Home > Uncategorized > How to be a great economist

How to be a great economist

from Lars Syll

The master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts …​ He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher—in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular, in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must be entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood, as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near to earth as a politician.

John Maynard Keynes

Economics students today are complaining more and more about the way economics is taught. The lack of fundamental diversity — not just path-dependent elaborations of the mainstream canon — and narrowing of the curriculum, dissatisfy econ students all over the world. The frustrating lack of real-world relevance has led many of them to demand the discipline to start developing a more open and pluralistic theoretical and methodological attitude.

There are many things about the way economics is taught today that worry yours truly. Today’s students are force-fed with mainstream neoclassical theories and models. That lack of pluralism is cause for serious concern.

However, I find the most salient deficiency in ‘modern’ economics education in the total absence of courses in the history of economic thought and economic methodology. That is deeply worrying since a science that doesn’t self-reflect and asks important methodological and science-theoretical questions about the own activity, is a science in dire straits.

Methodology is about how we do economics, how we evaluate theories, models and arguments. To know and think about methodology is important for every economist. Without methodological awareness it’s really impossible to understand what you are doing and whyyou’re doing it. Dismissing methodology is dismissing a necessary and vital part of science.

For someone who has spent forty years in economics academia, it’s hopeful to see all these young economics students that want to see a real change in economics and the way it’s taught. Never give up. Never give in.

  1. Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
    June 24, 2018 at 3:26 pm

    Lars, I think current academic economics is strongly reinforced by business & governments who support business. Scandinavia is an exception & of course communist governments themselve ARE business when push comes to shove. That reinforcement provides both press & copious amounts of money, rather reinforcing for most economists, I expect.

  2. Vince
    June 24, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    Here is another here, it can only be a good thing,

    http://www.rethinkeconomics.org/get-involved/why-rethink-economics/

  3. Econoclast
    June 24, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    “I find the most salient deficiency in ‘modern’ economics education in the total absence of courses in the history of economic thought and economic methodology.” Right on! My own study of this deficiency in United States university economics departments bears this out. My study has not yet determined the degree of intentional abandonment of this crucial field of study, but I suspect it is intended to preserve the orthodoxy.

    I counsel caution, however, about such as the Young Scholars Initiative, shown in the video. This is a project of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a think tank founded by George Soros in 2009. If you examine its board of advisors and directors, you’ll find dominance by big finance. I applaud the enthusiasm of the young people, but be forewarned. I much prefer the youthful energy expressed in the International Student Initiative for Pluralist Economics. The former seems coopted to me; the latter a truer expression of the needed revolt.

  4. June 24, 2018 at 8:37 pm

    I feel the same worry as Econoclast, but I do not know how they are related:International Student Initiative for Pluralist Economics and Young Scholars Initiative. Are they clearly separated? I had a feeling that they have many common students. Does someone know the situation more closely?

    • Econoclast
      June 24, 2018 at 11:27 pm

      Consider this a possible difference: The parent of the Young Scholars Initiative is a think tank, The Institute for New Economic Thinking. Founded in 2009 with some of George Soros’ loose change: $50 million. In contrast, the International Student Initiative for Pluralist Economics appears to be a worldwide grassroots effort of the students themselves. Their manifesto is signed by 42 economics student associations from 19 countries (http://www.isipe.net/open-letter/). Note that 14 of the groups are from Germany, 7 from the United Kingdom, and just 1 from the United States. It is likely that some students are involved with both.

  5. Helen Sakho
    June 25, 2018 at 1:35 am

    “Crisis, what crisis”?

    I must admit this whole situation is beginning to look rather like the biggest achievement of the system, yet. While I do appreciate Lars’s comment above and might only have added to a most intelligent manager of the system (Keynes – RIP) that as an enlightened English-speaking, relatively new Economist to watch his use of gender a bit more closely, I might as well add the following:

    1) Are there no Economists (old or young) from Yaman, Afghanistan, Syria, or from the various refugee camps or other confined spaces around the entire universe?

    2) Presumably this fine gathering was attended by people (old and young, male and female) who can all travel freely on a valid passport? And go back to whence they came or to another hopeful seminar?

