Friday, April 6, 2007

Being ambiguous and ambivalent

What I perceive as a beauty of the argument of Empire/multitude is that it retains the ambiguity of globalization.

Globalization, I believe, is both good and bad, therefore, neither good nor bad. It is not right or wrong, either.

Ambiguity is not accepted in classical logic of mutual exclusivity. If something is A, it cannot be non-A. It is a contradiction that something is both A and not A. So natural science argues, too (except for modern physics, perhaps). Human world, however, retains much area which cannot be properly dealt with by classical logic or science. It is not prudent, therefore, to extend the logic of science to the ambiguous and indefinite human world, much of which is dictated by meaning and value.

In the mid-90s, when Japan stagnated economically and politically, I was fascinated by Hayek’s philosophy. Unlike the popular perception of it as an ideology for simple-minded Reagan and Thatcher (Reagan, by the way, may have been simple, but not necessarily unwise, as a recent article of New York Review of Books on March 1, 2007 claims), Hayek’s philosophy is more delicate than people assume and recognizes the limit of free market. The concept of “evolutionary rationalism” for free market (or catalaxy, as he calls it) is well contrasted with and juxtaposed to the concept of “constructive rationalism,” although admittedly he was highly critical of the latter.

Anyway, when the concept of free market was not a dominant one in Japan, I appreciated that idea and learned much from reading Hayek. However, Japan experienced Koizumi-Takenana reform in the early 2000s, and the word “free market” gained so much popularity, even into areas such as welfare and education. In response, I became rather critical of that word.

However, I never intend to throw away the word of free market from our discourse. No. I’d like to keep using the word, always retaining the ambivalence about the word. Free market must be counterbalanced by politics, but politics alone is not enough, either. Whether it is free market, politics, globalization or the spread of English, I’d like to remain ambivalent.

However, here is an example of a highly distinguished scholar who seemed to have forgotten the virtue of ambiguity and ambivalence. It is Milton Friedman.

In an essay entitled “Who was Milton Friedman?” (New York Review of Books, February 15, 2007, pp. 27-30.), Paul Krugman gives a threefold description of Milton Friedman as (1) the economist’s economist, (2) the policy entrepreneur, and (3) the ideologue. Krugman’s verdict is “there’s an important difference between the rigor of his work as a professional economist and the looser, sometimes questionable logic of his pronouncements as a public intellectual.” (p. 27). A case in point is Friedman’s laissez-faire absolutism. It “contributed to an intellectual climate in which faith in markets and disdain for government often trumps the evidence.” (p. 30)

Toward the end of the essay, Krugman concludes:

What’s odd about Friedman’s absolutism on the virtues of markets and the vices of government is that in his work as an economist’s economist he was actually a model of restraint. As I pointed out earlier, he made great contributions to economic theory by emphasizing the role of individual rationality – but unlike some of his colleagues, he knew where to stop. Why didn’t he exhibit the same restraint in his role as a public intellectual?
The answer, I suspect, is that he got caught up in an essentially political role. Milton Friedman the great economist could and did acknowledge ambiguity. But Milton Friedman the great champion of free markets was expected to preach the true faith, not give voice to doubts. And he ended up playing the role his followers expected. As a result, over time the refreshing iconoclasm of his early career hardened into a rigid defense of what had become the new orthodoxy. (p. 30)

Orthodoxy and iconoclasm. Restraint and political movement. Isn’t being ambiguous and ambivalent important for everyone?

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