Sunday, August 30, 2015

Politics of Pastiche: "voters... need someone to fire all the political-correct police"

"...voters crave the anti-status-quo politician. They want results. They need a fighter. They need someone to fire all the political-correct police." -- Sarah Palin, interview with Donald Trump
Anders Breivik
In the introduction to his "compendium" manifesto, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, mass-murderer Anders Breivik asked, "What is Political Correctness?" and "How did it all begin?" His answer dwelt on the Frankfurt School, and singled out Herbert Marcuse's Eros and Civilization as especially important.  Breivik's text was copied and pasted almost verbatim from a screed called "Political Correctness: a Short History of an Ideology?" by William S. Lind, "Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation."

In turn, the "cultural Marxism" thesis of Lind's "history" can be traced to a 1992 article, "New Dark Age: Frankfurt School and Political Correctness,"  published in a Lyndon Larouche cult magazine, Fidelio The article's author, Michael J. Minnicino, subsequently disowned his work as "hopelessly deformed by self-censorship and the desire to in some way support Mr. LaRouche's crack-brained world-view."

Along the way, "conservative" Republican stalwarts Ralph de Toledano and Patrick J. Buchanan have recycled those crack-brained conspiracy theories, documented by abundant footnotes that typically lead either to a source who didn't say what they were credited with saying, to some other hack propaganda recycler or to an "authoritative" emigre like Victor Zitta or Lazlo Pasztor relying extensively on official histories published by the Axis-allied Horthy regime. Martin Jay traced the strange trajectory of this propaganda meme in "Dialectic of Counter-Enlightenment: The Frankfurt School as Scapegoat of the Lunatic Fringe."

Roger Kimball
This month saw the publication by Roger Kimball's Encounter Books (an "activity" of the Bradley Foundation) of yet another rehash of the discredited crap, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, by Michael Walsh. A credulous review of that book in the Washington Free Beacon presents the book's argument, apparently oblivious to its dubious lineage:
In The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West, Walsh argues that the current obsession with politically correct speech began with a group of Marxist academics at the Institute for Social Research at Goethe University in Frankfurt, who would come to be known as the Frankfurt School. The scholars, Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, and Herbert Marcuse, among others, developed a wide-ranging, if often contradictory, critique of the principal tenets of "bourgeois" Western culture—from the centrality of reason and individuality to Christian sexual mores.
As Barkley and I have discussed, the term "politically correct" probably was popularized in the late 1960s and early 1970s by left-wing student activists wary of the self-righteous dogmatism displayed by self-styled Marxist-Leninist political grouplets. But that's not the way the conventional mythology goes.

At the end of December 1982, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed, "The Shattered Humanities" by William Bennett, who at the time was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Bennett's complaint was that "matters of enduring importance" -- "the true," "the good" and "the noble" -- had been abandoned because "we have yielded to the bullying of those fascinated with the merely contemporary." By the early 1990s, Bennett's lament about the decline of traditional values in the humanities had swelled into a moral panic about the alleged tyranny of political correctness on campus, fueled by best-selling books such as Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals: How Politics has Corrupted Our Higher Education and Dinesh D'Souza's Illiberal Education: The politics of race and sex on campus. 

Even President Bush I had to get into the act with a commencement address at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in which he railed against "political extremists [who] roam the land, abusing the privilege of free speech, setting citizens against one another on the basis of their class or race."
Ironically, on the 200th anniversary of our Bill of Rights, we find free speech under assault throughout the United States, including on some college campuses. The notion of political correctness has ignited controversy across the land. And although the movement arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred, it replaces old prejudice with new ones. It declares certain topics off-limits, certain expression off-limits, even certain gestures off-limits. 
Isolated anecdotes and broad generalizations can only get you so far. The elusive scourge of political correctness needed to be explained by theory of its origins. Thus the Minnicino/Larouche conspiracy theory, taken up by Lind, Buchanan, de Toledano, Breivik and now Walsh.

In spite of being called out more than two decades ago by a President of the United States, those political extremists liberals on the left have allegedly persevered in their "unrelenting demands... for increasingly preposterous levels of political correctness over the past decade." This, according to S. E. Cupp explains Donald Trumps popularity: "Trump survives -- nay, thrives! -- because he is seen as the antidote, bravely and unimpeachably standing athwart political correctness."

Meanwhile, "A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 71% of American Adults think political correctness is a problem in America today, while only 18% disagree. Ten percent (10%) are undecided."
National Survey of 1,000 American Adults
Conducted August 25-26, 2015
By Rasmussen Reports 
1* Do Americans have true freedom of speech today, or do they have to be careful not to say something politically incorrect to avoid getting in trouble?

2* Is political correctness a problem in America today?
Hey, if they keep repeating it, it must be true, right?

Three Stooges: Lyndon Larouche, Roger Kimball, Anders Breivik

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Is There a Lump in Your Trump?

"Whether it's China or Japan or Mexico, they are all taking our jobs." -- Donald Trump
Whatever one may think of Donald Trump, one thing he is not is naïve. So does it make sense when someone like Adam Davidson (or Jonathan Portes) claims that worry about immigrants or foreign countries (or robots or non-retiring seniors) "taking our jobs" are based on the "something called the Lump of Labor Fallacy: the erroneous notion that there is only so much work to be done and that no one can get a job without taking one from someone else"? 

Of course not. These folks are just mouthing platitudes they've heard without a thought to where the platitudes came from, whether they make sense or whether they are persuasive. (See also Sandwichman's Lump-of-Labor Odyssey)

