One of the most surprising theses of the book The Enemies of Commerce is that triumphant revolutionaries are usually reactionaries in the most eminent sense. Its author, Antonio Escohotado, describes how before writing it he assumed that the revolutionary factor was focused on going towards the unknown, but his research suggests that the cycles of high activity in the communist movement run parallel to milestones in the development of prosaic freedom, of advances in the cultivation of risk coupled with the existence of civic liberties, drawing an analogous “jerk backwards” reaction that an attack of vertigo imposes. Returning to ebionism.
In 1705 Bernard de Mandeville publishes “The Fable of the Bees” and in a few weeks this booklet of few pages, sold through the streets at half penny, becomes the biggest blockbuster in English history until then, because no one had previously created a similar sarcastic criticism about evangelical poverism. His central thesis is that vice subsidizes virtue: with the right as an ally, specialization and private interest build a society incomparably preferable to that built on altruistic denials. This perspective will resonate half a century later in Smith’s prologue to his famous treatise on political economy “The Wealth of Nations.”
Recently I had the opportunity and pleasure of reading The Enemies of Commerce, a work of impressive depth and rigor, in which its author Antonio Escohotado goes back to remote history to trace and expose the origins of what would become the animosity against capitalism that unites national-socialists, communists, and so many other branches of utopian socialism.
If you are fortunate enough to understand Spanish (unfortunately, no English translation available yet) I strongly recommend that you buy the book because this exploration is full of lessons that can not be missed. However, make sure reserve a quiet time because the text is more addictive than a bag of chips and the language of Antonio, whom I admire as a philosopher, is as rich in expression as precise in the nuance, something really worth of praise in our current times.
I am sure it will be hard to take your eyes off the page until you have finished all three volumes with their corresponding notes on the margin. Meanwhile, here are some lines about what I consider its most fascinating and surprising angles.
The victory of Emmanuel Macron in the recent French elections against Marine Le Pen has represented a setback against the growing impulse of populism and intolerance, following the victories of Brexit in UK and Trump in the USA, as well as a welcome respite for those of us who we believe in a common market and a united Europe.
Amazon is nailing it. After sweeping online commerce and redefining the world of cloud computing with Amazon Web Services, the company founded by Jeff Bezos does not stop experimenting with innovations, each more surprising than the last one.
Some days ago in The Age of the Algorithm we spoke about how currently most of the greatest technological innovations have a computational origin, and how that trend will get reinforced as the companies spearheading change adopt the new generation of algorithms derived from sustained progress in the artificial intelligence field. This bears consequences not only for consumers but, even with higher significance, for the way to organize production in the enterprise.
“Technology” is a funny word, extremely malleable: we tend to recognize as technology only the most recent artifacts of human progress. In a more than purely metaphorical sense, technology is what appears in the world after we graduate. We call the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon technology-based firms because the last great economic and social revolution hinged on the internet, but almost two centuries ago trains were all the novelty, and the technology firms of these age made huge fortunes covering the rolling plains of the Far West with a network of railroads among indian fights and bandit robberies, immortalized in John Wayne’s movies. Boilers over wheels replacing horses and carriages. Startups are technological because that allows to compete with the establishment.