Overlooked?

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I thoroughly enjoyed the March issue (“Against Ideology”), and it is among the best Chronicles has produced.

The kind of economy that Jack Trotter (“Capitalism: The Conservative Illusion,” View) and Scott P. Richert (“Economic Patriotism,” The Rockford Files) would consider ideal is the one that I would truly love to see.  And unlike the proposals of our utopian opponents, that economy is easy to picture, as it is one we used to have.  The problem is that the laws of economics cannot be ignored.  I wonder if Messrs. Trotter and Richert are innocently ignorant of this?  If so, I would recommend they read Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson or the fifth edition of Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics.  In the latter, I especially recommend the chapter on international trade and the quotation from John Adams that serves as an introduction: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

        —Jeff Allenbrand
Bolivar, MO

Mr. Richert Replies:

Mr. Allenbrand writes, “that economy is easy to picture, as it is one we used to have,” yet he then invokes the “laws of economics,” implying that those “laws” mean that such an economy cannot be created again.  But if these “laws of economics” were indeed akin to the laws of nature—that is, unable to be overcome—then the economy that Mr. Allenbrand would “truly love to see” could never have come into existence in the first place.  Yet it did, as he himself acknowledges.

So if history shows that such an economy did in fact exist, even though the “laws of economics” indicate it cannot, then there’s a problem with our understanding of the “laws of economics.”  Either those “laws” are formulated incorrectly, or they are not laws akin to the laws of nature.  I’ve written about this extensively over the years, and have argued that what economists call “economic laws” are instead merely descriptions of the economic behavior of certain large groups of people over a certain significant span of time—primarily European (and especially Anglo-American) men over the last few centuries.

Even within that context, the “laws of economics” only resemble laws at the macro level.  The law of gravity applies to objects both large and small, yet the “laws of economics” break down at the micro level—most notably in the family.  The altruism that characterizes the relationship of spouses to each other, of parents to children, and of succeeding generations in the extended family to one another regularly defies the “laws of economics.”

Indeed, it is this recognition of the descriptive, rather than scientific, nature of the “laws of economics” that lies at the heart of Catholic social teaching since the late 19th century on, as the Church attempted to come to grips with new economic structures that presented a challenge to 2,000 years of Christian morality.  Change the behavior of man toward his fellow man, encourage virtue and discourage vice, call him back from the wasteland of individualism to the charity of Christianity, and the economic structures of society will begin to look rather different—and the “economic laws” that describe them will as well.

Misunderstood

A reader tells me that a review by Chilton Williamson, Jr., in Chronicles of my memoir Fault Lines (Books in Brief, March) credits me with “homosexual tendencies” that complicate my identity.  This is news to me, and for better or worse it is a load of something that begins with b.

        —David Pryce-Jones

Mr. Williamson Replies:

My deepest and most heartfelt apologies to Mr. Pryce-Jones for alluding in my review of his memoir to his nonexistent “homosexual tendencies.”

I had read pre-publication notices and early reviews before reading the book itself.  When I sat down to write, I started from my general recollection of a passage that had caught my attention previously, which turns out to have been an abridgement of a passage in the book.  It reads as follows: “David Pryce-Jones is the son of the well-known writer and editor of the ‘Times Literary Supplement’ Alan Pryce-Jones and Therese Poppy Fould-Springer.  He grew up in a cosmopolitan mix of industrialists, bankers, soldiers, and playboys on both sides of a family, embodying the fault lines of the title: Not quite Jewish and not quite Christian, not quite Austrian and not quite French or English, not quite heterosexual and not quite homosexual, socially conventional but not quite secure.”  I had mistakenly assumed that the description was of the author himself, rather than of his general family environment.

I apologize most humbly to Mr. Pryce-Jones for my unconscionable carelessness in handling his fine and very elegantly written book, and for the distress I inadvertently caused him in result.

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