Monday, August 24, 2015


Proposed resolution [parody] submitted by the Louis Lingg Memorial Chapter, Students for a Democratic Society, June 1969. (printer's bug "IWW Printing Co-op Chicago, Ill. - I.U. 450):
It is clear that our movement has come a long way in the last two years. Beginning from a preoccupation with essentially liberal issues like student power and peace, we have arrived at a perspective through which we have aligned ourselves with the revolutionary working class against American capitalist imperialism. 
The achievement of a correct position does not, however, mean that our intellectual struggle is over. We must explore the implications of working class politics for every area of our activity, in order to reinforce those politics and free them from contamination by bourgeois individualist thought. This proposal is a modest contribution to this effort. 
Concern with correct thinking and proper expression of that thought is a hallmark of the true revolutionary. Our vehicle for thought and communication is language; to be concrete, it is the English language. Now it has never occurred to us that this language is by its very nature counterrevolutionary and that truly correct revolutionary thought in English is therefore impossible. Yet we intend, through careful analysis, to establish that the English language is little more than a tool of imperialism designed to stifle genuinely radical ideas among the English-speaking masses. 
We can talk about language from the standpoints of meaning and structure. Although bourgeois linguists introduce complex terminology into their discussions of meaning, chiefly in order to prevent us from understanding what they mean, we shall consider it only in terms of words. Now English has a great many words, and this in itself is suspect: what it suggests is that no matter how hard the worker tries to educate himself, the bosses and their lackey politicians can always produce new words from their lexical grabbag to confuse him. Even in our own movement this elitist duplicity manifests itself in the use of esoteric words like "chauvinism," "reification," "dialectical materialism." and so on. It is almost axiomatic that the revolutionary status of a language is inversely proportional to the weight of its dictionary. 
Lest this sound farfetched, we may cite the pioneer linguist Otto Jesperson in The Growth and Structure of the English Language. He notes that the Norman invasion and subsequent domination of England for centuries by descendants of the French-speaking conquerors produced a class division of the English vocabulary, with the French imports reserved chiefly for the upper classes. The other great influx of foreign words came during the Renaissance when scholars, not content with the language of the people, imported quantities of Latin and Greek, thus widening the semantic gulf between the educated elite and the masses. 
Significant though consideration of meaning be, it is in the area of language structure that our analysis is most fruitful. Structure or syntax is the sum of all those rules which govern the ways the words in any language can be put together to make sense. We use the rules of syntax more of less unconsciously because they are inculcated in early childhood along with religion, patriotism, etc. It is the unconscious nature of syntax which makes its influence so insidious. 
The foundation of structure is the categories, which are theoretical divisions of human experience imposed on all languages. In English the main categories are tense and number; centuries ago we had gender as other European languages still do. There are many other categories: some languages divide all matter by shape, so that one cannot speak of an object without adding some word ending to indicate whether it is round, square and so on, while others classify things by their tangibility or lack thereof. The categories are classifications of thought; in English we cannot, for instance, speak of anything without indicating number (singular or plural) and time (past, present, future). 
Bourgeois scholars pretend to make a great mystery of the categories, in order to conceal the perfectly plain facts. Edward Sapir, for example, baldly states in Language that the origin of linguistic categories is altogether unknown. It is crystal clear to the proletarian analyst, however, that the nature of the categories arises directly from the nature of the ownership of the means of production: how else explain the preoccupation of English syntax with time and number? It is the capitalist factory system which necessitates an emphasis on time, and it is the capitalist money economy which causes the obsession with "how much, how many" that pervades our society. 
Sapir completely gives himself away when, in an unguarded moment, he lets us know that Chinese grammar expresses neither number nor tense. Can it be only coincidence that the Chinese, with their progressive syntax, have created the greatest socialist revolution of history, while no English-speaking people has achieved a successful proletarian revolution? Can it be possible that the incisive brilliance of Mao Tse-tung's thought owes nothing to the inherently revolutionary nature of the Chinese language? 
There is one other point about English syntax which needs to be clarified. As the proletarian linguists S. and K. Freedman point out in their monumental work And the Word Was Marx, the English sentence is a beautiful example in miniature of the relationships which prevail in capitalist society. The indispensable components of the sentence are the subject and verb: the subject is the capitalist, who runs the whole operation, and the verb is the worker, who carries out the capitalist's orders but can do nothing on his own. We may ask, how could a sentence be otherwise? this question only proves that the nature of English is so oppressive that it prevents us even from considering alternatives. 
Linguistic structural analysis provides us with a key to much that has previously been confusing in the history of the radical movement. For example, according to the revolutionary Polish investigator B Marszalek, the total ideological sell-out and intellectual bankruptcy of the British Labor Party and its American counterpart, the Socialist Party, are directly attributable to the onerous influence of English grammar. 
Having posed the problem, albeit briefly, we are now faced with the difficulty of providing a solution. In a nutshell, our alternatives, linguistically speaking, are between reformism and revolution. The bourgeois sentimentalists will speak touchingly of our "mother tongue" and plead in a thousand devious ways for superficial changes which would only rationalize the fundamentally imperialist character of the English language. Our only real choice is the total overthrow of the decadent tongue and its supplantation by a new speech fit to express our revolutionary ideology. 
After long consideration, we propose the adoption of an altogether new language. This language must be totally unrelated to English and to the tongues of other imperialist oppressors, as well as to those of revisionist regimes. It should be the language of a non-white people, to express our solidarity with the Third World. Having search [sic] extensively, we have found a suitable language. It is a little-known Amerindian tongue called Durruti, of small vocabulary, and has the virtue of having never been written down, thus making it possible for us to develop a simple spelling system, unlike that of English. (It is well known that the irrational complexities of English spelling are a tool of the power structure to keep working class children in their place.) 
We recognize that Durruti cannot be put into instant use. We offer, however, the following specific proposals: 
1. The major effort of the movement during the following year should be committed to the setting up of centers in factories and working-class neighborhoods to teach Durruti to workers and their families, along with education in Durruti within the movement; 
2. Funds should be allocated for the translation and publication of proletarian literature in Durruti; 
3. All resolutions of the 1969 Conventions of the Students for a Democratic Society are to be published in Durruti. It is our conviction that these resolutions will be at least, if not more, meaningful to the workers in Durruti as in English.

The Fundamentals are Sound

Meanwhile, down under: Tony Abbott, "and here in Australia, our fundamentals are strong."

Good thing about those fundamentals, wot?

Is There a Maple Syrup Cartel?

I happened to have pancakes for breakfast this morning – with honey not maple syrup. Then I saw two related items. Alex Tabarrok writes:
Quebec produces more than 70 percent of the world’s maple syrup and the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers is a cartel every bit as rapacious as OPEC or De Beers. The Federation is government backed and all producers must sell to them.
He cites one passage from this story:
To keep prices high, the federation enforces strict quotas for the province’s 7,400 producers. Instead of flooding the market during years with bumper crops, all syrup produced beyond that amount is stored in the federation’s warehouse, which helps prop up prices by limiting supply. When seasons are lean, it releases the syrup, to maintain stable supply and pricing.
This passage alone is not that convincing as one can see that as simply stabilizing prices as opposed to driving them systematically higher. The entire article is worth the read and the Federation does seem to brag about keeping prices high. I do have to make one small protest to its actual pricing evidence:
The federation changed the calculus. In 2003, a majority of federation members voted to make production quotas mandatory, meaning farmers could sell only a certain amount each year. Farmers are required to sell all their syrup through the federation or its designated agents. Under the system, prices have risen to 2.92 Canadian dollars a pound for the highest grades of syrup, from 2.14 Canadian dollars in 2004.
This represents a 36% nominal price increase. With Canada’s consumer price index have increased by about 20% over the same period, we are talking about a real increase closer to 14%. Then again, I would argue there are close substitutes for Quebec maple syrup but then I may be biased as I love my honey.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Remembering the Sterling Hall Bombing 45 Years Later

At 3:42 AM on Monday, August 24, 1970 a 2,000 pound bomb made of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel, the same formula used later at the Murrah building in Oklahoma City on a larger scale, exploded from within a Ford Econoline next to Sterling Hall in the central area of the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus.  While the target was the (Army) Mathematics Research Center (the Army had been officially removed from its name some years earlier, although its critics called it "Army Math"), the section of the building where its offices were located were on higher floors than those damaged by the bomb, with the damage concentrated on labs of the physics department.  One graduate student, Robert Fassnacht, working on superconductivity and a married father of three who strongly opposed the war in Vietnam, was killed in the blast.  Three others were injured, one of them, Paul Quin, later a physics professor at UW, now emeritus, who has never spoken of the bombing publicly to this day.  The entire lab of nuclear physicist Henry Barschall, who had worked on the Manhattan Project, was completely destroyed, with this triggering him to change his field of work to medical physics after he took a two year leave.

Those who set the bomb were four young men who had come to be known as the New Year's Gang.  The oldest and founder of the group was Madison eastside local (his father worked at the Oscar Mayer wiener plant), Karleton Armstrong, with his younger brother, Dwight, who had been working with him in a series of earlier bombing efforts that started the previous New Year's Eve, hence their name.  They were also joined later by Leo Burt from near Philadelphia, who had been on the university crew team, and who has not been caught to this day, making him the longest at large person ever placed on the FBI 10-Most Wanted List.  The final member was 18-year old David Fine of Delaware, who had only joined the group in July, just before the bombing.

They were the Gang That Could Not Bomb Straight, as their misplacement of their bomb at Sterling Hall showed, but there had been earlier evidence of this in other efforts, where bombs did not  go off or were  put in wrong locations, such as one that was aimed at the Selective Service Office, but was placed across the street at the Primate Research Center lab.  Fortunately, when their earlier bombs had gone off, they did  little damage, not being of the more damaging technology of the Sterling Hall bomb, since a major favorite of many terrorist groups around the world.

If they were the Gang That Could Not Bomb Straight, the police were The Gang That Could Not Capture Straight either.  After the Gang fled the scene, they were actually briefly apprehended by police, who did not figure out who they were and let them go.  Later accounts show that there were many crossed signals and rivalries between local police and the FBI, with the latter having spent lots of effort during that year when the Gang was engaging in their earlier efforts, watching Michael Meeropol, then an economic history grad student, whose parents were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  Needless to say, this sort of thing was the last that the peaceable and much harassed Meeropol would be involved with, but apparently J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with him.

