In a conversation with Clifford Geertz in 1976, the economist Albert O Hirschman playfully expressed the first law of the social sciences: “Whenever a phenomenon in the social world is fully explained, it ceases to operate.”Perhaps the best historical example of this idea, or at least the most famous in the history of economic thought, was the publication of An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus in 1798.Paul Krugman blogs that “over the roughly 60 centuries that have passed since civilization emerged in Mesopotamia, the Malthusian proposition — population pressure swallows up any gains in productivity, so that most people live on the edge of subsistence — was true for 58. It just so happens that the two centuries for which the proposition didn’t hold were the two
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In a conversation with Clifford Geertz in...