Friday, May 7, 2021

The Death of Dick Day

I learned a few days ago that Richard (Dick) Hollis Day died about a month ago.  There is no obit yet, so I do not have exact dates of birth or death, but communicating with an old mutual friend who knows his oldest son, apparently he succumbed to dementia and related problems that had him declining over the last several years at his home in Cambria, California.  He was born in 1933, but not sure of exact date, so he was either 87 or 88.  

Dick was somebody I think underappreciated by the economics profession who in my view played an important role on several fronts, both intellectually and in other ways. I shall note a prominent one of the latter being that he was he founding editor in 1981 of the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization (JEBO), with me replacing him in that position in 2001 (lasting until end of 2010).  This "heterodox but respected" journal was very much his creation, and he published many papers that have since become highly respected although unpublishable in top journals back then.  The first in the first issue was one on new institutional economics by Nobelist Oliver Williamson and the second was the paper on mental accounting that was cited by the Nobel Committee when Richard Thaler received the prize.  It is the case that many ideas he championed back then have now become much more respectable, such as new institutional economics and behavioral and experimental economics, especially after the Nobel awards in 2001 and 2002 respectively for George Akerlof and Vernon Smith.

It was also a major outlet for papers on chaos theory, a matter he himself was an early student of in economics, as well as broader complexity economics and other topics still not fully accepted, such as more heterodox approaches to evolutionary economics and econophysics.  Papers on both Marxist economics as well as Austrian economics appeared in the journal.  Dick had a broad perspective and open mind.

His own life and career followed a non--orrthodox path, although he received some serious recognitions over the years.  Born in Iowa in 1933 he got a BS in General Science in 1955 from Iowa State and with an interest in agricultural economics and development economics probably his earlier (he was on the ed board of the Journal of Development Economics for many decades). He attended Harvard from 1955-58, receiving his PhD from there in 1961 on "Recursive Programming Models for Explaining Investment and Technological Change in Agricultural and Industrial Sectors." This was the base for his first of 4 books in 1963, published by North-Holland.

He served in the US Air Force 1958-62, and then was a special consultant for Richard Reuter iduring 1962, who was leading JFK's Food for Peace program.  In many ways his political and world view reflected his identification with a JFK view of the world, Keynesian in macroeconomics, but with a tendency to a pro-military and hawkish view of US foreign policy.  He was also a deep student of existentialism and always enjoyed standing out in most groups as not fully agreeing with anybody and holding to his positions.  This certainly helped him as he forged into uncharted territory in later years.

He was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1963-76, where I first got to know him.  He co-founded the Social Systems Research Institute there with Guy Orcutt, grandfather of recent JB Clark award winner, Emi Nakamura. In 1976 he moved to the University of Southern California, where he remained for the rest of his career, chairing the department for periods of time and also founding and leading for many years its Modeling Research Group.  There he met his second wife, Barbara, who would later be his Managing Editor at JEBO after he got it going.

In terms of ideas, besides recursive programming and simulation analysis, he was interested in disequilibrium models of economic growth.  This led him to publish early papers on chaos theory in economics and other complexity approaches to economics.  It was this interest that drew us together in the 1990s as I published on such matters, and he brought me on board to do various things at JEBO.  He also from an early time disagreed with fully rational models, admiring the bounded rationality/behavioral economics approach of Herbert Simon, who was on board at JEBO at its founding.

Besides that first book, and 9 edited volumes and 180 articles, I shall mention just three others.  One was an edited volume he produced in 1975 out of a conference he organized at the (Army) Mathematics Research Center, which had been bombed in 1970 when my late father directed it, coedited with Ted Groves. This volume, Adaptive Economic Models, Academic Press, contained papers by various economists who would later publish in the area of behavioral models of firm behavior as well as on complexity economics. The others are a two volume series he published in 1994 and 2000 at MIT Press, on Complex Economic Dynamics. These two, especially the first one, remain central to defining modern complexity dynamics, especially its dynamic type.  

