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A forced analogy between economics and the history of medicine - The Ex-Communicator

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August 16th, 2012

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08:27 am - A forced analogy between economics and the history of medicine
I don't want to bang on about the same old same old, but isn't it about time we acknowledge that mainstream economics is simply wrong. We've been wrong before. Medicine was wrong until about 200 years ago. Physics was wrong at the time of Aristotle. We can look back to the past and say 'In the 17th century they were right about this, wrong about that'. Why not admit we still have our failings?

In the middle ages if you were sick you would have been better off being treated by a local herbalist than a University-trained doctor. Not that the herbalist had any decent theoretical model to work to, but s/he had a few traditional methods that weren't actually lethal, and might have done some good. On the other hand the theory taught at University was completely wrong, but because of the social status of the doctors it was unassailable by mere 'facts'. A good example was bloodletting. I was recently reading about a wounded soldier in the American Civil war being drained of 11 pints of blood (obviously over a period of some days) by the doctors employed to treat him. It's a wonder he recovered.

If we can believe that the human race can get things wrong, I think we have to be alert to it happening again. I really think we are like that patient, being drained of blood until we almost die. It is hard for me to know whether the doctors are ignorant or bad.

I also guess that the alternative economic theories we have available are a bit like the village wise women: the theory might be a bit shonky, but at least it stops the bloodletting and gives the system a chance to right itself. If I really wanted to push the analogy to its extreme I might say that Marxist theories are more like mediaeval surgery: drastic, effective, extremely painful, and if things go on, possibly the only way to preserve life.

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:August 16th, 2012 10:33 am (UTC)
Mary Renault's Simonides on why he doesn't answer doctors honestly when they ask the secret of his great age and good health: "It would be uncivil to say that whenever in my travels I get a touch of fever, I go quietly to bed and send for the local wise-woman." (The Praise Singer)
[User Picture]
Date:August 16th, 2012 02:59 pm (UTC)
I remember that. I often wonder whether if I had been born in those days I would have been so sensible. I think it probably depends on the class you were born into.
[User Picture]
Date:August 16th, 2012 02:19 pm (UTC)
Um, communism worked *worse* than capitalism-- it promised prosperity but brought poverty and bad government.

Or are you using a broad definition of communism?

This is a kickstarter to do research into how successful socialist governments do it.
[User Picture]
Date:August 16th, 2012 03:06 pm (UTC)
Obviously we had less poverty than the Eastern Bloc, but was this because we were more effective at making stuff, or just because we exploited the developing world more ruthlessly. Because it seems to me our prosperity is just at the expense of other people. And that prosperity doesn't seem sustainable in the long term.

It is too early to say which has failed more drastically: communism of capitalism. For example, capitalism might result in the death of a couple of billion people in the next fifty years, due to environmental collapse. Potentially more than that. Arguably communism would have had the same bad effect, and it was just that we lasted a couple of decades longer.
[User Picture]
Date:August 16th, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC)

Erst kommt das Fressen, dan kommt die Morale

Soviet joke: "Comrade, how can you say that there is no difference? Capitalism is the oppression of man by man, and communism is the exact opposite!"

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