Sunday, April 11, 2021

Congress Steadily Degenerating

 I doubt this will surprise anybody, aside from those who might have hoped that Dems retaking formal control of both houses of Congress, if by narrow margins (with that margin shrinking in the House due to the 2020 election).  But I have a more direct source for this conclusion.

I received a visit today from niece and her family at our house about two hours southwest of Washington.  She is Erica Werner, a longtime reporter for the Washington Post who has covered economics issues that Congress deals with.  She has been high enough up at WaPo that when some of the major budget issues were being debated and passed, she was the lead author of the top front page story for several days in a row there.  She also covered the passage of the ACE at Congress back when that happened.  Anyway, she has been reporting on Congress for quite a few years and knows the people there inside out and really up close.

So she was visiting us because she is moving from Washington this coming Thursday, April 15, and was basically saying good-bye as well as having her young daughters see some family stuff we have.  She is moving to Pasadena where now widowed dad lives and where she lived when young. Will report for WaPo on various west coast things.  A major reason for the move involves family health issues I shall not get into here, but a loudly and publicly stated reason for the move is that she has declared she is "sick of Washington."

So during this visit I questioned her more closely on this.  One thing that really upset her was the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. She was fortunately not there when it happened, but apparently several of her colleagues who were there were severely traumatized, something that has not been reported on publicly, although we have heard about some members of Congress and especially their staffs that were.

But she admitted one more factor that has been building up. She has become disgusted with Congress itself, that it is getting worse and worse, just steadily degenerating.  Her bottom line: every time a member leaves they are replaced by somebody worse, and these new ones have been getting really bad.

So there it is, from somebody who really knows Congress up close.  It is degenerating to the point she wants nothing to do with it anymore and is leaving town.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Of Battenbergs, Brexit, and Brogues

 So, Philip Mountbatten, born Philip Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderbutg-Glucksburg, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Consort of the United Kingdom, and many other titles, died peacefully at age 99 on April 9 about 2 months shy of making it to 100.  I am not going to either praise him or poke at him, with his long history that contains many things on both sides of that open to judgment.  Certainly he was part of a colonialist monarchy, but them most of its empire broke up and went away during the period he was in his position in the British monarchy.  I am more interested in some related items, noting initially that all sorts of people will be making lots of silly tings out of this ,starting with Brian Kilmeade of Fox News who somehow has decided that it is all the fault of Harry and Meghan having their interview with Oprah Winfrey. Not.

I do not think it triggered his death, which seems to have been coming for some time and almost happened during his recent long stay in the hospital.  But I am noting the odd coincidence that the day before he died saw the worst outbreak of violence in Northern Ireland in decades, possible since the famous Easter Peace agreement came about, which led to a long largely peaceful period between the two sharply split communities in Northern Ireland.  What is sad to me is that I especially saw this coming as an outcome of Brexit since visiting Belfast four years ago, taking a train from Dublin to there and back, no notice of crossing the border at all either way.  We took a tour around the formerly "troubled" neighborhoods, now troubled again.  One does not hear much about them, especially given how quiet they have been for so long. But there are still high walls in places with unpleasant graffiti on them and numerous signs that the people on each side of those walls really do not like each other much and have sharply conflicting memories about what happened back then, even as all then were saying they supported the peace agreement.

An important part of that peace was that UK was in the European Union, which made it easy to have the essentially open border with the Republic of Ireland to the south while remaining part of the United Kingdom, the essential compromise underlying the peace, even as some on each side would prefer different outcomes or situations. It was clear as the negotiations with EU on Brexit proceeded that the Irish question was one of the hardest issues to deal with, and the compromise made has now led to unhappiness and renewed conflict between the communities, with teenagers on both sides engaging in conflict, although it seems to have started with Protestant Unionist ones unhappy with the creeping economic border between Northern Ireland and the rest of UK on the island of Britain in place to keep the border with Ireland open as it has been.  They see this as creeping towards unification with the Republic of Ireland, which has become more likely as the population balance has become more even in Ulster where in the past the Protestant Unionists easily outnumbered the Irish republicans.  It looks like the fears I and others had that Brexit could lead to the end of the peace agreement were unfortunately very well founded.

As for the Battenberg link, well that was what the Mountbattens were called in England prior to World War I, when their blatantly German name came to be an embarrassment, so given that "berg" in Germans means "mountain," changing the name to Mountbatten, with this accruing to Phillip's influential uncle, lord "Dickie" Mountbatten, of whom Prince Charles was reportedly very close to.  Lord Mountbatten was a high commander in the UK navy in WW II and helped arrange the marriage of his nephew to then Princess Elizabeth, who reportedly fell hard for him when they met in 1939. He took the name of his uncle when he became a British citizen on marrying her in 1947.

