Wednesday, September 23, 2020


Democratic Despotism

"We find latent in their conception of law— and some have been publicly preaching this view— that law emanates solely from the will of the majority of the people, and can, therefore, be modified at any time to meet majority wishes. This doctrine is absolutely totalitarian, and is contrary to our basic conceptions of the source of law. We have seen that our political system is predicated on the doctrine that there are some immutable laws of nature and certain other divinely sanctioned rights, which the Constitution and our tradition recognized as being above and beyond the power of the majority, or of any other group of individuals or officials of the Government. There are, also, other rights, which because of man's historic experience, that are specifically protected by the Constitution, and which can only be modified under the prescribed method set forth in the Constitution; and, consequently the majority- will is not free to modify them as it pleases, but only in the circumscribed manner prescribed by the Constitution. That is why our system has been characterized as a government of laws, not of men. That is the distinction between impersonal law and personal law. Americanism is the system of government by impersonal law: totalitarianism is the system of government by personal law.” (emphasis added) -- Raoul E. Desvernine, vice-president of the American Liberty League, Democratic Despotism. 1936 (cited in "Business Organized as Powerr: The New Imperium in Imperio" see also "Constitutionalism: Political Defense of the Business Community during the New Deal Period.")
"Business Organized as Power":
"As stated in its constitution, the [American Liberty] League's purposes were, among others, "to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States," "to teach the necessity of respect for rights of persons and property," "to encourage and protect individual and group initiative and enterprise, to foster the right to work, earn, save and acquire property, and to preserve the ownership and lawful use of property when acquired." To win these goals the League went further than any previous liberty-loving, liberty-saving organization in our history. Crucial to its functioning was the National Lawyer's Committee, a group of some 58  prominent attorneys, which issued reports or opinions in advance of Supreme Court decisions, opinions setting aside with solemnity and erudition one after another of the entire New Deal legislative mélange. The League went still further: this private court having, for example, formally declared the Wagner Labor Relations Act unconstitutional, openly advised employers to ignore its provisions."

Monday, September 21, 2020

The "Trump Effect" On Happiness

 In a column in yesterday's Washington Post, Dana Milbank has written on "Trump has made our lives worse. Here's the proof."  He labels this apparent outcome the "Trump Effect."

Since 1972 the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago has annually studied the nation's mood. They survey people to find out how they identify their level of happiness. As of this summer an all time record low of 14% declared themselves "very happy." This compares with 29% saying that at the lowest point after the 2008 financial crisis. OTOH, fully 36% declared themselves to be "satisfied" with their financial situation and a record low expressed dissatisfaction, the survey taken at a time when expanded unemployment benefits were still in effect.  But Milbank declared that this amounted to a disjuncture between peoples' economic conditions and declared happiness, with this contradicting, or at least failing to support, a longstanding finding from happiness surveys in the past.

This may be an overstated conclusion. Milbank did not report on it, but studies over the years have found that higher income people tend to declare themselves to be happier than lower income people. This may still hold.  In the US this finding has been part of the famous "Easterlin Paradox," that higher income people report higher levels of life satisfaction (or happiness) at any given point in time while over time as national income rises, happiness levels do not rise. Indeed, another data source with a longer time horizon on this found US national happiness to have gradually declined since 1957. It must be noted that this finding of declining national happiness as national income rises does not show up in al nations, although it has been observed in several others besides the US, leading to much controversy and debate. Richard Easterlin himself (still alive well into his 90s) has emphasized the impact of distribution of income and perceived economic security, with peoples' happiness depending on how they compare themselves with others.  So even though income rose rapidly, the ending of old age pensions and rising income inequality led happiness levels in China to decline from around 1990 to around 2004, although they have increased again since as pensions were extended to rural areas.

In any case, even as there seems to have been a drift over time downwards in US happiness levels even as national income has risen, Milbank sees the NORC time series as exhibiting a specifically identifiable "Trump Effect."  In 2017, the first year of his presidency, 21 states exhibited a decline in happiness while not a single one showed an increase.  Apparently there was a correlation with voting, with most of the clearly declining states being ones that did not support Trump. But Milbank notes that there seems to have been no offset of an increase in happiness in states that did support him. While views of "pleasure in activities and positive energy from friends, family, and leaders" were stable from 2014 through 2016, but fell noticeably in 2017 and have stayed down since.

Other studies have found similar results, with unsurprisingly things worsening during the pandemic. The American Psychological Association found in 2017 that two thirds of the US population, including a majority of Republicans, were "stressed about the future of the nation." This rose to 83% this year, with 66% declaring that the government was mismanaging the pandemic. According to Rachel Garfield of the Kaiser Family Foundation, an August poll found 53% of the population say that their "mental health" has been "hurt," with rising problems regarding sleeping, eating, and alcohol and drug abuse.  Those reporting "depressive symptoms" quadrupled to 40% during the pandemic.

It is unsurprising that things would get worse during the pandemic, but Milbank notes they had already worsened prior to the pandemic starting even while the economy was still getting better on most fronts.  That Trump is perceived to have handled the pandemic more poorly than leaders in nearly every other nation certainly adds to the idea that he has especially aggravated the unhappiness problem in America, exacerbating the apparent "Trump Effect" that had already been going on.  Milbank notes Trump administration official Michael Caputo taking a leave of absence this past week due to his high "stress level" and declares that if Trump is reelected "Surely four more years would cause the losing of the American mind." There really is little to add to this foreboding forecast, although getting the pandemic back under control might mitigate this somewhat, assuming that happens.

Barkley Rosser  

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Danger Of Fascism With The Death Of RBG

 I try to avoid these terms like "fascism," but it has become clear that Donald J. Trump actively seeks to become an at least authoritarian leader of the US, indeed openly arguing that the Constitution's limit of only two terms should not hold for him.  We face a clear danger of a contested election that may end up in the Supreme Court. If Trump can put a flunky into the court before the election we may have them putting him in despite a situation where he has clearly lost. And given his recent behavior, backed by a friendly SCOTUS, he would be in position to impose a fascist dictatorship in this nation.

I also note that she died on Rosh Hoshanah, and in the Jewish tradition this is a portentious time to die, with one doing so being especially blessed.  I do not know how all this will turn out, and I can think of scenarios where her death at this time may lead to a more progressive future, but she was a very great woman deserving of the most profound respect and admiration, who should rest in the greatest of peace.

Clearly Mitch McConnell hypocritically seeks to impose a Trump appointee before the election, or if not then, during the following lame duck session.  So far Romney (R-UT) and Murkowski (R-AK) have said they will not go along with this, but two more GOP Sens must step forward to block this. That may happen.  But if it does not, then the Dem senators must simply shut the Senate down, which I think is about the only thing they can do, given that the filibuster was abolished (by Dems)for judicial appointments. But I think they can simply bring the whole place to a halt, and it may come to that.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, September 18, 2020

Putting the CULTURE back in cultural Marxism

My previous postings on "political correctness" and "cultural Marxism" have from time to time brought inquiries from researchers into the right-wing calumnies against the Frankfurt School. I carry no brief for Herbert Marcuse or Theodore Adorno, although I do have a soft spot for Walter Benjamin, who was not formally a Frankfurter even though he hob-nobbed with them.

It so happens that one of my correspondents has written a brief essay defending the conspiracy theory that the Frankfurt School was a bought and paid for tool of the Comintern. The defense hinges on the fact that Frank Brooks Bielanski, who claimed "evidence" that the Institute for Social Research was a Communist front financed from abroad, was "director of investigations" for the O.S.S. and not some random F.B.I. special agent.

Oh, well, if the director of investigations said so... 

On the other hand, the argument reeks of appeal to self-styled authority. So who was this Frank Bielanski character? It turns out he was a private investigator both before and after World War II and before that a Wall Street broker. His investigative specialties appear to have been burglary and illegal wiretapping. He was also a G.O.P. dirty tricks operative. But enough of the character assassination. I'm not here to ad hominem.

UPDATE: Mr. Bielanski testified "off the record" in 1946 before a House committee under the pseudonym of "Mr. Brooks." At that time, he described his position with the O.S.S. as special adviser to the Security Office of the Office of Strategic Services. He described his employment before the war as public relations and, before that, an "ordinary businessman." He was brought to the committee by Congressman George Dondero.

What really fascinates me about Bielanski is his association with a coterie of cultural counter-revolutionaries that also included George Dondero, Michigan Congressman who railed against "Modern Art Shackled to Communism."

My apologies for only having the first page of this treatise. If you get through this and want more, you can always Google it. Dondero's indictment of modern art really, really puts the "cultural Marxism" meme in perspective. Alongside the Museum of Modern Art, Kandinsky, Picasso, Duchamp et al. surrealism, cubism, expressionism, dadaism, abstractionism (sic) &tc. the Frankfurt School's alleged assault on Western Civilization hardly amounts to a snowflake on the tip of an iceberg.

Reactionaries were against modernism before they were against postmodernism.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Au Revoir, Robert J. Samuelson

 For quite a few years not so long ago I was regularly posting here variations on "Today is Monday, so on the WaPo editorial page Robert J. (not related to Paul A.)* Samuelson is calling yet again for Social Security benefits to be cut," and he did indeed do that very frequently over a long time.  However, today was his final column for the Washington Post, so we shall no longer have RJS to kick around, sob! It was titled, "Goodbye, readers, and good luck - you'll need it."  There is also a letter to the editor from former publisher, Donald Graham, praising RJS and reminiscing knowing him as a freshman in 1962 at Harvard.  Graham noted RJS eschewed a nominal non-partisan position and studied and thought hard about his columns, even as Graham himself disagrees with some of RJS's long held positions, noting in particular RJS's longstanding support for privatizing Amtrak.  He also noted, as RJS himself stated in this final column, he is not an economist; he has merely reported on economics for a long time, starting at the Post in 1969 and columnizing on economics since as far back as 1977 in various venues.