As it was, the Gang split into two pairs, the Armstrong brothers and Burt with Fine, with them making it successfully to Canada, and then later splitting further.  The first to be caught by the Canadian RCMP was Karl Armstrong in March, 1973.  He was returned to Madison where he plead guilty, but then asked for and got a mitigation hearing for his sentencing.  His lead attorney was famed radical lawyer, William Kunstler, and this hearing was turned into a general hearing on the War in Vietnam, in effect arguing the bombing was at least partly justified by the horrors of the war, and the fact that research done by mathematicians at the Center (more frequently while visiting off-campus to other locations) was for the military, with some projects having specific applications in the war.  In the end, while publicity about the war may have been achieved, Armstrong received the maximum sentence of 25 years, of which he served 7.  After getting out, for many years he ran the Loose Juice fruit stand near campus, from which he is now retired.  I shall comment further below on him and his views.

His brother, Dwight, would move to California and be captured in 1977 in San Diego. He would serve three years.  He was a troubled person with major drug problems that got him arrested more than once.  He died of lung cancer in 2010 at age 58.

David Fine also moved to California and was captured in 1976 in San Rafael.  He too would serve three  years.  He returned to Delaware to get a BA in political science, and then to Oregon where he got a law degree.  However, although he passed the bar exam, he was not allowed to practice law, with this decision upheld by a higher court due to his involvement in the bombing.  He has been a paralegal since, and still is to the best of  my knowledge.  After his capture, he was viewed  by some who met in Madison before his trial as being very arrogant, in contrast to Karl Armstrong.

As already noted, Leo Burt has never been caught.  He had been an altar boy in Philadelphia.  Especially five years ago around the 40th anniversary, the FBI made a renewed effort to find him, but he remains at large, with many theories about what has happened to him.

So, what was this all about?  I am not going to give a complete answer here, especially given that there remain many loose ends far beyond the continuing at large status of Leo Burt.  I must note that I have more information than most as I am the son of the Director of the (A)MRC at the time of the bombing, the late J. Barkley Rosser, Sr.  I was a grad student in economics at the time it happened, and I have met and even known quite well many of the characters on many sides of this.  Although at one time I had been more hawkish and conservative than my fairly conservative and hawkish father, by the time of the bombing I had turned against the War in Vietnam and become much more left/liberal in my general political views. Indeed, as criticism of the center mounted over a several year period prior to the bombing, my disagreements with my father became a matter of public record.  But I most certainly never supported violent protest as appropriate, much less against the center that my father directed.

The criticism of the center, which my father directed from 1963-1973, began in earnest in early 1969 with a series of articles in the main campus newspaper, the Daily Cardinal, by James Rowen, son of longtime Washington Post economics and business editor, Hobart Rowen, who also happened to be married to Susan McGovern, one of George McGovern's daughters.  Later, Jim would serve as Chief of Staff for Mayor Paul Soglin in his first six years, 1973-1979 (terms were two years then), and attempted to run in 1979 after Soglin stepped aside to succeed him.  Rowen lost and moved to Milwaukee, where he worked for the Milwaukee Journal for many years.  Soglin has since had two more rounds as mayor, one from 1989-1995, and he is back now since 2011, having just been reelected this past spring for his 8th term as mayor.  Whereas he was viewed as a wild-eyed radical in 1973, he is now  much trusted by the local business establishment, and his recent opponents have run against him from the left.

Rowen dug hard and unearthed the history of the Center, which indeed was funded by the US Army, and had been first set up on the campus in 1956.  Work there was to open to the public and published, but also  to be of use for the US Army.  A central point of controversy indeed was the multiple nature of the use of mathematics, that any piece of math can have many uses, both non-military as well as military.  A fairly simple example is that the mathematics of rocket trajectories is very close to the mathematics of economic growth trajectories.  There are many other such examples.  My late father's argument was that public funding for math research was needed in general, so why not tap the military if they were willing to support research of multiple uses?  Of course, the critics, led by Jim Rowen and an Assistant Professor of English, David Siff, who was forced out of his job due to this, argued that any research that could have military use in the context of the War in Vietnam was wrong.  More generally, the UW was a leading center of anti-war protest, and there was a rising drumbeat that the university should not be associated with any entity that had anything to do  with the military.  That meant ROTC, Selective Service, and, the (Army) Mathematics Research Center, or "Army Math," which "must go" as many chants in many demonstrations said.

In their debates, because Jim interviewed my (late, he died in 1989 at age 81) father several times before my father lost patience and would not see him any more, my father would emphasize that the place was open.  Soviet mathematicians could walk in the front door and talk with anybody about their research and look at the papers published by the researchers.  It was not secret, something my father was well aware of, having been involved in secret research on rockets during and after World War II and after, as well as even more secret research on cryptanalysis that none of us knew about for the NSA at the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) Communications Research Division (CRD) site in John von Neumann Hall on the Princeton University campus, 1959-1961.  I knew what he did there was secret at the time, but all I knew was that it had to do  with computers.  Only with the publication of James Bamford's revelatory The Puzzle Palace in 1983, which reported on that and talked of my father's role, did I begin to realize how secret what he had done was.  So, he considered Jim Rowen to simply be naive.  There would be no matching of the minds there. I also note that my father viewed Jim Rowen to be the truly guilty party in the bombing, having in effect misled such innocents as the Armstrong brothers in particular into doing what they did.

I will note that both my father and my mother were personally harassed and their home threatened, with sugar put gas tanks of their cars, and my father essentially assaulted by a mob at one point on campus.  I list sources on this below, but will not go into further details of this, although my father was a very tough man who was able to take a lot.  I also note that in effect the bombing did succeed in ultimately damaging the center, even if its offices were not damaged in the bombing.  Funding would be cut, and when my father stepped aside, he was unable to recruit an outside mathematician of his calibre to succeed him.  The center went into a gradual decline, moved to the edge of campus on the upper floors of the WARF building, would eventually change  its name again to the Center for Mathematical Studies in 1987, with that entity finally closing down some years  later.

Let me note the role of the bombing in the history of protests against the Vietnam War and in the development of the New Left radical movement in the US.  It can be argued that it was the culmination of both.  Many would say that the culmination came three months earlier during the demonstrations all over the US after four students were killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University.  Indeed, that was the greatest spread of demonstrations, with demonstrations even happening in places such as Madison College, now James Madison University where I teach economics, with 26 students and two faculty (both of whom were fired) sat in at the main administration building.  In Madison, Wisconsin there were pitched battles in the streets, with burning barricades and a grocery store burned down and many injured, although nobody killed, the biggest and worst of any there.  But unlike earlier demonstrations, we did not make the national news.  It was the sit-in at North Dakota State that did.  But the bombing was not about the government killing students; it was students killing another anti-Vietnam War person, and it  pretty much shocked everybody into a completely different pattern of behavior, it not into different ideologies, at least not at that time. But the movement towards a greater radicalization seems to have stopped then.
Indeed, it is worth noting how things had gone at UW-Madison.  It had long been a center of progressive politics and thought, and many east coast radicals attended school there.  Anti-war protests had started as early as 1965, initially very small and peaceful and legal.  There was  a major uptick, indeed one of national  significance, in October, 1967, after the Summer of Love, when a demonstration against Dow Chemical interviewing students became violent as police attempted to remove students from a crowded corridor who were blocking the interviews.  This spread into the outside where tear gas and billy clubs were used.  David Maraniss has reported on this in depth in his excellent 2003 They Marched into  Sunlight, Simon and Shuster, which also recounted events in Vietnam at the same time that would lead to LBJ deciding he could not win the war.  Karl Armstrong was in this demonstration.  I also happened to experience it, although accidentally.  While I had  come to oppose the war by then and did not like Dow, which made napalm, I also happened to support the right of students to interview for jobs there. So, I was on my way to an undergrad course on macroeconomics when I happened on the riot.  I got my first taste of tear gas, although I managed to avoid getting billy clubbed.  I naively went to see my father to complain about the police behavior, but he not only supported them but thought they should have been tougher.

