Friday, April 24, 2009

On the Foundations of Mathematical Economics

So, here I am doing something way off the usual track here of political economy and all that. In effect, this is a followup on a post I did about a year and a half ago about the centennial of the birth of my mathematician father (1907-1989). So, I have just written a paper with the same title as this post, available at my website, (scroll down to the bottom). It comments on a paper written by Kumaraswamy Vela Velupillai that is entitled, "Taming the Uncomputable, Reconstructing the Nonconstructive and Deciding the Undecidable in Mathematical Economics," (yeah, I know, sigh... ). In the opening section of that paper he cites work of my late father in connection with this hairy topic, and says nice things about his work, noting it as homage for his centennial (yes, the paper has been floating around for awhile).

So, there is a special issue of the journal, New Mathematics and Natural Computation coming out to honor Professor Velupillai, and he and the editor of the special issue requested of me that I write a commentary on this specific paper of his, which will be the lead article of the issue, and that I also comment on my father's work in connection with all this. I had never before in my life written professionally about either my father's life or his work, and in the end I was way overdue with this. However, I did finish it finally, and for those of you more interested in what I have to say about my somewhat controversial late father, that is largely in the section prior to the Conclusions, with most of the personal observations in the footnotes. The paper will be the final one in this forthcoming special issue.


Sandwichman said...


What are the policy implications of the "the least integer not nameable in less than nineteen syllables"?

chrismealy said...

This Velupillai stuff looks interesting. I'm trying to make sense of his recent papers on uncomputability and undecidability. His Sraffa paper looks interesting too but it's completely over my head.

How's about you dumb it down a little for humble blog readers? It looks like he's saying that not only economists doing it wrong, but mathematicians are too. I hope this means I won't have to relearn differential equations.

Brenda Rosser said...

Barkley wrote: As for my father’s theological views, I will note that while he attended church regularly with my very religious mother, he never definitively stated his position on these matters in my hearing, and I am less certain of his ultimate position regarding them than I am about what his political views were.That's interesting. I tend to make the assumption that parents will talk to their children about their spiritual or religious views. However, my mother and father never did. Though they believed it was more than appropriate for their young children to attend church regularly.

The time of the Vietnam War. There was (and remains) a fundamental disconnect between the advocacy of war and the self-assertion of higher spiritual values. My parents knew that at some level. They claimed that they believed in the 'red menace'. I don't think they really thought much about what was actually going on.

The 1960s - some accumulated snippets1960 – March. ‘Operation 40’ created by Allen Dulles (Director of the CIA under President Eisenhower) from the ‘group of 40’ of the US National Security Council. It was presided by vice-president Richard Nixon. The Cuban revolution had occurred the year before. This group was designed to respond to the threat of left wing governments in Latin America (in general) affecting US corporate holdings. Operation 40 not only was involved in sabotage operations but also, in fact, evolved into a team of assassins. Frank Sturgis, claimed: "this assassination group (Operation 40) would upon orders, naturally, assassinate either members of the military or the political parties of the foreign country that you were going to infiltrate, and if necessary some of your own members who were suspected of being foreign agents... We were concentrating strictly in Cuba at that particular time."

1960 – Nixon sent to South Vietnam to assure the French-connected government that if France pulled out of Vietnam the US would step in to protect the drug trade from the Golden Triangle.

1961 – Administrative rules in many US universities enforced curfews, banned political groups from operating on campuses and forced professors to sign loyalty oaths.

1961 – January 17th. Outgoing US President Eisenhower warned against the “acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military industrial complex.”

1961 – November. Kennedy leaks a military report to the press in an attempt to prevent US military engagement in Vietnam. Kennedy’s criteria for going into Vietnam. Failure of the press to warn the public about the dangers of a war in Vietnam.

1962 – October 16th. JFK was able to persuade Congress to pass an act that removed the distinction between repatriated profits and profits reinvested abroad. While this law applied to industry as a whole, it especially affected the oil companies. It was estimated that as a result of this legislation, wealthy oilmen saw a fall in their earnings on foreign investment from 30 per cent to 15 per cent.

1962 – The establishment of the CIA’s Domestic Operations Division, shortly after the Bay of Pigs operation. E Howard Hunt serves as the first Chief of Covert Action within this new division and says that many men connected with the Bay of Pigs were shunted into the new domestic unit. Some of Hunt’s projects from 1962-1966 dealt largely with the subsidizing and manipulation of news and publishing organisations.