I also disagree with RJS on privatizing Amtrak, although this is not a topic he has written much in recent years, although he did mention it in this final column.  I would argue that he has ignored that governments fund highways, which gives vehicles a competitive edge on trains, which governments do not provide or support.  So I certainly see a case for government aid to railroads, with Amtrak certainly one of the more heavily used lines in the nation.

I should note what RJS spent most of his last column writing about. He argues the biggest story of his career has been "the rise and fall of macroeconomics."  But then he turned to economists. Much of it is on the money.  He says some nice things about us in general: "With some exceptions most are intelligent, informed, engaged and decent." But then we have been wrong about a lot of things, such as deciding at various points that recessions will never happen again, although RJS admits that he did not recognize the housing bubble or foresee the Great Recession (some of us here or associated with us here did, but RJS largely ignored us). He also accurately notes that many economists take stronger positions than they might otherwise out of a desire for power and position in this or that administration, and also claim to have more influence on the economy than we do.  And then he notes the unwillingness of most to change their minds after a certain point, something he himself exhibited on some of his more strongly held views.  

Of course the one he pushed so hard for so long that I and some others of us bashed him for repeatedly was indeed his constant refrain to cut Social Security benefits, with a final swing at this in general terms in this final column: "From 2010 to 2030, the elderly's share of the population (65 and over) is projected to rise from 13 percent to 20 percent. Spending on Social Security and Medicare will skyrocket, and already is. Yet we have done little to prevent spending on the elderly from squeezing the rest of the federal budget."  So, there we are; it is Monday and yet again, if for the last time, Robert J. (not related to Paul A.) Samuelson is calling for cuts in Social Security benefits!

Of course this statement took its more general form, throwing Social Security and Medicare in together.  I must grant that this time he left them together and did not pull Social Security out separately as he did so many times in the past.  But this was an old trick: point at rising trends in spending in both, which we know are much more due to rising Medicare costs, which are driven heavily by longterm rising medical care costs in general, but then he would pivot to focus on calling for cuts in Social Security benefits.  This seem to reflect an old view that "nothing can be done about medical care politically" (despite Obama passing the ACA with much effort), but that somehow a compromise was politically possible on Social Security, reflecting a memory of Reagan and Tip O'Neill cutting one in 1983 with the Greenspan Commission, which raised taxes and cut benefits for Social Security.  The idea that another round of this was needed was pushed by Bill Clinton in the 90s, and several bipartisan commissions were formed to pull it off, but somehow they all ran into political problems. It became this established delusion in various VSP circles that such a deal should be made, and it has remained entrenched on the WaPo ed page with Fred Hiatt and others, not just RJS. 

I must note that while I beat up on him relentlessly over this matter, I have done so less in the last few years.  It is not that he changed his mind, but he wrote about it much less.  He noted in this final column that he is "repelled" by Trump, and so I found myself much more frequently agreeing with him as he would criticize Trump economic policies ranging from his "help the rich" tax cuts through his trade protectionism to his awful environmental policies.  He would occasionally reprise these old views to maintain his independence, but much more of this attention was focused on the Trump policies.

A final point he made that has me thinking personally is that a reason he gave for retiring now, even as so much is going on, is his feeling of being "a man of the 20th century, but we are now facing the problems of the 21st century, which demand new policies and norms."  This may well be a major factor for him, with indeed his views on Social Security really seeming left over from the 1990s.  As he is just a few years older than I am, it makes me think that the same could be said of me, perhaps.  But I did see the housing bubble and the Great Recession.  I think I shall stick around for some more time.

*Regarding people related to the late Paul A. Samuelson or not but with the same name commenting on economics, it should be noted that Paul's son, William F. Samuelson, is fairly respectable economist who has published on risk and auctions and some other topics, now an emeritus prof from the Management Dept. at Boston University.  He does not share the last name, but the prolific and prominent Lawrence Summers is Paul Samuelson's nephew.  There is also a non-relative, Larry Samuelson, a highly respected evolutionary game theorist at Yale University. In any case, Robert J. Samuelson is neither related to Paul A., nor has he been an economist, although he is probably a better non-economist economist than some others who pose as one, such as say Larry Kudlow.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Trump’s Law & Order = Ronnie Thompson’s Shoot First and Ask Questions Later

Summer Concepcion reports on something I find very alarming: President Trump leaned into his self-proclamation of being the President of “law and order” further as he appeared to approve of the “retribution” of federal law enforcement officers fatally shooting a man suspected of killing a pro-Trump supporter amid protests in Portland, during an interview on Fox News that aired Saturday night. After mocking Portland mayor Ted Wheeler for refusing Trump’s offer to send in federal troops to the city to quell protests, the President then turned his focus to the fatal shooting earlier this month of Michael Forest Reinoehl — a man suspected of killing a member of the Patriot Prayer group during violent clashes in Portland — by U.S. Marshals. “We sent in the U.S. Marshals for the killer, the man who killed the young man on the street. He shot him… just cold blooded killed him,” Trump said. “Two and a half days went by, and I put out ‘when are you going to go get him?’ And the U.S. Marshals went in to get him, and they ended up in a gunfight.” Trump called Reinoehl a “violent criminal” before suggesting that his extrajudicial killing was par for the course. “This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him,” Trump said. “And I will tell you something — that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.” I went to college in Macon, Georgia when Ronnie Thompson was mayor. Quinton David Palmer, a thirteen year old Macon child, brought this lawsuit against Macon Police Officers Roger Hall and Larry Foster, Macon Mayor Ronnie Thompson and the individual aldermen[1] of the City of Macon for his being unconstitutionally and unlawfully shot by Police Officer Hall on February 18, 1973 … RONNIE THOMPSON MAYOR CITY OF MACON GEORGIA 31201 June 19, 1970 EXECUTIVE ORDER FROM: MAYOR RONNIE THOMPSON TO: CHIEF J. F. FLYNT As you know we are receiving more and more threats from a few dissenting people who are interested only in violence. Anyone trying to cause violence in the City of Macon must be dealt with accordingly. People engaged in burning, looting, killing and the destruction of property, etc. must answer to the strongest reply available. Lawlessness designed to produce anarchy and the destruction of the City of Macon will not be tolerated. No policeman, no volunteer policeman will be asked to face the enemy unarmed. See that we have sufficient arms, ammunition and equipment. Those people engaged in lawlessness and anarchy must be stopped. SHOOT TO KILL! Mayor Thompson called this “shoot first and ask questions later” and argued this order should be carried out even if a person was merely taking a $2 shirt. Quinton David Palmer was a 13 year old black boy who was merely carrying a BB gun.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Bahrain-Israel Mutual Recognition

 This freshly announced mutual recognition follows the one between the UAE and Israel, which set a new pattern, with Bahrain and possibly others (Oman?) predicted to follow.  I am not surprised it was Bahrain that was next, although it may prove to be the only one.  There are several reasons why it was most likely to be next, and why we might not see Oman join in, although that cannot be ruled out.

I see three reasons why Bahrain was most likely to be next, although there are really two fundamental ones with the third arising from those.  The most fundamental one is that of the 6 members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), now largely in shatters due to the sanctions on one of them (Qatar) by several others (Saudi Arabia (KSA), UAE, and Bahrain), is the only one where a Sunni minority is ruling over a Shia majority, with the Sunni-Shia conflict a central part of the conflict with Iran that many of them have, with Iran run by Shia, of course, where they are a majority.  The Shia of Bahrain have been restive and rose up against King Hamad during the Arab Spring that began in 2011, only to be violently put down. But, unsurprisingly, the king and those around him are especially worried about the Shia and have strongly supported the anti-Iran coalition, which includes Israel. It is this alliance that is at the heart of the new round of recognitions, with UAE leader, Prince Zayed, arguably the leader of the anti-Iran group in the GCC, along with KSA Crown Prince, MbS, although due to opposition of the Saudi religious leaders who are concerned about the Palesrtinians, MbS himself is not seen as likely to follow UAE and Bahrain to recognize Israel, although there is clearly a de facto alliance against Iran between them.

A second reason Bahrain was more likely to be next is that it is more subject to US pressure as it hosts the home base in the Persian Gulf of the US Navy's 5th fleets, something rarely mentioned in the media, and has been since the 1950s. That dates back to when what is now the UAE was still being ruled by UK as the Trucial States.  On top of that Bahrain is the smallest of the GCC members and also is the one that has been running out of oil more than the others (all of them produce at least some oil).  In short, King Hamad is much more susceptible to US pressure to recognize Israel, although given his unhappiness with his Shia population and support for the anti-Iran coalition, he has been more inclined to go along anyway.

Another reason, which basically follows these others, is that Bahrain is indeed part of the GCC group that is sanctioning/boycotting fellow GCC member, Qatar, for its apparent unwillingness to join the anti-Iran coalition.  Indeed, Qatar and Iran have a joint deal for managing certain natural gas fields in the Gulf, and Qatar, which has the world's highest per capita income, also hosts al=Jazeera, which has reported on dissident movements in several of its GCC partners, another source of anger.  Of course, while Trump initially forgot about this as MbS and Jared Kushner pushed him into supporting the anti-Qatar sanctions, Qatar hosts a major US air base, so the US military did manage to get to Trump to back off overtly supporting the anti-Qatar boycott, although the US has failed to bring that conflict to a conclusion.

