Core argument

Jo Guldi (Brown) and David Armitage (Harvard) wrote The History Manifesto (html or PDF). On May 12 professor Armitage came to Amsterdam to defend it at the Academy of Sciences KNAW.

The authors argue that historical research gets lost into short-term-ism and overspecialisation, and that there is a growing need for the longue durée (Fernand Braudel 1902-1985) and “big stories”. The Manifesto closes with a call-to-arms:

“Once called upon to offer their advice on political development and land-reform, the creation of the welfare state and post-conflict settlement, historians, along with other humanists, effectively ceded the public arena, nationally as well as globally, to the economists and occasionally lawyers and political scientists. (When was the last time a historian was seconded to Downing Street or the White House from their academic post, let alone consulted for the World Bank or advised the UN Secretary-General?) It may be little wonder, then, that we have a crisis of global governance, that we are all at the mercy of unregulated financial markets, and that anthropogenic climate change threatens our political stability and the survival of species. To put these challenges in perspective, and to combat the short-termism of our time, we urgently need the wide-angle, long-range views only historians can provide. Historians of the world, unite! There is a world to win–before it’s too late.” (The History Manifesto p125 – my emphasis)

Amsterdam, May 12 2015

Amsterdam, May 12 2015. Wonderful weather outside of KNAW.

Remarkably, on the three indicated areas economics has much more to offer than history:

  • For climate change and survival of the species there is my book on the Tinbergen & Hueting Approach (2009, 2015).
  • On unregulated financial markets and income inequality, there are my books DRGTPE (2000, 2005, 2011) from before the crisis and CSBH (2012) from after the crisis – see above About page.
  • On global governance there is the analysis in DRGTPE that each nation better adopts a constitutional Economic Supreme Court (ESC) – so that the national ESCs can exchange information and thus contribute to global co-ordination and stability. For example, see this memo in the RES Newsletter of Fall 2014.

These issues can only be resolved by economics. One needs to study political economy (see DRGTPE for its definition) and have a solid background in econometrics and macro-economic modeling to understand and judge the issues. It is necessary indeed to take the long view, since it are this kind of topics. By implication the economist looking into these issues might be regarded as being a “historian” – and perhaps historians are willing to respect this even though such an economist might have no formal training in such an MA course.

It puts the horse behind the cart when one presumes that a student of the past would, by this kind of academic study, hit upon the proper advice to deal with these issues for the future. I am afraid that Guldi & Armitage are seriously mistaken here. It is important for a political economist to delve into history, and historians can provide valuable service here, but a historian would have to become a political economist if he or she is to say something about these subjects.

Consistent links

Of course, when the survival of the species is at stake, and thus also the survival of historians, then one can imagine that some historians feel the need to say something about this. But rather than starting to re-invent the wheel themselves, they are advised to check out the designated smiths. Dutch readers may check my question on ecological survival for the Dutch research agenda to 2025.

Admittedly, I may not be the typical economist, and Guldi & Armitage merely “misunderestimated” the situation. Originally I wanted to study archeology but it was because of Biafra and the world problems that I decided to turn to econometrics. At the KNAW session I indeed met an archeologist who confirmed that he was quite comfortable with long time scales. My recent revisit of the old interest is in “The simple mathematics of Jesus” (2012). An apt reference is also to this weblog text.

I am also struck by this statement in the manifesto:

“There is no public office of the long term that you can call for answers about who, if anyone, is preparing to respond to these epochal changes.” (The History Manifesto, p 1)

Traditionally people have the right to petition the monarch, and democracy seems to reduce the need for that, but our model of democracy still fails. The creation of an Economic Supreme Court would amend that. Some analysts who see short-term-ism everywhere might fear that the ESC would also fall victim to it. However, it is the task of the ESC to check the quality of the information for policy making. Hence, it looks at both the short and the long terms.

A question during the session

The discussion monitor at KNAW invited an economist in the audience to ask a question. My question was:

“The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte studied history. However, he shows quite a disrespect for science. How is it possible that an academic study causes this kind of disrespect, and what can be done to ensure that the study of the past maintains scientific standards ?” (Rephrased.)

