O MacGuffin: E no entanto ou talvez por isso?

quarta-feira, junho 24, 2009

E no entanto ou talvez por isso?


According to Hegel, the Owl of Minerva spreads its wings only at dusk. The later stages of one’s career should be propitious for discerning tendencies and forces at work in society. Earlier preoccupations with specific studies can be helpful for subsequent reflection on wider issues but meanwhile absorb time and attention.
Like many of my contemporaries, fellow undergraduates and young academics alike, in my early days I expected much from economics, both in public policy and in intellectual interest. The great advances in the subject and the high intelligence of my academic colleagues seemed to confirm these hopes. Nevertheless, from about the early 1950s increasing claims for economics by its practitioners ran parallel with my own increasing doubts and reservations.

I came to realize for instance that economists systematically exaggerate the impact of their ideas. In an oft-quoted passage in The General Theory, Keynes insisted that in the long run the world is governed by little else than the ideas of economists and political philosophers. If this were true, the world would have enjoyed the benefits offree trade for at least 100 years. Apart from being obviously unsustainable, Keynes’ opinion is also naively parochial in attributing exclusive influence to the ideas of economists and political philosophers. He neglects the impact of the founders and leaders of religious movements, including the Buddha, Christ, Mohammed, and of military commanders such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napoleon.

The ideas of economists do affect the wider scene; like other ideas they have consequences. As Milton Friedman has reminded us, economists can suggest possible options to politicians. But we must not delude ourselves by overstating our influence, whether in the short period or over the longer run.


Peter Bauer in From Subsistence to Exchange (Princeton University Press, 2000)

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