So, what about the other two members of the GCC: Oman and Kuwait?  I cannot rule out Oman recognizing Israel, but it lacks several of the elements one finds in both Bahrain and UAE.  One is that it alone among Muslim nations in the world is not dominated by either Sunnis or Shia.  The majority of the population and the leaders are Ibadi Muslims, an ancient sect of Islam, that is barely present anywhere else in the world. But that has allowed Oman to stand aside from the regional Sunni-Shia conflict, and indeed it has played a role as intermediary between the two sides.  It was through Oman that the Obama admin made its initial approaches to Iran when it started negotiating the JCPOA nuclear deal that Trump has since withdrawn from. It is also Oman that shares with Iran the crucial Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf.  As a result of this, Oman has not joined the anti-Qatar sanctions/boycott, although it is not as pro-Iran as Qatar seems to be.  Oman is extremely independent and proud of being so.  It joined the GCC to keep the Saudis happy, who organized the group, but it does what it wants.  It indeed has apparently had informal friendly relations with Israel, which may lead it to recognize Israel as part of its being friendly with everybody policy.  But it would not be doing so either as part of an anti-Iran alliance or to kowtow to the US, although it does not mind keeping the US happy as well.

As for Kuwait, it has long been at the top of per capita income among this group, having the second largest pool of oil in the world, one of the reasons Saddam Hussein invaded the place.  It has been surpassed by Qatar in per capita income, but it remains very high up there and is also fairly small, although bigger than either Bahrain or Qatar.  The problem for Kuwait is that it almost borders Iran, with just a small amount of Iraq between them (where the Shatt-al-Arab empties into the Gulf, the short river that is formed when the Tigris and the Euphrates come together).  It is predominantly Sunni and has a long history of friendship with the Saudi royal family.  But its proximity to Iran has it not wanting to join in the overtly anti-Iran alliance, in that regard being a bit like Oman.  Also, it has a large Palestinian refugee population, possibly up to a quarter of the population, and recognizing Israel is not something favored by that portion of their population.

So, it is not surprising that Bahrain has recognized Israel.  Oman might do so also, although I am not holding my breath on that one, and if they do, it will be to maintain their independent "friendly with all sides" approach rather than the kowtowing to UAE and US that is going on heavily with Bahrain.

Barkley Rosser

The Wit and Wisdom of A. Fauci

 From Woodward's book: Fauci says Trump's attention span is a negative number. 

By the way, is there any group organizing to raise money to pay the "poll-tax" that the egregious Florida Republican legislature and courts are assessing on ex-felons?  

Sunday, September 6, 2020

How Big Of a "Hoax" Is That "Dirty Dossier"?

 In the wake of the Atlantic story by Jeffrey Goldberg about President Trump reportedly referring to the dead Americans lying in the Aisne-Marne Cemetery near Paris as "losers"  and "suckers," along with a lot of other embarrassing things for him, Trump has called Goldberg a "slimeball" and that that this report is another "hoax" like "the dirty dossier" of Steele, along with "Russia, Russia, Russia" also being a "hoax," of course, despite the recent bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report further verifying that there was even more Russian interference in the 2016 election than the Mueller Report verified (105 meetings between Trump campaign officials and various Russians, with several of those officials then lying under oath about their contacts).  

Of course, Trump is on tape calling the late John McCain a "loser" because he was captured by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. I thought when he said that it would be the end of this then primary campaign, but it barely budged him a notch, the first sign of how he could get away with outrageous statements and actions that would do in other politicians.  But his base viewed McCain as a "RINO" traitor to their cause, so it was OK to diss him hard.  But now this new report is hitting Trump hard, especially given the widespread reporting of polls showing active military members supporting Biden over him and reports of retired Marines who has Trump signs in their yards throwing them in the garbage. The dead at Aisne-Marne did not run against Trump in a primary or contest for control of the Republican Party.  They died in a crucial battle that stopped the final German effort to conquer  Paris in the WW I.

So Russia was not a hoax, but what about that infamous Steele dossier?  Of course for those who get all their new from Fox, where Trump is also having a problem with their national security reporter supporting some of the Goldberg article, referring to the Steele dossier as "dirty" is a regular button to push to make the faithful sit up and bark their support.  It is like "Benghazi," something pounded on so often the faithful are fully indoctrinated that there is something there. About every other night Hannity reminds the suckers that it "has been completely discredited" and "was bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton."  

Regarding "being discredited," this has not happened despite various GOP congresspeople repeating this line endlessly in various hearings.  Indeed, well over 70% of it has been verified.  Most of it is true.  It accrurately reported on some of the activities of Trump associates later reported on in the Mueller Report and now the Senate Intelligence Report. But, of course, that some of that material appeared in the "dirty dossier" is supposed to be why we are not supposed to accept either of those reports.  

As it is, a few items in  it have been disproven.  Curiously most of those had to do with Carter Page, exaggerated claims that he was going to get a big payment from Gazprom, although he did in fact meet with their officials as reported in the dossier.  The FBI investigation of Page is indeed the one place where all the hysterical Trumpist conspiracy theorists have something: there were inaccuracies in one of the petitions for renewal of the  FISA application for the FBI to investigate Page, who had been investigated in the past for his activities with Russians.  The biggest blooper, not due to the dossier, was the failure of the FBI to note that Page had been used as a CIA informant, and one low level FBI official has been indicted for this Clinesmith, probably the only person who will be indicted, even though Hannity keeps calling for John Durham to come forth with his report and indictments of all the Obama/Biden people who were "spying on the Trump campaign," something that Trump himself has called "treason."  Barr has made it clear he will dump whatever there is onto us in in October, but as of now it looks like this Clinesmith messing with the FISA app is about all there is. In any case, the Page investigation was a bust and it was briefly supported by some erroneous material in the Steele dossier, but this does not amount to much.

There are other items in the dossier which the truth or falsity of remain unestablished.  The most notorious one is the item that caught initial attention when the dossier was first publicly revealed, the "pee tape" claim about Trump and some prostitutes. This was considered outrageous, but given that we have since learned that Trump has paid off prostitutes to keep quiet, this no longer seems like much of a big deal, and indeed there are apparently a number of observers who claim it probably happened.  So the item that makes the dossier "dirty" is probably true, but now who cares? and it does remain unverified.  But the bottom line remains that over 70% of it has been verified.  The claims that it has been "discredited" are simply false. But what is another lie coming out of Trump anyway?

On the matter of being "bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton," there is some truth to that.  The initial investigation of the possible Trump/Russia connection was initiated by the Jeb Bush primary campaign.  When he withdrew it did eventually come to funded by the DNC and the Clinton campaign.  But, in the end, this becomes a so what?  That in and of itself does not prove that what was reported in the dossier is false. And, indeed, a solid majority of what is in it has been verified, and the fundamental claim that the Trump campaign was operating in a cooperative manner, whatever wording one wants to use, has also clearly been established.  The "dirty dossier" is not a hoax, and "Russia, Russia, Russia" is also not a hoax, with them openly at it again for 2020, with Trump's flunky DNI Chief now refusing to testify before Congress on the matter, and specific allegations of such interference being made, such as Russians being behind a lot of the social media accounts of Biden supposedly suffering from dementia, poor "sleepy Joe," which increasingly looks to be just totally fake news.

So, sorry, Mr. Trump, this line of argument does not remotely get you off the hook for having called US war dead "losers" and "suckers."

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

What is Looting?

"Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance." -- Guy Debord, “The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy.”

The photograph used in Andy Warhol's 1964 print, “Race Riot” was taken by Charles Moore and was published in LIFE magazine in May of 1963. Warhol used it without permission and Moore sued. Eventually there was an out-of-court settlement. The scene depicted was not a "Race Riot" as Warhol's presumably ironic title claimed. It was a police attack ordered by Police Commissioner "Bull" Connor on a nonviolent demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama.

I remember these photos well because they appeared at the dawn of my political awakening. I was 15. The Warhol print sold in 2014 for $62,885,000. I had to stop myself when I started to type $62,885.00. I thought the latter figure was a lot of money. No, $62,885,000. 

The text in the LIFE feature where the Birmingham photo appeared claimed that Martin Luther King Jr.’s strategy of nonviolent direct action invited police brutality and “welcomes it as a way to promote the Negroes' cause."


Excuse me? Nonviolent protests invite police brutality? Where have we heard that legend before? Remember, though this was the voice of liberal journalism "sympathetic" to the civil rights cause. 

Sometimes a moment of clarity strikes when I see an absolute denial that there can be any justification whatsoever for some action or expression. This happened in response to the outrage provoked by an NPR interview with the author of a recent book that offered a defense of looting. Intuitively, I would consider looting to be troubling, frightening -- something I would rather have nothing to do with. But utterly, completely indefensible? 

The virulence of the rejections made me curious. I'm familiar with affirmative historical analysis of other "indefensible" actions. People may be familiar with the writing on rioting by Charles Tilly, E. P. Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Peter Linebaugh, Nick Blomley and others. But these focus mainly on pre-modern or early modern episodes. As a phrase in Hobsbawm's classic essay "The Machine Breakers" suggests "collective bargaining by riot" was seen by him as anticipatory of later trade union strikes.

