the side that made social claims on the economy for the good of all. Economics instead took the path of providing the guiding ideas (ideology) and managing the economy for the “players”, those who chose to make hay out of the economy.

This can be seen by looking at the thinkers who were ignored because more on the human side in contrast to those thinkers embraced because of their focus on legitimizing and managing the economy.

Here just as a rough comparison that the two worlds move in parallel without much interaction. The history of economics is usually written, chapter by chapter like old testament : A begat B begat C until now when the best has survived..

(The lists are Rough but you get the point that they hardly overlap.)

In Economics, the history goes something like

In Philosophy, the ones mostly ignored in economic histories:


There is a new wave of cross disciplinary thinkers now such as
Harcourt, Bernard, The Myth of the Market

And in the past, but pretty much ignored

The strange career of Hirschman who saw a lot but was very cautious is worth studying.

Issues mostly ignored or dealt with lightly by Economic History include

Nation state
Nature of person based in community
Post human…

The fact is, we live in the aftermath of the unresolved issues from the French Revolution : who governs, how, and to what purpose? Leaving these issues unexplored (they probably cannot be resolved) is keeping us on a path that leads to a bad end in too extreme inequality and climate damage.


Another note on Trump.

The tendency ifs for the information professionals to blame Trump and his support from the undereducated for the rise of Trump to the presidency. This ignores the long process, all of which we were by moments aware of, of the deterioration of the country in so many dimensions. not the least of which was “what is it like where the poor live?” Your car is impounded and there is no public transportation.

After WW2. the US was in a privileged position. Anything we made or bought could be sold at a profit. We got lazy and treated management (GI Bill) as more important than engineering. This worked until slow down in the 60’s and the emergence of a politics to keep the incomes of the richer rising while milking those lower down to keep up the illusion of doing well. Along thee way the professional class has sided with the rich against the rest of society and this has led to an etiolated society. Our infrastructure, our quality of life and our morale are thread-bare for most of the population. It is in fact we who are to blame. We have been the benefactors of a system of devastation for many.

Only doing the hard work of understanding the philosophy and humanity left out of official economics (grad school and journals) can give economics a real possibility to participate in the great questions emerging: after the crises: what now?


1829. War

The problem arises in part when one creates a group of military. trained people of all ranks, Generals and admirals to privates and sailors, and then isolates them for decades in enclaves within society but not touching it. The enclosed professionals begin to get restless, feel useless to society, without a mission. And what has happened in our time is that the military group feels abused by the continuous deployment in a non winnable war.

The result is they start to hope for a real war, when where they can demonstrate their hard won and disciplined competence, and get out of the iron cage of bureaucracy, and DO SOMETHING that has feeling to it.

The tensions in the world now: middle east, south china coast, Central Asia, and a number of other places, “hot spots”, require a civilization to respond with diplomacy and understanding and invitations to all to participate in the continual civilizing of the world (and realistic in the awareness of climate and technology and bad finances).

We are not getting that diplomacy or cultural awareness. I fear it will cost us “hugely”.

1828. The mechanical turn in economics.

Provocation # 77. The mechanical turn in Economics. Consequences.

With Adam Smith, and hints before in Ricardo and others, Economics took the path of treating the economy as a natural object that should not be interfered with by the state. This fit the Newtonian ethos of the age, science was great, science was mathematics; science was true right and good.

But along the way the discussion in for example Montaigne and Machiavelli – about the powers if imagination, myth, emotions, sentiment, human relations and community – was abandoned by the economists (Adam Smith had written his Theory of Moral Sentiments 20 years earlier and sort of left it behind, though the Wealth is still concerned with human well being). Gibbons Decline and Fall was published in 1776, same year as Smith’s Wealth, but hardly read today by most economists.

In philosophy and the arts (romanticism among others) there was great engagement in these issues economics was trying to avoid.

The effect of ignoring the human side of lives was to undermine the social perspective of the “political,” by merging it with the individually focused “interest.” So instead of exploring the inner structure of interest (or later utility or preference), or community feeling and the impact of culture, these were assumed to be irrelevant to the mechanics of the market.

Those who wanted economics to be a science were motivated by the perception that “being scientific” was appreciated by the society of the time and was the path to rock-solid truth. But the move towards economics as a science also happened to align with a view of the landed and wealthy that the economy was working for them so don’t touch it. We get the equation, embracing science = conservative. This is still with us because of the implication that the market is god or naturally made rather than socially constructed. Since economics is the attempt at a description of the economy, it was mor or less locked in to the naturalist approach which ignore things like class and ownership and treated capital as part of economic flow rather than as a possession that was useable as social and political power.

Even now economics still continues as if it were part of the age of Descartes and avoids most social, historical and philosophical thought about the nature of man and society. Names like Shaftesbury and Puffendorf, very much read I their time, are far less known now than Hobbes, Descartes, Ricardo, Mill and Keynes. Karl Polanyi is much less well known than Hayek. We do not learn of the social history such as the complex interplay in Viennese society among those who were classmates and colleagues such as Hayek, Gombrich, Popper and Drucker. The impact of Viennese culture is not known to many economists.

The result is an economics that supports an economy that is out of control because the feedback loops through society and impact of the quality of life – and resentment are not recognized in a dehumanized economics and so can’t have a feedback correcting effect.

