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Archive for the 'History' Category

Thursday, August 18th, 2016

A Lost World of Socialism

Karl Polanyi

“One reason why thinking through Polanyi’s life is a rewarding exercise is that it enables us to think through the experience of reformist socialism, to explore a world that now appears marginal, even lost, and yet which only two or three generations ago was carving deep and distinctive tracks across the political and cultural landscape.” — Gareth Dale

This week, our featured book is Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left, by Gareth Dale. Today, we have excerpted Dale’s epilogue, in which he considers the ways in which Polanyi’s legacy has changed over time.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Karl Polanyi!

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Diagnosing the Virus: Karl Polanyi Against Fascism

Karl Polanyi

“With this, Polanyi had arrived at the essence of fascism. It lay not in Spann’s utopia but in what it sought to obscure: the construction of an ultracapitalist regime dedicated to reducing workers to commodity-producing automata, for which their exclusion from the political sphere is a prerequisite.” — Gareth Dale

This week, our featured book is Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left, by Gareth Dale. Today, we have an excerpt from the book’s fourth chapter, “Challenges and Responses,” in which Dale describes Polanyi’s opposition to fascism.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Karl Polanyi!

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

Introducing “Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left”

Karl Polanyi

“Although sometimes considered a thinker of gemeinschaft, Polanyi is better understood as a synthesizer, a freethinking humanist on a quest for community. As such, he was destined to tease out, and become entangled in, the contradictions between liberal and communitarian (and socialist) thought that formed (and form) the dominant creative tension within political philosophy— the seemingly contrary pulls of responsibility to individual and to community; the divergent demands of adherence to the doctrine of individual integrity and the duty of maintaining and developing community life.” — Gareth Dale

This week, our featured book is Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left, by Gareth Dale. Today, to kick off the feature, we are happy to present Dale’s introduction to the book.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Karl Polanyi!

Monday, August 15th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left

Karl Polanyi

“One of the best biographies ever written of any intellectual emerging from the horrors of mid-twentieth-century Europe. It meticulously covers the whole ground—from the Jewish roots in Budapest through the First War, brilliantly reconstructs the milieu and debates of interwar Vienna, and adds enormously to our understanding of The Great Transformation. A compelling portrait, it is successful not just as an intellectual biography but as a personal one as well.” — John A. Hall, author of Ernest Gellner: An Intellectual Biography

This week, our featured book is Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left, by Gareth Dale. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its author on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Karl Polanyi: A Life on the Left. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, August 19th at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Conjectural Thinking in Oncology and the Classics

States of Nature, Stages of Society

The following is a post by Frank Palmeri, author of State of Nature, Stages of Society: Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse:

Conjectural Thinking in Oncology and the Classics
By Frank Palmeri

Conjectural history, beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century, sought to provide plausible accounts of periods for which no documentary or material evidence existed; it primarily depicted the earliest stages of society and the succession of those stages. Such speculative thinking enabled reconstructions of what might have happened in times about which no certainty was possible. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, conjectural history provided a model for the early development of the social sciences, especially anthropology, sociology, and political economy.

Today, conjectural thinking is experiencing a resurgence in fields as diverse as oncology and the classics. It is proving more productive than the positivist and scientistic notion that either we have certainty through knowledge of facts, or we know nothing of the matter in question. The alternative is not belief, but speculation, conjecture, trial-and error.

For example, in a recent piece, Siddhartha Mukherjee discusses a movement in the treatment of cancer in the last decade that is turning away from the standard protocols of chemotherapy developed in the late sixties and seventies. These forms of treatment attacked each kind of cancer, depending on where it was first located, with a certain mixture of toxic, indiscriminately cell-killing drugs. Although most cancer patients are still treated that way, oncologists now realize that every cancer is characterized by distinctive marks, by an individual combination of gene mutations. They are increasingly seeing a need to find more discerning medicines, molecules that can attack the cancer and cut off its growth by various pathways. (more…)

Friday, July 15th, 2016

A Media Roundup for “Exhaustion: A History”

Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

“To my surprise, I found that ours is far from being the only age to have perceived itself as the most exhausted—many people in the past have felt exactly as we do now…. anxieties about the exhaustion of our energies is a concern that reaches back all the way to the age of classical antiquity.”—Anna Katharina Schaffner

We conclude our week-long feature on Exhaustion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner with links to some of the reviews of the book and interviews with and posts by Anna Katharina Schaffner:

First, you can read her essay in Aeon Why exhaustion is not unique to our overstimulated age:

Analyzing the history of exhaustion, one can find historically specific theories of what causes exhaustion, as well as a tendency to look back nostalgically to a supposedly simpler time. However, the continual production of theories about the loss of human energy is also an expression of timeless anxieties about death, ageing and the dangers of waning engagement. Theorising about exhaustion, and proposing cures and therapeutics for its effects, is a tactic to counteract the awareness of our helplessness in the face of our mortality. It is, in other words, a terror-management strategy designed to hold at bay our most existential fears – fears that are in no way peculiar to today.

