Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sandwichman's Obituary

by Tom Walker

Yesterday -- in response to defamatory allegations from Barkley Rosser that he had "stepped over the line", engaged in "indefensible personal attacks" and "meretricious name calling," was "seriously misrepresentating" reported research and should "clean up your act" -- the Sandwichman asked for a vote of confidence from his EconoSpeak colleagues. So far, the response has been a resounding abstention. Even the plaintiff, Rosser, has expressed his wish that the matter be resolved without any drastic resolution.

Ever feisty but non-litigious, the Sandwichman confided to me that to drink the Hemlock now seemed sweeter to him than swallowing the bile of his colleagues' "impartiality". With that, the Sandwichman began reciting (a tad too melodramatically for my taste) verse from Dante's Inferno:
All of these made a tumult whose presence
Whirled darkly through the timeless air like grains
Of sand in permanent turbulence.

And I, seeking to ease my brain's
Horror, said, " Master, what am I listening to?
Who are these people so defeated by their pains?"

And he to me: " The dismal souls who
Suffer this condition had lives neither odious
Nor commendable; having embraced neither of the two,

They mingle now with that chorus
Of cowardly, self–serving angels who were
Neither faithful to God nor rebellious.

To preserve its beauty heaven kicked them down here,
While deep Hell refused to take them,
Lest they be scapegoats for the wicked there."
In the past, I confess I've been tempted at times to kill off Sandwichman just so I could write his obituary. That's how it is with personae and noms de plume. Brendan Behan once claimed there's no such thing as bad publicity, unless it's your obituary. Michael Jackson proved him wrong by cashing in on his. Given the dank limbo of abstentiousness, it seems reasonable, in a kind of Through the Looking Glass, way to publish Sandwichman's obituary -- or at least the first draft of his obituary -- in advance of the verdict and the execution. Sandwichman can always come back and say that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. Or maybe not.

Sandwichman, July 11, 2000 - October 24, 2009?

Sandwichman's remit -- believe it or not -- was never about the reduction of working time as "the answer" for unemployment. It was, from the moment of his virgin birth, concerned with discourse about working time. More specifically about how dialogue about the potential benefits of work time reduction has been vigorously and mendaciously suppressed by economists. For centuries. One of the perennial tactics of that suppression has been to ridicule advocates as kooks, quacks and monomaniacal cranks.

Alas, this latter tactic also works when defenders of the exclusion want to change the subject from censorship to some alleged personality disorders of those who document the censorship. But the Sandwichman was not "obsessed", it was his job to carry the prophetic, end-is-'nigh signs he bore. On the Sandwichman's front board was the quote (not from Mark Twain) "'Taint what a man don't know that hurts him; it's what he knows that just ain't so." and on the back, the lines by Bertolt Brecht:
In your house
Lies are roared aloud.
But the truth
Must be silent.
Is it so?
That, not Mary Steward's doggerel about decreasing the hours and increasing the pay, was the Sandwichman's motto.

In the days before his execution, the Sandwichman posted a critique of policy proposals for dealing with unemployment put forward by Jamie Galbraith, Randall Wray and Tim Bartik for the New America Foundation. The substance of the critique hinged on a paradoxical statement by Jamie Galbraith that job guarantees were "the last taboo". The paradox was that two of the three contributors proposed this "last taboo" policy while none of them so much as mentioned work sharing or work time reduction. Sandwichman argued that the real last taboo must be that policy idea on which the contributors remained silent.

As if to vindicate the Sandwichman's snarky complaint, Tim Bartik of the Upjohn Institute responded with a comment that called Dean Baker's policy brief to offer tax credits for work time reduction "interesting" and called attention to an article on short time compensation in the Upjohn Institute newsletter for July. The article, by Katharine Abraham and Susan Houseman argued that "The absence of STC benefits is a significant gap in U.S. social insurance policy that should be plugged." So Tim Bartik obviously knew about Dean's interesting policy brief and the significant gap in policy but still there was no mention of work time policy proposals in the policy roundtable background paper. None. Which of course was the Sandwichman's point.
Job guarantees are roared aloud.
But work sharing
Must be silent.
Which, then, is the last taboo?
As I was writing this obituary, I noticed a new comment appeared on the last taboo post containing an apology of sorts from Barkley Rosser, "I also apologize to anyone who has found my recent tone overdone or inappropriate." What the semanticists call a "no-fault apology." I turned to tell Sandwichman the goods news but was alarmed to see him slumped over in his armchair, the fatal drained cup lying on its side
on the floor, just out of reach of his limp hand.

I must leave off at this point and see if I can revive my friend and avatar...


Josh said...

"Pentagon to use cyborg flies to spy on people." said...

