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Posts Tagged ‘economics’

Once again, I’ve remembered to keep track of the blogs I’ve especially enjoyed over the last year (with the curious exception of April – I don’t know, at this remove, whether I was too busy to read anything, or not much was published, or I was feeling hyper-sniffy at the time so didn’t think there was anything worth recommending. Very happy to get suggestions in the comments of great things that I’ve missed). This doesn’t claim to be a definitive list, just the stuff I came across – often via the Twitter, which continues to be a great way of keeping up with what’s going on in different regions and fields, despite all the management’s efforts to ruin it and drive everyone away – that deserves a more than ephemeral readership… (more…)

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For all the ghastliness everywhere else, it’s felt like a good year for blogging. Partly this is because I’ve managed to keep up with this blog rather better than in previous years, and have written some things that I’m really rather proud of; increasingly, I’ve come to understand posts (and articles for online publications, of which I’ve also published a few this year) as valid outputs in their own right, rather than as either advertising for or shorter versions of ‘proper’ academic publications, or as a mere distraction from ‘proper’ research (though there have been times this year when blog posts are the only things I’ve felt capable of writing). Even more, however, it’s been the insights and ideas of other people, which I’d never have found or bothered to read without the internet (and, to give credit where it’s due, without the much-maligned Twitter), that have been most informative and inspiring – and this year I’ve remembered, most of the time, to keep a note of the posts that made the biggest impression and are certainly well worth reading if you haven’t yet seen them. (more…)

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I’ve been making a few changes to the blog recently – adding the Twitter feed, reordering some of the widgets, expanding the biographical information and the like – as a result of an interesting conversation a few months ago with a couple of people on Twitter (@lizgloyn and @EllieMackin, as I recall; apologies if I’ve forgotten others) about online presence. My move to Exeter this summer brought it home to me that this blog, plus my Twitter feed, represents my professional activities online at least as much as any official institutional profile (especially when I’m still struggling with the publications database). I’ve never trusted academiadotedu, so felt smugly reassured when their commercial orientation became more obvious this year – but that does bring to mind the things that this blog currently doesn’t do, that might be useful for some visitors. (more…)

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There’s an interesting piece in Aeon magazine this week about mainstream economics, the title of which gives a fairly broad hint about what’s coming: The New Astrology. Both systems of knowledge, Alan Jay Levinovitz argues, are actually pseudoscience; they adopt the trappings of genuine empirical science (astrology’s elaborate calculations and specialised terminology, economics’ “mathiness” and formal models) but ultimate represent failed intellectual models which are incapable of producing reliable predictions – which is their main claim to authority, and the main justification for the substantial rewards enjoyed by those practitioners who receive official blessing. Some (well-established, tenured) economists will admit that the empirical basis of their claims is sometimes problematic, and that the failure to anticipate the 2008 crash was indeed troubling – but the basic model of what is considered valid economic analysis persists. (more…)

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I’ve spent the last couple of days in a fourteenth-century castle just outside Hildesheim, now the Kulturcampus of the university, at a colloquium organised by Roland Oetjen of Kiel to bring together ancient economic historians and economists with an interest in the ancient world. I originally proposed to give a paper on ‘The time of the ancient economy’, squashing together Braudelian conceptions of the speeds of historical change, patterns of intra- and inter-annual change in the environment, and Kondratieff economic cycles to see what would happen – but, predictably enough, ran out of time to do any actual work on this. Instead I offered a variant on an existing draft piece on Varro, frugality and Roman economic thought that I really, really am close to writing up for publication, honest (just in case any of the editors is reading this); which in various respects probably fitted the occasion better, but does deprive me of the opportunity to construct the opening of this post around the notion of repetitive cycles in ancient economic historiography… (more…)

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Things have, predictably enough, gone quiet on the Greek economic crisis front; the drama of negotiations and ultimata has passed, and the ongoing questions of whether the agreed reforms can be implemented and whether the promised negotiations over debt relief will get anywhere are, so far as the anglophone media are concerned, of interest only to a few obsessive economic commentators. Mention of Thucydides has therefore largely switched to the latest version of the ‘Thucydides Trap’ meme, plus the intriguing suggestion that he records the invention of baked cheesecake.