Anyway, Lord Mountbatten has an estate on the coast of Ireland.  He would be killed along with several other people in 1979 when he was on a yacht off his estate with them in a bomb attack by the IRA, probably their most famous and notorious such bomb attack.  The peace agreement had put all that sort of thing in the past.  But now we may be heading back to such things.  It is indeed ironic that this reappearance of the violence that killed his uncle reappeared on the day before Prince Philip died.

Barkley Rosser 

"...other enjoyments, of a purer, more lasting, and more exquisite nature."

A defense of Weber's Protestant Ethic thesis from the 1940s by Ephraim Fischoff makes the plausible argument that critics -- and many supporters -- of Weber's essay attached unwarranted causality to it, as if "Calvinism caused capitalism." Instead, Fischoff explained:

Weber's thesis must be construed not according to the usual interpretation, as an effort to trace the causative influence of the Protestant ethic upon the emergence of capitalism, but as an exposition of the rich congruency of such diverse aspects of a culture as religion and economics.

Fair enough. Then along comes Colin Campbell 43 some odd years later talking about the Other Protestant Ethic. It was Campbell's intention in The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Consumerism to update Weber and to fill in what he saw as a significant gap in Weber's thesis -- his failure to account for new consumer attitudes, which Campbell traced back to Sentimentalism and Romanticism, both adaptations of Protestantism. 

If my brief summary doesn't do justice to Campbell's analysis, it is only because his evocative chapter title, "The Other Protestant Ethic" at once evokes and forecloses the possibility of two, three, many Protestant Ethics. Campbell is conspicuously silent on the labour movement, whose conservative motto, "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work," expressed both a work ethic and a consumer ethic. Nor does Campbell mention the radical, socialist and anarchist cults, sects and movements who proudly wore their Protestantism on their sleeves.

Those two omissions are all the more glaring in that the Romanticism Campbell does feature was deeply implicated in both of them. Campbell spends several pages in an analysis of William Wordsworth's preface to the 1802 second edition of his Lyrical Ballads, in which Wordsworth inserted an "Easter egg" of biblical proportions that serves as the title of this post. Wordsworth's "enjoyments... of a more exquisite nature" is almost certainly an appropriation of or allusion to William Godwin's argument about commodities, labour, and leisure from his essay, "Of Avarice and Profusion" in The Enquirer:

The commodities that substantially contribute to the subsistence of the human species form a very short catalogue: they demand from us but a slender portion of industry. If these only were produced, and sufficiently produced, the species of man would be continued. If the labour necessarily required to produce them were equitably divided among the poor, and, still more, if it were equitably divided among all, each man's share of labour would be light, and his portion of leisure would be ample. There was a time when this leisure would have been of small comparative value: it is to be hoped that the time will come, when it will be applied to the most important purposes. Those hours which are not required for the production of the necessaries of life, may be devoted to the cultivation of the understanding, the enlarging our stock of knowledge, the refining our taste, and thus opening to us new and more exquisite sources of enjoyment. It is not necessary that all our hours of leisure should be dedicated to intellectual pursuits; it is probable that the well-being of man would be best promoted by the production of some superfluities and luxuries, though certainly not of such as an ill-imagined and exclusive vanity now teaches to admire; but there is no reason in the system of the universe or the nature of man, why any individual should be deprived of the means of intellectual cultivation.

Incidentally, Godwin's daughter, Mary Shelley, quoted the first five sentences of that passage in her notes to Percy Shelley's poem, Queen Mab. The passage is consistent with Godwin's argument in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, in which, as William Stafford mentioned, "[t]he Calvinist doctrine of the calling can be discerned just below the surface..." But it wasn't Calvin's doctrine, it was Godwin's updating and reformulation of the doctrine. In Godwin's version, work and leisure were to have equal status, a point Godwin made explicit in his Thoughts on Man

The river of human life is divided into two streams; occupation and leisure—or, to express the thing more accurately, that occupation, which is prescribed, and may be called the business of life, and that occupation, which arises contingently, and not so much of absolute and set purpose, not being prescribed: such being the more exact description of these two divisions of human life, inasmuch as the latter is often not less earnest and intent in its pursuits than the former.

If Godwin's post-Calvinist ethic is implicated in Romanticism -- which it obviously is, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, to name a few -- it is even more so in the emerging labour movement of the 19th century and, most strikingly, in Marx's analysis of surplus value and disposable time through the intermediary of Charles Wentworth Dilke's The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties

The passage from Marx's Grundrisse that cited Dilke's pamphlet explained how capital both potentially enables but actually impedes the creation of socially available free time for "the cultivation of the understanding, the enlarging our stock of knowledge, the refining our taste, and thus opening to us new and more exquisite sources of enjoyment":

Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary. On the one side, then, it calls to life all the powers of science and of nature, as of social combination and of social intercourse, in order to make the creation of wealth independent (relatively) of the labour time employed on it. On the other side, it wants to use labour time as the measuring rod for the giant social forces thereby created, and to confine them within the limits required to maintain the already created value as value. Forces of production and social relations – two different sides of the development of the social individual – appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high. ‘Truly wealthy a nation, when the working day is 6 rather than 12 hours. Wealth is not command over surplus labour time’ (real wealth), ‘but rather, disposable time outside that needed in direct production, for every individual and the whole society.’ (The Source and Remedy etc. 1821, p. 6.)

