Monday, October 11, 2021

Bad Reporting On Latest Sveriges Riksbank Prize In Memory Of Nobel

 So the recipient are half of it to David Card for his 1994 study with the late Alan Krueger, who committed suicide not too long ago, on minimum wages, and how raising them might actually sometimes increase employment.  The other half was split between Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens for developing econometric techniques for studying natural experiments, such as differences in differences, with a 1992 paper on compulsory education by them cited. Card and Krueger also used this.

Anyway, I learned of the award on the radio this morning at 9 AM, CBS News, not a cockamamie outfit usually.  The report stated (roughly) "Three American labor economists received the Nobel Prize for studies of immigration and its effects." That was it, their names were not provided.  As it is, Card has done some such studies, and when I began guessing who it might be, his name was on my list.  But the others were David Autor and George Borjas, even though the latter's studies on the subject disagree with the former's such studies. But they committee has given contradictory awards before, e.g. Mydal and Hayek, not to mention Fama and Shiller.  So, it was not out of the question.

But clearly they were way off on several counts. I know immigration is a hot issue, so any mention of that in the awards apparently got the attention, even though, heck, the minimum wage is also a pretty big and current issue.  What can I say, but more evidence of further decline in the quality of media in general, not just the increasing insanity happening on a lot of social media. When the regular media cannot get simple things right, what hope is there for the social media?

Barkley Rosser

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Passing Of Peter Flaschel And The Bielefeld School Of Macroeconomics

 German economist Peter Flaschel died yesterday at age 78.  I am not sure precisely of what, although it was not Covid-19.  He had been in declining health for some years, with a heart problem at least.  Roberto Veneziani, from whom I learned the news, said that Peter "sounded tire" when he spoke with him a few days ago.  Ironically he spoke with him to tell him I had accepted for publication in the Review of Behavioral Economics a paper they coauthored with two other economists on the economics of the pandemic. I knew and liked Peter a lot, although I had not seen him for a full decade, last when I spoke at Bielefeld University where he was located.  Indeed, his death I think means the end of what I had labeled "the Bielefeld School of Macroeconomics," although this did not catch on all that much. But I know that Peter, who may have been the central figure of this group, appreciated my labeling it as such and trying to bring some attention to them.

Indeed, I think they deserved more attention, which they got very little of in the US.  Various of them published quite a few books over the years, where their approach got laid out most fully.  But their articles did not show up in US journals, and to some extent I think they may have partly brought this obscurity on themselves.  In particular, while some like me saw them as having affinities with Post Keynesian economics, they themselves disdained the PKs for not being sufficiently mathematical. And, with a few exceptions, most of the Post Keynesians in their various sub-varieties and camps, seem to have ignored the Bielefelders, to the extent they were even aware of them.  Some of this may have also had to do with nations as well, with PKs mostly in US, UK, and Italy, although also in Australia, while the Bielefelders were heavily in Germany, with outposts in Japan, although some people at the New School in the US, and also in Australia.

So who else besides Peter was part of this group?  One was Reiner Franke, who was with Peter at Bielefeld for a long time, but then moved to Bremen.  Another was Willi Semmler, who long split his time between Bielefeld and the New School, not quite sure what his status is with all that.  But he was the main US link.  Then there was Toichiro Asada at Chuo University in Tokyo and the late Carl Chiarella of the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.  I knew/know all of these.  Carl in particular, whose PhD was in Applied Math and served for awhile as coeditor of the highly mathematical Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control was one who was especially critical of what he considered the low mathematical content of much of Post Keynesian economics.  Peter himself had an undergrad degree in math, and also shared this view.  Just to note the Bielefeld connection, both Asada and Chiarella spent a lot of time visiting at Bielefeld and working with Peter on joint projects as well as with some of these others.

So what is the Bielefeld approach, and why do I respect it a lot?  Well, it combined Marx, Schumpeter, Keynes, Metzler, and Goodwin to generate fairly complicated models that combined both long-run growth dynamics with short-run cyclical fluctuation dynamics.  Their models easily produced various complex dynamics, including such things as chaotic dynamics, which I have long been interested in. They never went along with rational expectations or any of that stuff. I always thought their models were both realistic and intellectually sophisticated.  But as noted, they did not publish articles in some journals that might have gotten them more attention, especially the Post Keynesian ones that I think might have taken them. And books, well, it is easy to ignore books, no matter how good they are.  So I think their very appealing approach in my view just did not get the attention it deserved

And now it probably will not any further, as probably its key and central figure still at Bielefeld is no longer with us.  As it was in recent years he had become involved with some younger economists, especially Veneziani, who is at Queens College in London. Some of their work with various coauthors has in fact moved back more to a directly Marxist approach, with this very much the case for Peter's last book out in 2018 with Roberto and some others from Elgar, Value, Competition, and Exploitation: The Marxian Legacy Revisited.   Anyway, I shall miss him, a good man and a fine economist.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Origin Of The Terms "Socialism" and "Communism"

 This is one of those rare times when I post here about my academic research, but on this matter, well, I think this is of broader interest than than the usual obscuranta that I usually study academically.

