Cory Leonard

Behind Language = Assumptions

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2012 at 5:56 am

How we think about business and economics has implications for our tax and other policies. The language we use pretty much reveals what we think–including our (hidden) assumptions. Yale English prof and Jane Austen enthusiast William Deresiewicz churns up my own memories of a remarkable high school teacher named Mr. Jensen who not only schooled us in Mandeville but Adam Smith,Schumacher(“Small is Beautiful”) but introduced a series of very useful and seemingly missed ideas in current discourse.

Deresiewicz makes the point:

Enormous matters of policy depend on these perceptions: what we’re going to tax, and how much; what we’re going to spend, and on whom. But while “job creators” may be a new term, the adulation it expresses — and the contempt that it so clearly signals — are not. “Poor Americans are urged to hate themselves,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote in “Slaughterhouse-Five.” And so, “they mock themselves and glorify their betters.” Our most destructive lie, he added, “is that it is very easy for any American to make money.” The lie goes on. The poor are lazy, stupid and evil. The rich are brilliant, courageous and good. They shower their beneficence upon the rest of us.

Mandeville believed the individual pursuit of self-interest could redound to public benefit, but unlike Adam Smith, he didn’t think it did so on its own. Smith’s “hand” was “invisible” — the automatic operation of the market. Mandeville’s involved “the dextrous Management of a skilful Politician” — in modern terms, legislation, regulation and taxation. Or as he versified it, “Vice is beneficial found, / When it’s by Justice lopt, and bound.”

via Fables of Wealth – NYTimes.com.

As a slightly unrelated tangent, This American LifeNo 436 focused on the notion of business leaders as sociopaths–with great aplomb and, and as is usually their trope, unpredictably.

 

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