Sunday, December 5, 2021

Disposable time as a common-pool resource V -- Social costs and common-pool resources

 The basic idea behind common-pool resources also has a venerable place in the history of classical political economy and neoclassical economic thought. In the second edition of his Principles of Political Economy, Henry Sidgwick observed that "private enterprise may sometimes be socially uneconomical because the undertaker is able to appropriate not less but more than the whole net gain of his enterprise to the community." From the perspective of the profit-seeking firm, there is no difference between introducing a new, more efficient production process and simply shifting a portion of the costs or risks onto someone else, society or the environment. In fact, the opportunities for the latter may be more readily available.

One example Sidgwick used to illustrate this was "the case of certain fisheries, where it is clearly for the general interest that the fish should not be caught at certain times, or in certain places, or with certain instruments; because the increase of actual supply obtained by such captures is much overbalanced by the detriment it causes to prospective supply." Sidgwick admitted that many fishermen may voluntarily agree to limit their catch but even in this circumstance, "the larger the number that thus voluntarily abstain, the stronger inducement is offered to the remaining few to pursue their fishing in the objectionable times, places, and ways, so long as they are under no legal coercion to abstain."

Applying the same principle to the context of labour-power, "fishing in the objectionable times, places and ways" manifests itself in the standard practice of employers considering labour as a "variable cost." From the standpoint of society as a whole, unemployment is simply a way of shifting the overhead cost of labour onto society as a whole. John Maurice Clark discussed this cost-shifting aspect in the 1920s in his Studies in the Economics of Overhead Costs, especially his chapter on "labor as an overhead cost."


Disposable time as a common pool resource IV -- disposable time as a common pool resource

In his Grundrisse, Marx identified surplus labour time as a form of disposable time. That is to say that, under capitalism, it is labour time at the disposal of capital. "The whole development of wealth," Marx wrote, "rests on the creation of disposable time." "In production resting on capital," he continued three sentences later, "the existence of necessary labour time is conditional on the creation of superfluous labour time."

Although it strongly suggests surplus labour time -- and thus surplus value -- superfluous labour time is not identical to surplus labour time. In the Grundrisse, Marx discussed disposable time and superfluous labour time as characteristics of any human society, not exclusively historical capitalism. It is the unique characteristic of capitalism that it subordinates the performance of necessary labour to the production of surplus value. Thus, under capitalism, superfluous labour time takes on a new function, a large part of which is indeed the production of surplus value. But that is not all, as Marx explained two paragraphs later. In its drive to create as much surplus labour as possible and "to reduce necessary labour to a minimum," capital also has a tendency "to increase the labouring population, as well as constantly to posit a part of it as surplus population - population which is useless until such time as capital can utilize it." Superfluous labour time thus implies surplus population alongside surplus labour time.

Regardless of whether one works for a wage or is unemployed, the capacity to perform labour is the outcome of an intrinsically social, co-operative activity. As such, this capacity can best be understood, at least in part, as a "common-pool resource" in that it may most effectively be engaged, valued, enjoyed and protected as a collectively-shared asset rather than as a fragmented assortment of individualized units, which is the current model of labour-as-a-commodity. Relating the concept of a common-pool good to labour is especially apt in that it illuminates, as Burkett points out, "the parallel between capital's extension of work time beyond the limits of human recuperative abilities [including social vitality], and capital's overstretching of the regenerative powers of the land." However, there is also an important distinction between wealth, which can be accumulated and preserved, and those subsistence goods that must be consumed directly to sustain life and enable work to continue. Social production would cease if the producers themselves were denied the goods necessary to their sustenance. Therefore it would be logical to regard only the produce of disposable time, that is superfluous labour time, as goods held in common.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Disposable time as a common-pool resource III -- Labour power as a common pool resource

 Human mental and physical capacities to work have elastic but definite natural limits. Those capacities must be continuously restored and enhanced through nourishment, rest and social interaction. Over the longer term that capacity for labour also has to be replenished by a new generation of youth, reared by the previous generation.

It is this combination of definite limits and of the need for continuous recuperation and replacement that, according to Paul Burkett, gives labour-power the characteristics of a common-pool resource. As Burkett explained, Karl Marx also regarded labour power not merely as a marketable asset of private individuals but as a "reserve fund for the regeneration of the vital force of nations." "From the standpoint of the reproduction and development of society," Burkett elaborated, "labor power is a common-pool resource – one with definite (albeit elastic) natural limits."