So, my wife, Marina, and I, were asked to contribute to a "Handbook on Comparative Economics." We were supposed to have sent in our chapter by the end of September. There will be a conference on this around Oct. 18 in Trento, Italy, neither of us will make, although we have committed to presenting there.

I am not going to describe what our paper is supposed to be about, which it will deal with, oh matters of how to do comparative economics.  But while writing this paper we got distracted by certain foundational issues that we, authors or one of the most widely used comparative economics textbooks in the world, thought we knew the answers to. But we did not, and I note that my wife was one of those rare people in the old USSR who was allowed to visit the Marx-Engels archives that are still there in Moscow.  No, we should have known this stuff, but we did not, and our textbook contains errors on this matter,

So indeed, the issue is as the title of this post puts it, what were the origins of these widely used terms: "socialism" and "communism"?

In our textbook we erroneously identified the "utopian socialist," Robert Owen, as the person who coined the term.  He indeed picked it up within a year of its coinage and spread it in 1835 as part of his effort to develop trade unionism in the UK. But he got it from Pierre Leroux, who nternwrote about it in 1834, although reportedly he was talking about it two years earlier, and there are claims it was around even earlier.  But he was the first to put it in print, with a Christian and utopian overlay on it, generalized sharing. He was a follower of Saint-Simon, who was not much of a socialist, despite everybody from Marx to Hayek labeling him as such (long part of our paper). Marx much admired Leroux, although he rarely cited him in his writings. But when he first got to Paris he sought him out, and would later put him on the Executive Committee of the First International. Later in his life, Pleroux would become mayor of his hometown (sorry, not sure its name) in France, where, apparently there is a statue of him.

Which brings us to the more controversial term, "communism." The hard fact is that neither me or Marina knew the origin of this term.  In our textbook we labeled it (accurately) as having come out of France somewhere between the late 1830s and the early1840s.  We both sort of thought that maybe was Proudhon who originated it. I have not read his work in great detail, but I think he used the term. Of course, this makes things complicated, especially for someone so official as Marina was in the old days of the USSR, with her special access to the original texts of Marx and Engels. But even she thought it was Proudhon who might have originated it. But, fortunately our joint doubt on the matter, with in fact that neither of us really knew the answer, led us to be vague in our textbook, simply attributing the origin accurately, if ignorantly, to French radical movements of that period.

So, in fact, while somehow both Marx and Engels never mentioned Pleroux in print, Engels in his notes to the "official" 1888 English translation of the Communist Manifesto, actually provided a footnote on who originated the word, "communism." It was yet another utopian socialist, Etienne Cabet, who advocated "Icarian" communities, and put forth the term in his book on this, published in 1840, although apparently he put it out in 1839, from whence it spread. He competed with Fourier, who inspired the Transcendentalist Brook Farm in MA, and Owen, who organized New Harmony in IN, for starting utopian communities in the US, where, well, land was inexpensive,  In the end 140 such communities were founded, some of which, such as New Harmony, survived to become just regular towns in the US. Anyway, as a final irony, a utopian community inspired by the communist Icarain Cabet in California, which he had a hand in, had as one of its more prominent participants a relative of Pleroux.

Which leaves us with a further old and not regularly remembered point: back in those days there was no clear distinction between these two terms, "socialism" and "communism," with this there in the Communist Manifesto. Indeed, many think that Marx defined pure communism in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. But in fact when there he laid out as an ultimate goal "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" as well as the famous "withering away of the state," in fact he claimed he was describing the "higher stage of socialism," no mention of "communism."

Barkley Rosser


Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Will Krysten Sinema Change Parties?

 I have resisted posting something like this, but while I have yet to see anybody else suggest it, this possibility has been on my mind now for several days.

We have never seen to my knowledge a senator refuse to offer their views on possible resolution of a major disagreement involving money.  The contrast to Sen. Sinema is her associate in the Senate in blocking various Dem initiatives (including undoing the filibuster, which would really open things up), Joe Manchin of WV. For how annoying he may be, at least we understand that he comes from one of the most pro-Trump states in the country, as well as the state being the heart of coal in the nation, so no surprise he resists limits on fossil fuels. So, no surprise he is resisting. But he art least actually provides numbers he wants and seems to be open to negotiation to come to a conclusion.

But Sinema is playing a game never seen before, ever. She says nothing. Apparently last week she had four private meetings at the White House with President Biden, yes, four. Apparently he tried really hard to get her to the Manchin stage, actually saying a number, much less details of what she would like to see removed from the current $3.5 trillion (over ten years) reconciliation bill. She may have hoped the House would pass the hard infrastructure bill, which she supports, so she and Manchin would have been in a position to either cherry pick details or outright block the soft reconciliation bill. I am unclear how much of her unprecedented behavior is a matter of ignorance and stupidity or something else.