1961 – April – General Edwin A Walker is dismissed by Kennedy. He is accused of having developed a system of right-wing proselytization in the armed forces. The General was a member of the John Birch Society and the True Knights of the KKK. The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee opens an inquiry into the military far right. The senators suspect the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Lemnitzer of taking part in the “Walker Plot”…Lemitzer was relieved of his duties and later found to be driving “Committee 8F” which is suspected in the JFK assassination.

1961 – 1971. Although biological and chemical weapons were banned in the 1920s under the Geneva Convention the US however, under Operation Ranch Hand, began a full-scale “defoliation” project in Viet Nam. It was chemical genocide.

1962 – 1998 – largest transnationals and their foreign penetration. From 1288 foreign subsidiaries to 10,000.

1963 – 4th June – Kennedy’s Executive Order 11110. To strip the US Federal Reserve Bank of its power to loan money to the United States Federal Government at interest. Kennedy ordered the printing and release of $4.2 billion in US notes, paper money issued through the Treasury Department ‘without paying interest’ to the Federal Reserve System.

1963 – E Howard Hunt, Chief of Covert Action in the CIA’s Domestic Operations Division involved in the subsidizing and manipulation of news and publishing organisations. (1962-1966)

1963 – October. US President Kennedy insists that one thousand US troops in Vietnam be recalled.

1963 – JF Kennedy says the high office of the President has been used to foment a plot to destroy the American’s freedom. He referred to a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy using covert means for expanding its sphere of influence.

1963 – US Civil Rights Activist, Medgar Evers, assassinated.

1963 - November -Insider trading associated with the assassination of Kennedy.

1963 – 1969 – Presidential term of Lyndon Baynes Johnson. LBJ beats up the US Fed Reserve Chairman in order to pressure him to print the money LBJ needed for the war in Vietnam. John Connally, from Texas, became a key aide to LBJ.

Early 1960s – The adoption of an explicit cost-plus acquisition process for the US military. The military budget has proven to be as effective in regulating the industrial sector as control over home finance has proven in regulating credit.

1963 – US gold reserve at Manhattan barely covered liabilities to foreign central banks

1964 – Thomas Ross’ book ‘Invisible Government’ published. It exposed the role of the CIA in coups in Guatemala, Iran and the Bay of Pigs as well as the CIA’s attempt to overthrow President Sukarno in Indonesia and the covert operations taking place in Laos and Vietnam.

1964 – A CIA-backed military coup in Brazil. The democratically elected government of Joao Goulart is overthrown. General Castelo Branco creates Latin America’s first death squads or bands of secret police that hunt down ‘communists’ for torture, interrogation and murder.

1964 (and 1966) – The Australian Government tested the chemical weapon, Agent Orange, on the people of Innisfail.

1964 - E Howard Hunt, Chief of Covert Action in the CIA’s Domestic Operations Division involved in the subsidizing and manipulation of news and publishing organisations. (1962-1966)

1964 – Gulf of Tonkin incident. War hoax. Faked attack. Robert MacNamara’s deceptive report to the US Congress.

1964 – April. The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee comments on enormous amount of energy and resources directed to the “conduct of a costly and interminable struggle for world power”..and the “enormously expensive military and space activities that constitute [the US] program of national security”. “The American people are not now exercising effective control over the armed forces; nor indeed is Congress..”

1964 – $9 billion Eurodollar market

1964 – Peak in oil discoveries

1965 – 1967. US supported and involved in a coup in Indonesia by General Suharto

1965 – Malcolm X killed in Manhattan banquet room as he began a speech.

1965 - E Howard Hunt, Chief of Covert Action in the CIA’s Domestic Operations Division involved in the subsidizing and manipulation of news and publishing organisations. (1962-1966)

1966 Onwards. Domestic monetary policy invalidated for large corporations and banks. The Euromarket and non-banking institutions provide an uncontrolled source of global funds. Citibank issued the first Certificate of Deposit denominated in Eurodollars in May 1966. A year later Citibank issued the first three-year Euro-CD which it used to fund a three-year loan to Boeing.

1966 – President Johnson appoints Walt Rostow as special assistant for national security affairs, a post now known as ‘national security adviser’. Evidence that Rostow is involved in COINTELPRO.

1966 – Carroll Quigley says and international Anglophile network exists and operates, “tof some extent in the way the radical Right believes the Communists wishes to remain unknown.”

1966 – Senator William Fullbright commented during Senate hearings on government and the media that it was interesting that so many prominent newspapers did not contest or even raise questions about government policy.