I found the NPR interview somewhat flippant. Perhaps I'll return to that eventually. But in searching for affirmative analyses of 21st century rioting and looting I found some very interesting leads: Riot. Strike. Riot: The New Era of Uprisings by Joshua Clover, "Why is there no just riot theory?" by Jonathan Havercroft and, last but not least, the prophetic essay by Guy Debord alluded to in the title, "The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy." 

The latter article focuses on the Watts riot of 1965, which becomes eerily contemporary in the era following the murder of George Floyd. Just three weeks before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged the inevitability, if not the legitimacy, of riots as "the language of the unheard." Yet 55 years after Watts it remains politically obligatory to unequivocally denounce riots and looting as having nothing to do with legitimate, peaceful protest. Talk about your "political correctness" speech police! To even question this knee-jerk denunciation is seen as "glorifying violence."

'I Plan to Lead Another Non-Violent March Tomorrow' is the caption of a 1964 cartoon from the Birmingham News by Charles Brooks. Judging from a wider sampling of Brooks's work, he was a “moderate.” 

"In an early Gallup question on the issue, Americans were asked whether tactics such as 'sit-ins' and demonstrations by the civil rights movement had helped or hurt the chances of racial integration in the South. More than half, 57%, said such demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience had hurt chances of integration, while barely a quarter, 27%, said they had helped."

A couple of novelists from back in the day wrote some interesting observations about questions. In Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon wrote, "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers." "In the realm of totalitarian kitsch," Milan Kundera wrote in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, "all answers are given in advance and preclude any questions." Kundera went on to define kitsch as causing "two tears to flow in quick succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch."

There is also a kitsch of righteous indignation: the denunciation of the cowardly terrorist or, closer to home, of the rapacious extractive corporation. Or maybe it’s the $62, 885,000 sale in 2014 of an Andy Warhol print titled “Race Riot.” This is not to say that corporations are not rapacious or terrorists not cowardly for targeting innocent civilians. But those actions are at least explicable even if they’re not justifiable. Rioting and looting are commonly denounced as not only violent and "counterproductive" but as mindless and incoherent.

But what does all this have to do with environmental sustainability? As Joshua Clover points out, "It matters little whether one conceives of climate collapse as cause of refugees, or refugees the source of resource burdens. In the present world, immigration has become an ecological fact, ecology a matter of immigration." This is also true for racialized class stratification. Our present mode of circulation of commodities requires expansive policing, both of borders and of internal, "disadvantaged" communities. Mass incarceration is a feature of the Spectacle-Commodity economy, not a bug. And a print of a photograph of police attacking civil rights protesters can fetch $62,855,000. Sixty-two million, eight-hundred and fifty-five thousand U.S. dollars. And no cents.

It is logical to make legal appeals regarding legal questions," Debord wrote, "What is irrational is to appeal legally against a blatant illegality as if it were a mere oversight that would be corrected if pointed out.

Much of the conversation of environmental sustainability revolves around the question of how to educate and persuade consumers, policy makers or industries to act more intelligently and responsibly toward the environment. What if we are asking the wrong questions?

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Should We Fear A Reappearance Of Inflation?

 In today's Washington Post Robert J. Samuelson has raised the possibility that the Federal Reserve may be setting the US up for a reappearance of inflation.  He invoked the 1960s and 1970s when supposedly the Fed allowed inflation to get out of control out of a supposedly misguided effort to bring down unemployment by allowing successive small increases in inflation. Supposedly the newly released report on changed Fed policies may be taking us back to those bad old days, even though for now RJS admits that inflation is low, with expectations of inflation only at 1.34%.  How worried should we be?

OK, I am not going to say that a resurgence of inflation is impossible.  I can imagine it possibly resurging, with such a development perhaps being associated with a sharp decline of the US dollar, perhaps associated with a turn from its use as a reserve currency.  I do not see that happening immediately, but there is a theoretical literature that suggests that such an event could happen rather suddenly at some point.  If so, then maybe it could be happen.  Is the new Fed policy likely to bring this on?

I suppose one reason to be concerned is that the supposedly new policy approach has been rather opaque.  I have had trouble getting a clear picture what the changes are in policy. The main reports have been relatively undramatic, basically an idea that at least through the next year there will be no interest rate increases.  Probably a bigger deal is that the Fed might tolerate inflation higher than the 2% targeted rate.

But a curious thing is that a funny thing has happened about that target.  As long noted by Dean Baker and some others, that 2% is a target, meaning that supposedly that is what the rate should be on average.  If that is the case, then we should expect it to be higher than 2% as much as it is below that rate. But in practice it seems that the "target" has become an upper limit, and Samuelson essentially refers to it this way.  This makes for the rather weird outcome that a reassertion of what has long been offficial policy but not followed in practice should again be the official policy is somehow a scary threat of a possible outbreak of future serious inflation.  This becomes a rather absurd analysis.

Addendum (9/1): I note one area where we have seen rising prices is for food, with many people worried about that, indeed, I have just heard a poll showing this being the top worry of Americans during the current pandemic.  As it is, this seems to be at least one supply-side driven element in inflation that is out there, probably not so important for longer run inflation policy.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, August 31, 2020

Assar Lindbeck Passes On

 Assar Lindbeck died on Aug. 28 at the age of 90, probably the most influential Swedish economist of the latter part of the 20th century.  He was the main driving force behind getting the Swedish central bank at the end of the 1960s to establish the Sveriges Riksbank Award in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, a.k.a., the "Nobel Prize in Economics" (I get increasingly tired of the usual retreads who every fall remind us when the media refers to it by the second name that it "really" should be called by the official first name; we all know this by now). He was a professor at Stockholm University, longtime director of the International Institute for Economic Affairs, and in 1992-93 chaired the "Lindeck Commission," which laid out policy proposal for scaling back the Swedish welfare state, many of which were adopted after 1994.

In terms of his own contributions to economic thought beyond the matters noted above, I note that he wrote influential articles about insider-outsider labor market models, rent control (he was against it), and also on how an extensive welfare state system may lead workers to become shirkers, with this argument in particular playing into the recommendations of the Lindbeck Commission, which led to reducing health leaves and related matters in the Swedish system, although it remains among the most generous in the world, although now not as large as those in Denmark, France, Finland, and Belgium, to name a few.  Sweden is now the "liberal welfare state," not the largest or most extensive as it was in its heyday under Prime Minister Olof Palme before he was assassinated.

Certainly one can debate whether Sweden needed to scale back somewhat, and maybe it did.  After performing very well on multiple criteria from low poverty through low unemployment and inflation and low budget deficits for many decades, the Swedish model sort of went off the rails in the late 1980s, leading to serious macroeconomic crisis in the early 1990s, which was the immediate trigger for the government adopting the kinds of proposals Lindbeck advocated. It has performed better since, doing better than most European nations during the Great Recession, with having stayed out of the Eurozone probably helping, as well as using a very expansive monetary policy with negative interest rates, none of this particularly part of Lindbeck's agenda or suggestions.

I shall further note that it has long been argued that Lindbeck's motive for pushing for creating the Prize was indeed ultimately driven by internal Swedish politics and a desire to support the kinds of reforms he ultimately managed to get accepted in the 1990s.  Crucial in this was not just that he got the Prize established, but he became by all accounts the dominant force on the selection committee until the mid-1990s. about the time his recommended reforms were accepted, stepping down after an outbreak of controversy associated with the first game theory award for Nash, Harsanyi, and Selten.  More generally, it was observed, that with an occasional exception, the prizes tended to favor advocates of neoclassical orthodoxy, with this viewed as supporting the kinds of policy arguments Lindbeck favored in Sweden.

There are some oddities I shall recount based on gossip from primary sources I have heard.from.  So when I went to his Wikipedia page to double check on details of his career, it claimed that the award for James Buchanan in particular in 1986 was especially important for him as part of this general ideological agenda. Maybe, but I have heard otherwise.  Indeed, what I heard a long time ago, sometime before that award was made, from a primary source, was that Lindbeck had claimed at one point that there were two people who would get the Prize "over my dead body."  One was Joan Robinson, still alive when that remark was made, and indeed she never got it.  The other was James Buchanan.  So, assuming my source heard right, the award for Buchanan was not the result of some longstanding plot by Lindbeck to give it to him as part of his general plot to classically liberalize Swedish policy. Something came up, and from what I have heard from other sources (I used to have good sources on that famous committee, but no longer) was that it was the large budget deficits being run by the Reagan administration, which Lindbeck disapproved of and saw as roiling international financial markets, with the upward surge of the USD to 1985 driven by high interest rates creating havoc in Europe.  At the time Buchanan was pushing for a balanced-budget amendment to the US Constitution, basically a silly idea. But supposedly Lindbeck saw that as a way to send a message to the Reagan administration of disapproval for their high budget deficit policies, and this overcame whatever it was that had previously made Lindbeck so negative on Buchanan.

I have mixed feelings about Lindbeck ansd his recored and influence, but I shall wish him an RIP.

Addendum (9/1): Some might argue that Lindbeck's influence may be seen at least indirectly in recent policies in Sweden during the pandemic that have not been very successful.

Barkley Rosser

There Will Be No Postponing Social Security Taxes

 Among the items that President Trump issued an "executive action" about three weeks ago was that for people earning less than around $104.000 per year, their fica taxes were to be postponed until Jan. 1, not cut, merely postponed, although Trump made noises that if he is reelected he will simply eliminate the fica tax entirely, although unclear how he plans to fund Social Security without it.  

