Philip who?

by Chris Bertram on November 27, 2009

My post yesterday was about how politicians seize on the academic research the suits their agenda rather than being disposed to listen to good arguments. Dog bites man, you might think. A similar phenomenon is at work in the elevation of minor academics who can give a bit of intellectual sheen to some political project or other. I was astounded, watching Newsnight a couple of evenings ago, to hear someone touted as a major British political philosopher. After all, I’ve taught the subject, in Britain, for over twenty years, and I’ve never heard of him. Of course, I might just be ignorant, and he might be a previously overlooked genius. Step forward Philip Blond, formerly a theology lecturer at the University of Cumbria and now being promoted as the philosophical voice behind David Cameron’s “new” Toryism. A brief perusal of what’s available on the web doesn’t suggest to me that I’m missing anything. But I’m often wrong, so I’m open to correction.



JoB 11.27.09 at 8:34 am

I’m happy to be able to agree. Newsnight is awful and the awfullest of all is that it’s seen as an example. If they get it so wrong in cases you know something about, how bad will the rest be?

PS: the case I knew something about was Van Rompuy; also having a reporter mocking the EU because he can’t memorize the faces of all the country’s head of states is, well, a joke of some non-intended sort – but the point was clear: EU is ba-haha-d


Phil 11.27.09 at 9:23 am

Philip Blond may not have had a regius post, but he was the student of John Milbank when Milbank was in Cambridge doing some of the most exciting work of the past quarter century in theology. Milbank’s “Theology and Social Theory” is a tour de force in the field, even given all it’s misgivings, and those who understand the school of theological discourse going as “Radical Orthodoxy” would be able to recognize Milbank’s fingerprints on the ‘new toryism.’ There are multiple volumes available on Radical Orthodoxy these days, as well as a growing secondary literature. For detractors, both theological and otherwise, you could consult Christopher Insole’s “The Politics of Human Frailty: A Theological Defense of Liberalism”, or Jeff Stout’s important work, “Democracy and Tradition.”


voyou 11.27.09 at 9:29 am

Blond is certainly an idiot, but it surprises me you haven’t heard of him, as he’s been an influential idiot for some time. Does one not have an obligation, as a political philosopher, to pay attention to which philosophers (or even quasi-philosophers, such as theologians) are being listened to by politicians?


Chris Bertram 11.27.09 at 9:36 am

#3. No.


Hidari 11.27.09 at 9:48 am

#2: Is this Wikipedia entry accurate?

‘A key part of the controversy surrounding Milbank concerns his view of the relationship between theology and the social sciences. He argues that the social sciences are a product of the modern ethos of secularism, which stems from an ontology of violence. Theology, therefore, should not seek to make constructive use of social theory, for theology itself offers a comprehensive vision of all reality, extending to the social and political without the need for social theory’.

Cos if it is, then Millbank is clearly a nutter.


Chris Brooke 11.27.09 at 10:29 am

I don’t know anything about Milbank’s theology, but having heard Blond speak in Oxford last Summer, my main impression was of a man who is deeply confused about the history of ideas. A lot of what he thinks seems to have something (not much, but something) to do with the kinds of thoughts that various liberals have had over the years — people like John Stuart Mill, T H Green, Hobson and Hobhouse, and so on — but Blond has got it into his head that ‘liberalism’ is wrong wrong wrong in every way shape or form, and he insists that what he’s doing is based on this radical rejection of ‘liberalism’ (and for Blond, as far as I can tell, the key ‘liberal’ political philosopher is the totalitarian Rousseau of the Cold War imagination — it’s utterly bonkers).

