Posts Tagged ‘postmodernism’

handbook

I just received my copy of the Routledge Handbook of Marxian Economics, edited by David M. Brennan, David Kristjanson-Gural, Catherine P. Mulder, and Erik K. Olsen.

The handbook contains thirty-seven original essays, including two—“Epistemology” and “Postmodernism”—cowritten with my good friend and frequent collaborator Jack Amariglio.

The handbook is too expensive for most people to buy. But professors and students can ask their college or university to purchase a copy for the library.

Culture, it seems, is back on the agenda in economics. Thomas Piketty, in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, famously invoked the novels of HonorĂŠ de Balzac and Jane Austen because they dramatized the immobility of a nineteenth-century world where inequality guaranteed more inequality (which, of course, is where we’re heading again). Robert J. Shiller, past president of the American Economic Association, focused on “Narrative Economics” in his address at the January 2017 Allied Social Association meetings in Chicago. His basic argument was that popular narratives, “the stories and models people are talking about,” play an important role in economic fluctuations. And just the other day, Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro—professor of the arts and humanities and professor of economics and president of Northwestern University, respectively—economists would benefit greatly if they broadened their focus and practiced “humanonomics.”

Dealing as it does with human beings, economics has much to learn from the humanities. Not only could its models be more realistic and its predictions more accurate, but economic policies could be more effective and more just.

Whether one considers how to foster economic growth in diverse cultures, the moral questions raised when universities pursue self-interest at the expense of their students, or deeply personal issues concerning health care, marriage, and families, economic insights are necessary but insufficient. If those insights are all we consider, policies flounder and people suffer.

In their passion for mathematically-based explanations, economists have a hard time in at least three areas: accounting for culture, using narrative explanation, and addressing ethical issues that cannot be reduced to economic categories alone.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m all in favor of opening up economics to the humanities and the various artifacts of culture, from popular music to novels. In fact, I’ve been involved in various projects along these lines, including the New Economic Criticism, the postmodern moments of modern economics, and economic representations in both academic and everyday arenas.

And, to their credit, the authors I cite above do attempt to go beyond most of their mainstream colleagues in economics, who treat culture either as a commodity like any other (and therefore subject to the same kind of supply-and-demand analysis) or as a reminder term (e.g., to explain different levels of economic development, when all the usual explanations—based on preferences, technology, and endowments—have failed).

But in their attempt to invoke culture—as illustrative of economic ideas, a factor in determining economic events, or as a way of humanizing economic discourse—they forget one of the key lessons of Raymond Williams: that culture both registers the clashes of interest in society (culture represents, therefore, not just objects but the struggles over meaning within society) and stamps its mark on those interests and clashes (and in this sense is “performative,” since it modifies and changes those meanings).

In fact, that’s the approach I took in my 2014 talk on “Culture Beyond Capitalism” in the opening session of the 18th International Conference on Cultural Economics, sponsored by the Association for Cultural Economics International, at the University of Quebec in MontrĂŠal.

As I explained,

The basic idea is that culture offers to us a series of images and stories—audio and visual, printed and painted—that point the way toward alternative ways of thinking about and organizing economic and social life. That give us a glimpse of how things might be different from what they are. Much more so than mainstream academic economics has been interested in or able to do, even after the spectacular debacle of the most recent economic crisis, and even now in the midst of what I have to come the Second Great Depression.

I then went on to discuss a series of cultural artifacts—in music, film, short stories, art, and so on—which give us the sense of how things might be different, of how alternative economic theories and institutions might be imagined and created.

Importantly, economic representations in culture are much wider than the realist fiction to which some mainstream economists have turned. One of the best examples, based on the work of Mark Osteen, concerns the relationship between noncapitalist gift economies and jazz improvisation.* According to Osteen, both jazz and gifts involve their participants in risk; both require elasticity; both are social rituals in which the parties express and recreate identities; both are temporally contingent and dynamic. Each of them invokes reciprocal relations, yet transcends mere balance: each, that is, partakes of excess and surplus. Osteen suggests that jazz—such as John Coltrane’s “Chasin’ the Trane”—may serve as both an example of gift practices and a model for another economy, based on an ethos of improvisation, communalism, and excess.

