Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Anti-Racism of Fools

Antisemitism has long been intermingled with movements against injustice and elite control.  This is because the most widespread image in the mind of antisemites is the existence of a secretive cabal of Jews who control global finance and promote liberal-sounding ideas only because it serves their nefarious goals.  Hatred of Jews therefore deflects radical inclinations that might otherwise fuel movements against real domination.  This understanding was summed up in the expression that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools”, often voiced in socialist circles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Now that class is no longer regarded as the ur-oppression from which all others stem, new reservoirs of fools can be tapped to keep antisemitism in business.  This is apparent in the ongoing wave of anti-Jewish bigotry that masks itself as anti-racism.  Ye and Kyrie Irving are relatively easy examples to point to, since their foolishness is on display.  But even a much cleverer Dave Chappelle illustrates the anti-racism of fools trope.  Watch his recent SNL monologue closely, and you can see all the elements there—not only the winking references to Jewish collusion and control, but also the way sly attacks on Jews become a substitute for identifying and challenging the control of cultural institutions, and most of the rest of America, by the ultra-rich, who, for historical reasons, are nearly entirely white.  Like, why should the livelihood of any artist, which of course includes satirists, depend on patronage by corporate moguls?  The fool part is thinking you’ve pinpointed the problem by fantasizing about a conspiracy of Jewish moguls.

Being smart is not a defense against being stupid, and bigotry is always stupid.

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Audition Commodity

Richard Serra and Carlotta Fay Schoolman produced the video, "Television Delivers People" in 1973. It manifests a critique of television mass media that was subsequently defined by communications scholar, Dallas Smythe as the "audience commodity" but the outline of which had already been presented by him in 1951 in the Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television:

The troublesome fact is that under our uneasy institutional compromise by which the stations are publicly licensed and commercially operated, the effective, if not the legal, responsibility is divided. And the voice which speaks most often to the consumer is that of the advertiser. Is it any wonder that the consumer is confused and inarticulate in trying to express his judgment as to how these media should conduct themselves? Is it any wonder that our traditional view of our cultural values, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press, may be reshaped increasingly into the likeness of the cultural values of the advertisers?

Smythe's point was not that advertisements occupied the majority of the air time but the it was the advertiser who dictated what kind of programming was most conducive to attracting an audience that would respond positively to its commercial message. Advertisers would not settle for just any audience, but sought an audience of consumers -- consumers of its products. The exchange value of an audience would thus be determined by its propensity to consume the products advertised.

I'm not really interested in subsequent criticisms and defenses of Smythe's formulation because they are mostly concerned with minutiae over whether or not Smythe carried his analogy between audiences and workers too far (which he did, in my opinion, but that doesn't discredit the larger picture). In a 1977 paper, Smythe asked, rhetorically, "Am I correct in assuming that all non-sleeping time under capitalism is work time?" My answer to that would be no, but because it was a rhetorical question, there really would be no point in answering.

I briefly mentioned Smythe's audience commodity in talks I gave in the summer of 2021. I would like to go further now to articulate what the 21st century version of that audience commodity looks like. While there is still a traditional mass media component, a new element of media has emerged since the mid-1960s that has a "do-it-yourself" flavor of "pseudo-activity" -- to use Adorno's terms. The most recent iteration of this activity is so-called social media.

The sourcing of content is the most obvious feature of social media. Millions of amateurs crank out content for twitter, tik-tok, instagram, etc. daily in the hope of going viral and potentially monetizing their social media presence. The prospects of success in this effort are mediated by algorithms that are oblivious to the artistic or intellectual quality of the content that is promoted.

Although social media emerged in the period following the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 26, 2004, its features evolved over the previous four decades and are discernable in, for example, motivational training, multi-level marketing, and academic publishing and conferencing. In all of these enterprises, participants perform work and/or produce content for no compensation other than the prospect of self promotion. Often they pay fees or costs to participate.

Like television broadcasters, social media platforms sell an audience to advertisers. Unlike television broadcasters, they do not produce content to attract that audience but instead provide an outlet for some portion of that audience to produce its own content, the bulk of which disappears into the virtual void. Alongside and augmenting the audience commodity is what I call an "audition commodity" of content producers throwing content against the wall in the hopes that something sticks.