I shall close with a curious anecdote.  He visited at many other places over the years, including MIT, Harvard, U. of Paris, Gottingen, U. of Siena, Athens, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton during 1979. It happens that during that year a large conference was held to honor the centennial of the birth of Albert Einstein.  Somehow I learned about it, and while driving from Harrisonburg to New York I stopped by there and just walked into it uninvited, arriving in time for the main event, a debate between Eugene Wigner and John Wheeler about the cosmological implications of black holes.  I saw Dick, the only person there I personally knew, and so stood with him to watch this heavy duty debate, as they had sharply contrasting views.  In any case, that he was there and for that shows the breadth of his interests. I am proud to have worked with him and shall miss him.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A Recent Correlation Regarding Political "Leadership" And The Coronavirus

 The recent correlation I have noticed, with others commenting on it also, is that some of the most prominent nations with the most rapidly rising rates of coronavirus infections are led by somewhat authoritarian leaders who have recently dismissed the threat of it and engaged in policies that may have encouraged its spread.  The most dramatic examples are India, Brazil, and the Philippines.  

Last year India did not do too badly. It had only one wave, which was pretty well controlled by vigorous lockdown policies that sent many migrant workers from cities to villages. Increasingly authoritarian Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, he who is imposing Hindutva on the nation and suppressing various dissident voices. This apparent success led to a lot of complacency, with this marked by Modi holding mass rallies prior to upcoming elections, especially a sensitive one in West Bengal where Modi's BJP is trying to take control of the state government.  But now there has been a dramatic outbreak of the coronavirus, setting records for the most infections in a day of any nation, topping 400,000. Reports have it that hospitals are overwhelmed, and Modi is facing serious criticism.

That said, it must be noted that despite the recent surge in India, it remains 88th in the world in accumulated per capita deaths from the coronavirus.  The situation in India could get a lot worse.  At just over 200,000 total deaths it appears to be about to move into third place ahead of Mexico, whose semi-authoritarian and Trump-loving president who appears not to have pursued vigorous policies against the pandemic and which is 17th currently in the world in per capita deaths overall from the coronavirus, although new cases apparently peaked in January and are now declining there.

Brazil is clearly a serious case, with a leader who went even further than his role model Trump in dismissing the pandemic and sneering at scientific solutions.  With 352,000 deaths it is second behind the US in aggregate and 12th in the world in per capita deaths, with a rate of new infections surging at a rate rising as fast as India's. While Brazil remains a democratic nation, Jair Bolsoanaro has mumbled praise of previous military dictatorships, with his sons chiming in on this, and reports that the actual military is split between those who like such talk and might support a coup versus those who wish to support the democratic constitution. Bolsonaro is quite the poster boy for this current correlation.

Another nation with a rapid rise of cases is the Philippines, led by another authoritarian strongman, Duterte, notorious for simply having large numbers of his citizens murdered on accusations involving drug use.  I am less well informed on policies there, but he also seems to fit the bill.

Now it may be that this curious current correlation is simply an ephemerum, a mere coincidence.  Looking at the longer term data it could be argued in fact that there is a positive correlation between democracy and coronavirus deaths.  All of the top 11 nations in the world on this ranking are in Europe, with Brazil at the top of the non-European ones, and the US at 15th place, with its 570,000 total dead.  What has received little media attention is that the top 7 nations in per capita numbers are all former communist-ruled nations in Eastern Europe, although all currently are nominally democratic. But at the top, with 2800/million deaths is increasingly authoritarian Hungary.  It is followed in second place by the Czech Republic and in third place by Bosnia-Herzegovinia.  The top non-former communist state is Belgium in 8th place, with Italy in 10th, and the UK in 11th.   India in 88th place is at 149/million deaths, although that is clearly rising.

