I'm enormously enjoying two courses I'm currently doing and, unlike the post below this one, it's no April Fool's Day hoax to say so. I've never found economics and history so fascinating -- but then, I am studying under two masters!
1. To the obvious frustration of many readers, one of those courses is George Reisman's self-study programme in economics, based on his book Capitalism: A Treatise in Economics -- which according to Nobel Laureate James Buchanan, deserves to take its place alongside that of Adam Smith's.
A crucial achievement of Reisman's -- one that puts him almost completely at odds with the 'thinkers' behind much of today's more mainstream neo-Keynesian economics -- is that his course (and his book) places the producer at the heart of the economic process.
This focus on production instead of consumption really does begin at the first page, right there in his definition of economics -- he defines economics as the science that studies the production of wealth under a system of division of labour. (You can compare his definition to some other commonly used definitions here, and reflect yourself on the implications of those differences.)
One major implication of this focus is his concern with just what exactly is required for the production of wealth under a system of division of labour to flourish. Rather than simply observing that producers produce and taking it for granted that they will continue no matter what is inflicted upon them -- which is the case with so many economists, who are only too happy to dream up and propose ever more imaginary restrictions -- Reisman instead is intensely concerned with the material, cultural and philosophical requirements of production.
Perhaps the most obvious requirement is that production itself be held as a value -- which means, he argues in our most recent lecture, that the requirements of human life be held as objectively valuable. (The end of economic activity therefore should be understand not in consumption as such, but more fundamentally as the furthering of human life and human values.) There are conditions under which the production of wealth under a system of division of labour is unable to flourish -- and here the student is invited to reflect on those parts of the contemporary world in which the the production of any kind of wealth is unable to flourish; these are without exeption those parts of the world in which the values of western civilisation (in brief: respect for logic, reason and individual rights) are spurned.
As he argued in our last lecture, the use of logic and reason and a respect for indidual rights crucially underpins the production of wealth, and are themselves objectively valuable. If the requirements of human life are recognised as being objectively valuable, then the value of western civilisation and the values that underpin it must itself be so recognised.
Consider the almost complete ignorance of those concepts in those parts of the world in which wealth is conspicuously absent, and the outright racist agenda of multiculturalism -- which blithely proclaims all cultures as equal, no matter how destructive to the human lives within them -- all but silences our ability to point this out. Reisman points out that to define 'culture' as being equivalent to race is to ignore the crucial truth that the life-saving values of western culture are open to anybody of any race who wishes to embrace them.
Fortunately, for readers unwilling to embrace this idea themselves, they can read the argument online in George Reisman's superb pamphlet 'Education and the Racist Road to Barbarism.'
I commend it to your attention.
2. The other course that I'm enjoying immensely is historian Scott Powell's 'entire history of the world course' (official title A First History for Adults) of which I'm presently just biting off a small morsel: his ten lectures on 'The Islamist Entanglement,' delivered by tele-conference. These are not just enjoyable, but as I go through the course I realise how necessary a thorough understanding of the history of the Middle East is to understanding its present state, and its possible futures.
The chief reason it's so enjoyable is not just Scott's abundant enthusiam, but his ability to explain history with both the detailed point-of-view necessary to seeing precisely who did what to whom and why, but also from the 'mountain-top' perspective necessary to integrate all the details, and draw all the wider implications therefrom.
The most recent lecture on Turkey's history will give you an example. As Scott titles his summary, 'Turkey Shows the Middle East’s Potential–and it Doesn’t Look Good.' A lesser historian would find it near impossible to describe and integrate the multitude of apparent contradictions about the most westernised, most advanced and most successful of all the Middle East's Islamic countries -- the benevolent dictator who secularised the country; the military dictatorships who frequently rescue Turkey from 'demise by democracy'; how Turkey's entry to the European Union could potentially destroy it ...
Scott's history-by-essentials offers the opportunity to see Turkey's future as the microsm of the Middle East's. It's a disquieting outlook.
But it's still not too late to sign up for either this ten-lecture course, or the whole First History for Adults. I can thoroughly recommend it.