Forward to the Past - Feudalism and CommunismWritten by Sam Vaknin
The core countries of Central Europe (the Czech Republic, Hungary and, to a lesser extent, Poland) experienced industrial capitalism in inter-war period. But countries comprising vast expanses of New Independent States, Russia and Balkan had no real acquaintance with it. To them its zealous introduction is nothing but another ideological experiment and not a very rewarding one at that.
It is often said that there is no precedent to extant fortean transition from totalitarian communism to liberal capitalism. This might well be true. Yet, nascent capitalism is not without historical example. The study of birth of capitalism in feudal Europe may yet lead to some surprising and potentially useful insights.
The Barbarian conquest of teetering Roman Empire (410-476 AD) heralded five centuries of existential insecurity and mayhem. Feudalism was countryside's reaction to this damnation. It was a Hobson's choice and an explicit trade-off. Local lords defended their vassals against nomad intrusions in return for perpetual service bordering on slavery. A small percentage of population lived on trade behind massive walls of Medieval cities.
In most parts of central, eastern and southeastern Europe, feudalism endured well into twentieth century. It was entrenched in legal systems of Ottoman Empire and of Czarist Russia. Elements of feudalism survived in mellifluous and prolix prose of Habsburg codices and patents. Most of denizens of these moribund swathes of Europe were farmers - only profligate and parasitic members of a distinct minority inhabited cities. The present brobdignagian agricultural sectors in countries as diverse as Poland and Macedonia attest to this continuity of feudal practices.
Both manual labour and trade were derided in Ancient World. This derision was partially eroded during Dark Ages. It survived only in relation to trade and other "non-productive" financial activities and even that not past thirteenth century. Max Weber, in his opus, "The City" (New York, MacMillan, 1958) described this mental shift of paradigm thus: "The medieval citizen was on way towards becoming an economic man ... ancient citizen was a political man".
What communism did to lands it permeated was to freeze this early feudal frame of mind of disdain towards "non-productive", "city-based" vocations. Agricultural and industrial occupations were romantically extolled. The cities were berated as hubs of moral turpitude, decadence and greed. Political awareness was made a precondition for personal survival and advancement. The clock was turned back. Weber's "Homo Economicus" yielded to communism's supercilious version of ancient Greeks' "Zoon Politikon". John of Salisbury might as well have been writing for a communist agitprop department when he penned this in "Policraticus" (1159 AD): "...if (rich people, people with private property) have been stuffed through excessive greed and if they hold in their contents too obstinately, (they) give rise to countless and incurable illnesses and, through their vices, can bring about ruin of body as a whole". The body in text being body politic.
This inimical attitude should have come as no surprise to students of either urban realities or of communism, their parricidal off-spring. The city liberated its citizens from bondage of feudal labour contract. And it acted as supreme guarantor of rights of private property. It relied on its trading and economic prowess to obtain and secure political autonomy. John of Paris, arguably one of first capitalist cities (at least according to Braudel), wrote: "(The individual) had a right to property which was not with impunity to be interfered with by superior authority - because it was acquired by (his) own efforts" (in Georges Duby, "The age of Cathedrals: Art and Society, 980-1420, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1981). Despite fact that communism was an urban phenomenon (albeit with rustic roots) - it abnegated these "bourgeoisie" values. Communal ownership replaced individual property and servitude to state replaced individualism. In communism, feudalism was restored. Even geographical mobility was severely curtailed, as was case in feudalism. The doctrine of Communist party monopolized all modes of thought and perception - very much as church-condoned religious strain did 700 years before. Communism was characterized by tensions between party, state and economy - exactly as medieval polity was plagued by conflicts between church, king and merchants-bankers. Paradoxically, communism was a faithful re-enactment of pre-capitalist history.
The Dismal Mind - Economics as a Pretension to Science - Part IIWritten by Sam Vaknin
III. The Scientific Method
To qualify as science, an economic theory must satisfy following conditions:
All-inclusive (anamnetic) – It must encompass, integrate and incorporate all facts known. Coherent – It must be chronological, structured and causal. Consistent – Self-consistent (its sub-"narratives" cannot contradict one another or go against grain of main "narrative") and consistent with observed phenomena (both those related to subject and those pertaining to rest of universe). Logically compatible – It must not violate laws of logic both internally (the narrative must abide by some internally imposed logic) and externally (the Aristotelian logic which is applicable to observable macro world). Insightful – It must inspire a sense of awe and astonishment, which is result of seeing something familiar in a new light or result of seeing a pattern emerging out of a big body of data ("data mining"). The insights must be inevitable conclusion of logic, language and of development of narrative. Aesthetic – The narrative must be both plausible and "right", beautiful (aesthetic), not cumbersome, not awkward, not discontinuous, smooth and so on. Parsimonious – The narrative must employ minimum number of assumptions and entities in order to satisfy all above conditions. Explanatory – The narrative must explain behaviour of economic actors, their decisions, why events develop way they do. Predictive (prognostic) – The narrative must possess ability to predict future events, future behaviour of economic actors and of other meaningful figures and inner emotional and cognitive dynamics of said actors. Prescriptive – With power to induce change (whether it is for better, is a matter of contemporary value judgements and fashions). Imposing – The narrative must be regarded by society as preferable and guiding organizing principle. Elastic – The narrative must possess intrinsic abilities to self organize, reorganize, give room to emerging order, accommodate new data comfortably, avoid rigidity in its modes of reaction to attacks from within and from without. In some of these respects, current economic narratives are usually theories in disguise. But scientific theories must satisfy not only most of above conditions. They must also pass crucial hurdles of testability, verifiability, refutability, falsifiability, and repeatability – all failed by economic theories. Many economists argue that no experiments can be designed to test statements of economic narratives, to establish their truth-value and, thus, to convert them to theorems.
There are five reasons to account for this shortcoming - inability to test hypotheses in economics:
Ethical – Experiments would have to involve humans. To achieve necessary result, subjects will have to be ignorant of reasons for experiments and their aims. Sometimes even very performance of an experiment will have to remain a secret (double blind experiments). Some experiments may involve unpleasant experiences. This is ethically unacceptable. Design Problems - The design of experiments in economics is awkward and difficult. Mistakes are often inevitable, however careful and meticulous designer of experiment is. The Psychological Uncertainty Principle – The current position of a human subject can be (theoretically) fully known. But passage of time and experiment itself influence subject and void this knowledge ("time inconsistencies"). The very processes of measurement and observation influence subject and change him. Uniqueness – Experiments in economics, therefore, tend to be unique and cannot be replicated elsewhere and at other times even if they deal with SAME subjects. The subjects (the tested humans) are never same due to aforementioned psychological uncertainty principle. Repeating experiments with other subjects adversely affects scientific value of results. The undergeneration of testable hypotheses – Economics does not generate a sufficient number of hypotheses, which can be subjected to scientific testing. This has to do with fabulous (=storytelling) nature of discipline. In a way, Economics has affinity with some private languages. It is a form of art and, as such, is self-sufficient. If structural, internal constraints and requirements are met – a statement is deemed true even if it does not satisfy external (scientific) requirements. Thus, standard theory of utility is considered valid in economics despite empirical evidence to contrary - simply because it is aesthetic and mathematically convenient. So, what are economic narratives good for?