Anyway, Allan Sloan in the Washington Post reports that this initiative is now just completely dead in the water.  It has too many problems, too many opponents, and action on implementing it in the Treasury Department has simply stalled out, almost certainly for good due to all this.  Quite aside from people facing potentially huge fica tax bills in January due to four months of postponement, it apparently is very complicated to set this up, and would take many months to do so, involving businesses and the Treasury Dept. having to put in place all kinds of mechanisms to figure out exactly which people would get their taxes postponed and which would not.  A real killer is that businesses pretty much across the board have objected to this proposal, with this now official as 30 different such groups have called for the cessation of this effort through the US Chamber of Commerce.  This is just going nowhere.

This should be contrasted with the temporary fica tax cut that Obama had in place during 2011-2012. There are two large differences between that and what Trump has so incompetently proposed. One is that Obama had it pass through Congress, not be the result of a presidential directive or memo.  The other is that it was completely simple: all Social Security taxes stopped being collected for the period in question, not a system based on treating people differently based on their incomes and also not a postponement.  It was a straight cut, if only a temporary one.

An odd aspect of that Obama cut was that when it came to an end the GOP members of Congress were pretty near unanimous in voting to end it and bring back fica taxes.  Somehow this did not prevent them from continually ranting about supporting tax cuts and opposing all tax increases.  Of course it was technically not an increase but simply undoing a cut, but funny how something that raised taxes more on poorer people received their ready support as they argued for cuts for higher income people and still do.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, August 30, 2020

An Increasing Anomaly In The US Balance Of Payments

 On Econbrowser Menzie Chinn has posted about an increase in the scale of US international net indebtedenss. Since the late 1980s the US has been a net debtor internationally, borrowing more from abroad then we are lending and investing there.  The increase in this net indebtedness has noticeably accelerated since our current POTUS took office, and especially this year.  The size of that net indebtedness has gone from about 40% of US GDP to somewhat more than 55%, a pretty substantial increase, given that we have been in this condition for over three decades and in three years by more than a third.  The fiscal stimulus of this year has definitely been overwhelmingly financed by foreign borrowing.

This increase in net indebtedness highlights a longstanding anomaly that now looks even more anomalous.  Even though the US has been a net debtor for over three decades, it has remained a positive net earner on capital income arising from all those international capital movements into and out of the US.  This is mostly measured by the primary income part of the international capital account, which last year was in surplus at a bit over $60 billion.  What is more curious is that this does not seem to have changed much at all over the last five years, some slight changes here and there, but mostly unchanged.  I confess to being mystified as to how an increase in net indebtedness by more than a third has led to essentially no change in the capital income payments situation.

I have not gone digging to get the exact breakdown, but a few years ago it was clear that what was going on is that most of the US assets abroad are in business investments earning large profits and thus high rates of return on the investments, while foreigners are holding assets in the US earning much lower rates of return, most notably US government securities, the outcome of all that foreign borrowing by the US government over a long period of time.  The foreigners have been sending their money here as the "safe haven," an argument or motive that may be breaking down according to some.  So they have been willing to accept the low returns for the supposed safety, while US investors have been taking bigger risks but getting bigger returns as a result.

This all is clear, and maybe the super low interest rates on current US government securities are sufficient to explain why we have seen barely any change in that capital income balance, even as the net indebtedness has substantially increased, but somehow it would seem there must be more, with somehow the US holdings abroad becoming more profitable.  In any case, I do not have a solid explanation for this apparent anomaly.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, August 24, 2020

Remembering The Bombing Of Sterling Hall A Half Century Ago

 A half century ago at 3:42 AM on Monday, August 24, 1970, the New Year's Gang set off an ammonium nitrate bomb in the back of a Ford pickup track next to Sterling Hall on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  They were aiming it at the Army Mathematics Research Center, then directed by my later father, J. Barkley Rosser [Sr.]. However, they were notoriously the Gang That Could Not Bomb Straight and hit the physics department instead, killing a physics post-doc, Robert Fassnacht, and injuring several other people, as well damaging buildings even blocks away, aside from the major damage to Sterling Hall itself.  

Of the gang, three would eventually be apprehended and serve time in jail: the two Armstrong brothers from the east side of Madison, sons of an Oscar Mayer plant worker, Karl, the group's leader who was caught first and served seven years, and his younger brother, Dwight, who served three years and is no longer alive, with David Fine of Baltimore also serving three years.  The fourth member, Leo Burt, remains at large.

Last October I wrote an 8-page essay reminiscing about the bombing that contains details both representing my peculiar perspective as well as some tidbits not widely public information.  I am willing to send it to anybody who requests it of me.  It contains six parts.

The first and longest part is about my relations with my parents, with a lot of information specifically about my late father.  We respected each other personally, but disagreed politically, although I never approved of violence and thus severely disapproved of the bombing, as well as some personal mistreatment my parents experienced.

The second part recounts my own experiences on the day of the bombing, which is short as they were unexceptional, especially compared to many other people then (I was nowhere near it when it happened).

The third part, also long as the first one, involves a more detailed analysis of the AMRC and issues surrounding it.  This includes that indeed people working there, certainly including my late father, did work of the value to the US military, with some of it being used in Vietnam, the main complaint of protesters who wanted the center shut down or at least moved off campus. However, I also note that mathematics has many uses, both good and bad, and that some of the math developed there is also used in economics, including in such beneficial areas as environmental economics.  It is easy to say that maybe there should be a "good" math research center not funded by the military, but in fact when the military funding disappeared later, none other was forthcoming and the center simply closed.

The fourth part reveals that the wrong person died in the bombing.  Fassnacht was in the lab because the wife of his professor, the late Bill Yen, demanded that Bill stay home for domestic reasons.  Bill was supposed to be in the lab, not the unfortunate Robert Fassnacht.

The fifth part involves a later event, a mitigation hearing held in the fall of 1973 after Karl Armstrong was captured.  He plead guilty, but the mitigation hearing was officially about his sentencing, although it ended up being essentially a trial of the whole war in Vietnam, with famous outside lawyers participating such as William Kunstler. I offered to testify, thinking the judge was not impressed by all this, but one of the local attorneys said this was not needed. However, in the end, the judge imposed the maximum sentence of 25 years, of which seven were served.  After getting out, Karl Armstrong for many years ran a fruit juice stand near campus, "Loose Juice," and I got to know him.

The final section recounts a banquet in July, 1989 associated with a conference of old UW radicals returned to town.  At the banquet, which I attended, Karl Armstrong appeared and delivered an eloquent and unequivocal apology for what he and his gang members did, ranging from to the Fassnacht family to the anti-war movement, which the bombing severely damaged. 

There is much more detail I am leaving out in the essay, but I conclude this by noting that we have seen some protesters in recent months engaging in violence.  This event needs to be remembered as a warning that it is easy for violence to get out of hand and go too far and damage the cause that is supposed to be serving.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, August 21, 2020

Whining About Lack Of Academic Leadership

 At my so-called university named for the fourth president, the slaveowning "Father of the Constitution."  No, I am not going to talk about the racism issue, which there is some effort to deal with on campus, notably in renaming three buildings named for Confederate figures, with our Provost originally from South Africa speaking reasonably intelligently about that issue.

No, we had our annual general faculty meeting to begin the year, classes supposedly beginning on Wednesday, supposedly a mixture of live and online, although likely to go totally online any minute as Eastern Mennonite University also in Harrisonburg just went totally online and delayed student move-in due to an outbreak of the virus, and Facebook is full of photos of our students partying without masks and packed together on balconies. We will not be far behind on that one.

So many of my colleagues never attend these meetings, but when I have been in town, I have since I first started here in 1977, the year the name was changed from Madison College and there were only a third as many students as there are now.  The speeches are mostly full of party line rah rah baloney I have always had fun making snide remarks about to pals. But in fact I have long enjoyed seeing faculty from across campus, with this meeting increasingly the only time in the year one sees any of them.  I knew that was not to be this year with the meeting virtual, but another regular feature has been a speech by our president, with the current one starting his 8th year here, Jonathan R. Alger.  These speeches, despite usual propaganda, also usually do provide some information about new developments on campus, and there have been some not related to racism or coronavirus, not to mention relations with Richmond, important as this being a state school.

But, no, Alger did not speak except for a minute at the beginning to introduce the Provost. OK, I get that he does not want to say anything inaccurate, but there is much he could say that is not inaccurate, including being honest about just what all we do not know and is up in the air. But he chiekened out, a complete failure of academic leadership.  I am already down enough as it is with everything, but I admit that irrational as it might be, this failure of him to speak at all left me completely demoralized at the end of the meeting, which they did not even clearly announce.  The Provost stopped speaking and sort of said "have a good semester," with many of us watching still pictures for quite some time obviously expecting Alger to appear and speak, gradually dropping off. I hung on until the number dropped below 30, the old number of statistical significance, before I left demoralized and depressed.  I have gotten over that and am now just disgusted and ticked off at this complete cowardice and lack of academic leadership.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Kamala Harris Also Has An Economist Uncle

 Who I happen to know and who got his PhD in economics and computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  He is now being identified in the media as Gopalan Balachandron, which puts his last name first.  I knew him as a grad student when Kamala's dad, Don Harris, was on the UW faculty, and he was "Bala Gopalan" to all of us, a very witty and cosmopolitan guy.  When I saw him on the news, now 80 years old and living in Delhi and praising the selection of Kamala as Dem VP candidate, I was not sure it was him, but quick checking established it is.  I finally also remembered somebody bringing it up that he was Don's brother-in-law, only two years older than him, but he did not want to talk about it, this being when the marriage of Don and Bala's sister was going down the tubes.  