Fischoff's defense of Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism that I mentioned earlier characterized Weber's essay as a "conscious reaction to the Marxian hypothesis" and thus considered it understandable that Weber would "overstress the consistency and efficacy of ideal factors." What Weber could not have have known, though, was how precisely those "ideal factors" were every bit as much involved in the "Marxian hypothesis" as they were in the capitalist spirit -- if not more so.

In the conclusion of The Romantic Ethic and the Spirit of Consumerism, Colin Campbell highlighted a phenomenon he referred to as "the irony of social action." "Neither the first Romantics, nor their successors in subsequent decades, ever intended to grant legitimacy to modern consumerism or to that spirit of self-interested hedonism upon which it is based." When I hear the word "irony," I reach for my invisible hand (with my other invisible hand). Irony is a trope, a form of expression, not something that "nature" or "the gods" do to humiliate people for their pretensions. 

When actions have unintended consequences, it is not because of some celestial law of irony. It is because human motives and actions are intrinsically ambivalent. The ambivalence of social action is a proper subject for analysis. The irony of social action is a smug, reactionary sneer masquerading as wisdom of the ages.

The proverbial "work ethic" of the late 1960s and early 1970s (which is still with us) can best be understood as an ambivalent response by both hippies and hippie-punchers to the simultaneous eclipse of post-war full employment and the "Borrow. Spend. Buy. Waste. Want." consumer society Affluenza. The confusion between irony and ambivalence is almost certainly because satire and irony are the literary forms used to call attention to ambivalence, especially in its more unsavory manifestation as hypocrisy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

How To Estimate "Rational" Market Expectations Of Future Inflation

 I am not a fan of rational expectations, hence the quotation marks around "rational" in the subject head here.  Nevertheless I have become aware thanks to some posts at Econbrowser by the intrepid Menzie Chinn that the usual way this has been measured and reported by most people needs to be modified, with the understanding of this only developing quite recently.  This came from a paper in 2018 by some Fed Board of Governors economists: S. D'Amico, D.H. Kim, and M. Wei, (although Menzie refers to it as the "DKKW model"), "Tips from TIPS: The Informational Content of Treasury Inflation-Protected Inflation Securities," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, 2018, 53(1), 395-436. 

For a given time-horizon, it has been conventional for those estimating such a "rational" market forecast of expected inflation to take the appropriate Treasury security nominal yield of that time horizon (say 5 years) and simply subtract from it the yield on the same time horizon TIPS, which covers security holders for inflation.  So it has long looked like this difference is a pretty good estimate of this market expectation of inflation, given that TIPS covers for it while the same time horizon Treasury security does not.

Well, it turns out that there are some other things involved here that need to be taken account, one for each of these securities.  On the Treasury side, it turns out that the proper measure of the expected real yield must take into account the expected time path of shorter term yields up to that time horizon.  This time path has associated with it a risk regarding the path of interest rates throughout the time period.  This is called the Treasury risk premium, or trp.  It can be either positive or negative, with it apparently having been quite high during the inflationary 1979s.

The element that needs to be taken into account with respect to the TIPS is that these securities are apparently not as liquid in general as regular Treasury securities, and the measure of this gap is the Liquidity premium, or lp.  This was apparently quite high when these were first issues and also saw a surge during the 2008-09 financial crisis.  In principle this can also be of either sign, although has apparently been positive.

Anyway, the difference between the nominal T security yield and the appropriate TIPS yield is called the "inflation breakeven," the number that used to be focused on as the measure of market inflation expectations.  But the new view is that this must be adjusted by adding (tpr - lp).

In a post just put up on Econbrowser by Menzie the current inflation breakeven for five years out is 2.52%. But according to Menzie the current (tpr - lp) adjustment factor is -0.64%.  So adding these two together gives as the market expected inflation rate five years from now of 1.88%, although Menzie rounded it out to 1.9%.

If indeed this is what we should be looking at it says the market is not expecting all that much of an increase in the rate of inflation from its current 1.7% five years from now. The Fed and others are looking at a short term spike in prices this year, but the market seems to agree with their apparent nonchalance (shared by Janet Yellen) that this will wain later on, with that expected 5 year rate of inflation still below the Fed's target of 2%.

Certainly this contrasts with the scary talk coming from Larry Summers and Olivier Blanchard, not to mention most GOP commentators, regarding what the impact of current fiscal policies passed and proposed by Biden will do to the future rate of inflation.  Not a whole lot, although, of course, rational expectations is not something that always forecasts all that well, so the pessimists might still prove to be right.

