My paper for the Notre Dame conference on "public intellectualism" is finally making its way through the publication process...
I. The Salience Today of the Economic
Sit down some evening and watch the news on the TV, or scan the magazine covers in the supermarket, or simply immerse yourself in modern America...
A. Elements of Public-Square Gossip
If you are like me, you will be struck by the extent to which our collective public conversation focuses on seven topic areas:
- The personal doings of the beautiful, the powerful, and the rich – and how to become more like them.
- The weather.
- Local threats and dangers, especially to children.
- Amusements – usually gossip about the past or about our imaginary friends, frenemies, etc. (it is amazing how many people I know who have strong opinions about Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen1 – many more than have any opinions at all about her creator George R.R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire novels on which “Game of Thrones”2 is based).
- How to best procure necessities and conveniences.
- Large scale dangers (and, rarely, opportunities): plagues, wars and rumors of wars, the fall and rise of dynasties, etc.
- “The economy”: unemployment, spending, inflation, construction, stock market values, and bond market interest rates.
Now out of these seven topic areas, the first six are found not just in our but in other societies as far back as we have records. They are common in human history as far back as we have been writing things down, or singing long story-songs to one another around the campfire.
What, after all, is the story of Akhilleus, Hektor, and Agamemnon in Homer’s Iliad but a combination of (1), (4), and (6)?3