Archive | March 16, 2009


Watching Colbert right now, as self-righteous but befuddled liberals who think the New Deal ended the Depression are bashing self-righteous but befuddled conservatives who think World War II ended the Depression. Drag this New Republic hack off and bring on Gaiman already!

Not Quite Enough Pop Culture

Rachel Madoff is all excited that David Eick, executive producer of Battlestar: Galactica, is going to be addressing the UN – along with (here her voice falls &#150 obviously she doesn’t know who he is) Ron Moore, and (her interest perks up again) some of the actors.

Rachel, don’t you have assistants or something to help you with this stuff?

Swords, Shoes, and Sorcery

Last night I watched the new Wonder Woman animated movie. As usual, Bruce Timm and his merry minions don’t let us down – it’s exciting and fun, and a far cry from the dreadful tv series of my youth. (Plus, terrific music by Christopher Drake: I didn’t want to start the film because I was enjoying the music on the menu screen so much.) [Note: MILD SPOILERS follow.]

Here’s a trailer, though as it’s just a bunch of quick clips from fight scenes it makes the film look more formulaic than it really is:

Wonder Woman Official Trailer

(Ironically, as those who recall WW’s origin story can attest, the trailer’s tag line “Some heroes are made – this one was born” is precisely, literally false.)

Here’s a more representative clip. That’s Keri Russell as WW, Nathan “Mal Reynolds” Fillion as Steve Trevor, and – I believe – the Timm himself as the mugger:


I like takes on Wonder Woman that remember that she’s essentially a badass pagan warrior from an Iron Age culture who’s not afraid to maim and kill (hence I also liked her portrayal in Justice League: The New Frontier – a great flick until the last couple of minutes when we have to listen to a harangue from the fascist-lite JFK), so I was particularly fond of this exchange from the new film:

Wonder Woman: What’s wrong, little one?
Little Girl: They won’t let me play pirates with them.
Wonder Woman: And why not?
Little Girl: Because I’m the girl, and they need someone to save. It’s okay. I don’t even know how to swordfight.
Wonder Woman: Neither do they. In battle they’d be slaughtered instantly. Would you like me to teach you how to swordfight? They’re using the horizontal cut. But in close as they are, the thrust is a better move as it’s more likely to cause real injury and less likely to be blocked by your opponent. Do you understand?
Little Girl: Uh-huh.
Wonder Woman: Now go. Unleash hell.

(Oddly, although the girl then sends her male playmates scattering with a sword attack, she doesn’t actually use a thrust! A screw-up by the animators? Or an incompetent attempt to mitigate the “bad influence” of the preceding dialogue?)

Wonder Woman - this is the one-disc DVD, which has the better cover, but the version I've linked to is the two-disc version, which has better contentAnother of my favourite scenes is actually truncated in the movie and explained only in the audio commentary. Apparently the original plan was for WW to complain about the impracticality of high heels when she’s in her civilian identity; then later when she’s fighting the baddy’s henchman they both smash into a clothing shop and she grabs the nearest object – a high-heeled shoe – and jabs the heel into her opponent’s eye, thereupon remarking that maybe these shoes aren’t so impractical after all. This sequence was shortened in the final film for time constraints, so that while WW still jabs the guy’s eye with a shoe heel and then glances briefly at the shoe with interest, there’s no longer any dialogue on shoes either pre- or post-jabbing.

On the down side, the film’s attempts to deal with feminist and gender-relations issues are often, predictably, rather inept. (Newsflash to scriptwriters: it makes no more sense for someone from an Amazon culture to say “we may be warriors, but we are also women” than it would for Leonidas of Sparta to say “we may be warriors, but we are also men.”) But the film has some virtues from a feminist perspective too; this post by Sarah Warn (who likewise picks up on the dumb “we are also women” line) does a good of scoring the film’s hits and misses (there are plenty of both) in this area.

Incidentally, fans of Ninotchka may find this bit of dialogue familiar:

Wonder Woman: Must you flirt?
Steve Trevor: It’s only natural.
Wonder Woman: Suppress it.