    3) Would I be right in predicting that the same group(s) will be exporting new, mostly funded “specialist knowledge” to be translated into the various peculiar languages not spoken at these mainstream gatherings?

    4) And that another “new paradigm or paradise” will afterward be created to resolve all key economic mysteries by the no doubt rightfully frustrated young scholars, and new funding regimes will be offered to them by old funding regimes according to new criteria?

    Yours truly amazed, and remaining so since time immemorial!

  6. Craig
    June 25, 2018 at 4:16 am

    The master economist must have paradigm perception of both the old and new kind. Economics suffers from being long buried in the old paradigm. Hetrodox economists have correctly critiqued a lot of the old paradigm, but mentally and theoretically they still live within it. They’re so close, perhaps too close to recognize the single concept that will form the entirely new and transformed pattern. It takes stepping completely outside of the old paradigm…even of its most holy of holy cows…or an outsider who can see all of the value in heterodoxy yet does not have the mental baggage of hidden orthodoxies, taboos about where to look for solutions and whose intellectual curiosities even outside of economics enables that closer and more clarifying look.

  7. Esward K Ross
    June 27, 2018 at 8:36 am

    In reply to Lars Syll and the above comments I find the quote of Keynes description of what is required to make a master-economist clearly outlines the concept that economic study and conversations need an open mind and the involvement of other disciplines. Then he expresses concern and support for the students who are unhappy with the way students are generally being taught. What concerns me is that this was the very reason the French students started their revolt in 2’000 and the reason Edward Fullbrook started the Post Autistic journal. Later he wrote;

    “The neoclassic monopoly in the classroom and its probation on critical thinking has meant that it has brain washed successive generations of students into viewing economic reality exclusively through its concepts, which more often than not misrepresents or veil the world, especially todays world. Nearly all of these neoclassical notions have a bearing on judgments about social, cultural and economic policy. Consequently, if society were to learn to think about economic matters outside the neoclassical conceptual system , it would almost certainly choose different policies. One of PAE’S projects has been to expose some of the conceptual lunacies of today’s mainstream, both in the terms of the concepts it uses and the concepts it lacks.” Edward Fullbrook P.A.E. VOL 32 P34

    The reason I bring this quote up again that I used it in a post in 8/02/2018, is because it seems to me that despite the valiant efforts of some economists who openly support the various student movements asking for exposure to a broad range of economic concepts, very little appears to have changed in that regard. Here if I remember correctly one of the reasons why the French students were successful was firstly they had the support of some of their professors and secondly they were able to inform the politicians and the public of their concerns.make there concerns Finally i am convinced that the first step in learning how to think and examine a problem from a number of different angles instead of simply accepting the indoctrination of those with an ulterior motive. Ted.

  8. David Harold Chester
    June 28, 2018 at 2:50 pm

    Ted: yes we certainly need to think differently and in spite of so many well-wishers for the student’s movement towards this there is little progress. But there has been some, and if and when you recognize what my recent book “Consequential Macroeconomics–Rationalizing About How our Social System Works” and its engineering/scientific approach to understanding the problem of representing our macroeconomics social system, then you will discover that this is not irrelevant. Write to me ( chesterdh@hotmail.com ) for an e-copy for free, and clear your mind of the confusions of the past.

    • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
      June 28, 2018 at 5:48 pm

      Hi, David, having done so much consulting over the decades I concluded that an engineering approach made sense. Let’s go to Peoria, Baghdad, Beijing, wherever, to observe & to measure. Then we can talk about our measurements & associated analyses among ourselves, never assuming any school of economics or philosophic thought.

  9. June 29, 2018 at 7:42 am

    “[The master-economist] must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must be entirely outside his regard”. JMK.