I wonder if economists such as Piketty, Shiller, Morson, and Schapiro, who suggest we include culture in our economic theorizing, are willing to identify and examine aspects of historical and contemporary culture that point us beyond capitalism.

 

*Mark Osteen, “Jazzing the Gift: Improvisation, Reciprocity, Excess,” Rethinking Marxism 22 (October 2010): 569-80.

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Yes, the late Richard Rorty got it spot on:

Members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.

At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. . .

One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. The words “nigger” and “kike” will once again be heard in the workplace.

That’s from Rorty’s Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America, originally published in 1998. And Edward Helmore [ht: ja] is right to cite Rorty and to note that passages from the book have gone viral in the wake of the election.*

But that’s about all Helmore gets correct. Maybe I’m getting old. Or journalists like Helmore need to spend more time talking with actual leftists. Or probably a combination of the two.

Let me explain. First, I find it hard to believe that Rorty is “obscure” now. Maybe he is. But he certainly wasn’t in 1998, when Scott Stossel referred to him as “one of the most famous living philosophers in the United States.” Me, I’d just change that to one of the most famous previously living philosophers in the United States. Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature was a monumental achievement—a riposte to the long post-enlightenment tradition of reducing the problem of knowledge to one of representation.

And while some on the Left (especially those in the Rethinking Marxism tradition, who have long been critical of all forms of essentialism, in both epistemology and methodology) have benefitted from reading Rorty, many other left-wing thinkers, especially those who remained wedded to realism, rejected much of what came to be called the postmodern critique of representation.

As for Rorty himself, he wasn’t a leftist. He did write about the Left (both Old and New, modern and postmodern) but he was by his own admission a Cold War (anti-communist) liberal.** He believed fervently in liberal democracy and argued for strengthening it. His own politics harkened back to a quite different tradition, the pragmatism of John Dewey.

That doesn’t mean Rorty was wrong or that his work, both philosophical and political, doesn’t still have a great deal to offer the contemporary Left.

Me, I think Rorty should remain on our reading lists, if only because postmodernism has been blamed (by, among others, Peter Pomerantsev) for a wide range of recent disasters, from 9/11 to Donald Trump.***

This equaling out of truth and falsehood is both informed by and takes advantage of an all-permeating late post-modernism and relativism, which has trickled down over the past thirty years from academia to the media and then everywhere else. This school of thought has taken Nietzsche’s maxim, there are no facts, only interpretations, to mean that every version of events is just another narrative, where lies can be excused as ‘an alternative point of view’ or ‘an opinion’, because ‘it’s all relative’ and ‘everyone has their own truth’ (and on the internet they really do).

While I hate to admit it (because I don’t share many of his views, especially those expressed in recent years, nor his general attitude of arrogant disdain), Stanley Fish does offer the appropriate response:

postmodernism has no causal relationship to either the spread of terrorist ideology or the primary triumphs of Trump.

What postmodernism says is that while the material world certainly exists and is prior to our descriptions of it, we only have access to it through those descriptions. That is, we do not know the world directly, as a matter of simple and unmediated perception; rather we know it as the vocabularies at our disposal deliver it to us. The philosopher Richard Rorty put it this way: “The world is out there, but descriptions of the world are not.”

The world does not come equipped with its own language, its own directions for stating the truth about it; if it did, we could just speak that language and be confident that what we said was objectively true.

But in the absence of such a language (called by the historian of science Thomas Kuhn a “neutral observation language”), we must make do with the vocabularies that are developed in the course of our attempts to make sense of things: the vocabularies of science, philosophy, political theory, anthropology, sociology, law, aesthetics. Merely to list those vocabularies (and there are of course more than I have instanced) is to realise that in every discipline – every laboratory of description – there is more than one; there are many and those many are in competition with one another, vying for the right to wear the labels correct and true.