Dutch readers can check that I essentially asked the same question for the Dutch National Research Agenda for 2025. A key problem is: when a historian in a public debate makes an error against science then he or she is seldomly corrected by another historian.

Mark Rutte is a counterexample to the Guldi & Armitage bracketed question above: here we have a historian with access to the corridors of power. Check on Rutte e.g. here.  Another example appears to be William Hague. One can also understand that my question is essentially critical of the History Manifesto too: Are Guldi & Armitage not similarly disrespectful of science, by claiming more for history than history can do ?

The Dutch word for science is “wetenschap” and it does not distinguish between the humanities and the “hard” sciences. My question fell a bit in the trap of the distinction made in the Anglo-Saxon world. Professor Armitage referred to C.P. Snow and the “two cultures” lecture of 1959, and indicated that the gap ought to be bridged. He explained how students of history at Harvard are encouraged to look into the sciences, including mathematics and computer science. He did not go into the issue that the scientific method should be used in history as a science too. Fortunately the History Manifesto on occasion refers to the humanities as a science too (say p 10), but then it should also apply the methodology of science – with the comparative advantage of Verstehen.

Thus his answer left me unsatisfied. For these same considerations as Snow had, the Econometric Society was founded in 1930, with an offshoot in cliometrics. The gap between the “two cultures” can only be bridged when it becomes mandatory that a sizeable section of the humanities have also a background in the sciences – i.e. when the humanities stop claiming that they would be so very special and when they concentrate their contribution on what they indeed are special in and what indeed is their comparative advantage. Indeed, this will also require a re-engineering of the education of mathematics, see “Elegance with Substance” (2009).

The panelists

Invited panelists were Mathijs Bouman (economic journalist), Rens Bod (director of Digital Humanities), Hanco Jürgens (Germany Institute Amsterdam) and Siep Stuurman (emeritus UU).

Rens Bod was most ambitious: historians should also predict the future. This indeed fits the scientific method, and prevents that historians just tell fancy stories and enhance those with the authority of age. The ambition to look at the future fits the ancient tradition in history, check e.g. Thucydides and the wish to study history to learn from it. The ambition however runs the risk of failure when historians are not up to the task. Thucydides of course wrote at a time when he could not rely on a well-developed discipline of political economy.

Hanco Jürgens wondered whether there really was a crisis in the humanities and a lack of public attention for history. He referred to the commemorations of WW II this month. That Russia had taken the Crimea put an end to Francis Fukuyama’s End of History and meant a Return of History. There is rather a change in the public role of the intellectual. In Holland in 2030 likely half of the student population will have higher education (?) and that will mean a change in the kind of public debate.

Siep Stuurman emphasized professionalism. Historians should remain critical. The “protestant wind” that destroyed the Armada is an obvious bias – see “Whig history“. The method of the longue durée rather looks for turns that enlighten issues (and that were surprising to participants too). Thomas Malthus had fine data from the past but lacked insight in what technology had in store. History can puncture myths, like that protectionism hindered development and that free trade supported it: in the past protectionism was the norm, and England only imposed free trade when it had the advantage anyway. His main point was that history provides serial contexts.

The other economist: Mathijs Bouman

Bouman supported the criticism of short-term-ism by giving the example of the 2008 financial crisis. He labeled financial analysts as “historians” since they used time series data. They used only a few decades, and thus they missed systematic national risk on house prices. He agreed that a good economist is also a historian. On the other side he found the History Manifesto biased against neo-liberalism. Marx and Piketty got too much attention, even though the latter indeed presented data over a much longer period. The long term would require an unbiased view too.

Bouman supported my critical question above by stating that developing a view about the future does not only require data from the past but also model assumptions: and what theory was Armitage using ?

Of course, Bouman did not explain to professor Armitage that the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning Bureau has been censoring my work since 1990. In general, visitors who come to Holland are treated as guests and they meet with kind people and have pleasant discussions. These visitors will tend to think that Holland is an open and tolerant country.  KNAW functions as a Potemkin village for foreign scientists.