So, here I am worrying about the something else.  She was originally a Green, supporting Ralph Nader in 2000 when his campaign probably put Bush in instead of Gore. So, she has been drifting to the right, with this buzz about her personal life that got mocked on SNL last Saturday. So now we have this spectacle of her refusal to even meet with AZ voter groups has led to her being "harassed" as Fox News is now huffing and puffing about. Poor thing, people filming her in a restroom and confronting her in various public places.  Poor thing.

Well, I am now getting suspicious of what she is up to here with all this, whether it comes before or after whatever resolution of all these big policy debates comes about, not to mention the matter of the debt ceiling issue, which would easily be handled if the filibuster would be shut down, which she could decisively support.  But, hey, McConnell is looking at polls that suggest that if a failure to raise the debt ceiling leads to a major economic crash, a majority of voters will blame Biden and the Dems.

So we get reports that rather than meeting with AZ voters who supported her, much less saying a single word about a number or details on the reconciliation bill that might lead her to support it, she has been meeting repeatedly with various corporate funders giving her money and urging her to at least modify if not just outright oppose the reconciliaton bill. What does this mean?

I fear this is a prelude to a cataclysmic move: Sinema changing parties to the GOP. This would put the GOP in charge of the US Senate, with Mitch McConnell in charge there. This would be the end of basically anything Biden or other Dems would like to do at all in the Congress. Sinema already is more popular in the GOP than she is with Dems. With piles of corporate money, the GOP in the Senate would welcome her munificently and reward her greatly. But while this might make her a short-term star, AZ is changing, and Dems will make sure this is the last term she serves in the Senate if she follows through on this, and may well do so anyway through the primary process if she stays with the Dems while continuing to behave as she has been recently.

Barkley Rosser

Democratizing Work

I was a bit skeptical of the Global Forum on Democratizing Work. It seemed to me that rushing into an online conference was perhaps a bit over ambitious and misdirected for a relatively new initiative that arose out of a collective letter to the editors of newspapers.

Anyway, I attended three session today, two of them for their entirety and I was not disappointed. I mean my skepticism was not disappointed. A session on working time presented some fascinating accounts from a gig worker, an academic, and an organizer but then simply neglected to open up the hour and a half session to questions and discussion from the audience. Who did they think we were, chopped liver? The session I only attended briefly had an interminable power point slide show, narrated by a coughing, monotone old coot. The third session was on "No Bosses" and featured Michael Albert promoting his most recent book and pontificating about how a future society would operate. 

Albert has it all figured out, So, when I asked him a question about whether leisure would exist as a benefit in his new model economy or would become a central organizing principle, he confessed he didn't understand the question and went on to explain about how leisure was interchangeable with income as remuneration for work. So you can work more and earn more income or you can work less and earn less income but have more leisure. In other words, the income/leisure trade-off of vulgar neo-classical economics would become a reality.

I pushed the button to allow my webcam and microphone to be activated and nothing happened. Then I got a message telling me my webcam and mic would be turned on when they got to my question (which they already had). After several more minutes of being ignored, I posted a comment about the undemocratic moderation. That got a response and they let me say my piece. I was brief (I hope) I explained how historically the movement for emancipation of work had centered around the concept that "real wealth is leisure" going back to William Godwin and that Marx had analyzed surplus value as the appropriation by the owners of capital of the workers' "disposable time" -- that is the time left over after the worker had produced sufficient value to cover the cost of subsistence. I thanked the moderator and panelists profusely for giving me the opportunity to follow up on my question and explained that part of what I intended with my intervention was to "break the fourth wall" of audience passivity.

Albert replied with an appropriate anecdote breaking the fourth wall but then proceeding to make a straw man out of leisure, to extoll the pleasures of work in the emancipated society of his dreams and to gently gaslight me about relying on old authorities.

Which is all very good. I don't expect anyone to grasp immediately my radical point that no one really is interested in fantasizing about the glorious workhouses of the future. "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses," asked Scrooge after being shown two pauper children by the Ghost of Christmas Present. Truth is we have prisons and workhouses enough. 

Eight and a half years ago, I wrote an essay titled "Labour power as a common pool resource." (a revised version of an Ecological Headstand post, "Labor is (not) a commodity") Inexplicably and annoyingly, common pool resource essay was behind an idiotic Captcha wall, so I just now reposted it to EconoSpeak. What I really need to do, though, is to write a new essay titled "Disposable time as a common pool resource," which recants and debunks that previous one. I have written a 10,000 word essay that presents the theoretical ground for that second essay and I am scheduled to present a conference paper in November, so hopefully I will have the skill, energy and perseverance to accomplish that task.

Labor as a Common Pool Resource

The everyday experience of working people, economic policies of governments, bargaining priorities of trade unions and theoretical models of economists refute the idealistic maxim that labor is not a commodity.