1966 – The radical magazine Ramparts began a series of unprecedented anti-CIA articles. Among their scooes the CIA was paying universities in America to hire ‘professors’ to train South Vietnamese students in covert police methods. The US Army dispenses Bacillus subtilis variant niger through the New York City subway system.

1966 - E Howard Hunt, Chief of Covert Action in the CIA’s Domestic Operations Division involved in the subsidizing and manipulation of news and publishing organisations. (1962-1966)

1966 – Fall in the US. Nixon whips ‘Southerners’ into a rage. The rhetoric, Buchanan said, “burned the paint off the walls.” The undercover story for building a Republican majority was to create the impression that there were two Americas: the quiet, ordinary, patriotic, religious, law-abiding Many, and the noisy, elitist, amoral, disorderly, condescending Few.”

1966 – Alarm in the US when the Consumer Price Index increased by more than 3 percent, the steepest inflation in more than 15 years. The inflationary surge of the 1960s and 1970s was not as steep as others in the past, but it persisted and compounded more dramatically than anything that had happened before in the American past. The price level nearly tripled in less than 20 years and the nation was at peace, it occurred even when the economy was slack. Why? [Nations that were newly independent of colonial domination had more leverage in the terms of trade?? OPEC oil spike, for instance. Banks began to borrow to lend (‘managed liabilities’), large pool of petro and Eurodollars available for lending and not subject to regulation. Concentration in global industry by large multinational corporations who could effectively set prices. Resource depletion. The US continued to expend large amounts of money on the military and remained on a permanent war footing in peacetime. Government policy from the last Great Depression pulled monetary policy in an expansionist direction. Inflation, up until 1975, actually resulted in the US national deficit shrinking in real terms for the US. What this one of the motivations for government policies, that encouraged inflation?

1967 – 1973 – pressure from the Air Force and military-industrial complex to create worst-case scenarios on the Soviet threat.

1967 – Citibank issues the first three-year Euro-CD which it used to fund a three-year loan to Boeing.

1967 – November. Intergovernmental Group on Indonesia (World Bank, IMF control of Indonesia) + the Time-Life Corporation Conference that carved up Indonesia for the biggest western firms.

1967 – 1969 – 768 arrests and 19 killings of Black Panthers by the US police. Many trials of ‘radicals’.

1967 – October 9th. Ernesto “Che” Guevara assassinated.

1967 – A Gallup poll revealed that half of all Americans had no idea what the Vietnam War was about. 1967 – December 17th. Australia’s Prime Minister Harold Holt disappears whilst swimming at Victoria’s Cheviot beach.

1968 – March 15th. The beginning of the two-tier system under Bretton Woods I.

1968 – April 3rd. Martin Luther King quote: Be true, America, to what you said on paper.

"There is no proof that truth can always be proved. There is no proof that for every truth there is a proof. There is no proof that a proof proves the truth. There is no proof that a truth always requires a proof. A truth can be intuitive and inspirational."

Bryan Appleyard 'Understanding the Present', Picador 1992.
Proof does not exist said...


Hey, without doubt that smallest integer is less than eight, implying that the eight-hour day is too long, :-).


No, you do not need to go relearn your Diff Eqs. However, be wary of computer programs solving for solutions to systems. That CGE might be close, but then again it might not be close, indeed, could be way off.

More generally, the constructivist approach is in some sense more difficult, requiring proofs that in effect lay out how to actually solve the problems being theoremized about, rather than appealing to easy outs such as limits or proofs by contradiction. How does one actually get to that fixed point, or whatever it is?


To the best of my knowledge, my father never had anything to do with the CIA. He did much for the military, particularly with the design of how to launch and guide missiles, including the underwater-fired Polaris. He was also involved pretty seriously with agencies more classified than the CIA. Thus, he shows up in the very revealing book by James Bamford, The Puzzle Palace. A quick google will turn that up.

Regarding his religious views, I will add some that I did not put in the paper. It was certainly the case that he was less religious than my mother, and I think he attended church mostly to please her, although partly out of a general sense of this was socially proper, and the sort of thing his ancestors did, which he took seriously. He and my mother were in the church choir (Presbyterian), and he would read Time magazine during the service when the choir was not singing. My mother was sort of embarrassed during my high school years, because the minister, who faced the choir loft, would sometimes wisecrack that he knew when he had said something interesting because "Professor Rosser puts down his Time magazine and looks up."