There was an excellent interview with Anna Katharina Schaffner in Psychology Today in which she ties the concept of exhaustion to our current environmental crisis:

The concept of exhaustion means that a limited quantity of something—usually something non-renewable—is used up in its entirety. In the context of mental and physical exhaustion, the entity that is being depleted is human energy. Current ecological debates about sustainability center around the idea that our planetary resources are being depleted at an ever more rapid rate, and that a critical point is being reached such that the planet will not be able to replenish them or repair the ecological damage. The greatest threat now is a terminally exhausted planet, a habitat that has become uninhabitable because it has been stripped of its vital resources, just like a worn-out human body. What is unique to our age is that the fear of exhaustion has for the first time been extended beyond the individual or the social to the environment. And unlike other anxieties about exhaustion, the threat of the irrevocable exhaustion of our environmental resources is one that would include everyone, young and old.

The book also received a very positive review in Psychology Today. In the following excerpt, the reviewer looks at Schaffner’s treatment of the fear and pride we associate with exhaustion:

Schaffner highlights not just what we’ve known about exhaustion at various points in history but why we’ve feared it, epitomized in her discussion of Bram Stoker’s symbolism-laden Dracula of 1897 and other Victorian vampire narratives. The villainous protagonists of these stories, she reminds us, were aligned with necrophilia, homosexuality, polygamy, fetishism, gynophobia, and oral sex, but their aristocratic mien and ability to suck the precious life energy from their victims led many observers, including Marx, to link them to capitalist exploiters.

Exhaustion astutely focuses on one particular wrinkle of energy depletion that modern readers will immediately recognize—the pride certain people have long taken in their alleged burnout symptoms. We all know people who insist on telling us every time we meet how worn out they are, how much they have to do—and, implicitly, how important and in demand they are

Friday, July 15th, 2016

Writing “States of Nature, Stages of Society”

States of Nature, Stages of Society

The following post is an interview with Frank Palmeri, author of State of Nature, Stages of Society: Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse:

What did you find most interesting in the course of your research for State of Nature, Stages of Society? Did you find anything that surprised you in the documents and texts you consulted?

I was able to consult many fascinating texts in my research—including scores of articles from the earliest anthropology journals in the 1860s. But the documents I found most compelling were the notes Charles Darwin made when he was preparing his thoughts and materials for writing the Descent of Man, which was published in 1871. Darwin left all his papers to Cambridge University, and they are still kept in the library there, in the boxes in which they originally arrived. I needed to go through box numbers 81-83 for his notes and papers from 1868-69.

In the first place, Darwin’s writing is extremely difficult to read, so it took me a couple of weeks to learn how to make out what he was saying in these notes. I was trying to see if there was any record that he was thinking of the conjectural historians as he wrote his own history of the early transition of mankind from our ape-like ancestors to human beings. As soon as I began looking, I was actually surprised to find that he had indeed been thinking about the conjectural historical thinkers, some of whom he had read earlier in his education—for example, in his time at Cambridge. He referred many times to Bernard Mandeville, David Hume, and Adam Smith, as well as the eccentric Lord Monboddo, who believed that chimpanzees (he called them orangutans) were the same species as humans and were capable of speech. (more…)

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

When the Empire Struck Back

Nation at Play

“Mid way through the discussion, the moderator asked how many in the audience had heard about the historic victory in 1911 of an Indian team over a British regimental team in the final of what was then India’s premier soccer tournament, the IFA Shield. To my surprise only a few hands went up.”—Ronojoy Sen

The following is a post by Ronojoy Sen, author of Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India:

When the Empire Struck Back
By Ronojoy Sen

It was a crisp winter afternoon and the setting was Asia’s, if not the world’s, largest literary festival. I was one of the speakers for the panel titled, India at Play, at the 2016 edition of Jaipur Literary Festival. The panel’s title was borrowed from my new book, Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India. My co-panelists included two former captains of the Indian soccer and cricket teams. Not surprisingly, it was standing room only at the open-air venue where the event was being held. Mid way through the discussion, the moderator asked how many in the audience had heard about the historic victory in 1911 of an Indian team over a British regimental team in the final of what was then India’s premier soccer tournament, the IFA Shield. To my surprise only a few hands went up.