With Blond, I’ve always liked reading Alasdair MacIntyre, and got a lot out of him, but it seems to me that Blond has fixated on one of the weakest parts of MacIntyre’s argument — with this cardboard cutout strawperson of ‘liberalism’ — and then jettisoned MacIntyre’s visceral hostility to the modern bureaucratic state, so that on his view the Cameroonian compassionate conservative Red Tory government can somehow regenerate the kinds of communities of virtuous practice that MacIntyre is keen on through state action. It’s a baffling vision. Quite entertaining in its own way, but both confused and confusing. I’m not at all surprised that he’s doing very well in the world of the think-tanks.


dsquared 11.27.09 at 10:49 am

Does one not have an obligation, as a political philosopher, to pay attention to which philosophers (or even quasi-philosophers, such as theologians) any Tom Dick or Harry as long as they are being listened to by politicians capable of setting up a thinktank?

fixed. Chris’s #4 is still valid.


JoB 11.27.09 at 10:49 am

Yeah, the world of the think-tanks. It would seem that regulating those would be better than leaving the academic world unregulated.


Phil 11.27.09 at 10:57 am

Well, I’d say that, so far as it goes, the wikipedia entry on Milbank gets the general thrust of his thought right insofar as T&ST is a work that to 1) uncover the violence upon which a great deal of social theory is premised and 2) argue that Christianity is itself a social theory of the good. That being said, Milbank’s chapters are often dialectical in nature: “For and Against Marx” and “For and Against Hegel” to name a few. Also, it seems to be a bit premature to call Milbank a “nutter” after only reading his wikipedia page. His views are certainly dramatic (as are Blond’s) and they can be loosely argued at points, but they demand careful attention, not only for understanding what this ‘new toryism’ may be all about but also to understand the shape of religious political ethics in the recent past.


Stuart Presnell 11.27.09 at 11:27 am

For another sample of his thinking, you can listen to Phillip Blond on Start the Week back in June:


Hidari 11.27.09 at 11:29 am

#9 I’m NOT judging a person by their wikipedia entry which is why I asked if it was accurate. But (and Millbank is someone who is keen to make ‘contributions’ to the political debate) what this sentence seems to mean…. ‘for theology itself offers a comprehensive vision of all reality, extending to the social and political without the need for social theory’’ ….is that politically minded theologians don’t have to deal with social theory, which includes, let’s not forget, all of anthropology, all of the 150 year tradition of sociology and (presumably) all of modern (and not so modern) economic theory as well. All you need is theology.

Which is clearly nuts.

On the other hand, if the wikipedia entry is wrong then he might not be so nuts, which is why I asked.

Incidentally I don’t need a guide to what the ‘new toryism’ is, because I know what it is. In foreign policy the Conservatives will do what the Americans tell them to do (like Labour). Same goes for economic policy, with the exception that here Cameron will have to please his rich friends in the City as well. And there will be a huge amount of misleading rhetoric about theology and the ‘new toryism’ to cover all this up.


Praisegod Barebones 11.27.09 at 11:52 am

Given the MacIntyre connection identified by Chris Brooke, it might be worth asking your Bristol colleague Seiriol Morgan what he thinks of Blond.

With respect to 2 and 3: I think one ought to distinguish betwen political philosophers having an obligation to pay attention to the content of the philosophers (or quasi philosophers) that influential politicians are talking about (if, as people are suggesting, its rubbish, then its rubbish whether or not Cameron thinks so) and having an obligation to know who these people are. I think there might be a case for thinking that there might be something of an obligation of the latter sort. To take a vaguely analogous case, it struck me as a bit embarrassing for the profession that when Tony Blair started chucking John McMurray’s name around that so few of my colleagues knew who he was or had read anything by him.

I doubt this will be a popular sentiment on CT, but I think that this is one case where they order these matters better in France….

Incidentally, am I the only person being creeped out about the extent to which Britsh politicla leaders get attracted to explicitly religious thinkers when looking for philosophical inspiration.


Alex 11.27.09 at 11:59 am

If Tony Hancock was alive, he’d make a film about an idiot who is accidentally taken for a policy guru and set up with an instant thinktank by a sinister Ali C/Andy Coulson figure who urgently needs some policy-style content for his potential prime minister (part of the joke being that he’s no less of a cipher than the idiot). Of course, people take his new political doctrine seriously and hilarity ensues.

