Main | March 2006 »

February 27, 2006

Introduction 2: Personal/DeLanda

I would like to repeat my call for more realistic models of economic history, models involving the full complexity of the institutional ecologies involved, including markets, anti­markets, military and bureaucratic institutions, and if we are to believe Michel Foucault, schools, hospitals, prisons and many others. It is only through an honest philosophical confrontation with our complex past that we can expect to understand it and derive the lessons we may use when intervening in the present and speculating about the future.

-Manuel DeLanda, Economics, Computers and the War Machine, 1998

I believe that the main task for today's left is to create a new political economy (the resources are all there: Max Weber, T.B. Veblen and the old institutionalists, John Kenneth Galbraith, Fernand Braudel, some of the new institutionalists, like Douglass North; redefinitions of the market, like those of Herbert Simon etc) based as you acknowledged before, on a non-equilibrium view of the matter?

-Manuel DeLanda, CTheory Interview, 2003

I came to this project through DeLanda, while there are a multitude of ways to approach a nomad economics, my own personal one pretty much starts with his work, and in particular these quotes tucked away on the margins of his body of work. The second one in particular provided the energy to crystallize the project in my mind, to push my thoughts in this direction.

Several events proceed that though, in high school I had an economics class that in large part consisted of reading Heilbronner's classic The Worldly Philosophers. Being high school I can't say I learned that much, but what little I did take out was a strange memory of Thorstein Veblen, perhaps a small bit of precognition. If anything I learned even less in my one college economics class. It must of been the first or second week when we hit those core assumptions, the "economic man" the one who makes only rational decisions to maximize returns. I was pretty much stunned. Throw the brakes, and hold on, shouldn't we be discussing this assumption in a bit of detail? As far as I was concerned we could have done a semester on the subject. The professor clearly thought a minute and a half was more appropriate. Needless to say I ended up majoring in anthropology not economics.

Of course I learned far more after college, almost immediately after college I quite by accident fell into a temporary position on the bond trading floor of Morgan Stanley, up on the 60th floor of the World Trade Center. I felt like I was working in the nerve center of the world. The internet was still relatively unformed and the Bloomberg machine at my desk felt like a magic box. Sort of like the internet except the information actually meant something! Great times for a young anthropologist. Everything was great except the waking up in the morning and put on a monkey suit bit. After six months I was offered a full time job, I turned it down and decided to become a graphic designer. After a bit of a temporary dance through the floors of Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse First Boston and Bear Sterns I actually became one, and soon was founding a company with a couple college friends.

We were a bit too young, too late to the game and too poorly networked to really be part of the dot com boom, but we pretty much rolled along on the fumes. We made a bit of profit, produces some award winning websites and cartoons and as things crashed moved over to the lower levels of the Hollywood game. The specifics are unimportant to this project, but what isn't is the four year taste of real world business. The kind with lawyers and negotiations, contracts granting rights throughout the universe. Bills to pay, employees to take care of, health insurance, cash flow, taxes... The stuff the economy is made of, stuff that bears almost no resemblance in the real world to the stuff you find in an economics textbook.

And from there perhaps we can begin.

February 23, 2006

Introduction 1: An Introduction to the Introductions

Experiments and Research in Nomad Economics. A title, a beginning. But a beginning to what?

A thesis to start, a thesis in more ways than one. It is my thesis project for a master's degree from NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP). And it is a thesis question, does a nomad economics exist? I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't suspect that it does, but I also expect it will be difficult to explain just what it is. This blog is in many ways an experiment in writing, a way to release ideas, to test them and refine them, to see how they evolve in a semi-public space. The goal is a book, although I have never written one and in a way the idea still seems somewhat distant. Perhaps on a level the goal is actually a book proposal, but I suppose that distinction is one that might emerge from the experiment itself.

So what is a nomad economics? It is something I think that can only be seen properly if approached from multiple angles. This is a blog still, not a book, there will be multiple introductions to it, multiple viewpoints to approach the subject from. It is only from this multiplication of perspective I think that an accurate understanding can arise. There also may well be a need for a multitude of authors, on one level perhaps the commenting abilities of the blog might address that, but I may well begin seeking other voices to bring to the mix, and I can always be reached via the email address public [at] abstractdynamics [dot] org, and I want to here your voice, your reactions, your confusion and clarity.

Ok, one more time, you deserve and answer, what is a nomad economics? A nomad economics is an attempt to answer one simple question: howmight you spend your money?

The mainstream economics of today, what will sometimes be referred to as neoclassical economics, or orthodox economics, has only one answer to that question. Or more accurately they have an answer to a related but altogether different question: how should you spend your money? That answer is that you should spend it rationally and with the goal of maximizing value. While this idea has been constantly challenged within economics itself, there are plenty of exceptions and modifications to the concept, it remains central. Pick up an economics textbook, say perhaps Paul Krugman's and you'll find it encoded on page three. The orthodox economics of the last 100 years is built around this concept and no amount of modification can take it away fully. In many ways the field of economics resembles a classic Mexican standoff, a ring of potential fire, pick a core idea in economics and you'll find a mainstream economist attacking it. But the guns are drawn all around, and no one has quite pulled the trigger for if they do it is quite possible no ideas would be left standing.

A nomad economics is not a critical economics, it is not here to attack neoclassical theory, to make those guns go off. Nor is it here to mediate, to bring peace and settlement to the discipline. Instead it is here to swarm around economics, to open new spaces, to bring out potentials hidden in the field, to unlock doors held shut. A nomad economics is an economics of multiplying possibilities. How might you spend your money? What can we do? It is not enough to say how the world does work, one must also answer how the world can work. And that is where we begin.