The 1911 event is one event that I highlight in my book. The two teams that battled it out in the final were Calcutta’s Mohun Bagan and the East Yorkshire Regiment. Under the stewardship of Sailen Bose and the captain, Shibdas Bhaduri, a remarkable student of the game, Mohun Bagan formed a team that could challenge the best of the British teams in India. Curiously, the team played precisely eleven players in the IFA Shield; that is, it had no bench strength in case of injuries. This was a real gamble, since ten players of the Mohun Bagan XI played barefoot, with, oddly enough, the only non-Hindu in the team, left back Rev. Sudhir Chatterjee, wearing boots. It is tempting to link Chatterjee’s religion and his boots, but it was more likely that he picked up the habit when studying abroad. Besides, if popular accounts are to be believed, every effort was made to deter the Bagan players, working in British-run organizations, from training for their team. (more…)

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Is Not Ours The Most Exhausted Age in History?

Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

We continue our week-long feature on Exhaustion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner, at the beginning with the introduction to the book (see below).

Schaffner argues that while today’s world might seem particularly stressful or pressured, we have felt exhausted throughout history. The introduction lays out some of the key questions she considers in the book:

There is no doubt that the specter of exhaustion shapes both public debates and lived experience in the early twenty-first century, chiming eerily with our weary zeitgeist. Is not ours the most exhausted age in history? And does the current epidemic of exhaustion not threaten the very future of the human animal? There are many who believe this to be the case.9 Yet before simply assenting to this assessment of our times, there is another question that needs to be asked: What do we really mean when we speak of exhaustion? In spite of the ubiquity and the metaphorical potency of the term, and its many applications in medical, psychological, economic, and political debates, exhaustion is a slippery concept, one that borders on, and often overlaps with, various others. How can we define exhaustion, and how can we demarcate it from related ideas and diagnoses? Is exhaustion a state that we can quantify scientifically, or is it a wholly subjective experience? Is it primarily a physical or a mental condition? Is it predominantly an individual or a wider sociocultural experience? Is it really the bane of our age, something that is intimately bound up with modernity and its discontents, or have other historical periods also seen themselves as the most exhausted?

Schaffner also examines the central contradiction that makes exhaustion so central and difficult to avoid both as a state and a concept, particularly in today’s world:

Finally, exhaustion is bound up with two contradictory desires: the concept chimes with us because, on the one hand, we all long for rest and the permanent cessation of exertion and struggle. A part of us wishes to return to an earthly paradise, from which work is banished—a state that resembles childhood, in which we are relieved of all responsibilities, and where everything revolves around pleasure. Yet, on the other hand, work is crucial not only for our survival but also for the shaping of our identity. It is bound up with self-realization and autonomy. In our age, moreover, work is particularly overdetermined: boundaries between public and private selves, between work and leisure, and profession and calling, are becoming ever more blurred.

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

On Exhaustion and Human Energy

Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

The following is a post by Anna Katharina Schaffner, author of Exhaustion: A History:

Exhaustion is frequently represented as a distinctly modern phenomenon caused by acceleration, new modes of communication and transportation, and changes in the nature and organization of work. Our own age, many commentators claim, is the most exhausting in history: having become slaves to our gadgets and victims of neoliberal techno-capitalist competition, more people than ever suffer from exhaustion-related syndromes such as burnout, stress, and depression. Commentators arguing that our levels of exhaustion are unprecedented in human history imagine the past as a much less energy-draining time in which people lived life at a slower pace in harmony with nature and the seasons.

However, I asked myself whether that was really the case, and decided to research other historical periods in search of exhaustion discourses. To my surprise, I found that writers in virtually every period have reflected on exhaustion and theorized its causes. The mental and physical symptoms of exhaustion feature prominently in a range of historical diagnoses from classical antiquity to the present day. These diagnoses include acedia in the medieval period, melancholia in classical antiquity, the Renaissance, and the eighteenth century, neurasthenia in the nineteenth century, and depression, stress, burnout, and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Exhaustion, it seems, is in fact a perennial human concern, related to our anxieties about illness, ageing, the waning of our engagement with the world, and death.