There’s probably a bit part for Dsquared in there as The Blogger, a sort of one man ginger Greek chorus who is constantly appearing on the edges of the plot to point out that the thinktank has no members and hasn’t filed its accounts for over a year and that the idiot is an idiot and it’s all Ali C’s fault, but nobody pays a blind bit of notice to him until it’s all over.

If any TV producers want to option this as a twelve-part series, by all means…


Kieran Healy 11.27.09 at 12:41 pm

I have to read Milbank’s book in the next two weeks or so, as it happens. I’ve been putting it off as it doesn’t look too promising as social theory, and I know nothing much about theology.


John Quiggin 11.27.09 at 1:07 pm

Is there any reason to take theology seriously? Theism is a real phenomenon that needs to be studied, but as a hypothesis about the world, it’s obviously either false or undecidable, depending on the version. Theology, as I understand it, starts from the premise that theism is, in some sense, the right way to think about the world.


chris y 11.27.09 at 1:08 pm

Well, I’m not qualified to judge Blond as a philosopher, but I’m guessing that if he makes a habit of this sort of thing, his days as the Tories’ fave academic may not be long.


JoB 11.27.09 at 1:22 pm

15- That’s funny and shows how you can be right on some things for the wrong reasons.

A theocratic libertarian; that can’t but lead to silliness. Are we sure it isn’t the big come-back of Monty Python’?


alex 11.27.09 at 1:24 pm

@14: Yes, I would have said that the fact that such-and-such a person is a ‘theologian’ is as good a reason as one could want for not giving a stuff about his ideas. As for their influence on politics, the same applies – “Politician X should stop listening to nutters” would be a handy boilerplate response.


derek 11.27.09 at 1:45 pm

It’s still not as sick as Ann Coulter appearing on Fox with the title of “Constitutional Scholar”.


Joe 11.27.09 at 1:48 pm

10–I don’t know about ‘clearly nuts.’ Seems to me, as a social scientist (although not from one of the disciplines you name) that if one wants to pitch all this out, and try to get by argumentatively on one’s own, so be it. You’ve just gotta want to live with the consequences.

I haven’t encountered Milbank and his ‘radical orthodoxy’ lot (do they still call themselves that?) in a few years, but at the time they seemed to me mostly sound and fury, signifying, well not much. Doing theology by pitching out most of what had previously counted as theology (trenchantly, if not outright arbitrarily) is no necessarily a great basis for building up operable dogma.

Of course, if you want a good, pure medievalism (with a little of the ancients thrown in for fun), have at it. I don’t think it would last long in elected office. Surely these guys get the boot as soon as Cameron is anywhere near Downing St.


ajay 11.27.09 at 1:49 pm

The intellectual basis of Cameronism? It’s nothing but the Blond leading the bland.


ajay 11.27.09 at 1:53 pm

Does one not have an obligation, as a political philosopher, to pay attention to which philosophers (or even quasi-philosophers, such as theologians) are being listened to by politicians?

Well, strictly speaking no, I suppose – in the same sense that just because you’re a climatologist, you’ve got no actual obligation to pay attention to which climatologists are being listened to by politicians. But if you want to be both an X (where X is philosopher, or any other sort of trade really) and an informed member of society, then surely you should be aware which X are currently influential, even if you don’t think much of them yourself.


Harry 11.27.09 at 1:59 pm

If Hancock were alive he’d be 84…

I think Chris should have heard of Blond, because I have (several months ago). I don’t think being confused about the history of ideas is a problem at all. Nothing in the Guardian or that I’ve read by Blond suggests that he is a particularly interesting or original thinker (though the Guardian piece makes him sound like a nice guy). But that’s true of most of us, and there is a value in being able to talk to politicians and policymakers in a way that helps them to figure out their ideas better (and my guess is that sometimes that is what politicians pick their interlocutors for). I agree with Chris Brooke that he’s picked up the weak end of MacIntyre, but in the actual context I don’t think that’s such a terrible thing.


Kieran 11.27.09 at 2:02 pm

Is there any reason to take theology seriously? Theism is a real phenomenon that needs to be studied, but as a hypothesis about the world, it’s obviously either false or undecidable, depending on the version

A bit like economics, eh John?

