Category Archives: Economics

The future of nations

This morning, in my car on the way to an appointment, I was listening to NPR’s The Takeaway. I felt like I caught a glimpse of the future of the nation-state in a common thread connecting their story about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent US visit, and another about ISIS.

In the piece on Modi, they talked with Arvind Rajagopal, a sociologist and media theorist at New York University. Rajagopal talked about how Modi made a strong nationalistic appeal to the Indian diaspora. What was notable, was that the appeal wasn’t for them to come back to India to support its development, but rather to support India’s interest wherever they were.

In the piece on ISIS, they interviewed Louise Shelly, the executive director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University. Shelly talked about how ISIS daws on age old smuggling routes in order to finance and supply its efforts.

What struck me is that both these stories hint at an interesting disconnect between geography, identity, power, influence and the economy, things that, in my naive view, are key ingredients in the classical nation state. And yet, here they are, present in forms that don’t quite fit that mold:

  • India, a nation with borders, redefined as a global nation with a geographic center, and a other aspects superimposed on other nation-states.
  • ISIS, a broad-based enterprise with aspirations of geographic borders whose assets are also superimposed on other nation-states.

And somewhere, in the same primordial goo, mixed with cryptocurrency, and social networks, and ragefaces, what else might emerge?

On Economics as a Discipline

I recently suggested that education, in whole and in parts, shouldn’t be considered without the context of economics. I also cautioned that in so doing, one shouldn’t make the mistake of framing that consideration solely in terms of business, or the free market. That same line of thinking now leads me to say more about economics. I come to this point not to praise it, but neither do I come to burry it.

Instead, I will simply note that economics isn’t adequately described from either the perspective of Marxism, or of Capitalism, and while considering it from both perspectives in combination is better that from either individually, it is still not adequate.

Further, I should point out that in my estimation, Economics as a discipline is not just a dismal science, it is despicable. This is not sufficient reason to give up on it all together, because it is still, at best, an adolescent, and probably more properly, an unevenly precocious infant, strikingly articulate and aware one moment, screaming and oozing shit on the furniture the next.

As a science, it might be best to consider Economics in comparison to Biology in general, and Ecology in particular. Biology and Ecology, like Economics, are ultimately studies of complex systems with emergent properties. Like Biology and Ecology, it is difficult to conduct controlled Economics experiments from both a practical and an ethical perspective. There are other similarities, but I’ve come far enough to call out important differences.

Biology, Ecology, and other sciences, like Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy and Geology have all had to struggle to break free from societal dogmas and superstitions and rise above them. Economics, on the other hand, still seems buried up to its neck in the sludge of political and religious ideology.

Biology and Ecology are humble, aware of their shortcomings, cautious about the implications about their experiments, and their conclusions. If some Economists are similarly humble, they are too often overshadowed by their more arrogant fellows, who seem unconcerned or unaware of their shortcomings and yet willing, or even eager, to experiment with the lives of millions by implementing their under-tested theories.

This arrogance on the part of Economics is even more despicable because its area of concern is even more expansive and complex than that of other sciences. It starts with the complexity of ecology, and multiplies it by the complexity of language and culture.

So please, use economics as a tool for understanding the world, but do not depend on it.