Yet in each period the causes and effects of exhaustion are theorized in radically different ways. The kind of exhaustion in which I am interested (not merely physical exhaustion resulting from exertion or somatic illnesses that can be alleviated by resting) involves the mind, the body, and the social. In each period, the interplay between these three forces is imagined in different ways. Sometimes, a biological explanation is privileged, sometimes the explanation is psychological or spiritual, and sometimes it is psychosocial or cultural.

The causal explanations of exhaustion are diverse, ranging from biochemical imbalances, somatic ailments, and viral diseases to spiritual failings (monks suffering from acedia were seen as weak in their faith). In the past, exhaustion has also been linked to loss, the alignment of the planets, a perverse desire for death, and socio-economic disruption. Being exhausted has also frequently been associated with individual exceptionality, and qualities such as sensitivity, creativity, high intelligence, and, more recently, a strong work ethic. To say that one is stressed or burnt out implies that one works hard and is much in demand. To be exhausted can thus become a badge of honor.

Each theory of exhaustion also involves conceptions of agency, willpower, and responsibility for one’s state of well-being. In the Middle Ages, for example, giving in to exhaustion was considered a grave spiritual failing, a result of weak faith. Often, the causes of exhaustion are thought to be external, such as the hustle and bustle of urban life, over-stimulation of the senses, stressful working environments, or viral diseases. Frequently, it is also assumed that one’s mental state plays a major role in states of exhaustion, either as a cause or as a consequence of exhaustion. Hopelessness, weariness, disillusionment, and lack of engagement can all be both symptoms and exhaustion-generators. Social factors, too, can impact on an individual’s energy levels, such as optimism about the political future of a country or wide-ranging cultural pessimism.

*

(more…)

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

3 Questions for Anna Katharina Schaffner, author of “Exhaustion: A History”

Exhaustion: A History, Anna Katharina Schaffner

“To my surprise, I found that ours is far from being the only age to have perceived itself as the most exhausted—many people in the past have felt exactly as we do now…. anxieties about the exhaustion of our energies is a concern that reaches back all the way to the age of classical antiquity.”—Anna Katharina Schaffner

The following is an interview with Anna Katharina Schaffner, author of Exhaustion: A History:

Q: What inspired you to write a book on exhaustion?

Anna Katharina Schaffner: Like many people, I have experienced exhaustion in its various mental and physical modalities first-hand. I understand exhaustion as a state of being that can be broken down into a range of mental and physical symptoms, including weariness, hopelessness, and disillusionment; and weakness, lethargy, and fatigue. Exhaustion can also be manifest in behaviors such as restlessness, irritability, and the waning of engagement. In my book I am not so much concerned with purely physical exhaustion that is the result of bodily exertion and that can be alleviated by resting, but with chronic, less straightforward cases of exhaustion that are caused by a combination of mental, physical, and wider social phenomena.

A few years ago, I also noticed a significant increase in media debates about stress, burnout, and depression—diagnoses which are all structured around core exhaustion symptoms. Most commentators on exhaustion-related syndromes argue that modernity and its discontents are responsible for our collective exhaustion. They blame acceleration, the spread of new communication technologies such as the Internet, our 24/7 consumer culture, and a radically transformed neoliberal working environment for the vampiric depletion of our energies. They all seem to believe that ours is the most exhausting period in history, and tend nostalgically to glorify the past as a less energy-draining time in which people lived less taxing lives in harmony with nature and the seasons.

I wondered whether that was really the case, and started researching other historical periods in search of earlier discourses on exhaustion. To my surprise, I found that ours is far from being the only age to have perceived itself as the most exhausted—many people in the past have felt exactly as we do now. In fact, I found that anxieties about the exhaustion of our energies is a concern that reaches back all the way to the age of classical antiquity. The causes and effects of exhaustion are theorized in medical, theological, philosophical, popular, and literary sources in virtually every historical period.

Q: Why is the idea of the exhaustion of our energies so disconcerting?

