I catch the flight home in half an hour but I must say seldom has any trip of mine been so complete. All my interests – economic, political and historical – came together so seamlessly that I only wish life was always like this.
Economically, the meeting on J.-B. Say and the Entrepreneur was an outstanding success. This being the first such meeting, it is of major significance that there is a casting about for some kind of successor paradigm to the fault-ridden neo-classical synthesis so accurately represented by Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz. As just a minor point, what became evident is that economists are useless at predicting the future so have substituted GDP estimates for actually knowing anything at all about the economy. If I tell you that Australia over the past twenty years grew by 50% and China by 150%, you would not have any idea about what either was really like, the kinds of economy each is or what is actually going on. Economists have substituted statistics for actual knowledge. It is all pretty useless, but if your aim is to pull wool over people’s eyes about what is taking place, GDP is a great number since it is almost meaningless as a statement about anything of significance.
Politically, it has been amazing to be here for the transition to a more market-oriented socialist Prime Minister. Every country is a hopeless case since the freeloaders have now overrun the productive. But if you are trying to manage the place, even the most dense political leader trying to re-engineer a recovery cannot help noticing that only those who make a net contribution to output actually create more value than they use up. A tremendous amount of capital to run through in our Western economies, but we are managing to do it. Fascinating to see it all in action in a place you would not normally expect it.
Historically, there are two sides to it. In relation to why I am here, I am part of a group that is trying to save Jean-Baptiste Say’s factory in Auchy-les-Hesdins for posterity. There are not many – any – places in the world that are actually historical sites in which economic issues are at the forefront. Auchy is astonishing in that it combines an ancient cotton mill – where the waterfall that ran the mill can still be seen – with the writings of one of the greatest economists of all time. If you are in France in the north-west around Calais or Normandy, and you have any interest in these things at all, you must come visit. The website I am told is coming but you should see it for yourself. The best way to describe the positioning of Auchy is to note that it is half way between Azincourt and Crecy. See all three, but if you have an interest in economics and its history, this place will astonish you. There is nothing like it on the planet and, as with everything related to Say, is only now in the process of being rediscovered.
Lastly there has been my following the trail of historical battles, with the last few days on the WWI battle fronts. Went to Villers-Brettoneaux yesterday which is the Australian Vimy Ridge. Very moving places both of them. Two things I found particularly noteworthy. The first was the direction finder in the tower pointing out various places of significance on the Somme battle grounds. But amongst the 20 miles to this and 30 miles to that was the arrow that pointed to 14,235 miles to Canberra. It was a long way from home for those young Australians who lie buried in the fields of France.
The other was a grave to some young lad who died on this battlefield in 1918. His name was S. Keates. It was quite a strange moment. It is truly the case that there but for the grace of God go we all.