Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tears from a star

In Czesław Miłosz's Milosz's ABC's (transl. Madeline G. Levine) one of his musings starts like this:

ECONOMY. I don't understand a thing about it.
You would expect that from a poet (some will swear economists don't understand a thing about it either). However, that doesn't mean he can ignore it (as economists are not all able to ignore poetry either — POETRY. I don't know a formal model about it.):
I exaggerate my ignorance of economy, because earlier in my life I came to know it from an entirely nontheoretical side, as an insufficiency of money. Already as a twenty-year-old, I had discovered its ominous power, like the power of Fate, disposing of people's destinies despite their wishes and desires. The great American crisis of 1929 drove Polish immigrant laborers out of the mines and factories of France and into the streets, and I moved among crowds of them during my first visit there. In Germany, by depriving millions of people of work, the crisis prepared them to vote for Hitler.
His conclusion regarding the frail us and the fallible science-art of economics:
How fragile is the social organism; how easily its activity can be disrupted, I discovered in America, where at least since the sudden collapse of the market in 1929 people live as they do in California in relation to an earthquake: it could happen at any moment. There is no certainty that plans and intentions for the next year won't be suddenly thwarted. So it's no wonder that the science (or art?) of economics, which is based for the most part on attempts at foreseeing catastrophes, is highly valued, and that one can receive a Nobel Prize for it.
TOMORROW. I'm not certain of one thing about it.

Except, perhaps, that thing about an insufficiency of money.

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