Thursday, August 06, 2009

According to liberal thinkers, Scandinavian countries should have drowned in the current economic crisis with their bloated public sectors and a nanny-state mentality that stifles individual creativity.

But the opposite has happened. Sweden, Denmark and Norway, where many people pay 50% of their income in taxes – with some even paying 60% – are coping better than most, in particular better than Britain.

"The outlook for these countries is good," says Christian Ketels, an economist at the Harvard Business School and the Stockholm School of Economics. "They are going to return to normal quicker, and in better shape, than everybody else."
I've rewritten this post. Previously it began with this: "Crooked Timber mourns Jerry Cohen who more than anyone else apparently made it intellectually and also morally respectable for Oxbridge left/liberals to imagine an actually existing Scandinavia." I tossed that off. It was glib and cruel But actually not cruel enough, because in many ways he did the opposite, making it not easier but harder for Anglo-American college professors at least to come to terms with the reality of Scandinavian economic culture. In the Tanner Lecture (linked below) Cohen begins by bypassing a discussion of the economic logic of Thatcherism to focus on the moral logic of Rawls [see page 272] ceding the empirical and practical and arguing the rationalist and ideal. The argument is an object lesson in academic perversity. I'll continue this later; the rest of the post below is unchanged.

Meanwhile leftist-conservative-intellectual George Scialabba extemporizes on Arthur C. Clarke, also apparently a favorite of Michael Berube.

In one of the posts about Scialabba someone goes on about the 60s and hippies and the rise of inarticulateness and bad writing. As if Cohen weren't also an example. If Scialabba were less interested in encomiums, he'd bring up his hero Dwight Macdonald on academic language. But he's the technocrats' favorite rebel because he's a romantic and as such doesn't threaten them. They're condescending to him and he's eating it up.

Related: I'm curious about Raymond Geuss.
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G.A. Cohen: "Incentives, Inequality, and Community" PDF
My own socialist-egalitarian position was nicely articulated by John Stuart Mill in his Principles of Political Economy. Contrasting equal payment with incentive-style payment according to product (“work done”), Mill said that the first
appeals to a higher standard of justice, and is adapted to a much higher moral condition of human nature. The proportioning of remuneration to work done is really just, only in so far as the more or less of the work is a matter of choice; when it depends on natural difference of strength or capacity, this principle of remuneration is in itself an injustice: it is giving to those who have; assigning most to those who are already most favoured by nature. Considered, however, as a compromise with the selfish type of character formed by the present standard of morality, and fostered by the existing social institutions, it is highly expedient; and until education shall have been entirely regenerated, is far more likely to prove immediately successful, than an attempt at a higher
Rawls’s lax application of his different[sic] principle means “giving to those who have.” He presents the incentive policy as a feature of the just society, whereas it is in fact, and as Mill says, just “highly expedient” in society as we know it, a sober “compromise with the selfish type of character” formed by capitalism.63 Philosophers in search of justice should not be content with an expedient compromise. To call expediency justice goes against the regeneration to which Mill looked forward at the end of this fine passage.
Sometimes it's good to be reminded just how stupid Rawls was, and how strong the popular association has become of self-interest and free inquiry [of greed as curiosity and therefore somehow noble] that someone has to spend this much of his time, most of a lifetime, to point out the obvious.
And in the end Cohen still defended sending the kids to prep school; status-seeking and the avoidance of children's embarrassment among their "peers" being more important than an education in the ways of the world.
The rigorously mediocre rationalist criticize the grandly mediocre for sloppy reasoning.

Actions, as decisions in the world, document ideas. In some fields actions outside the field are irrelevant. Philosophy's not one of them (which is why I prefer history).
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Reading and listening to Geuss. Nice to find a professional making my old argument for a history of Justice before a theory of it.

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