I apologize if my previous apology was insufficient. Let the Sandwichman resume eating his sandwiches, even if he does so on a shorter work week.

gordon said...

Nothing that happens on a blog should provoke suicide, let alone murder. Time for a stiff Scotch and a round of golf (not necessarily in that order). said...

Um, Tom, before the S-man gets fully revived, how about he apologizes to James K. Galbraith. I will not request an apology for "bullshit" or "stick a fork in it" or "defamatory" (um, because I actually read and dared to comment critically on the article you sent me???), but, S-man owes an apology to the man he insulted.

Max Sawicky said...

For fuck's sake, you both need thicker skins. And JKG Jr can ask for his own apology, if he gives a shit, which I doubt he does.


run75441 said...


Would hate to see the icon disappear as it has been intriguing. If you do have some time, you may want to join the bunch of us descending upon Chicago today, tomorrow and Tuesday. I do have a spare pitchfork to loan out . . .

Is everything supposed to be politely discussed in the world of economics too??? Perhaps they need to get close to the discussions in the trenches as people lose jobs, savings, and homes while the solutions are politely discussed in Congress and in academia. If Sandwichman must go then so be it, I have enjoyed the briefs encounter.

Starving Economist said...

Someone needs to call the waaahh-mbulance"!! We got some hurt feelings over here!!!

Anonymous said...

"Sandwichman's remit -- believe it or not -- was never about the reduction of working time as 'the answer' for unemployment. It was, from the moment of his virgin birth, concerned with discourse about working time. More specifically about how dialogue about the potential benefits of work time reduction has been vigorously and mendaciously suppressed by economists. For centuries."

It is interesting, given Wray's view that GDP growth is an identity of productivity growth and employment growth, that he would ignore the logic of reduced hours of work.

He wrote in 2005 that Europe's superior productivity growth in the 1990s resulted from "schemes" to shorten working time:

"During the 1990s, it was argued that labor market flexibility in the US contributes to higher employment rates (and lower unemployment rates), and that is probably true to some degree. However, this means that the US 'suffered' from low productivity growth, except when aggregate demand growth was very much more rapid than in the other OECD nations (excluding Canada).
By contrast, the other OECD nations "suffer" from low employment rates, so they have come up with various schemes to increase vacations, lower retirement ages, and share work (France's experiment with mandated work week reductions is the most glaring example). These schemes have not increased employment, but rather have mostly raised productivity--evidence that the true constraint has been insufficient demand."

If I understand this correctly, Wray is admitting that reducing working time has the effect of increasing the productivity of labor.


But, I guess, when your goal is to increase government deficit spending, you may tend to overlook your more important discoveries.

Sandwichman said...

Thanks, "anonymous" you have brought the Sandwichman back from the dead. There are a number of very strange wrinkles in the quote you cite from Wray. I will have to read the whole paper before expanding on what appears to be Wray's assumption that productivity growth and employment growth are mutually exclusive. If that is in fact what he is assuming, then Wray is committing a lump-of-labor fallacy, a sin only advocates of work time reduction are supposed to commit but from which opponents and hostile skeptics deem themselves to be exempt. And, unlike the undocumented but sweeping allegations that are tossed at the SWT camp, Wray's lump is explicit and precise: "Given a growth rate, there is a trade off between employment growth and productivity growth..." One might wonder how "given" the growth rate will remain under various permutations and combinations of the trade off?...

Are we to conclude from the above that by the grace of God there is one economic law for the growth-mongering elect and quite another for the preterit?

No, it's just that Wray doesn't seem to notice the diffence between the after-the-fact identity that growth=employment+productivity and the ongoing dynamic between employment, productivity and growth as those processes unfold. Or at least he doesn't notice it on page 9. On page 7, however, Wray states,

"If demand constraints reduce investment incentives, a cumulative causation process develops in which low productivity growth affects growth, which generates continued low productivity growth. What I will argue is that growth of demand in the US has
generally been too low to allow for adequate growth of both the labor force and labor productivity."

Regardless of demand constraints, what the above also means is that even if higher productivity this year means lower employment growth this year it nevertheless fuels a higher rate of future growth and thus enables -- although it doesn't necessarily ensure -- higher employment growth IN THE FUTURE: "cumulative causation."

There is also the remarkable assertion regarding worktime reduction, presented as plain fact, that "these schemes have not increased employment." Wray gives no source for this "fact". We just all know this to be true, don't we all? Except...

Even Barkley -- even Barkley! -- after reading Anders Hayden's paper states, "So, maybe the cut in working hours reduced the UR by about 1%, maybe a bit more." Not a panacea. Not an unequivocal "answer". But "maybe 1%" based on checkable sources is quite different from "not" pulled out of some nether body cavity. And this lack of citation causes me to suppose that unless Wray can provide documentation for his claim, he is making shit up.