If different vocabularies deliver different worlds and different measures of true and false, does that amount (in Pomerantsev’s words) to the “equaling out of truth and falsehood”? Only in reference to a measure of true and false attached to no vocabulary at all, a measure proceeding directly from an unmediated, perfectly seen world. Were there such a measure, all assertions would equal out because they would be equally (though differently) far from the truth as seen from a God’s-eye point of view.

Without such a measure, what we have is a contest of discourses—each of which, of course, has different effects.

What that means is, if we can’t rule out Trump (or any other economic or political disaster) in the name of some kind of “reality” or capital-T truth (and I don’t think we can), we still have two formidable weapons: critical thinking and political organizing. And, while liberals continue to deny it, the Left is still the best place to find and develop those weapons.

 

*According to Jennifer Senior, Rorty’s book has now sold out and “Harvard University Press is reprinting the book for the first time since 2010.”

**See, for example, his conversation with Derek Nystrom and Kent Puckett (pdf).

***Both Max de Haldevang and Victor Davis Hanson have also referred to Trump as a “postmodern candidate.”

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You don’t have to steal this book. I just found out Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics is now available both as a paperback and an ebook.

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By his own account, Yanis Varoufakis is an “erratic Marxist.” He’s also, it appears, a committed critic of postmodernism.

In my previous discussion of Varoufakis’s interpretation of Marxism, I deliberately avoided mentioning his “pot shot” at postmodernism:

A Greek or a Portuguese or an Italian exit from the eurozone would soon lead to a fragmentation of European capitalism, yielding a seriously recessionary surplus region east of the Rhine and north of the Alps, while the rest of Europe is would be in the grip of vicious stagflation. Who do you think would benefit from this development? A progressive left, that will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes of Europe’s public institutions? Or the Golden Dawn Nazis, the assorted neofascists, the xenophobes and the spivs? I have absolutely no doubt as to which of the two will do best from a disintegration of the eurozone.

I, for one, am not prepared to blow fresh wind into the sails of this postmodern version of the 1930s.

But, as friends reminded me, I had forgotten (or repressed?) Varoufakis’s earlier attack on postmodernism, which he delivered in two reviews (or two versions of a review) of a book on postmodernism and economics.

As it turns out, I had a hand in the book in question, Postmodernism, Economics, and Knowledge, which I edited with two close friends and comrades: Jack Amariglio and Stephen Cullenberg.

In the longer version of the review, which appeared in 2002 in the Journal of Economic Methodology [unfortunately gated], Varoufakis was actually quite complimentary about at least some aspects of the book.

Anyone interested in the postmodern stirrings of economic discourse should turn immediately to Post-Modernism, Economics and Knowledge, edited by S. Cullenberg, J. Amariglio and D. Ruccio (Routledge 2001). It explicates Postmodernity’s various strands succinctly and with sensitivity to the large retinue of meanings that the postmodern condition has acquired over the years. It comprises twenty-two taut, well-crafted chapters categorised in seven distinct parts blending nicely into one another. Of the contributors most are economists, albeit of a somewhat iconoclastic disposition, while three philosophers, one English professor and one anthropologist combine forces with them to offer the reader a delightful mixture of perspectives. Perhaps the book’s greatest asset is its clear, thoughtful introduction that gives the whole edifice its integrity, restrains the wayward tendencies of some contributors and whets the reader’s appetite.