Here is where I would amend Burkett's definition to designate disposable time -- rather than labour power -- as the common-pool resource. The rationale for doing so is that the working day consists of two distinct parts, one of which is the labour time necessary to provide for the subsistence of the worker and the worker's family and represented by the wage. The second part of the working day is labour performed to create value that is taken by capital and is referred to as surplus labour time or surplus value. The proportion of surplus labour time to necessary labour time, however, is not a constant and changes with changes in the length of the working day and the productivity of labour.

Friday, December 3, 2021

Disposable time as a common-pool resource II -- Labour is not a commodity

 Labour was conventionally regarded as a private good by both classical political economists and conservative thinkers such as Edmund Burke, who argued, "labour is a commodity like every other, and rises and falls according to the demand." The counterpoint to that view, since the early 19th century is that labour (power) is not a commodity because it has characteristics that no other commodity has. Labour Economist Robert Prasch summarized these characteristics as: "(1) Labor cannot be separated from its providers. (2) Labor cannot be stored. (3) Labor embodies the quality of self-consciousness. (4) Labor is the one "factor of production" that most of us wish, in the end, to see well compensated."

The negative claim was officially endorsed in Section 6 of the U.S. Clayton Antitrust Act, passed by Congress in 1915. Hailed by American Federation of Labor president Samuel Gompers as a "Charter of Industrial Freedom," Section 6 proclaimed that "the labor of a human being is not a commodity or article of commerce." Nearly identical wording was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 as a guiding principle for the establishment of the International Labour Organization and reaffirmed as a first principle of the I.L.O. in 1944.

The everyday experience of working people, economic policies of governments, bargaining priorities of trade unions and theoretical models of economists would seem to conform more to the commodity model than the idealistic but nebulous proclamations of the Clayton Act and the Treaty of Versailles. But an early rationale for the rebuttal was outlined in 1834 by silk weaver William Longson in his evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Hand-Loom Weavers:

…every other commodity when brought to market, if you cannot get the price intended, it may be taken out of the market, and taken home, and brought and sold another day; but if a day's labour is offered on any day, and is not sold on that day, that day's labour is lost to the labourer and to the whole community…

Longson concluded from these observations of labour's peculiarities that, "I can only say I should be as ready to call a verb a substantive as any longer to call labour a commodity." 

Another formidable challenge to the notion of labour as a commodity had been articulated nine years earlier by Thomas Hodgskin in his Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital. Hodgskin pointed out that the most important operation for the production of wealth, "the rearing of youth and teaching them skilled labour, or some wealth-creating art." As Hodgskin continued, "this most important operation is performed… without any circulating capital whatever," that is to say, without compensation in either money or goods. Instead, child rearing is performed, "under the strong influence of natural affection and parental love… through all the long period of the infancy and childhood of their offspring."

In both Longson's and Hodgskin's arguments, the unstated distinction between labour and labour power was crucial. No actual labour was performed in Longson's example. What the labourer offered on the market but was unable to sell was his or her capacity to work on that particular day. Similarly, what parents give to their children by bringing them up and teaching them skills is a capacity to labour, provided the opportunity arises to exercise that capacity. Wage labour per se only comes into existence after the capacity to labour has been purchased and combined by the employer with facilities, equipment, raw materials and direction.


Thursday, December 2, 2021

RIP David M. Grether

 I have only just now learned that Dave Grether died on Sept. 12 of causes unreported at age 82. He was an emeritus prof of econ at Cal Tech.  He received his PhD in 1969 from Stanford in econometrics. He soon was at Cal Tech where he spent the rest of his career, soon becoming an early figure in experimental economics, coauthoring papers with colleague, Charles Plott, whom many think should have shared the Nobel Prize with Vernon Smith for founding experimental economics. Dave's most famous paper was with Plott in 1979 in the AER on preference reversals, an anomaly in which people are seen to violate a standard axiom of rational preferences in economic theory, although they found that if people redo the experiment numerous times they tend to start behaving more like economic theory predicts. Cal Tech has since then been a leading location for experimental economics and still is.

Dave is perhaps less well known than some others partly because he moved heavily into administration. Cal Tech does not have a separate econ department, with it in a Social Sciences School. He served as its Director for a substantial period, and then would become Chair of the Humanities and Social Sciences Division, with him being widely praised in both of those positions. This latter position reflected that he had a very broad knowledge and view of things, apparently having a fully scholarly knowledge of history. Part of why Cal Tech became and remains a top location for experimental economics reflects his efforts in those positions.

