Needed — a dystopian economics
from Stuart Birks and the WEA Newsletter
Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) are noted examples of dystopian literature. In contrast to idyllic utopian literature, they describe what might be considered to be seriously flawed societies. The authors wished to warn of potential dangers that might arise in the future. Huxley later published a follow-up collection of essays, Brave New World Revisited (1958) (BNWR). In it he warned that, his prophecies in the earlier book were coming true much sooner than he had anticipated. He wrote this in the 1950s, but his points seem particularly pertinent today as I will illustrate below. However, first I will give some context.
While not an economist, in BNWR Huxley made some points of particular relevance to economics:
“Omission and simplification help us to understand – but help us, in many cases, to understand the wrong thing; for our comprehension may be only of the abbreviator’s neatly formulated notions, not of the vast, ramifying reality from which these notions have been so arbitrarily abstracted.” (P. xxi)
And (bearing in mind, rationality, atomism, the efficiency of markets):
“Under the influence of badly chosen words, applied, without any understanding of their merely symbolic character, to experiences that have been selected and abstracted in the light of a system of erroneous ideas, we are apt to behave with a fiendishness and an organized stupidity.” (p.136)
Of course, the 20th Century was not the first time that utopian views have been challenged. A disastrous earthquake struck Lisbon in 1755 accompanied by massive tsunamis and widespread fires. This greatly affected Voltaire, among others, and a few years later he published Candide (1759). This satirical fiction challenged the view of nature and society being orderly and resulting in “the best of all possible worlds”. See here also. Anyone supporting neoliberal views or basing their opinions on the desirability of perfect competition would do well to consider Voltaire’s characterisation of Dr Pangloss.
So what was worrying Huxley in 1958? He argued that: read more