    With respect, David, this is about rather more than “understanding the problem of representing our macroeconomics social system”. I appreciate the engineering/scientific flow diagram approach in your macro-economic model, but it seems to address only the relationships between our current institutions, with man’s nature and his future nowhere addressed. Surely people act according to what they believe, and in the first instance believe what they can see, and see what they have names for? Yet Copernicus long ago showed scientists that what we see (the sun going round the earth) can be misleading – not in detail but in principle – so that if people see a river flowing endlessly from the hills to the sea they will develop an explanation in terms of gravity, not look for an explanation in the sun-driven hydraulic cycle; and even if they learn from you to see the cyclic flow of money through recognisable institutions, that does not account for man’s biological needs and his “growing up” and need to maintain earth’s recycling of its real resources. The problem of representing our macroeconomics social system surely extends to the characterisation of number as a flow, such that the type of number out is not necessarily the same as that in, e.g. whole numbers are not recycled by dividing them (though the units of clock numbers are inheritantly cyclic).

    I’m currently re-reading Prychitco’s “Why Economists Disagree” (1998, SUNY). On p.28 Garrison is comparing Keynesian with Austrian theorising, the latter comparing “successive states of equilibrium which are separated by a period of time sufficiently long for the economy fully to adjust to all parametric changes”. Garrison says “the long view, in [Keynes’s ] view, is nothing more than an unending sequence of short runs, each with its own equilibrium”. My own much earlier reading of the non-Euclidian Keynes saw him trying to express relationships I was familiar with in terms of maritime navigation. In the short term the steersman has to correct changes of direction. In the long term the wind, tides, compass errors etc will not affect the direction he is steering. Rather, they will have taken him out of position, so that to get where he wants to go he will have to CHANGE the direction he is aiming for. So I’m saying Garrison and the neoliberal post-Keynesians are wrong. Keynes is not just about revaluing money to compensate for the effect of profit-seeking price increases; he is seeing economics straying from its goal of human provisioning and proposing its correction not by reducing prices to increase consumption but by unsaleable infrastructure [earth, capital] maintenance. In the terms of subsequent information science that is about sacrificing redundant efficiency for increased reliability.

    • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
      June 29, 2018 at 10:15 am

      My major concern, Dave, is that both knowledge & social relations have changed globally such that 19th & 20th C. thinking just doesn’t apply. Imagine Black women as billionaire tycoons & athletes at the level of males. Imagine China the economic equal of either the EU or US. Imagine science which will completely re-organize the world of work, but many places struggling with religious violence going back 1400 years midst ancient cities. Imagine both the UK & US having governments which deny the economic unity of the world. So both change & denial of such. How to model that, my friend.

      • June 29, 2018 at 11:42 am

        Proclaiming your professorship “doesn’t become you” when you make uncomprehending comments like this, James. What is at issue is not knowledge but what is necessary for one to acquire and share it, i.e. language complex but uncomplicated enough to express it and motivation sufficiently other-directed to be willing to. Without that, sure, humans may remain or degenerate into animal predators and prey, but they still have the same brains now as they did in the 19th and 20th century. All that is different is that we now know rather more about how they work, which sadly is being more widely used to mislead other people than to follow the ancient advice to “know thyself”.

        So ignorant or self-serving people in UK and US governments deny the economic unity of the world?

        G K Chesterton, in a little book (Orthodoxy) it might take you – as it took me – decades to comprehend, gave a couple of comprehensive answers in respect of this and changes in social relations:

        Ch.4 . “Strike a glass, and it will not endure an instant; simply do not strike it, and it will endure a thousand years. … happiness depended on NOT DOING SOMETHING which you could at any moment do and which, very often, it was not obvious why you should not do”. [Hence subsidiarity: only globalise insofar as one needs to].

        Ch.7. “We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier”. [From a brief comparison of evolution, progress and reform].

      • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
        June 29, 2018 at 1:22 pm

        Dave, we are speaking to different audiences. I deal mostly with Master’s in Engineering & Business, often from poor nations or poor families in wealthy nations. My students are more from Asia that the West. Their daily lives are about measurements & job performance. Chesterton would make no sense to most, nor would they want to try. While I don’t wish to emphasize their closeness to Trump, he seems to be a materialist whose mental depth goes to insuring his ego is dominant if possible in every social encounter. Not so my students.
        That said, I also was raised with philosophy, history & anthropology. In my years in the Uni Calif & State Uni of Calif systems the engineers & biz faculty were seen as largely different from those in the humanities, for sure. Actually I went between anthro & those other two faculties at several uni’s. And that was a cultural shock each time….
        Keep up your interesting comments, my friend.