I keed, I keed.


tom s. 11.27.09 at 2:20 pm

Following the Does one not have an obligation, as a political philosopher… sub-thread.

My son has just started a philosophy degree and I am going to break confidence (I hope he doesn’t mind if he comes across this) by posting an extract from a letter he wrote.

“I don’t really get the point of political philosophy though. In the introduction to our textbook (“The Individual and the Political Order: An Introduction to Social and Political Philosophy”) it says political philosophy is necessary to stop political discussions from degenerating into shouting and mindless labelling. It also admits that this has basically happened in much of modern political discussion. It never draws a link between those two points though, it never says ‘so obviously either we’re doing our job wrong or no one’s listening to us, or both.'”


Pangloss 11.27.09 at 2:36 pm

Blond has opened a “think tank” just this week, I think:

And Phillip Adams interviewed him on Tuesday’s LNL – how I heard of him:

The “red Tory” tag caught my hear.


Simstim 11.27.09 at 2:58 pm

They didn’t use Hancock, they used Peter Sellers.


Phil 11.27.09 at 3:00 pm

Never heard of Milbank, but his anti-liberalism does sound an awful lot like Macmurray – but Macmurray in a much more rigorous, less cuddly and slightly crazy form, like comparing Nigel Lawson with Keith Joseph. I guess if you come down the Hobhouse/Green route you’re going to end up with some form of Christian Idealism. But it doesn’t sound like a philosophy for Cameron so much as for Maurras.


Aaron Swartz 11.27.09 at 3:03 pm

I think Tom’s son (#25) brings up a very good point about ‘impact’. It’s true that in general the outside society will tend to pick academics who agree with their biases and elevate them to prominent positions (thus the popularity of economists on the chat shows), but it’s always struck me as odd that academics’ response to this is to insist on the continued possibility of the discipline getting the right answer so that it can be ignored by the wider world.

Some of these disciplines, at least, are supposed to be developing a more nuanced understanding of how the society works, no? Why don’t they use that understanding to make sure they get listened to? Perhaps sociologists’ work can’t be tested experimentally like physicists can, but surely a more accurate theory of the functioning of the media must be of some use in getting yourself invited on the chat shows!


Chris Brooke 11.27.09 at 3:45 pm

Sarah Hale’s fun article on “Professor Macmurray and Mr. Blair: The Strange Case of the Communitarian Guru that Never Was” that was in the Political Quarterly a few years back seems to be available here, her central claim being that ‘Blair’s “philosophy”, as reflected in both his words and his deeds (i.e. New Labour policy) is markedly different from Macmurray’s and frequently in stark opposition to it, with very little common ground; and that only an extremely superficial reading of Macmurray could have led commentators — and Blair himself — to believe otherwise.’


Chris Brooke 11.27.09 at 3:46 pm

Link didn’t come through for some reason:


alex 11.27.09 at 4:09 pm

The link between politics and philosophy is always going to be rather weak, until political philosophers get better at venal pandering – at which point philosophy will have become politics…


bert 11.27.09 at 4:35 pm

I thought Danny Finkelstein was unusually honest and insightful in the Newsnight studio discussion. Cameron’s purpose in giving house room to Philip Blond is to blow ideological smoke. This, according to Finkelstein, is part of Cameron’s characteristic pragmatism. The thicker and more incoherent the clouds billowing around the leadership, the less boxed-in he will be by hardliners and the easier he will find it to scuttle from expedient to expedient in pursuit of political advantage.

I’m not sure I buy this – the evidence on Europe is that hardliners recognise an easy mark when they see one – but it’s useful insight into the thinking in and around Notting Hill these days, and provides some kind of measure of the seriousness with which they regard political philosophy.

(BTW, when Levitt and Dubner swung by on their recent promotional tour, the red carpet was rolled out too.)


Gabe 11.27.09 at 5:49 pm

@ Aaron 29:

Cut to Scott Adams (or Gary Larson?) cartoon of an Economics lecturer:

“..and this equation explains why even though I’m an expert in money I dress like flood victim.”