Barkley Rosser

The Hippie Dog Whistle Work Ethic Silent-Majority Counter-Offensive

Following up on my last post, I was searching for coverage of Ronald Reagan's infamous "strapping young buck" comment from 1976 and found this wonderful commentary by Ian Haney López on Bill Moyers's show.

In his book, Dog Whistle Politics, López mentions the "work ethic" angle several times.

The narratives promoted alike by the ethnic turn and racial-demagogues—a lack of work ethic, a preference for welfare, a propensity toward crime, or their opposites— reinvigorated racial stereotypes, giving them renewed life in explaining why minorities lagged behind whites.... they became the staples of political discourse, repeated ad nauseam by politicians, think tanks, and media.

 ...

In accord with the stories spun by dog whistle politicians, many whites have come to believe that they prosper because they possess the values, orientations, and work ethic needed by the self-making individual in a capitalist society. In contrast, they have come to suppose that nonwhites, lacking these attributes, slip to the bottom, handicapped by their inferior cultures and pushed down by the market’s invisible hand, where they remain, beyond the responsibility, or even ability, of government to help. 

...

Many older whites nostalgically pine for the days when a solid work ethic meant a good job, a decent home, a new car every few years, an affordable college education for the kids, and a nice vacation by the lake or seashore every August.

Dog whistle politics (as opposed to overt racist rhetoric) got its start with George Wallace's 1968 presidential campaign. Wallace addressed his speeches to the proverbial hard-working, tax-paying, church-going, law-abiding, gun-toting patriotic citizen:

You people work hard, you save your money, you teach your children to respect the law. Then when someone goes out and burns down half a city and murders someone, pseudo-intellectuals explain it away by saying the killer didn’t get any watermelon to eat when he was ten years old.

As far as I can determine, though, the phrase "work ethic" never crossed George Wallace's lips during his 1968 campaign. If it happened, it wasn't reported. If it was reported, it wasn't archived anywhere I could find it. It would be surprising if Wallace did use the phrase in 1968. It wasn't a huge vernacular term.

Understandably, perhaps, some readers are ignoring the specificity of my argument. It is not about Weber's theory or Luther's or Calvin's doctrine of calling or predestination. It is about the usage, particularly the vernacular usage of the term, "work ethic" as a synonym and/or substitute for Weber's "Protestant ethic." Unless preceded by the modifier "Protestant" or "Puritan," the work ethic is explicitly not Weber's theory. Weber was seeking specifically to differentiate between the beliefs and behaviors of Protestants and Catholics. 

In his 1971 appeal to the presumably traditional American work ethic, Nixon was seeking to appeal especially to Italian, Polish, Irish, etc. "ethnics" who were exactly the opposite of the people Weber was talking about. As Nixon said, "Keep religion out of it." Well, if you "keep religion out" of the Protestant ethic, it no longer has anything to do with Weber's theory. The Protestant ethic and the work ethic are not synonyms.

Nixon was not the first to put the words "work" and "ethic" together in a single phrase without the religious modifier. But before Labor Day, 1971 the usage was sparse. Usage was sparse enough to permit examination of each time the phrase was used in a journal or newspaper. 

There is one instance that stands out. In a Nation article published in April, 1968, Roszak took "good liberal" Hans Tuch to task for invoking "the Protestant work ethic to give the hippies a fatherly tongue-lashing..." Note the residual Protestant modifier. Tuch, in turn, had cited (disparagingly) a Time magazine essay from July 30, 1967 in which the author had mused:

What offends, perplexes and yet also beguiles the straight sector is hippie-dom’s total disregard for approbation or disapproval. “Do your own thing,” they say, and never mind what anyone else may think or do. Yet this and many hippie attitudes represent only a slight and rather engaging distortion of the Protestant Ethic that they purport to reject.

In a March 11, 1969 memorandum to President Nixon, Daniel Moynihan lamented the "emotional strain for people who may still share a Southern Protestant outlook about the work ethic." The context for this remark was survey research showing a very high concurrence among welfare recipients toward the work ethic. Note that three words intervene between Protestant and work ethic. "Keep religion out of it."

Notice that there are two distinct threads that are being woven into a narrative. One is the disdain for, critique of, or "slight and rather engaging distortion" of the Protestant (work) Ethic. The other is a large number of destitute people who depend on welfare but who subscribe to the (Protestant) work ethic. 

Nixon: "We see some members of disadvantaged groups being told to take the welfare road rather than the road of hard work, self-reliance, and self-respect."

Hard work, work hard. hard-working... What's ethic got to do with it? Ethics have to do with morality. Ethical people are good, unethical people are bad. For Weber, Protestants worked hard because of their ethics. For the audiences conjured by Wallace and Nixon, was it that people were good because they worked hard? No. The point was that people they felt hostile toward (hippies, Blacks, protesters, intellectuals) deserved to be punished because they were bad people attacking morality. 

