16 Mar 2013

Plus ça Même Chose

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John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire is getting on in years, which enables him to notice that, over the course of a human lifetime, a lot of things do not actually change at all.

The necktie I wore to a minor local function last night was one my mother gave me for my sixteenth birthday in 1961. True, I am not a fashion plate, but nobody noticed the tie. It’s a plain four-in-hand tie, not a bow tie, puff tie, ascot, kerchief, stock, cravat, or ruff. It took us five centuries to get from the ruff to the necktie, but nothing much was changing for most of those years, and nothing much has changed since the necktie arrived in my grandfather’s time. Karl Marx and Thomas Kuhn got that much right, at least: Most change is sharp, revolutionary, and discontinuous. In between changes, we coast.

In large social and political matters, we have been stuck in a rut since the early 1960s, as Mandela-olatry illustrates. That slight Thatcher-Reagan detour notwithstanding, managerial socialism is still the ruling economic orthodoxy for practical purposes. If Paul Krugman were to be indisposed, we could have the cryogenics lab revivify J. K. Galbraith to write Krugman’s New York Times columns; nobody would notice the difference. One thing that makes geezers such as me weary of politics is that today’s orthodoxies are the same as those of our student days, only now there is no elite opposition.

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