AKS: Fears about the depletion of our energies are related to deep-seated and timeless anxieties about ageing, the waning of our engagement with the world, and death. These fears remain constant through history. What differs is how the causes and effects of exhaustion are explained. Exhaustion is a phenomenon that involves the mind, the body, and socio-political factors, and narratives about exhaustion can reveal very interesting insights into how the interplay of these forces is theorized at a given historical moment. Moreover, the theorists of exhaustion often blame very specific social, political, or technological developments for the perceived rise in exhaustion symptoms. In the eighteenth century, the consumption of exotic foods, spices, and other luxury goods was held responsible for an increase in exhaustion among the people, while in the late nineteenth century, it was attributed to a faster pace of life as a result of trains, steam boats, electricity, and telegraphy. Today, we tend to blame our exhaustion on the erosion of the boundaries between work and leisure brought about by smart phones, which render us perpetually reachable and which make it impossible for us properly to “switch off”. The technologies that were supposed to make our lives easier and to save our energies have brought in their wake a whole new range of psycho-social stressors that undo their benefits.

(more…)

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Book Giveaway! Win a Free Copy of “Exhaustion: A History”

This week we are featuring Exhuastion: A History, by Anna Katharina Schaffner.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Exhuastion: A History to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, July 15th at 1:00 pm.

Edward Shorter, author of How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown, writes, “Exhaustion is fluently written and brilliantly argued, and it will provoke thoughtful minds with the suggestion that exhaustion has a history.”

Friday, July 1st, 2016

A Media Roundup for “The Evolution of Money”

The Evolution of Money

“The reason I think we need a new theory of money is because traditional theories either emphasise one side of money only (such as bullionism vs chartalism) or more or less ignore its properties altogether (like mainstream economics). And they take the relationship with number for granted, which I think is a mistake. It is the most obvious feature of money, and in many ways the most important.” — David Orrell

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. For our final post of the week, we’ve collected a number of the best articles and interviews by and about David Orrell, Roman Chlupatý, and The Evolution of Money.

First, you can read an adapted excerpt from The Evolution of Money at Evonomics:

Environmental conflict is therefore hardwired into the design of our monetary system—built for funding wars with kings and empires and now, as Klein documents, with the planet (one that, if it continues, the planet will win—it’s bigger). Dazzling us with number, it distracts us from the costs. This, rather than ideology, is why the GDP produced in a city like Beijing is booming, but people are leaving because they can’t breathe the air (and why, a little late, the National Congress of the Communist Party wrote the goal of an “ecological civilization” into its constitution in 2012). Like a toxic algal bloom on a lake, the economy is doing fine, but it is asphyxiating everything around it.

99Bitcoins has a great interview with David Orrell on cryptocurrency:

“The reason I think we need a new theory of money is because traditional theories either emphasise one side of money only (such as bullionism vs chartalism) or more or less ignore its properties altogether (like mainstream economics). And they take the relationship with number for granted, which I think is a mistake. It is the most obvious feature of money, and in many ways the most important.” — David Orrell

Adbusters featured “The True Value of Money,” an article by David Orrell:

A peculiar feature of orthodox economics is that money is treated as an inert medium of exchange, with no special properties of its own. As a result, money is largely excluded from macroeconomic models, which is one reason the financial crisis of 2007/8 was not predicted (it involved money). In many respects, when viewed through the lens of quantum physics, money behaves a lot like matter – and acknowledging that behavior promises to do to economics what quanta did for physics.

(more…)

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Why Money Is Undermining Our Financial System

The Evolution of Money

“And this is exactly where the current problem lies: central banks – and their peers, commercial banks – still operate in a one-dimensional universe where readiness to spend has been muted. On the one hand, we now have those who have, who are thus trustworthy and who can therefore reach into the honeypot of cheap credit. But these largely own what they want and who instead of spending on things invest – thus the asset bubble and also the increasing gap between rich and poor. On the other, we have those who want to spend but don’t have the means or access to credit.” — Roman Chlupatý

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. Today, we are happy to present an interview with Roman Chlupatý from Euronews, in which Chlupatý explains why we live in “a world where one of a few certainties is that while we don’t know when the next [economic] crisis will come, we know for sure that it will.” Watch the video or read the text in full below.

We live in a time of great monetary abnormality. Not only are the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan prescribing negative interest rates to prop up their failing economies but the Swedish central monetary authority is doing the same – despite the fact that its national economy is growing at a solid rate. And as if this were not enough, the Fed’s Janet Yellen, who was expected to increase rates three to five times this year on her quest for normalcy, has mentioned earlier this year that negative rates in the US – meaning banks charging interest from those depositing money with them – are still a possibility.