Nixon: "Recently we have seen that work ethic come under attack."

Good Signs On Renewing US-Iran JCPOA Nuclear Deal

 One should probably not get too optimistic yet, although I have been getting quite worried about it, but a report in today;s New York Times seems to indicate that via the rather indirect negotiations going on in Vienna the US and Iran may have worked out a mutually acceptable path of actions that will lead to both nations getting back into compliance with the JCPOA, which the US pulled out of for no good reason in 2018 due to former President Trump.  President Biden has said he intended to get back into the deal, and after a bunch of delays, it looks like it might actually be happening before the forthcoming Iranian presidentrial election in June, thought likely to lead to the replacement of current Iran President Rouhani, who negotiated the original deal in 2015, with somebody likely to take a harder line. So, about time.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The "Work Ethic" Hoax

The story has been told that Martin Luther invented the doctrine of the "calling" and that John Calvin ("my friends call me Jean") intensified it with his doctrine of predestination. Subsequent pastoral literature softened the predestination blow with the Protestant ethic that working hard and succeeding would show that you were one of the elect. Max Weber told that story. 

It was, of course, a fable. But that is beside the point. Max Weber's fable wallowed in relative academic obscurity and sports clichés until... [wait for it]... 1971 when Dick Nixon dusted it off as a cudgel to bludgeon those folks driving around in their Welfare Cadillacs -- we all know who they are -- and the nattering nabobs of negativism enabling them. Pure backlash dog whistle. 

“Keep religion out of it,” Nixon told a speechwriter who labeled it “the Protestant ethic” for a Labor Day address in 1971, “Let's just call it the work ethic.”

I would like you to join me in exploring one of the basic elements that gives character to a people and which will make it possible for the American people to earn a generation of prosperity in peace.

Central to that character is the competitive spirit. That is the inner drive that for two centuries has made the American workingman unique in the world, that has enabled him to make this land the citadel of individual freedom and of opportunity.

The competitive spirit goes by many names. Most simply and directly, it is called the work ethic.

As the name implies, the work ethic holds that labor is good in itself; that a man or woman at work not only makes a contribution to his fellow man but becomes a better person by virtue of the act of working.

That work ethic is ingrained in the American character. That is why most of us consider it immoral to be lazy or slothful-even if a person is well off enough not to have to work or deliberately avoids work by going on welfare.

That work ethic is why Americans are considered an industrious, purposeful people, and why a poor nation of 3 million people, over a course of two centuries, lifted itself into the position of the most powerful and respected leader of the free world today.

Recently we have seen that work ethic come under attack. We hear voices saying that it is immoral or materialistic to strive for an ever-higher standard of living. We are told that the desire to get ahead must be curbed because it will leave others behind. We are told that it doesn't matter whether America continues to be number one in the world economically and that we should resign ourselves to being number two or number three or even number four. We see some members of disadvantaged groups being told to take the welfare road rather than the road of hard work, self-reliance, and self-respect.

The New York Times was on to the hustle:

But the chattering classes couldn't resist the work ethic mantra -- pro or con.



The Death Of Yeshua Bin Yusuf

Or if you prefer, "bin Miriam," although no way he would have ever been called that in his life, but near as I know "Yeshua bin Yusuf" ("Jesus son of Joseph") was probably how he was most frequently identified in real life in the Aramaic language he mostly operated in, his mother tongue. It has been reported that he knew Hebrew, then strictly a liturgical language, given the reports of him at age 12 discoursing seriously with priests at the temple in Jerusalem. Greek was the lingua franca for business and ultimately the language the New Testament was written in where he was labeled "Iesos Christos," translated into English as "Jesus Christ."

When he was crucified, almost certainly the only clearly documented event of his life beyond the Bible, thanks to Josephus, all of the four Gospels have it in super capitalized letters what they put over his head approved of by the local Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, was "KING OF THE JEWS" (all four gospels in the King James version have this in full capital letters as I have written, with variations across them in specifics, but all including this). We do not know which language was put on the sign he carried to Golgotha, but the Gospel of John, who was supposedly an eyewitness, says that this declaration was made in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, curiously none of these the language he or most of the local population actually spoke in their homes.

Here is the hard core line from me: this guy really lived and most of what he said is for real. The one thing we know for almost sure is that he was crucified in Jerusalem, as reported by Josephus.  This was a major public event.  I happen to think that once people are dead that is it, so, I do not get excited about the supposed "resurrection." If that is the bottom line on being a "Christian," I am not one.

But I have now been twice to what is almost certainly the site of his crucifixion in Jerusalem in the very weird Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It really happened and probably there. What happened after that looks to be up for grabs.

So, whatever one thinks about his death or later events, he presented a serious moral vison, which included multiple appeals for charity for the poor, along with his disruption of the money changers in the temple in Jerusalem, which may have fed in to the local interests supporting shutting him down.

