Links to My Writings & Talks

Featured

My main website is asadzaman.net. For information about me, see LINK. For a QUICK START, see sampling of short posts on diverse topics on my author page at LinkedIn. My Most Popular posts & videos. Urdu Posts. Collections of my writings are linked below:

 

A five-minute guide to materials on my different websites, with an Islamic orientation:

I am now preparing several online courses with lectures on my YouTube channel, plus associated slides, lecture notes exercises, supplemental materials on course website linked below:

The Islamic Origins of Science

[Short Link for this page: http://bit.do/azdos ]
Chalmers in his book “What is this thing called Science?” explains why he is studying the subject. He wants to prove the superiority of scientific knowledge to all other types of knowledge. However. he frankly acknowledges at the outset that the book DOES NOT SUCCEED in its objective — it is unable to find a clear cut definition of science which would prove the superiority of scientific knowledge. This book summarized centuries of Western debate on the subject, as well as the current state of the dialog. He also notes that some participants in this debate, after centuries of Western failure to define science, have come to the conclusion that it cannot be done — scientific knowledge is NOT some special mode of knowing the world which is privileged above others.

One thing that is hidden in Western accounts is the issue of WHY does it matter? Why is it important to prove that scientific knowledge is superior to other forms of knowledge? If we reflect on our lives, we note that most of the knowledge we have of living, loving, spiritual and emotional is NOT scientific. Clearly, the most important things that we know, that make us human, are not derived from science. Then why this urge to prove the superiority of scientific knowledge? Why not accept that is it just one form of knowledge, like any other?

To this question, I offer a radical answer, very different from anything found in the Western intellectual tradition.

Science was invented in the Islamic Civilization — by Ibnul Haytham. This was a distinct and radical advance over Greek methodology which was based on axiomatics instead of empirics. The essence of science is that it reaches beyond the appearances to grasp the underlying reality which generates this appearance. THUS it is a way to reach an understanding of the Creator by looking at the Creation. Extending this methodology to natural sciences — to use study of how light behaves to deduce principles of optics — etc is the essence of Science. Similarly, many underlying HIDDEN UNOBSERVABLE causes and objects are revealed by science.  This position is closely related to the REALIST philosophy of science which is discussed and REJECTED by Chalmers — although the reasons for his rejection are not valid, but this would take us far way from the main points I am trying to make here

After the fall of Islamic Spain, the West acquired a VAST treasure of knowledge in the form of millions of books in Cordoba Library as well as other collections. This is what led to the ending of the dark ages of Europe, and the beginning of the Enlightenment. However, the West had a HUGE AMOUNT of difficulty in ABSORBING, assimilating and HARMONIZING this ALIEN body of knowledge with their own belief systems. The Catholic Church set up CENSORSHIP BOARDS which did a very strict control on translations of Arabic and Islamic books to ensure that no heresies were introduced. Every book had to be approved by the Church Censors before it could be published. The INQUISITION was set up to terrify and torture people and keep them away from the forbidden types of knowledge contained in the Islamic books. See “Is Science Western in Origin?” by CK Raju for further details about this.

Ultimately, the Catholic Church FAILED in its efforts to keep out the dangerous Islamic Knowledge. The book “The Enlightenment Quran” shows the crucial role played by translations of the Quran in influencing the thoughts of leaders of the Enlightenment. [See also Thomas Jefferson’s Quran to see the amazing impact of the Quran on the founding & constitution of America.] One of the impacts was the creation of the Protestant Movements, which shattered the unity of Medieval Church. Ultimately, fighting among Christian factions led to general dis-enchantment with religion in Europe, which led to the rise of SECULAR thought which continues to have monumental and extremely harmful effects on humankind and our planet.

