Learning to Re-envisage the Economy (Part 1)


After the invention of printing, pedagogy began with Machiavelli’s The Prince teaching politicians to lie, and Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning advising a new king to develop an encyclopedia of science “for the glory of God and the relief of Man’s estate” by “taking things to bits to see how they worked”.  Bacon’s doctor Harvey took men’s bodies to bits and discovered the circulation of the blood.  In France, Descartes took brains to bits, envisaging a “spiritual” mind (what we would now call information) controlling the brain’s matter. 

Economics began to go wrong when Locke denied Descartes’ “spirit”, mistaking Newton’s proving his gravitational hypothesis by observation for his starting with a “blank slate”; perhaps seeing that people having learned to see money as gold enabled would-be princes and mass producers to win wars using Bank of England credit.  Hume then denied Bacon’s unobservable God and his friend Adam Smith that Men who had fallen on hard times should be relieved; the new “princes” replaced invisible rights with written laws, certificates of authority and deeds of ownership.  The subsequent scientific discoveries of invisible flows in electric circuits, electro-magnetism, radio communication, electric circuit logic and the creation of information and environmental sciences passed them by except insofar as they could make money from them. So did mass production far exceeding the world’s capacity for self-renewal.

Economists, paid to advise princes and taught by empirical or Logical Positivist scientists to see the world as it has become, are telling the princes what they wish to hear: mass production for growing cities is now normal, so GDP should be increased; history is dead and the far future unknowable.  Even the dissidents don’t hear of the information science the economists and most scientists ignore; most objections to the theory are about “adding apples to oranges” in linear time.  But C E Shannon took invisible Communication to bits to see how it worked, i.e. distinguishing things from the words for them and using clock time: the mathematics of sine waves. Time cannot be “put back” but a clock can.

Before absorbing the language of the Right, therefore, students of Economics need to rediscover history and artistic thinking on the Left: Polanyi’s “Great Transformation” certainly but also the Christian Gospel stories in the Roman era; More’s story of Utopia (1516), about England becoming a land where “sheep ate men”; Ruskin’s “Unto This Last” (1864) suggesting Universal Credit and “The Crown of Wild Olive”(1866) alternative to industry wrecking the environment.  G K Chesterton on artist  “G F Watts” and in his “Napoleon” story (both 1904) explored the human brain having left and right sides, anticipating Jung’s personality theory; his “Outline of Sanity” (1926, year of the Gold Standard crisis) anticipated Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” response to the demise of coal.  What becomes exciting is finding anticipations of Shannon’s (1948) information science in current social research and physical equivalents of his computer circuits in human bodies.

Dave Taylor, born 1937 of slump-orphaned parents in industrial Manchester before the Hitler war, was by 1952 familiar with Catholic social teaching looking back to Aristotle’s economics and forward to post-war European economic reconstruction.  Before university qualifications became normal, he went on to a scientific apprenticeship and experimental work at the Radar Research Establishment in historic Malvern, since 1964 deeply immersed in training, management economics and philosophy of science.

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