The news reports have it that when he was working most recently he was working for an Indian government-related think tank called the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis in its American Affairs section.  I also saw one report referring to him as "Prof." which makes me think he was an academic for awhile, but I lost track of him after he left Madison, except for hearing from a common old friend of ours in Chennai that Bala "works for the government in Delhi."  But I guess not anymore.  It strikes me that if Biden-Harris win, Bala might become an important diplomatic player.

It also strikes me that if Kamals's dad, Don Harris, continues to lay low and essentially not support her, I could imagine Uncle Bala getting brought in to provide some male family support.  I bet he could handle the media well. He is quite a character and very sharp as well as articulate.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The UAE-Israel Deal

 Several days ago the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel have agreed to have diplomatic relations, with this being the third Arab nation to officially recognize Israel, following Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. President Trump and his supporters are claiming that this is a great breakthrough to world peace, with Jared Kushner supposedly the key player on the American side.  But most observers think that this is an exaggeration, to put it mildly.  The standard summary is that this deal is a win-win-win-lose: a win for the US, UAE, and Israel, but a lose for the Palestinians.

Let me give the Trump people, including even the usually incompetent Jared Kushner, some credit.  They have managed to achieve only a handful of international agreements.  And given the long and difficult relationship between Israel and the Arab nations, it must be recognized that making such an agreement is difficult, so they deserve some congratulations, even if this is far less than what they claimed they were going to achieve, which was supposed to be a much broader agreement. But given the administration's strong tilt to Israel from the beginning, supporting moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the annexation of the Golan Heights, and supporting a plan that would countenance annexation of territories in the West Bank, it is unsurprising that the Palestinians simply withdrew from any negotiations being pushed by the Trump administration. There simply was not going to be that more general agreement.

Of course we must admit that there is a sort of gain for the Palestinians: the UAE leadership demanded a cessation of the Israeli plans to annex West Bank territories, thus retaining a smidgeon of a chance for the nearly dead two state solution that supposedly came out of the Oslo Accord. Of course, Netanyahu says this is only temporary, and he retains the plan to do annexation. But that plan is now on hold. But this is a matter of the good thing being a matter of Israel not doing a bad thing that Trump and Kushner were supporting them in doing. This is not something to get too into praising about.

There is also the matter that there was a lot less input from Trump and Kushner to this outcome than they would have us believe. This deal has been in the works for a long time. Indeed, while he did not make a big deal about it and was ridiculed by the Trumpisti when he mentioned it, Biden and Obama did play a role in the early stages of this. The initial openings between the UAE and Israel date as far back as 2013 with more definite moves happening in 2015, with the top people in the Obama admin aware of this and encouraging it.  From 2015 on there were Israeli businesses operating in the UAE, and the two have shared intel since from around then, if not earlier, mostly about Iran, whom they share an enmity towards.  The key player on the UAE side has been its top leader, Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) of Abu Dhabi. He is viewed by many as more important in Middle East matters than his junior sometime ally, MbS in Saudi Arabia.  While these two generally work together mostly, they have backed different groups in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia is apparently not likely to follow UAE on making an open deal with Israel, although rumors have Bahrain and Oman possibly doing so.

Will this deal lead to peace between Israel and the Palestinians or peace between Iran and its regional enemies or even a major relaxation between Israel and the broader Arab world?  Probably not, possibly even aggravating some of these.  But it may reflect public acknowledgement of the reality on the ground.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, August 15, 2020


Giancarlo de Vivo, Contributions to Political Economy, Volume 38, Issue 1, 2019, Pages 59–73,  LINK


This paper considers a largely unknown pamphlet, originally published anonymously in 1821, and assesses its place in the history of classical and Marxian thinking about value, surplus value and profits. It identifies its author and outlines his career and background in the context of nineteenth-century British politics.

"The pamphletist is a neglected economist—he is even absent from Seligman’s famous 1903 article "On some neglected British economists," which deals with many of his contemporaries, with the intention of rescuing them from undeserved oblivion. All in all, we can say that the pamphletist, even though not completely forgotten, has not received the attention it [sic] deserves if one accepts Marx’s claims on his behalf."


"We may last briefly comment on the fact that, apart from his grandson’s statement, no other grounds have been provided for assuming that Dilke was the pamphletist, and indeed this seems to be often taken with a dubitative formula when the attribution is noticed." 56

Friday, August 14, 2020

The End Of Special Fiscal Stimulus

 A week ago a two week long negotiation between Dem Congresspeople, Nancy Pelosi from the House and Chuck Schumer from the Senate and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who cut deals with Pelosi and Schumer three times earlier this year, but now Trump's Chief of Staff, former Freedom Caucus leader in the House, Mark Meadows, notorious for only destroying deals and never making any. And in this case all the reporting is that a week ago he "blew up" the negotiations, taking a hard line on orders from Trump. So, where are we at now?

For starters yesterday the Senate adjourned until after Labor Day. So, the market expectations that a deal will be cut soon are a joke. There will be no deal anytime soon, and maybe never. Many things have run out, whose impact has not fully arrived: end of extra unemployment, end of PPP assistance for small businesses, end of no evictions, and several other things.

Yes, there have been vague noises in the past week about restarting the negotiations, but they went nowhere.  Dems indicated that they were willing to compromise on many issues.  To pick a big symbolic one has to do with the total spending level.  Going into this the Dems were pushing $3+ trillion and the GOP was pushing $1 trillion. Gosh, looks like $ 2 trillion would be an obvious compromise, and the Dems have publicly indicated they would be willing to go to that, but, no, Meadows held the hard line, and, along with some other issues, such as a roughly $800 billion difference over state and local aid, which is clearly the largest chunk of this stalemate. As it is, Meadows left town and the Senate has gone on leave until after Labor Day.  No deal.

What is unclear if Trump and his incompetent advisers actually think that his "executive actions" put out 6 days ago will save the US economy or not.  I recently posted on that, but it needs some updating, but the bottom line is that, no, what he did last weekend will not stimulate the economy and even overcome all the disappearing fiscal stimulus from the deals earlier in the year, especially the increased unemployment benefits and the PPP aid for small businesses, not to mention evictions, the only matter out of 4 actions last weekend was an actual Executive Order, but it was an order that HUD "consider" changing rules so people will not be evicted, and, big surprise, HUD has done nothing.  I am not going to waste time by going through the details of his UI and Social Security proposals because they seem to have fallen into a hole and are going nowhere. The only item actually happening is that in contrast to my last post on that is that indeed interest payments on student debts will be put off until the end of the year, which is fine, but a very small matter.

So, the latest evidence is that indeed the former V recovery is indeed slowing down, with retail sales up only by 1.2% in July.  Many are now suggesting we may see an actual GDP decline into a "wiggly W" pattern, although  I am not going to pass on that, but that V is definitely flattening. 

But it seems that maybe Trump and Meadows foresaw that maybe their actions would not improve the economy. So their plan in that case is to blame the Dems for the bad economy outcome: hey! they did not accept our offer!  They seem to have forgotten, if they ever knew it, that the president is held responsible when elections arrive for the state of the economy, and certainly for other big events such as the pandemic.  Trying to blame Dems in Congress for the economy or governors, the media, the Chinese, the WHO, the scientists, or anybody else other than the administration for what is going on with the pandemic, especially given that all other high income nations have done better than the US, suggests that Trump and Meadows are completely delusional.  Hopefully the US electorate will not be so deluded.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Donald J. Harris And His Daughter Kamala Harris

 Now the Democratic candidate for Vice President of the United States, a historic pick, no matter what one thinks of her, and I know quite a few people on the left and Dems more generally who are not fans of hers, although many observers think she may be the strongest VP candidate for Biden to beat Trump and Pence, and I am looking forward to her tearing current VP Pence to shreds in their debate.

Anyway, as I have noted a few times before here, I have come to realize how old I am because I know parents of people running for president, and one of those happens to be the father of the now-selected Dem VP nominee, Kamala Harris, who was running for prez before she strategically pulled out early back in January, now an obviously smart move (and I do think she is plenty smart, whatever else one thinks of her).  I have never met her, but I know her dad, Don Harris quite well, although I have not seen him for some time now.

I first met Don in 1968 when he arrived at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I was in my senior year as an undergrad. I took Development Economics from him, and he had a serious influence on my thinking.  He was the first faculty member I had encountered who took Marx seriously.  Like his friend Joan Robinson, he is not a Marxist, seeing too many problems with Marxian theory. But he took Marx seriously and had us read people who had Marxist perspectives on colonialism and imperialism and how these issues affected poorer less developed nations.

Later as a grad student there I would take Advanced Macroeconomic Theory from him, and he was even on my committee briefly before he left for Stanford in 1972, where he was on the faculty until retiring in 1998.  He is still alive, and I think 82 years old, or so.  He did a lot of advising the UN as well as the government of his home nation, Jamaica.

Two papers by him that I think are important are his 1973 "Capital, Distribution, and the Aggregate Production Function," in the American Economic Review. In this he provided an excellent perspective on the Cambridge controversies in the theory of capital, and with Amit Bhaduri, "The Complex Dynamics of the Simple Ricardian System," 1987, Quarterly Journal of Economics. Besides showing his links with the neo-Ricardian school of Sraffians, it showed how chaotic dynamics can arise from that model, something of considerable interest to me.