The solution however is not to look for simplicity but to embrace a kind of complexity that honors nature, humans, politics, and the way they are dealt with in philosophy, arts, investigative reporting , anthropology and history. Because the way forward cannot be a simple project of the past. We are in more danger than that.

Before the enlightenment, late feudalism and the Renaissance,

the scholastics had made their version of the natural law the basis for a universal moral and political code that demanded that all human beings be regarded in the same way, no matter what their culture or their beliefs. It also demanded that human beings respect each other because they share a common urge to “come together,” and it required them to offer to each other, even to total strangers, help in times of need, to recognize “that amity among men is part of the natural law.” Finally, while Hobbes and Grotius had accepted the existence of only one natural right—the right to self-preservation—the scholastics had allowed for a wide range of them—

From Anthony Pagden Why the Enlightenment is still important.

After the Hobbes and Descartes..(before Smith)

Also from Pagen

The Enlightenment, and in particular that portion with which I am concerned, was in part, as we shall now see, an attempt to recover something of this vision of a unified and essentially benign humanity, of a potentially cosmopolitan world, without also being obliged to accept the theologians’ claim that this could only make sense as part of the larger plan of a well-meaning, if deeply inscrutable, deity.

The reason this is so important is that the simple and ethical view in say Smith (and many other classical economists if read) that it was wrong to let the poor starve because of manipulated grain prices, was replaced by a more mechanical view of society that denied human intelligence except as calculators of self interest – is a return to the Hobbesian world leading to a destructive society: climate, inequality, corruption. Today the poor are hemmed in by so many regulations and procedures (real estate, education, police) that the persons are now starved, but not perceived to be suffering, by a blinded society. Economics in its current form – most economics papers and courses – do not touch the third rail of class, or pain.

1827. Books now about where are we..

There is a kind of consensus among the people I read the most that the “elites”, the one percent and their professional support system (the universities, the bureaucracies, the professions) are responsible for creating a world that was comfortable for them and disastrous for the others, for community, for security. The depth of inequality (much worse in parts of the world we are not told about) and the deterioration of the environment (oceans for example) are the results of policies that fed the one percent and brought along what Miljovan Djilas called years ago The New Class


But what is left out is convincing understanding of why and how.

There area number of books emerging. A review in the New Yorker by Adam Gopnick covers some of this.


The writers he reviews such as Mishra, are challenging but scattered and muddled. He fails to deal with the more challenging writers, Kanth for his depth of anthropological examination of western culture, (and his dysfunctional anger).

And my current favorite Jeofff Mann. In his book In the long run we are all dead, a history of the eternal return of Keynes, an analysis of the fate of political thought (it disappeared under cultural pressure from the abstractions of the enlightenment). A short version at


Helping with his sanity and clarity is the writing of j. Hickman of

with his challenging thoughts (much based on his ongoing analysis of Stiegler’s Automation.

My own view has been that climate change, automation, over population and governance failure come together to create a major crisis that will require the redeployment of early everyone. There is no job that is not complicit in environmental damage on the physical side or cultural and community damage on the social side.

People must stop doing what they are doing – but must also create or be given better things to do.

That is the emerging frontier – what to do and how to get there.

Breaking With the Enlightenment: The Twilight of History and the Rediscovery of Utopia

Mann In the long run…

In the Long Run We Are All Dead: Keynesianism, Political Economy, and Revolution

Mishra: Ruins of Empire

From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia

Bernard Stiegler: The Automatic Society: the Future of Work

Automatic Society: The Future of Work

1796.Democracy as goal

My own belief is that the recognition of the humanity of everyone is the core starting point for democracy – the people rule. But to get from such a start to a practicing democracy requires the education and participation of all. Only continuous conversation and engagement  by each person can get us there.

But something is in the way. Education has turned from a broad liberal goal to an ensemble of skills, sometimes called human capital (what is a person worth to the company that pays them?). Participation has shifted from conversation about crucial issues to purchases in the consumer world.  We think much more about what to do with our dollars in an increasingly rich market of possibilities than we do about our vote and making sure we get to vote for what we care about.

The serious reason to have democracy is because it requires the development of all the people. Development that gives them the education, exposure, experience  to be wise about their vote and their conversations. I like to call this the democracy project, and it has just begun. Society has been controlled by elites trying to hold their societies together but taking too much for themselves. If we see the relationship between full participation, the ned for education, the capacity to participate in conversations, we will do more t support the development of democracy.

Another problem

Indeed the collapse of democracy to mere voting is a serious reduction in scope from a world where participation and conversation culminate in the voting rather than voting replaced by the conversational culture of community participation and urgency.

1826. Trump and values

Trump sees winning as the only good outcome. Lots of kills along the way (federal agencies and their beneficiaries for example) are part of the game of serious winning.

Trump has reversed the seven deadly sins, turning them from  wrong to right. (It is the trend in modern financial capital with high inequality – have to do something with all that money)

sins were envy, gluttony, greed, avarice, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath.

But now they are all signs of success.




1825. Trump and the republicans

It is really quite simple. A small number of Republican politicians get money from the super rich to run a campaign which appeals to the poor or nearly poor who then vote against their own interests, and meanwhile the  interests of the rich are enhanced and the small cadre of politicians have some semblance of power.

But the context is that the Democrats did not give these voters any alternative (we all felt it).

Now, i I know it is not that simple, but it is a good starting place.