Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Adam Smith and basic needs

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

Mark Twain is reputed to have said “A classic is something everybody wants to have read, but no one wants to read.” This is certainly true for the writings of dead economists. I recently saw an example in criticism of Adam Smith, the author of Wealth of Nations, first published in 1776. The economist, whom I will not cite, correctly wrote that the now-dead Adam Smith broke with the tradition of his day by explaining that it is consumption, not production or saving, that satisfies the wants of men and women.

But the contemporary economist went on to criticize Smith for not distinguishing between needs and wants, known also as necessities and luxuries. This distinction between types of consumption, he asserted, was done more than a century later, with the 1890 publication of Cambridge University economist Alfred Marshall’s Principles of Economics. This assertion is wrong. Alfred Marshall founded neo-classical economics, so is justly famous, but he was not the first to distinguish between necessary and luxury consumption. In the Wealth of Nations, Smith devotes considerable attention to this in a section titled “Consumable commodities are either necessaries or luxuries”: (more…)

classics as ‘other cultures’

Monday, April 8th, 2019
There are a lot of cultures very different from America [meaning the USA]. China was and is a civilization perhaps more distant from us than Rome.

communication technologies, from Gutenberg to Google

Saturday, February 23rd, 2019

“We must root out printing or printing will root us out,

Priests, Mounties and poverty in indigenous Canada

Wednesday, October 31st, 2018

Maria Campbell’s memoir, Halfbreed, is short (157 pages) and free-flowing. It is a shocking, true account of what it is like to grow up poor and mixed-race in Canada. The book today is read almost universally by school children in Canada. (more…)

Adam Smith for our troubled times

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

An old joke is that a classical book is one that everyone cites, but no-one reads. By this measure, each of the two books that Adam Smith wrote are classics. If his followers today took time to read then, they would disagree with much of what he wrote. (more…)

intellectual property theft by developing countries

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

Dean Baker has posted a blog that nicely complements yesterday’s TdJ on “the rise of China“.

[I]t was largely the United States that has set the rules in this story and it is demanding ever more money for items protected by its patent and copyright monopolies. We do this through our control of trade arrangements, most importantly the WTO …. These rules were about forcing developing countries to pay more money to companies like Pfizer and Microsoft for everything from drugs and medical equipment to seeds and software. ….

John Bolton’s wartime experience

Thursday, April 12th, 2018

John Bolton, Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor, is known to be a keen advocate of war, with a dislike for all things international, including the United Nations. He has never met a war that he didn’t like. I was curious to see whether he had any military experience, so looked up his biography in Wikipedia. I discovered that, like his former boss, George W. Bush, he avoided service in Vietnam by enlisting in the National Guard. He served in the Maryland National Guard for four years, then in the US Army Reserve for two additional years. In those days, without political connections it was difficult to join the National Guard, because that was a way to avoid the draft, and service in Vietnam. (more…)

the rise of China

Wednesday, April 11th, 2018

FT columnist Martin Wolf has a long essay in today’s Financial Times on China as an emerging superpower and the potential for destructive clashes with the USA. It is balanced and well-written, exceeding even the high standards I have come to expect from Martin. (more…)

the leadership styles of JFK, GW Bush and Donald Trump

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018

Today, while searching for information on varied topics, I came across an old interview with Ted Sorensen, a lawyer who was speechwriter for and close adviser to President John F. Kennedy. This segment caught my attention. (more…)

crony capitalism with Chinese characteristics

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

FT columnist Martin Wolf warns us of the danger of China’s return to strongman rule, even though the framework “strange though it may sound (and indeed is)