Tuesday, November 21, 2017

On Veblen and Puritanism


Well, folks, I keep trying. Someone whose stated qualifications for interest in Veblen was that he had been assigned to read The Theory of the Leisure Class in college, asked me to address his little group of the socially and politically interested called the Minnesota Branch of the Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims (I am NOT making this up.) Apparently, to be a member one has to be able to trace his or her genetic roots to the Mayflower.

This didn't sound like a good match but I gave the prospective appearance a good faith effort. I drove the event coordinator around the Veblen house and Valley Grove cemetery for almost three hours. Because the meeting site had no AV equipment, I got real 8 x 10 color photos produced. He even informed me I had to wear a jacket and wonders, I found one in a dusty corner of my closet. By this time, I had invested so much time and energy that I arranged for a friend with a NICE camera to record my efforts�a move that was allowed only with great reluctance and promises that the members would not be photographed.

As the proceedings got under way, I began to understand why these good children of Pilgrims didn't want to be identified. They had a quasi-religious ritual that included the Lord's Prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. I come from a religious background but I had never seen these two combined in one ceremony. Most of the people I know would consider this blasphemy (along with a being a serious violation of the separation of church and state.) It reminded me of the scene in the 2006 movie called the Good Shepard where the Skull and Bones crowd gathered to control the world. They also mixed in Christianity with Angelina Jolie as the Senator's daughter noting that it was first Bones THEN God. I guess it is just easier to run the world if you think that God is on your side.

The guy sitting next to me informed me that he was going to be especially skeptical about my presentation because he was a BIG fan of von Hayek. Oh joy, someone who actually believes that old Hapsburg toady had anything interesting to say about economics. von Hayek was the guy who taught that socialized medicine was the Road to Tyranny. If you want to blame one person for the disaster that is USA medicine, von Hayek is a damn good candidate. I tried not to let this bother me because under any objective standards, von Hayek was not intellectually qualified to wash Veblen's shorts. Which of course, is the main reason von Hayek is treated as a god at the University of Chicago.

It got worse. At the end of my talk, I was subjected to questioning. The event planner asked the final question. He wanted me to comment on the rumors of Veblen's sex life. Veblen wrote 10 books and 100 papers. And this clown wanted to talk about the fact that Veblen lost his job at the Rockefeller-Baptist University of Chicago because he got a divorce. That's Puritanism for you�don't grapple with a man's ideas when you can talk about his sex life. Talk about getting stuck in puberty. It's no damn wonder this nation has become a cesspool of ignorance.

As I prepared to leave, the von Hayek fan made the claim that without government subsidies, Elon Musk (who I had used as an upper-level member of the Producing Class in my talk) would be nowhere. Of course, as Tony could have informed him for days without resorting to notes, virtually ALL scientific and technological advancement in USA was initially funded by the government. In my mind, people with the vision, imagination, and organizational ability of an Elon Musk should be told by the Federal government that we would be providing $20 billion per year to spend on any project he found interesting�especially projects that would help us transition us out of the Age of Fire.

Anyway, I thought I gave a good talk and friend Fabre captured fine video. So while I was busy casting pearls before swine, I think the effort was ultimately useful. Fortunately for me, this blog has readers who are anything BUT swine so I hope you enjoy the effort. I added a 2 minute 40 second graphic animation on my view of Veblen's distinction between business and industry which starts at about the 19 minute mark. This was a LOT of work.


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