“Sidney Alexander & I are really the only ones who showed the basic logical contradictions caused by positivism having penetrated economics in the middle of the 20th Century”

Subroto Roy hears from Mr Scott Peterson,

“Dear Professor Roy, I have been reading your book *Philosophy of Economics* and happened to stumble on the following paper:’Public Finance Texts Cannot Justify Government Taxation’ Walter E. Block (Loyola University New Orleans, Joseph A. Butt, S.J. College of Business) has posted Public Finance Texts Cannot Justify Government Taxation: A Critique on SSRN. Here is the abstract: ‘In virtually all economic sub-disciplines, practitioners of the dismal science are exceedingly desirous of avoiding normative concerns, at least in principle. These are seen, and rightly so, as extremely treacherous. Being only human, they do sometimes stray off the path of positive analysis; but when they fall off the wagon in this manner, if at all, it is done relatively cautiously, and infrequently. There is one blatant exception to this general rule, however, and that is the field of public finance. Here, in sharp contrast to the usual practice, not only is normative economics embraced, it is done so with alacrity, and without apology. That is, most textbooks on the subject start off with one or several chapters which attempt to justify taxation on moral, efficiency, and other grounds. This occurs in no other field.’

When I read this I immediately thought of your discussion of the normative vs positive approaches in economics. Perhaps the exception economists make regarding public finance is that most economists’ paychecks come from the public sector.

Regards,

Scott Peterson

Dear Mr Peterson, Yes indeed. Thanks for the observation. Sidney Alexander and I are really the only ones who showed the basic logical contradictions caused by positivism having penetrated economics in the middle of the 20th Century. Are you at Facebook? Feel free to join me. Cordial regards, Suby Roy

“….Meanwhile, my main work within economic theory, the “Principia Economica” manuscript, was being read by the University of Chicago Press’s five or six anonymous referees. One of them pointed out my argument had been anticipated years earlier in the work of MIT’s Sidney Stuart Alexander. I had no idea of this and was surprised; of course I knew Professor Alexander’s work in balance of payments theory but not in this field. I went to visit Professor Alexander in Boston…. Professor Alexander was extremely gracious, and immediately declared with great generosity that it was clear to him my arguments in “Principia Economica” had been developed entirely independently of his work. He had come at the problem from an American philosophical tradition of Dewey, I had done so from a British tradition of Wittgenstein. (CS Peirce was probably the bridge between the two.) He and I had arrived at some similar conclusions but we had done so completely independently.”

Professor Alexander, contemporary of PA Samuelson, tutor of RM Solow and many others, deserves far greater attention, and I will do what I can towards that.  He introduced me briefly to his MIT colleague Lester Thurow and I sent an email some time ago to Professor Thurow suggesting MIT should try to remember him better.

Furthermore…. (12 August 2013)… as Karl Georg Zinn observed in his perspicacious review:

“Either all of positive economics is attacked with just as much scepticism as anything in normative economics, or we accept one and reject the other when instead there are reasons to think they share the same ultimate grounds and must be accepted or rejected together”(p.47).

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A Quick Comparison Between the September 11 2001 NYC-Washington attacks and the November 26-28 2008 Mumbai Massacres (An Application of the Case-by-Case Philosophical Technique of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough)

A Quick Comparison Between the September 11 2001 NYC-Washington attacks and the November 26-28 2008 Mumbai Massacres (An Application of the Case-by-Case Philosophical  Technique of Wittgenstein, Wisdom and Bambrough)

by

Subroto Roy

In my book Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, 1989) and in my August 24  2004 public lecture  in England  “Science,  Religion, Art and the Necessity of Freedom”, both available elsewhere here, I described the “case-by-case” philosophical technique recommended by Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Wisdom and Renford Bambrough.  (Bambrough had also shown a common root in the work of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce.)   Herewith an application of the technique to a contemporary problem that shows the “family resemblance” between two modern terrorist attacks, the September 11 2001 attack on New York and Washington and the Mumbai massacres last week.

Similarity:  In both, a gang of motivated youthful terrorists acted as a team against multiple targets; their willingness to accept  suicide while indulging in mass-murder may have, bizarrely enough, brought a sense of adventure and meaning to otherwise empty lives.

Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, Mohammad Atta seemed to have been a single predominant leader while each of the others also had complex active roles requiring decisions, like piloting and navigating hijacked jumbo-jets.  In the Mumbai massacres, the training and leadership apparently came from outside the team before and even during the operation  – almost as if the team were acting like brainwashed robots under long-distance control.

Similarity:  Both attacks required a long prior period of training and planning.

Difference: The 9/11 attacks did not require commando-training imparted by military-style trainers; the Mumbai massacres did.

Difference: In the 9/11 attacks, the actual weapons used initially were primitive, like box-cutters; in the Mumbai massacres, assault rifles and grenades were used along with sophisticated telecommunications equipment.

Difference: In 9/11, the initial targets, the hijacked aircraft, were themselves made into weapons against the ultimate targets, namely the buildings, in a way not seen before.  In the Mumbai massacres, mass-shooting of terrorized civilians was hardly something original; besides theatres of war, the Baader-Meinhof gang and the Japanese Red Army used these in the 1970s as terrorist techniques (e.g. at Rome Airport  Lod Airport; Postscript January 26 2009: I make this correction after reading and commenting on the RAND study which unfortunately  did not have the courtesy of acknowledging my December 6 2008 analysis) plus there were, more recently, the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres.

Similarity: In both cases, Hollywood and other movie scripts could have inspired the initial ideas of techniques to be  used.

Similarity: In both cases, the weapons used were appropriate to the anticipated state of defence: nothing more than box-cutters could be expected to get by normal airport security; assault rifles etc could come in by the unguarded sea and attack soft targets in Mumbai.  (Incidentally, even this elementary example of strategic thinking  in a practical situation may be beyond the analytical capacity contained in the tons of waste paper produced at American and other modern university Economics departments under the rubric of  “game theory”.)

Similarity: In both cases, a high-level of widespread fear was induced for several days or more within a targeted nation-state by a small number of people.

Similarity: No ransom-like demands were made by the terrorists in either case.

Similarity: Had the single terrorist not been captured alive in the Mumbai massacres, there would have been little trace left by the attackers.

Difference: The 9/11 attackers knew definitely they were on suicide-missions; the Mumbai attackers may not have done and may have imagined an escape route.