June 02, 2011

Bodrum, Turkey

Bodrum, Turkey

And then (going back to The Economist):

The next big wave of migration will come from Africa.

Oh. The Economist article (it is actually a book review) is illustrated with a photograph of some young black African men, presumably the leading edge of that “next big wave.”

I suppose the Economist reviewer would be shocked speechless to know that some large majority of Europeans and Americans, presented with that picture, imagine not fresh, keen young workers coming to help ease their labor shortage. Instead, in their wicked human hearts, they see sowers of discord, destroyers of civil peace, inmates of penitentiaries, carriers of disease, agents of social and economic entropy, and consumers of welfare.

That’s economics for you—and economists, and The Economist. The world of their imagination is a cool, well-lit world in which thoughtful human beings, responding to rational incentives, move along paths defined by elegant mathematical formulas. It is a shadow world, a dream of perfection. It resembles, but only as shadows resemble objects, the grimy, gamy, half-mad world of actual humanity—the substance of human affairs.

The human beings who populate the economist’s—certainly The Economist’s—imagination are mere tokens. They have no allegiance to nation, faith, family, or the huge old inbred extended families we call races. Still less do they exhibit features so evident to those of us who live outside great universities: pride, stubbornness, folly, misplaced loyalty, and the occasional irresistible urge to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face. They are not biological entities at all.

Economics can have a future, if the human race does. It will not be a container of large truths, though, unless it somehow incorporates facts about human nature that the earthier human sciences—genetics, paleoanthropology, evolutionary biology, neurophysiology, and psychometrics—are only beginning to wrestle into submission.

Until it is willing to do this, and actually can do it, economics will be a discipline of shadows, not substances. Worse yet, it will continue to be a plaything of ideologues, as it has so disastrously been in the past. Human nature, and a true understanding thereof, precedes everything in the human world.



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