TheSophist 11.27.09 at 7:12 pm

Is it a point for or against Milbank that he co-wrote a book with Zizek? “The Monstrosity of Christ” should certainly win some kind of award for provocative title, but is it any good? I must confess I found that it contained many interesting paragraphs, but that , at the end, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d read (probably a function of my lack of brain-power, but maybe not…)

Regarding theology…while it’s certainly true that the theistic hypothesis is (at best) undecidable, isn’t it necessary to take a somewhat pomo view and suggest that theology needs study because so many people believe the hypothesis behind it. (I’m reminded of Badiou, here – “The resurrection is the most important event in the history of the West, even though it never happened.” (Not verbatim, but a close as I can get from memory.)


Tim Wilkinson 11.27.09 at 10:27 pm

tom s @25: it says political philosophy is necessary to stop political discussions from degenerating into shouting and mindless labelling

Well, maybe it is. Not sufficient though, and that’s not the point of it either. The point of it in terms of ‘impact’ is, I boringly suppose, to generate and make available ideas, arguments, conceptions etc. which will eventually find their way into the thinking and actions of wider society. To take some impactful examples, Montesquieu, Mill, Marx.

Not Mr Blond, though. He clearly has different role – perhaps as an agglomeration of dog whistles, maybe including one forlornly intended to have hot air blown through it at the precise resonant frequency of Peter Hitchens’s skull. Or perhaps simply as figurehead of the latest attempt by the Conservative party to start a think tank that doesn’t immediately turn rabid and have to be put down. But most probably just as a means of filling this week’s political pages (and blogs) with nothing, thus allowing the Conservatives to creep a week closer to the election without the party’s (apparent) current trajectory being perturbed.

Why him? A marketing algorithm, the common touch that comes with not having gone to Eton, possibly being the namesake of Cameron’s favourite cinematic character. (Cameron differs from said character in not being prone to impulsively sadistic behaviour- or impulsively anything behaviour, especially not to the detriment of ruthless self-interest.)

Which reminds me, does anyone know of any work directly addressing the fact that competent psychopaths have a decisive advantage in any competition for power? The fact that people are unable to identify deceit by observation has been pretty well established, as has the fact that they tend to assume they can, so the idea that trustworthiness is an advantage can be discounted.

This is a filter that operates before the corrupting effects discussed by the Lords Chatham, Acton and, latterly, Owen even get started. Michael Portillo’s casual remark a couple of years ago on This Week* that “Parliament is corrupting…the first thing that happens to a new MP is that the whips…tell them how [they are expected]† to fiddle their expenses” is a bit of both.

* Source: clear and distinct recollection, possibly subject to very minor paraphrasis.
† this (and only this) might be an artefact of hindsight.

alex @32 – until political philosophers get better at venal pandering – at which point philosophy will have become politics and not philosophy: Giddens? Or (pace others) the unphilosophical foundations of certain doctrines of neoclassical microeconomics (revealed preference, pareto optimisation)?


Alex 11.28.09 at 2:41 am

“Red Tory” Blond was on HARDtalk a few weeks ago as well.

Incidentally, Cameron studied PPE at Oxford. His opposition to both rescuing the financial sector in ANY form, and opposition to ANY Keynesian stimulus, and support of Hooverist policies in general during this recession, means he’s forgotten the Economics he learned.

He’s also been criticised for his stance on the Human Rights Act by a former tutor (“I’d be quite happy to give him a few more tutorials on civil liberties.”) , so I guess he’s forgotten some of his politics too.

And the philosopher he’s a slave to is Philip Blond. I guess he needs to go back over his philosophy as well.

Zero for three! Not bad Davey.

A theocratic libertarian; that can’t but lead to silliness.”

I give you Ron Paul.


praisegod barebones 11.28.09 at 6:09 am

Chris Brooke

Thanks for the Hale piece.


Robert 11.28.09 at 10:57 am

Tim, would you be willing to expand on the lack of foundations of revealed preference theory? I think Samuelson failed to do what he set out to do, for what it’s worth.