But then, in the rest of the review, and especially in the shorter version published in The Post-Autistic Economics Review, Varoufakis spends most of his time attacking postmodernism, presumably to warn off “young dissidents” who are or might be attracted to the idea (“the task of the PAE movement must be to clear the way for radical criticism that avoids the postmodern trap as resolutely as it opposes economic autism”). His basic argument is that the postmodern critique of mainstream economics is doomed to failure, by first being absorbed into mainstream economics and then strengthening it (“Postmodernity unwittingly blows fresh wind in the sails of neoclassicism, the undisputed champion of the deconstructed human agent. While warning us correctly that new authoritarianisms will be born when we get caught up in our own rhetoric, it offers no resistance to the current authoritarianism of neoclassical economics and, more so, the socio-economic system that it serves”), supplemented by the all-too-common allusion that postmodernism is the easy way out (“the postmodern turn will be chosen by pseudo-dissidents whose prime interests lie in acquiring a chic image”).

And the alternative? Varoufakis proposes “an historically grounded understanding of how systematic patterns of power and economics are the joint products of the continual feedback between technological developments and evolving social formations” guided by “an unbending commitment to a rational transformation of society.”

Now, in the reminder of this comment I don’t want to offer a defense of our project of postmodern criticism (developed in that book or in other volumes, such as Postmodern Materialism and the Future of Marxist Theory and Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics). Suffice it to say, given our work on the journal Rethinking Marxism and our other Marxist associations, we’ve never been particularly sympathetic either to neoclassical economics or to capitalism. On the contrary.

What interests me more, given the current crises of capitalism and the predicament of the Left (whether in Greece, Spain, or the United States), are the terms with which we can formulate our critique. Varoufakis sees (or at least saw) a strict dichotomy: postmodern fragmentation or rational transformation. For me, there is no such dichotomy, at least if we allow that rationality is itself a contradictory discursive and social construction. If so, then the battle is between different rationalities, which of course have very different effects.

One rationality, embodied as much in the troika’s formula of austerity for Greece as in the lopsided economy recovery in the United States, is captured by neoclassical economics: everybody gets what they deserve, as long as free markets are unleashed on the world. The other rationality starts with the proposition that everyone should get what they deserve but they don’t—and can’t—within existing economic institutions. Those institutions—capitalist institutions—make “just deserts” impossible.

That idea, that there’s a clash of rationalities within the world today, is precisely an effect of the postmodern questioning of metanarratives. Postmodernism, in this sense, represents a critique of a singular (humanist) rationality, just as it serves to undermine the neoclassical claim of a monopoly on scientific knowledge (indeed, the scientism that animates much of economic theory, mainstream as well as heterodox), the presumption of causal hierarchies within economic analysis (again, both mainstream and heterodox), and much else.

My point is not to simply reverse Varoufakis’s claims, for example, by asserting that fragmentation, irrationality, disunity, and so on are necessarily progressive and that esssentialism, rationality, and unity are necessarily regressive. None of those moves is necessarily one or another, outside of a particular historical conjuncture.

And that’s the point, isn’t it? The effects of the moves that we make, the demands we hold up, the criticisms we formulate depend on a specific context, on what is taken to be the existing common sense and how best to disrupt that common sense. The fact is, modernism (at least in economics) has long been associated with a humanist, universal, scientistic set of claims, and part of the task of carrying out a ruthless criticism of mainstream economics is to challenge and deconstruct those claims (including the idea that such claims are even possible).

Is that all? No, of course not. In my view, the postmodern critique of mainstream economics needs to be supplemented by a Marxist critique. But, I want to be clear, it also goes in the other direction: that Marxist critique (traditionally formulated in terms of “laws of motion,” a hierarchy of base and superstructure, and so on) needs to be supplemented by postmodernism.

In the end, the Varoufakises of the world may disagree. However, what I believe we can come to some agreement on is the need to continue to criticize “the inexorable devaluation of political goods, the vulgar commodification of human bodies and values, the impossibility of conceptualising freedom-from-the-market, the depiction of Central Banks as ‘independent’ only when under the thumb of financial capital, the confusion of liberty with the freedom to exploit and to demean and, above all else, the portrayal of coercion as tâtonnement.”

In my view, both postmodernism and Marxism, each in their different ways, play useful roles in carrying out that critique.