There seems to be a rather glaring example of academic double standards in evidence here. As long as you're pro-growth, anything goes.

Sandwichman said...

It is also worth noting that Randall Wray has elsewhere made the astonishing categorical denial that "Work week reduction (or "work sharing") has never, anywhere, eliminated involuntary unemployment and underemployment; indeed, it has never had a significant effect. That reserve army of the unemployed persisted despite reduction to the 12 hour day, the 10 hour day, and the 8 hour day. It will persist even if we can move to the 6 hour day." No evidence. No analysis. No theory. No source. Just "never, anywhere" BECAUSE I SAY SO.

If you take his meaning to be that a given reduction of working time will not forever after permanently reduce the rate of unemployment, it's true in a kind of "so what?" way. Nor has eating food ever permanently extinguished hunger. The damn thing keeps coming back! So, hey, let's not consider food as a panacea remedy for hunger. Sure, let's eat food because it tastes good and stuff but the real remedy for hunger is... a bigger federal deficit, faster economic growth, guaranteed jobs for ex-farmers, more spending on higher education and health care, etc. etc. etc.

But, it is a certainty that, over the long term, progressive reduction of working time has positively contributed to employment growth. A certainty? Yes, indeed, even by Wray's own standard of cumulative causation. Does Wray honestly believe that we would have had as much employment growth over the past two hundred years if the hours of work had remained at 12-14 hours a day, six days a week? Astonishing! I wonder were the consumer demand comes from in that model. People working 72 to 80 a week don't have much time to shop let alone enjoy their purchases.

Anonymous said...

"Nor has eating food ever permanently extinguished hunger."

Yet, we eat...

Sandwichman said...

"Yet, we eat..."

Dupes of the loaf of Limburger fallacy.

Shag from Brookline said...

But for S-Man's remarkable revival/recovery/reincarnation, I was thinking of the eulogy that the late Kurt Vonnegut ("Player Piano" 1952) might have delivered.

media said...

as a liberal reformist, shorter work hours seems a bit much, especially given the current crisis. the french experience also suggets its not even a panacea. If one were to reduce the working hour from 60 minutes to, say, 30 minutes, TV shows like 60 minutes could not exist (though possibly scandals also would be eliminated as a sort of pigouvian double dividend). one might also have to figure out where the minutes went----perhaps there would then be more hours in a day, so there is a conservation law (eg a 48 hour day).

from the liberal view, Bob Black's 'Abolition of Work" might be a more pragmatic approach rather than messing with the clock. In terms of quality of life, which following Stiglitz and the revision of GDP for France, in which basic human rights are acknowledged beyond the god given right to be greedy, there was also an old suggestion that there is a "Right to be Lazy" (from early in the century).

I could also a major FDR style jobs program, to have everyone become a blogger (or maybe a talk show host or in a reality program). This would vastly increase productivity measures i imagine, perhaps by applying stiglitz' new formula.

Sandwichman said...


I vote to give you your very own reality show. To go with your very own reality!

Swordplay said...

1) "Wray is admitting that reducing working time has the effect of increasing the productivity of labor."
I'd suppose so. Actually, I happen to know for a fact that Randy Wray has voiced his support for worktime reduction in the past.
2) "But, I guess, when your goal is to increase government deficit spending, you may tend to overlook your more important discoveries".
Emphatically not. I'd offer you a bet that there is a positive correlation between rising government spending and reductions in working-time that are not accompanied by welfare losses. It's kind of bloody obvious if looked at from a long-run historical perspective. I just don't see how your tax-credit model is supposed to work.
3) On the touching of nerves: well, the last guy to peddle the "liberal fascism"-line was Jonah Goldberg. And his screed may have been based on two serious books by liberal-leaning scholars (can't offer the cites now, have to catch a plane soon), who had already gone into the whole thing in exasperating detail.I guess I know more about this issue than anyone accusing me of myopia (including the European manifestations. If asked to start a name-dropping session, I'd probably begin with Rudolf Hilferding, but rest assured that I would have a field day.)
4) There is this little problem that we want to avoid involuntary worktime reduction. Also: once living standards are affected, any and all worktime reductions are involuntary. Now look at current US-GDP data. Make sure these are per capita-numbers. Then tell me how there is no welfare loss involved. I guess I can offer to sell you a clock that does indeed have a 48 hour-face.
5) If you want to see results, devise statistical tests. Propose a research program. Don't insult those who have a long history of supporting progressive causes by recycling libertarian or Austrian rhetoric ("statism", e.g.) and creating false impressions. That's just going to backfire - in the worst case, by doing political damage, in the best case by reflecting on your judgement.

