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Escohotado: The Economist with an Intrepid Mind and an Indomitable Spirit

Escohotado, El American

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Escohotado came across economics when his philosophical thinking had fully developed and his head was already determined to first dust off, and then melt, the ideological prisons from which economists try to remain. None of these embraces the full extent of the economic exercise, rather they shelter under the protection provided by belonging to one school or another. Escohotado belonged to none other than his own, and if at any time he did put on the glasses of the master Hegel, it was to clear his own horizon much more. It is no coincidence that his most serious approach to economics came through the designs of Carl Menger‘s Political Economy; the most dissident of the marginalists and the most genuine inspirer of what would later become the Austrian school.

In his mature years, he realized that his intellectual work would be incomplete and his desire for knowledge unsatisfied if he did not try to understand the vast world of value. His robust knowledge of the Scottish Enlightenment led him at once to the classical economists, and so suddenly he made us understand, like the light that stirs the gloomy ditches of confusion, that to study economics was nothing other than to attend to the customs and habits of the public square.

With that clairvoyance, he went beyond the most austere formalism and awakened astonishment among the youngest. With his monumental performance Enemies of Commerce: A Moral History of Property, he unwittingly undertook the greatest outrage to traditional thought by writing a work without thesis; or what in his own language would be to say without prejudice. Open to what understanding gives of itself, he stripped himself of any revisionism that would place him on the borders of one ideological clan or another, and with the ease of those who walk freely in the world, he was misunderstood and at times admired.

His radical love for freedom ingratiated his sympathy with the idea of the individual as the only Inter parts (methodological individualism), the champion of Austrian thought and of all its misfortunes. On the other hand, his sincere and fertile intelligence opened him to a republican feeling of things that distanced him from that visceral radicalism that claims “there is only the individual.” From the combination of an intrepid mind and an indomitable spirit were some of his most original contributions to the economic question. Let us look at some of them.

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Far from the childish attrition of imposing more state at the expense of the market or the opposite, he opened the wounds of the most radical and healed those of the just understanding by prophesying an intelligent reconciliation between the two. It is not one versus the other; it is one and the other. The freedom that nests in the market is continued by the security regime guaranteed by the state. The effects of this idea open for the field of Political Economy in particular, and Economic Policy in general, a path of hope for many problems still unresolved.

For example, with this delightful clarification, Escohotado moves away from the dilemma as if it were a dispute between rivals and introduces, instead, the concept of moral conscience in each of them. Suddenly the issue is no longer driven by the outcome of two antagonistic forces, how much of which market? and which state? is in a position to prevail at one time or another. Escohotado thus puts Schumpeterian competition and its decisive influence on the social articulation of individual interests in a fair relationship. Prosperity is not based on the establishment of a strict de/regulation of economic processes, but on how much freedom is rooted in each of them (spirit of competition). And then, paradoxes! There is freedom contained in intervention policies, and why not, obstruction in the free act of trading. It is here that the difference that I remarked some time ago between what would be market freedom (it takes into account the structure) or market in freedom (it takes into account the economic agents) becomes important; a wager whose originality we owe to the thinker.

Thus, it is freedom that makes wealth prosperous and not wealth that makes freedom prosperous. This brings us to another aspect of original consideration that many have overlooked in Escohotado and many others have misunderstood about his vision of economic history. His gratitude to the German school and particular predilection for Hegel has led him to bear certain criticisms of intellectual anti-patriotism, as happened to Ortega in his time.

Brief note: a Spain lacerated by cainism makes us useless when it comes to distinguish the criticisms that serve as an impulse from those that only stimulate our self-contempt. End of note. Although much closer to the Weberian theses than to those of Sepúlveda and company, his admiration for the pan-Germanic did not prevent him from recognizing that the economic and social backwardness of our Spain gained strength after the conquest of America (price revolution, deindustrialization, etc.). Spain was not capitalist and perhaps today it is not either, beyond the fact that the conditions for the development of the forces of capital were already moderately installed in it.

Once again, Escohotado, as he did with the debate between the State and the market, aims deeper. Although there are (forced) ways of seeing the reality of the Spaniard in a capitalist tone, his spirit was not ingratiated with the cause of freedom, and without it, the free exercise of demand and supply was hindered by dark monarchical dirigisme. It is freedom that will make the capitalist — and not the other way around — the master would point out. From this genuine perspective, the arrival of the Industrial Revolution in England would not be something like the random encounter of a series of factors favorable to its cause (demographic increase, geostrategic position, maritime and navigation technology, etc.) but the spirit of free competition that would go through each of those conditions (remember that if such factors were the reason, China would have been prosperous in very remote times). In this Escohotado again flies very high.

In that particular ambition for freedom that ran through him, his mind rode far above the mundane noise of the corridors. The apparent discrepancy between the concepts of sympathy and self-interest elaborated in both works by the father of modern economics, who in his time was bombastically baptized with the nickname of Adam Smith Problem, was never an obstacle for him. Well equipped in moral philosophy, he was able to distinguish self-interest from selfishness by endowing the former with a moral substance that makes it sensitive to the dispositions and needs of others.

The self arises from the consciousness of the other and without the other, there is no self. This idea, so difficult to digest in Latin America because of its histrionic distrust of its fellow man, is one of the most profitable fruits that the master gave us. It is not that my self, in an exercise of imposture, dissociates itself from my concerns in order to offer itself unreservedly to the concerns of others; it is, on the other hand, that the concern for myself ends up being the concern for others. Only with the self-love that Escohotado presumed, could he conceive that sympathy and self-interest constitute the obverse and the reverse of true personal autonomy.

For this and much more, thank you, Master: now, freed from the sting of the flesh, you are pure spirit; supreme freedom, absolute reality.

Antonini de Jiménez es doctor en economía y ha fungido como profesor universitario en Camboya, México y Colombia (actualmente es profesor en la Universidad Católica de Pereira). Trotamundos infatigable y lector sin escrúpulos // Antonini de Jiménez has a PhD in economics and has served as a university professor in Cambodia, Mexico and Colombia (he is currently a professor at the Catholic University of Pereira). He is a tireless globetrotter and unscrupulous reader.