In the original:

Ninotchka: Must you flirt?
Léon d’Algout: Well, I don’t have to, but I find it natural.
Ninotchka: Suppress it.

Taoists! Thomists! Turgot!

Or, if you prefer: Daoists! Dominicans! Donisthorpe!

Rothbard’s fascinating Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought, which weighs in at over a thousand pages and still, ironically, never gets as far as the Austrians themselves (Rothbard died before completing it), is now available online from in two honkin’ enormous PDF files: Volume One and Volume Two. (In addition, the hard copy, which I bought back when it cost a million dollars or thereabouts, is currently available for $47.)

Murray RothbardOne of the highlights of Rothbard’s history is his resurrection of numerous important thinkers who have unjustly been relegated to the footnotes as “minor figures.” Most histories of economics start with Adam Smith (perhaps with a brief nod to the mercantilists and physiocrats) and run quickly through Ricardo and a few other Classicals to Marx and then the marginalist revolution. Rothbard, by contrast, takes 400 pages to get to Smith, exploring in particular the contributions of the Scholastics (who, contrary to prevailing myths, Rothbard shows to be insightful pioneers of subjectivist methodology and free-market thought). He also rescues the French liberal tradition from its traditional mere-popularisers-of-Adam-Smith ghetto – thus resuscitating the entire neglected tradition of Continental liberalism that runs from Salamanca through Paris to Vienna.

Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic ThoughtThere’s stuff to disagree with, of course: for example, Rothbard wrongly dismisses the Confucians as mere statists, and oddly claims that the “Hellenistic and Roman epochs were virtually devoid of economic thought” (despite the Stoics’ important work on commerce and property rights, the Epicureans’ theories of spontaneous social order, and nearly all the Greco-Roman thinkers’ exploration of praxeology as the base of their ethical systems); he entirely misinterprets Montaigne’s claim that one person’s gain is another’s loss, and arguably misses the nuances of Montaigne’s attitude toward royal authority; he’s weirdly unfair to Adam Smith (e.g., characterising Smith’s philosophy as a “dour Calvinism” that “scorns man’s consumption and pleasure” – when in fact Smith was a deist and anti-Christian who condemned ambition for making us substitute “toil” and “anxiety” for “leisure” and “ease”! – and attributing to Smith the belief that the “propensity to truck, barter and exchange” is “irrational and innate,” despite Smith’s explicit statement to the contrary); and his account of Plotinus and the Gnostics is wrong from start to finish (you’d never guess from reading Rothbard that Plotinus was an opponent of the Gnostics). There are also some puzzling omissions: no mention, e.g., of Godwin and almost none of Proudhon – and the section on the Greeks says nothing about the Platonic (or possibly pseudo-Platonic) dialogues Hipparchus and Eryxias, two of the earliest and most insightful discussions of the nature of profit and wealth. So, gripe gripe gripe.

But the book’s virtues far outweigh its defects (and understating Smith’s originality and devotion to laissez-faire is at least a useful corrective to the more frequent tendency to overstate these).

Check out the table of contents:

An Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought

Volume I: Economic Thought Before Adam Smith

Chapter 1. The first philosopher-economists: the Greeks

1.1 The natural law
1.2 The politics of the polis
1.3 The first ‘economist’: Hesiod and the problem of scarcity
1.4 The pre-Socratics
1.5 Plato’s right-wing collectivist utopia
1.6 Xenophon on household management
1.7 Aristotle: private property and money
1.8 Aristotle: exchange and value
1.9 The collapse after Aristotle
1.10 Taoism in ancient China

Chapter 2. The Christian Middle Ages

2.1 The Roman law: property rights and laissez faire
2.2 Early Christian attitudes toward merchants
2.3 The Carolingians and canon law
2.4 Canonists and Romanists at the University of Bologna
2.5 The canonist prohibition of usury
2.6 Theologians at the University of Paris
2.7 The philosopher-theologian: St. Thomas Aquinas
2.8 Late thirteenth century scholastics: Franciscans and utility theory