I came to know him because another thing he did was to become a coeditor of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization (JEBO), the coeditor largely in charge of handling papers on experimental economics, with JEBO a leading outlet for such papers.  He was appointed to that position by the journal's founder, the late Dick Day, who just died a few months ago also. I edited the journal from 2001-2010, with Dave staying on as that coeditor until about two years before I stepped aside. I came to both respect him and also like him a lot, a very open-minded and wise person.

One thing he played a major role in was playing the key role in getting the first paper on field experiments by John List and Jason Shogren, a professor of his at U. of Wyoming where he got his PhD. At the time John was basically an unknown, although now he is at the U. of Chicago and widely viewed as near certain to get his own Nobel basically for publishing that paper. At a conference honoring Dave Grether, an organizer managed to inveigle a leading advocate of lab experiments to engsge in unpleasant criticism of John, that being at a time when the field experimentalists were challenging the lab folks for getting funding support from NSF for their experiments. John was put on a hot seat, from where he handled himself well.  But Dave was upset about this and went behind the scenes to make peace between the parties. He was that kind of guy.

Anyway, I am sorry to learn that he has passed, someone who played a more important role behind a lot of scenes than many realized. I shall miss him.

Barkley Rosser 

Disposable time as a common-pool resource I -- Introduction

About a decade ago, I wrote a short piece about "labour power as a common-pool resource" that got picked up by Michel Bauwens of the P2P Foundation and led to me being invited to a conference on the commons in Berlin put on by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. I would now like to amend that to regard disposable time as the common-pool resource in question. Much of my original rationale applies as well or better to the new formulation. I am assuming that all of this will be new to most readers.

Common-pool resource is a category of goods introduced by Elinor Ostrom in work for which she was awarded the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in 2009. For Ostrom, common-pool resources are goods that don't fit tidily into the categories of either private or public goods. They are like private goods in that their use by one consumer subtracts from how much is available for others. But they are like public goods in that it is difficult to exclude people from access to them. Some obvious examples are forests, fisheries, aquifers and the atmosphere. Ostrom distinguished between common-pool resources that are unregulated and "the commons," which is collectively self-managed. From this distinction came her criticism of Garrett Hardin's "Tragedy of the Commons," which assumed an unmanaged common-pool resource rather than a collectively self-managed commons.

Disposable time is a much older and more ambivalent concept. Usually people assume it refers to leisure, which they conceive of as recreation or idleness. Traditionally, though, leisure was associated with education, culture and self-improvement and was mostly an exclusive privilege of the upper classes. In part, disposable time embraces that older conception of leisure but universalizes it. But in his Grundrisse, Karl Marx added another dimension to disposable time by also associating it with labour time that was in excess of what was necessary for subsistence. Thus, labour time that is superfluous to what is necessary for the workers' subsistence could be at the disposal of capital for the production of surplus value.


Saturday, November 27, 2021

We've turned a corner on intersectionality and come to a crossroads...

The right-wing War on Wokeness has won over Seattle progressive Democrats... "because we can't afford to give the GOP any ammunition for the 2022 election."

Democrats, who are famous for "keeping our powder dry," are now concerned that their opponents may use the specter of wokeness against them unless they get out in front with hardy denunciations of wokeness.

In other news, Susan Sarandon is still responsible for Hillary Clintons loss to Donald Trump in 2016. And don't get me started on Dan Rather Ralph Nader! (I always get those two guys mixed up.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Playing With The Strategic Petroleum Reserve

 Over the last month crude oil prices have noticeably declined from in the neighborhood of $85-86 per barrel to $78-80 per barrel. But there has been only a very small decline in retail gasoline prices, and the headlines even as of yesterday was all about "sharply rising gas prices." 

So, Pres. Biden has moved to release a record amount of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, getting several other nations to also release such reserves, including UK, South Korea, Japan, Inda, and maybe even China.  What was the result on crude oil markets? Not much. Brent slightly declined while WTI actually slightly increased, the markets perceiving this as largely a very short term move. Of course, Biden has also asked the FTC to look into oil prices not lowering retail prices after the crude oil price decline.