In contrast to Smythe's audience commodity, the audition commodity does perform work albeit largely of the socially unnecessary kind. A small percentage of Twitter accounts are responsible for a large proportion of tweets and consequently of media views and advertising revenues. In 2019, Pew Research reported that 10% of tweeters are responsible for 80% of tweets. Nevertheless, it is the banter -- retweeting, quote tweeting, and commenting -- that lends an interactive patina to the medium.

Eighty-four percent of Google Scholar articles since 2021 mentioning audience commodity also mentioned social media, although those mentioning audience commodity constitute less than a quarter of a percent of articles that mention social media. Over three times that many articles pair social media and town square and over six times as many pair social media with marketplace of ideas and 50 times as many pair it with public space, albeit sometimes ironically or critically.

To recycle a paragraph from that year-old post about the marketplace of ideas:

Social media has created the illusion that anybody can become a celebrity in a viral heartbeat, as if the circuits of social media amplification were not as dominated by advertising, propaganda, and entertainment as any television network. What the competition of the market tests, though, is not the "truth" of ideas but their marketability. That is to say, their superfluity relative to truth.

Monday, October 31, 2022

The Humiliation Of Hu Jintao

 The recently completed onec-every-five-years Party Congress in China, which confirmed Xi Jinping for a third term as General Secretary of the party, punctuated his apparent assumption of essentially total power by humiliating his predecessor, Hu Jintao, in its final session. At the beginning, he was forced to leave the session, with two men clearly pulling on his clothing in a widely seen video to make him get up and go. It is unclear how much of this was reported to the Chinese public, but the English language Chinese media insisted that he left the meeting for health reasons.  Apparently his health is not all that great, but he was not obviously immediately ill when made to leave, and he was most clearly made to leave.

So, why this humiliation? The general view is that indeed it was Xi asserting his total control very clearly to everybody in the room and more widely.  Later that session pretty much all remaining allies of Hu in either the 24 member Politburo or its 7 member Standing Committee were removed and replaced by loyalists of Xi's, with this reportedly going further and deeper than expected, although it was expected.

Reports have tried to argue that rule by Xi is a great improvement over that by Hu, with this supposedly justifying this humiliation heaped upon him. Of course, China now has a higher GDP and larger military, with deep poverty eliminated in the last decade, and many scientific achievements occurring, along with a space program happening. But pretty much all of this probably would have happened if Hu had been in power over the past decade. Growth was rapid under his rule in 2002-2012, indeed more rapid than under Xi given the slowdown in growh in the last few years. Most of these activities and trends were already well in place and ongoing under Hu.  It is not clear Xi has added anything at all to any of it himself, aside from perhaps a greater acceleration of military buildup.

The latter has been accompanied by something not at all admirable, a more aggressive and hostile approach to neighboring countries.  This is supposed to justify Xi's assumption of total power and imposition of massive surveillance on citizens in a way unseen anywhere in the world ever. Fights are being picked with India, although there have been wars with India decades ago, all of which China won. The policy of expanding into the South China Sea, which international courts have ruled China does not own, was happening under Hu, but has been accelerated under Xi. Xi has also taken more direct control of Hong Kong, with the prospect that this economic golden egg is going to be severely damaged and stop producing what it did in the past, with the suppression of human rights now going on there, leafing to many fleeing.  And, of course, we have seen heightened threats against Taiwan, a place that is superior in every single regard in per capita terms to the Peoples' Republic, which seeks to control it and to it what it is now doing to Hong Kong.

All this is being emphasized further by Xi's first action after the Congress, to go to the Yan'an cave, a founding place of significance to the Communist Party. Xi there emphasized "arduous strruggle" as he did in his long speech at the Congress. But why should a nation not at war with neighbors and enjoying a still rapid growth into solidly middle income status, and moving into its higher levels, have to engage in "arducous struggle"? Why cannot people achieving a higher standard of living enjoy it? This is what goes on in democratic nations with high incomes. They do not threaten their neighbors and go around shutting down cities while super surveilling people.  China is increasingly going on a dark path as its leader becomes a totalitarian dictator whose bad decisions will not be countered by any checks or balances by anybody.  This is the phenomenon of degnerate autocracy, whose path and model is that set by Xi's pal, V.V. Putin in Russia, with his now clearly disastrous invasion of Ukraine.