An early rationale for the proposition was given in 1834 by William Longson of Stockport 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 labor'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."

Karl Marx was emphatic about the peculiar historical nature of labor – or, more precisely, labor-power – as a commodity. Rather than reject the label outright, though, he chose to examine it more closely. Marx observed that for labor-power to appear on the market as a commodity, the sellers must first be free to dispose of it (but only for a definite period) and also must be obliged to offer labor-power for sale because they are not in a position to sell commodities in which their labor is embodied.

Connecting Longson's observation to Marx's, it would seem as though, aside from moral strictures, one of the qualities that most distinguishes labor-power from other commodities – its absolute and immediate perishability – is what compels its seller to submit unconditionally to the vagaries of demand. To paraphrase Joan Robinson, the misery of being regarded as a commodity is nothing compared to the misery of not being regarded at all.

So if labor-power is not a commodity, or is only one due to peculiar and rather disagreeable circumstances, what is it, then? Consider the idea of labor-power as a common-pool resource. Labor-power can be distinguished from labor as the mental and physical capacity to work and produce use-values, notwithstanding whether that labor-power is employed. Labor, then, is what is actually performed as a consequence of the employment of a quantity of labor-power.

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. "When we speak of capacity for labour," as Marx put it, "we do not abstract from the necessary means of subsistence." It is the combination of definite limits and of the need for continuous recuperation and replacement that gives labor-power the characteristics of a common-pool resource. As Paul Burkett explains, Marx regarded labor power not merely as a marketable asset of private individuals but as the "reserve fund for the regeneration of the vital force of nations". "From the standpoint of the reproduction and development of society," Burkett elaborates, "labor power is a common pool resource – one with definite (albeit elastic) natural limits."

"Common pool resource" is not the terminology Marx used; Burkett has adopted it from Elinor Ostrom's research. For Ostrom, common pool resources are goods that don't fit tidily into the categories of either private or public property. Some obvious examples are forests, fisheries, aquifers and the atmosphere. Relating the concept to labor 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." That parallel debunks the hoary jobs vs. the environment myth.

The basic idea behind common-pool resources has a venerable place in the history of neoclassical economic thought. It can't be dismissed as some socialistic or radical environmentalist heresy. 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." In fact, 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 their costs or risks onto someone else, society or the environment. 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."

In the case of labor-power, "fishing in the objectionable times, places and ways" manifests itself in the standard practice of employers considering labor as a "variable cost." From the perspective of society as a whole, maintaining labor-power in good stead is an overhead cost. The point is not to preach that firms ought to treat the subsistence of their workforce as an overhead cost. That would no doubt be as effectual as proclaiming that labor is not a commodity. As with Sidgwick's fishery, a greater advantage would accrue to firms that didn't conform to the socially-responsible policy.

Ostrom explained the differences between various kinds of goods by calling attention to two features: whether enjoyment of the good subtracts from the total supply still available for consumption and the difficulty of restricting access to the good. Private goods are typically easy to restrict access to and their use subtracts from total available supply. Public goods are more difficult to restrict access to and their use doesn't subtract from what is available for others. Common-pool goods are similar to private goods in that there use subtracts from the total supply but they are like public goods in that it is more difficult to restrict access to them.

If it were merely a matter of selling to employers, then labor-power would have the uncomplicated characteristics of a private good. Working for one employer at a given time precludes working for another. Hypothetically, the worker can refuse to work for any particular employer thereby restricting access. But here we need also to contend with that peculiarity of labor-power noted by the silk weaver, William Longson that a day's labor not sold on the day it is offered is "lost to the labourer and to the whole community."

"If his capacity for labour remains unsold," Marx concurred, "the labourer derives no benefit from it, but rather he will feel it to be a cruel nature-imposed necessity that this capacity has cost for its production a definite amount of the means of subsistence and that it will continue to do so for its reproduction." This contingency and urgency of employment effectively undermines the worker's option of refusing work, so that in practice labor-power has the features of a common-pool good rather than of a private one. Collectively, the choice of refusing work is further weakened by competition from incrementally more desperate job seekers – a population Marx called "the industrial reserve army."

So is labor a commodity or is it not? The arch, paradoxical answer would be "both." Examined more closely, the capacity for labor – labor-power – reveals itself as a peculiar commodity that exhibits the characteristics of a common-pool resource rather than a private good. An actual Charter of Industrial Freedom must address these peculiar characteristics rather than bask contentedly in the utopian platitude that labor is not a commodity.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Open Access Movement In Academic Publishing

I apologize that I look like someone voting for 3.5 and then some time later saying that they only support 1.5, but I am not interested now in discussing that matter. 

So, here I go. 1) I support Open Access in academic journal publications. 2) OTOH I grant that commercial publishers of academic journals should be able be able to demand payment for people accessing articles fully available in their journals, within "reason."  3) I agree that academic journals journals should allow authors to allow free access to their articles, but also that they may allow this not to be the case.