So this current curious correlation certainly does not seem to tell the full story, although in a world where many are now getting vaccinated, and quite a few nations that suffered preciously seem to be beginning to get the pandemic under control, it is indeed curious that the nations leading to the world setting new records for new cases seem to be led by people who have dismissed the danger and been careless in their policies, along with exhibiting egomaniacal hunger for power.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, May 1, 2021

So Much For May Day

 Today is May Day. An ancient point of the Gaelic calendar marking spring, it was long marked by pagan fertility celebrations and rites, dancing around May poles and the like, with many variations on this in different countries. The day became associated with the worker's movement in 1886 when in Chicago a movement for the 8-hour work day involved many demonstrations and strikes and ultimately a riot in Haymarket Square in Chicago that culminated in a bombing and a massacre (with both police and workers killed), followed by trials and executions of various anarchists and activists. The actual date if the massacre was on May 4, but May1 became associated with the event, and it spread to become the leading International Worker's Day, despite competition from rivals such as Labor Day in September in the US.  Ironically both of them were started by socialists and in the US, but somehow in the US Labor Day came to be favored by more conservative interests and was made the legal holiday, with May Day the day celebrated by socialists in other parts of the world.

In the former Soviet Union May Day was one of the major holidays of the year, one of three on which there were major parades and activities in Red Square in Moscow during the period of rule by the Communist Party, the others being November 7 to celebrate the Great October Socialist Revolution (it was October 25 in the old Julian calendar, still followed by the Russian Orthodox Church), and May 9, Victory Day in memory of the victory of Germany in World War II.  Of course, Victory Day, following over a week of vacations following May 1, featured parading displays of military people and equipment, which also would show up, along with lots of party officials on November 7. However, perhaps recalling its old pagan celebratory past, the May Day celebrations in Red Square features athletes and youth groups.  It was an uplifting celebration, more of a party.

Well, since the end of the Soviet Union things have changed. Victory Day continues to be celebrated, with indeed Vladimir Putin playing it up in recent years, making a bigger and bigger deal of it in his appeal to a militaristic nationalism, with ever larger military parades.  As for November 7, in 2005 it was removed as a holiday, but November 4 was recognized as Unity Day, which has sort of replaced November 7, although without Red Square celebrations. It was in fact a pre-Soviet holiday that celebrated a victory of the Poles and Lithuanians in 1612.

But May Day was also dropped as a holiday, although people still basically take off work from it until the still hugely celebrated May 9 Victory Day.  This year, Sunday May 2 happens to be the Russian Orthodox Easter, given by the still followed Julian calendar.  And also this year Putin has been making a big deal about it, getting lots of publicity for going to church and hanging around with its leaders, presumably to distract people from the uprisings and opposition to his rule that have been happening.  But the old May Day is gone in Russia, only quietly noticed by the remnant Communist Party..

Barkley Rosser

Monday, April 26, 2021

Robert Mundell And Supply Side Economics

 The death of Nobel Prize winner Robert A. Mundell at age 88 has brought forth much discussion about his work and legacy.  Most of this discussion, such as several columns by Paul Krugman, have commented favorably on the work for which he was officially given the prize, several papers he wrote in the late 1950s and early 1960s while he was at the IMF.  These papers, drawing on the experience of his native Canada at the time as a nation with a floating exchange rate and open to capital flows with the neighboring and domineering US at a time when most major economies had fixed exchange rates, laid the foundation for the now textbook Mundell-Fleming model of international open macroeconomics, A crucial insight now universally accepted was of the "impossible trinity" that a nation cannot simultaneously have a fixed exchange rate, and independent monetary policy, and open capital flows. This certainly drew on Canada's experience and explained why it went against the rest of the world to have floating exchange rates.

He also wrote presciently on optimal currency areas, also thinking about the curious dispersion of Canada'a population across contrasting geographical zones while mostly being very close to the US border. He emphsized the importance of free factor flows within an optimal currency area. His writings on this led him to be called "the father of the euro" and curiously he advocated a global currency based on a combination of the US dollar, euro, and Japanese yen.  He also called for the Chinese yuan/rmb to be included in the IMF SDR, which came to pass.  Various people have noted that he may have been overoptimistic about the euro simply based on his own analysis of what is involved in such areas.