An unfortunate matter is that apparent the father and daughter are not on particularly good terms right now.  Some of this may reflect actual political differences, with him probably to the left of her.  But most seem to think that it mostly has to do with the apparently bad divorce between Kamala's parents, with her and her sister going with their mother, who was from Tamil Nadu in India.  BTW, Kamala's sister resembles their late mother, while in fact Kamala looks like Don.

More recently there was a contretemps over marijuana, which Kamala supports legalizing, even though she put pot smokers in jail back when she was DA in San Francisco, even though she has admitted having smoked pot herself.  In an event in New York she was asked about this and said "Of course I am for legalization, I am from Jamaica" or something like that.  This upset Don, who is proud of his family background in Jamaica, which is quite elite actually, with him a very proper person personally, despite his leftist politics.  I do hope they overcome their differences so he can stand up for her, especially given that her mother is no longer around to do so.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, August 9, 2020

"Executive Oder" Versus "Executive Action" Such As A Memorandum

 Most o the  news media has reported that President Donald J. Trump has signed four "executive orders" involving extending unemployment benefits at a $400 rate, deferring (or ending?) payroll taxes for Social Security (opposed by both parties in Congress), extending a ban on evicting renters, and extending student loan deferments.  An important detail not mentioned in most reports that of these three of them are not actual orders but rather memoranda, which can count as "acrtions," that essentially implore others to do something that requires Congressional action in order to be done, basically the first two of these, or is already happening (deferment of student loans, although this is complicated).  Only one of them is an actual order that must be followed, the one regarding evicting renters, although all this order does is to make HUD "consider" extending the ban on evicting renters.  The order itself does not actually do it.  In short, these orders amount to a campaign list of wannabe actions, no actual real actions.

This is all obviously the brainchild of the incompetent and brainless Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, who is apparently incapable of making any deals and totally focused on the reelection campaign.  So he "blew up" the two week negotiations with Congressional leaders by most accounts by making rigid demands.  I am not going into details, but there were obvious compromises available, just to pick one on the total size of the relief package.  The Dems were proposing $3 trillion based on what the House passed months ago while the White House and some GOPs held to $1 trillion. Reportedly the Dems offered the obvious compromise of $2 trillion, but that was blocked by Meadows who simply made demands and warned if they were not accepted, Trump would issue "executive orders" to do what he wants.  But, as careful analysis shows, only one of these is ab actual order, and even the one that is an order that only orders a department to consider doing something.

Reportedly the final sticking point in the negotiations on Friday involved aid to state and local governments, which was a third of the Obama fiscal stimulus in 2009. I have signed a petition by economists going around calling for more such aid.  There was some in the first aid package, but it is pretty much gone.  Apparently the GOP offered $150 billion while the Dems asked for $915 billion.  There were other issues on which they were divided, but reportedly that was one there was no budging on.  Apparently the Trumpists still think that only Blue states are being damaged by the coronavirus and the bad economy. There are also reports that a major reason Trump has done so little to combat the virus has been that he wants to blame all the problems on the governors, somehow thinking it will only be the Dem governors (and mayors).  Little does he seem to realize that for better or worse people will be holding him responsible for how this all turns out.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, August 7, 2020

Interpol Supports Murder Charge Against MbS

 In today's Washington Post David Ignatius reports that Interpol refused a request from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) to extradite Saad Aljabri to Saudi Arabia from Canada in 2017. MbS had been trying to entice Aljabri to return and had arrested his children, who remain arrested despite complaints from the US government and basically the entire rest of the world. Aljabri was the top aide of MbS's rival, the former Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN), who was overthrown by MbS in a coup. Aljabri and MbN were highly regarded by officials in the US of several administrations, as well as orther governments, and apparently was personally responsible for blocking a serious possible terrorist attack in the US.  

After Interpol refused to extradite Aljabri from Toronto, MbS sent a crew to kill him. This was two months after MbS sent such a crew to Istanbul to kill and dismember Kamal Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post.  Aljabri warned the Canadian government they were coming and the team was detained at the Toronto airport, where they were found to have exactly the same implements that were used to dismember Khashoggi.  

Aljabri is now suing MbS in US courts for trying to kill him.  MbS has claimed that Aljabri stole funds, but Aljabri says this is a false claim.  Ignatius notes that MbS will have to produce his claims, and the big deal here is that up until now the Interpol report was not public.  They refused MbS's extradition request on this claim, and their report makes it clear that much lies behind their decision, including massive violations of human rights in Saudi Arabia by the murderer, MbS.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

The Disaster That Lebanon Has Become

It is now on the front pages with a massive explosion of over 2000 tons of ammonium nitrate in a warehouse near Beirut's port, with over 100 dead and thousands injured and possibly more than 300,000 displaced from their homes.  Juan Cole reports that this had been dangerously sitting there since 2013, when it was moved off the Moldavan Rhosus, where it was apparently unsafely loaded after having been on its way to make fertilizer in Mozambique. But thanks to entrenched corruption and dysfunction in the Lebanese government nothing was done with it while the freighter has sat in the harbor.   Now it has exploded.

Just to add to the trouble, President Trump claimed that some people at the Pentagon had told him that this was a bomb, and that Lebanon was under attack by somebody.  Juan Cole reports that many in Beirut took this seriously and think that attacker is Israel, where PM Netanyahu is facing a corruption trial and would love a foreign policy distraction to boost his popularity.  The Saudis have encouraged some reporters in Riyadh and Dubai to claim that it was Hezbollah that did it, the Iranian-backed group that is powerful in what is left of the Lebanese government and that was charged by Netanyahu recently of engaging in a border incident, although Hezbollah has denied this latter charge.

However, Beirut-based CNN reporters communicated with people at the Pentagon who apparently all deny that anybody at the Pentagon told Trump that it might have been a bomb or attack. Now SecDef Epper has apparently publicly piled on with this, denying that it was an attack or a bomb, although ammonium nitrate certainly has been used as a bomb, from Sterling Hall in Madison, Wisconsin a half century ago to the Murrah building in Oklahoma City about half as much time as that ago.  It is pretty clear now that Trump has baselessly hyped an unfortunate accident into a possible causus belli.

As it is, this highly destructive explosion culminates what has been an accelerating economic collapse triggered by a long-running political gridlock between the many factions involved in Lebanese politics, with these largely defined by their religious affliiations. This collapse has become life threatening, with Juan Cole reporting that as many as half of the children in the nation are facing hunger, with Lebanon not having had a famine since WW I when it was under siege as part of the Ottoman Empire.  Massive inflation has reduced purchasing power by a massive 85%.  Lebanon is defaulting on its huge foreign debt, with the IMF and France refusing to lend it any money.

The economic pain is especially focused on the large refugee groups in the nation. Lebanon's over 16 different identifiable ethno-religious groups of citizens number 4.7 million.  But there are now 1.5 million refugees on top of that from the Syrian war, and over 400,000 Palestinian refugees that have been there for over 70 years.  Given all this it is amazing that this collapse has not hit Lebanon sooner.

Given its long civil war several decades ago, it is easy to forget that once upon a time Beirut was known as "the Paris of the Middle East." Those days are long gone, and just to add insult to injury, the tourism industry has also now collapsed, with a bad coronavirus situation simply putting the nail in the coffin on that. Maybe this awful explosion will bring about responsible conduct by the entrenched and corrupt leaders (who have also faced long-running street protests), but the recent past does not provide much hope.

Barkley Rosser

Team Trump on Susan Rice as Biden’s Running Mate

Next to Joe Biden, Susan Rice may be the most qualified person to lead our nation back from the utter disaster created by our allowing Donald Trump to pretend to be our President. So what is this from the camp of the Liar-in-Chief? Trump’s aides and allies accuse Rice — without delving too deeply into the evidence — of helping cover up crimes for two of the president’s favorite foils, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, making her just the kind of "deep state" villain who could fire up his MAGA base. “She is absolutely our No. 1 draft pick,” a Trump campaign official said. I suspect Team Trump fears who Rice would be in a national campaign so they doing a classic head fake. Don’t fall for it. Dr. Rice has committed no crimes and everyone (except for those MAGA hat wearers whose brains have rotted by now) knows it. What’s this? Four years earlier, she faced allegations that she misled Americans when she announced on national TV that the fatal attacks in Benghazi, Libya, occurred after spontaneous protests in response to an anti-Muslim video. That was determined to be inaccurate. On Monday night, Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host influential in Trump’s orbit, opened his show with a lengthy diatribe about Rice and her role in the 2012 Benghazi raid — strikingly similar to the attack Republicans lodged against Clinton in the 2016 race against Trump. This Benghazi BS is false so why highlight the rant from the racist liar Tucker Carlson? And unfortunately this Politico story continues with one false allegation after another. The real beef seems to be that Dr. Rice ably points out the many failures of the Trump Administration, which gets Team Trump all “energized”. So what? Democrats are supposed to cut and run when Team Trump goes off on one of their patented attack campaigns? Give me a break. The Republican rants about the lack of resources for our ambassadors in Benghazi were always pure hypocrisy Leahy said: “House Republicans have wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on a partisan exercise. For that, and for blaming the Administration for failing to protect our diplomats, without acknowledging their own efforts to slash resources for embassy security, is pure, distilled hypocrisy.” BEFORE BENGHAZI: After Republicans took over the House in January 2011 -- before the Benghazi attack -- they proposed deep cuts for U.S. embassy operations and State Department programs across the board, including for diplomatic and embassy facility security. The House Republican Appropriations Committee cut $1 billion from the embassy security budget proposed by the Obama Administration in the two years prior to the Benghazi attack The Republican attacks back then were based on lies to shift responsibility from their own failures. Let the Republicans try this again and just keep reminding people about the true reasons for our current failures – the dishonesty and incompetence of Team Trump.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

From the archives: "The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties"

 With a minimum of editing or preface, I am reposting this one from February 2009. Next year will be the bicentennial of the publication this astonishing but undeservedly obscure pamphlet. One "event" that I am conducting to celebrate the anniversary is posting of around 65 questions that I have mined from the text. I hope that there will be others but that sort of depends on gathering a critical mass of audience.  
How is it that notwithstanding the unbounded extent of our capital, the progressive improvement and wonderful perfection of our machinery, our canals, roads, and of all other things that can, either facilitate labour, or increase its produce; our labourer, instead of having his labours abridged, toils infinitely more, more hours, more laboriously...?
Published anonymously in 1821, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties, Deduced from Principles of Political Economy in a Letter to Lord John Russell was, according to Frederick Engels, "saved from falling into oblivion," by Karl Marx, who, in published writings up to the time of Engel’s remark, had scarcely mentioned the pamphlet in a cryptic footnote in Volume I of Capital. Engels acclaimed the pamphlet as “but the farthest outpost of an entire literature which in the twenties turned the Ricardian theory of value and surplus value against capitalist production in the interest of the proletariat.”