Classicists may therefore be mourning the passing of their brief moment in the sun as sought-after commentators and experts on the inexhaustible importance of classical metaphors for the crisis. They should rather be breathing a sigh of relief that they’re no longer faced with the temptation of embarrassing themselves, as an excellent piece by Johanna Hanink suggests (thanks to Stephen Clark for the link). (more…)

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One thing Greece certainly isn’t short of, besides sunshine and beaches, is mythological and historical referents. On Friday, Larry Elliott in the Grauniad offered us Sisyphus – “Alex Tsipras has also angered the gods”, and so has to keep pushing the boulder of reform proposals up the hill again and again.* This morning brings Brian M. Lucey’s hilarious parody of the whole “cultural mine that keeps on yielding” thing, presented through the myth of Tantalus:

He was condemned to stand in a lake of water with a grapevine over his head. If he stooped to drink the water receded, if he stretched to eat the grapes drew back. If Greece tries to cut its way from a depression the debt burden worsens, if it seeks aid the aid is yanked out of reach.

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Ancient Athens continues to be used as a big stick with which to beat modern Greece. “Once upon a time there was a model kingdom,” begins Roman Pletter’s article in Die Zeit this week (not yet on the website as far as I can see); yes, they had slaves, but they were democratic, the many has the power rather than the few, the people were equal before the law, appointments to public office were based on ability rather than patronage, and it could be taken for granted that everyone was free. “That sounds like a country that would fit very well in the European Union,” and of course it’s classical Athens. The punchline is signalled from miles away: “Of this model kingdom there isn’t much left.” Hey, Greeks, you invented the idea of strong social and political institutions as a means of ensuring the well-being of all the citizens, but you know what? These days you’re rubbish. (more…)

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Not a new discussion of citations of Thucydides with reference to the Eurozone economic crisis – I’ve been up for only a couple of hours, and only one new example has appeared in that time (see previous post), and in any case I need to finish writing a paper for Goettingen this afternoon on a completely different topic (though, come to think of it, much of this material probably could be worked into a discussion of ‘responses to change and uncertainty’…). However, given the level of traffic over the last couple of days – almost beating, I think, the time when I started poking the admirers of Richard III with a pointed stick – I thought it might be helpful to provide links to all my posts on this general theme, in chronological order:

The New Alcibiades (30th January) Is Alexis Tsipras the new Alcibiades, or the new Kleon? See additional material in comments, with first discussion of Yanis Varoufakis’ interest in Thucydides.

The Empire Strikes Back (20th February) Is the Greek situation more like Melos or Carthage? See additional material re Thucydides in comments.

The Melian Dilemma (27th March) More detailed analysis of Varoufakis’ reading of Thucydides and game theory.

Hesiod the Neoliberal (27th June) Not Thucydides, for a change, but similar themes

Democracy on Melos (28th June) On elites versus the demos, and #Greferendum (see also Thoukidideia below)

Here We Go Again (1st July) On Zaretsky’s NYT piece.

Greek Nightmares (5th July) Why is it always the Melian Dialogue? Why not Corcyra?

Peak Thucydides? (7th July) At this point I am getting very cross with the whole thing…

Thoukidideia (8th July) Now the Greeks are doing it as well.

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Certain strands of contemporary ancient economic history have a tendency to suffer from economics envy, rather as some social scientists suffer from science envy: partly it’s the apparent solidity and certainty of the knowledge that it generates, and the confident assertions of its practitioners, unconstrained by the sorts of wishy-washy historicist doubts that plague humanities scholars; partly it’s the fame and the money; and partly, at least some of the time, it’s about the possibility of direct engagement with the world, the fact that ‘real’ people (i.e. policy makers and governments) will actually listen to economists now and again. This envy is then one of the drivers of the adoption of economic theory in the study of the ancient economy – by no means the only driver, as there are entirely sound reasons why some economic ideas can be useful, but it’s surely a factor; hence (again, if we’re being pedantic, among other reasons) the popularity of the New Institutional Economics, which allows ancient historians to align themselves ostentatiously with contemporary (well, only slightly dated) economic approaches without actually having too abandon too much of the complexity and historical specificity that is our bread and butter. It also fuels the ongoing disparagement of alternative approaches to pre-modern economies as naive primitivism, obsessively raking over the fruitless debates of the 1970s rather than facing up to post-1989 reality. As I’ve argued elsewhere – can’t for the moment remember whether it’s here or in a forthcoming publication, or possibly both – the neoliberal agenda is pretty unmistakeable in ancient economic history as elsewhere. (more…)

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