Monday, January 28, 2008

To add another comment to the response to Goldberg's silly book and Tony Judt's review of Robert Reich [see below for two posts from the 25th] what's really odd is that technocrats like Reich seem so unaware of the implications of what they're arguing. They move easily from a defense of methodological individualism to an argument for determinism, but of course to them it's only collective determinism that's unscientific (and morally offensive); or maybe it's a new description of collectivism as the predictable actions of monads. Either way it's the experts' job to make predictions and not to judge. And it's the job of the rest of us to be predictable.

The rest of this began as a comment on a post by Daniel Davies on questions of moral responsibility, "agency" and banking: Development and Debt.
Agency is a grey area in absolute terms and less of one in discussing organizations, regulation, and law. But it's even less a grey area when it comes to judging one’s own behavior. Should economic hit men be held responsible for their actions? Would you want your son to become an economic hit man? Two questions, possibly with different answers- but does that second private response have no social/public aspect? As I began saying years ago, DeLong the economic thinker is not DeLong the loving father, a conflict he ignores in posts like this. [DeLong on Judt] Humanist at home, anti-humanist in public life.

If economic science is the study of inevitables, does that mean that no one can choose of his or her own accord to say: "enough!" And what happens if s/he convinces someone else to make that same choice? It's the same question confronting libertarians opposition to unions and national health insurance. Is forcing people to act individually better or worse than forcing them to act collectively, especially if determinism is our model? Maybe it's a matter of sensibility. Maybe America is not Sweden.
The question is how to reintegrate the private and the public sphere without doing an injustice to either or both. That’s the question both Judt and Zizek are asking. Strange bedfellows, but they're not alone. Schmucks like DeLong and believers in technocratic menschlichkeit miss the point.

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