Given that economics already solved the three major problems mentioned by Guldi & Armitage – so that it is only a matter that the Parliaments of the world start studying on those solutions – I can only advise that the historians enter these notions in their history books. By consequence there is little use for the History Manifesto.

What we should appreciate is its opening statement of “speaking truth to power“. This can best be done by embracing the scientific method, to first find that truth, and then say it.

Addendum May 14

A statement in the manifesto about what Paul Warde would have shown made me very curious and caused me to check this on the internet: I found a discussion by Pseudo Erasmus on errors in the manifesto also on other statements. Perhaps this is a case in which historians correct other historians.

I also found the criticism by Cohen & Mandler in the AHR rather convincing. The best thing would be to retract the manifesto as an apparently insufficiently researched opinion piece that needs better contemplation.

Amsterdam, May 12 2015. Still wonderful weather after the KNAW session.

Amsterdam, May 12 2015. Still wonderful weather after the KNAW session.

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)

Listening to Markopoulos, Ta tragoudia tou neou patera

My correspondent from Amsterdam called in distress: Wolfgang Streeck of the Max Planck Institute had spoken about the end of capitalism, and claimed that no-one has an idea how to solve this.

Streeck had an interview (in Dutch) by the formidable Caroline de Gruyter, and a video interview (in English) with weblog Follow The Money. A good read is “How will Capitalism End?” in the New Left Review 87, May-June 2014. It seems that Streeck and I agree on much, except on the presence or lack of solution approaches. (Dutch readers will also benefit much from Michel Verbeek on the German Ordoliberalismus and the balanced budget rule for the euro.)

There is the book “Buying Time. The delayed crisis of democratic capitalism” 2014.

Wolfgang Streeck 2014

Wolfgang Streeck 2014

I don’t have to read the latter book since I have been studying this problem since I started studying econometrics in 1973 and solved it at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB) in 1990. The crisis since 2007 merely confirms my analysis. What is required, is to boycott Holland till the censorship of economic science at CPB is lifted and I can present my full analysis. See:

It seems to me that professor Streeck neglects – and correct me if I am wrong – that economic advice and in particular also economic planning are integral functions within the government of the modern state. To understand economic developments you also have to study the workings of that function. Economists who work in such functions are not per definition sadistically inclined, and rather follow the major economic science of their day. This is where my innovative contribution lies, that is censored by the directorate of the Dutch Central Planning bureau, and which this weblog on the advice to boycott Holland is all about. Two points are relevant here:

  • some novel contributions to economic analysis, to improve economic science
  • the advice to amend the Trias Politica structure with an Economic Supreme Court, such that economic advice and planning can be truly scientific – rather than being embedded within political processes as is the case nowadays.

What the reader should appreciate is that professor Streeck – like I do – considers the developments since 1970. Indeed, you can only appreciate what is happening when you take the longer view. For example: the years of Reagan and Thatcher were actually Keynesian years 1981-2007. Link up to World War I for the failure of the Trias Politica.

In “How will Capitalism End?” Streeck states:

“The image I have of the end of capitalism—an end that I believe is already under way—is one of a social system in chronic disrepair, for reasons of its own and regardless of the absence of a viable alternative. While we cannot know when and how exactly capitalism will disappear and what will succeed it, what matters is that no force is on hand that could be expected to reverse the three downward trends in economic growth, social equality and financial stability and end their mutual reinforcement. In contrast to the 1930s, there is today no political-economic formula on the horizon, left or right, that might provide capitalist societies with a coherent new regime of regulation, or régulation. Social integration as well as system integration seem irreversibly damaged and set to deteriorate further. [ftnt] What is most likely to happen as time passes is a continuous accumulation of small and not-so-small dysfunctions; none necessarily deadly as such, but most beyond repair, all the more so as they become too many for individual address. In the process, the parts of the whole will fit together less and less; frictions of all kinds will multiply; unanticipated consequences will spread, along ever more obscure lines of causation. Uncertainty will proliferate; crises of every sort—of legitimacy, productivity or both—will follow each other in quick succession while predictability and governability will decline further (as they have for decades now). Eventually, the myriad provisional fixes devised for short-term crisis management will collapse under the weight of the daily disasters produced by a social order in profound, anomic disarray.” (Wolfgang Streeck, “How will Capitalism End?” 2014)

We may imagine that major parts of Europe (Amsterdam) and the USA will start to look like parts of Syria and/or the Philippines.