Even though the Catholic Church failed to keep science out of Europe, it SUCCEEDED in its efforts to HIDE the Islamic roots of science. Copernicus was just a translator of Arabic Scientific works; he became known as a revolutionary because he was forced to hide the origins of his writings – he had seen one of his friends, Scultetus, tortured and punished for ten years for heretical writings, and did not want to suffer from a similar fate. He did not publish his writings until he was on his deathbed.  Newton was strongly influenced by Islamic ideas, to the extent that he hid his true religious beliefs to avoid being labeled a heretic. All of his three laws of motions, and much of mathematics, was available to him from the Islamic scientific works. He stated that he had “stood on the shoulder of giants” – however, European history of science hides the fact that these were intellectual giants of the Islamic civilization.  NOTE that the key accomplishment of Newton was to look at the motion of the planets and deduce the existence of gravity. This is the KEY to scientific methodology – deducing the existence of hidden unknown objects and causal laws from the surface appearances.

The enormous battle that took place between Science and Religion, spread out over centuries, has shaped European mindset. The victory of Science over Catholic religion did not end the animosity between the two, and hence the effort, spread over the centuries, to prove the superiority of scientific knowledge. In effect, after abandoning religion, the secular thinkers adopted SCIENCE as their new religion, and put their faith in the idea that Science would eventually provide a solution to all human problems. When we try to prove the superiority of scientific knowledge, we are participating in this program, the goal of which is to prove that all problems we face as human being can be solved by science — and we need not rely on religion for this purpose.

However what is most AMAZING and IRONIC is what I have discovered only recently. The West NEVER actually understood the nature of science which they imported from the Islamic Civilization !!!   It was clear that the Muslims paid a LOT MORE ATTENTION to empirical observations than the Greeks ever did. The Greeks did not think much of lowly CONTINGENT observations as a means to knowledge. These can change from time to time irregularly and cannot form the basis of a GRAND knowledge which spans the universe and the centuries. For the first time, the Europeans tried to make sense of how empirical methods can be used to advance knowledge. They made repeated efforts and repeatedly failed. The first major misunderstanding was expressed by Francis Bacon, in the form of INDUCTION. This fails to understand the essence of the scientific method, already described earlier. The erroneous idea of induction persists in modern econometrics, which is based on the false belief that if we see a pattern in a cluster of points, we can predict that this pattern will continue. This is why regression methodology so often leads to false and meaningless results (spurious regressions).

Later, Leibniz, Descartes, Hume, Kant and many others major Western philosophers tackled the problem of how we can get knowledge from observations — the heart and essence of science — but failed to understand the methodology of science. It is possible to discuss this in detail, and explain the errors made by these giants of Western philosophy, but that is not our purpose here. Chalmers is a good guide in this area. The MAIN reason for their inability to understand scientific methodology was because the battle between science and religion led them to assume that: SCIENTIFIC reasoning is the opposite of RELIGIOUS reasoning. This was taken for granted from the beginning, and continues to be assumed in all Western investigations of the philosophy of science. This automatically blocks the understanding of the key concept of science, which actually allows us to deduce the existence of God from the extremely well-ordered, and precision-tuned universe we see around us.

TO THIS DAY, as Chalmers clearly states in his state of the art book — the West DOES NOT UNDERSTAND “What is this thing called SCIENCE?”. This point is of EXTREME IMPORTANCE — because TODAY we can launch a REVOLUTION in the social sciences by starting with a CORRECT understanding of science and applying it to the study of human beings and societies. An immediate objection to this will arise in the mind of the reader – if Western philosophers have failed to understand science, how could it be that the West has made such spectacular progress in science? To understand this, we must differentiate between theory and practice. Chalmers states that scientists are very poor philosophers. Scientists learn by apprenticeship to other scientists, learning-by-doing. Just like a superbly fluent speaker and writer of a language may have no conception of the rules of grammar for the language, so the scientists know how to do science, but cannot articulate the methodology which lies at the root of what they do. However, misunderstanding scientific methodology has had a tremendous impact on Social Science – this is because in social science an effort was made to follow the philosophers’ ideas about how to do science, leading to very deep and fundamental flaws in the social sciences. In particular, modern economics is based on a logical positivist methodology, and is completely wrong. See my paper on Logical Positivism and Islamic Economics for a detailed explanation.