So, let me be more specific here. I have recently had a difficult situation regarding this. So awhile ago I was invited by someone I know I take seriously to submit a paper for a special issue in this issue, a 30-year retrospective on econophysics in the mostly physics journal, Entropy, published by mdpli.

I did not fully read the long pro-open access screed that accompanied this invitation, which came after the invitation from someone I knew personally. The publisher, mdpi, provided a very long proclamation explaining their support for the Open Access Movement, something I generally favor. Anyway, I poozed out on reading their long speech on this, so missed far down into it where they declared that any author publishing in their journal should agree to pay a sum defined in Swiss currency terms just below $2000. So when my paper was accepted after a long pile of mostly bs, I received an invoice for nearly 2K USD,, which I was unaware was coming due.

So there is this movement for open access that has become a very big deal in US academia. It involves academic library relations with major publishers of journals ans much else. It has led to my own uni, JMU, no longer accepting papers from a journal I used to edit, JEBO, a journal pubbed by "the evil empire," Elsevier. This decision by my uni's library meant that I got a 10 percent discount on the invoice that arrived on my desk to publish this paper, "Econophysics and the Entropic Foundations of Economics.".

I have very mixed feelings about all this. I have had journals offer me this option after they accepted a paper of mine to allow open access of my paper, if I would pay about 2k. But if I said no, then my paper would be published.  When recently offered such option, I failed to accept them.

When rhis invoice came I complained mightily. Eventually they offered a large discount, and my uni paid for it. But I see a serious bottom line here: who is supposed to pay for all this,, authors or their bakers or others?

This is mostly a physics journal, and most of them have funds in their grants for publication costs. But most social scientists do not have such funds in their grants even when they have them. There is a serious bottom line here, and I do not think authors should be made to paid for this.

Barkley Rosser

 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Thoughts on superfluous disposable time

The whole development of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time. The relation of necessary labour time to the superfluous (such it is, initially, from the standpoint of necessary labour) changes with the different stages in the development of the productive forces. … In production resting on capital, the existence of necessary labour time is conditional on the creation of superfluous labour time. 398 Grundrisse

It is a law of capital, as we saw, to create surplus labour, disposable time; it can do this only by setting necessary labour in motion. - i.e. entering into exchange with the worker. It is its tendency, therefore, to create as much labour as possible; just as it is equally its tendency to reduce necessary labour to a minimum. It is therefore equally a tendency of capital 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. 399 Grundrisse

Labour capacity can perform its necessary labour only if its surplus labour has value for capital, if it can be realized by capital. Thus, if this realizability is blocked by one or another barrier, then (1) labour capacity itself appears outside the conditions of the reproduction of its existence; it exists without the conditions of its existence, and is therefore a mere encumbrance; needs without the means to satisfy them; (2) necessary labour appears as superfluous, because the superfluous is not necessary. It is necessary only to the extent that it is the condition for the realization of capital. Thus the relation of necessary and surplus labour, as it is posited by capital, turns into its opposite, so that a part of necessary labour - i.e. of the labour reproducing labour capacity - is superfluous, and this labour capacity itself is therefore used as a surplus of the necessary working population, i.e. of the portion of the working population whose necessary labour is not superfluous but necessary for capital. 609 Grundrisse

Capital… presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary. 706 Grundrisse

The industrial reserve army, during the periods of stagnation and average prosperity, weighs down the active army of workers; during the periods of over-production and feverish activity, it puts a curb on their pretensions. The relative surplus population is therefore the background against which the law of the demand and supply of labour does its work. 792 Capital

What capital adds is that it increases the surplus labour time of the mass by all the means of art and science, because its wealth consists directly in the appropriation of surplus labour time; since value directly its purpose, not use value. It is thus, despite itself, instrumental in creating the means of social disposable time, in order to reduce labour time for the whole society to a diminishing minimum, and thus to free everyone’s time for their own development. 708 Grundrisse

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Goodbye Gene Weingarten

 I am not sure how many readers here know who Gene Weingarten is.  He is a humorist who has authored a column for the last 21 years that has appeared each Sunday at the end of the Sunday Washington Post magazine.  I am not sure where he was outletting before then, although I think he had some fame, but not huge amounts.  Anyway, without warning in today's column he announced "The Short Goodbye," his final column, mostly consisting of him quoting much older other humorists.  He gave no reason for his exit, although he is about 70, so it would not be unreasonable for him to just be retiring.  But I am concerned that there is more to this, that he was at least given a bit of a shove. As someone who has mostly enjoyed him and have read him out loud to my wife, Marina, we shall miss him whatever the circumstances.

His closing two sentences were: "I am grateful for it [writing the column], and the relationship I have had with all of you who read it - from the delightful dorks who thought evderything I siad was hilarious to those who looked in only to get riled over what the rude old coot was spouting this week. I will miss you all."

