Whatever You Can Get Away With 01

I once attended a lecture on “The functions of the excess profit of the monopolist” given by the Dean of Social Sciences, Professor Walter Hagenbuch to a large number of undergraduates at the University of Kent at Canterbury.

At that stage in my life I had not mastered the distinction between teleology and tautology. But I could tell a pile of uncritical junk from valuable analysis when I heard it and I never attended another economics lecture at the University. It’s a shame, because I found much later that there is a lot to be valued in the discipline.

Last night, for example, stumbling through Skidelsky’s biography of Keynes, I read the following quote form Keynes’s first commercially published book:

“How long will it be found necessary to pay City men so entirely out of proportion to what other servants of society commonly receive for performing social services not less useful or difficult?”

John Maynard Keynes (1913) Indian Currency and Finance

A good question. A provisional answer would be “at least a century”. It dawns on me (again) that labour markets are markets like any other. Whatever the Hagenbuchs might say, it’s a power thing. A bit of supply and demand and a few lines on a graph might help our materialist cause but in the end it’s down to who is on your side, who makes the rules, who polices the rules, and how easy it is to avoid the wrath of the mob. “Whatever You Can Get Away With” as I like to say.


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