I am in the process of creating an entirely different approach to economics. In my recent course on Advanced Microeconomics, I have explained how ALL of modern economic theory — utility maximization by consumers, profit maximization by firms, supply and demand equilibrium for determination of prices — IS STRONGLY REJECTED by empirics — if we study consumers, we find that they do not maximize utility ( see my paper: The Empirical Evidence Against Neoclassical Utility Theory: A Survey of the Literature). Similarly, there is very strong empirical evidence that firms do not maximize profits, and that prices are not determined by forces of supply and demand. Nonethless, because modern economic theory is based on an AXIOMATIC methodology which goes back to the pre-scientific Greek Methodology and is NOT based on scientific methodology which pays close attention to empirical evidence, it comes to completely wrong conclusions.

I recently taught a course on economics in which I explained how nearly everything found in current modern economics textbooks is wrong, and how we can replace it with correct knowledge. One lecture within this sequence is linked below. This lecture details the ideas presented briefly above — that is the origins of science in Islamic Civilization,and the failure of the West to understand science.

The video is slightly less that one hour. I have also explained the fundamental methodological mistake made by economists in particular and social scientists in general, in using a misunderstanding of science to analyze human beings and society in a number of short articles. These are available from this link:

https://sites.google.com/site/azamanpublications/positivism

Today, the biggest problem of the Ummah is that we have become mesmerized by the IDOL of Western Knowledge — Although it is a bitter thing to say, the Ummah as a whole currently believes that the Western knowledge they acquired over the past few centuries is SUPERIOR to what was given to us in the form the Wahy — The Quran re-assures is that it is FAR BETTER than anything that others can gather. Unfortunately we have lost trust in this promise of the Quran — EVEN TODAY the Quran provides us with far better solutions to our human problems than the latest finding of Western Science. But Muslims as a whole no longer believe this and keep searching for solutions within the Western intellectual traditions.

May Allah bless us with the Noor of Eeman and GUIDE US all from out the darkness and into the Light.

 

My Most Popular Posts & Videos

POSTS:

  1. Summary of the “Great Transformation” by Karl Polanyi — has been on top ten posts lists of RWER blog for many years.
  2. Economic Theory as Ideology — my top post on LinkedIn, with 1500 views last year.
  3. Spirituality and Development. Outline & Video of a lecture to Cambridge Students.
  4. The Methodology of Polanyi’s Great Transformation. Outline of essay and video.
  5. Urdu: Motivational First Lecture.

MPDR Seminar: Improving Planning and Policy

22 Feb  2107: Seminar at MoPD&R on how we can improve planning and policy making in context of Health & Nutrition.  The seminar was based on the Outcomes and Conclusions of the Brainstorming Session on Policy Priorities for Health & Nutrition held at PIDE Friday 17th Feb 2017. An Executive Summary and outline of points made at the seminar is listed below. Somewhat more detailed minutes of the Brainstorming Session are also given below. SHORTLINK for this page: bit.do/azmpdr1

A Brainstorming Session on policy priorities for “Health & Nutrition” was held at PIDE on 17th Feb 2017, with the goal of identify the major issues that we urgently need to address in this sector. Participants from Planning, PIDE, PPAF, SUN Network and Shifa Medical College attended the meeting (List attached below). An executive summary of actionable items arising from this discussion, and subsequent seminar on the same topic, is presented below for necessary action.

  1. The body of the planning process is sound, but the spirit of serving the people is missing. This is as essential as petrol to run a car. We need to encourage the development of this spirit among bureaucrats, who should see themselves as “public servants” in the true meaning of the word. A seminar on this topic was delivered by Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE, at the Planning Commission on 21st February as a model of the effort that needs to be made in this direction.

ACTION PLAN: Member Communications + Our own Communication Strategy Person should brainstorm on initiatives that need to be taken, to promote the spirit of public service everywhere in general, and in PIDE and Planning Commission in particular.

