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April 06, 2005

The DeLong Smackdown!

The champion is the extremely valuable smackdown by the extremely knowledgeable Ben Weiss of my claim, at "Adam Kotsko Is Alienated" http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/04/adam_kotsko_is_.html that someone in Niccolo Machiavelli's social position would not have had a personal library half a century earlier:

Ben Weiss: A wonderful post, and a wonderful Machiavelli quotation, but I'd like to take a bit of issue with the comment about libraries in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries --- and, yes, I know that's really not the point of the post.

The general point that libraries were fewer and smaller before the advent of printing than after is basically true. So is the fact that manuscripts were harder to come by and more expensive than printed books, but Brad's comment that "the idea that a mere mortal--a disgraced ex-Assistant for Confidential Affairs to the Republic of Florence--might have a personal library would have been absurd even half a century earlier," is far too stark. In the early Middle Ages libraries really were the province of "kings, sovereign princes, and abbots", but there was a steady increase in both literacy and the number of books in circulation during the later Middle Ages. This was especially true in cities: notably in Northern Italy, but also in France and what would become Germany. By the late fourteenth century, a bureaucrat with literary tastes like Machiavelli would almost certainly have had personal copies of a large number of his favorite books, and, if he were wealthy enough, possibly even a little study (a "studiolo") in which to read them.

Over the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the book trade underwent a dramatic shift as the primary center of manuscript copying moved from monastic houses to commercial scriptoria, often in university towns. (Richard and Mary Rouse have written a very important, if slightly exhausting, two-volume history of the commercial book trade in Paris: Manuscripts and their makers: commercial book producers in medieval Paris, 1200-1500 (Turnhout, 2000).) This was both fostered by and, in turn, fostered an increase in demand for personal copies of university texts. In Paris, as in places like Vienna, Padova, and Krakow, there was an active market in both new and used manuscripts, and, in addition, many scholars (especially in Italy) copied texts out themselves.

But perhaps the most important piece of evidence of the increasing demand for books before Gutenberg is the invention of printing itself. Gutenberg was not just experimenting for the sake of experiment. He was responding to, if not an explicit demand, to a perceived opportunity. It's important to remember that the printing press was not devote to making a new type of object --- early printed books are exactly the same in form and layout to manuscripts --- but to make more of a commodity that already existed.

With thanks, and all best wishes,

Ben Weiss

The smackdown started with my declaration at "Safeway Goes Upscale" http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/04/safeway_goes_up.html that "potatoes are as close to tasteless starch as can be attained in this world or the next..." The counterattack of the Potato Mafia was swift and brutal:

Brad, Brad, Brad. "Somebody was carrying on about something called Chateau Lafite, but as far as I'm concerned wine is just a way to disinfect water at the cost of a slightly sour flavour." Have a potato tasting evening, blind; mashed with a hint of butter - desiree, red lasoda, bintje, kipfler, purple congo, sebago, spunta -- aah! Spunta! - Tasmanian pink-eye, Toonagi delight... Would you confine yourself to one kind of bread - and white sliced at that - all your life?.... I hope you go to hell for this... (in which case your claim might come true).... I get my spuds in 10# bags from the 99¢ store, you elitist capitalist swine.... And Brad, when the itinerant potato vendor drops by my restaurant with dozens and dozens of varieties for sale, I'll think of you. I may even run a Brad DeLong Potato Sampler Dinner just for the hell of it.... Ask a Peruvian if they know any potato recipes (heh, heh) and they'll tell you aaaaaall about it - thousands of varieties, favorite dishes, etc.... Please God tell me this is some sort of April Fool's Joke.... To paraphrase Brad's post: "Having never tasted a fingerling potato, it is my considered opinion that they are tasteless." Hmmm.... Brad now wishes that he had said something less controversial. Like about who really deserves to live in Palestine.... Brad is indeed infirm. He has lived in California too long. As much a paradise as it is for most vegetables and fruits, it is a surprising black hole of flavor for certain products, including staples like beef and potatoes.... The Maine potato eschews the corporate mold for simple Down East flavor. Nothing beats mashed potatos made from Maine spuds. And no one who has tasted them can claim that "potatoes are as close to tasteless starch as can be attained in this world or the next."... Maybe it's just because I am a native Idahoan of Irish extraction, but your words cut me to the heart. "Tasteless starch?" Sure, if you're talking about rice, or pasta.... Perhaps it will be easier to turn Matthew Yglesias into an economist than Brad into a competent food critic.... I like the Yukon Golds. They do taste very good, look and taste like they have butter already on them when they don't. They are good to grow in the garden and also are more common in supermarkets now...

Interrupted only by the brief appearance of the Rice Mafia:

Non-sticky rice lacks a range of flavors? Ah, you've never had mountain rice in a Lahu, Karen or some other tribal village in northern Thailand. Now that is some rice!

It continued with my claim at "Lire le Capital" http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2005/04/lire_le_capital.html that Marx's "labor theory of value category of "exploitation" does not map onto what either ordinary language or our moral intuitions call "exploitation."... It's simply not a useful tool for either moral philosophy or political action. The Marx Mafia struck back:

Marx didn't think surplus value was evil, he thought alienation was bad. But it's no good talking about exploitation without the labor theory of value, for Marx.... I find Brad's reading so superficial I hardly know where to start. ... DeLong has long ago proved himself to be a complete hack... some worm hoping to be some bigshot in Washington DC.... DeLong is inventing some nonsense story.... DeLong once again sounds more like Pat Robertson than someone studying political economy. There are plenty of socialists who wrote moralizing tracts about oppression and wrongs, but Marx was not one of them in terms of his more serious works.... DeLong is not making an economic argument against the LTV, he's making a moral argument against it. And he's making it as if the LTV is a moral argument, when the whole point of LTV is it's not a moral argument.... I guess DeLong never got to the chapter on the difference between absolute and relative surplus value. Which has nothing to do with the "economic" moralistic bullshit he's talking about.... Like so many other political economists, DeLong knows next to nothing about Marx - I've only read halfway through Capital v.1 and some brief summaries of Marxian political economy, yet I already know much more about this than DeLong. I could say that about Paul Krugman as well. One may ask oneself why they do not know more about this.... The purpose of this article was not to explicate/refute the labor theory of value, but to make a performance, as a noted economics blogger.... Dr. D has obviously never worked as a US manual farm laborer, or studied Middle Ages serfdom or Colonial Slavery, understood "Pella the Conqueror," or visited the sweat shop ghettoes of ASEAN where everyone "freely barters and trades for the value of their labor". It's such oversimplistic, Sesame Street finger-counting, nursery rhyme examples which lulled the American middle class into signing away their own "surplus value per worker" for crumbs of minimum wage against wrenching fees and taxes, usurous banking swindles, outrageous pyramids of corporate capital, for what? An abbreviated life with no medical care and no retirement pension.... [T]he LTV is not, was not intended as, an empirical-analytic theory of prices.... It seems that Brad's appreciation of Marx is on a par with his appreciation of potatoes.... [T]o dissect Marx from history and his philosophy and turn it into a mathematical exercise, with the benefit of retrospect and a century of neo-classical liberal conditioning, seems to do a disservice to history...

Potato Mafia... Rice Mafia... Marx Mafia... Rare-Book Curator Mafia... It's been a busy week.

Posted by DeLong at April 6, 2005 07:20 PM