22 February 2010

"The New Holy Wars"

Limited time for blogging today, so I'm going to pass along a new book Arnold Kling mentions that soudns interesting: Robert H Nelson's The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion Versus Environmental Religion in Contemporary America.

I'm interested because...
  • Nelson is a faculty member here at UMD.

  • I think politics and state-worship, for lack of a better word, is the new religion of the 20th century.
    • As a semi-subset of the above, environmentalism has taken on tons of religious overtones and syntactic trappings.  Even many within the environmental movement have embraced this.

    • A lot of libertarian, free-market types also hold their beliefs in a sort of dogmatic, down-from-Sinai manner.  I'd like to think it's only the gold-bugs and other weirdos in my loose collection of co-travelers that do this, but let's be honest — it's not.

      • (As a side note, I'd point out that there's a thin line between the dogmatic assertions of Moses and the axiomatic assertions of Euclid.  I'm a big supporter of laying out your first principles, even if you have to admit they're unsupported by anything but faith or belief, and proceeding from there.  So is Rothbard, for example, being religiously dogmatic in The Ethics of Liberty?  In a way, yes.  But viewed another way he's just being rigorous in defining his postulates.  As long as you're honest about admitting what you take as a a given I'm okay with it.)

  • I'm interested in examining things from a religious angle.  (You can thank ND for that.)

  • I think most popular movement, whether explicitly religious or not, operate in much the same ways, so I think religion is an interesting lens through which to view all of them.  (You can thank Hoffer for that.)

  • It's blurbed by Deirdre McCloskey, who I'm not terribly familiar with but I really like what I know about the "McKloskey Critique" of modern economics. The premise of her two most recent books also interest me, the first being The Cult of Statistical Significance: How the Standard Error Costs Us Jobs, Justice, and Lives and the second (probably more related to Nelson's book) being The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce.  I found out about the latter through the related essay published by Cato.

  • I might be reading too much between the lines here, but between McKloskey's view of economics being wrongfully focused on physics-based paradigms, Nelson's work on environmental issues, and a seminar I'm currently taking on nature-inspired computing, I'm interested in a view of economics with a more biologically paradigm.  I think Nelson's book may at least hint at such things.

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