This reminds me of a tale I was told back in the 1990s during the Clinton admin from a friend who was working on the Council of Economic Advisers staff.  It involved a time when oil and gasoline prices had risen somewhat, although they were mostly quite low in that time period.  The CEA Chair was Joe Stiglitz while the Chief of Staff was Leon Panetta, and they met with Clinton.

There had been public talk of releasing oil from the STPR to counteract this fairly small upsurge of prices. Stiglitz spoke against it, arguing it would have little effect on the markets, and furthermore, it looked like the markets would turn around on their own and push down the temporarily mildly elevated crude oil prices. Panetta's response was, "Great! We can release some oil, not really disrupt the  markets, but claim credit for the price decline when it happens!" Some oil got released with a bout of publicity.

So, maybe it is worth it for the publicity, even if it really has little actual effect on things.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Rittenhouse Verdict and the Future of Vigilante Violence

There are typically two levels in a case like Rittenhouse’s, the individual issues of justice and accountability, and the social implications of the crime and its judicial resolution.  I want to spend a moment with the second.

America faces an impending crisis of vigilante suppression of democratic rights.  In the past year we’ve seen militias openly threatening violence in takeovers of state capitals, the Capitol Building in Washington and the streets that have seen protests against police brutality and similar issues.  Militias have brought guns to their own protests against vaccination, mask orders and other public health actions by state and local government.

Maybe this is the highwater mark of the militia movement, but maybe not.  There will certainly be flashpoints in the coming years where political tensions will be intense.  A videoed police murder might set off a new wave of BLM-ish actions.  There may (and should) be mass events demanding action on climate change.  Above all, there is a significant chance that political interference may cause the 2024 election to be visibly (and actually) stolen, which would trigger a tsunami of large-scale demonstrations and direct action activities.  An important question is whether armed right wing thugs will be permitted to suppress them.

We are in a difficult situation.  In much or most of the country, police are either passively or actively supportive of vigilantes.  This was transparent in Kenosha, where, even after he had shot an unarmed, mentally disturbed man and tried to surrender to the police, Rittenhouse was allowed to go his way.  There are similar indications in my home state of Oregon.  We can’t rely on the police to curb the militias.

Even when armed paramilitaries kill protesters, we have learned from the Rittenhouse case they stand a good chance of being acquitted.  Granted, the criminal law is not an ideal line of defense against a political strategy like vigilante intimidation, since it is constructed around the question of individual culpability.  Indeed, Rittenhouse might well have been innocent in purely legal terms, even though his actions were part of a pattern of vigilante social control.

This leaves the legislative route as the only alternative.  Here we are hemmed in by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the second amendment.  Broadly-written gun control laws will be declared unconstitutional.  Ironically, the language of the amendment itself justifies an armed citizenry on the grounds of a supposed need for a “well-regulated militia”.  What that qualifier means is obscure, but private militias are exactly the threat from which we need deliverance.

It might not survive Supreme Court scrutiny, but I would again urge, as a matter of priority, legislation at every level that prohibits bringing firearms to any political venue—a public building, a political rally, a demonstration or any event or gathering where political demands or deliberations take place.  We desperately need to disarm our politics before it’s too late.  If the Rittenhouse verdict tells us nothing else, it’s that we are approaching the point of no return.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Cheap trips to the lakes

We are experiencing climate change with a vengeance in British Columbia. For the past four summers, we have had horrific wildfires that send smoke all the way from the interior to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Last summer, we had a record-breaking "heat dome" that killed over 600 people and, after registering all-time heat records for several days, the town of Lytton burned to the ground. 

Currently, our third atmospheric river in three months has forced the evacuation of Merritt, B.C., many homes in Princeton and a vast area of farmland with around 3000 inhabitants in Abbotsford. The flooded area used to be the bottom of Lake Sumas, which was drained in 1924 but is threatening to return. All routes out of Vancouver to the interior or south to the U.S. have either been flooded, covered with mudslides or in several cases, major highways have simply been washed away.

The miracle of Barrowtown

People are filling sandbags in western Chilliwack to then ferry across to Barrowtown. So many people turned out after word spread on social media that people are urging people to stop coming.

Barrowtown is the pumping station in Abbotsford that keeps Sumas Prairie from reverting to Sumas Lake. The lake was drained in 1924 to create a large expanse of agricultural land. On the other side of a dike is the mighty Fraser River. It wasn't the Fraser, though, that flooded Sumas Prairie over the past few days but the Nooksack River in Washington State that overflowed its banks and diverted into the Sumas River headwaters. 


