Bryan Caplan  

The Strangest Review of My Book... from Shanghai

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Shanghai Daily takes the prize for the strangest review of my book:

True, economics is about profit maximization, and when this is considered the central concern of the state, decision-making becomes much easier.

But what is wanted today is not rational economic choice, but a rational assessment of the destructive impacts of sustained economic growth.

For nations to take concerted, earth-saving moves that transcend immediate self-interests, self-serving impulses have to be regulated by politics, ideology, morality, or religion.

Strangely, Caplan appears distrustful of these unprofitable distractions.

"Political/economic ideology is the religion of modernity. Like the adherents of traditional religion, many people find comfort in their political worldview and greet critical questions with pious hostility," he bemoans.

But this takes the cake:
The author than refutes the view that economists, being "sycophantic apologists of the unfair class interests of the bourgeois exploiter," tend to extol the virtues of markets, trade and efficiency.
Huh?


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COMMENTS (13 to date)
PaulJC writes:

I'm guessing the review was Shanghaied, of course.

scott clark writes:

Soon the super karate monkey death car will park in your space.

There was an episode of Newsradio where Mr. James' book, Jimmy James: Capitalist Liontamer, was translanted into Japanese and then translated back into English and the title became Jimmy James: Macho Business Donkey Wrestler.

8 writes:

Too bad there's no Chinese version to compare with.

When he starts talking about "what is wanted today", he's cleary talking about China, where growth maximization is the top policy (after maintaining Party power). I can't tell if his critique of your book is actually a veiled criticism of the party by defending democracy. Shorthand: running dog capitalist Caplan hates democracy because it stops corporations from grinding the poor into the dirt...like the CCP.

Franklin Harris writes:

I'm with you. "Huh" is all I've got.

Zubon writes:

But he didn't mention how you ignored hip hop.

kebko writes:

I honestly think the reviewer just read the chapter titles & then wrote a review that would be acceptable to the editors. I spent some time in Bulgaria just after the fall of the Soviet Union, and that seemed to be the method used by thinking people there under the Soviet system. Content was pointless & would only get you in trouble. So, in a case like a book review, you just write the standard script and do what you have to do to connect it to the material you're supposed to be referencing. I doubt if content was important to the reviewer, since his reaction to the book seemed to be "This bias is reasonable because I have it". Or, in other cases, he seemed to think you were arguing exactly the opposite of what you argue. It wouldn't matter to the editors as long as his stated principles are acceptable.

It can strike a Western observer as odd, since we assume that someone writing must be making an attempt at addressing content. When there isn't even a reliable framework of an attempt at content, we become confused & assume the writer was confused. He was likely just concerned with other things.


It's a lot like my high school health class or my business school marketing course, where the lazy teachers were using old mimeographed tests from textbooks they'd stopped using years ago. Once you acceped the fact that the information was unreliable & there was no point in trying to make it worthwhile, then it was just a matter of showing up, trying to figure out what the appropriate response was to frequently non-sensical questions, and getting on with your life.

Troy Camplin writes:

Other than the occasional "huh?" this should actually make you think about how you could answer these statements. How could you honestly convince a communist, taking seriously his concerns?

Bill writes:

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Ferruccio Fortini writes:

The "sycophantic apologists of the unfair class interests of the bourgeois exploiter" quote which gave you that "huh" moment sounds like a multiply-translated quote from Marx (probably Das Kapital, though I apologize I can't reliably place it after the multiple translation process).

Hi, Ferruccio.

If you want to look into that possibility, Econlib lets you paw around easily through one of the best translations of Das Kapital. Here's a search for the word "sycophant," which brings up all the paragraphs from all three volumes. Maybe you can find a paragraph that matches closely.

Spreading the search out to all Econlib books for paragraphs with the two words "bourgeois" and "exploiter" brought up more references in Mises than in Marx. Mises is quoting someone when he discusses the "sycophants of the bourgeoisie," which sounds right in line with your idea.

j writes:

8 goes too far in his interpretation (he should be demoted to 7) but he is right that the article may be translationally challenged.

I doubt that Bryan complains in his book that American voters are guilty of ignorance to the point that they blame foreign devils...

Do you?

AMW writes:

On your "huh?" moment, my guess is that it's a bad translation.

The author than refutes the view that economists, being "sycophantic apologists of the unfair class interests of the bourgeois exploiter," tend to extol the virtues of markets, trade and efficiency.

Should probably read:

The author then refutes the view that economists tend to extol the virtues of markets, trade and efficiency because they are are just "sycophantic apologists of the unfair class interests of the bourgeois exploiter."
John Fast writes:

j wrote:

I doubt that Bryan complains in his book that American voters are guilty of ignorance to the point that they blame foreign devils...

Ah, so, this one humbly begs to differ. Dai-ichi economist Blyan Capran does indeed say that about baka-no gaijin erectolate!

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