Phil 11.28.09 at 12:45 pm

Sarah Hale’s fun article on “Professor Macmurray and Mr. Blair: The Strange Case of the Communitarian Guru that Never Was”

Yes, that was a good piece. I joined up some more dots in my paper “‘Putting the responsible majority back in charge’: New Labour’s punitive politics of respect”, which is in this book and hence not online (although I might be able to dig out a samizdat offprint if anyone’s interested). Shorter Edwards: there is some genuine Macmurray in Blair’s ‘Respect’ agenda, but there’s also an awful lot of Hobbes – and the end product is a travesty of both (communitarian absolutism, iow).


Phil 11.28.09 at 2:35 pm

Correction: this book. There is a paperback edition of /Remoralizing Britain?/, and it’s a mere £24.99. Which is pretty expensive for a 280-page paperback, but not *prohibitively* expensive.

Note to Continuum: the title of my chapter does not begin with “Putting the Moral Majority back in charge” but ” ‘Putting the responsible majority back in charge’ ” – as the single quotes imply, the ‘responsible majority’ phrase is a quotation (from Mr Tony Blair, naturally). Nothing to do with the Moral Majority.


Consumatopia 11.28.09 at 4:45 pm

It may not be an academic’s obligation to care which academics lay people listen to, but an academic that doesn’t care has no right to complain when lay people listen to the wrong one.

This is even more the case with regards to scientists complaining about journalists misunderstanding/misusing their research. Unless these scientists start doing their part to correct and prevent public misunderstandings, they have no grounds on which to complain.


Holmes 11.28.09 at 7:50 pm

@42 and off topic

Preventing the misunderstanding of natural sciences by non scientists entails educating the general public so that they take the caveats of scientists as read, and hence understand what making a qualified scientific statement means.

This is clearly beyond the power of any single scientist to achieve but should be a mainstay of the basic scientific literacy imparted by any self respecting school system.


Consumatopia 11.29.09 at 5:16 am

@43, just as it’s beyond the power of any individual scientist to educate the public, it’s also beyond the reasonable power of any individual lay person, even a well-educated one, to ascertain the current state of scientific knowledge on any particular topic of personal or public interest. It’s not a matter of the public being stupid, it’s a matter of the public simply not having enough time to read every white paper on all the topics relevant to them as either voters or individuals. Again, a scientist is under no obligation to care how well informed the public is, but if they do care, the only alternative is to actually participate in publicly understandable discussion, navigating and reforming the complicated webs of authority, trust, and division of labor the public uses to (mis)inform themselves.


Freshly Squeezed Cynic 11.29.09 at 4:00 pm

Phil, I’d be interested in a samizdata offprint, if you’re still offering.


Phil 11.29.09 at 5:08 pm

FSC – mail me (forename dot surname at gmail dot com).


James Wimberley 11.29.09 at 8:00 pm

On the point of political philosophy subthread: count me on the “yes” side of voyou’s question in #2. Political philosophers like to see themselves as Deep Thinkers, heirs of [choose your own icon], and would like to advance the subject on something like the same level. In the great majority of cases, this is wishful thinking. What political philosophers are mainly good for is education, to use the discipline (including the work of second-division scholars as well as that of the stars) to improve the quality of contemporary political debate. Monitoring and responding to the idiots, fanatics and sophists who populate it, from that standpoint, is part of the job description.
To JQ: theism isn’t undecidable, it’s undecided. When you die, you’ll find out for instance if personal immortality is true or not. That being so, there’s no a priori case for assuming that thinking based on either theistic or atheistic assumptions will be a waste of time. It wasn’t for Augustine and Anselm; why dismiss Milbank or Hans Küng unread? Also, theology provides the link between the phenomenon of religious belief and the lay world of ideas; so it’s an obvious entry point for nonbelieving scholars into an important social and psychological phenomenon.


John Quiggin 11.29.09 at 8:47 pm

@JQ I’m confident that I won’t find out, since I’ll be dead. But even if dead people know the answers, that doesn’t make the questions any more decidable for us.