Things Yeshua bin Yusuf never said a word about:

abortion

sexual identity or preference

guns

As it is scholars note that the Qur'an has far more references to charity for the poor than does either book of the King James version of the Bible. This is true.

Bottom line is that I take seriously that this clearly world-historical individual died a horrific death on a cross, a form of execution I am glad we have moved beyond. Given the many wise and moral things he is reported to have said, I regret that he had to die in such an awful way.

So, getting to current commentary on this long ago event, I note Michael Gerson's column in yesterday's WaPo (the appropriate date). He focused on the positive remarks of Yeshua on his death, which appear in Luke, a gospel written by a Greek follower of  Paul long after the actual events. This included two items long and widely repeated, although probably not actually said by Yeshua.

I nw provide the last words Yeshua said on the cross according to the four Gospel versions in the seriously flawed but magnificent King James version:

Gospel of Matthew: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani."

Gospel of Mark: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabacthani."

Gospel of Luke: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit."

Gospel of John: "It is finished."

I note that of these accounts, while John was supposedly an eyewitness, his gospel is viewed as the latest written, and the one more widely disagreeing with various consensuses of the former. Mark is supposed the oldest of them while Matthew was written to please Jewish readers. 

A bottom line is that "lama sabachthani" is Aramaic, one of the very few places in any gospel that the language in the New Testament. All translations of that passage are minor variations on the KJV "My God, why hast thou forsaken me."

Michael Gerson, in WaPo, is just out of it in pushing the almost-certainly inaccurate Luke versions of this, even as he admits the existence of the grimmer laba sabachtani version. Gerson understands that this harder line version of what Yeshua said at the end is a serious competitor to his less creditable and more nicey-nice version of the whole thing.

Whatever the reality of the above, I respect the hard death we know for near certain happened this person who probably mostly went by the name, "Yeshua bin Jusuf" (Jesus son of Joeph, not "the son of God," who, after all, let Yeshua down in the end. 

Happy Easter, you all who celebrate it.

Barkley Rosser

Barkley Rosser

 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Iran-China Deal

 Yes, this 25-year deal is a big deal, just recently signed and not getting much attention in the US media.  Juan Cole has called it the most important deal involving China and the Middle East since the days of the Mongol Empire in the 1200s, when both what was then Persia and China were actually under the same ruler.  This $400 billion deal was signed on the 50th anniversary of the opening of diplomatic relations between Iran (then under the rule of the Shah) and the Peoples' Republic of China (then under the rule of Mao Zedong). Cole identifies this deal as a "slap in the face" to the United States, or at least a clear sign of the limits of US power in the Middle East, with China stepping forward as a strong long haul rival.

I note only two points here.  One is that on the one hand this is certainly a repudiation of US policy regarding Iran in recent years.  It may be that its signing at this moment is a response to the failure so far by the new Biden administration to follow through on his campaign promise to rejoin the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran. That really should not have been all that hard, but it increasingly seems that this simple matter has gotten bogged down in extraneous demands by neocons in the Biden administration, with both the US and Iran now having gotten themselves into a "face" conflict regarding "who will move first."  I continue to hope that cooler heads are engaging in some unpublicized diplomacy, but all the noises so far have been that they are not.  Both sides are posturing, but the US should have just moved. If this continues, it will be the most serious mistake of the Biden administration, and this move by Iran towards China seems to be part of this signaling.

On the other hand, I think that this deal, or something like it, was probably going to happen eventually anyway, even if Biden had done what he should and just rejoined the JCPOA and removed economic sanctions without any fuss. The signing might have happened later and the deal might have been smaller and more limited in certain ways, but Iran's position makes it a clear gainer from participating at least some extent in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) being carried out by China.  Indeed, I think it is clear that Iran would be economically best off dealing with both the US and China and maintaining a balance between the two.  As it is, this delay in getting back into the JCPOA by Biden may prove to have put Iran into a situation it prefers less, and certainly with the very stiff economic sanctions Trump put in place still in place, Iran needs some help now from any quarter, and China is willing to step in and has.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Is the Biden Presidency The Final Triumph Of The Silent Generation?

 The who?  Never heard of them?  Or never heard from them? More like the latter. After all they have not been called "Silent" for nothing.

Yes, it seems that we alternate generations between large noisy ones and smaller quieter ones.  The Greatest Generation survived the Great Depression and won World War II, and they certainly let everybody hear about all that a whole lot.  Two generations has been mine, with me a front end boomer, and we have certainly boomed plenty, much to the annoyance of many other generations.  Two generations after that we have the noisily whiney millennials, although I grant that they have had some unpleasant things happen to them so not totally without grounds for some of their whining.

