Psychologizing

I’m prone to a kind of cheap psychologizing – the way I put narratives together for myself involves creating morality stories to represent various actors in a given situation. Let me give you an example.

There’s a music video that came out 11 years ago that depicts a rap battle between Keynes and Hayek. It was created by Russ Roberts, a professor of economics at George Mason University. There’s a kind of false equivalence built into the video. Although the lyrics given a simplified, reasonably straightforward representation of the debate between Keynes and Hayek, the story shown in the video make the director’s view quite clear. Keynes is played as a corrupt, arrogant, elitist drunk, while Hayek is all scrappy underdog. And to me it feels totally obvious that Hayek is the good guy and Keynes is the bad guy. That’s how I think Roberts understands Keynesian policy making: as immoral.

Or, as Dierdre McCloskey might put it, those arguments are all lovely and that but they’re wrong. Like, simply wrong. Sure, she can write 100,000 words (and more) on why it’s wrong, but there’s never going to be an argument for large-scale government intervention in the economy that she’ll support.

Look – we all tell ourselves stories in order to go on living. Journalist Ezra Klein has said he looks for how a person is a hero in their story, which I think is about right. I think that in the “Keynes v Hayek” video, creator Russ Roberts identifies with Hayek, the loyal opposition, the earnest, steadfast, bow-tie wearing libertarian. What I think Roberts sort of unconsciously acknowledges in the video is how important Keynes is for his own identity – Hayek is the not-Keynes.

This takes us to the idea of a kind of before time. Keynes represents the point at which things went wrong in economics for Roberts (as he does for basically all Hayekians). He is remaining true to the good by fighting against the Keynesians.

In a general way, this is how I think about people and morals. Who are the good guys and bad guys and why? And I think much of the time, most people don’t really think much about this stuff. It’s in the background while you’re focused on other stuff. This is why I think so many people have such angry responses to politics, because they often only notice when there is some disruption that affects themselves. Furthermore, they don’t necessarily want to discuss or seriously consider their political views, because they’re not fully rationalized, and often not really well considered at all. People just want to go on living their life, and not think too hard about it.

I once read some of Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, and there are sections where she writes extensively about overwhelming feelings of guilt and how she had sinned so terribly in her life. And she’s writing about her life as a nun. When I first read it, I wondered, what kind of sin is she talking about? She is literally a saint. How bad could she have been? But now I kind of get it – if you engage seriously in thinking about your words and deeds, routinely scrutinizing them and attempting to reform oneself, it is not so difficult to find fault with nearly everything one does. Thinking about how one lives is difficult, and can be dangerous. But not thinking about how one lives leaves one prone being decieved by oneself, and then being poisoned by fear or resentment.

 

 

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