For his part, Marx declared in his unpublished notebooks that the pamphlet was an advance beyond Adam Smith and David Ricardo in its conscious and consistent distinction between the general form of surplus value or surplus labour and its particular manifestations in the form of land rent, interest of money or profit of enterprise. In commenting on the pamphlet, Marx returned several times to what he upheld as the "fine statement": "a nation is really rich if no interest is paid for the use of capital, if the working day is only 6 hours rather than 12. WEALTH IS DISPOSABLE TIME, AND NOTHING MORE." Marx noted that Ricardo had also identified disposable time as the true wealth with the difference for Ricardo, however, that it was disposable time for the capitalist that constituted such wealth, thus the ideal should be to maximize surplus value relative to total output.

One of those citations occurs in Marx's Grundrisse, immediately after the following characteristically revolutionary proposition: "Forces of production and social relations -- two different sides of the development of the social individual -- appear to capital as mere means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material condition to blow this foundation sky-high." Indeed, in his reinterpretation of Marx's critical theory, Time, Labor and Social Domination, Moishe Postone placed the issue of disposable time at the "essential core" of Marx's analysis in Capital. Although Postone didn't emphasize the pamphlet itself, he highlighted a passage from the same paragraph in the Grundrisse that concludes with the pamphlet's "fine statement."
Just how successful Marx was in saving the 1821 pamphlet from oblivion remains to be seen. Obviously, the pamphlet was spared from total oblivion or I wouldn't be writing this. A copy of it was included in the microfilm Goldsmiths-Kress Library of Economic Literature. Routledge republished it in 2005 as part of a ten-volume collection of Owenite Socialism : Pamphlets and Correspondence edited by Gregory Claeys. Aside from the few references by Marx and Engels, there have been scattered mentions of the pamphlet but, to my knowledge, no sustained consideration, which seems odd considering the importance that Engels -- and in his manuscripts, Marx -- assigned to it.

Perhaps one of the difficulties has been the anonymity of its authorship. That problem would appear to have been resolved by a disclosure in the biography of the 19th century editor and literary critic, Charles Wentworth Dilke, Papers of a Critic, written by his grandson, Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke. The younger Dilke reported having found an annotated copy of the pamphlet, acknowledging authorship, among his grandfather's papers. Subsequent authorities on Dilke and on the literary journal he edited for [30?] years, The Athaeneum, appear satisfied with the plausibility of this attribution, given Dilke's writing style, his proclivity for anonymous and pseudonymous publication, his political inclinations and his subsequent career. There doesn't appear to have been any concerted effort to either definitively establish or to refute Dilke's authorship. So Dilke qualifies as the leading and, so far, only candidate for authorship.

If Dilke was indeed the author, this presents at least two rather significant bits of context to the pamphlet as well as several minor but intriguing ones. First, Dilke was an ardent disciple of William Godwin. The poet, John Keats, who was a close friend and next-door neighbor referred to him as a "Godwin perfectability man". He was said to have retained this political inclination throughout his life. Second, in his career as editor of the Athaeneum, Dilke campaigned famously against journalistic "puffery" -- the practice of publishers placing in literary journals, for a fee, promotional material for their books under the guise of independent reviews.

Both of these contextual items could be significant for an interpretation of The Source and Remedy precisely because the pamphlet lends itself comfortably to a reading as a Godwinist tract (rather than a pre-Marxist one) but also to a reading as a polemic against yet another brand of puffery -- political economic puffery. As for "turning the Ricardian theory of value against capitalist production," such an intention would hardly seem to fit an essay that on its closing page counts among the great advantages of the measures proposed therein that "their adoption would leave the country at liberty to pursue such a wise and politic system of financial legislation as would leave trade and commerce unrestricted [emphasis in original]."

The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties appears to have had something to say somewhat distinct from the message Marx took away from it. In his various notes on the pamphlet, Marx seems to have paid closest attention to the first six pages of the 40-page pamphlet and to have glossed over the rest somewhat disparagingly or with an eye to the arresting quote. In his discussion of the pamphlet in Theories of Surplus Value, for example, the reader may wonder if Marx is actually still talking about the pamphlet after a few pages or has gone off on a tangent inspired by the pamphleteer having overlooked the impact of unemployment on wages. It has to be cautioned, though, that Marx's extended comments on the pamphlet appeared in manuscript notes that were published posthumously. They are not polished, fully thought out positions directly intended for publication.

Although the first six pages are indeed interesting, in the context of the pamphlet as a whole their function is to set the stage for the crucial pair of questions that appear on page seven. That is, after deducing from principles of political economy that capital, left to its natural course, would soon do away with further accumulation, the author asks why that seemingly inevitable result has never happened and how it is that with all the presumably labor-saving wonders of modern industry, workers work longer hours and more laboriously than ever before.

Dilke's answer was that government and legislation act ceaselessly to destroy the produce of labor and interfere with the natural development of capital. They do this indirectly by, on the one hand, maintaining "unproductive classes" at a constant proportion to productive laborers and on the other by enabling the immense expansion of "fictitious capital," based ultimately on protectionism and government finance. Government does these things so that it may raise an enormous level of revenues that it couldn't through direct taxation of the laboring population, because "it would have been gross, open, shameless, and consequently impossible." Instead, it makes the holders of this fictitious capital "particeps criminis" in a stratagem to exact a much-enlarged revenue. As partner in crime, the capitalist lays claim to a generous portion of the booty. Not surprisingly, war is a "powerful cooperator" in this relentless process of destroying the produce of labor and expanding the claims of fictitious capital.

As for the "natural" claims of surplus value exacted by the capitalist, Dilke viewed it as causing the laborer "no real grievance to complain of," a position at least apparently at odds with Marx's views of exploitation and almost certainly incompatible with Engels' assertion that the pamphlet turned Ricardian theory "against capitalist production." Not only was Dilke not opposed to capitalist production, he described it as leading to a Utopian condition of freedom if only it was left to unfold according to its nature. In his note, Marx objected that the pamphleteer had overlooked two things in coming to such a sanguine conclusion about the trajectory of capitalist accumulation. One was unemployment; the other Marx never got around to specifying.

Dilke's reasoning, although thought provoking, is far from airtight. He confesses in his closing pages that his argument "is not so consecutive, that the proofs do not follow the principles laid down so immediately as I could have wished. The reasoning is too desultory, too loose in its texture." Whether such regrets are heartfelt or simply an obligatory rhetorical gesture of modesty is hard to say. The subject matter itself is elusive and no treatment of it could be exempt some flaws. But, nevertheless, the case he presents is an original and important one that has as far as I know been overlooked by Marx and his intellectual heirs.

The part of the argument that Marx appropriated to his own analysis -- the author's consistent reference to surplus value as the general form underlying profit, rent and interest was ultimately incidental to Dilke's main points that nature places a limit on accumulation and that the surpassing of those natural limits occurs only as a result of government intervention, which, in effect mandates excess exploitation of labor.

There is a problem that arises from Marx appropriating the (for Marx) correct premise of the pamphlet without first having systematically refuted the author's own deductions from it. What if Dilke's deductions were either equally or more plausible than Marx's? Rather than being a focal point of class struggle, might not surplus value then be "no real grievance to complain of?" Rather than underpinning a contradiction fated to blow the foundation of capital sky-high, might not the tension between "things superfluous" and disposable time have the potential to be adjusted like wing flaps to help bring capital in for a soft landing?

By things superfluous, I refer, first, to the unholy trinity of fictitious capital, unproductive labor and inconvertible paper money and second, to their commodified expression as luxury goods. What I am suggesting is that for Dilke it seems that the primary contradictions of capitalism (to use Marx's expression) lay not so much between capital and labor as between real and fictitious capital, productive and unproductive labor, convertible and inconvertible money, necessities and luxury goods. This internalizing of the contradictions recalls Solzhenitsyn's observation in the Gulag Archipelago that, "the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts." Might we not ask if it's not only the line between good and evil that passes through every human heart but also the line between labor and capital, proletariat and bourgeoisie?

From the standpoint of the arguments presented in The Source and Remedy, a proletarian revolution would be entirely unnecessary. Ironically, the non-necessity of the revolution would arrive precisely at the moment in which such a revolution would have become possible.