Tuesday, 21 February 2012

If leviathan could speak, could we understand it?

Wittgenstein's famous 'if a lion could speak we couldn't understand it' provides a nice summarising metaphor when considering the pitfalls of generalising from the micro-economic to the macro-economic.  This is what Keynes was getting at with his paradox of thrift and fallacy of composition in the General theory.  The system of logic which works at a household level may not scale to the macroeconomic level.  Folksy home truths which work for a household could be catastrophic for the economy in general.

Keynes didn't invent macro, by any means,   Check out William Petty, John Law, Richard Cantillon, Thomas Mun, Dudley North, Henry Thornton, to name but a few.  They pre-date classical micro-economics.  And they truly invented a different language.  It is a language which essentially assumes that the actors are states.  

Understand the historical context of this language, this logic, and you get closer to understanding macro-economic events, perhaps even of exploiting them in financial markets.  Petty was Hobbes's personal secretary, so probably got the leviathan mindset directly from his master.  These thoughts, these times were truly great.  They set in motion  - for the Western world, at least - a kind of alien logic which I don't think anyone has gotten anywhere near to the bottom of yet.

Monadology : In the long run, we all share the same tombstone

Many of us have experienced the situation where we go to sign up for an email provider, a twitter account, whatever, only to find out somebody's taken our name.  So we get creative, and reach a somewhat acceptable compromise.  After all, there are probably hundreds of Joe Bloggs' our there and they can't all share the same service login.  But in the long run, this policy will have to change.   Assuming for a moment that services will survive long enough for this to be an issue, all the Joe Bloggs' out there will die, and therefore all immediate permutations of their names will be blocked.  If that policy remained, it would drive us into crazier and crazier circumlocutions.  So service providers will uniformly close dead accounts - I mean, accounts of dead people.  Perhaps park the dataset somewhere.  And open it up to any living Joe Bloggs out there.  Who owns all the closed accounts?  The estate of the deceased?  Do they revert to the service providers, like pension annuities?  If so, will they be made publicly available to researchers?  To anyone for a fee?  

These service 'handles' operate as points into which humans momentarily breathe life, before passing out the other side.  Dimmed, the handle waits for the next human to manipulate it, or to write it, if you're a fan of Derrida.  This image is not unlike Leibniz's idea of a monad.  And Google and Facebook are in the business of differentiating and integrating humanity.  Funded by ourselves as consumers whilst paying in turn for the experience of being different and the experience of belonging.