Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ego, Ideology, Acquisitiveness, and Science

The New York Times Book Reviews of November 1, 2009 (tomorrow at the time of this post) offers three very revealing reviews that deal with the general theme of economic theory and practice. If you care to think about such things these reviews will make for good reading.

There is one about the life of Ayn Rand, whose comic book ideology and powerful ego served to capture the fancy of many a naive but intelligent youth, including one as distinguished as Alan Greenspan - the one who, in recent years, managed to play a role in royally screwing up the American economy.

Ayn Rand

The second one is about the professional career and successful acquisitiveness of Jamie Dimon who helped to build that monstrous corporate entity called "Citigroup" and who currently is at the helm of JP Morgan Chase bank.

Jamie Dimon

The third is a review of two books about the life and the contributions of John Maynard Keynes to economic theory and practice. He is the economist to turn to when your favorite ideology again fails.


Draw your own conclusions. Mine are particularly simple and it astounds me that I had to become an octogenarian before I could clearly express them. I cannot explain that except to concede that I am a slow learner. Perhaps you can do better.

Ego is probably ubiquitous in humans, at least in the ones I know anything about. Mine now takes the form of simply wanting to understand things as well as I can, but it can take many forms - even in scientists. However, while ego can motivate science ego cannot replace science and it needs to be carefully restrained.

Acquisitiveness is to be found in varying degrees but it is a widely distributed trait that has not spared the subspecies called "bankers." The book about Jamie Dimon, a very successful banker, may to some extent explain why bankers should not be the final arbiters of financial regulation.

Ideology is for the simple minded and for manipulators and exploiters of the simple minded. By confining their ideas to one small ideological box it spares them the arduous labor of thought and gets in the way of real progress. It is much to his credit that "Keynes’s political views were dominated by a pragmatism similar to what Clarke describes, where the best is the enemy of the good. Keynes was no socialist, but also no free-market ideologue. He was interested in what worked."

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