Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Shallow Economic Understanding of Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton (1944-2020)
On the news of the recent passing of the conservative British philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, I see the below quote from his writing being passed around in the Twittersphere:

And in an ironic manner, the quote reflects what I have generally thought of the writing of Scruton, broad-based but as shallow as a street puddle after a summer shower.

Scruton has created, via his observation above, two trains crashing into each other head-on. It has his turgid writing style smacking into incorrect economics.

No one, for a moment, who truly understands economics would hold the view that free-market exchange reflects only exchanges that take place in the street bazaar and that education, love and art are outside the circle of exchange.

Indeed, the term free market is slang for free exchange between individuals and also the ranking by individuals of choices.

Education must be ranked all the time, within the circle of education itself and outside it. I have to choose between reading book one or book two. And outside the circle, I often have to choose between continuing to read or, alternatively, say, answering a phone call from a friend who might want to discuss a topic that Scruton would surely rank as non-educational.

As far as love goes, if I have about seven women chasing me but I really don't have time for them all, I certainly would have to choose based on what I most value.

And for those who have broken a heart or had one broken, you know that potential interpersonal exchanges may not work because of different ranking systems between different individuals.

And art is certainly about the subjective. Not everyone appreciates the same kind of art. We sometimes see art being sold for exorbitant amounts that most of us wouldn't pay a devalued dollar for.

And so, there are exchanges and valuations everywhere.

Buying and selling may not always be in terms of the coin of the realm but there is always trading, even if sometimes it is only the trading in time to do one thing rather than another.

Scruton appears to have wanted to devalue trading when it is for common material goods as if other types of goods, spiritual and high-brow are not part of the same valuation and trading scheme. But they are all served in the cafeteria of life with the cashier demanding that you make choices always and everywhere.

This shallowness of thought by Scruton has, of course, stopped now that he is in a deep grave.



  1. I wish your site had a like button. I'd press it 5 times for this one!

  2. He could have said it better, but you miss the point RW. This why I"m not a libertardian any more. You have become a bunch of nit wits where everything is reduced to a fucking dollar. It's totally oblivious that a sense of community with similar looking and like minded people also make a profitable economic endeavor.

    1. Assuming that you're a "conservative," I think that you just unwittingly reinforced RW's point.

    2. Did you actually read the RW's piece? The point is that every choice we make is expressing a value judgement: to do one thing and not another. To put your dollar here and not there is just one way of expressing it.

  3. Conservatives so-called, bashing the Market for its crass materialism and appeal to our crude, base desire...that's all the rage nowadays, at least at The American Conservative and with the Tucker Carlsons out there (and Lab Manager, evidently)...
    Taking a page from Roger Scruton's worship of beauty over function, I would assert that the market-economy IS a thing of beauty, by dint of it's function and utility.

  4. I am sympathetic to Scruton's arguments for beauty, but suspect central banking, welfarism, and state education all encourage cultural malaise via high time preference. The state dumbs us down, even aesthetically. I say "suspect" because it's very difficult to prove. And as Mises pointed out in "The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality," "better" art and culture tend to prevail in the market over time. Hence we still read Shakespeare today.

  5. 100% spot on Robert. It's always a sign of poor education/reading in the discipline when economics is reduced to chrematistics.

  6. I think RW may have missed the point about love, the only thing in the quote from Scruton that I agree cannot be bought and sold (possibly also knowledge). But as with all of the other things in Scruton’s quote, love is a huge part of markets, as RW illustrated. I would argue that most of our market decisions are based on the love in our lives.