Blind Jacobs and nihilist Grunberg embrace Streeck

Listening to Markopoulos, Chroniko

Rotterdam professor of economics Bas Jacobs (1973) is the (new) president of the Royal Dutch Association for Political Economy (KVS), founded in 1849, and supposedly the oldest of still existing associations of scientific economists in the world.

Literary writer Arnon Grunberg (1971) (website) didn’t finish highschool and is a selfmade man. He won prizes in Dutch literature but that doesn’t necessarily mean much. He was mentioned in the NY Times as:

“(…) often cited as one of the greatest living Dutch writers. A literary wunderkind, he founded a publishing imprint when he was 19, wrote a European best seller when he was 23 and has now published at least a dozen novels, two of which won the Dutch equivalent of the Booker Prize. In his downtime, he writes stories, plays, poetry, columns and journalism, including a series of dispatches from Afghanistan, where he reported on Dutch and American troops. He lives in old New York (once New Amsterdam).”  (Scott Hutchins, 2013-05-10, NY Times) (Another mention in the NY Times.)

They are both descendants of survivors of the holocaust in Holland 1940-1945.

The newspaper NRC-Handelsblad published a weekly exchange of letters by Jacobs and Grunberg with the title Capitalism and Freedom. The letters in Dutch from January 31 – April 11 are listed here, and my comment in Dutch is here.

In the last weblog I discussed professor Wolfgang Streeck who speaks about the End of Capitalism – which Grunberg compares to Armageddon.

Observations are:

  • The exchange appears to be rather decadent, and will not help the distressed in Europe.
  • Jacobs is a professor in economics who had nothing to lose, and who deals with a lay person who has no training in economics.
  • Grunberg has everything to lose, namely his reputation. He must entertain his readership, and walks down side-allies that a serious reader will not quite expect, which might suggest to a common readership that he has a quicksilver mind, but which on close inspection appears to consist of cheap tricks by someone who hasn’t studied economics or hasn’t even had a serious training in journalism. One trick is to mirror a question in different words, which merely suggests that you are dealing with the answer.
  • Jacobs is blind to the censorship of economic science in Holland by the directorate of the Central Planning Bureau (CPB). Jacobs does not inform Grunberg about my protest against that censorship.
  • Jacobs shares Streeck’s concerns but doesn’t see that Streeck overlooks the role of economic planning. He does not inform Grunberg about this either.
  • Jacobs sees a solution only in a revival of “liberal capitalism” – but also gives a diagnosis that this will not happen. He calls it a “political choice” if it would not happen, but also describes that the electorate suffers from lack of knowledge and information – which doesn’t sound much like a “choice”. He doesn’t mention my suggestion of an Economic Supreme Court that would make that information available. While Streeck concludes that he has no solution, Jacobs has no solution either – but shies away from that clarity of mind.
  • Grunberg appears to be a nihilist, with no academic training or interest, and with a rather simplistic sense of humor.

Jacobs actually asks Grunberg for help. He estimates the loss of welfare in Holland by the crisis as close to 10% of GDP, annually. His diagnosis is that austerity has made the loss larger instead of less. Europe is locked in masochism – punishment and stagnation – and policy makers no longer listen to advice by economic scientists. He almost begs Grunberg whether he as a literary writer might be able to break the deadlock, and find the proper words to get people and policy makers come to their senses. Grunberg’s reply is the joke: if people are masochistic then politicians like prime minister Mark Rutte might be sadistic.

A low point is – with also the weasel word “some people”, without indicating who would do this:

“For some people the difference between a euro and a muslim is minimal. They regard a muslim as a euro in the form of a human.” (Arnon Grunberg, 2015-01-31, NRC Handelsblad)


Bas Jacobs (website, picture by Hartman) and Arnon Grunberg (wikimedia commons)


Comments are closed.