What does this mean? Seven and a half years after the so-called crisis broke out with the collapse of investment bank Lehmann Brothers, old recipes and ways of thinking are out of breath. They certainly did help to avert the worst – just imagine what would for instance have happened in the UK if ATMs had stopped giving out cash, a situation that was mere hours away – but they did so at the cost of a 57 trillion dollar-increase in debt, as consultancy McKinsey points out, and at the cost of inflating speculative bubbles all around. (more…)

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

The Changing Faces of Money

The Evolution of Money

“Indeed, one of the things holding back the adoption of cybercurrencies including bitcoin is that they do not conform with traditional ideas about money. But is the problem with bitcoin, or have our ideas about money failed to keep up with its evolution?” — David Orrell

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. In “The Changing Faces of Money,” David Orrell looks at the rise of cybercurrencies and what they can tell us about what money actually is.

The Changing Faces of Money
By David Orrell

The question, “what is money?” is one that never seems to go away. Were medieval bills of exchange money? How about fiat currencies? Its latest manifestation tends to focus on cybercurrencies such as bitcoin – are they as good as regular coins?

To some techno-enthusiasts the answer is a resounding yes, but to many people it is less clear. This skepticism was captured by former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who once told Bloomberg, “I do not understand where the backing of bitcoin is coming from. There is no fundamental issue of capabilities of repaying it in anything which is universally acceptable, which is either intrinsic value of the currency or the credit or trust of the individual who is issuing the money, whether it’s a government or an individual.”

Indeed, one of the things holding back the adoption of cybercurrencies including bitcoin is that they do not conform with traditional ideas about money. But is the problem with bitcoin, or have our ideas about money failed to keep up with its evolution? (more…)

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

The Evolution of Money: Origins

The Evolution of Money

“Money has been one of mankind’s most successful inventions (it is no coincidence that to “coin” means to “invent”). Indeed, it is one of the things that best expresses our humanity.” — David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. To start the week’s feature, we are happy to present an excerpt from “Origins,” the first chapter of The Evolution of Money.

Monday, June 27th, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý

The Evolution of Money

“Even though money is something we all use every day, talking about it, defining it, and explaining are extremely arcane things to do. The tone is important, and The Evolution of Money goes about its task in a readable, breezy style that does not become glib.” — Paul Vigna, coauthor of The Age of Cryptocurrency: How Bitcoin and Digital Money Are Challenging the Global Economic Order

This week, our featured book is The Evolution of Money, by David Orrell and Roman Chlupatý. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Evolution of Money. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Friday, July 1st at 1:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Debunking the Myth That Lincoln Was Gay

Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln

“I’d been working on Lincoln since 1973. But he’s such a profound man with such a wonderful sense of humor, so appealing, so he draws you in. He’s such a brilliant writer. Every story about Lincoln, whether it’s in the oral history, whether it’s something he wrote, it’s always interesting. He’s just an appealing human being. I don’t think he was so modest. On the other hand, he wasn’t wildly grandiose. There’s a difference. He was aware of his own greatness.” — Charles Strozier

This week, our featured book is Your Friend Forever, A. Lincoln: The Enduring Friendship of Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed, by Charles B. Strozier. Today, for the final day of the feature, we are happy to present an excerpt of Strozier’s interview with Ronald K. Fried at The Daily Beast. Read the interview and accompanying article in full on The Daily Beast‘s website.

[Ronald K. Fried] spoke with Strozier at his Greenwich Village psychoanalytical office. The following is an edited version of [their] conversation.

RKF: How common was it for men to share the same bed during Lincoln’s time?

Charles Strozier: Very common. One guy has counted 14 people—men— Lincoln slept with before he slept with Speed. Inns at the time were really just homes where they finished the loft. They weren’t hotels like we have now. They were just hostels, where you have the men over here and the women over there. But individual biography is not always congruent with social custom. The fact that it was common for men to sleep together doesn’t mean that it was of no significance that Lincoln at this crucial moment in his life slept for nearly four years with his absolute best friend. The question is, what does it mean?

Friendship between men in Lincoln’s time was very different, right?

