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Comment of the Day Tuesday, October 6th:
A keynote running through all the responses thus far (and sounded as well in Mr. Skidelsky’s remarks) is that economics of itself is not adequate to the task of understanding, much less explaining, the human condition.
I recall with fondness a wise old American history teacher I had in my undergraduate days who remarked on the brevity and directness of the US Constitution. He suggested that the Founders obviously regarded the personal and private sphere of human relations as belonging to a higher order than the public and the civic—with the latter arranged in service to the former and not the other way around. (He was no “individualist” because he also suggested that the Founders understood the most basic unit of the larger social order to be the family.)
Amid all this rumination over the shape and motive of the Constitution, he suggested a metaphor that I have never forgotten. He said that, in America, the state is (and should be) fostered primarily not as a controlling agency but as a referee—a third party on which the private principals in the game of life depend for knowledge and enforcement of the rules and for peaceful and disinterested settlements of their disputes. When the proper roles blur and the state starts behaving like a player, true freedom is diminished or lost.
My own brief (and that of others on this thread) against what is broadly called Keynesian economics—which I also had to study in college back in the 1960s under the tutelage of teachers who seemed to me to have little of the breadth of learning and none of the good sense of that American history teacher—is moral. And I think it may be relevant to the discussion that Keynes himself suffered a bit of trouble in that department.
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