  10. David Harold Chester
    June 29, 2018 at 8:37 am

    David Taylor: “Surely people act according to what they believe, and in the first instance believe what they can see, and see what they have names for?”

    You are doing it again! Confusing micro- with macro- . The people have a wide degree of opinion but in order to understand our social system in its most basic and simple terms we need to consider the aggregate and for this the “people’s opinion” is non-existent.

    What is significant is how they generally will behave and this is not so much due to individual opinion as to their aggregate and topological situation within the Big Picture. This is why my model has so much relevance, it avoids having to “see the trees” and concentrates on the “wood”. Do we really think we have a chance of understanding society if we listen to every single complaint and comment. Better to view it as a whole.

    The trick in coming to grips with the confusion of so many influences is to realize that there are only a limited number of ways each individual person can pull and react. If we list these kinds of behaviors, recognize that we have many of them combined in our natures, and then consider the average of each kind of them, we will be working with social FUNCTIONS whose activities are through agents or entities. In my model there are but 6 of these that are necessary. Please review them in my working paper SSRN 2865571 “Einstein’s Criterion Applied to Logical Macroeconomics Modelling”.

    “I cannot play upon any stringed instrument; but I can tell you how of a little village to make a great city”— THEMISTOCLES.

  11. June 29, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    James, be careful you don’t smear Chesterton by juxtapositioning his name by that of Trump. Chesterton, having been shunned by British academics after he became a Catholic, is now usually (if at all) known for his Fr Brown detective stories. Yet in fact he was an intuitive polymath: an artist and poet who studied language and personality differences, became a renowned art, literary and social critic, turned down a professorship in order to educate the uneducated via journalism, became one of the leading lights in the Distributist school of economics and in retrospect was recognised by Jaki as “a seer of science”. If you pick up a copy of any of the old “Everyman” edition of Dickens, you will find it prefixed by a Chesterton tutorial about both the story and the writing of it.

    The point is the one Kate Raworth makes so tellingly in her “Doughnut Economics”: all your erudite Masters and PhD’s began as students and often still see the world and their part in it in the way these were first presented to them: as misleadingly oversimplified and specialised. The academically despised Distributist picture is of localisation (as in families and sustenance farming) so that we can see and learn directly from what others are doing. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful” as against automated mass production (for sale only to those with money).

    • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
      June 29, 2018 at 4:39 pm

      Dave, of course Chesterton cared for others, which is not a suit which Mr Trump seems to know. My point was simply that when the world wants excellence in anything–whether with a Luther translating the Bible into German or an Albert Einstein with his re-ordering of our understanding of physical nature–it typically calls on specialists. I recall from my undergrad years that our famous professors in any subject could stand up and speak for hours without notes, often writing lines of poetry or mathematics, just because they were specialists.

      • Craig
        June 29, 2018 at 6:32 pm

        Dave and James,

        You’re both right of course because you’re both thinking integratively…..and integration of truths is the very process of wisdom, its self actualization and so maintenance. All we as economic thinkers and human beings then need to realize is that the pinnacle concept and experience of wisdom is grace/graciousness which is continuously dynamic INTEGRATING. It’s why R. Buckminster Fuller wrote I Seem To Be A Verb.

        And then to realize that in addition to its personal benefits the aspects of grace as a concept are imminently applicable to any human system and in fact are the highest wisdom APPLIED…which is another one of the definitions of wisdom itself, that is, the best possible integration of the practical and the ideal.

        So let us hustle up and apply the policies of Monetary Grace As In Direct and Reciprocal Gifting….and the nation and the world will be a much more flowing, ethical and enjoyable place.

