Kant, Pettinger and Kierkegaard

I was amused to see in Oxford Blackwells my new economics book in between the great philosophers Immanual Kant and Søren Kierkegaard. I’ve always fancied myself as something of a philosopher.

But when I studied PPE at Oxford University, I was hopeless at philosophy. I couldn’t read a page of Kant for love nor money. One of the few rebelllious things I’ve done in life is when I worked out you could more or less fail philosophy, but still pass on to the second year of PPE where you could concentrate on just economics and politics. So I stopped going to philosophy lectures – never read a philosophy book and scrapped a third on the philosophy 1st year exams. Then I dropped the philosophy to a great sense of joy and relief.

In my second and third year, I did start going to lectures in economics and politics!

When I joined Sri Chinmoy’s path, a disciple told me that in his youth Sri Chinmoy read all the western philosophers. But, now he prays to God to be able to forget all this dry philosophy! I was so happy to hear that – because I don’t feel any joy in western philosophy. But, I hope there is a little joy in my philosophical economics book!

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The clever economist gets caught out

With my new book – What would Keynes do? – The brief was to write essays on how famous economists would respond to everyday questions. So for example, with the question – Is it OK to be selfish? I examined how the likes of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Arthur Pigou and Alfred Marshall might answer this question – using their economic teachings.

It was a good experience to research and share the views of different economists, but now I’ve finished writing the book, I’m writing my own perspective on my economics blog.

#2. Should I park illegally?

The essence of this question is that – an economist may calculate it is worth parking illegally and risking a fine because the probability of getting fine is less than the utility of just parking. It is called rational choice theory – we maximise our individual utility by careful evaluation of the different benefits and costs.

It is a philosophy I practise to a certain degree. But, it reminded me of a story where the clever economist got caught out. 

I was in London, and my friend wanted to buy something from a shop. There were no parking spots anywhere, so I parked on a single yellow line, while my friend ran into the shop. I waited by the car, ready to drive off – if a parking warden came. No one did come, my friend got his food, and we drove off. I thought I was clever to save a lot of hassle and park for free.

However, one week later, I got a very nice parking fine (something like £80) from Wandsworth Council saying I spent 10 minutes on a single yellow line. Not only that – they had a picture of me standing nonchalantly by my car, waiting for a traffic warden to appear.

So in that case, the clever economist got caught out by CCTV!

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What would Keynes do?

I have a new economics book published this week. – What Would Keynes do?

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It was good fun to write. In addition to my existing knowledge, I had to do quite a bit of research into the views of different economists. I learnt a lot about the fringes of economics in writing the book.

It gave me a new respect for some economists I didn’t know too well, but with regard to other economists – I don’t want to read them anymore!

Related

What would Keynes do? at Economics Help

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Basil Fawlty Lives

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Some friends hired a cottage in the Cotswolds to record some music of Sri Chinmoy. Rather than risk sleeping on a spare couch, I booked a nearby B&B. More expensive, but you can’t put a price on a good night’s sleep.

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I was greeted at the door by a rather flustered old lady. I mentioned I had booked a room and with this, an even more flustered old man appeared from the kitchen. He said in greeting:

“O no, this is the last thing I need!”

I think he was talking to himself out loud, but maybe he was talking to me.

He proceeded to unload all his burdens and frustrations. His elderly mother had let five gentlemen stay – despite them not having any reservations. As a result, my room was already taken, and it was really a great inconvenience now that I had shown up. He continued:

“I’ve had a very bad day, we’ve had a flood, methane gas escaping from the boiler, the builders causing a problem and my mother overbooking. With you turning up it’s really put the cap on my bad day.”

He explained there was one spare room left – not en-suite like the one I booked – but the room which had experienced a small flood.

I didn’t know whether to feel guilty for turning up or lucky to be given a musty room which was damp despite having no bathroom. Continue Reading →

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Bird-watching from the window

I have a new hobby – bird watching. From my front window, I get a bird’s eye view of sparrows enjoying my feeder. It’s a fairly busy road with not much vegetation, so only the most social birds venture into this domain of city life – the odd robin and blackbird, but mainly the sparrows.

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I think we subconsciously look down on the common sparrow – they are not the most beautiful bird in God’s Creation – a rather common brown plumage and their sheer ubiquity can make us a bit dismissive of their real charm. Continue Reading →

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Absent-mindedness at the self-service tills

When shopping at the local supermarket, I tend to choose self-service tills – anything to save queuing. I go in most days on the way home from town. Over the years, I have got to know the lady who usually works there overseeing the tills. I try to smile and say the odd greeting.

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Sometimes things get blocked, and the supervisor has to scan their clearance. Today everything went through, except the last item a plant. So she came and cleared it through. As I was walking out of the supermarket, lost in my own world of thought and putting my bag on the bike, the lady came out and said ‘Can you come back and pay please!”

Can you believe it, I had put all the items and through and forgotten to pay at the self-service till!

I felt very embarrassed and went back in. Fortunately, the lady seemed to trust I had made an honest mistake of absent-mindedness and she didn’t feel the need to call the police! Plus it was hardly like I was trying to sneak things under my jacket. I think I got confused when she cleared the till. It was extreme absent-mindedness that could have ended up in a sticky situation! Good job I wasn’t in an unforgiving foreign country! Continue Reading →

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Absent-mindedness at the self-service tills, part 2

My supermarket-space-cadet story wasn’t quite finished. After a couple of days, I went back to the supermarket with a certain degree of self-consciousness – if not minor embarrassment.

I got off to a bad start by unloading my small trolley on a till that was broken. The screen said to call for assistance, so I did, and the supervisor who usually works there said, in a no-nonsense tone.

“No love, this till isn’t working you’ll have to find another”

I feared this till had been broken all morning, and I would have saved a bit of hassle if I had looked at the screen first, but I was too preoccupied with thinking about my previous week’s absent-mindedness.

On finding a working checkout, I put my shopping carefully through, making sure I didn’t fade out into the land of daydreams and brain-fail. Continue Reading →

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A visit to my old school

I was recently invited to my old school – Bradford Grammar School – to give a lecture on economics.

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Mike Simpson (my former politics teacher) looking as young as ever, and me (with quite a bit less hair than last time I was there)

It was very interesting to return after a gap of one quarter of a century. (And it feels wonderful when you can start counting your life in decades rather than years.) In terms of my all round education, I have to say the school was probably as good as it gets, and am grateful for my time there, even if I don’t think about it too much these days. It was a formative time in my life, especially the sixth form where my outlook on life began to mature, change and develop.

I think my lecture on the economics of austerity was well received, in that I just about managed to keep the students awake and stave off any pre-lunch rebellion. As part of my invitation and introduction, the school had dug into its archive of old cross country races to find the results of a certain young Mr Pettinger. They proudly pointed out I used to beat a certain boy (now the Deputy Head) before the tables were turned and he started beating me. After that date I disappeared from the archive results, never to return.

I found that amusing because I remember that race very well – a defining moment in my sporting life because I actually came dead last and vowed never to do competitive sport again. I reasoned if you come last and got beaten by the likes of Mr Darcy (now deputy head), you obviously don’t have the genes for competitive sport. I slinked away from running through muddy fields and put my trainers in the cupboard. Continue Reading →

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