Armstrong himself would be beaten by police in August, 1968 during the demonstrations in Chicago at the Democratic Party convention.   This experience apparently strongly radicalized him and moved him towards thinking of using violence to oppose the war.  However, I must note that one theory has it that he was perhaps more prone to this because of a history of physical abuse in his family.  This theory was put forward by Tom Bates in his 1992, Rads, Harper Collins, probably the most in-depth and thorough study of the bombing, from which portions of  this account are drawn.

In any case, I remember well that when the 1969-1970 school year began, my first as an economics graduate student, there was a general atmosphere of rising radicalism and impending violence.  Not too many of us were surprised when that coming New Year's Eve saw the beginning of the various bombings and attempted bombings by the New Year's Gang.

Let me note two further sources that present quite opposite views of the Center.  One that contains strong criticisms of the Center that came out at the time of Karl Armstrong's mitigation hearing in 1973 was The AMRC Papers, by the Science for the People Madison Wisconsin Collective.  Much of its contents reflected the Daily Cardinal articles by Rowen and Siff from several years earlier, supplemented by some additional materials.  Another much more recent one that defends the Center is The Uneasy Alliance: The Mathematics Research Center, 1956-1987, 2005, by Jagdish Chander and Stephen M. Robinson, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). Robinson was an associate director whom I knew very well and I have seen in more recent years.  I note that the Center did support research in economics, including some years after the bombing hosting a very interesting conference that led to an excellent book.  I  note that both of these works are available on the internet.

While I could say much much more, and probably I shall add more in comments, I am going to wind this main post up with some items that have not been reported in print previously, although certainly there are other people who have known them.

The first is really sort of trivial, even slightly soap operatic.  It involves the main victim of the bombing, physics grad student Robert Fassnacht.  It might not have been him to die.  I have been told that he was not supposed to be there that evening.  His major professor was the late William (Bill) Yen, who died in 2008.  Bill was married to an administrative assistant in the economics department, Ann.  Their marriage was troubled and would end in divorce a few years later.  In any case, he was supposed to go to the lab that evening, but in a marital dispute she demanded that he stay home to help their marriage, which led him to call the unfortunate Robert Fassnacht to take his place.

The second is  more serious, and involves a matter  that is really unresolved and may never be.  It involves the real view of Karl Armstrong about what he did. The Wikipedia entry on the bombing presents the following quote that appeared in a 1986 article by Michael Fellner in the Milwaukee Journal called "The Untold Story: Part II."

"I still feel we can't rationalize someone getting killed, but at that time we felt we should never have done the bombing at all.  Now I  don't feel that way.  I feel it was justified and should have been done.  It just should have been done responsibly."

Now, it may be that this is his view today, or maybe it has changed, and maybe it continues to change.  I do not know as I have not seen him for quite a few years, much less discussed it with him.  However, in July 1989, he had a different line.  Somebody (I do not know and I went digging around the internet and could find almost nothing on this) organized a "radicals reunion," actually a two day conference, in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union at UW-Madison.  There were sessions and speeches, and a whole bunch of people who had been involved in the demonstrations in the 60s came to town and participated.  That was a politically sensitive time, with nations in the Soviet bloc beginning to break away from Soviet control, and this issue split the harder line leftists from the more moderate types, and of course, many people had become much less radical by then (myself included).

Anyway, there was a banquet one evening downtown, which I attended with my then pregnant wife.  Recently elected for a second round Mayor Paul Soglin, whom I was and remain good friends with, was also  there with his also pregnant wife, along with a bunch of other people.  My wife and I were sitting at a table with some old friends and eating and all that, when in the middle of the thing up comes Karl Armstrong and sits at our table for a few minutes, basically chatting about nothing.  Right after that he went up to the podium, where periodically somebody would get up and blather on about something or other.  He made a statement that sounded more like his earlier view.  He apologized for his actions, and I heard no hint of any exception or "it might have been OK if we did it right." He said that what he did was wrong, no ifs ands or buts or excuses. Part of the apology was actually to the anti-war movement for the damage the bombing had done to it.  But he also went on and apologized to the family of Robert Fassnacht and quite a long list of others, pretty much anybody one could think of whom he might have apologized to.  They all got it, whether they heard of it or not.  This speech was followed by dead silence, and he walked out of the room after he gave it.

A final miniscule tidbit is that Robert Fassnacht's widow, Stephanie, worked for many years at the UW Institute for Research on Poverty, which still exists.  Jim Rowen's wife, Susan McGovern, also worked there for a number of years. I do not know how they interacted to the extent that they did.

J. Barkley Rosser, Jr.

Two Addenda just before noon, 8/24

1)  A very loose end is rumors that somehow the FBI or other police agencies were somehow involved in the bombing as agents provocateurs or something else.  The wildest such rumor is that it was the missing Leo Burt, this providing an explanation of why he has not been found.  There were a lot of strange things going on and the police at various levels had infiltrated and done odd things in connection with the student protest movement.  But in the end I accept what Karl Armstrong told Tom Bates as reported in the last chapter of Rads.  He was responsible for what happened, and he does not think Burt was working for anybody else either, even if there do remain a lot of strange loose ends about the whole thing.  I think a sign of the FBI at least not being involved at least with Burt is their renewed effort to find him a few years ago, this I think being a real embarrassment for them.  There have been lots of theories about what has happened to him, but if  he died somewhere with those around him not knowing his true identity, we may never know.  Otherwise, well, maybe we shall learn about some of those remaining loose ends eventually.  Not all the shoes have dropped on this.

2) The second is that peaceful Michael Meeropol and his younger brother, the "reddest of red diaper babies" as Tom Bates said, recently had a New York Times column calling for the exoneration of  their mother, Ethel Rosenberg, who was framed by her brother and partly executed because she would not testify against her husband.  They were raised thinking their parents were innocent, but eventually came to accept that their father was indeed a Soviet "atom spy," if a not very important one.  However, they are eloquent, and defensibly so, in their defense of  their mother's reputation and that her execution, which was botched, was something reprehensible, a low point of McCarthyism in the US during the height of the Cold War.

The Ruse of Analogy

In "The Black Liberation Army and the Paradox of Political Engagement" Frank B. Wilderson III compares Assata Shakur's political communiqué with communiqués issued by the West German Red Army Faction and by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Unlike the other two documents, Shakur's text is unable to avail itself of what Wilderson describes as the arc of the liberation narrative, a progression from prior equilibrium to disequilibrium and finally to equilibrium restored. Thus the assumed analogy between the Black insurgent and postcolonialist or revolutionary Marxist breaks down because:
...this generic progression, which positions the Human subject within a dynamic, dialogical context (a terrain pregnant with uncertainty and multiplicities of outcomes, a terrain on which one is not merely an object of uncertainty but a subject of it) fortifies and extends the Slave’s "carceral continuum," the time of no time at all. This is why the Black insurgent’s communiqué is a torturous clash between, on the one hand, an unconscious realization that structural violence has elaborated Blacks so as to make our existence void of analogy and, on the other hand, a plaintive yearning to be recognized and incorporated by analogy nonetheless.
In his essay, Wilderson argues that this breach of the "ruse of analogy," with regard to the Black/Slave, exposes how Marxist and postcolonial liberation narratives of armed struggle, "though radically destabilizing of the status quo,,, unwittingly work to reconstitute the paradigms they seek to destroy."

Wilderson's Black pessimism is exhilarating in its bleakness. How bleak? "The way out is a kind of violence so magnificent and so comprehensive that it scares the Hell out of even radical revolutionaries," Wilderson explained in a radio interview in March. He went on to cite Saidiya Hartman "a black revolution would make everyone freer than they actually want to be."

That is bleak. Though it is a sublime figure of speech, there is no such thing as being "freer than they actually want to be."

At the level of analysis, I concur with Wilderson. Grand narratives are narratives of the master. But psychically, such an unrelenting paradox of engagement is too bleak, too stark to endure. The exhaustion and vertigo it induces leads back into apathetic resignation, escapist activism or oscillation between the two. Plaintive yearning fills the void, again and again, with the ruse of analogy. The unwarranted rationalist master narrative is reborn as irrationalist master narrative.  There is no cure. But there will always be yet another placebo.