So, I see more to this line about people getting riled "over what the rude old coot was spouting.." because something very close to that was specifically said just over a month ago by someone not only criticizing him but demanding, yes, demanding that he be fired for being an insensitive old coot who was out of date and worse, microaggresssingly out of touch, old coot who must go.  And now he has.

The column that triggered this demand was about food, in particular, foods he does not like.  It went through vaiorus ones, including snails, with various snarky wisecracks typical of him.  However, he got into trouble with one, where he definitely went over the top, not only exhibiting ignorance that WaPo corrected in a news article some days later, and for which Weingarten himself confessed he was wrong, as well as broadly condemning an entire ethnic cuisine, not just a particular dish.. This was Indian cuisine, with him main remark to declare it all to be just one "spice," curry, which he declared he does not like.

So, the first problem is that curry is properly speaking not a spice.  It is a combination of spices and comes in many varieities, although there is a sort of standard grocery store variety one can readily buy that does not reveal any of that.  And, of course, lots of Indian cuisine, which has wide regional variations, does not use curry.  Weingarten did go to a top Indian restaurant and ate dished not using curry, admitting his goof on that, although in the end still saying he just does not like the cuisine.

But another sometime columnist/reporter at WaPo, the much younger Padma Lakshmi, took full offense at his column and not only did not let him off the hook, but demanded his removal and replacement by someone younger and more sensitive, blah blah blah. She did not accept his followup, and now he is gone without any real explanation or warning.  I fear this matter played a role in his sudden exit, although possibly not.  It may have simply pushed what he was thinking about doing anyway.

But I am going to whine that there is now a full-blown and intolerant cancel culture coming from both political ends (I note that Weingarten has been openly very left-liberal, despite this ethnic blunder). We have certainly been getting it for some time from the left with people demanding others be removed from public discourse for this or that microaggression.  In some cases these demands have probably been warranted, but without going beyond Weingarten, who may not be an example even as I suspect he is, many do not look like it to me.

But it is now also coming from the right.  We are now getting it a bunch at my workplace, James Madison University, although I do not think anybody has actually been fired yet. It started about a month ago with the beginning of the school year. Our administration, led by our provost, has been for some time on a campaign to increase awareness and acceptance of diversity, broadly defined, something I support.  But this fall training video for student ambassadors was put out, made by two students (both female), that unfortunately was a parody of the genre, with each of them identifying themselves by a longer list of possible things to worry about as a possible source of being discriminated against than I even knew about. They also then made it clear that there is an oppressor class, young to middle-aged (rules me out) white straight male Christians.  Anyway, some right winger got this video to Fox News, where it was publicized.  The upshot was a local firestorm with various major donors retracting funding and people withdrawing children and grandchildren.  Nobody got fired, but the training video was wihtdrawn

Now this week there has been another such incident, with the right wingers clearly having their eyes on us.  Some student photographed a slide an instructor had up in an ethics class that discussed an example from Jonathan Haidt questioning the morality or lack of ethics of a brother and sister having sex once in a woods without any consequences and deciding not to tell anybody  This got posted by a right wing politician here in VA, where we have a heated gubernatorial race going on  I have not heard of any consequences of this, with the dean above this faculty member defending academic freedom, while also sending a message along the lines of "please do not put up slides that will drive away yet more donors." Supposedly this faculty member was teaching that incest is virtuous.

I have myself become aware of the eyes watching on all this.  A few weeks ago in my Regional Economics course in a discussion about path dependence and long-in-place roads I got into the two libraries of Alexandria, both of them burned, the first by Julius Caesar. The second, the Library of Cleopatra, was burned in 391 CE. So I asked the class who burned it. One student said "German barbarians," so I laughed and said no, the Vandals only got as far east as Tunisia.  It was the Christians.  This student looked quite upset.  So I actually spent time in the next class giving them the full historical background of ho it came to Emperor Theodosius ordering its burning as part of the Roman Empire finally ending tolerance of pagan religions and philosophy. I was glad to see that this student seemed to find my discussion both interesting and acceptable, no complaints going to Fox News about me.

Anyway, I am finding this drive to get rid of people for making unfortunate statements way over done from all sides. And whether or not Gene Weingarten was driven out or not, we shall miss him.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Bungling The Debt Ceiling

It looks like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is bungling the matter of raising (or suspending) the debt ceiling, coming due in mid-October supposedly. He could have tied it to reconciliation in August, but decided not to, intent on getting GOPster on board with participating in doing it. But Sen. McConnell (R-KY) is having none of it, and even though Schumer thought he had them by tying it to a continuing resolution to keep the government going past Sept. 30, well, McConnell is not going along, nor are any of his colleagues, with maybe one exception, Sen. Kennedy of Louisiana who wants money for dealing with the effects of Hurricane Ida.  Anyway, it looks like McConnell is just fine with some economy-damaging crash, which may help GOP next year.  