Chapter 3. From Middle Ages to Renaissance

3.1 The great depression of the fourteenth century
3.2 Absolutism and nominalism: the break-up of Thomism
3.3 Utility and money: Buridan and Oresme
3.4 The odd man out: Heinrich von Langenstein
3.5 Usury and foreign exchange in the fourteenth century
3.6 The worldly ascetic: San Bernardino of Siena
3.7 The disciple: Sant’ Antonino of Florence
3.8 The Swabian liberals and the assault on the prohibition of usury
3.9 Nominalists and active natural rights

Chapter 4. The late Spanish scholastics

4.1 The commercial expansion of the sixteenth century
4.2 Cardinal Cajetan: liberal Thomist
4.3 The School of Salamanca: the first generation
4.4 The School of Salamanca: Azpilcueta and Medina
4.5 The School of Salamanca: the middle years
4.6 The late Salamancans
4.7 The learned extremist: Juan de Mariana
4.8 The last Salamancans: Lessius and de Lugo
4.9 The decline of scholasticism
4.10 Parting shots: the storm over the Jesuits

Chapter 5. Protestants and Catholics

5.1 Luther, Calvin, and state absolutism
5.2 Luther’s economics
5.3 The economics of Calvin and Calvinism
5.4 Calvinists on usury
5.5 Communist zealots: the Anabaptists
5.6 Totalitarian communism in Münster
5.7 the roots of messianic communism
5.8 Non-scholastic Catholics
5.9 Radical Huguenots
5.10 George Buchanan: radical Calvinist
5.11 Leaguers and politiques

Chapter 6. Absolutist thought in Italy and France

6.1 The emergence of absolutist thought in Italy
6.2 Italian humanism: the republicans
6.3 Italian humanism: the monarchists
6.4 ‘Old Nick’: preacher of evil or first value-free political scientist?
6.5 The spread of humanism in Europe
6.6 Botero and the spread of Machiavellianism
6.7 Humanism and absolutism in France
6.8 The sceptic as absolutist
6.9 Jean Bodin: apex of absolutist thought in France
6.10 After Bodin

Chapter 7. Mercantilism: serving the absolute state

7.1 Mercantilism as the economic aspect of absolutism
7.2 Mercantilism in Spain
7.3 Mercantilism and Colbertism in France
7.4 Mercantilism in England: textiles and monopolies
7.5 Enserfdom in eastern Europe
7.6 Mercantilism and inflation

Chapter 8. French mercantilist thought in the seventeenth century

8.1 Building the ruling elite
8.2 The first major French mercantilist: Barthélemy de Laffemas
8.3 The first ‘Colbert’: the duc de Sully
8.4 The eccentric poet: Antoine de Montchr&eacute:tien
8.5 The grandiose failure of François du Noyer
8.6 Under the rule of the cardinals, 1624-61
8.7 Colbert and Louis XIV
8.8 Louis XIV: apogee of absolutism (1638-1714)

Chapter 9. The liberal reaction against mercantilism in seventeenth century France

9.1 The croquants’ rebellion
9.2 Claude Joly and the fronde
9.3 A single tax
9.4 Rising opposition to collectivism by merchants and nobles
9.5 The merchants and the council of commerce
9.6 Marshal Vauban: royal engineer and single taxer
9.7 Fleury, Fénélon, and the Burgundy circle
9.8 The laissez-faire utilitarian: the Seigneur de Belesbat
9.9 Boisguilbert and laissez-faire
9.10 Optimistic handbook at the turn of the century

Chapter 10. Mercantilism in freedom in England from the Tudors to the Civil War

10.1 Tudor and Stuart absolutism
10.2 Sir Thomas Smith: mercantilist for sound money
10.3 The ‘economic liberalism’ of Sir Edward Coke
10.4 The ‘bullionist’ attack on foreign exchange, and on the East India trade
10.5 The East India apologists strike back
10.6 Prophet of ‘empiricism’: Sir Francis Bacon
10.7 The Baconians: Sir William Petty and ‘political arithmetic’