From Azaz in Syria to Manila in the Philippines

From Azaz in Syria to Payatas – Manila in the Philippines (Source: wikimedia commons)

There are two important observations:

  • Professor Streeck will think that Holland is an open minded country, especially when they are so nice to give him all this attention. In this way he will not observe the closed Dutch mind. Nobody will tell him about the censorship of economic since since 1990 and the need to boycott Holland till that is resolved. Professor Streeck visited Holland and left it again, still thinking that no-one has any idea for a solution, while that solution has already been developed and the Dutch CPB (and put into a drawer).
  • A google also showed a book by Streeck and Thelen, Beyond continuity : institutional change in advanced political economies” (2005). It so happens that I sent this email to professor Thelen in 2013. Did she read it, comprehend it, and communicate it to Streeck ? The email mentions Gerrit Zalm who as CEO of ABN AMRO came up in our last weblog discussion on bank bonuses. It is a small world – and a small country.
Addition April 11

Some other websites on professor Streeck’s analysis – who all lack the notion of an Economic Supreme Court:

It turns out that Cressida Cowell has been writing her dragon books for years and that the box offices of the films are approaching $1 billion, while this weblog was rather oblivious of that. I only noticed these elementary facts from watching with my youngest son and hugely enjoying How to train your dragon 1 on television and How to train your dragon 2 in the theatre. See the official website for the trailers. The films establish that mankind is destined to fly.

While the Harry Potter films were never convincing with their crude suggestion of broomsticks and overall tendency to neglect humour, the relationship of Hiccup and Toothless not only engages us, reminding of other stories of boy & horse or boy & dolphin, but also makes us want to fly along, dive, loop, plunge, and what you have, and share this close bonding of body and mind. Now that Google is developing robots, the obvious suggestion is to concentrate on flying robots and then notably in the form of dragons, so that the phantasy is just a premonition.

How to Train Your Dragon - And flying it (Source: Trailer Screenshot)

How to Train Your Draghi – And flying it (Source: Trailer Screenshot)

That future is already with us, in that Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, is yet untrained, and takes us and the world economy diving, looping, plunging, and what you have.

Europe needs someone like Hiccup who neglects danger and is convinced that feeding Draghi some fish will gain the monster’s trust, so that it will let itself be put into a harness and be controlled.

How to Train Your Dragon (Source: Trailer Screenshot)

How to Train Your Draghi – Using a big fish (Source: Trailer Screenshot)

Angela Merkel (in the film called “Astrid”) finds the house on fire and gets a bucket to extinguish it. Obviously, she will not succeed.

Angela Merkel discovers that the house is on fire and picks up a bucket to extinguish it (Source: Trailer Screenshot)

Angela Merkel fnds the house on fire and gets a bucket to extinguish it (Source: Trailer Screenshot)

Read more about this story in these links:

(A) Thomas Colignatus,An Economic Supreme Court“, a piece in the Royal Economic Society Newsletter, issue 167, October 2014, see above “About“.

(B) Still in the dark, not seeing the evidence:

February 2013 already gave a weblog entry Cause and Cure of the Crisis and November 2013 a YouTube video – though with a rather slow speed of presentation.

Now in September 2014 there is a short paper (MPRA  58592) with the same title. The paper gives a review of the books DRGTPE and CSBH that are at the core of this weblog – apart for our admiration for Art Buchwald and attention to the education of mathematics.

This may be occasion to pay a small tribute to John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946) and Jan Tinbergen (1903-1994). The analysis on the cause and cure of the crisis is based upon their work, and thus the world can only cure the crisis by properly reading up on Keynes and Tinbergen as well. It requires an understanding not only on economic theory but also econometric methods, with a role for mathematics.