    • June 30, 2018 at 9:57 am

      James, the point about Chesterton was not just that he “gracefully” cared for others, but that he was a polymath, and in the terms of this discussion, exactly the sort of person Keynes saw as necessary to become a great economist. An earlier example of the same ilk was John Ruskin, who likewise devoted the later part of his life to promoting economic reform. People like your professors are amazing, but that depends more on command of language rather than observation, especially Turnbull’s “The Skeleton Key of Mathematics”. Einstein studied science at such a degree of abstraction that his theories ruled out nothing, but didn’t point to any specific economic conclusions either. Chesterton’s did: via his 1926 “Outline of Sanity” and Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful”, and via Gandhi’s Indians becoming Indians rather than clones of the British. Things got so bad in Britain in the gold standard years before the 1930’s slump that the particle physicist Soddy and the Christian financial administrator Stamp as well as Keynes, more far-seeing mathematicians than their economic contemporaries, addressed the objective problems by focussing on their monetary origins. Of course the neoliberal revolution has suppressed study of this fascinating period. “The end of history” in economics was not only signalled but largely achieved by the simple move of editors requiring references to the editions cited – like Keynes (1964) – so the significance of the context (Keynes having been writing in 1936) disappears from student view.

      • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
        June 30, 2018 at 4:09 pm

        Hi, Dave, of course he was a polymath, but what kind of leadership role does that put him in any organization? Notice how economists break into subsets so that I can hardly deal both with organizational, macro & behavioral at one conference. Furthermore, polymaths speak many scientific languages so that they are difficult for most specialists to understand: say “systems thinking” to most economists & the most they come up with is some math. For an engineer, however, an entire conceptual apparatus is conjured, or at least that is what I have found.

      • June 30, 2018 at 5:01 pm

        So yes, James. The point of that is that economists should be taught engineering systems theory first and only later (for approximating manipulation of subsystems) the mathematics of large-scale manipulation of variables and numerical values which can be supposed independent. They need to start by understanding electrical power distribution theory and then go on to communications, control and error correction techniques. Those who enjoy playing games with mathematics should be required to study the likes of Sawyer’s “Prelude” and Littlewood’s “Skeleton Key” to broaden their horizons.

  12. July 8, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    Many who post here, and others proclaim their mission to save the world from neoliberalism and neoliberal economics. To make economics a pragmatic and useful science, rather than a cult chanting club. I believe some of those who so proclaim are sincere. Most, in my view are not. These critics take the narrowest possible views in criticizing “mainstream” economics. They establish strict boundaries that cannot, will not be breached. For example, markets are not perfect and mainstream economists use them as crutches too often. But still they are the preferred organization for economic activities. Both government and private entities must be involved in markets. And religion is not a part of the science of economics. In other words, the critics and those they criticize want to be and expect to be involved in the same culture in creating their science of economics. But this omits both time and space from our efforts to understand economic actions. Asad Zaman has presented many interesting and useful posts on Islamic economics. With few attempts by other correspondents to integrate Islamic economics into “real world” economics supposedly needed to save us. There is no examination of historical examples outside western culture, and damn little even from within other traditions in western culture. For example, Inka whose empire existed in what is now Peru for over a thousand years before Europeans arrived. Their empire was hegemonic. It controlled but did not occupy the lands and peoples making up the empire. Inka satrapies controlled these lands and peoples. Inka economics was enmeshed with this imperial structure. This economic system not only functioned without money but had no markets. Mainstream economists would predict this nonmarket economy – vertical socialism is the name it’s given – must create gross inefficiencies. They are both correct and incorrect. The inefficiencies created were errors of surplus, not need. The Inka created too much food, too much resources, and too much wealth of all sorts. Throughout history the empires able to achieve this feat can be counted on one hand. Surely, an economic model which today’s economists would want to study, right? And the situation is even more senseless when economists praise what they reject and then try to fit it into their predetermined cultural model. An economist on the Mises Institute describes the Amish way of life in some detail but refuses to use the word socialist to describe their economy. Clearly the correct word. In fact, he ends this piece with these words, What the Amish have in America “is economic freedom, secure property rights, a well-developed system of trade, legal protections, fairly reliable money and access to the fruits of capitalist society.” The Amish have traditionally liked Republicans because they support farmers, want fewer taxes on farmers, and have historically favored allowing the Amish to live as they choose. Makes sense. The Amish are farmers who live in a religious community. The Amish are not capitalists, however. They are socialists. Economics within societies is complex.

    • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
      July 8, 2018 at 2:01 pm

      Thanks, Ken, for your insights. I studied Economic Anthrpology for some years, mainly dealing with tropical tribal cultures in Africa & Latin America. Perhaps the heat got to me, but after a while I found contemporary capitalism just as exotic–and normally air-conditioned.

      • July 9, 2018 at 4:17 am

        James, is contemporary capitalism the wrong economics for our time? That’s a big question. My complaint is that many, like you accept it for the air-conditioning, but don’t compare it to other options that could replace it. Isn’t that part of the job of academics like economists. After all, those who live capitalism don’t always have time or inclination to question it, even if it’s killing them.

      • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
        July 9, 2018 at 6:57 am

        Ken, a very good point. When I have students who question the distribution of income–whether directly or via taxation–I ask them for individual or group papers on HOW they would change to WHAT new arrangements & WHY. Our discussions here are are right on point in this regard. Thus our discussions are meaningful as far as I am concerned.
        Here in Germany we have a traditionally Socialist government, the SPD, which is currently thought to be the union party. That’s about as far as we go in popular politics. Die Linke is associated with Russia & for reasons of German nationalism/modern history stops the discussiion for more than 90% of the population apparently. But you know this.

      • July 10, 2018 at 10:24 am

        James, Germany’s government, and economy are somewhat more complex than you suggest. Basically, a redistribution system, German government and economics also help maintain the large number of middle industrial companies, support German exports, and aid German diplomacy. Right-wing parties are surging across Europe, including Germany. Of concern is the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. Started three years ago as a protest movement against the euro currency, AfD won about 25% of the vote in German state elections in 2016, challenging Germany’s consensus-driven politics. That same year the party took second place in the Legislature in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the home state of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Support for the party shot up after the 2015 New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Cologne. The party attracts voters who are “anti-establishment, anti-liberalization, anti-European, anti-everything that has come to be regarded as the norm,” says Sylke Tempel of the German Council on Foreign Relations. Frauke Petry, 40, the party’s leader, has said border guards might need to turn guns on anyone crossing a frontier illegally. The party’s policy platform claims, “Islam does not belong in Germany” and calls for a ban on the construction of mosques.

        As for alternative economic arrangements we don’t need to look in exotic places for them. Just check our own history. The US has over its history experimented with dozens of forms of economics and social arrangements for economic actions. In US history these changes follow a pattern. First, each major change was part of a larger political and social crisis (e.g., national bank failures, civil rights wars, recessions/depressions, breaks in the balance of powers setup in the Constitution). The actions taken to deal with these crises extended well beyond just economic changes (e.g., voting rights, land rights, minority rights, religious problems, etc.). Finally, the solutions for most of these problems involved extra-Constitutional actions (e.g. George Washington Shay’s Rebellion and the land speculation scandals, Lincoln in the Civil War, FDR the New Deal). Does this provide some insights on how our current crisis ought to be handled?

      • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
        July 10, 2018 at 10:57 am

        Ken, thanks for filling in some of the dots. The two world wars of the past century have thinned the number of long-time Germans, making for a more cohesive group of business owners & professionals. I see this working with former students, even to the obligatory sword scar in some families. Those who find themselves in politics have few problems supporting business firms, which is what Germany’s ordoliberalism is all about although German economists aren’t exactly forthcoming on the matter much of the time, I have found.

      • Robert Locke
        July 10, 2018 at 5:32 pm

        James, ordoliberalism might have supported German firms, but German firms also accepted the views of co-determination in firm governance. Remember, Kohl and Merkel have been in power for a long time, but they did not repeal the laws on co-determination enacted in the 1950s and extended in the 1970s under Brandt and Schmidt.

      • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
        July 10, 2018 at 5:58 pm

        Yes, indeed, Robert, which made for flexability when the Social Democrats had a share of governance, whether at local or national level. In Germany it is seldom labor OR management, but rather how the government tilts as between the two.