I really do not see why Schumer did not see this one coming.  I think he thinks a year from now people will be remembering it was the naughty GOP that crashed the economy rather than the Dems doing so by mismanaging things.  People are not that smart.  He needs to keep the economy going, and we know the voters do not give a phoo about deficits or the debt, unless they see the economy not doing well, which a GOP crashing of the ceiling raise could bring about.  He needs to bite the bullet and get this into the Reconciliation, although apparently now it will take some time for reasons I do not understand, and we may get a short government shutdown before it can be done.  Bungling on this one. GOP now totally irresponsible and nihilistic.

Barkley Rosser

Online Voting

 Yes, a wonderful innovation!!!  No, I had not heard of this before, although maybe somebody reading this had encountered it.  So, where is this fabulous innovation being adopted?  Why Mother Russia!  So polls showed the United Russia Party that supports Vladimir Putin getting only 30% support for the Duma election that just happened.  But while I have not seen specific numbers, it is my understanding that they have been reelected as not only the majority party in the Duma, but with a supermajority over 3/4 that allows them to mess with the Constitution as they please and pretty much do anything else with little fuss that their leader wants!  

Of course, with one serious rival, Nemtsov, dead from being shot on a bridge in Moscow, and another, Navalny, in jail after an attempt to poison him to death, and the voting app his supporters were touting being cut off by Apple and Google at Putin's request, well, this left a rather weak oppostion, with the Yabloko Party a shadow of its never-large self, and with the Communist Party still Number Two, and apparently getting feistier than in the past as about the only serious possible source of opposition.  But neither of them or any others got too far.

But, just to make sure, there have been widespread reports not only of ballot stuffing, the old-fashioned way to do these things, but now this miracle of online voting.  So, at a minimum in one widely publicized contest in Moscow where the main opponent was a Communist, the on-site votes had him well ahead. But then the online votes came in, and, wow, they were overwhelmingly and in large numbers for the United Russia candidate.  Apparently this happened in many districts.  Such a miracle!

A funny thing is that those complaining about this sort of look like Trumpists complaining about mail-in ballots in the US, which has led GOP-led legislatures to move to restrict such voting, as it is widely perceived that Dems use it (or did in 2020 anyway) more than GOPs, for various reasons. It was not always that way everywhere, with Florida in particular having a long tradition of numerous older GOP voters using the mail-in, leaving the GOPsters there a bit less sure about going after it.  So the Putinistas can argue, well, this is just like the US.

Of course there are two problems.  One is that there is no obvious reason in any of these districts why online voters would have such different views than on-site ones, whereas we know of numerous reasons in the US why the mail-in voters were more likely to be Dems.  The other is that there seems to be no record of or way to check up on any of these online voters.  Who are they?  How many times did they vote?  Who was counting them.?  All I can say is that this seems to be quite the innovation for a ruling party that wants to hold an election with at least a nominal opponent participating, while guaranteeing a solidly favorable outcome, even in the face of polls suggesting this was not so likely.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, September 16, 2021

So, Whatever Happened To The Arizona Fraudit?

 Even though these "audits" are now apparently spreading to other states, notably Pennsylvania and maybe Wisconsin, efforts to somehow find election fraud in the presidential elections in those states in 2020, there is an odd thing that has happened that has basically dropped off the media radar screen. That is what the outcome of the initial one of these is, the "fraudit" in Arizona, authorized and financed partly with taxpayer funds by the AZ Senate.  It has dropped out of sight.

Well, after months of attention to it, with lots of money getting raised by those pushing it, and the similar folks in these other states also raising money off the fools who believe their lies, the question is what has happened?  The results were supposed to be done and available months ago.  The release date kept being put off.  The last we heard was several weeks ago when it was reported that three out of the five members of an oversight board of which we had never previously heard had gotten Covid-19.  OK.  But no new date of release was announced, and while it has been weeks so that those people presumably have either recovered or died, although maybe one is still on a ventilator. 


In any case, it is not obvious to me why any of these people being ill should be holding back a public reporting of the results. But, of course, I think we all know why this report has not been publicly reported: they got nothing.  There had been several recounts and checks on the results in Maricopa County, where the Board of Supervisors is 4-1 GOP to Dem, found that the original reported results were fully confirmed, not a single error.  So it is completely unsurprising that despite all the bizarre things the inexperienced goofballs carrying out this fraudit could find nothing. The last gasp has been people in the AZ state senate calling for the routers to be turned over. But the ballot machines were reportedly never on the internet, so routers make no difference.  We are simply left with just how long it will take for these people to finally publicly admit that their fraudit has been a giant fraud and waste of time and money that has found nothing.  This could take quite some time.

