Heath Replies to Tabarrok

25 04 2015

Joseph Heath

Two of the most interesting economic thinkers of our times have recently been in an online dialogue. Joseph Heath, the University of Toronto philosopher, recently published Enlightenment 2.0  Restoring Sanity to Our Politics, Our Economy, and Our LivesThis book builds on his earlier popular and academic work, including Filthy Lucre: Economics For People Who Hate Capitalism. As many readers will know, that book set out to debunk six common right-wing fallacies about the economy as well as six common left-wing fallacies.

In Enlightenment 2.0, Heath draws on the work of Daniel Kahneman.

Over the last twenty years, the political systems of the western world. have become increasingly divided-not between right and left, but between crazy and non-crazy. What’s more, the crazies seem to be gaining the upper hand. Rational thought cannot prevail in the current social and media environment, where elections are won by appealing to voters’ hearts rather than their minds. The rapid-fire pace of modern politics, the hypnotic repetition of daily news items and even the multitude of visual sources of information all make it difficult for the voice of reason to be heard.

In Enlightenment 2.0, bestselling author Joseph Heath outlines a program for a second Enlightenment. The answer, he argues, lies in a new “slow politics.” It takes as its point of departure recent psychological and philosophical research, which identifies quite clearly the social and environmental preconditions for the exercise of rational thought. It is impossible to restore sanity merely by being sane and trying to speak in a reasonable tone of voice. The only way to restore sanity is by engaging in collective action against the social conditions that have crowded it out.

Anyway, Tabarrok published a lengthy and thoughtful review of Enlightenment 2.0 that was entitled Is Capitalism Making Us Stupid? Heath replied with an extensive blog post on In Due Course. I got the impression that Heath has lots of interesting material that wasn’t presented in this book due to space consideration.

For instance, Heath writes in his blog post:

Last but not least, Tabarrok is unsatisfied by my discussion of Ayn Rand’s rationalism. “Heath recognizes the Ayn Rand problem but he brushes it aside. That’s a shame because a longer discussion might have been enlightening.” I’ve heard lots of complaints about this – that I don’t explain how we went from the left being so anti-rationalist in the ’60s, and Rand being the arch-rationalist, to essentially a reversal of the positions. There was initially a longer discussion in the book of conservatism, and why Rand is something of an exception in the broader tradition, which has always gravitated towards anti-rationalism. This got left on the cutting room floor, so I’ve brushed it off and cleaned it up. Let’s call it my one-minute history of conservative anti-rationalism. It’s still pretty sketchy, but at least it’s more than can be found in the book.

It sounds as if Heath has material that could be expanded into a follow-up book!

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