Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Hesitant Hand

Making my way slowly through "The Hesitant Hand" by Steven Medema, slowly as its a book to really immerse yourself in - a real gem and the type of book that makes me grateful for scholarship practiced strictly for its own sake. The book examines the history of the concept of rational self-interested man in Economics, from Adam Smith to the present.

Well I say from Adam Smith, but thankfully he gives a brief tour of Greek and scholastic thought in the first chapter. In discussing the Greeks, there are a few paragraphs that have a lot of resonance at present. Medema locates the fable of King Midas in Greek attitudes to finance, with Midas destroying himself through the pursuit of money much in the same way as Greek states often destroyed themselves in financial disasters. He partly locates Aristotle and Plato's concern for finding the true nature of well-being in their observance around them that looking for it merely in money and acquisition frequently lead to ruin. The parallels with the current environment are, of course, marked and, in the Irish case, you will find no shortage of links on the internet talking about various Irish financiers having a "Midas touch". For Plato and Aristotle, their solution to the problems of happiness lay partly in having strongmen control countries and keeping population and economic activity at a stationary level, aspects of which ended up with Plato becoming one of Popper's enemies of freedom. Whatever their views on how it should be achieved, their ideas on the nature of well-being as being more than acquisiton are certainly making a resurgence and probably for similar reasons as when they were first formed.

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