Friday, May 24, 2013

The Faerieland of Economics

I have been accused of being a dreamer with my head in the clouds, a lover of fantasy and fiction, not at all attached to reality. While it is true that I fit not easy into any one particular box (save, my own) when I watch the news or click through channels or pick up a newspaper or magazine, I feel most the other way ‘round. I can’t understand the world as it has been invaded by the economist. I am glad to be in my own box. 

Thomas Carlyle has been quoted as saying that economics is “the dismal science.” If by “science” one means “knowledge,” or “study,” then I find no interest to the faery-land of knowledge that leads to men tossing themselves from upper-story windows because of the reading of a numerical set. Might as well be tea-leaves. The realm of economics is “faery” and less a reality than a good story, particularly that one story that must be believed because it is true. But that's another topic.

Economics as the picture of the real world? Hardly. One might recall how the politician once consulted the oracle in ancient days now consults the economist regarding the future--and all the economist does is venture a guess. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold . . . wide and deep and high and filled with many things . . . . In that realm man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveller who would report them.” ("On Fairy Stories") Such is the world created by the economist only by contrast, the economic world contains no supernatural for there is nothing “natural” about it.

The economist speaks a language not of this world, for his world exists on the basis of what he does: analysis. Additionally, because his thoughts are not of this world he must speak other than the native vernacular; that glossolalia of rare and like-minded creatures who lurk in their shadowy marshes. He must describe the world as he sees it. The economist must therefore describe the elements of his world as “commodities” that are “produced” and “consumed”, ceteris paribus. These characters battle “externalities” like barbarians, who sweeping down from the north to be held at bay in defense of their kingdoms. The battle of “free market” vs “planned economy” rages according to the four laws of supply and demand. The god of maximum profit must be appeased! Simply abide by the revelation of “revealed preference” and contribute--value added!

Tolkien continues: “The human mind is capable of forming mental images of things not actually present. The faculty of conceiving images is (or was) naturally called Imagination . . . the perception of the image, the grasp of its implications, and the control . . . may vary in vividness and strength: but this is a difference of degree of Imagination, not a difference in kind.”  

Applying Tolkien’s principle of Faery: this primary world has been redescribed and reconfigured by the economist into a secondary world, a world easier to manipulate. One might venture this enchantment is an elvish craft, a work of magic. 

Economics is a worldview of wealth where humanity is an externality, a kingdom of the world with no concern for the eternal, the supernatural, that place of accountability. This is a fantasy land that keeps person from touching person.

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