Monday, December 26, 2016

Interview with Author Philip McShane

Profit: The Stupid View of President Donald Trump.

Philip McShane (D.Phil., Oxford University, 1965–68) was trained in mathematical physics, and later studied philosophy, theology, and economics.  He has written extensively in diverse areas, including evolutionary theory, linguistics, economics, and methodology.  Twice nominated for the Templeton Prize for his innovative and compelling work in methodology, economics, and philosophy of science, McShane has lead numerous workshops on economic theory, cognitional theory, educational reform, advanced methodology, and other topics.  On various occasions and in various countries—including India, Mexico, Korea, Australia, Canada, and the U.S.—he has presented the key issues underlying the transition from Marxist, neo-Marxist, Keynesian, and neo-Keynesian analyses to a democratic economics.

1. What really inspired you to write your book, to force you from taking an idea or experience and conveying it into a book? More than a decade ago I edited the neglected work of the Canadian thinker Bernard Lonergan in a volume titled For a New Political Economy (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998). It grounds the establishment of economics that is a sublation of Capitalism and Marxism and that would meet the needs of the global situation that we find today.  More recently, the decision to write the book emerged from my work in the general area represented by Thomas Piketty’s Capitalism in the Twenty First Century, a hit when published, but now of fading interest. The problems it identified, however, persist, and indeed became central to the intelligent side of debates in the race for the next President of the U.S.
2. What is it about and whom do you believe us your targeted reader?  The book deals with a massive needed shift in economic theory and practice. This need is generally recognized but very few clues to it are present in the current culture of politics or economics, financial analyses or public discourse.  The problem of profit and its distribution, indeed, lurked behind most of the rhetoric prior to the nominations and in the subsequent debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  But while profit is recognized by all as being the heart of current economic problems--think of election or government promises regarding minimum wages or women’s wages, or general increasing of purchasing power--there are flaws that continue to haunt the policies and practices and detailed dynamics of the U.S. government, and related financial institutions, corporations, and unions.  There are relevant strategies that would lift the commitment to economic equality to new refinements, and indeed point to a larger fulfillment of Clinton’s dream regarding the place of women in the economy.  

The book is addressed to President Trump because significant change calls for direct confrontation with public figures.  Realistically, President-elect Trump has a tough and busy road ahead.  But as I mention in the beginning of the Preface, he might give a nudge or two. It would be no harm at all if the Republicans found their way into sane economics.  While addressed to President Trump, the book was written for the mass of discontented voters, workers, and citizens to attract popular attention. At the same time, however, the book is a pointer to a new tradition of introductory texts to economics from grade 11 right on through graduate work. That tradition is to be nudged into existence by a journalism that picks up on some basic questions posed in this book, which challenges the policy making of both the Republican and the Democratic parties and their parallels round the world.  

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book? What should remain with them long after putting it down? The success of the book depends to a large extent on its annoying title, and obviously on the courage of disgruntled academics and non-academics alike to take the book seriously.  I should note that the needed shift in economics is significant not only for climate rescuing but for a de-bureaucratizing of economic activity. The great benefit of reading this book is that the attentive reader will grasp the key issue missed by Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and President-elect Trump, as well as Trump’s recently appointed advisors. The key issue is also missed by the staid and settled establishment that is the contemporary economics professoriate.

4. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers? For writers focused on political economics, I recommend striving for a blend of seriousness (analysis/critique) with humor and satire, both of which are great ways to communicate difficult challenges.  While humor laughs with, satire laughs at.  Both are important for maintaining a humble perspective about the current situation, not just the results of the elections in the U.S. but many other current events as well.

One challenge for many if not most writers is to come to grips with how each one of us understands "current."  In the book, in chapter 11 "America Great, Humanity Great," I propose an Amendment A, which asks us to think of the total future, something that at first might seem quite odd, although it is less odd to think of the past in a somewhat similar way.  Democratic Convention talk in Philadelphia weaved its way occasionally round the glory of the creation there, 240 years ago, of America, by its founding fathers.  But should we not ask about these fathers and their community’s place and poise in the full story of humanity if we are thinking of American greatness as someway paradigmatic?  So, one bit of advice I would give to fellow writers is to think about the total future as best they can.

5. What trends in the book world do you see and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? More people are reading books on Kindles or some other reading device than ever before.  While I do not believe these devices will replace hard copies any time soon, the trend shows an increase in ebook purchases coupled with a decrease in hardback purchases.   The social media is also playing a role in how books are being promoted and marketed.  Many writers who do not have the budget to hire full-time team of marketers, agents, and publicists are having to learn how to divide their time between crafting their message (book, essay, article) and engaging in messenger activities, e.g., book launches, podcasts, and interventions in social media. Of course if you are Danielle Steel or Thomas Piketty you do not have to worry so much, but for the majority of writers we have to make prudent decisions about how often and to what extent we invest energy in messenger activities.  

6. What great challenges did you have in writing your book? That is a marvellous question.  One challenge is related to my advice regarding the role of humor and satire in communicating basic insights that I mentioned above.  In trying to publish in areas like economics and physics, engaging in narrative can be risky because it runs counter to a supposed divide between "hard sciences" and "arts and humanities."  I was trained in mathematical physics and have great respect for what the history of mathematics and physics, including the emergence of highly complex symbols that are beyond the reach of common sense, can teach us about our humanity.  At the same time, however, the efficiency and beauty of applied mathematics and applied physics pivot on glocal communications that are not cold and static but very much alive with poetic wit.

Even the divide between so-called fiction and nonfiction is somewhat artificial.  We tend to think that you are doing one or the other, but I would claim that without fantasy scientific research remains trapped in static, deductivist models.  So while my book is a serious effort to communicate basic insights, e.g., that there are two firms in sane economics, not one, the way to do this is not by offering "basic definitions" about the GDP or rates of employment, but by asking basic questions about what happens when innovation occurs, for example when a wise lady comes up with the idea of putting a plow behind a horse.  To glean the complex set of changes that might be set in motion when someone has an innovative idea requires imagination.  

Another challenge I faced while writing was to organize the four parts of the book.  At the end of each part of the book, I offer a tentative meaning of "profit," one which is then expanded in the following part of the book.  In the "Epilogue; Profit IV" the reader might be surprised to discover that I do not have the last word on profit, our anything resembling a "clear definition."  This is common to fields of inquiry that are striving to be empirical and historical, but it is not common in orthodox teaching or practice of micro- and macro-economics, both of which are still static fields of inquiry.

7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours? That is another marvellous question.  People look for inspiring messages, they look for voices that are uplifting and they buy books for any number of reasons.  One of them is to learn something new, about on an important and timely topic. It can be and indeed is very liberating to understand key issues, not just in economics but in any field.  This book does not delve into all of the issues surrounding President-elect Trump's campaign discourse and promises, but it does present a new angle on the foundations of sane economic policy.  It requires thinking about common things, e.g., flows of goods and services, flows of money, surplus income, credit, and innovation, from a different perspective.  People should buy this book because a patient reading might very well prove enlightening.  They should consider reading this book because sane economics is fundamental for the long-term hope for America and humanity.    

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby 

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