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Critics of capitalism and capitalist alienation (such as Chris Dillow) may have given up on the possibility of noncapitalist planning too quickly.

Part of the problem is, planning has become identified with the grandiose 5-year plans and top-down decisionmaking associated with the state capitalism of the Soviet Union. However, what if there are other models of planning?

One such example is Cybersyn [ht: tm], the cybernetic planning system that was conceived in Salvador Allende’s Chile (but never completed before his violent overthrow) to cope with the “messy jumble of factories, mines and other workplaces that had long been state-run, others that were freshly nationalised, some under worker occupation and others still under the control of their managers or owners.”

Clearly, as Greg Borenstein and Jem Axelrod explain, the Chilean experiment, as designed by British cybernetics-management consultant Stafford Beer, was a model of ultramodernist omniscience and ominpotence. I wonder what a postmodernist model of planning for a noncapitalist economy would look like today.

Alex Shaefer, “Chase” (2012)

Our response to the four critics of our Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics book—Suzanne Bergeron, Serap Kayatekin, Deirdre McCloskey, and Evan Watkins—is now available on-line (paywall).

Here are the opening paragraphs:

In the midst of the deepest gloom and the wildest whirlwinds that characterized each new day’s world financial developments in 2008 and the collapse of market after market continuing into 2009, one of our Economics Department colleagues approached us late in the day in a shared hallway. He remarked with the utmost sincerity and congenial candor: ‘‘Hey, you guys,’’ referring to Ruccio and Amariglio, ‘‘should win the Nobel Prize.’’ He went on to say (our paraphrase), ‘‘Your work on uncertainty and the postmodern moments that signify the present inability to corral disorder in the economy predicted these out-of-control events; your book, Postmodern Moments in Modern Economics, has placed you far in the lead among economists in bringing these issues to center stage.’’ Nice words said in tones dulcet and sweet, and certainly music to our ears. But about that Nobel Prize? Yeah, sure!

However, aside from our conjecture that no one in Stockholm connected with giving out prizes or any kudos to individual members of the very large worldwide community of economists and affiliated sidekicks knows that we have been alive in this century, or any past one, it was surprising and then reassuring that our work on the ‘‘postmodern moments’’ of modern economics could be viewed by a sympathetic colleague as a ‘‘contribution’’ to the current contest among competing economic discourses as well as shining a new light on the historical path taken by ‘‘real’’ economic processes and institutions. Indeed, we think that the decade that is now ending since the composition and publication of our book, perhaps uncannily, has highlighted the much-lopsidedness, and also the discursive and practical explosiveness, of the concept and lived existence of uncertainty. It is likely that in no period since the 1930s, and perhaps not since Keynes announced in his 1936 article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics his radical notion of ‘‘fundamental uncertainty,’’ have economists spent as much time trying to contain, reform, blunt, or ignore the ‘‘nihilism’’ of such uncertainty and the postmodern character of (some versions of) the concept of uncertainty and the experience to which it refers.

The crash of 2008-9 and the ‘‘Great Recession,’’ or what we take to be the Second Great Depression of modern capitalism to have occurred worldwide in the past century, was, temporarily at least, a ‘‘cleansing’’ experience for many professional economists in the centers of economic power. At least for a while, the mea culpas (Alan Greenspan, for God’s sake!) may have outdone partisan finger pointing, as hosts of economists and their fellow travelers (would-be forecasters and analysts trained in other fields and conversant with a range of economic ideas and viewpoints) were fairly quick to denounce their own and others’ mainstream—read neoclassical, free market, and/or neoliberal—tendencies that, admittedly, did more to obfuscate and less to illuminate the crisis as it was unfolding. In that intensified period, marked at one pole by the rapid annihilation of some fortunes, and, at a second pole, and more widely, by the increased despair internationally for workers and others without fortunes to lose, articles and blogs appeared nearly every day in which capitalism and its swashbuckling heroes were blamed for their life-threatening excesses, their unconstrained and persistent irrationality the so-called irrational exuberance and for the erection and maintenance of ever-present barriers to regulation and control.