However, the item in his history that most have said not much about, although he was reportedly proud of it up to the end, is his role as "guru" of supply side economics. This is a doctrine that is not viewed nearly as favorably by most economists as these other ideas, especially the Mundell-Fleming model.  Indeed, parts of it are viewed as ridiculous by most, notably the repeated forecasts by Arthur Laffer and some others every time we have seen a GOP president or governor cut taxes that this would lead to an increase in revenues so that "the tax cut will pay for itself." From the 1981 tax cut of Ronald Reagan through the 2017 Trump tax cut, none of these delivered this outcome, with several states such as Kansas and Oklahoma suffering severe crises given their balanced budget rules requiring them to cut spending in the face of declining revenues after tax cuts. And Laffer has long claimed that Mundell was his inspiration.

Now as near as I can tell Mundell never participated in any of these specific forecasts that did not pan out.  What he seems to have done is lay out the "possibility" that if tax rates are high enough cutting them will raise revenues.  And it seems that he was the one who first posed this idea to Laffer when they were together at the University of Chicago in the early 1970s.  This would make him the father of the Laffer Curve, and indeed when the curve first made a public appearance in a Spring 1975 The Public Interest by Jude Wanniski labeled the argument the "Mundell-Laffer hypothesis."

Former adviser of Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan, now a non-Republican, Bruce Bartlett, has posted an account of Mundell's ideas on this and how they developed since Mundell died, https://www.ritholz.com/2021/04/remembering-the-father-of-supply-side-economics . 

Bartlett, who recognizes that some of Mundell's optimism and enthusiasm about the ability of tax cuts to stimulate expansion of aggregate supply has not been supported by more recent events, does think that his arguments held for the initial 1981 Reaganomics, which Bartlett was part of supporting and implementing after working for Rep. Jack Kemp, who was also a fan of supply side economics, which had been heavily publicized by Jude Wanniski in columns in the Wall Street Journal after meeting Mundell at an anti-inflation conference in Washington in May, 1974 that had been organized by Laffer and former Milton Friedman acolyte, David Meiselman.  Mundell's main recommendation was to combine tight monetary policy to combat inflation with tax cuts to offset the contractionary effects of that by stimulating aggregate supply, apparently ignoring the demand-side effects of such tax cuts.  This would be what Reagan would do early in his term, although on the monetary policy side he was inheriting the tight monetary policy started under Carter by Paul Volcker.  But Bartlett praises all that and is proud of his involvement with it and credits Mundell as the man ultimately behind it.  Apparently Mundell first proposed this policy combination in "The Dollar and the Policy Mix: 1971" Princeton University International Finance Discussion Paper #85, May 1971, which never appeared in a journal.

Which brings us to the matter of Mundell and the Laffer Curve. Apparently he got the idea from reading a paper that he got published in the Journal of Political Economcy in 1971 just before he stopped editing that journal, "Ibn Khaldun: A Fourteenth Century Economist," Jean David C. Boulakia, JPE, 1971, 79, 1105-1118. Ibn Khaldun was a historian, geographer, and economist in whose main work, al Muqaddimah, appeared the following line that appeared in this English translation from the Arabic in the JPE paper:

"It should be known that at the beginning of the dynasty, taxation yields a large revenue from small assessments. At the end of the dynasty taxation yields a small revenue from large assessments."

According to Bartlett Mundell made Laffer aware of this argument and then also Wanniski.  Supposedly Reagan read an article in the WSJ in 1978 that Wanniski had put in that quoted this item from Ibn Khaldun, and again according to Bartlett Reagan would quote Ibn Khaldun 10 times during his presidency.  Again, while Laffer went out on a limb, and had done so repeatedly since despite repeated failures of them to come to pass, to forecast that tax cut after tax cut would increase revenues, I am unaware of Mundell having made the mistake to do so as well.

I would note that we have seen some limited examples of tax cuts leading to revenue increases.  Most discussion of the Laffer Curve has implicitly involved average tax rates, and recent studies have suggested that among the major high income nations the average tax rate that would maximize tax revenues might be around 70 percent, we have seen marginal tax rates higher than that.  There has been evidence that revenues raised from top income individuals may have risen when those rates were lowered.

