by Vasilios Coufos*
On July 5, 1687, the world was fully formed. The condensed pages of Sir Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica” became the most solid scientific background on which the coming “century of logic” was built. The consequence of this period was the frenetic technological progress, which in turn dramatically changed the whole economic and social structures of the then world. One hundred and two years later, the Great French Civil Revolution confirmed the dynamics of all these changes, but also the inevitability of the birth of a New Age and Order, the Gates of which humanity was preparing to pass, with definite historical consequences.
However, the landmark of Principia’s circulation was not limited to the practical limits of applied mathematics and applied engineering. Perhaps most of its contributions have been the fundamental interconnection of its theoretical burden with a subversive – methodological – reflection of the understanding of everything: concepts, ideas, natural phenomena, but even social changes or economic upheavals. A slow process that began with Ancient Classical Philosophy reached, symbolically, that Saturday, July 1687, in its full maturation, offering the ultimate tool in any theoretical search. Involuntarily, the world bowed to the concept of Linearity.
In his amazing work on philosophers – as he calls them – The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers / 1953, Simon & Schuster), economist Richard L. Heilbronner attributes the third chapter the brilliant title “The Wonderful World of Adam Smith”. Of course, the depiction – albeit on a completely theoretical level – of the economic and business cycle of the middle of the 18th century was far from a description of a “wonderful world”. And yet! In the beginning, economics as a science was based only on the wider Newtonian worldview: y = αx + β. You increase the demand, the prices go up, the production costs fall, the profit increases. Conversely, if the trends are reversed, the results are reversed. Really, a wonderful (see predictable) world!
Linear methodology has spread rapidly to other aspects of economic activity (taxation, fiscal and monetary planning). Until the time of the Second Industrial Revolution, there was a given conceptual identification of general economic engineering with the corresponding applied technological-productive. As a central idea, the two shapes obeyed the same logical structures. All of them linear content. The acceptance of the linear perception of things was a horizontal acceptance. Classical, but also fully applied Marxism, fully embraced this scheme. After all, the central economic design necessarily required assumptions with a strong linear physiognomy, in order to become enforceable. A typical indication was, in the years of existing socialism, the inescapable link between any positive educational direction and economics: agricultural studies or the study of production technologies, it was necessary to be accompanied by seriously specialized economic knowledge.
And precisely because the economy is advancing and society is following, Linearity has embraced the whole body of human activity, in the course of the nineteenth century, but also in almost the first half of the twentieth century. International Relations, the development of science and the Arts, have bowed to Linear Logic. It is characteristic that even early surrealism could not escape a generally accepted harmony. The Crusade of Salvador Dali (Corpus Hypercubus, 1954) is a tangible proof of Logical Surrealism – if of course the term is testable.
However, the final conclusion lies in the limits of irony and possibly touches them, leaving a bold imprint: Linear Logic, Linear Reading and Applying Ideas (especially in the financial field) has been deified by great totalitarianism. And she probably owes her spiritual longevity to them. Nevertheless, when the Crisis of 1929 occurred, a small tremor shook the entire architecture. It is worth remembering the enormous stress that hit the economists of the time, with the sudden appearance of the highest unemployment – a parameter that was completely absent from all economic models and theories until then. However, the relatively immediate technical response, combined with the general historical relaxation and correction of World War II, brought back straightforward readings. These were finally confirmed by the subsequent, enormous prosperity of the post-war decades. The last spiritual reserve of Linear Logic was the Keynesian Economics. And that’s it.
And in the realm of ideas, Nature hates gaps. The long hegemony of the overall Newtonian conception was challenged when, in 1905 and then in 1915, Albert Einstein published Theories of Special and General Relativity. In addition to the indisputable scientific revolution that these theories have caused, they have for the first time shaped the notion of relativity. In itself, this discussion, in addition to mathematical and other purely theoretical implications, has led to a complete reflection of the overall social and political perspective. At the same time, he concealed a rather disturbing observation: In contrast to Newtonian perfection, which reassured with its predictability, the Theory of Relativity disputed just that – that is, that a general prediction of some size was possible. Of course, such a perspective could only – anxiously – fill economists.
Nevertheless, the powerful fact of the bipolar post-war world ensured for almost half a century the clear and unambiguous limitation of Relativity, in the predetermined scientific contexts for which it was primarily shaped. In the territorial waters of theoretical economics, Keynesian hegemony, fueled by Liberal and Marxist Orthodoxy, felt spiritually irreplaceable and practically unique. However, the collapse of the left side of the triangle, fatally shook the whole construction. The answers that had to be given immediately, in the first years of the 90’s, reminded many of the concept of Relativity. Now, the formulation of all kinds of policies did not require the use of technological and productive correlations with a specific economic impact, but the consideration of particular historical (religious, social, traditional and other related) peculiarities, with uncertain economic consequences. It is worth mentioning the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, in order to understand the magnitude of the conceptual differentiation.
Today, already marked by a global financial crisis, as well as a congenital Covid-19 pandemic, the Grammar of the past finds fertile ground to bring out much of its charm. The situation we are experiencing in our country is a shining example. Political Economy as a concept and field of knowledge that helps to understand and then find the tools that will lead to solutions, is still sidelined for the sake of Economic Policy, that is, the management of the present, essentially in terms of the past. In fact, the use of past frameworks is necessary as the immediacy of the needs of the present without infrastructure, fatally covered only in this way. In other words, Linearity returns from the back door, but at the cost of the absolute contempt of what is valid today. Example: How feasible is it to design an industrial policy based on protected wage labor when the total division of labor is currently located in Southeast Asia? Or is it possible to maintain infinite regulatory frameworks in a global economy that suffocates in such conditions?
Of course this is just a small and minimal example. But it does reveal the magnitude of the error in the overall targeting. Essentially, Economic Liberalism does not oppose State Planning, but (necessarily existing) Relativity, (simplistically misleading) Linearity. Throughout this struggle, there is only one problem: that the New always prevails over the Old. Considering Relativity as a continuation and derivative of Linearity, a huge part of today’s world seems to happily choose backwardness.