Chapter 11. Mercantilism in freedom in England from the Civil War to 1750

11.1 The Perryites: Davenant, King, and ‘the law of demand’
11.2 Liberty and property: the Levellers and Locke
11.3 Child, Locke, the rate of interest, and the coinage
11.4 The North brothers, deductions from axioms, and Tory laissez-faire
11.5 The inflationists
11.6 The hard-money response
11.7 Laissez-faire by mid-century: Tucker and Townshend

Chapter 12. The founding father of modern economics: Richard Cantillon

12.1 Cantillon the man
12.2 Methodology
12.3 Value and price
12.4 Uncertainty and the entrepreneur
12.5 Population theory
12.6 Spatial economics
12.7 Money and process analysis
12.8 International monetary relations
12.9 The self-regulation of the market
12.10 Influence

Chapter 13. Physiocracy in mid-eighteenth century France

13.1 The sect
13.2 Laissez-faire and free trade
13.3 Laissez-faire forerunner: the marquis d’Argenson
13.4 Natural law and property rights
13.5 The single tax on land
13.6 ‘Objective’ value and cost of production
13.7 The Tableau économique
13.8 Strategy and influence
13.9 Daniel Bernoulli and the founding of mathematical economics

Chapter 14. The brilliance of Turgot

14.1 The man
14.2 Laissez-faire and free trade
14.3 Value, exchange and price
14.4 The theory of production and distribution
14.5 The theory of capital, entrepreneurship, savings and interest
14.6 Theory of money
14.7 Influence
14.8 Other French and Italian utility theorists of the eighteenth century

Chapter 15. The Scottish Enlightenment

15.1 The founder: Gershom Carmichael
15.2 Francis Hutcheson: teacher of Adam Smith
15.3 The Scottish Enlightenment and Presbyterianism
15.4 David Hume and the theory of money

Chapter 16. The celebrated Adam Smith

16.1 The mystery of Adam Smith
16.2 The life of Smith
16.3 The division of labour
16.4 Productive vs. unproductive labour
16.5 The theory of value
16.6 The theory of distribution
16.7 The theory of money
16.8 The myth of laissez-faire
16.9 On taxation

Chapter 17. The spread of the Smithian movement

17.1 The Wealth of Nations and Jeremy Bentham
17.2 The influence of Dugald Stewart
17.3 Malthus and the assault on population
17.4 Resistance and triumph in Germany
17.5 Smithianism in Russia
17.6 The Smithian conquest of economic thought

Volume II: Classical Economics

Chapter 1. J. B. Say: the French tradition in Smithian clothing

1.1 The Smithian conquest of France
1.2 Say, de Tracy and Jefferson
1.3 The influence of Say’s Traiteé
1.4 The method of praxeology
1.5 Utility, productivity and distribution
1.6 The entrepreneur
1.7 Say’s laws of markets
1.8 Recession and the storm over Say’s law
1.9 The theory of money
1.10 The state and taxation

Chapter 2. Jeremy Bentham: the utilitarian as big brother

2.1 From laissez-faire to statism
2.2 Personal utilitarianism
2.3 Social utilitarianism
2.4 Big brother: the panopticon

Chapter 3. James Mill, Ricardo, and the Ricardian system

3.1 James Mill, the radicals’ Lenin
3.2 Mill and libertarian class analysis
3.3 Mill and the Ricardian system
3.4 Ricardo and the Ricardian system, I: macro-income distribution
3.5 Ricardo and the Ricardian system, II: the theory of value
3.6 The law of comparative advantage

Chapter 4. The decline of the Ricardian system, 1820-48

4.1 The conundrum of Ricardo’s popularity
4.2 The rapid decline of Ricardian economics
4.3 The theory of rent
4.4 Colonel Perronet Thompson: anti-Ricardian Benthamite
4.5 Samuel Bailey and the subjective utility theory of value
4.6 Nassau Senior, the Whately connection, and utility theory
4.7 William Forster Lloyd and utility theory in England
4.8 A utility theorist in Kentucky
4.9 Wages and profits
4.10 Abstinence and time in the theory of profits
4.11 John Rae and the ‘Austrian’ theory of capital and interest
4.12 Nassau Senior, praxeology, and John Stuart Mill