The flood from the Nooksack/Sumas River came close to overwhelming the Barrowtown pumps last night. If one pump failed, all four pumps would have to be shut down. If the water level reached the level of the pump house, the pumps would all fail or have to be shut down. When the pumps stopped working, water from the Fraser River would begin to flow into the lake bed to raise the flood level to over three metres.

Last night, the catastrophe seemed inevitable to the mayor and city engineers. It was averted by the sandbag dam built around the pumping station by hundreds of contractors, firefighters, and volunteers aided by more volunteers filling sandbags in Chilliwack.

The fire next time

BREAKING: Large fire breaks out in Sumas Prairie near Whatcom

Video taken by Black Press Media shows loud continuous bangs coming from the area. On Wednesday (Nov. 17) morning, Mayor Henry Braun said that hundreds of recreational vehicles were on fire, leading to noxious smoke in the area. He asked residents nearby to shut their doors and windows and turn off air conditioning system to avoid breathing in the smoke.

The area is currently under an evacuation order due to the ongoing flooding.


The "loud continuous bangs" are the propane tanks on the recreational vehicles exploding. Several things about the "series of unfortunate events" in Abbotsford come to mind. The draining of Sumas Lake was GEO-ENGINEERING. When it was good, it was very, very good. But when it went bad it was horrid. It was geo-engineering on a small, regional scale. The unanticipated challenge came from the Nooksack. The pumping station wasn't designed to handle a flood from a river that had long ago changed its course. Not to mention the atmospheric river.


Water, water everywhere... and hundreds of recreational vehicles on fire. Think about that name, "recreational vehicles." Another kind of geo-engineering. By unnecessarily burning copious amounts of fossil fuel, one can remove one's family from urban/suburban industrial congestion and "commune with nature" in a sort of industrially-congested way. WTF is that about?? The whole recreational vehicles thing can be traced back to William Wordsworth and his poetry about walking through the Lake District. But who the hell has the time to walk? And how much of the comforts of civilization can one cram in a backpack? (Rhymes with Nooksack.)

Several decades after Wordsworth wrote his Guide through the District of the Lakes, and three years before his death, the Kendal and Windermere Railroad completed a rail line to Windermere and began advertising "Cheap Trips to the Lakes," with, of course, Wordsworth's cottage in nearby Grasmere one of the big attractions. I like to think of that railway as the mother of all recreational vehicles. Cheap trips to the lakes, indeed.


In its infancy, the motor car was marketed to "society" -- people with means, that is -- as a recreational vehicle. The whole point of owning a car was to go on a jaunt to the countryside or the seaside for a picnic or a stopover at a resort. Why do people love their cars? Because the car enables them to get away from it all. Even if they never do and even if the car makes a big part of "it all" that they want to be able to get away from. 

Cheap trip to the lake, indeed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Repeated Lying About Lying

 Of course Donald Trump has been using this Big Lie method of simply endlessly repeating a Big Lie and successfully so with his claim that last year's presidential election was "rigged" or "stolen," with according to the latest poll I just saw on the order of 70% of Republicans accepting this Big Lie.

But this practice seems to be spreading for yet more degeneration happening as figures who have not done this like Trump now seem to be imitating him also.  The latest is Hugh Hewitt, a conservative who is a columnist for WaPo and usually avoids this sort of flagrant lying. But he seems to have caught the bug.

I rarely listen to his radio show, but yesterday (Nov. 15) I inadvertently heard it when it was turned on for awhile and got quite an earful.  I thought it was one of his guests but it was him.  He was repeating over and over and over way more times than I could count, "Everyone knows Adam Schiff is lying. Everyone knows Adam Schiff is lying..."  It was weird, so many times without a break or explanation, and even after a break he did it again and again.  It was obviously an effort to convince his listeners of something he knew they did not necessarily believe.  Heck, near as I can tell, at least among most Dems and non-GOPs, Schiff has a very high level of credibility.  I have always found him one of the most credible people in the entire Congress with a substantial grasp of a lot of fairly complicated information and never have seen him appear to knowingly lie.

So what had Hewitt on this binge of repeated lying?  It was Schiff's response to the indictment of Ivan Danchenko by the John Durham, the Special Prosecutor appointed to the DOJ during the Trump era hat Merrick Garland has left in place to do his thing.  Danchenko has been indicted for lying to the FBI about who his sources of information were when he provided information to Steele of the famous Steele dossier. This is all part of a long running campaign by Trump allies to somehow discredit the Steele dossier, which Hewitt, following the likes of Sean Hannity and others on Fox News, described as "totally discredited" and "shown not to contain a shred of truth."