I think the historical context is really important to understand. Now where homosexuality is so much more accepted, legitimated, and even affirmed as it should be in gay marriage, we accept males loving one another and being sexual with one another. But in the 19th century, the taboo of homosexuality is absolutely rigid. Whitman was gay. He had to stay in the closet. Sodomy, buggery, was illegal and severely prescribed. But friendship, intimate, loving friendship like that between Lincoln and Speed, was not only accepted but encouraged as the long as the boundary against sexualization was rigidly and absolutely maintained.

But couldn’t you say that homosexuality was so severely punished that Lincoln—if he were gay—would have had to hide it?

Of course. It’s a perfect reasonable question, and that’s why I had to look at the evidence for whether or not it was legitimate. And, of course, it’s hard to answer a negative. First of all, Herndon [Lincoln’s eventual biographer], who lived in the same room for two years [with Lincoln and Speed], not only never mentioned it, he never had a clue. And no one would have been more interested in anything homosexual about Lincoln. Not a single person Herndon talked to mentioned it. (more…)

Friday, May 20th, 2016

“National Income” in the Encyclopaedia Of the Social Sciences

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“According to Kuznets, the purpose of the economic system was to provide the citizens of a country with goods and services. What was decisive in the recording of national income was the moment at which individuals in the economic cycle achieved their income. Kuznets had a clear and realistic concept: national income had to be thought of in terms of the incomes individuals get, and not as the total value of production.” — Philipp Lepenies

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. For the final post of the feature, we are happy to present a short excerpt from The Power of a Single Number, in which Lepenies tells the story of how Simon Kuznets got his conception of national income into the 1933 edition of the Encyclopaedia Of The Social Sciences.

“National Income” in the Encyclopaedia Of the Social Sciences (1933)
Philipp Lepenies

It was thanks to his brother that Kuznets—not well known among researchers for his work on national income—was entrusted with the entry for the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. Salomon Kuznets was one of the editor’s closest members of staff, and awarded the contract to Simon, who seized the opportunity to present his view of the topic. His entry presented what was, until then, the most comprehensive methodological and theoretical statement on national income. As opposed to most of the other publications on national income, his was not aimed at an expert audience. It was written in a generally comprehensible way, and made do with few technical details. With this, Kuznets was able to get his views across to a wide audience.

For Kuznets, it was not only income (which could be calculated as consumption, its distribution, and the value of production) that made up the figure national income. He added a fourth category, “income enjoyed,” or the sum total of all subjective feelings, which each individual has in his dual function as producer and consumer. In so doing, Kuznets extended the range of interpretation of national income with a subjective component: the satisfaction resulting from one’s own economic activity. Such feelings, however, were not measurable, so in order to quantify national income, one had to concentrate on the cruder benchmarks of income received and consumed. (more…)

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

The Principle of Effective Demand

Economic Thought and The Power of a Single Number

“Consumption and savings depend first and foremost on the level of national income, but what decides the latter? This is the crucial question. Keynes answered: it is the level of investment demand. Investors, not consumers (alias savers), are the active element in the economic system.” — Heinz Kurz

This week, we are featuring two exciting new economics titles: Economic Thought: A Brief History, by Heinz Kurz, and The Power of a Single Number: A Political History of GDP, by Philipp Lepenies. Today, we are happy to present a short excerpt from Economic Thought, in which Heinz Kurz breaks down John Maynard Keynes’s “principle of effective demand.”

The Principle of Effective Demand
Heinz Kurz

Let us now have a closer look at Keynes’s view that the economic system is typically not fully utilizing its productive resources—it is not “supply-constrained,” as neoclassical economists contend, but “demand-constrained” (except during booms). More specifically, Keynes’s “principle of effective demand” means that there is no reason to assume that aggregate investment demand will always be large enough to employ all of an economy’s productive resources. To see this we must turn to how he determined the two components of private domestic aggregate effective demand—consumption and investment expenditures.

Before doing so, it should be noted that Keynes conceived savings (correctly) as the nondemand of goods and services. The saver keeps a part of his or her money income and does not spend it, that is, does not buy goods. Savings in themselves involve “leakages” in the stream of expenditures and pose the problem of sufficient effective demand. The praise Adam Smith had showered upon the “frugal man” was justified only to the extent to which the saver was at the same time an investor, who spent the saved sums not on consumption goods (food, beverages, clothing, etc.) but instead on investment goods (plant and equipment, raw materials, etc.). In this perspective investments involve “injections” into the stream of expenditures and may compensate for the leakages stemming from savings. (more…)