Sandwichman said...

Three point, wordplay.

1. "I happen to know for a fact that Randy Wray has voiced his support for worktime reduction in the past."

I happen to know that, too, having engaged Wray in a conversation about worktime reduction. However, Wray's support is based exclusively and adamantly on grounds other than its relationship to unemployment. He adamantly denies ANY possibility that work time reduction could reduce unemployment. And he does so without reference to evidence.

2. "If you want to see results, devise statistical tests."

This implies a. that no statistical tests have been presented; b. that it is possible to produce a statistical test with unequivocal conclusions; and c. that opponents and skeptics wouldn't just go right on ignoring the evidence and proclaiming their preconceptions as absolute truths.

I've previously discussed incidents (Kapteyn et al.) where economists have devised statistical tests that showed positive employment effects from work time reduction and then concluded from those results that work time reduction would be ineffectual in the long run because the lowered unemployment would drive up wages and ultimately constrain the demand for labor. How's that for persuasive? It won't work because it will work and in working will establish the conditions for its eventual undoing? And let's not have any more babies; they just grow old and die thus reducing the population.

3. "I'd offer you a bet that there is a positive correlation between rising government spending and reductions in working-time that are not accompanied by welfare losses."

That's one hell of an impressive "statistical test" there, bub. Obviously, the only way to isolate the relevant variables would be to construct a scaffolding of assumptions so high and thick as to make any resulting "correlation" purely an artifact of the assumptions. And I further suspect that your first assumption would have to be measuring welfare loss in terms of real income. Call it a Humpty Dumpty correlation. If you can show otherwise, I accept your offer of a bet... but I see you've already backed out. $500?

Go ahead, have a field day with Rudolph Hilferding or Engelbert Humperdinck for all I care, wordplay. And here's hoping the pilot of the plane you catch is not moonlighting at McDonald's to try to pay off a student loan.

Anonymous said...

"There is this little problem that we want to avoid involuntary worktime reduction."

Jesus, dude. That is such a distraction from the discussion, since we already are being flooded by unemployment and the principal solution being offered is that a nation should manufacture debt to eliminate it.

Leave aside the United States for the moment, how does this suggestion help Haiti - can they sell treasuries? Can Mozambique?

What type of economic solution is it that can only be implemented in the single country that owns the world reserve currency, and not in any other?

What good is a suggestion that tells Brazil: "Maintain your unbalanced exports strategy and accumulate American financial assets, even as the dollar slides to depreciate your savings."

What this suggestion boils down to is that the US should continue absorbing the global surplus product of less developed nations in return for IOUs which will never be repaid.

Welfare loss? What is the welfare loss of eating dirt cookies, while Americans drive automobiles powered by corn?

Sandwichman said...

One last point:

"Propose a research program"

I already did that 14 years ago. In the first few years it was an eye opener to encounter the inexplicable hostility that met various funding proposals. Then it began to dawn on me that the hostility and defensiveness was the story here.

Wordplay's identity and the identity of many like him is wrapped up in not having to see what they don't want to see. You know, "It's hard to convince a man of something when his salary depends on not believing it" and all.

Funny thing is, the day wordplay finds himself in the unemployment line will be the day his "analysis" will start to look at the issue from a different angle. Until then it's all bombast.

At any rate, I see your "propose a research program", wordy, and raise you one. It's all there but the editing. Statistical tests? I'll show you the stinkin' statistical tests. But don't let the facts change your mind, bucko, it's already made up.

Jack said...

"For fuck's sake, you both need thicker skins. And JKG Jr can ask for his own apology, if he gives a shit, which I doubt he does."

October 25, 2009 10:40 AM

So good to hear from you again and especially good to see you true to form. Frankly, some of these discussions pass way over my head, but it is always good to witness the bunch duking it out over some trivial concept.

You really should make it your business to put in a couple of sense more often than you do, though some times I suspect that an Anonymous or two is you. There is not enough irreverence here, as there was on MaxSpeak from time to time. Walker seems to know from whence he speaks and does so in an accpetably snide manner. Barkley, while certainly a font of information, useless or otherwise, is always too willing to pull his punch. Come back soon.

Max Sawicky said...

I don't do anonymous. That would be a sock-puppet infraction. I always sign either my name or a particular handle I use all over the blogosphere which I won't repeat here. I have also signed a couple of posts here, typically on trivial stuff, as 'admin.'

Jack said...

So much for my ability to detect style. In the future don't be shy
with your identity. "..a particular handle.."? Prey tell, you've got my curiosity up.

Max Sawicky said...

Check the old URL. It's staring you right in the face.