  1. There is a strong tendency to ignore and criticize existing on ground projects as failures, and start fresh projects without studying the ground realities, and the causes of success and failure of earlier projects. Buildings cannot be constructed if everyone abandons previous structures, and starts putting bricks down on a new location. This tendency needs to be combatted in the following ways.
    1. Quite often, there are successful planning interventions, but we do not learn from them, and replicate them at large scale. Just being able to transplant best practices would achieve marvels in developments – we do not need to borrow models from outer space.
    2. Quite often, failures are just one small step away from success, and they are abandoned or neglected. Large amounts of effort need to go into an evaluation of existing projects, with the goal of tweaking them to improve their performance.
    3. We need to do a thorough job of evaluating existing projects, ensuring completions of PC-IV and PC-V for at least the larger projects. This is essential to learn from experience. As it is, we keep repeating the same mistakes

ACTION PLAN:  A systematic failure is the expectation (never fulfilled) that those executing the project will themselves evaluate the project. This creates the wrong incentives and ensures the perpetuation of current state of affairs where no projects are evaluated, and no lessons learnt from experience. In the future, simultaneously with the approval of the PC-1, an independent body of auditors and evaluators should be hired to report on the performance, and to produce the PC-IV and PC-V. They should be paid directly by the Planning Commission out of funds reserved in the PC-1 for this purpose. For major ongoing projects, we need to implement this right now: fund an independent audit group to (a) suggest how we can improve efficiency of the project and (b) create the PC-IV evaluation forms, with the idea of documenting the experience, so that we can learn from it. Again, it would be of great importance to involve the stakeholders in this evaluation – those involved in service delivery as well as those who are recipients of the service being provided. PIDE is prepared to facilitate this process. Money for evaluation should be built into the project PC-1 and should be released directly to the auditors, instead of asking project executors to hire auditors, or to do self-evaluations. A SEPARATE TASK FORCE should identify major success stories in projects, and devise strategies to replicate best practices across the board.

  1. A major problem identified was lack of ownership of the projects, and a very paternalistic attitude, a leftover remnant of the colonial bureaucratic tradition. Instead of letting communities take the lead in identifying their own problems and finding means to solve them, we wish to do it on their behalf, which results in lack of ownership. We should strive to ensure that the PC-1 projects are planned and initiated by the communities being served, and provide them help with this process.

ACTION PLAN: Current PC-1s have provision for ensuring that community being served has some input into the project but this is not taken seriously in evaluation of PC-1s. We need to insist on community participation in the preparation of PC-1s. In addition, some change of rules is required to enable and empower communities to originate their own PC-1s for projects with the assistance of relevant ministries.

  1. Behavioral psychologists have identified a major source of irrational human behavior: our tendency to find free offers irresistible. Whenever foreign donors come in with strange projects, we don’t look gift horses in the mouth, and agree to do whatever they suggest on the false assumption this is a free gift. Millions are wasted, and certain types of debt traps are created because we too eagerly accept gifts without close examination.

ACTION PLAN: A sophisticated evaluation of all projects with foreign donors using independent auditors is required to ensure that we don’t allow donors to test experimental medicines and treatments on our children. This can be done along the same lines as in the previous actions plan.

Brief: Minutes of the Brainstorming Session on “Issues Related to Health & Nutrition”

held at PIDE, on February 17, 2017.

The subject session was held on February 17, 2017, at 11:00 am, in the Office of the Vice Chancellor, PIDE, Islamabad. Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE chaired the meeting. Session participants were from the Planning Commission of Pakistan, PPAF, SUN academia and research network in Pakistan, Shifa medical college and PIDE.  The following attended the meeting:

  1. Dr. Asad Zaman                                         Chairperson (VC, PIDE)
  2. Iffat Zaman                                                  Shifa medical college, Islamabad
  3. Dr. Durre Nayyab                                        PIDE
  4. Dr. Atiya Yasmeen Javed                            PIDE
  5. Adeeba Ishaq                                               PIDE
  6. Muhammad Nasir                                        PIDE
  7. Mahmood Khalid                                         PIDE
  8. Dr. Irshad Danish                                         SUN academia & research network Pakistan
  9. Zafar-ul-Hassan                                           Planning Commission of Pakistan
  10. Dr. Mubarik Ali                                           Planning Commission of Pakistan
  11. Syed Tanwir Hussain Bukhari                     Planning Commission of Pakistan
  12. Dr. Asma Haider                                          Planning Commission of Pakistan
  13. Muhammad Fazal                                        PPAF
  14. Dr. Seema Raza                                           PPAF

The meeting started with the recitation from the Holy Quran.  In his opening remarks, the Vice Chancellor, PIDE welcomed the participants of the meeting. After brief introduction of participants, Dr. Asad Zaman (VC, PIDE) explained that the objective of this session is to identify top priority issues of health and population in Pakistan. Three areas i.e. IMR, MMR and Malnutrition were focused in discussion.

Following issues were discussed;

  • Many countries are economically poor compared to Pakistan but have less Infant mortality rate. Pakistan’s score (107) is poor on world hunger index. High rates of malnutrition, stunting in Pakistan. Lack of immunity among children causing malnourishment that results in high infant mortality rate. Health issues arising because of poor hygiene practices, unavailability of safe drinking water and inappropriate sanitation facilities. In certain cases, Pakistan has adopted world’s successful health practices but still it is failing to make remarkable improvement in malnutrition statistics. Hence, innovative/creative adaptation of world’s best health practices is missing resulting in failure of health sector interventions. Absorption of vaccination delayed or failed because of malnutrition. Behavioral problems in food consumption also causing malnutrition in Pakistan i.e. even the rich are not food insecure but are facing nutritional deficiencies. Feeding practices specifically among children are not optimal or healthy (exclusive breastfeeding causing health issues, complementary feeding is required to lower IMR. A study conducted by PIDE on determinants of malnutrition suggest that maternal factors are crucial for IMR). Awareness and health dimensions of poverty should be addressed in poverty research. It’s not only food security that causes malnutrition. Right social norms needs to be promoted e.g. in food choices and food manufacturing both taste and nutrition value must be considered. Ethnic/geographical diversities are mostly ignored in studies identifying causes of malnutrition. Poverty is not only cause of malnutrition. It is often over emphasized. Integrated/compound programs required for malnutrition solution. Health issues are causing more damage to GDP compared to energy shortage issues.
  • Immunization practices/behaviors must be improved from community point of view. We need to think about “No missed child concept” and how to execute it into our own communities? NHC department tertiary healthcare are important but Primary healthcare level needs attention. Primary healthcare investment can be more productive than tertiary healthcare investment. Preventive healthcare more important compared to curative healthcare. Promote prenatal care as it has serious consequences for malnutrition, stunting and IMR (Fetal origin hypothesis). Also awareness about mental health and its connection with domestic violence must be created. Community resource person programs can be very effective here.
  • Lot of Foreign Aid available in health sector but effective indigenous strategies lack to channelize aid to address curative health issues. How to increase effectiveness of different health and schooling interventions or what are effective interventions in social sector? (Researchable areas). One suggestion is that Medical anthropologist must be part of design and implementation of health and population interventions. Post program evaluation or impact evaluation of interventions/ongoing programs is required to rectify interventions’ failure reasons. Also we need to go beyond increase in GDP only and emphasize social indicators importance in growth studies.
  • Sector specific PC-I should be designed and they must be demand driven. Indeed if societies get necessary awareness they can make their own PC-I. Ethics standards must be defined for PC-I. Budgetary allocations for process and execution are minor in PC-I compared to other heads in ongoing practice.

Dr. Asad Zaman concluded the session with following three points;

  1. PC-I should be originated from owners (community) and not from 3rd party (consultants)
  2. Planning commission should prioritize projects (both completed and ongoing) and get them audited from external auditors.
  3. Foreign donors’ projects must be validated by planning commission of Pakistan as external evaluators.

Guide to Guides

This is a jumbled assortment of collections, later to be organized more neatly and coherently.