Although I haven't yet read Ta Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me, I get the sense from commentary on it that it addresses the same paradox of political engagement. In conclusion, Coates offers a compelling analogy:
I had heard such predictions all my life from Malcolm and all his posthumous followers who hollered that the Dreamers must reap what they sow. I saw the same prediction in the words of Marcus Garvey who promised to return in a whirlwind of vengeful ancestors, an army of Middle Passage undead. No. I left The Mecca knowing that this was all too pat, knowing that should the Dreamers reap what they had sown, we would reap it right with them. Plunder has matured into habit and addiction; the people who could author the mechanized death of our ghettos, the mass rape of private prisons, then engineer their own forgetting, must inevitably plunder much more. This is not a belief in prophecy but in the seductiveness of cheap gasoline.  
Once, the Dream’s parameters were caged by technology and by the limits of horsepower and wind. But the Dreamers have improved themselves, and the damming of seas for voltage, the extraction of coal, the transmuting of oil into food, have enabled an expansion in plunder with no known precedent. And this revolution has freed the Dreamers to plunder not just the bodies of humans but the body of the Earth itself. The Earth is not our creation. It has no respect for us. It has no use for us. And its vengeance is not the fire in the cities but the fire in the sky. Something more fierce than Marcus Garvey is riding on the whirlwind. Something more awful than all our African ancestors is rising with the seas. The two phenomena are known to each other. It was the cotton that passed through our chained hands that inaugurated this age. It is the flight from us that sent them sprawling into the subdivided woods. And the methods of transport through these new subdivisions, across the sprawl, is the automobile, the noose around the neck of the earth, and ultimately, the Dreamers themselves.
This may sound suspiciously like Naomi Klein's yearning for a system-challenging political alliance between Black Lives Matters and climate justice. We are all in this together! Before we are tempted to "link arms and sing Kumbaya," as Wilderson quips sarcastically, consider the varieties of climate denial. Besides the protean "climate change is a hoax" mantra there is the sophisticated "climate change is real, technology will save us" bromide and the radical "system change not climate change" placebo.

The analogy between slavery/white supremacy and productivity/climate change is useful for evaluating the prospects of the several denialist narratives. As Wilderson argues, "the Slave's relationship to violence is not contingent, it is gratuitous..." The Economy's relationship to ecological violence is similarly gratuitous, not contingent. So-called "productivity" is, like the lynching of Black bodies, a "ritual of self-making" not, as economics ideology would have it, an "economical transformation of resources into utilities."

The Dream of productivity is the mechanization of white supremacy.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fiorina’s Climate Change Proposal

David Roberts brings us 4 minutes of Carly Fiorina lying to Katie Couric on the climate change issue. David does an admirable job of identifying and rebutting her 8 lies in just 4 minutes including this:
"The answer to this problem is innovation, not regulation". This is another recent Republican favorite — Jeb Bush has been testing it out as well. In practice, it typically means tax breaks for favored industries like natural gas and "clean coal." (If any Republican has a broader plan to spur clean-energy innovation, I haven't seen it.) Innovation is a big and arguably undervalued piece of the climate policy puzzle, but there is no credible analyst on the planet who thinks that it will be possible to reduce emissions enough, or fast enough, purely through subsidizing R&D. On its own, it simply isn't a credible answer. In reality, of course, it's not an either-or.
I would argue as long as fossil fuels do not pay their full social costs, the incentive to innovate is just not there. If we did internalize these costs through regulations, carbon taxes, or cap-and-trade, the incentive to adopt green technologies increases. Joshua Meltzer recently argued:
The article explains how U.S. climate change policy has begun to grasp this opportunity by supporting clean technology R&D using measures such as grants, subsidies, and low interest loans. Pricing carbon will complement these government policies and further drive green technology development. A price on carbon would also have a range of implications for clean technology innovation and international trade. For instance, a carbon price will lead to growing U.S. demand for green technologies to reduce CO2 emissions, which will incentivize greater levels of global R&D into such technologies. But to maximize the benefits to the United States and globally from the impact of a carbon price on R&D will require a complementary trade policy that lowers barriers to trade in climate change goods and services. At the same time, a carbon price will raise domestic concerns in the United States about carbon leakage and a loss of international competitiveness that is likely to lead to domestic pressure on the government to raise trade barriers on goods from countries not pricing carbon. Effectively managing the global impact from a U.S. carbon price on international trade will determine whether pricing carbon supports trade liberalization and drives greater levels of innovation and R&D or whether it becomes a reason for raising barriers to trade that reduce U.S. and global welfare.
Greg Mankiw favors carbon taxes but adds this bit of politics:
Skeptics of Pigovian taxes on the right sometimes argue that such taxes are good in principle but in practice the left will co-opt them and, rather than using the revenue to reduce other taxes, will use it to fund ever larger government.
He had to concede a rebuke from John Whitehead:
The standard textbook treatment of a Pigouvian tax is agnostic on what happens to the revenue. It could be used efficiently to finance other projects (if the benefits of these other projects exceed the costs), reduce distortionary taxes or reduce government debt (and avoid the macroeconomic problem of crowding out). Mankiw's last paragraph strays far from the economics and is one-sided in its condemnation of those on the political left ... know of no empirical evidence to suggest that there is only one efficient use for Pigouvian tax revenue.
John also threw in his version which included the snark:
And those on the right will need to convince those on the left that the tax is not a trojan horse for a tax cut for the rich.
After Mankiw’s update, John added more:
I'm no expert in practical politics. Indeed, I have no idea how I would advise a politician how to answer this Republican debate question: “I want to know if any of [the candidates] have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first?” When a word from God is an important issue isn't it a little bit ridiculous to wonder what God would advise on Pigouvian tax revenue?
I have no expertise on how God would address the distributional issues but we now know how Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina would – more income for the very rich!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Does Alan Greenspan Understand the Banking Sector?

Mark Thoma and John Cochrane applaud Alan Greenspan for his call for higher bank capital requirements. While Mark does not agree with Greenspan on the assertion that higher bank capital obviates the need for Dodd-Frank style regulation, John applauds that portion of Greenspan’s latest as well. This did not stop John for having a little fun as the inelegant way Greenspan talked about the expected return to equity versus the expected return to assets:
Competition for equity capital should drive the risk adjusted rate of return for bank equity to be the same as for other businesses. If banks issue more capital, the raw rate of return to equity should decline. So should the variability (beta, risk) of that return. (Other things held constant, which may well be why the historical record is muddy.) In fact, Alan seems precisely to be making the banks' argument. They claim that the return on equity capital is independent of leverage. They have to pay (say) 10% to shareholders, but only 1% to debt holders, so debt is a cheaper source of financing. Banks claim that forcing them to issue more expensive capital will force them to raise loan rates and strangle lending. Which, curiously, Alan seems to be endorsing.
Admati, DeMarzo, Hellwig, and Pfleider made the same argument over four years ago:
We examine the pervasive view that “equity is expensive,” which leads to claims that high capital requirements are costly and would affect credit markets adversely. We find that arguments made to support this view are either fallacious, irrelevant, or very weak. For example, the return on equity contains a risk premium that must go down if banks have more equity. It is thus incorrect to assume that the required return on equity remains fixed as capital requirements increase.
After all – this is nothing more than the Modigliani-Miller proposition. Leverage affects the expected return to equity but not the expected return to assets. But I still have a serious problem with claims that banks and other businesses would have the same return even if defined in terms of a return to assets. Banks likely have less operational risks than other businesses. I read all of this very early this morning before my first cup of coffee and fired off this at Mark’s place:
CAPM types would see this as an issue of what the unlevered beta is (see R.S. Hamada's 1969 and 1972 papers). For a lot of manufacturers, this beta is near 0.8 so the risk premia is 4% (see my Econospeak post on Cochrane's other ramblings). Banks are not the same sector and their unlevered betas are closer to 0.2 which is why their expected return to assets is generally only 1% more than their cost of debt. Banks and other businesses are fundamentally different businesses. If Greenspan thinks otherwise - why should we listen to him at all?
Then I remembered that one can find estimates of unlevered betas by sectors from Aswath Damadoran who notes that the unlevered betas for the banking sector are half that of a typical business. I would hope that the former chairman of the Federal Reserve understands all of this and was just having a bad writing day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cochrane on the Equity Risk Premium and Macroeconomics

