Thursday, May 2, 2013

It's a Metaphor, Andy

Economics is an impossible subject. I don't mean that it's merely hard and given enough computing power or thought, it's a game with a solution the way Chess is. I mean it's impossible to "solve" the calculation "problem". I use the quotes because I don't really see productive human activity as a puzzle in need of a solution. In other words, I (mostly) reject that metaphor.

You might not, and that's fine. Economics becomes more tractable once you deal with its impossibilities in metaphorical terms. The selection of your metaphor informs the sorts of questions you find interesting and supplies the basis for the sorts of policies you find useful. If your metaphor for economics is machinery, you might see policy-makers as either mechanics or saboteurs, depending on affiliation. If your metaphor for economics is agrarian, you might see policy-makers as shepherds or wolves or whatever. If your metaphor is bureaucratic, it's hierarchies, hierarchies everywhere.
A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History
If you're into the Mad Max metaphor, you'll be prone to finding violence wherever you look. To be sure, none of these are necessarily a priori wrong, but some metaphors may be more useful, more functional than others.

If you're a regular enough reader of my flightier posts, you've probably already identified that I'm a big fan of mixed metaphors. I do this quasi-intentionally. I'm just Platonic enough to agree that there's probably an invisible larger truth that we're grasping towards and that trying to get at this truth demands the courage to be cognitively experimental. At the same time, I'm just inattentive enough to occasionally forget which metaphor I've most recently deployed. Epistemology ain't easy, people. Anyone who tells you otherwise is blowing smoke up your banana-stuffed tailpipe. Not all experiments yield useful results, but that's no reason to stop experimenting, right? There's bound to be a dog at the end of at least one of these chains.

So yes, I agree that confused, confusing mixed metaphors can be maddening, but even within the relatively narrow topic of euvoluntary exchange, there's a lot of room for interpretation, a lot of lenses we can swap into our spectacles as we ski down the slopes of moral intuition towards the kangaroo pouch of understanding. As with moral dimensionality, I urge you to consider metaphor choice as informing folks' beliefs and values. There's bound to be some intersection and interaction between the two. Keep your own mind limber enough to play hopscotch as you pirouette from point of view to point of view. You don't have to set up shop in anyone else's metaphor, but being able to visit can help you burnish your own ideas.

And what can be more euvoluntary than an exchange of ideas?

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?