Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fundamentals: information, society, and economy

Provocative short piece on Keynes in NYT Magazine today: "The Remedist" by Robert Skidelsky. At issue is the question of just what it was that Alan Greenspan was backing off from when he said that his policies had been based on a "flaw." Skidelsky channels Keynes to suggest that it's an information problem that lies at the heart of our financial woes. The ideas that the market system, unregulated, will generate, in prices, all the information needed for social actors to act wisely (whatever that means) AND that the right calculations could capture all the relevant uncertainty (and thus price it correctly so that actors could make informed choices) both turn out to be not quite right. A discovery for some, but something Keynes and others said before.

Hence the title of this post. Weber wrote his "Economy and Society" almost one hundred years ago. What I'm imagining for a sociology of information is to insert "information" into that holy duo. We create systems and structures that can be either "net obscuring" or "net clarifying." That is, they help us to see the world more clearly or they make that world even harder to comprehend than it already is. How we do so is what a sociology of information looks at.

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