Well, first of all, Danchenko was not indicted for actually saying anything false to Steele, only lying about who his sources were to the FBI, a point Hewitt did not mention.  Indeed, and I have checked on this numerous times after hearing some of the more perfervid claims against the Steele dossier, over 70% of it has been confirmed, with some of those confirmations actually in the Mueller Report.  Most of it was/is true. Only about two items in it have been shown to be false, a claim that Cohen visited Prague and that Carter Page was going to get some huge sum of money from Gazprom.  Otherwise, most of it has been found to be true, with some items still in the undetermined category. That latter includes its most notorious item, the infamous "golden shower" story about Trump, which seems increasingly likely to in fact also be true, given all the stuff that just seems to keep coming out about Trump, and which may be why so many of Trump's folllowers are so keen on just totally discrediting the whole dossier.

As for Schiff supposedly being disbelieved by "everyone," supposedly even including people like Nancy Pelosi according to Hewitt, the only evidence he seemed to supply for this is that Schiff's recent book has not been a bestseller, #357 on some list or other.  That it is not a big seller is obviously not at all evidence one way or the other about whether what is in the book is accurate or not. It is evidence that people are not all that interested, and in fact at this point most people are not much interested in this leftover 2016 election stuff, which the Steele dossier is.  But the Trumpistas are still desperate to somehow discredit that dossier, even as it has largely been verified.  So Hewitt and his ilk are the ones making a big fuss about his latest indictment and trying to dump on Schiff for his showing the dossier is largely accurate, in an effort to stir their own base up. But not that many care any more. They are too busy believing Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election to be all that worked up about leftover stuff from the 2016 one.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, November 15, 2021

Dems Continue To Sink Despite Improving Economy

 On the first page of today's Washington Post was reported a poll showing that when a random sample was asked, 46% said they would vote for a generic Republican candidate for Congress versus 43% for a generic Democratic candidate. Given reported further pro-GOP gerrymandering, if this were to hold for next year's midterms, GOP would certainly take solid control of the House, if not the Senate.  Not looking good for the Dems or Biden and Harris.

Now there certainly some things that are not looking good.  Covid-19 cases have started to increase again, if not dramatically, but in 35 states at latest report, and deaths seem to have stopped declining, if not started rising again. Of course, it may be that given that we now have 80% of adults having had at least one vax shot, we may be able to handle some increase in cases without hospitalizations and deaths rising, given that over 90% of those in hospitals and dying are unvaxxed.  But this is something Biden has emphasized and worked hard on, with bad news appearing, even if this is partly due to bad non-behavior (getting vaxxed, wearing masks) among his critics.

Probably foreign policy is not part of the most recent decline, but the messy nature of the end of the Afghan war dropped Biden's ratings by about 5% some months ago, damaging his previously generally favorable foreign policy rating.  That is probably not that big a deal now, although the damage seems not to be undone, despite an apparently generally successful trip to the G20 and the Glasgow summits.

It may be that the whole noise about education and CRT spilling out of the Virginia governor's race is adding to the Dems' problems, but more clearly serious problem, dominating the headlines, is inflation, with the recent year to year 6.2% annualized rate report for October probably the punctuation point for today's especially poor poll ratings. This couples with reports of impending Christmas shortages, including even for Santas, with none of this looking good.  It remains unclear fully what is going on with some of these shortages, such as ports and truckers, and so on, but problems with these are now entrenched with not much improvement in sight, not to mention ongoing chip shortages pushing up prices in in the auto industry. And this price spike was especially led by energy, with rising gasoline prices in Virginia reported to have been a factor in the GOP governor's race win, and that was something I heard a lot about just prior to the election here.

So there are certainly things that look bad or actually are bad out there on various fronts.  But do they really justify these bad polls?  Do people really want to elect people who are currently running around trying to kowtow to Donald J. Trump as hard as they can?  There were reports about the Glasgow climate summit, but much of that got undercut by reports that it was just going to exacerbate oil and gas prices.  Real climate activists found it insufficient, and others found it inflationarily scary.  Ugh.