I shall note two items that have been put forward in the media with little comment or questioning as supporting the claim that Xi is somehow some improved leader over Hu. One has to do with corruption and the other has to do with income inequality.  Supposedly Hu was very bad on both of these, Xi is a great improvement and a hard charging reformer on both. There is some basis for this, but it is seriously exaggerated.

The stronger case is on the matter of corruption. The pro-market and essentially capitalist reforms set in motion by Deng Xioaping did lead to the emergence of a wealthy elite, with this emergence accompanying an apparent increase in corruption. The trend to this was in place when Hu took power, and he did little to combat it. Xi very publicly engaged in an anti-corruption campaign when he took office. It has indeed led to some improvement in China's international ranking on this matter, with China moving from being the 80th to the 66th most corrupt nation in the world according to Transparency International, over the past decade. A major problem with this campaign is that it appears to have been heavily directed at critics of Xi, thus with this campaign also being part of his consolidation of personal power. These days one must be one of his cronies to get away with being corrupt, with there still being plenty of that around.

The matter of income inequality is less clear, with a not so good story involved.  When Hu took power in 2002, income inequality was rapidly increasing. He came in with a call to turn that around, and in fact he succeeded. He especially focused on the regional inequality and also the gap between the urban and rural populations.  He made moves to reduce taxes on farmers, and he also introduced in 2005 and old age pension program. Richard Easterlin has documented that citizens had been becoming less happy in China up to about 2005, with this turning around then and going the other way, coinciding with these reforms implemented by Hu. As it was it still took until 2008 for aggregate inequlality to peak with a Gini coefficient around .49. It then began to decline and did so quite noticeably to about a .47 level by 2012. This decline continued for three more years after Xi replace Hu to 2015, when it bottomed out at around .45. But since then it has returned to creeping upward, getting back up to about .46 most recently. So, Xi can claim to have a lower Gini than when he started, but this masks an unfortunate turnaround with a return to a gradually increasing income inequality under his rule.

It should be noted that while Hong Kong has much greater income inequality than mainland PRC, Taiwan has much greater equality, with a Gini in the low 30s.

A final matter that cuts in several directions, has been Xi's crackdown on high flying CEOs of major corporations. Arguably this is a move to increase income and wealth equality, although as noted already, income inequality is actually increasing again. It may also be directed at possible corruption, although it is not clear that all of those Xi is attacking are all that corrupt. It seems more that he wants to squash them as possible alternative power centers, and indeed a curious fact about the most recent Party Congress was the much greater absence of any executives from major private companies in China. The Party is clearly emphasizing a return to more of a command and state-centered mode of operation in the economy. This may not pay off so well, as many of these CEOs are leaders of the highest tech companies in the nation. Going after them may aggravate the clear slowdown in economic growth that is happening, with this also being driven by ongoing lockdowns that increase social control, as well as the collapse of the real estate sector in China. Xi Jinping's assumption of total power for an unclear time in the future may in fact lead to economic and social stagnation in China, with all this to be distracted from by calls for "arduous struggle" and aggressive actions towards neighboring powers. This is a sad and disturbing outcome.

Frankly, Hu Jintao looks to have been a more humanitarian and in many ways more effective leader than his successor. He did not deserve the humiliation he received.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Are North Korean Workers Going To Annexed Portions Of Ukraine?

 Maybe. An October 21 report in NK Daily says so, with further speculation on this matter on blogs that cover North Korea. Supposedly Kim Jong Un agreed to this with V.V. Putin in their most recent meeting, with the number supposedly to be around 800-1,000, with the NK Daily report saying that they have actually been selected, and with Russia, China, and North Korea somehow agreeing that having these workers work in Russian-occupied annexed portions of Ukraine would not violate sanctions.  

I do not know what these workers will supposedly be doing. However, supposedly they will be going in November specifically to the Donbas area. I guess we shall see more about this, a curious development.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, October 20, 2022

If GOP Wins Either House Of Congress, Dems Must Kill Debt Ceiling

 If that come to pass, especially if GOP takes both houses, presumably they will be able to do it in the lame duck session, assuming that Manchin and Synema stick with them on it, which one of them might not. But as a budget matter, it can pass by reconciliation, which avoids a filibuster. Can be passed with only 50 votes plus VP Harris in the Senate. There are several specific ways they can do it, with it not really mattering which they do, just that they are able to do it if this comes to pass, which looks highly likely at least with respect to the House of Representatives, if not definite.