In between the Greatests and boomers came the Silents, with poor ironic Gen X stuck between the boomers and the millennials, although I think the Gen Xers have been noisier than the Silents. And now we have Gen Z coming up, who do not seem all that silent, alhough maybe not quite as self-righteously noisy as the millennials.

So what about those silent Silents?  Well indeed Joe Biden is one of them, and I think our first president to be one.  Clinton, W. Bush, Obama, and Trump were all boomers, although Trump just barely. Prior to Clinton they were all Greatests after Eisenhower.  The Silents never got a chance.  And so far Biden is not doing too badly.

Curiously I had a prominent Silent give a seminar virtually at my university this past week, Mr. Social Capital, Robert Putnam, who turned 80 in January.  He spoke on his new book, The Upswing: How the Progressives Worked Together and Maybe We Can Too.  He shows on a variety of categories, political, economic, social, cultural a pattern that he labels the "I-we-I" pattern, whereby there was an increase in solidarity and "we orientation," cooperation, social capital, equality, and so on from the 1890s to roughly the 1960s, some variables peaking in the 50s and economic equality peaking in the 70s, but most peaking in the 60s.  Since then we have basically gone down hill to an "I" orientation of greater inequality and polarization and unhappiness and low social capital, and on and on and on.

In the discussion he pinpointed cultural shifts as crucial and noted especially shifts in the mid-60s, even noting the contrast in themes of the early folkish Bob Dylan with his civil rights songs to the later electronic Dylan with his more personalistic emphasis, and supposedly a similar shift with the Beatles, especially when they broke up. This peak of "we" and the move towards "I" coincided with the rise of the boomers.

I had heard him once before specifically highlight the virtues of the Silent generation, his generation. So the Greatests had lots of "we" orientation with all their achievements. But they had this dark side of being racists and otherwise highly prejudiced.  By the time you get to the boomers and later, the levels of prejudice are much lower, but one gets this alienating emphasis on the "I."

Which makes the Silents the golden mean, still following the "we" focus of the Greatests, but the first generation to see a substanial reduction in racism and prejudice.  So maybe this is why Biden is doing so well, and maybe he is the president to set off the upswing back to more of a less polarized "we" orientation.

Barkley Rosser

Utopian Socialiasm Brings About Toilet Paper Shortages Maybe In The Near Future

 Yeah, to heck with "socialism" in any of its forms, even old varieties that Marx and Engels denounced, neologizing the label "utopian socialism" for its advocates, even as they made clear their respect for the intentions at least of their intentions, even as they did not provide an analysis of the historical dynamic of capitalism and the broader issues arising from that. And we know that while some communes inspired by the utopian socialists survived such as the Israeli Kibbutzim, most failed, making the mockery of Marx and Engels look historically significant.

So it turns out that there was a split within those old utopian socialists between the more idealistic and commune-oriented Fourier and Owen (more complicated for him), and Henri de Saint-Simon, actually the earliest of them, with his main work coming out in 1803. While the others favored small ideal communities, Saint-Simon supported rational social engineering, basically the idea of central planning. His importance in this is verified by the final book of Friedrich Hayek, _The Errors of Socialism: The Fatal Conceit_, 1988. 

The intellectually rationalistic view had long held sway in France from Thomas Aquinnas in the 1200s through Descartes in the 1600s on to modern mathematical economics, with Cournot institutionally the follower of Saint-Simon in Paris, with people like Walras later following.

In any case, Saint-Simon was based in the public works-civil engineering portion of the French bureaucracy that still exists and became seriously influential later, with indeed people like Courno part of that. The world-leading civil engineers of France in the 19th century were all basically followers of the "utopian sociialist" Saint Simon.

In 1856 one of his followers, Ferdinand de Lesseps, won a contract from the Ottoman Viceroy of Cairo to build a Suez Canal, with the Saint-Simonians and certain Sufi mystics of the time declaring that building the canal, along with building one in Panama, and and a US transcontinental railway. would bring about a unified world order of peace and tranquility. 

As it was, the construction started in the early 1860s, under Viceroy Said (who at least got "Port Said" named for him), with cotton prices especially high due to the US Civil War with Egypt the leading cotton exporter in the world.  The canal was finished in 1869 under Viceroy Ismail, with great celebrations, including Verdi composing "Aida' by 1871. But cotton prices had fallen with the end of the Civil War and the local government had unsustainable debts to British banks.  The French followers of Saint Simon may have built the canal, but by the 1880s it was the British who took control of Egypt for not being able to pay off the debts associated with its building.

In 1956 Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal for Egypt over the opposition of UK, France, and Israel, with the support of Eisenhower in the US and the Soviets.

Today we have this canal built on utopian socialist dreams of world unity and peace now shut down over a vessel too large to get through the canal, shutting down something like 10-12% of world trade, this event triggering a doubling of shipping rates on top of a previous doubling of such rates due to a pandemic-induced "chaos" of global shipping.