Anyway, there is a lot that looks plenty good.  One is the employment front. While it has not yet gotten back to pre-pandemic levels, it continues to rise and there has been upward movement of wages.  In September we had an all-time record number of quits, which presumably indicated people feeling so confident about getting a better job they quit their current job.  These people are not quitting to drop out of the labor force, or not most of them, although there remain s aubstantial number of people out of the labor force for a variety of reasons, and there are still some unemployed who are having trouble getting re-employed.  So this is not perfect, but mostly massively improving and mostly quite good.

Then we have the stock market, which Trump claimed would crash if Biden were elected.  It did decline from all-time highs this past week, but the Dow still remains above the famous Glassman-Hassett level of 36,000.  This is in the eyes of many still a rather overvalued market, certainly not one that has crashed.  But, of course, lots of people are not so directly affected by the market.

Furthermore, Biden just signed the hard infrastructure bill today, something most polls show is highly popular, and which even drew some GOP support in Congress, although GOP leaders and Trump are out to purge or punish those who did vote for it.  Unfortunately, the Dems have done a poor job of publicizing this achievement and what is in it. Obviously they need to do more on that, although we know all sorts of GOP Congress members will brag about parts of it delivering money to their states and districts, even though they voted against it.

Finally, although there seems to be zero media recognition of this, it looks like the big surge of gasoline prices may be over.  Crude oil prices have declined over the last three weeks from about $85 per barrel to about $80 per barrel, and crude prices are the main driver of retail gasoline prices with a lag.  Indeed, although I have not seen national data, it looks like gasoline prices may have stopped rising at all in recent weeks, with it possible they may even decline a bit, if crude prices do not return to rising again. Where I am this has happened, a freeze at $3.29 per gallon with a 5 cent drop over the weekend.  None of this is in the news, just more talk about rising gasoline prices.  We shall have to see on this, but there may be a substantially lower inflation report next month.  If so, will anybody notice, or will we start hearing about some other supposed horror?

Barkley Rosser


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Disposable time, disposable population, disposable products

DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME... Did I mention "disposable time"? Marx repeated disposable time seven time in paragraph (three paragraphs in the complete works) I've taken the above excerpt from. In English. In capital letters. That, and the fact that his theory of crisis was sandwiched between two quotations from The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulty suggest to me that Marx's theory of crisis was a response to and elaboration upon the argument presented in the pamphlet.

What Marx added was not commentary. It was a theoretical intervention of Biblical proportions, if you will pardon the expression. My argument would be that the contours of Marx's theory are more clearly defined against the contrast of the 1821 pamphlet's argument. But the influence of The Source and Remedy on this breathtaking passage about the creation of disposable time from the Grundrisse is unmistakable. "The creation of a large quantity of disposable time..." echoes Marx's earlier statement that the "whole development of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time" and thus ties the third fragment on machines unequivocally to the first fragment, as do the centering of surplus population and the juxtaposition of the superfluous and the necessary.

The image, from a 1955 LIFE magazine feature, celebrated the emancipation of family members from household chores that disposable goods provided. It unintentionally evokes the anti-Nazi photomontage by John Heartfield, "Hurrah, die Butter ist alle!" 




 

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

RIP Tracy Mott

 Tracy Mott has died at 75, a well-known Post Keynesian economist and nice guy.  I was Facebook friends with him, and from there he seemed fine, actively posting and commenting.  Indeed, in the obit I saw for him it did not say what he died of.  But I guess one can post there even when one is not well.  He died in Denver where he had long lived and been in the economics department at the University of Denver, which he served as Chair of for quite a long time, building it up as a center of heterodox economic thinking.

Tracy took some time to get into economics.  He was long interested in the problems of inequality and poverty, but he had an earlier academic degree from Union Theological Seminary.  However, he never became a minister, and I am not sure what his religious affiliation was at any point. Apparently he worked for various charitable and government agencies associated with combating poverty. Somewhere along the line all this work led him to decide he should pursue the study of economics.

He ended up at Stanford for his graduate study, and his major professor was Don Harris, father of the current US vice president. His main academic interest came to be on the work of Michal Kalecki and the relationship of it to that of Keynes.  The obit I saw online identified him as being interested in "Keynesian economics," no mention of Post or of Kalecki.  But in fact he was more interested in Kalecki and his most cited publications were in the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. And it was at Post Keynesian conferences that I first met him, although I would see him elsewhere as well.  

I always liked and respected Tracy.  He was a good guy and a good progressive economist. I shall miss him.

Barkley Rosser