We have seen the GOP play games with the debt ceiling in the past, most damagingly in 2011, although sometimes when they have done so, they have suffered negative political feedback.  Indeed, fear of that has in the past allowed "more reasonable" Republicans in the House, where these efforts seem to have always emanated from, to eventually cut some sort of not too bad deal with the administration before the plug got pulled and an actual market-damaging default happened. 

The problem now, as we pretty much all know, although this matter is not getting much attention, is that that on top of the general polarization, the House GOP members are becoming increasingly radical right, with a whole bunch of seriously crazy types likely to enter the House with this election, even if they do not take control.  The moderate GOPs are retiring or getting primaried out for insufficient Trumpiness, and a bunch of election deniers and QAnon followers and so forth will certainly be coming in. And if GOP takes the House, if Kevin McCarthy is even able to get himself elected Speaker rather than someone much further right, he will be under severe pressure from the extreme wing of the party to make seriously wild demands that would be very damaging to put in place, with the Biden admin going to be resisting hard, and with these bomb throwers more likely to be willing to go all the way to pushing an outright default, even possibly with the conscious plan of bringing about an economic crash they can blame on Biden in 2024.

The danger of this is really seriously high, and it needs to be nipped in the bud.  I understand that many think that somehow the debt ceiling is some sort of sacrosanct thing, having been around in some form or other for over a century.  But it is not. It has never made any sense and no other nation has anything like it, although some have rules limiting the sizes of budget deficits, a different thing. Several of us here, most certainly including me, have posted on this general matter numerous times in the past.  And we have long argued that the debt ceiling should simply be abolished. It serves no useful purpose, and only opens our governing process to serious mischief.  Heck, even though a default was avoided in 2011, it came close enough that it led to a debt downgrade for the US.

So, Dems, if you lose a house of Congress, eliminate the debt ceiling, please!

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Iranian Demonsttations Spread to Oil Workers

 The death of a Kuidish-Iranian woman doe not wearing a hijab to cover her hair has led to weeks of demonstrations led by and mostly by young women especially in the Kurdish parts of Iran.  However, they have gained the support of young men as well, despite a severe crackdown by the authorities that has now killed over 100 of the protestors. 

The latest development that marks this becoming a more serious threat to the regime is that apparently the demonstrations have spread to at least some oil workers.  The oil industry is concentrated in the Khuzestan part of Iran on the Gulf, with a substantial number of the workers ethnically Arabs and Sunni Muslims in contrast to the majority Shia population, which both Persians and Azeris largely are, the two most populous ethnic groups in the nation, who together constitute over 90%. The Kurds are apparently mixed, some Sunni and some Shia.

Traditionally prior to the Islamic revolution, most oil workers belonged to the Communist Tudeh Party. They participated in the anti-Shah movement that led to the Islamic revolution. But in its aftermath, they were suppressed as was their party.  This has left them somewhat alienated.  Obviously given the importance of the oil industry to the Iranian economy, this appearance of them supporting the women demonstrators raises the ante.

In any case, the US should still negotiate a revival of the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, which would allow an increase in oil production and exports from Iran.  A deal has seemed very close for some time, but somehow as it looks to be almost ready to be agreed to, one side of the other comes up with some demand that looks unacceptable to the other. But maybe this can be overcome.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Patagonia: Life Imitates Theory

 When Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, completed the transfer of that company’s ownership to an environmental trust fund, it was front-page news across the country.  It came as something less than a shock to me, however, because I had described a very similar structure in a paper I wrote a few years ago about “pluralist social ownership”.

First, it’s interesting what Chouinard decided not to do.  He didn’t donate the company to a government agency, although that option is not quite as weird as it sounds.  Environmentally conscious landowners often donate parcels to park administrations or other government units, expressing their faith in the ability of the public sector to safeguard this type of resource and make it available for study and recreation.  If you don’t see the same sort of donations of companies like Patagonia, it’s because the track record of government in most other functions is much less impressive.

