The “Omicron Delta Epsilon” Conspiracy?

When I got my BA at New York University (in history, politics, and economics), I was inducted into the International Honor Society for Economics: Omicron Delta Epsilon.

I couldn’t help but notice that the “Delta” variant of COVID-19 has now been followed by the “Omicron” variant. And for those who have a short memory, the first strain that originated in the United States was called the “Epsilon” variant.

So there you have it! “Omicron”, “Delta”, and “Epsilon”—all variants of SARS-CoV-2 … not necessarily proof positive that this is all a conspiracy of the economists, but anecdotal evidence that economics remains the dismal science! (Oh take it easy, my economics colleagues! Ever hear of gallows humor?)

Song of the Day #1890

Song of the Day: Not a Day Goes, words and music by Stephen Sondheim, is one of the highlights from the 1981 Broadway musical, “Merrily We Roll Along.” Today, Sondheim died at the age of 91. He leaves behind a vast musical legacy. This is only one of so many Sondheim songs I’ve featured through the years. In the original Broadway production, it was performed by Jim Walton [YouTube link]. But the song was recorded subsequently by singers as diverse as Carly Simon, Patti LuPone, Barbra Streisand, and Bernadette Peters (below) [YouTube links]. RIP, Sondheim.

Song of the Day #1889

Song of the Day: Morning Delight, words and music by Nerio Poggi, is performed by Papik (featuring Frankie Lovecchio). Hopefully, after a day and night of excess eating, you’ve got a little ‘morning delight‘ rather than a need for TUMS! From the 2014 album, “Sounds for the Open Road” [YouTube link], this one has a jazzy, soulful midtempo groove. Perfect for The Day After Thanksgiving. Enjoy the studio version and a live performance as well [YouTube links].

Song of the Day #1888

Song of the Day: Thankful features the words and music of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Harvey Mason, Jr., Damon Thomas, and Kelly Clarkson, who sings this song with a jolt of soul. It is the title track from Clarkson’s 2003 debut album. This song expresses the kind of thanks you feel when you’re blessed enough to have special people in your life—those who bring you joy, visibility, support, and love. Check out the album version below. And a Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Hayek as Democratic Socialist?

Les Leopold has a Common Dreams essay entitled “Was Frederick [sic] Hayek a Bernie Sanders Socialist?” that checks off the many areas in which Friedrich A. Hayek favored social welfare “safety net” protections that are on a par with the policies advocated by many “progressives” today.

My friend Ryan Neugebauer shared the article on his Facebook Timeline (so a H/T to him!). And it prompted a productive exchange between us.

Ryan observes correctly that Hayek was “a strong proponent of governmental countervailing power within a capitalist economy,” much “closer in line with [Bernie] Sanders than … with Ayn Rand or [Ludwig von] Mises.” For Ryan, “as long as Statist Capitalism exists (the only form that has ever existed), some form of Social Democratic project is in order.” He therefore favors “a synthesis of libertarian and social democratic thought, … promoting bottom-up dual-power/mutual aid projects [that depend] on the state less and [that build] ‘an alternative society in the shell of the old.'” He argues, correctly in my view, that “it makes no sense to take away the crutches before you strengthen and heal the broken leg.”

Ryan points out further that it was the reactionary conservative “Otto von Bismarck who erected the modern welfare-regulatory state in response to Socialist revolutionaries agitating for change in Germany during 19th century Industrial Capitalism. When people are distressed by poor working conditions, poor pay, and see no end in sight, they agitate for radical change.” Though he embraces long-term anarchist goals, he argues that as long as you have “a situation where a nation state is … affected by crony interests and a distorted banking sector, having a form of social democracy is the preferable option in my eyes. … In contrast to many Progressives and State Socialists, I prefer polycentric systems and multiple option arrangements/escape potential.” He provides a key example:

I would prefer a situation where Trans individuals wouldn’t be dependent simply on the public system, which could restrict their options due to political control, and instead be able to access alternative private options if they should choose or are able to get support to access. I would prefer people being able to access different forms of schooling and not be forced to attend a public school system. Given that the political mechanism is often captured by right-wing interests, it does not make sense to crowd out alternatives, require “public only” arrangements, and simply count on always having “the right people in”, as many Progressives and State Socialists do. I gave a few examples, but I typically prefer having more options than less and power distributed as much as possible.

One can achieve that while maintaining a robust social insurance system. It just will likely always be up for grabs such as long as it is attached to a political system that is easily captured by nefarious interests.

In the Facebook discussion that followed, I wrote:

This is a very nice discussion about the kinds of alternatives that people—who favor freedom and flourishing—must face given the conditions that exist. While Hayek most assuredly was not a strict libertarian on matters of government “intervention”—and I put this in scare quotes because the state has always been intimately involved with all things economic—I think there are two important takeaways from The Road to Serfdom that advocates of more benign social-democratic measures forget at their peril.

The first is this: Politics in general and the state in particular have always been central to the constitution of class structures in society. The more political power comes to dominate social life, the more it becomes the only power worth having (which is why I applaud your support of bottom-up, polycentric, decentralized models of social decision-making). In Hayek’s view, however, the growth of political economy engenders a process in which “the worst get on top” necessarily. And “the worst” are, for Hayek, almost always those drawn from those predatory business-class interests within capitalism that had the most to gain from the regulatory, welfare-warfare state.


