Monday, March 2, 2015

Hume and the Balance of Trade

David Hume. Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary. Part II (1752). Essay V, Of The Balance Of Trade. Liberty Fund Edition. Indianapolis.

Footnotes omitted.
It is well known to the learned, that the ancient laws of ATHENS rendered the exportation of figs criminal that being supposed a species of fruit so excellent in ATTICA, that the ATHENIANS deemed it too delicious for the palate of any foreigner. And in this ridiculous prohibition they were so much in earnest, that informers were thence called sycophants among them, from two GREEK words, which signify figs and discoverer.
Of course, today, "sycophant" means something slightly different, closer to "toady" or "bootlick." We tend to reserve the appellation "snitch" to someone who turns in his fellow for the trafficking of contraband.
There are proofs in many old acts of parilament of the same ignorance in the nature of commerce, particularly in the reign of EDWARD III. And to this day, in FRANCE, the exportation of corn is almost always prohibited; in order, as they say, to prevent famines; though it is evident, that nothing contributes more to the frequent famines, which so much distress that fertile country.
Most economists would look at this essay and see an early (and quite good!) attempt at macroeconomics, specifically the sub-disciplines of monetary and trade economics. Silly sovereign, if you attempt to hoard gold and restrict trade, you'll reap domestic famine. While I'll cop to having a bit of training in economics, I read this essay and see scorn heaped upon the moral intuitions of the public, rather than to the collusive political and commercial elite.

The sycophant, so enamored of the fatuous, flatulent proclamations of the sovereign that he seeks to ingratiate himself to whatever vapid syllables the throne issues will seize any fallacy, no matter how puerile, no matter how delirious, and wield such proclamations as if they were the Word of God to benightedly and gleefully cudgel his countrymen into a pitiful parody of his own obsequious servility. The fig leaf he daintily places over his tumescent organ of toadying is the "rule of law," averring through thought and deed that justice and wisdom flow from the crown uninterrupted as a matter of the very nature of human affairs. The sycophant need never pause to consider the possibility that the temporal ruler of the nation might even for a moment be mistaken.

When the President does it, it's not illegal (people, actual people actually believe this).

If I were more daring, I might suggest that it is in the interest of the sovereign to craft in the nation a sort of factory set to the purpose of manufacturing legions of such sycophants, wrought from the flesh and bone of the free citizens of the country. Such a manufactorium might be at once mandatory, involve the most malleable of the minds of the populace, and remain entirely within the control of the apparatus of the state. I might, if I could muster the courage, suggest that a de facto national "approved" curriculum, perhaps coupled with the carrot of funding and the stick of licensing, would quite naturally be directed to advance the interests of the heads of state and that apostasy would be met with fierce opposition not just by the political elite, but by their self-identified sycophants.

Alas, in this matter, I am a deflated coward. I know too many educators who sincerely believe that they are in no way sycophants, that they reserve just as much scorn and contempt for the Congress as anyone else. They believe that public education serves a truly important role in society, and that anyone who might even suggest that schools exist as factory farms for political indoctrination is not only profoundly silly, but bordering on outright seditious.

And egads, but sedition is a capital crime, you guys. I'm totally not a traitor to a political order that reinforces its own dominion at the expense of the public. Pinky swear.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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