I also note the peculiar case of Russia in the 1990s and the beginning of of the 2000s.  The standard Laffer Curve argument has been that one gets zero revenues at 0 percent and 100 percent.  But in certain locations in Russia in the 90s there were effective marginal tax rates when one added local to higher level taxes exceeding 100 percent. But in fact there were positive revenues collected.  In the real world things are more complicated, and people end up paying bribes not to pay their full taxes, not to mention some people actually paying 100 percent or more on certain parts of their income while making that up in other ways.  As it was this was a period when much of the Russian economy went into a barter mode, especially after the 1997 financial crisis.  It was a supply side success, and one of the few wise things that Vladimir Putin has done, that not long after he came to power in 2000 he simplified the tax code and imposed a flat rate of 20 percent.  Indeed this led to an increase in tax revenues. 

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Bellwether Bullard versus Sirenic Summers

 So this is about the now getting to be passe topic of what will happen to inflation this year, with Larry Summers having gone out of his way to make a lot of noise in criticizing the expansionary fiscal policy partly passed but partly still under consideration in Congress as threatening a possible outbreak of 60s-70s style inflation at an entrenched much higher rate than we are seeing now.  He has put the probability of that at about a third, but considers this to be high enough to call for the Biden fiscal policy to be cut back in order to avoid that one third chance of a serious increase in the rate of entrenched inflation.

This forecast has not been accepted by the leading economic policymakers, notably Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Fed Chair Jerome Powell, as well as the various lesser lights at the CEA and elsewhere in the Biden administration.  Their official line is that it looks like we shall see an increase in the rate of inflation, and the latest monthly report does have it over 2 percent now, but with this likely to come back down later in the year or by early next year. This is seen to be due to much of the uptick aggravated by supply issues related to pandemic, especially in global shipping, although also with some specific sectors hitting bottlenecks, with all this crashing against rising demand with GDP growth projected at over 6 percent for the year.  But they see the supply issues becoming resolved with the fading of the pandemic and there not being mechanisms in place to entrench the higher rate of inflation, with those at the Fed even hoping that inflation expectations might end up "centered around the 2 percent target rate," which the Fed has not been able to get to on a sustained basis.

The originator of this argument is James (Jim) B. Bullard, President of the St. Louis Fed since 2008.  While he is not well known by the public, he has been since roughly 2011 viewed by people at Bloomberg and elsewhere as being "the bellwether" of views and policy at the Fed.  He was the first in late 2009 to call for using quantitative easing to maintain a solid expansionary course to avoid the US falling into deflation.  In 2016 he became the first major figure at the Fed to argue that they should think in terms of multiple equilibria possible paths, an idea coming out of nonlinear dynamical growth theory.  In February of last year he became the first at the Fed to call for aggressively expansionary monetary policy to deal with the upcoming economic collapse due to the pandemic. That had not happened yet, indeed the pandemic was just getting going, but in fact the Fed followed his advice and in retrospect it is clear he really called it at the crucial moment.  A slower or smaller reaction by the Fed could have led to a much deeper and longer economic downturn than we saw in the US.  So his forecast on this year's inflation path is taken very seriously, and I take it serously.  He has more credibility than does Summers with his siren call for cutting back fiscal expansion, with Bullard for staying the monetary policy course with an expansionary fiscal policy.

It was not at all obvious that he would be the person making some of these forecasts and arguments.  He arrived at the Research Division of the St. Louis Fed in 1990 after getting an econ PhD at Indiana University. At the time the St. Louis Fed had a well-deserved reputation as the hardest line classically monetarist of all the regional Fed banks. This was the stronghold of the most faithful of Milton Friedman acolytes in the entire Fed system, and initially Jim went along with it mostly.  Even now it remains a bastion of the most immediate successor of that view in the "new monetarist" school of thought led by people like David Andolfatto who is there. Jim worked his way up to become the Director of the Research Division and the VP in terms of policy prior to becoming president in 2008.