After reading some interesting discussions, I paused and wondered what two scholars who passed away over a decade might say. I’m thinking of Franco Modigliani and James Tobin but permit me to put that in context by noting a couple of interesting papers. John Cochrane commented on an interesting discussion of real returns to government bonds from the CEA while Stephen Williamson brought our attention to a discussion of real returns to capital by Paul Gomme, B. Ravikumar, and Peter Rupert:
The returns on all three Treasury securities have been declining and are currently low. The 5-year return, for instance, has been close to zero recently … pre- and post-tax real returns on (i) business capital and (ii) all capital have not been declining.5 The returns fell during the Great Recession, as they typically do in recessions. However, the returns quickly rebounded and are now as high as they have been over the past three decades! The after-tax return on business capital is more than 8 percent now, much larger than the pre-tax 5-year Treasury return. The after-tax return on all capital is more than 6 percent
. The authors present this evidence as a challenge to Larry Summer’s secular stagnation hypothesis:
While many authors have documented the low and declining returns on government debt, these returns bear little resemblance to the returns on productive capital: The latter is a direct measure and a much better indicator of adequate private investment opportunities and has been rising for the past five years. Summers (2014) and others have articulated the secular stagnation hypothesis based on insufficient aggregate demand: The evidence on investment strongly suggests otherwise. Indeed, the private sector has undertaken large capital outlays since the end of the recession. The takeaway here is that the current recovery is not an example of secular stagnation. The evidence on investment and returns on productive capital shatter the essential components of the secular stagnation hypothesis.
Before commenting on the macroeconomics here, let’s note Cochrane read what Williamson wrote and made the following two statements:
There is a risk premium, and it's big, and it varies over time. Practically all macro and growth theory forgets this fact.
I recently had some fun with the authors of DOW 36000 who wanted to pretend that the equity risk premium is zero. While Cochrane is certainly brighter than these two goofballs – I hope he does not think the current spread between the return to stocks and the return to bonds is a more appropriate measure of this risk premium. I tend to be a fan of Aswath Damodaran:
the historical equity risk premium for the US is between 2.73% to 8%, depending on the time period, risk free rate and averaging approach used. I will also cheerfully admit that I don't trust or use any of these numbers in my valuations…Using the framework described in the last section, I estimated an equity risk premium of 4.96% for the S&P 500 on January 1, 2014: During 2014, the S&P 500 climbed 11.39% during the year but also allowing for changes in cash flows, growth and the risk free rate, my update from January 1, 2015, yields an implied equity risk premium of 5.78%:
He has a lot more to say about his forward looking model of the equity risk premium. What is clear is that Damodaran would not argue that the 8% spread between the actual return to stocks and the actual return to bonds is an appropriate measure of expected returns and risk premia. But what frustrated me was how Cochrane dismissed the nation that macroeconomics ignores basic finance. Modigliani and Tobin were part of a team of economists who virtually invented modern financial economics. Which brings me to something else from this interesting paper not emphasized by Williamson:
the time series on private domestic nonresidential investment. Consistent with the pattern of the real return on productive capital, private domestic nonresidential investment has been steadily increasing since the end of the recent recession. The insert in the figure shows the deviations from trend and that private nonresidential investment is now more than 5 percent above trend. Private nonresidential investment is also 14.5 percent higher than its pre-recession peak in the fourth quarter of 2007.
I suspect Modigliani and Tobin would bring up Tobin’s Q in a tale that goes something like this. We saw both an increase in global savings and a collapse in investment demand which sent world economy into the tailspin Summers and Bernanke are noting. While both Keynesians would have argued for fiscal stimulus, we know most policymakers were doing just the opposite. So all we had left was monetary policy, which seems to be slowly working to reverse the Great Recession very much in the mode that their specifications of the Keynesian model would predict.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What Is The Chinese Economic System?

In a recent post Paul Krugman in while criticizing China's interventions in forex markets to engage in a peculiarly managed minor devaluation of  the yuan/rmb (not worth all the hype and flagellating, frankly), he labeled the Chinese system as being "rapacious crony capitalism."  This has led various commentators in various papers to have varying degrees of vapors.  But even if we grant that "rapacious" is not a scientific term that may be dramatic for blogging but is not useful for seriously categorizing the Chinese economic system, the hard fact is that it is not obvious what it is, and it may simply be too complicatedly mixed and large for any of the usual categories to really fit.

This is actually a  current professional problem for  me and my wife, who are nearing completing the third edition of our textbook, Comparative Economics in a Transforming World Economy, MIT Press.  It is one of the two most widely used textbooks in that field, our big rival being one by Paul Gregory and Robert Stuart (with Bob having just passed away very recently).  Our second edition was in 2004 and is seriously out of date, and unlike textbooks in many fields, pretty much all of our chapters need substantial rewriting.  As it is, we are nearly done, but the remaining country studies are the hardest to do, and of those the last to be done and the hardest to do will be our chapter on China.  From the standpoint of professional comparative economics, what the heck the Chinese system is is a matter of serious and substantial debate.

So, at some level we are sort of traditional on these matters.  There are two big categories out there: the degree to which an economy is run by markets rather than central planning and the degree to which it is characterized by private or state ownership of the means of production, with private ownership being "capitalism" while state ownership being "socialism," this last categorization being basically codified by Karl Marx himself.  There are of course many other such matters of significance, such as policies about social safety nets and redistribution, but these are generally viewed as less central in determining the fundamental nature of the system.

So, the US has always been more or less a market capitalist system, despite episodes during major wars, especially WW II, of being command capitalism.  After all, while there remained private ownership of the means of production (capitalism), there were no private automobiles produced in the US due to command orders of the US government.  But, the US and UK and others who went into such modes during wartime dropped them when the wars were over.  They were strictly temporary.  As it is, the command mode has pretty much disappeared in the world, with only a handful of pathetic cases left, most notoriously North Korea, although even it is moving towards more of a market system (especially in agriculture, usually the first sector to move in that direction), even if it remains the last remnant of the old command socialist type.

As it was, China never was that much of a full-blown command socialist economy.  It was always more decentralized than the old USSR, with this partly due to its sheer size and diversity, something we characterized with a quotation for the beginning of our China chapter in the past (and which may yet be kept): "The mountains are high; the emperor is far away." (old Chinese proverb)

OK, so our old title for the chapter was "China's Socialist Market Economy: The Sleeping Giant Wakes" (the last drawing on a famous statement Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly made about China: "China is a sleeping giant. When China wakes, she will shake the world.")  Very likely that title will stay.  But it is in fact a title that comes from the Chinese government itself, a characterization that they continue to hold to; China is a "socialist market economy."

OK, it is indeed a market economy.  It probably was not during the Mao era, even if command central planning was much  weaker than in the old USSR.  There was still command planning, but a lot of it was decentralized to local levels.  After Deng Xiaoping took control in 1978, he pretty much undid most of the command central planning apparatus, moving the economy to being predominantly a market one.

The more complicated issue involves property ownership, and here there is no agreement.  A major part of this is that China has property forms that are not seen anywhere else in the world.  One of the larger parts of the Chinese economy, which used to get lots of publicity but has not received much lately, is what was called the Town and Village Enterprise (TVE) sector.  This is the sector  that lies between the remaining state-owned sector (from the center) and the fully privatized corporate capitalist sector of the Chinese economy.  There are at least four different property forms in this mostly rural part of the Chinese economy, with them varying from being somewhat more publicly (if locally) owned to being more privately, although in some cases cooperatively so, owned.  Much of this sector, which as more than a third of the whole economy, is very hard to characterize as being either socialist or capitalist, although clearly the Chinese like to consider it more  socialist.

