Hannah Arendt is bad on economics

I recently started reading The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt. I don’t think I’m going to finish it cuz the book is sloppy and anti-capitalist. As an example of Arendt’s writing I’ll give the following short quote from pp.174-175 Chapter 5, Section II:

What imperialists actually wanted was expansion of political power without the foundation of a body politic. Imperialist expansion had been touched off by a curious kind of economic crisis, the overproduction of capital and the emergence of ‘superfluous’ money, the result of oversaving, which could no longer find productive investment within the national borders.

Arendt hasn’t explained the meaning of the following terms anywhere: ‘capital’, ‘overproduction of capital’, ‘oversaving’ and ‘productive investment’. She doesn’t refer to any of the economic literature on capital. Since the book was published in 1951 and a lot of literature on capital was written before 1951, there was nothing to stop her from referring to it, either to understand what she was writing about or to refute economist’s theories about capital. For example, Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk wrote The Positive Theory of Capital in 1888 in German and it was translated into English in 1891. Arendt could write both German and English, so why doesn’t she refer to this book or to any other book on the subject?

Arendt’s claims also don’t seem compatible with economics. Is she claiming that in the 19th century the UK had too much capital? British people in the 19th century were all so well off that they couldn’t benefit from being able to make more stuff more cheaply? That’s not true even now. Nor will it ever be true. There is always a way to benefit from being able to make more stuff more cheaply. Sometimes people overproduce some particular good, e.g. – housing before the 2008 housing crash. But that’s not the same as having too much capital. Also, there are different kinds of capital. A machine for slicing loaves of bread can’t easily be used as a component in a car factory.

I don’t recommend Arendt’s book. I also don’t think I’ll be reading any more of her writings.

About conjecturesandrefutations
My name is Alan Forrester. I am interested in science and philosophy: especially David Deutsch, Ayn Rand, Karl Popper and William Godwin.

One Response to Hannah Arendt is bad on economics

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannah_Arendt

    > After completing her secondary education, she studied at the University of Marburg under Martin Heidegger, with whom she had a brief affair, and he had a lasting influence on her thinking

    idk what you expected from Arendt. It’s good to check people more carefully – I appreciate the work – but I think there are more promising alternatives to investigate.

    > Sometimes people overproduce some particular good, e.g. – housing before the 2008 housing crash.

    I think it was more like single family houses which were overproduced, not housing generally. I think apartment complexes were underproduced.

    Housing isn’t a particular good. It comes in many forms.

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