Chouinard also chose not to give Patagonia to its workforce.  This deserves a bit more attention, since many entrepreneurs have taken this course; some of the largest worker-owned firms were begun as normal, for-profit enterprises until the decision was made to put the workers in charge.  It’s a reasonable choice if the main motive of the private owner looking to divest is to benefit the workforce, but there is no reason why this has to be the dominant one, even for very socially conscious owners.  Chouinard is an example: he has earned a reputation for treating his employees very well, but his primary interest is environmental.

So instead he gave away the company to two environmental entities, one that holds all the voting shares (about 2% of equity) and another that will profit from the remainder.  This is perfectly reasonable, so long as these groups can be entrusted to adhere to this commitment.

Of course, if he had some other motive he could still have used the same general approach, but partnering with different organizations that shared his priorities.  If he were interested above all in gender equity he could have donated to gender equity trusts.  If the most important thing for him was to safeguard an indigenous culture, that type of trust could be endowed.  Or protecting the interest of a particular region, or promoting international cooperation, or, well, you name it.  Transferring ownership to a trust with a steadfast mission is an extremely adaptable approach, one that can accommodate a wide range of political and social values.

This is why I described what I called a “social equity fund” model in my paper.  The problem I was addressing was the form social ownership could take in a truly pluralist society, one with a mosaic of values and interests and not just one, however democratic the process for selecting it.  (I had reasons to doubt that a framework based on a monolithic conception of social interest would be compatible with democracy, but that’s a topic for another day.)  Investing ownership in a range of funds representing distinct groups and their values seemed to be the right approach.  Unlike state or even worker ownership, social funds could embrace a range of commitments as diverse as those found in society—truly a pluralist vision of social ownership.

The biggest problem with the Patagonia example, however, is that it was the work of a single individual, the firm’s founder and leader.  Chouinard is an exceptionally enlightened capitalist, but we can hardly count on the tender mercies of his peers.  This is why the indispensable step forward is to democratize the ownership shares of funds reflecting significant social interests.  This is the “socialist” part of the vision, in which most equity is progressively transferred from a minority of wealthy individuals to the funding system as a whole, and a mechanism for periodically allocating ownership to funds on a one-person, one-vote basis is established.

The paper discusses all this in some detail, including the regulatory framework such a system would require.

I hope Chouinard’s inventive solution to the problem of dedicating Patagonia to environmental values is recognized beyond environmentalist circles.  This points the way to a basic rethinking of how an economy can be owned and organized to advance social interests in a world in which such interests will inevitably be diverse and even sometimes in friction with one another.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Degenerate Autocrats

 Yesterday I had Konstantin Sonin present a seminar at JMU on "The Degenerate Autocrat: Origins and Consequences of the Russia-Ukraine War." Sonin is a former Vice -Rector of the Higher Economic School in Moscow who had to leave suddenly in March due to his critical remarks about the regime and has since been fired from the faculty there. He is Dewey Distinguished Service Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at U. of Chicago and has coauthored with Daron Acemoglu, who might get the Nobel on Monday.

Anyway, his argument is that longtime full autocrats become incompetent as their regimes degenerate because they increasingly appoint incompetent sycophants who give them bad information and do not warn them of problems with bad policy decisions they make. They accumulate these bad asvisers, often from old longtime cronies who become increasingly corrupt as well, because they are afraid anybody competent might move to overthrow them.  Putin in Russia with his stupid decision to invade Ukraine is the current leading example, but he had others from the past including Nicholas II's decision to join WW I, Hitler's decision to invade USSR, Mao's decision to carry out the Great Leap Forward, and Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait. 

So far post-Mao China has avoided this slide into incompetent degenerate autocracy. The system set up where leaders would step aside after serving for ten years avoided this problem. But now it looks that Xi Jinping is making the move to go to this system, taking a third five year term as leader, with no clear successor in sight.  This is a dangerous situation, with a number of recent decisions looking somewhat questionable and the economy slowing down, although there still continue to be some forward looking decisions and actions being made.  But the longer term prospects from this move do not look good.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, October 7, 2022

An Improvement In China's Human Rights Record In XinJiang?