Now this odd term is close to others that have been or still are used to  describe economies around the  world.  One is "market socialist."  That was most famously used to describe the former Yugoslavia, which also  had a form of workers' management that attracted lots of attention from comparative economists.  Other nations also were called this, especially Hungary, which lacked the workers' management part.  They had forms of collective or state ownership, but no (or little) command central planning.  The state-owned enterprises operated in market environments.  The famous Hungarian comparative economist, Janos Kornai, came up with the matter of "soft budget constraints" as something such economies generate, governments regularly bailing out their firms, although we do see this quite a bit in more market capitalist economies as well.

The other similar term is  "social market economy," which Germany uses to label its system ("sozialmarktwirtschaft" in German).  This is really a fully market capitalist system, but one with a large social safety net. And the Germans have that, certainly compared to the US, and many have commented on the generally better functioning of that economy (which also  has lots of labor-management cooperation) than many other economies around.

So, the  Chinese system is not like either the old Yugoslav or the current German system, even though it has a lot of  state or  collective ownership, and certainly is heavily a market system.  Clunky and not precisely accurate and vaguely propagandistic as it is, "socialist market economy" may be the best we can do.

Additional material:  Oh, on the "cronyism" part, this clearly is an issue, and a big one in China now.  Especially favored to get high positions in larger enterprises, whether privately or state or hybridly owned are reportedly children of high Communist Party officials. Corruption has increased substantially, and current Chinese leader (holding all three of the top power positions, Party General Secretary, President, and Chair of the Military Commission) has put into place a large anti-corruption campaign.  This has much support because of the scale of the problem, even as many perceive it to be somewhat directed at political enemies.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Just because you are right doesn't mean you are not stupid

"I don't give a fuck about the white gaze, I don't. I literally don't." -- Marissa Janae Johnson
"What's true about this moment is that it's not about the tactics. If you're caught up in tactics you're missing the point." -- Alicia Garza 
"Myself and Alicia in particular are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories." -- Patrisse Cullors (in response to an interview question citing a "loving critique" from Jalil Muntaqim)
"When I use Assata’s powerful demand in my organizing work, I always begin by sharing where it comes from, sharing about Assata’s significance to the Black Liberation Movement, what it’s political purpose and message is, and why it’s important in our context." -- Alicia Garza, "Herstory of Black Lives Matter"
"I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one." -- Assata Shakur
"The Black Liberation Army was formed after the repression began to come down on the Black Panther Party and people in the Party were seeing that there had to be a clear separation between military apparatus and aboveground apparatus and they were waiting on the leaders to make this decision. But by then, it seemed like the leaders had sold-out to get out of jail and for $600 apartments, such as Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, Bobby Seale, so that they weren’t interested in making decisions to save the movement. So that people began to take it on their own since they were the ones getting killed in the process, they were getting framed up and getting arrested and driven underground all around the country." -- Sundiata Acoli, trial testimony quoted in Unearthing the Underground: A study of radical activism in the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army, PhD dissertation by Gaidi Faraj
"The McGovern people were afraid that the Yippies were endorsing McGovern as a way of destroying him. We had to reassure them that no, this was really on the level, and then they said if you really want to help McGovern stay away." -- Stew Albert
"The fact that Abby [sic] Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Angela Davis, among others, support McGovern should be widely publicized and used at every point." -- Richard Nixon to John Mitchell  
"Assata's legacy represents a mandate to broaden and deepen anti-racist struggles." -- Angela Davis
The "broadening and deepening" of incarceration.
Sandwichman is not a true believer in the emancipatory efficacy of "revolutionary armed struggle." But setting aside my own idiosyncratic old, white, male weirdo populist economic determinism objections to adrenaline and testosterone-fueled adolescent action fantasies, I'm even more skeptical of political posturing that makes dog-whistle allusions to a legacy of armed resistance while denouncing armchair critics for being "caught up in tactics" and "missing the point."

Unless I am mistaken, the "point" of armed struggle has nothing to do with the audience "getting it."

Sandwichman, for one, hasn't miss any point. On the contrary, I find the profusion of points rather fascinating. Here's a few odd ones:

Naomi Klein:
That’s my hope for 2015. That we get off defense and put forward this very clear vision, bringing all of our movements together, because they are mobilizing in incredible ways. Some of you may have read the piece I wrote trying to connect the #BlackLivesMatter movement with the climate justice movement, because so much of what we are fighting for is based on the principle that black lives matter, that all lives matter. The way our governments are behaving in the face of the climate crisis actively discounts black and brown lives over white lives. It is an actively racist response to climate change that we should expose. I think we have to not be afraid to bust down these barriers if we really mean it when we say that if we’re going to change everything, it’s going to take everyone.
Peter Linebaugh:
As concerns Black Lives Matter and the movement, that so far, I think, this year 464 people have been killed by the police, this is sending force against people without trial by jury, not in accordance with the law of the land. And so, when Black Lives Matter began, after the—last August, after the killing of Michael Brown, many of us remembered that slavery itself came to an end thanks to Frederick Douglass’ references to Magna Carta. So Magna Carta has played a major role in American history in the freedom struggle led by former slaves and the African-American population. This is why Black Lives Matter is so important, not only against the racist power structure and the forms of white supremacy that exist in so many ruling institutions, but it’s also a recovery of this long tradition of struggling against sovereignty in the name of habeas corpus, trial by jury and prohibition of torture.
Fucking monomaniacs, eh? Sandwichman eagerly awaits the happy day when Black Lives Matter joins the struggle to eradicate the menace of the bogus "lump-of-labor fallacy" claim. 
"We believe that people should fuck all the time, anytime, whomever they want. This is not a program demand but a simple recognition of the reality around us." -- Abbie Hoffman, "Revolution towards a free society:Yippie!" manifesto, Chicago, 1968.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Future of Work and the Demise of Scholarship

I've pointed out before that the future of work has a chequered past. Evidently it also has a questionable present and future.

Paul Saffo teaches forecasting at Stanford University and chairs the Future Studies and Forecasting track at Singularity University. In his contribution to the "Future of Work" project of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, Saffo wrote:
"In 1930, Keynes observed that technological unemployment was a self-solving problem. On balance new technologies create more jobs than they destroy."
Sandwichman call bullshit. Saffo's claim couldn't be further from the truth. In 1934, Keynes gave a BBC radio address titled "Is the Economic System Self-Adjusting?" His answer was "No." The "create more jobs than they destroy" refrain is a version of what is otherwise known as Say's Law, which Keynes paraphrase in his General Theory as "Supply creates its own demand." Keynes's general theory was a debunking of Say's Law.

6% Real GDP Growth and DOW 36000

Jonathan Chait says Huckabee has trumped Jeb!
But there’s a weakness in basing your economic message on pulling a crazy number out of thin air: Another candidate can always pull an even crazier number out of thin air. And now Mike Huckabee has done it. The obvious choice would be to one-up Bush by promising 5 percent growth. But Huckabee, thinking two steps in advance, probably realized that if he went with 5 percent, another candidate could still leapfrog him. So he went with 6 percent.
His voodoo economics seemed to be based on passing that “FAIR” tax. But never mind Huckabee as how Jeb! came up with 4% is really funny:
That ambitious goal was first raised as Bush and other advisers to the George W. Bush Institute discussed a distinctive economic program the organization could promote, recalled James Glassman, then the institute's executive director.
Glassman once wrote that one should value stocks by assuming that all companies have a value to sales ratio equal to one. He also co-authored DOW 36000 which claimed valuations should be 100 times profits. How is this supposed to work unless all companies have a profit margin of only 1 percent? Pulling numbers out of thin air is bad enough but putting forth valuation multiples that are so wildly inconsistent seems to be the specialty of Team Republican.


Trained Marxist Evangelical Christian Revolutionary Fashion Statement

What is a "trained Marxist"?