I confess that I have known him for over 20 years, first meeting him at a conference on nonlinear dynamics back in the late 90s.  He was publishing papers on chaotic dynamics in macroeconomies in the Journal of Economic Theory at the time, among other things, not the usual St. Louis Fed stuff.  I found him most interesting and open minded. He was still a rising grunt in the research shop then. He would become a coeditor of the Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, where he is still on the board, a journal where models of multiple equilibria growth paths would get published regularly, so that when he pulled this stuff out in 2016 for serious policy consideration he was applying serious research onto policy. 

That is sort of funny because about ten years ago I heard him give a plenary talk at a computational economics conference in which he spent a lot of time talking about the conflict between the "front room" (policymakers) and the "back room" (researchers) at Fed and other central banks. Obviously as someone who had moved from one to the other (and several other regional Fed bank presidents have followed this path) he was certainly well positioned to observe this. I note this was not long after the financial crashes and the Great Recession and also when he first argued for using quantitative easing. He made some quite disparaging remarks about the unreality of some of the models being taken seriously in the back rooms, even as he clearly supported vigorous back room research.  

But in the end he seems to have been able to figure out what may be useful from those back room research activities as well as showing an ability to move on from old ideas no longer so useful such as the classical monetarism that dominated the place he now runs when he first got there. 

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Where's The Beef?

 Well, as we increasingly understand how environmentally damaging producing beef is, quite aside from lots of other issues, the proper issue should probably be, "nowhere."  But back in the early 1980s a fast food outlet, Wendy's (I originally said Arby's) ran an ad with this line that indicated that the beef was at their outlet while their competitors just did not have the real beef, what all potential customers really wanted.  Wendy's has never been all super successful although somewhat so, but many considered this to be an effective ad that appealed to lots of people.

So during the campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 when "New Democrat" Gary Hart took the lead in polls with his appeal to high tech and a certain sleek cool, his chief rival Walter Mondale threw this ad line at him regarding what he considered to be the superficial nature of Hart's positions and appeal, "Where's the beef?"  It was viewed as an appeal to working class Dems and labor unions not likely to gain from the high tech oriented policies pushed by Hart. His remark made a splash and seems to have slowed Hart's momentum and helped Mondale's campaign, who would eventually get the nomination, although what finally did Hart in for sure was a sex scandal that erupted around him.  In any case, while I have seen some sneer now upon his death at Mondale's use of this ad line, it may well have symbolized that Mondale did have a depth Hart did not.  Of course, many dismiss Mondale because he went down to massive defeat in the election against Reagan, taking only DC and his home stare of Minnesota.  But in that year following the highest rate of GDP growth we have seen since in the US no Dem was going to defeat Reagan's "Morning in America" campaign.  Mondale ran a noble but hopeless campaign.

Anyway, this honorable progressive politician has now died at age 93.  We have not heard all that much out of him since his 1984 loss, but he had an admirable record.  Minnesota produced several highly progressive politicians, including Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone.  But Walter Mondale was part of that tradition.  Humphrey was the one who talked the Democratic Party in 1948 to adopt its first pro-civil rights plank at its convention, a plank that led Strom Thurmond, who would later become a Republican, to walk out of the convention and run as an independent "Dixiecrat."  It is not widely known or remembered that Mondale, who also served as US senator, was the main author of the Fair Housing Act, an appropriate successor to Humphrey's efforts.

Another important thing he did that we now take for granted, although it was ultimately the doing of Jimmy Carter, but Walter Mondale was apparently the first US vice president to be actively and regularly involved in the day to day governing of the United States, which indeed was due to Carter inviting him to do that and supporting him in doing so.  Now we have since seen a case where a VP got out of control, namely Dick Cheney on foreign and intel policy under George W. Bush.  But I must say that in general I think this is better if just for making any VP more prepared to be president if the president dies in office. Prior to Mondale all vice presidents had been pushed aside to attend funerals and inaugurate ships, if even that much.  FDR's first VP, John Nance Garner, famously remarked that the vice presidency was "not worth a bucket of warm spit," although it is alleged that last word was one not quite as polite.  And that was how it had always been.  The now late Walter Mondale changed that.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, April 18, 2021

The Eternal Sunshine of Spotless Politics

 Protesters trashed windows at the Oregon State Historical Society and left this graffiti: 


Credit: Willamette Weekly

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Keeping Fingers Crossed As US Commits To Removing Military From Afghanistan

 Yes, President Biden has bitten the bullet to remove US troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attack that triggered our initial entry into that nation for our longest war.  Of course, we shall not quite be fully out as not only will there still be some Marines guarding the embassy in Kabul, but probably covert CIA forces will continue to operate and drone bombing will probably continue and possibly even continue the expansion that has been going on for some time, with over 7000 bombs dropped on the nation by the US in 2019 according to Juan Cole.  But, hey, still looking good.

