Monday, 16 March 2009

Another bit of Veblen

"Freedom and facility of readjustment, that is to say capacity for growth in social structure, ...depends in great measure on the degree of freedom with which the situation at any given time acts on the individual members of the community - the degree of exposure of the individual members to the constraining forces of the environment. If any portion or class of society is sheltered from the action of the environment in any essential respect, that portion of the community , or that class, will adapt its views and its scheme of life more tardily to the altered situation... And it may be said that the forces which make for readjustment of institutions, especially in the case of a modern industrial community, are, in the last analysis, almost entirely of an economic nature."


He's actually having a pop at the tendency of the rich to be conservatives, but I wonder if you could also argue that the radical change in ideas going on in the financial world stems from their closeness to the action. Strangely, to date the general public seems less radical - or questioning of fundamental assumptions about the recent economic orthodoxy - than corporate and financial leaders (for want of a better word).

4 comments:

Nick Drew said...

same comment to this and your Jack Welch post, Tom ...

as suggested before, we capitalists are empiricists, largely unburdened with doctrine, and we tend to be nippy & flexible accordingly - perhaps even 'radical'

(well, relative to the "general public" - and lefties !)

Tom P said...

Hi Nick

funnily enough I made the argument that many business people aren't 'ideological' to a left-leaning fund management dude I know recently and he spat feathers.

PS. Gilbert Ryle's Concept of Mind is in my stack of reading material for the coming months.

CharlieMcMenamin said...

Nippy? Flexible? Unideological?

Or is it, to use words a litte less verbose than Veblen, just that 'social being determines social consciousness'.?

Nick Drew said...

well, Tom / Charlie, I ain't no behaviourist (and I prefer Strawson to Ryle): but by their deeds shall ye know them ...

it's certainly true that many a 'capitalist' will, over a beer, rehearse some current dogma by way of casual chit-chat, not the intense way of yer actual ideologue. But the operative attitude of mind - as evidenced by what they actually do - is non-dogmatic in the extreme, there is no habit of calibrating a suggested course of business action against a grand theory, only against its internal logic

(exploiting tax-breaks is a good example)

active business-folk expect there to be all manner of quirky, actual opportunities out there in real life which theory ('their' theory !) may suggest shouldn't exist, but when spotted should be jumped all over with alacrity, not debated in disbelief or puzzlement

for example, arbitrage theory may suggest that certain price-differentials will never be greater than the cost of transaction. This is a strong and worthwhile principle, but professional arbitrageurs may make a living exploiting discrepancies

of course, you can argue that arbitrageurs are the very agents of arbitrage theory ! but the actual arb sees himself merely as a sniffer-out of money

you are the theorising ideologue and he is the unreflecting capitalist

(you may claim to be right, but you will notice that he is the wealthier ...)