Given this reality, even the most benign of social-democratic “safety net” measures that Hayek favored could not escape a class character. Historically, as you suggest, “safety net” measures have often been enacted to not only benefit certain elements of the “ruling class”, but to undercut working class revolts (a la Bismark). (As an aside: I’d go so far as to say that historically, confrontational labor strikes and unrest have been intimately tied up with the depressionary phase of the boom-bust cycle, which both Marxists and Austrians root in the state-banking nexus. Pardon the plug, but on this, see my own undergraduate history honors thesis.


The second takeaway is Hayek’s view that extensive government control produces a socio-psychological alteration in the character of individuals within the larger culture. This social-psychological corruption is both a reciprocally related cause and effect of advancing political economy, a process of mutual reinforcement that undermines accountability, personal responsibility, and the autonomy of the individual’s moral conscience.

As a long-term alternative, Hayek advocated social change for sure, but with a dialectical sensibility; he believed that it could only occur through a slow and gradual change in cultural mores, traditions, and habits, which are often tacit. Like you, he argued that trying to impose such change “top-down,” without the requisite cultural foundations, is doomed to fail. And yet despite this almost Burkean emphasis on slow and gradual change, Hayek adamantly declared he was not a conservative. He embraced the essence of a radical approach. “We are bound all the time to question fundamentals,” he said; “it must be our privilege to be radical.”

I think this was a worthwhile discussion … and wanted to preserve it on my Notablog.

JARS: New December 2021 Issue is a Blockbuster!

The December 2021 issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (Volume 21, Number 2) is in production and it’s a blockbuster!

First and foremost, the issue is dedicated to the memory of Advisory Board member and JARS contributor, the late Steven Horwitz. It also introduces four new Advisory Board members: Laurence I. Gould, Kirsti Minsaas, Aeon J. Skoble, and Edward W. Younkins — as well as a new Associate Editor: Roger E. Bissell.

And as we have done with every issue that we’ve ever published, we introduce at least one new contributor to the JARS family. This time, it’s two new contributors: Winton Bates and Pavel Solovyev, with whom I’ve coauthored the lead essay. Here’s our line-up:

Introduction: Dedicating — and Rededicating – Chris Matthew Sciabarra

The Rand Transcript Revealed – Chris Matthew Sciabarra and Pavel Solovyev

The Lady and the Stamp – Amos Wollen

Reviews

Flourishing in a Risky World – Winton Bates (a review of Freedom, Eudaemonia, and Risk, by Kathleen Touchstone)

The First Russian Biography of Ayn Rand – Anastasiya Vasilievna Grigorovskaya (a review of Ayn Rand, by Ludmila L. Nikiforova and Mikhail B. Kizilov)

Hunting the Pseudo-Philosopher: Perils and Pitfalls – Roderick T. Long (a review of False Wisdom, by Gary H. Merrill)

Check the JARS site for article abstracts and contributor biographies!

I am going to have a lot more to say about the coauthored lead essay, “The Rand Transcript Revealed” in the coming days and weeks. One of its sparkling characteristics is the first-ever publication of 28 images of original archival documents (in color for all electronic formats of the journal; rendered in black and white for our print version).

For now, let me just extend my deepest appreciation to our readers as we complete our twenty-first volume. We remain the only scholarly, double-blind peer-reviewed, biannual, interdisciplinary, university-press published periodical devoted to the study of Ayn Rand and her times.

Folks can subscribe to the journal here.

The December 2021 Issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies

Uncle Nick, Godfather: RIP

On Thursday, November 11, 2021, my Uncle Nick Michalopoulos died at the age of 91, after several years of battling serious health issues. He was my mother’s brother.

My relationship with Uncle Nick was blessed quite literally from the very beginning. As my godfather, he held me in his arms when I was baptized on June 11, 1961 at the Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn (the church whose first pastor was my grandfather, Vasilios P. Michalopoulos, and my mom was his sister).

Born on June 14, 1930, Uncle Nick would go on to serve in the medical unit of the Navy during the Korean War. Thereafter, he worked thirty years at Western Electric. He was the only one of eight siblings to go on to attend college—Brooklyn College, to be precise. (My sister would follow in his footsteps, becoming the first in our extended family to graduate from Brooklyn College some years later.)

Throughout his life, Uncle Nick exhibited a remarkable range of wonderful talents—from singing to athletics, crafts to parenting. Indeed, he and my godmother, Aunt Vina, raised three children—my first cousins—to whom they have passed on their loving gifts: Will, Marie, and Christine. Add to that seven grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. In his retirement years, Uncle Nick enjoyed golfing and traveling, and was very handy, even crafting golf clubs and pitching-in with the church here in Brooklyn and out on Long Island, a testament to his strong Greek Orthodox faith.

Over the years, as I truly got to know my godfather, I saw that he had a sweet sense of life and a wonderfully dry sense of humor. Because he lived out on the island, we didn’t see each other as much as we would have liked, but we spoke regularly. I never missed a birthday, a holiday, or a Father’s Day wish.

I am deeply saddened by his passing. And I will carry his love in my heart forever. Rest in Peace, Uncle Nick.

Aunt Vina (l) and Uncle Nick (r)

A New Translation of Zamyatin’s “We” …

There is an interesting review of a new Bela Shayevich translation of We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, the Silver Age dystopian novel that is said to have influenced both George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Ayn Rand‘s Anthem. (For a fine discussion of the possible impact of We on Anthem, see especially Peter Saint-Andre’s essay, “Zamyatin and Rand” (The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Spring 2003).

As Jennifer Wilson points out: “‘We’ has the distinction of being the first novel officially banned in the Soviet Union.” Check out the full review here.