Needless to say many are upset and whining and worrying.  David Ignatius in WaPo worries that the Taliban will take Kabul after a bloody war and allow al Qaeda or ISIS to establish themselves there, saying that the worst thing would be for the US to have to go back in again after having left the way we went back into Iraq after ISIS grabbed lots of territory after we left there.  But Biden has been through these discussions and decisions and was long reported to want out from Afghanistan way back when Obama was increasing troop levels up to about 100,000, with them now down to just a few thousand.  Most of the withdrawing has already happened, and with Trump having promised a May 1 withdrawal an effort to go back on that with lots of conditions would probably trigger an upsurge of Taliban attacks on US troops, making a mess of things.

Of course it is quite possible, maybe even likely, that this will lead to a full Taliban victory down the road, which will be awful for the women of Afghanistan at a minimum.  But Juan Cole argues that maybe the danger of all sorts of terror groups setting up shop there in that case may be overblown.  Apparently the Taliban did not approve of bin Laden's original 9/11 operation and have been not at all friendly to ISIS.  They might well keep those groups under more control than when they ran the country before. And Cole also notes that al Qaeda has substantial presence in places like Yemen and Syria without this leading to them organizing 9/11 style attacks on the US.  Even if they get a base in Afghanistan, such would likely be smaller and weaker than these, and in Syria the US has effectively allied itself with al Qaeda allies.

Another point Cole makes is that the chances for this to lead to a stable and peaceful outcome in which the economy and people of Afghanistan can get into better shape would be helped if immediate neighbors would imitate Britain and Russia in the late 19th century and early 20th when they put a stop to their Great Game and effectively declared Afghanistan to be a neutral zone.  Now the nations that should do it are India and Pakistan, with each backing different groups in Afghanistan. Cole suggests that maybe China can play a role in encouraging them, at least Pakistan to make such a move, with the presence of Uighurs in some of the Afghan groups possibly providing an incentive for them to do so, and with major Belt and Road Initiative money in Pakistan, China might even have the clout.  I suspect Cole is reaching for windmills on this matter, but it certainly would be a good thing if this US withdrawal were to be followed by such an agreement by outsiders to leave Afghanistan alone. Maybe peace might really come to this much troubled and fought-over land.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Congress Steadily Degenerating

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Of Battenbergs, Brexit, and Brogues

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

How To Estimate "Rational" Market Expectations Of Future Inflation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

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

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

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

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

 ...

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

...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good Signs On Renewing US-Iran JCPOA Nuclear Deal

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

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The "Work Ethic" Hoax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New York Times was on to the hustle:

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



The Death Of Yeshua Bin Yusuf

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

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

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

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

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

Things Yeshua bin Yusuf never said a word about:

abortion

sexual identity or preference

guns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gospel of John: "It is finished."

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

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

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

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

Happy Easter, you all who celebrate it.

Barkley Rosser

Barkley Rosser

 

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Iran-China Deal

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, March 27, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Virginia Ends The Death Penalty

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

Barkley Rosser 

Friday, March 26, 2021

All a simple misunderstanding

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



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

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

Monday, March 22, 2021

Peace in Libya?

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

A Curious Form of Sex Addiction

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Rescued from Oblivion!