A central issue in all this is the externality issue involve with large ship.  There is an internal economies of scale issue involved that conflicts with the external diseconomies.  The internal matter is that direct benefits involve volume while direct costs involve the surface of ships, a quadratic relationship that favors size. But oil tankers ran into the externality decades ago with the Exxon Valdez failure, with its billions of dollars liabilities for Exxon -Mobil. But this did not carry over to vessels just carrying "containers," 8 of which now stranded in that ideal idealized utopian socialist Suez Canal have live animals aboard.

As of now, it is unclear how long it will take to move the "Ever Given"ship (although all images of it I see say "Evergreen"). But I have read that among all other items now delayed for delivery in this situation, perhaps the most impacted and crucial is wood pulp for making toilet paper. So, yes folks, if this does not get resolved soon, we may have yet another global run for toilet paper like a year ago.

So there you have it: Utopian socialism in 1803 bringing about a possible toilet paper shortage in the not-too distant future.

Barkley Rosser

Virginia Ends The Death Penalty

 Yesterday (or maybe the day before), Virginia Governor Ralph Northam overturned over 400 years of a death penalty. My state had the highest number of executions of any other, 1390, over those 400+ years. And now it is done. Good.

Barkley Rosser 

Friday, March 26, 2021

All a simple misunderstanding

 “It was zero threat. Right from the start, it was zero threat,” Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingraham. “Look, they went in — they shouldn’t have done it — some of them went in, and they’re hugging and kissing the police and the guards, you know? They had great relationships. A lot of the people were waved in, and then they walked in, and they walked out.”



Yeah, they were yelling "Hug Mike Pence!" not "Hang Mike Pence!"

The deaths of  Capitol police officers? -- they were evidently smothered with kisses.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Peace in Libya?

 On the tenth anniversary of the Arab Spring uprisings that held so much hope at the time but would lead eventually only to one nation, Tunisia where they started, ending up with a democratic government, while others ended up with either authoritarian governments such as Egypt or in ongoing states of internal war, such as Syria, Yemen, and Libya. But now it appears there might be hope for a peaceful, if not necessarily fully democratic, outcome in Libya.

Since the end of the Qaddafi regime the nation has been split into eastern and western parts, with a UN-recognized government based in Tripoli in the west at war with a competing regime based in Benghazi in the east. Each of these has had a melange of foreign backers, with those providing the most military aid to each side being Turkey for the Tripoli-based government and Russia for the Benghazi-based one. Not too long ago the Benghazi-based one came close to defeating the Tripoli-based one, until a new surge of military aid and support, including the introduction of mercenary Syrian fighters, helped the Tripoli-based one push back the attempted assault on Tripoli back to a position where the nation is roughly equally divided, although it appears that the Benghazi-based regime controls the majority of the oil-producing zones with the revenue from that accruing to it.

Nevertheless, under pressure from the UN a ceasefire was achieved in October that set the stage for negotiations. Following a recent meeting it was agreed that a new government would be formed based in Tripoli, with a supposedly independent billionaire named Abduhhamid Dbelbah named prime minister. This is apparently being accepted for now by the Benghazi-based leader, Khalifa Hifter, although I doubt that it means that he is actually giving up power on the ground.  Dbelbah does seem to have ties to the Turks and to be closer to the previous regime in Tripoli, so this may prove to be mere window dressing on replacing the former government in Tripoli, with not much else happening.  But at least for now the cease fire is holding and noises about moving forward to more substantially reunifying the nation are being made.

Observers are noting that for this not only to hold but to move toward a more solid outcome the role of the outsiders is crucial.  Many think that in particular the Turks and the Russians need to remove the various troops that they brought into the nation (the Russians have sent in the nominally private Wagner Group of mercenaries) and also more generally to support the new government.  For better or worse in more recent years the US has not been particularly involved in Libya, officially supporting the UN-backed Tripoli-based regime while at times tilting toward the Benghazi-based one.  Many are hoping that the Biden government will support this new initiative. We shall see.

Barkley Rosser

A Curious Form of Sex Addiction

 The murderer of 8 people recently in the Atlanta area, of whom 6 were Asian American women, mostly (if not completely) Korean American, has claimed that he did not do it out of any anti-Asian prejudice, much less anti-women prejudice, although apparently only one of those killed was a man.  Rather he claims that he did it to "remove temptation" for himself due to a claimed "sex addiction" he has.  

I note that for at least one of the three massage parlors he hit numerous individuals are strongly denying that any sexual activity ever went on there, which might also be the case at one or both of the others as well. However, there is another rather curious fact that sticks out regarding these murders. Four of them, that is half of them, with these all being of Korean American women, were of the ages respectively of 74, 69, 63, and 51.  I find it hard to believe that a 21 year old white male would seriously think that killing women of those ages would somehow help remove from him temptations to have sex.  But then, what do i know.  I am rather on the older side myself.

Barkley Rosser