This is going to hurt me more than it will hurt you. I feel your pain. In fact, I feel your pain more than you do, you anaesthetized leftist zombies. So sit down, shut up and listen.

Patrisse Cullors, Black Lives Matters co-founder, in an interview with Jared Ball of the Real News Network said:
The first thing, I think, is that we actually do have an ideological frame. Myself and Alicia in particular are trained organizers. We are trained Marxists. We are super-versed on, sort of, ideological theories. And I think that what we really tried to do is build a movement that could be utilized by many, many black folk. We don't necessarily want to be the vanguard of this movement. I think we've tried to put out a political frame that's about centering who we think are the most vulnerable amongst the black community, to really fight for all of our lives. 
And I do think that we have some clear direction around where we want to take this movement. I don't believe it's going to fizzle out. It just gets stronger, and we see it, right. We've seen after Sandra Bland. We're seeing it now with the interruption of the Netroots Nation presidential forum. 
What I do think, though, is folks -- especially folks who have been trained in a particular way want to hear certain things from us, that we're not sort of framing it in the same ways that maybe another generation have, has. But I think it's important that people know that we are, the Black Lives Matter movement doesn't just live online, although there's many people who utilize it online. We're in a different set of circumstances, a different generation that -- social media may feel like it's diluting the larger ideological frame. But I argue that it's not.
This certainly throws a new light on Alicia Garza's comment that "no candidate who is really about this werk would break a sweat in response to a question in the form of 'Do Black Lives Matter?' The simple answer should be 'Yes' not some weirdo populist economic determinism." Those untrained populist weirdos must be made to bow down to the ideologically super-versed Marxist vanguard! What Adolph Reed Jr. described as "visceral and vitriolic anti-Marxism" could conceivably be visceral and vitriolic "trained Marxist" sectarianism.

In all fairness, the comrades "don't necessarily want to be the vanguard of this movement." Indeed, humility and reluctance are admirable qualities in self-appointed leaders. But seeing as how they "actually do have an ideological frame" and "some clear direction around where we want to take this movement," they really have no choice but to accept the mantle of leadership, do they?

"We are not reasonable!"
There's one thing that puzzles me though. Is it customary for trained Marxist cadre to publically announce that they are trained Marxists?

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Movement at the Crossroads: SNCC, Yippie! and Position Paper #24

All my life I've been sick and tired. Now I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. -- Fannie Lou Hamer
The materialist presentation of history leads the past to place the present in a critical condition. -- Walter Benjamin
I went to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees
-- Robert Johnson 
During the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago, demonstrators being assaulted by the police chanted "the whole world is watching, the whole world is watching." This was before the English translation of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle was published but after Marshall McLuhan's The Medium Is the Massage had achieved best-seller status.

What the "whole world" watched on television news from Chicago in August 1968 was later described by the Walker Report to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence as a "police riot," provoked by some rather inchoate political theatrics conducted by the erstwhile Youth International Party (Yippie!) founded eight months earlier by Abbie and Anita Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Nancy Kurshan and Paul Krassner.

Four years earlier, at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., Fannie Lou Hamer of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) gave her dramatic testimony to the credentials committee about the violence she had endured and witnessed in attempting to register to vote. The 1964 convention refused to seat the MFDP delegation but at the 1968 convention in Chicago, Hamer was seated to became the first African-American delegate from Mississippi since reconstruction and the first woman ever from that state.

Before Abbie Hoffman became a Yippie, he had been the founder and self-appointed chairman of Worcester Massachusetts chapter of the Friends of SNCC, a group dedicated to raising funds to support the activities of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. namely the Freedom Summer activities of 1964.

Hoffman traveled to Atlantic City in 1964 to join demonstrators supporting the Mississippi Freedom bid for delegate recognition and in 1965 traveled to Georgia and Mississippi, where he met Jesse Morris, a SNCC organizer who was setting up a Poor People's Corporation to fund worker-owned crafts co-operative. Back in Worcester and, later in New York City, Hoffman operated stores to sell crafts made in Mississippi.

In December 1966, SNCC staff voted  -- by a margin of 19-18 with 24 abstentions --to exclude whites from the organization. Hoffman was incensed and wrote a scathing (and scurrilous) denunciation of the decision and SNCC leadership for the Village Voice. The Village Voice article was Hoffman's first as "Abbie" employing his characteristic slangy hipster style. In one provocative passage Hoffman confided, "Now I feel for the other whites in SNCC, especially the white females. I identify with all those Bronx chippies that are getting conned out of their bodies and bread by some dark skinned sharpie over at the annex." Reportedly, his earlier drafts were even more outrageous.

The response to Hoffman's Village Voice piece demonstrated to him that if he wasn't afraid to be offensive and break taboos he could get attention, which was what the whole Yippie thing was about: getting on TV so the whole world could watch. Hoffman was a showman, an exhibitionist.

Still, Hoffman outed unspeakable tensions that undoubtedly did exist in the 1960s movement. For a brief moment in the mid-1960s people spoke of "the" movement as if the affinity of civil rights, anti-war and student protest -- perhaps even counter-cultural "lifestyles" -- was inevitable. "Love, trust, brotherhood, and all the other beautiful things we sang about," as Hoffman phrased it, in rebuttal to Stokely Carmichael's Black Power.

Those unspeakable tensions could be called "intersectional," to use a later terminology, They sprang from from sexual relationships and taboos as well as from organizational hierarchies and racial and sexual stereotypes. "There was a lot of sex in SNCC," staffer Jean Wheeler Smith, an African-American woman, recalled, "we were twenty years old... what do you expect?" Penny Patch, a white activist remembered:
We were young, we were living in wartime conditions. We were always afraid; we never knew whether we would see one another again. We were ready, black and white, to break all taboos. SNCC men were handsome, they were brilliant, they were brave, and I was very much in love.
But "not all sex was equal":
Since Black men had historically paid with their lives for intimacy with white women, dating white women in SNCC could be a form of liberation. For Black women, sex with white men did not have the same effect. White men had a three-hundred year history of sexual assault and rape of Black women in the South (and North) without fear of consequences, so the opportunity for intimacy with white men did not manifest as a form of freedom for Black women.
The chance discovery in 1994 of boxes of old letters, journals and political manifestoes sent home during Freedom Summer by Elaine Delott Baker became the impetus for a document collection that focuses on a "pathbreaking feminist manifesto" -- the Waveland Memo or Position Paper #24. It would be more accurate to call that paper paths-breaking, in context it documents simultaneously clearing the way for and the breaking up of multiple paths. The authors recall different motivations for, attitudes about and responses to the paper. In her account of the writing of the paper, Casey Hayden recalled that "Mary King says we were asking SNCC to broaden its concerns, to take women's roles on as an issue. I don't believe I ever felt SNCC should do that. The movement had enough to do."
The purpose of the writing was more diffuse than that, as I recall, more like everyone was writing about whatever their gripes or problems or positions were and, hey, let's put ours out there, too. In late 1965 I did feel the time was right and drafted a memo ["Sex and Caste"] which Mary and I signed and sent to our black and white women friends in SNCC and the new left.
The Waveland Memo archive "How and Why Did Women in SNCC Author a Pathbreaking Feminist Manifesto, 1964-1965?" contains such an incredible collection of insights, remembrances and analysis that am reluctant to summarize from it more than I already have. As Elaine Baker noted in her comments on contextualizing Waveland Memo, "to understand anything we must understand everything, and that to understand everything we must know everything. Tough job." The archive's introduction is compelling, informative and concise. The timely relevance of its historical account might be gauged by the following snippet:
SNCC was in crisis before and after the Waveland conference, its scope and vitality waning as staff sought an alternative to reforming the Democratic Party. The women's memo was part of a process designed to air all discontents, the main ones being well- known before the conference...  Underlying many of the issues raised at Waveland was the growing friction between white and Black staff. Anticipating the theme of Black Power, which emerged later, many Black staff members questioned the role of whites in the movement, making white activists unsure of their place in SNCC's future.