      • July 11, 2018 at 5:43 am

        James and Robert, what are the patterns of change in Germany society? What are the high points of German social history, that is? My knowledge of this history is basic and fragmented. Considering the events in Germany in the 20th century, I’m inclined to believe a deeper look into that history would benefit not only the world generally but also some of the current crises in the world.

      • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
        July 11, 2018 at 7:13 am

        Ken, it is obvious that the politically fragmented nature of the nation until 1989 has had lasting effects, together with the loss of more than a generation of German males to be replaced with fathers/grandfathers from mostly Eastern/Southern Europe. My small city east of Frankfurt has tens of thousands of arrivals of German ancestry over the decades from Russia (especially Ukraine) & then Eastern Germany after the Wall collapsed. My wife has a German mother & Polish father as a concrete example.

    • Robert Locke
      July 11, 2018 at 8:23 am

      “I’m inclined to believe a deeper look into that history would benefit not only the world generally but also some of the current crises in the world.” This comment describes precisely what I have been doing over the past 50 years in my work as an historian. Anglo-American mindsets prevent people from paying any attention to the German differences but they do have much to say about current crises.

      The traditional scenario is that the landed aristocracy’s control has been superseded by that of the capitalist businessman and industrialist in the modern world. That scenario does not describe German evolution over the past two centuries in two important ways.
      1.In German historiography, there was an important school of interpretation of history, The Wehler school, named after Professor Hans-Ulrich Wehler, that contends that German nineteenth century history differed from Anglo-Saxon in that Germany reached a turning point in its political-social history and did not turn, i.e., during the Bismarckian fight with Liberalism, Prussia-German society did not see Junckertum overthrown, but consolidated in the Bismarckian Reich. Wehlerians would call this outcome an anachronism. The Junckers were overthrown in the chaos of 1918-1933, but they did play an instrumental role bringing Hitler to power, when Hindenburg and his cronies made Hitler chancellor.

      2. The second point of major difference of German history compared to Anglo-Saxon is the German refusal, across a broad political spectrum, to accept U.S. capitalism as a basis for the post WWII reconstruction of their country — epitomised by the battle over co-determination (Mitbestimmung) in firm governance, rooted in German ideas of Gemeinschaft and organic conceptions of society. Rhineland capitalism developed greater social flexibility, as James put it. Read chapter 2, German Obstinacy, in my 1996 book, The Collapse of the American Management Mystique.

      • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
        July 11, 2018 at 10:02 am

        Good points, Robert, as we see much of Brexit arising from the British Junckers, it appears to me, & co-determination a clear alternative to the British-American weakening of unions.

      • July 11, 2018 at 12:00 pm

        Robert and James, very helpful. If I read you correctly, Germany did not become a so called liberal democratic nation till after WWII and then without the capitalism that accompanied that transition in the US and UK. Along with that change after WWII German population demographic changes included the immigration of many German-speaking people from other parts of Europe along with immigrants with no or little German ancestry. Am I correct?

      • Prof Dr James Beckman, Germany
        July 11, 2018 at 1:28 pm

        Hi, Ken, in Europe DEMOCRACY has a different meaning in the sense that prior to WWI the US was being dynamically changed by vast numbers of immigrants & enormous geographic mobility. Thus in many ways Americans were strangers to one another. In Europe, while some went to other lands–notably North America & the South Pacific–many more remained tied to their towns, locales & work relations (firms, professional groups), as best I can estimate (but I certainly am no expert here). Thus the vote was more predictable in Europe, as I see here in my German home since 2003, where Merkel’s CDU in various coalitions has been in power for more than 50 years. The local civil service reflects this in-bred nature.
        CAPITALISM has done well here in that lots of family-owned firms & billionaires exist, but this probably reflects a willingness to take employees on for a permanent basis in a slowly- changing economy, & not the “roulette capitalism” of Wall Street, I believe. In the last few years there have been more temporary jobs offered, probably due to the influx of foreigners & the hard example of the 2008 economic crash. This last paragraph is widely held by professors & the business press.

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