Barkley Rosser

RIP William John McGuire

 Aka "Bill" McGuire.  He started at the same time as I did in Fall 1977 as a tenure track Assistant Professor where I still am, James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, VA. We also started with Robin Grieves.  An odd coincidence was that when we were taken to the first full faculty meeting by our Depaertment Head, Howard Wilhelm, who died in January at age 94 of old age, it somehow came out that al four of us were Eagle Scouts.  I would become a good friend of both Bill's and Robin's.  I note that Bill was a Vietnam War veteran and was a macroeconomist with a PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill.

As it was, both of them would leave the department during the 1980s for different reasons.  Unfortunately, Bill had a major personal conflict with another member of the department (not me) that ended up souring him most of the department, and he had little communication with any of us after he left.  He initially went to Eastern Kentucky U. but some years later would leave academia and move to Arizona with his second wife, a former student of ours at JMU. They ran a reportedly successful private consulting firm.  But while I made some approaches to his wife to renew communication, he expressed no interest.

Anyway, I heard yesterday by email from our mutual friend, Robin, that Bill died over a year ago in July 2020.  While officially it was a heart embolism, Robin informed me that this was brought on by a bout of Covid-19.  This is the first person to have died of the pandemic that I knew personally.  I am still sorry that we did not renew communication prior to his passing.  

So, RIP Bill.

Barkley Rosser

Debt Ceiling Nonsense Yet Again - A Catch 22?

 Of course there should be no debt ceiling.  The US is the only nation to have one for absolute amounts of money (some other nations have ones tied to percents of budgets, and so forth). Even thought it is nonsensical and absurd, it has been around for over a century, a recrudescence of a deal to get funding approved by Congress for WW I in the wake of the passage in 1913 of the new amendment allowing a federal income tax. Somehow nobody in Congress or any White House has the guts to push for the ending of this thing, so it hangs on like some stinking zombie. 

Of course, for most of the time since it was passed, Congresses have been "responsible" and raised the ceiling without too much fuss, although it has been normal when different parties occupy the White House and the Congress for there to be some grumbling by people in Congress before they do the the responsible thing.  But in recent decades, while Dems in Congress have been responsible, raising debt ceiling several times for President Trump, we have on several occasions see GOPs in Congress make big stinks and force temporary government shutdowns while making demands for this or that.

The current situation is probably not that bad, but absurdity is definitely reigning.  Assuming they can keep all their people in line, especially Sen. Manchin of WV, it can probably be raised by reconciliation. But GOP Sen. McConnell is loudly declaring no GOP will support raising it, and has threatened a filibuster, although reconciliation can get around that, if all Dems agree.  However, even as he is loudly declaring not GOP support for raising the debt ceiling, he is also demanding that it be raised so that government bills get paid.  I really have no comment on this further, aside from noting that this is just further evidence on why this silly thing needs to be done away with once and for all.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, September 10, 2021

Norway’s Climate Dilemma

Carlos Joly, a finance-and-climate consultant, has a piece today on the upcoming election in Norway, one of the world’s major exporters of oil and gas.  To its credit, Norway puts its earnings in a fund to support future generations after its deposits are exhausted, known to economists as the Hartwick Rule.  That’s great for economic sustainability in Norway, but what about the threat its fossil fuel industry poses to the entire world?

Joly notes that the mainstream parties consider only domestic fossil fuel consumption, with the Labor Party proposing to go “carbon neutral” on that front by 2050.  (The neutral qualifier is highly problematic, as I show in my forthcoming book, Alligators in the Arctic and How to Avoid Them: Science, Economics and the Challenge of Catastrophic Climate Change.)  The Greens want to shut down Norway’s North Sea oil and gas operation over the coming 25 years.  Joly wants to go further and have the government instruct its oil revenue fund to divest from fossil fuels globally.

I have a different idea.  First, while the unilateral dismantling of its fossil fuel industry would be a well-intentioned step, I doubt it would have much impact on overall decarbonization.   25 years is too slow, and more importantly, the consumption of oil and gas is demand-driven, not supply constrained.  If Norway takes its fuels off the market, there will be other producers eager to take its place.  Second, simply abstaining from investing in other countries’ fossil fuel industries is unlikely to make a significant difference, largely for the same reason.  If producing oil and gas remains profitable, a shortfall in investment from some quarters will induce more from others.

What I propose instead is that Norway regard its sovereign wealth fund (officially designated as a pension fund) as an endowment whose main purpose is to finance initiatives to forestall a climate disaster.  This means devoting a fixed share to funding activist groups in key countries organizing for emergency laws to quickly reduce carbon consumption, and the rest to R&D in decarbonized energy sources.*  Meanwhile, keep the oil and gas flowing so that as large a share as possible of global fossil fuel supply is generating carbon mitigation finance.  If and when a host of national measures impose decarbonization and fossil fuel demand finally plummets, then it will be time to turn off the North Sea tap for good.


*And no, Norway’s predominate financing of REDD+, the international program for promoting forestation offsets, does neither of these and is little more than a charade—for details, again see Alligators.