Hair shirt

Wikipedia has this article featured on its front page today. Reading through the article I came across the phrase “hair shirt”. I vaguely recalled seeing this object being referred to at crooked timber and not knowing what it meant. I imagined at the time I had assumed it was some colorful foreign English witticism; they have a bunch of Aussies and Irish blogging over there.

Having now learned what hair shirt means, I went over to crooked timber to see my new vocab word used in context. Apparently, I completely fabricated the whole memory. Only one result is returned for searches on all variations of possible spellings of the phrase (e.g. “hair shirt”, “hairshirt”, “hair-shirt”, etc) and that one result is an entry that was posted earlier than when I began regularly reading the site. Oh, well.

Having a look around, though, it became apparent that Crooked Timber was much, much better way back then. Take a look at this entry, the one containing “hair shirt”:

The conventional wisdom of the late 1990s was that the New Economy was an unprecedented miracle about to transform us forever. The conventional wisdom after the party ended and the recession and scandals began was that it had all been “a mix of collective folly and outright criminality.” Henwood insists it was neither. From the first page he argues that the New Economy circus emerged “from the innards of the American economic machinery,” as something that capitalism brought forth from within itself, and not for the first time. Though he doesn’t say it directly, he also wants to get across the idea that, in Marx’s phrase, “Capital is a social relation of production.” This is just the conviction that—exotic financial instruments, global capital flows and the complexity of modern market economies notwithstanding—the world of money is rooted in concrete social relationships between people. A capitalist market economy is not a neutral system governed by immutable laws of nature. Rather, even the powerful forces of supply and demand work within institutional contexts and cultural conventions. More than simply distortions or impediments to the workings of the economy, these contexts help constitute what the market is, and play a vital role in deciding how the social product is distributed, who gets exposed to the risks of economic life, and what positions are available within the social structure. There is substantial room for political choice—and political conflict—on each of these dimensions.

Informative, even handed, non-flame-y. I like.

Anyway, I dug around the archives a little and came across this review of Tyler Cowen’s macro writings at volokh.com (where he spent most of his time before MR’s birth):

I simply could not let this post pass without comment. It’s part one of a “Guide to Macroeconomics in Five Easy Lessons”, on monetary economics. I wholeheartedly support the idea of someone producing such a guide, but the actual statements made about monetary economics seem to me to be horribly confused. So much so that I’ve been reduced to commenting on it line-by-line; I wanted to write a proper response, but grew worried that by concentrating on my main disagreements, I would be implicitly endorsing some of the errors I didn’t single out.

And this comment is a gem:

He’s [Cowen] also written a book on Austrian theories of the business cycle which I rather like, but that hasn’t stopped him writing some terrible rubbish about that. Popularisation’s a gift. Either you’ve got it (like Krugman) or you haven’t.

Tyler, ye of little popularization gifts, went on to found the Marginal Revolution blog which currently reaches about 3 times as many people as crookedtimber.org and, I believe, is the most popular economics blog on the internets.