Pursuit of Wealth

The Nature of Human Knowledge

  1. Eurocentric History is an expression of European Power.
  2. Logical Positivism. A disastrously wrong theory of knowledge
  3. Deification of Science — science is valid knowledge.
  4. Materialism: Only Observables matter for science
  5. Power/Knowledge. Knowledge is shaped by dominant power
  6. UNLEARNING: Knowledge requires unlearning rather than learning.
  7. Islamic views on the nature of knowledge

Methodology — Critiques of Economics

Critiques of Social Sciences

When Did America Give Up on the Idea of America?

VOICE (from Foreign Policy)

When Did America Give Up on the Idea of America?

What has gotten into those Canadians? Aren’t they supposed to be our allies in the war against radical Islam? They have agreed to take 25,000 Syrian refugees from camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey over the next three months. They have ceded much of the work of vetting those refugees to the International Organization of Migration, an intergovernmental body based in Geneva. And now they plan to distributethe refugees to 36 cities across the country. Don’t they know those people are terrorists?

No, they don’t. Jane Philpott, minister of health in the new government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, explained to me that the process of approving Syrian candidates “is not so different from our usual vetting process.” The whole process, she says, takes a few days, from pre-interview by international agencies through security screening in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey by Canadian officials. Philpott told me that Trudeau had made the 25,000-refugee target an important element of the party campaign platform as early as last March. And are the Canadian people nervous? Not at all, she said. “There was a tremendous outpouring of compassion once Canadians understood what was at stake.” Philpott is herself a refugee advocate. “It has made me very proud of my country.” (Polls in Septemberfound that three-quarters of Canadians wanted to take more refugees, though by the time the new policy was announced, in November, the mood hadshifted, with 51 percent opposing the policy.)

It makes me very proud of her country too — and yet more ashamed of my own, where Donald Trump can plausibly calculate that he will help his political chances by proposing to bar all Muslims from our shores. The question Americans must ask themselves is: Why are Canadians so calm about a transaction that provokes hysteria in the United States? Why have Republican candidates for president and Republican (and some Democratic) congressmen and governors reacted to President Barack Obama’s plan to bring in 15,000 Syrians, over a far longer period of time, after the kind of vetting process normally required in order to be nominated secretary of state, as if he had agreed to surrender American national security on a whim?

Of course, 14 Americans just died in a terrorist attack apparently motivated by Islamic extremism. For Obama’s enemies, that cinches the case against the refugees. The United States, Ted Cruz has declared, must not take any refugees “with a significant al Qaeda or ISIS presence, such as Syria.” Of course, he already thought that. Even before San Bernardino, Chris Christie, self-styled post-9/11 pillar of courage, told an interviewer that even “orphans under five” aren’t being vetted thoroughly enough and shouldn’t be admitted.

I was in Sweden immediately after the terrorist killings in Paris. The Swedes have agreed to take up to 190,000 refugees this year, far more than anyone save Germany. Plenty of Swedes told me that they didn’t believe their country could integrate all those newcomers, but scarcely anyone mentioned the alleged terrorist threat from refugees. They were worried, but they were not frightened.

Canada itself has suffered from lone-wolf terrorist attacks, including one last year on the Parliament in Ottawa. That, in turn, sparked calls for tougher surveillance measures. Nevertheless, voters welcomed Trudeau’s call to reverse the policy of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and take in more refugees. Of course, Canada (and Sweden) is every bit as devoted to its security as is the United States. That being so, the American response can’t be explained by the threat but by something else. So what is it?

For a long time, my answer was “9/11.” Americans had lived for generations with an expectation of security that had been utterly shattered; the ensuing overreaction was unavoidable. When the wildly hyperbolic debate over whether alleged terrorists could be tried on American soil broke out in 2009 and 2010, I blamed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who put impossible conditions on a proposed trial, for surrendering to Americans’ still-raw feelings about their vulnerability to terrorist attacks. The same fears, it seemed, stymied Obama’s effort to close Guantanamo.