The public bitterness and suspicion that arose over the question of ‘‘bailouts’’ for capitalist firms ‘‘too big to fail’’ soon turned to or on the economics profession itself, and one after another famous economist stepped forward to declare the failure of all but a few in predicting the crash and the events of massive economic disaccumulation and dislocation that soon followed. Stunningly, there were even public acknowledgments that older economic ideas and schools of thought, possibly better equipped for the crisis—both seeing it coming, and knowing what to do once it was here (if not avoiding it)—had long ago been ignored or drummed out of the profession. Both of us were astonished to see, and we communicated with each other about it quite often, a spate of articles, from short, slogan-ridden blurbs to longer diagnoses, that reenergized the theoretical bones of John Maynard Keynes, or even more shockingly, resurrected whole parts and even the main theoretical line of Das Kapital. A new era for Marxism and socialism was being born. Who would have predicted this so soon after Marxism’s putative ‘‘death’’ in the wake of the 1989 revolutions?

Mark Tansey, "Doubting Thomas" (c. 1985)

Having raised the issue of postmodernism earlier today, the question is: is postmodern relativism responsible for the ability of the “merchants of doubt” to challenge the scientific evidence concerning such issues as tobacco smoke and global warming?

Yann Giraud thinks not. His view is that the distinction between Science (which is “published in leading, peer-reviewed scientific journals” and “carefully researched by devoted—meaning, disinterested—scholars”) and “science” (which is “published in the New York Times or in the Wall Street Journal” and “conceived during business meetings by resentful, outdated researchers”) is problematic. Why? Because “forces and networks are what are responsible for the stabilization of knowledge in any field, not only facts and evidences.”

A better story would have investigated the various networks through which not only businesses try to affect scientific research to sell their products but also, in return, the equally powerful networks scientists can create to respond to these attacks. Also, a more satisfying narrative would show that the “bad” scientists who promote cigarette smoking and polluting industries also use the rhetoric of scientific evidence in order to convince. After all, is this “merchants of doubt” phraseology really different from the Popperian perspective, which asserts that we can never fully prove anything and that the only thing that can be done is to reject scientific ideas? Is it relativism that really hurts here or its philosophical counterpart? Is that “merchant of doubt” ideology the skeleton in the positivist closet? Can we talk about those dangerous modernists, now?

Indeed!

Mark Blaug RIP

Posted: 23 November 2011 in Uncategorized
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Here is Eric Schliesser‘s biography of and tribute to Mark Blaug, one of the preeminent historians of economic thought and economic methodologists in the world. Unfortunately, as I discovered in his writings and in talking with him at various conferences over the years, he had little sympathy with either the Marxian critique of political economy or with postmodernism.

As it turns out, Blaug was both a trenchant critic of modern mainstream economics and an unrepentant positivist. Both views are expressed in his 1997 essay, “Ugly Currents in Modern Economics” [pdf].

Modern economics is sick. Economics has increasingly become an intellectual game played for its own sake and not for its practical consequences for understanding the economic world. Economists have converted the subject into a sort of social mathematics in which analytical rigour is everything and practical relevance is nothing. To pick up a copy of The American Economic Review or The Economic Journal these days is to wonder whether one has landed on a strange planet in which tedium is the deliberate objective of professional publication. Economics was once condemned as “the dismal science” but the dismal science of yesterday was a lot less dismal than the soporific scholasticism of today. . .

Policy questions are inextricably woven into the very fabric of economics and for that reason we never can avoid asking: do we have any good reasons for thinking that economic theories are either true or false in the sense that it makes a difference for economic policy whether we act on the basis of one economic theory or another? Are some economic theories more true than others?