I’m more interested in your last two sentences. I would have thought that anthropology and sociology of religion, starting from a position of neutrality/agnosticism /scepticism on the truth claims of religion would be a far more suitable entry point.


tom s. 11.29.09 at 8:47 pm

“When you die, you’ll find out for instance if personal immortality is true or not.” – Not if it’s not, unfortunately.


harry b 11.29.09 at 9:16 pm

I don’t think political philosophers (if what that means is professional academics who specialise in political philosophy) think of themselves as deep thinkers. They generally think they are making small, at best incremental, improvements in our collective understanding of the particular moral phenomenon they are investigating. I do agree with JW about what our job description includes (or ought to include) though: which is not to say that all of us should be doing that, but a good number of us should be. See my post on Sandel upcoming tomorrow…


Ben Eltham 12.01.09 at 12:08 pm

John, sounds like you’re making a variation of Pascal’s wager … theology is a pretty important historical subject, as much Western metaphysics, economics and political philosophy is unintelligible without it. Charles Taylor, for instance, has explored the influence of theism/deism on the development of Locke and Smith’s thought


Tim Wilkinson 12.04.09 at 8:50 pm

Pascal’s wager doesn’t take into account rather a lot of other possibilities – for example, notably, that there is an afterlife, but with the rewards and punishments he was betting on exactly reversed.

Robert @39: I have not been idle (though short of spare time) in pursuit of answering your request, a rare chance to rehearse my faded, vague-edged position as best I can, without being too Type 4 about it.

I ended up going on a bit though, and and this thread is dying so I’m going to put a response on my own site here over the weekend.

Meanwhile (or instead) here are some papers by the great economist (and philosopher of economics) Amartya Sen:

Amartya+Sen+-+Behaviour+and+the+Concept+of+Preference.pdf (Alternative link)

Amartya+Sen+-+Personal+Utilities+and+Public+Judgements+or+Whats+Wrong+With+Welfare+Economics.pdf (Alternative link)

Amartya+Sen+-+Rational+Fools.pdf (Alternative link)

Also Intro to Wong’s long ignored exposé


Valuethinker 12.06.09 at 9:06 am

Alex at 37

Alas PPE at Oxford doesn’t necessarily teach you any economics. You tend to flush what was in your brain after the exams.

When David Cameron was studying economics at Oxford, many economists believed in the policy nostrums he is spouting now. These were widely practiced in various 3rd world crises. If you read Krugman’s debates with John Cochrane, many economists still do believe them.

This is the disconnect. Cameron is allegedly socially aware but his annunciated policies (which are deeply popular within the party) would make Thatcher blush. Margaret had no problem with the right state intervention.

The annunciated Tory policy risks leaving the UK in a slump reminiscent of Japan. End Quantitative Easing, (strengthen the pound), chop government spending. The fact that the CBI is raving about how clever this all was in the early 90s should be a warning sign. As Giles Wilkes (and Samuel Brittain through him) has pointed out, the UK in the 80s faced inflation and high real interest rates, so cutting government spending was justified.

In the current scenario we have an absolute deficiency of aggregate demand and low real interest rates. Plans to cut government infrastructure spending, for example, are completely foolish.

(contrast that to the 1930s, when a deregulation of mortgage lending and heavy investment in transport infrastructure led to the creation of booming suburbs out along the Metropolitan and Central Lines. Britain outperformed most major economies in the 1930s as a result of that).

Like WWI generals, we are always fighting the last war. DC, George Osborne and the Tory Party have landed on the idea that what we need is a slash and trash Thatcherism because it worked in the 1980s (at a cost of a devastated infrastructure– roads, railroads, hospitals, schools). Which was the last war.

Like Tony Blair, I suspect DC is a profoundly clever politician, and a profoundly shallow mind beneath that.


McMurphy 12.06.09 at 6:00 pm

Pascal’s wager doesn’t take into account rather a lot of other possibilities – for example, notably, that there is an afterlife, but with the rewards and punishments he was betting on exactly reversed.

yass, sort of like an cosmic casino for crooked timber nihilists!

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