The towers fell more than 14 years ago; the statute of limitations on post-9/11 panic has expired.

The towers fell more than 14 years ago; the statute of limitations on post-9/11 panic has expired. Yet Americans have never been more fearful. I’ve increasingly come to feel that I don’t recognize my own country. I was a little boy in the early 1960s, and, of course, we all had mushroom-cloud nightmares then. But the threat of nuclear war was real, not imagined. And even the anti-communist paranoia of that time could not eclipse Americans’ fundamental self-confidence. The besetting national sin has always been self-righteousness and complacency, not fear and loathing.No longer: The distinctive national mood today is a combination of anxiety and wrath — a blind wish to strike out at all the enemies that have laid American low. That’s why the emotional high point of so many of Trump’s rallies involves turning on a reporter, or a protestor, in the midst of the crowd; heckling him, giving him the bum’s rush, sometimes even manhandling him. Trump encourages his followers to find a scapegoat for their fear, an outlet for their anger; they eagerly accept the invitation. Maybe Father Coughlin, the 1930s fascist leader, inspired this kind of ugliness. But it’s something most of us have never seen.

Is it because Americans cannot accept the loss of unchallenged global supremacy — because we can no longer dash our enemies to the ground with a sweep of our mighty hand? Perhaps we’re more like Russia than we’d care to think — furious and frustrated that the world doesn’t cower before us as it once did. Is it the violent echo chamber of the Internet and social media and the shock jocks of radio and TV? That, too, is part of it. The idea of a rational center, emotionally detached and ideologically neutral — the old image of the mainstream media — now seems quaint beyond measure. Our emotional reaction to everything is hyperbolic.

Yet who is orchestrating this potent mix of adrenaline and resentment? Our political leaders — or rather, an entire right-wing political culture. The relentless collective message of the right is: America is helpless. Trump has based his entire candidacy on an inchoate, all-encompassing sense of American failure that only he can right. But so, in a less bullying way, have the other leading candidates and their supporters. Obama now devotes much of his rhetorical energy to counteracting the hysteria, as he tried to do in his Oval Office speech. But the extraordinary relationship he forged with Americans during his first campaign is long gone; he no longer has the ability to shift the public mood.

Here, then, is the formula: Politics, cranked to the highest volume by the Internet and 24/7 everything, acts on a very real sense of vulnerability to stoke fear and rage. Americans worry that immigration will harm the economy and change forever the texture of daily life. Those are legitimate anxieties. But Republican candidates and conservative media evoke an apocalyptic invasion, to be held in check only by immense walls and an army of border guards. The Syrian refugees are not people in need but emissaries from the land of jihad. Refugees are terrorists; terrorists are super-predators. Our institutions are weak; our enemies strong. The only inexcusable mistake is weakness. If the world hates us, let’s make sure that it fears us, too. Was it only seven years ago that Obama ran for office promising to restore America’s good name in the world? That was no small part of Obama’s pledge to voters. Yet today, a growing number of Americans look at the world beyond their borders with bristling hostility.

It feels like we’re in that stage of a Jimmy Stewart movie before our hero finally steps forward to remind the townspeople that they’re Americans, for goodness’ sake, and they’ve got to stop running around like chickens with their heads cut off. That always works in the movie, because the townsfolk have only temporarily lost sight of their better selves. I don’t think our problem is that we lack a Jimmy Stewart. The problem is that our loss of self runs much, much deeper.

Photo credit: KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

Summary of the Great Transformation by Polanyi

Link to REVISED post, which provides some additional material and clarifies some questions which arose on the original post below. ORIGINAL POST on WEA Pedagogy Blog . and a repost on RWER blog, attracted a huge number of hits, and continues to be ranked high.: See RWER: Seeking Short Summaries.   This is copy of original post for historical interest.