 On Octobet 5, 2022, the Washington Post published a front section srtory, "Uyghyr crackdown eases, bu Xinjiang;s scars endure," by Eva Dou and Kate Cadell. While documenting ongoing human rights problems and a lack of transparency in Xinjiang province in China, including ongoing use of forced labor in prisons in industrial parks, in the wake of criticism of its record in that province by the UN, the article reports that it appears that China is no longer sending Uyghur and Kazakh Muslim minority members to infamous "reeducation" camps.  Indeed, many of these are now being closed entirely, with the story providing a photo of a former one, now closed, in Kashgar, second largest city in the province and a famous stop on the historic Silk Road.

I applaud this development and hope it continues.  Besides the UN criticism, I suspect that Xi Jinping is looking for some favorable news in anticipation of his bid to get a third five year term as Party Chair in the forthcoming CCP congress. I hope this new and improved policy continues beyond that event.

There continue to be other human rights problems in China. Repression of speech and political activity continues to increase in Hong Kong, with a resulting exodus of people happening. There continue to be auxiliary health and other issues associated with the strong lockdowns associated with the pandemic, although those have resulted in low rates of the disease itself happening. 

But I must note and applaud when there is an improvement in the human rights situation anywhere in this world where there is such a strong trend to more authoritarianism in so many places, including in the US.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, October 3, 2022

Putin Supporters In US Becoming Desperate

 Latest reports have after Putin annexed four oblasts in Ukraine the Ukrainian military making numerous gains in several of those and simply on a major roll that seems very unlikely to be stopped or even slowed down all that much, short of Putin using nuclear weapons. First Lyman was taken, now the last town the Russians held in Kharkiv oblast was taken. Ukrainian troops appear to be closing fast on both Kreminna and Svatavoe in Luhansk (or Lugansk) oblast, with most of northern Luhansk likely to be conquered if those two are conquered, which now looks likely very soon.

Supporters of Putin have argued that losing territory in the northeast was one thing, and they have also claimed that the Ukrainians have suffered major losses in this run, although they fail to provide any evidence of that. But they have said that Putin is willing to fall back there as long as he holds clearly important Kherson in the south, where there has long been a standoff after Ukraine made some gains and long announced a major counteroffensive. Putin moved many troops from the northeast to Kherson to hold off that loudly advertised counteroffensive, and it seemed to be working. But apparently there has been a breakthrough there as well now, with a tank attack on the northern end of the Kherson front breaking through and the frontline pushed down about 25 miles and still moving, with movement also happening on the southern end of that front also.  

It seems that the only place on the whole front where the Russians can make any favorable claims involves the weird case of Bakhmut in Donetsk oblast. There the Wagner Group has been trying to conquer it for the last three months, although it seems not to have much strategic importance in and of itself. But while they have failed to conquer it, they have managed to move forward a few meters from day to day, and apparently are continuing to do so, the only place this is happening on the entire front. This allows local TV in Russia to report on "gains," even though these gains seem not to ever lead to much of anything. Some speculate this odd campaign continues partly due to the boss of the Wagner Group, Prigozhin, is trying to increase his power in Moscow.

So we have the Russian position largely collapsing with Putin being humiliated by all this in the wake of his annexation of these territories where he is now massively losing territory.  How are his supporters reacting to all this? Pretty badly, hysterically even.

I had not watched him for a long time, but I decided earlier this evening to watch one of his more prominent US supporters, Fox News's Tucker Carlson, whose show is the most watched on cable news I believe, even now.  He is full in on supporting Putin and was coming across as indeed nearly hysterical this evening. There was no mention of any of these military gains by the Ukrainians, not a whisper.

Instead, he was all in on the Nordstream pipeline incident, charging that it "is obvious" that it was carried by the US, citing statements by SecState Blinken that and end to the Nordstream pipeline would be a "strategic blow" to Russia, not to mention emphasizing that Russia owns the pipeline. As it is, the US and the nations that use the pipeline have avoided making any specific accusations as indeed it is very difficult to prove or establish who might have done such a thing. 

It is reported that the nearby nations suspect it was done by Russia. As it is, Nordstream I has been repaired. With that the Swedes were apparently about to investigate the sites of the explosions to look for evidence about what happened, but the Russians began pumping gas through it, which blocks that. Big surprise that Tucker Carlson had nothing to say about that.