My answers to both of these questions is: Yes. Surprisingly enough, however, there are some economists who would deny that these are meaningful questions to ask. Perhaps the most alarming symptom of the growth of empty formalism in modern economics is the increasing appearance of “postmodernism” in the writings of economic methodogists. Postmodernism in economic parlance takes many forms but it always begins by ridiculing the scientific pretensions of economics, by pouring cold water on the belief that there is an objective economic system “out there” against which we can measure the explanatory power of economic theories, by scoffing at the idea that economists can make accurate predictions of economic events and that there is any basis for choosing between competent economic theories other than on grounds of personal preference. Economists, say the postmodernists, can only seek to persuade by a variety of implicit and explicit rhetorical devices and, when all is said and done, economics as a subject is not very different from literary criticism or aesthetics or philosophy. The increasing frequency with which such views are advanced by economists, not just hinted at but ever more stridently expressed, is to me one of the most alarming signs that economists may finally have abandoned all efforts at practical advice because it is easier and safer to practise economics as a scholastic pastime. “Economics for economics sake” will soon become, indeed already is, the battle-cry.

Edward Docx has declared postmodernism to be dead. And not to be dead.

The death certificate is because the Victoria and Albert Museum will soon be opening a new exhibit, “Postmodernism—Style and Subversion 1970-1990.” That’s his sign that postmodernism is officially over.

But it’s not really dead:

It is not that postmodernism’s impact is diminished or disappearing. Not at all; we can’t unlearn a great idea.

Along the way, Docx doesn’t do a half-bad job summarizing some key postmodern ideas, at least in the areas of art, architecture, philosophy, and literature (but, alas, not economics).

in the beginning artists, philosophers, linguists, writers and musicians were bound up in a movement of great force that sought to break with the past, and which did so with great energy. A new and radical permissiveness was the result. Postmodernism was a high-energy revolt, an attack, a strategy for destruction. It was a set of critical and rhetorical practices that sought to destabilise the modernist touchstones of identity, historical progress and epistemic certainty.

But then Docx falls into the usual trap, arguing that in the wake of postmodernism’s critique all that is left is the market. And, in his view, we are left with a yearning for “off-line authenticity.”

Certainly, the internet is the most postmodern thing on the planet. The immediate consequence in the west seems to have been to breed a generation more interested in social networking than social revolution. But, if we look behind that, we find a secondary reverse effect—a universal yearning for some kind of offline authenticity. We desire to be redeemed from the grossness of our consumption, the sham of our attitudinising, the teeming insecurities on which social networking sites were founded and now feed. We want to become reacquainted with the spellbinding narrative of expertise. If the problem for the postmodernists was that the modernists had been telling them what to do, then the problem for the present generation is the opposite: nobody has been telling us what to do.

If we tune in carefully, we can detect this growing desire for authenticity all around us. We can see it in the specificity of the local food movement or the repeated use of the word “proper” on gastropub menus. We can hear it in the use of the word “legend” as applied to anyone who has actually achieved something in the real world. (The elevation of real life to myth!) We can recognise it in advertising campaigns such as for Jack Daniel’s, which ache to portray not rebellion but authenticity. We can identify it in the way brands are trying to hold on to, or take up, an interest in ethics, or in a particular ethos. A culture of care is advertised and celebrated and cherished. Values are important once more: the values that the artist puts into the making of an object as well as the values that the consumer takes out of the object. And all of these striven-for values are separate to the naked commercial value.

My own view is that the interest in craft and how things are produced has nothing to do with the end of postmodernism. It’s precisely an opening that was created by the postmodern deconstruction of “the market” as a singular entity that required obedience. The critics of postmodernism have, all along, called for some kind of authenticity, be it the unified human subject or a set of universal values or the like. After postmodernism, no such position is possible.

Instead, after postmodernism, we can imagine and construct alternative economies, which, instead of claiming the mantle of authenticity of consumer values, locate and challenge the limits of bourgeois expertise and ethics—and begin to move beyond them.