Another tale involves a conversation I had with my two parents alone one evening one summer in their backyard. My father began reminiscing about attending Einstein's seminar when he first arrived in Princeton in the early 1930s. He began talking about how Einstein had discussed the implications of general relativity for the nature of the universe near its beginning. This led my mother to pipe up with, "but, that means there is a God, because who was there before the Big Bang?" to which my father, without missing a beat replied, "but what was there before God?"

Oh yes, when my mother was invited to play string quartets with Einstein in 1939, my father did not exhibit much excitement about the fact. My mother asked him why he was not excited, and he replied that he would have been excited if she had been invited to discuss mathematics with him. Sigh...

Brenda Rosser said...

"who was there before the Big Bang?" ...."but what was there before God?"That set of questions sounds very familiar. . . . .

I've checked out 'The Puzzle Palace'. The key sentence seems to be: The constant need to push outward the boundaries of mathematics, engineering, and telecommunications now required the establishment of a close yet secret alliance with America's academic and industrial communities.Bureaucratisation in a merged public and private sphere.... Freedom, in the liberal sense and autonomous and reflective citizenship now increasingly impossible. Social thinkers described as social critics. The Democratic Party's fusion of welfare and warfare. Kissinger and other shadow government theorists aptly described by C Wright Mills as "crackpot realists" IMHO. Citizens turned into "cheerful robots" and produced by a permanent war and commercial culture.

Why didn't Einstein ask your father to play music with him? ;-) said...

Actually, my parents met playing in an orchestra. She was the concertmaster (premier violinist). He played clarinet, and apparently played some jazz clarinet as well, but this was a classical operation. He was not nearly the clarinetist that she was the violinist (and composer).

BTW, my mother confirmed the old stories about Einstein having some trouble counting when playing music, about which he joked, but otherwise he was quite a good violinist.

Brenda Rosser said...

Barkley, thanks for that. Such a fine thing to be. A musician. Maybe in my next life.

It would be interesting to hear your mother's compositions.

Barkley Rosser said...


Most of my mother's compositions were songs, and she published two books of them. They are mostly for female voice and piano and are notable for being very melodic (and beautiful to my, hack, cough, unbiased ear, :-)). Although she sometimes wrote her own lyrics, mostly she drew on poetry of others.

Probably her most ambitious piece, a later composition, was a song cycle, "Sounds of a Chinese Flute," which drew on a poetry cycle from the Tang dynasty in China.

Brenda Rosser said...

Just read this response today. (Been sidetracked from economics by extended family responsibilities).

Two books of songs that your mother wrote. What a lovely thing to inherit!

John Ryskamp said...

I think you are far behind the times. The only reason Velupillai wrote this paper is that he is desperately trying to fend off the attacks of the new historiography of set theory. I urged him to read A. Garciadiego, BERTRAND RUSSELL AND THE ORIGINS OF THE SET-THEORETIC 'PARADOXES.' Did he? No. I urged him even to read Grattan-Guinness, who despite still believing such things as the nonsensical 'paradoxes,' can't help but show the idiocy of set theory and its pernicious effects on every discipline it touched. Sraffa was strongly influenced by this constructivist nonsense, and Production is a piece of constructivist mathematics. And Sraffa actually seems to have had half a brain. Poor economics! Did he end his days like Marx, copying chapters of geology books? Pathetic.

Now Juliet Floyy of BU has on her website a bibliographical essay on new assaults on early analytic philosophy, which is based on the faulty understanding of early twenteith-century thinkers of set theory and idiotic constructivist mathematics generally. And now there is also Graham and Kantor, Naming Infinity, about the idiotic basis of even more set theory notions.

And on and on and on it goes. Don't you get it? We are in the midst of a very important historical process of booting constructivist mathematics OUT of the disciplines. Will it cause you to have a breakdown, like it did Jose Ferreiros, who after writing an excellent essay on what a contemptible clown Cantor was, made a weird profession de foi that he had to believe the "paradoxes" have logical content or...well, we don't know or what. But anyway, like some minor character in Doestoyevsky, he HAS to believe the paradoxes have logical content. So much for him. His career is over, his brain is fried.

Et tu? Anyway, get over your 1960s IBM orientation to everything, or you'll miss out on everything.

SSRN-Paradox, Natural Mathematics, Relativity and Twentieth ...Ryskamp, John Henry,Paradox, Natural Mathematics, Relativity and Twentieth-Century Ideas(June 17, 2008). Available at SSRN: ... - Similar
by J Ryskamp