His argument then segued into predicting that this supposed behavior by the US is going to lead to a nuclear war between the US and Russia, somehow never noting that it is Russia and Russia alone that is threatening to use nuclear weapons. He seems to accept that Putin's annexations are justified and that indeed Putin using nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be some justified self-defense. He reported with outrage on reports that the US might sink the Black Sea fleet if Russia uses nuclear weapons, with the US doing this without using nuclear weapons, although Carlson never noted this last point. This possibility of nuclear war is all due to the US, even as the US is not threatening the use of nuclear weapons at all, only Putin and various commentators in Russia.

I have to say that I was taken aback at the intensity of his outrage over all this, the US supposedly definitely responsible for the now all done pipeline incident, and this supposed danger of the use of nuclear weapons.  I now understand why I see local people commenting in my local newspaper, the Harrisonburg Daily News Record, to the effect that not only is Russia winning the war, they deserve to win the war.  This is a pretty astounding spectacle, but then most of these people also continue to believe the Big Lie of Trump that he actually won the 2020 presidential election, a lie Carlson also plays a major role in continuing to push.

Barkley Rosser 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Report From Moscow

 My wife, Marina, has returned from a two and a half week to Moscow to visit her 93 year old mother.  She almost got bumped from her Turkish Airlines flight out of Moscow through Istanbul, but her travel agent managed to get her back on.  Very glad she is back. Anyway, a few first hand current reports.

Yes, in terms of living standards, in Moscow most things are operating and there are plenty of goods in the stores, although prices are high. There is a major effort to have things seem "normal," lots of cooking shows on TV.  It is true that a lot of foreign goods are not available, although there are odd exceptions. Thus apparently French and Italian wines are available. Also, KFC is all over the place, although this would appear to be a franchise. Apparently Marriott hotels have been bought "for a dime" by the Saudis, who are now badly mismanaging them.

Many things are either not reported or reported very differently than over here. So supposedly the referenda on annexation were "transparent." People lined up to vote were shown on TV and there were some international observers testifying to this "transparency," from Syria, South Africa, and Brazil. No guns being pointed at anybody supposedly.

Yes, it was a big freakout when the partial mobilization was announced. One of her best friends had her son conscripted.  Apparently there is a known going price to get out of being conscripted: 5000 euros, yes, euros, not rmb/yuan or USD, and definitely not rubles, with the ruble/euro rate much worse in practice than the official rate.

My wife reminds me that there are still many "good and wise people" there, but unfortunately they are not in charge or having much say with those who are.

Oh, and a festschrift is being organized by the Russian Economic Federation for our old friend Victor Polterovich, now 85 years old and probably the most eminent economist in Russia at this time.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, September 26, 2022

Pharoah Sanders Has Passed

 One of the greatest musical performances I ever saw live was in Spring 1966, sorry have not tracked down exact date, in the University of Wisconsin-Union theater. It was a live performance of the final group of John Coltrane. None of his great quartet from "A Love Supreme" were in it, but it still completely blew my mind. 

Somehow this group had another saxophonist besides the greatest of them ever, Coltane, this guy Pharoah Sanders. He was really intense, arguably more so than Coltrane himself. Now, at age 81, Sanders has passed, one of the greatest jazz saxophonists ever. 

Apparently his original name was "Farrell." He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. When he got to New York in the early 60s, ne nearly starved initially. Eventually he got in to various groups such as Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, and then Sun Ra's group, with Sun Ra changing his name to "Pharoah," reportedly on Sun Ra not hearing the pronunciation of his name correctly, although obviously it was an apprporiate name change.

His work has been described as "spiritual jazz." This has been described in the Nation as providing "a frenetic blend of spiritual jazz that, through shrieking horns and loose rhythmic structure, was meant to summon higher powers. The idea, it seemed, was to blow the sax so hard that the music reached God's ears."

Not that I am particularly a theist.

