On Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations

by Emrys Westacott I just read Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations for the first time. Not every word. It’s over a thousand pages, and there are long “Digressions” (Smith’s term) on matters such as the history of the value of silver, or banking in Amsterdam, which I simply passed over. I was mainly interested in…

The Enlightened Luddite

“Luddite” is a word that is thrown around a lot these days. It signifies someone who is opposed to technological progress, or who is at least not climbing on board the technological bandwagon. 21st century luddites tend to eschew social media, prefer presentations without PowerPoint, still write cheques, and may even, in extreme cases, get…

Beware of literature!

by Emrys Westacott “Beware of literature!” This warning occurs in Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1938 novel Nausea as an entry in the diary of the narrator, Antoine Roquentin. In context, it concerns the way that literary narratives falsify our experience of events by investing them with an organization and structure that our experiences in themselves, as we live…

The Full Machiavelli

by Emrys Westacott How conceivable is this? Trump loses the 2020 US presidential election. But he refuses to concede, claiming that results in the swing states of Ohio and Florida were invalid due to voter fraud and crooked election officials. Fox News, other right-wing media and the Republican controlled congress go along with this. So…

The Unmeasurable Value of General Education

by Emrys Westacott Learning Objectives. Measurable Outcomes. These are among the buzziest of buzz words in current debates about education. And that discordant groaning noise you can hear around many academic departments is the sound of recalcitrant faculty, following orders from on high, unenthusiastically inserting learning objectives (henceforth LOs) and measurable outcomes (hereafter MOs) into…

Liars, dammed liars, and presidents

by Emrys Westacott There is a famous exchange in Casablanca between Rick  (Humphrey Bogart) and Captain Renault (Claude Rains): Capt. Renault:  What in heaven’s name brought you to Casablanca? Rick:  I came to Casablanca for the waters. Capt. Renault: The waters?  What waters? We’re in the desert. Rick:  I was misinformed. Rick’s response is funny because it…

Freedom, private property, and public access

by Emrys Westacott The concept of individual freedom has been central to political philosophy since the time of John Locke, who published his groundbreaking Two Treatises on Civil Government in 1689. Before then, other values were paramount—for example: conformity to God's will, the cultivation of moral virtue in the population, social stability, national power, material…

What if technology keeps killing more jobs than it creates?

by Emrys Westacott The industrial revolution transformed the world entirely. Its most profound legacy, though, is not anything specific like electricity, motorized transport, or the computer, but the state of permanent technological revolution in which we now live, move, and have our being. There are some, it is true, like economist Robert Gordon, author of…

Black Victims and White Privilege

Excessive violence by police officers dealing with African Americans is best understood as a product of systemic racism. An important aspect of systemic racism is white privilege, one example of which is the relative lack of fear with which most white people can interact with the police.