There is another storyline that links up to mathematics education.

Tinbergen studied physics and wrote his thesis with Paul Ehrenfest (1880–1933). As a student he walked in Leiden, saw the poverty, decided to study economics, and doing so he created econometrics.

Ehrenfest’s wife Tatyana Afanasyeva (Kiev, 1876 – Leiden, 1964) wrote on math education too. Her work was hotly debated in small circles. One of the discussants was Hans Freudenthal (1905-1990), another German immigrant to Holland. Freudenthal became the promotor of Pierre van Hiele (1909-2010), which makes the circle round, see this entry on this weblog.

Paul Ehrenfest’s students, Leiden 1924. Left to right: Gerhard Heinrich Dieke, Samuel Abraham Goudsmit, Jan Tinbergen, Paul Ehrenfest, Ralph Kronig, and Enrico Fermi. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

The author presents some scientific innovations that meet with unwarranted opposition or neglect by fellow scientists. Local conditions in Holland are relevant since those affect direct communication. Discussion of this case might inspire an overall improvement in politeness and competence. A key insight for readers: it is advisable to ask questions first.

See this 16 page PDF with the full discussion:

After 45 years of unemployment: If Holland had been just a bit nicer and more competent

Consider the problem first in abstract manner and then concretely.

(1) Abstractly: In the advancement of science it happens that researcher A has a new idea and tells researcher B about it. Since B did not launch the idea, and need not quite know what it entails, it is B’s role to ask questions first. Asking questions is not only polite and nice but basically part of scientific competence. The answers to those questions might cause A to retract the idea or B to accept it. It might be that B has been working on the same issue and feels that it isn’t necessary to ask questions. Still, it is useful to verify common grounds. The proper attitude in science thus is to first ask questions, in particular when you do not understand something. When B quickly rejects a new idea as silly, then science gets stuck in the situation that A has developed a new idea and B has developed a vested interest in calling it silly. The situation would be worse when there wouldn’t be a level playing field when A is a junior researcher and B a senior researcher. The idea gets blocked if the fast rejection by B is the standard attitude, or when other person C refers to B as the main source, with possible misrepresentation as to what the idea actually is.

(2) Concretely: The author reports about his experience in doing science in Holland. Holland has the reputation of being tolerant and open-minded but it is better to look at some facts about the country. In the author’s experience researchers in Holland may forget to ask questions and instead jump to rejection when findings contradict some strong convention or deeply held conviction. The maltreatment and scientific incompetence within the Dutch research community means that scientific results get blocked. If Holland had been just a bit nicer and more competent, then those results could have spread easier and the world could have been different.

A key issue is the censorship of economic science since 1990 at the Dutch Central Planning Bureau (CPB). The author advises the world to boycott Holland till the censorship of his scientific work at the CPB is lifted.

A 1998 text of mine for the general public is:

Will the West repeat Versailles ?

My suggestion is that you read it again, and ponder the question: What you did not understand back then ?

Clearly, the West has repeated Versailles. It has been treating Russia in such a way that we see resentment there. After the fall of the USSR the West should have opted for proper economic policy, but no, our misguided governments chose for a repeat of Versailles.

If you don’t know what resentment is, check Tichon Dzyadko in The New Republic: Putin Is Using WWII for Propaganda Because It’s the Best Memory That Russia Has (but you may have to practice your grasp of Russian jokes).

My current proposition is to start boycotting Holland. Doesn’t this makes sense too ?

PM. In 1996 and 1998 I wrote three short texts for the general public, which summarize the results of my new economic analysis DRGTPE, while the latter is intended for fellow economists. The text of Versailles is one of these, and it refers to four other papers:

For the general public (including economists):

(1) Unemployment Solved ! A breakthrough in economics (1996)
(2)  Enable Russia to help itself (1996)

For economists:

(3) Unemployment Solved: An answer to Krugman, Phelps, Ormerod and Heilbroner (1997) but see DRGTPE (2011) for the editted chapter
(4) The dynamic marginal tax rate (1997) but see DRGTPE for the editted chapter.