His most commercially successful album was with the pianist of that group I sae in Madison, Coltrane;s last wife, Alice, with whom he produced "Journey in Satchidanda," which I used to play for my older daughters when they were young, a seriously great album

Barkley Rosser

Friday, September 23, 2022

Tom Schelling Is Rolling Over In His Grave

 Thomas Schelling got his Nobel Prize in economics for saving the world from global thermonuclear war in the 20th century, when many thought it was inevitable. Rival nuclear game theorist, John von Neumann, said to bomb the Soviets as soon as possible, like, tomorrow, preferably before noon 

Schelling won the debate in real time, being an advisor on "Dr. Strangelove..." bringing about as a result of that the installation of the "red phone," for immediate and direct communications on such matters between the then USSR and the US. I suspect that phone still exists in some form, bur I do not know

What Tom got his visit to Stockholm for, which I told him in person he would get before he got it, (yeah, really), was his formulation of how to find a socially beneficial game theoretic solution when many of those exist. He proposed finding a socially agreeable solution that all accept that is also socially good. This proposal he put forward and became accepted was no first use of nuclear weapons, period, even though, of course, the US violated that at the end of WW II. But while it did not become formally or officially accepted, this doctrine became accepted in practice, and we had no nuclear wars, and Tom was the most important person behind this, both intellectually, and in terms of policy in the 1960s.

So unfortunately before he died in 2016, he lived long enough to see the beginning of the unwinding of his rule. When Putin conquered and annexed Crimea in 2014, and much of the West put some pretty minor economic sanctions on him for this, one of his media flunkies (apologize I am not going back to dig up this immoral asshole's post or who is, let him die unknown), declared: "We can turn New York into ashes," or words to that effect. The moment I saw that media post, not shut down by Putin, I knew that Tom Schelling's hidden and implicit rule that had prevented the world from being destroyed in a global thermonuclear war, was over.

Needless to say, as he has become more desperate as his poorly functioning military is being defeated by the military of the nation he invaded without a shred of justification, Putin is making himself not only a world historical war criminal, but a total hypocrite. He actually reminded the world that Ukraine gave up what was then the world's fourth largest stash of nuclear weapons in 1992  He ludicrously complains that somehow now they regret that. No, he claims they are actively trying to get them back, which is another excuse for his invasion.

But, of course, in 1992, when Ukraine gave up its large stash of nuclear weapons, Russia along with US and UK signed the Budapest Memorandum/Accord that involved recognizing both the independence and the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Obviously Putin violated this in 2014, with both the US and UK failing to respond. That he now reminds of his violation of this agreement at this point is, well...

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Happy 155th Birthday to volume one of Capital!

In his 1965 farewell lecture at Brandeis University, Herbert Marcuse read a long passage from the Grundrisse's "fragment on machines" and then observed: “But Marx himself has repressed this vision, which now appears as his most realistic, his most amazing insight!"

In Time, Labor and Social Domination, published 28 years later, Moishe Postone addressed the same section from the Grundrisse and commented:

These passages do not represent utopian visions that later were excluded from Marx's more "sober" analysis in Capital but are a key to understanding that analysis; they provide the point of departure for a reinterpretation of the basic categories of Marx' s mature critique that can overcome the limits of the traditional Marxist paradigm.

Who was right? Did Marx repress his most amazing insight or is that insight from the Grundrisse a key to interpreting Marx's analysis in Capital? I would argue that both Marcuse and Postone are partly right and partly wrong. Marx didn't so much repress his realistic, amazing insight from the Grundrisse in Capital as hide it under bushels of supplementary illustrative material. You can find it there if you are patient and know what to look for. 

In that respect, passages from the Grundrisse are indeed a key to understanding and reinterpreting Capital. But what is the key to understanding and reinterpreting the Grundrisse? It is the 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the Natural Difficulties, that Marx cited and quoted from repeatedly in the Grundrisse, that Engels claimed Marx had "rescued from its oblivion," that Marx was fascinated by in the notebooks published as Theories of Surplus Value, and that Postone, Marcuse and almost every other interpreter of Marx's thought has ignored.

I discussed this peculiar omission in an article published last year, "The Ambivalence of Disposable Time: The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties at two hundred." In the last few weeks, I have completed a 21,000 word manuscript, "A shadow of things to come" that probes further into the backstory of the pamphlet and forward into the fate of disposable time in today's world. I'm sure it's not the sort of thing academic publishers would be interested in and thus am uncertain about how I will present my arguments to the public.