An earlier post by Madi provided an introduction to Polanyi’s classic work The Great Transformation. This book is crucial to understanding both HOW and WHY we need to re-structure economic education today. Unfortunately, the book is quite complex, a bit dry and technical at times, and consequently hard to follow. Although many leading economists have praised it, I did not see any glimmer of understanding of its central arguments anywhere in orthodox arena. Even among heterodox economists, it is not frequently mentioned or cited.

Mostly for the purposes of understanding it for myself, I set out to write a compact summary of the key arguments in the book. The central theme of the book is a historical description of the emergence of the market economy as a competitor to the traditional economy. The market economy won this battle, and ideologies supporting the market economy won the corresponding battle in the marketplace of ideas. I quote from the introduction of my article:

The market economy has become so widespread that it has become difficult for us to imagine societies where the market does not play a central role. Yet, for reasons to be clarified in this article, this is the need of the hour. The unregulated market has done tremendous damage to man, society and nature. Bold, imaginative steps to find alternative ways of organizing economic affairs in a society are essential to our collective survival.

Polanyi’s arguments are complex and remain unfamiliar to majority of economists. They run
counter to received wisdom, and are directly opposed to what is taught
about economics in leading universities. They are summarized in FIVE points listed below.

From the FIFTH point, it follows that acquiring and spreading a correct understanding of the limitations and failing of markets is essential to creating a better society, based on more humane values than those generated by market societies where everything is for sale.

Firstly, markets are not a natural feature of human society. Nearly all societies other than the modern one we live in used different, non-market mechanisms to distribute goods to members. Our society is unique in having made markets the central mechanism for the production and distribution of goods to its members.
Secondly, market mechanisms conflict with other social mechanisms and are harmful to society. They emerged to central prominence in Europe after a protracted battle, which was won by markets over society due to certain historical circumstances peculiar to Europe. The rise of markets caused tremendous damage to society, which continues to this day. The replacement of key mechanisms, which govern social relations with those compatible with market mechanisms, was traumatic to human values. Land, labour and money are crucial to the efficient functioning of a market economy. Appropriating the functions of these alters and harms central social mechanisms governing human relations.
Thirdly, certain ideologies, which relate to land, labour and money, and the profit motive are required for efficient functioning of markets. In particular, both poverty, and a certain amount of callousness and indifference to poverty are required for efficient functioning of markets. Poverty is, in a sense to be clarified, a creation of the market economy. The sanctification of property rights is another essential feature of markets. Thus existence of a market economy necessitates the emergence of certain ideologies and mindsets which are harmful to, and in contradiction with, natural human tendencies.
Fourthly, markets have been fragile and crisis-prone and have lurched from disaster to disaster, as amply illustrated by the current and ongoing global financial crisis of 2008. Polanyi prognosticated in 1944 that the last and biggest of these crises in his time, World War II, had finally killed the market system and a new method for organizing economic affairs would emerge in its wake. In fact, the Keynesian ideas eliminated the worst excesses of market-based economies and dominated the scene for about thirty years following that war. However, the market system rose from the ashes and came to dominate the globe in an astonishing display of power. This story has been most effectively presented by Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism .
Fifthly, market economies require imposition by violence – either natural or created. As noted by the earliest strategists, deception is a crucial element of warfare. One of the essential ingredients in the rise of markets has been a constant battle to misrepresent facts, so that stark failures of markets have been painted as remarkable successes. There are a number of strategies commonly used to portray an economic disaster as progress and development. Without this propaganda markets could not survive, as the forces of resistance to markets would be too strong.

My full article, which provides further details of this brief sketch,  can be downloaded from the link below:

The Rise and Fall of the Market Economy,” Review of Islamic Economics, Vol. 14, No. 2, 2010, pp. 123–155

POSTSCRIPT: I have analyzed the methodology used by Polanyi which is based on a historical and institutional approach. This methodology is radically different from currently accepted methodologies in use in economics and the social sciences. In particular, Polanyi shows that the economic, political and social spheres are closely inter-linked and cannot be studied in isolation, as current structure of the social sciences assumes. USING Polanyi’s methodology would lead to substantially deeper understanding of current events, as well a better tools for research.