Chapter 5. Monetary and banking thought, I: the early bullionist controversy

5.1 The restriction and the emergence of the bullionist controversy
5.2 The bullionist controversy continues
5.3 Boyd’s Letter to Pitt
5.4 The storm over Boyd: the anti-bullionist response
5.5 Henry Thornton: anti-bullionist in sheep’s clothing
5.6 Lord King: the culmination of bullionism
5.7 The Irish currency question
5.8 The emergence of mechanistic bullionism: John Wheatley

Chapter 6. Monetary and banking thought, II: the bullion Report and the return to gold

6.1 Ricardo enters the fray
6.2 The storm over the bullion Report
6.3 Deflation and the return to gold
6.4 Questioning fractional-reserve banking: Britain and the US
6.5 Monetary and banking thought on the Continent

Chapter 7. Monetary and banking thought, III: the struggle over the currency school

7.1 The trauma of 1825
7.2 The emergence of the currency principle
7.3 Rechartering the Bank of England
7.4 The crisis of 1837 and the currency school controversy
7.5 The crisis of 1839 and the escalation of the currency school controversy
7.6 The renewed threat to the gold standard
7.7 Triumph of the currency school: Peel’s act of 1844
7.8 Tragedy in triumph for the currency school: the aftermath
7.9 De facto victory for the banking school
7.10 Currency and banking school thought on the Continent

Chapter 8. John Stuart Mill and the reimposition of Ricardian economics

8.1 Mill’s importance
8.2 Mill’s strategy and the success of the Principles
8.3 The theory of value and distribution
8.4 The shift to imperialism
8.5 The Millians
8.6 Cairnes and the gold discoveries
8.7 The Millian supremacy

Chapter 9. Roots of Marxism: messianic communism

9.1 Early communism
9.2 Secularized millennial communism: Mably and Morelly
9.3 The conspiracy of the Equals
9.4 The burgeoning of communism

Chapter 10. Marx’s vision of communism

10.1 Millennial communism
10.2 Raw communism
10.3 Higher communism and the eradication of the division of labour
10.4 Arriving at communism
10.5 Marx’s character and his path to communism

Chapter 11. Alienation, unity, and the dialectic

11.1 Origins of the dialectic: creatology
11.2 Hegel and the man-God
11.3 Hegel and politics
11.4 Hegel and the Romantic Age
11.5 Marx and Left revolutionary Hegelianism
11.6 Marx as utopian

Chapter 12. The Marxian system, I: historical materialism and the class struggle

12.1 The Marxian strategy
12.2 Historical materialism
12.3 The class struggle
12.4 The Marxian doctrine of ‘ideology’
12.5 The inner contradiction in the concept of ‘class’
12.6 The origin of the concept of class
12.7 The legacy of Ricardo
12.8 Ricardian socialism

Chapter 13. The Marxian system, II: the economics of capitalism and its inevitable demise

13.1 The labour theory of value
13.2 Profit rates and ‘surplus value’
13.3 The ‘laws of motion’, I: the accumulation and centralization of capital
13.4 The ‘laws of motion’, II: the impoverishment of the working class
13.5 The ‘laws of motion’, III: business cycle crises

13.5.1 Underconsumptionism
13.5.2 The falling rate of profit
13.5.3 Disproportionality

13.6 Conclusion: the Marxian system

Chapter 14. After Mill: Bastiat and the French laissez-faire tradition

14.1 The French laissez-faire school
14.2 Frederic Bastiat: the central figure
14.3 The influence of Bastiat in Europe
14.4 Gustave de Molinari, first anarcho-capitalist
14.5 Vilfredo Pareto, pessimistic follower of Molinari
14.6 Academic convert in Germany: Karl Heinrich Rau
14.7 The Scottish maverick: Henry Dunning Macleod
14.8 Plutology: Hearn and Donisthorpe
14.9 Bastiat and laissez-faire in America
14.10 Decline of laissez-faire thought

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