Tag Archive for 'Law'


Political comic strips around the Mississippi Bubble of the 1710s

I wish that I had time to read this paper by David Levy and Sandra Peart.

It’s about political comics (cartoons) drawn to depict John Law and the Mississippi Bubble of the early 1700s.  It also speaks to subtlely different meanings of the words “alchemy” and “occult” than we are used to today. Here is an early paragraph in the paper:

Non-transparency induces a hierarchy of knowledge. The most extreme form of that sort of hierarchy might be called the cult of expertise in which expertise is said to be accompanied by godlike powers, the ability to unbind scarcity of matter and time. The earliest debates over hierarchy focused on whether such claims are credible or not.

Here is the abstract:

Economists have occasionally noticed the appearance of economists in cartoons produced for public amusement during crises. Yet the message behind such images has been less than fully appreciated. This paper provides evidence of such inattention in the context of the eighteenth century speculation known as the Mississippi Bubble. A cartoon in The Great Mirror of Folly imagines John Law in a cart that flies through the air drawn by a pair of beasts, reportedly chickens. The cart is not drawn by chickens, however, but by a Biblical beast whose forefather spoke to Eve about the consequences of eating from the tree of the knowledge. The religious image signifies the danger associated with knowledge. The paper thus demonstrates how images of the Mississippi Bubble focused on the hierarchy of knowledge induced by non-transparency. Many of the images show madness caused by alchemy, the hidden or “occult.”

Hat tip: Tyler Cowen.


The Archbishop of Canterbury: mischaracterised, but still off the rails

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has drawn a storm of criticism ( BBC, Times, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph) by calling for a “plural jurisdiction” that allows for Islamic law to be recognised in Britain.

It seems unavoidable and, as a matter of fact, certain conditions of sharia are already recognised in our society and under our law, so it is not as if we are bringing in an alien and rival system. We already have in this country a number of situations in which the internal law of religious communities is recognised by the law of the land as justifying conscientious objections in certain circumstances.

There is a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law as we already do with aspects of other kinds of religious law.

That principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a Western democracy. But I think it is a misunderstanding to suppose that people don’t have other affiliations, other loyalties which shape and dictate how they behave in society and that the law needs to take some account of that.

As I understand it, under English (and, I’m guessing, Australian) law, there is already the following arrangement:

In the event of a civil dispute, if both parties independently agree to it, that dispute can be heard in arbitration by somebody (or a group of people) separate from the courts and the decision of that arbitration will be binding under the law. There are nevertheless legal limits as to what the arbitration may declare.

As a first example, this practice is widely used in investment law, both domestic and international.

As a second example, it would be available if a tenant is complaining that their landlord hasn’t fixed the heating.

At present, there is a Jewish version of this set up in Britain. There is nothing to stop a Muslim equivalent being set up, if it hasn’t already.

The key point is that the arbitration can not proceed unless both parties agree beforehand to take part and abide by the ruling. If either one does not, then it goes before the regular courts.

Where the archbishop has gone off the rails, in my opinion, is that he seems to be calling for an entirely extra-judicial set-up; a competing system of justice that is parallel to (not a component of) the general law of the state.  That is simply wrong.