I was sure that the English translation of Friedrich Engels's Preface to volume 2 of Capital had used the expression "rescued from oblivion" in referring to the 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties. But the only translations I could find didn't agree:
"In this pamphlet, the importance of which should have been recognized on account of the terms surplus produce or capital, and which Marx saved from being forgotten, we read the following statements..."
"In this pamphlet of 40 pages, the importance of which should have been noted if only on account of the one expression “surplus-produce or capital,” and which Marx saved from falling into oblivion, we read the following statements..."
Today, when checking up on an old citation I had made regarding Sydney Chapman, I dug out my photocopy of Chapman's unpublished autobiography (which I just happened to have lying around). And there was the expression. But that is not the important part. Chapman was talking about his education at Cambridge and two courses he had taken from Herbert Foxwell:
Also I remember particularly well two courses by Professor Foxwell, one on Currency and Banking, and one on early English Socialistic writers, several of whom he had rescued from oblivion. Both courses had grown and grown as Foxwell added to his information and new facts had to be incorporated. It is much to be regretted that he did not publish a book on each subject. The only survival of any size that I know of is a lengthy introduction about early English socialistic writers contributed to a volume by another writer [Anton Menger]. ...

In that book, The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour, Menger disparaged Engels's account of the pamphlet's influence on Marx, declaring in a footnote, "I doubt whether Marx drew his views on this question from the pamphlet quoted by Engels... which contains only faint hints of the theory.  The real discoverers of the theory of surplus value are Godwin, Hall, and especially W. Thompson." Subsequent publication of Theories of Surplus Value and the Grundrisse show that Menger's "doubt" was utterly unfounded but his naming of Godwin as first among the "real discoverers" of surplus value is poignant given what is now known about the 1821 pamphlet's author, Charles Wentworth Dilke, his admitted "Godwin-Methodism" and Marx's extraordinarily high regard for the pamphlet.

Although Foxwell didn't directly challenge Menger's low opinion of The Source and Remedy, in his bibliography he attributed authorship of the pamphlet to John Gray while exalting Gray's A Lecture on Human Happiness (1825) as being, "of the greatest importance in the development of scientific Socialism." In his Introduction to Menger's book, Foxwell claimed (rather impetuously) that Gray had, "left little for Marx to add, except in the way of incitement to the use of force." 

All of this is beating around the bush. What interests me is the distinct possibility that Sydney Chapman read The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties while enrolled in Foxwell's course on "early English Socialistic writers." After all, Engels's avowal and Menger's disavowal of the pamphlet, along with Foxwell's misattribution of it and his high praise for John Gray's "other" work would seem to have made The Source and Remedy  somewhat of an enigma.

Which brings me back to that phrase: "rescued from oblivion"! Whether consciously or unconsciously, might not Chapman have been alluding to the Engels's controversial remark about Marx saving the 1821 pamphlet from falling into oblivion?


 


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Woman Behind The New Deal

 I was long aware that Frances Perkins (1880-1965) was the first woman to serve as a cabinet secretary, namely Secretary of Labor for Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which position she was one of the two people to serve in their position all they way through his presidency, the other being Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. Somehow I never heard that much about her, but an article in yesterday's WaPo's Retropolis section, "The woman who helped FDR change America in 100 days" proved a real eye-opener on several fronts.  While some of the previously hidden material had been public since the 2009 bio by Kirsten Downey, which bears the title I have used for this post, it seems to be getting fresh publicity now due to this being Biden's first 100 days, and some people are comparing him to FDR, which can be questioned, but anyway I have now learned about this important and fascinating woman.

It should not be surprising that FDR's Secretary of Labor would play an important role in many of the important initiatives, but in fact her influence went well beyond those obvious issues.  Indeed, while largely remaining as out of the scene as she could manage, she was a or the key player in many of the most important parts of the New Deal.  These include Social Security in 1935 and in 1933 the 40 hour week, limits on child labor, and the minimum wage. and from the first 100 days the Civilian Conservation Corps and a major expansion of employment-increasing public works spending. While she was less successful with this, during WW II she was one of the leading people trying to get the administration to allow more Jewish refugees to enter the US. She got in trouble with the HUAC in Congress in 1939 for blocking the deportation of portworker organizer Harry Bridges, who was accused of being a Communist.  

Curiously despite all the achievements for the labor movement she brought about, she was not all that popular with many labor union leaders, apparently especially United Mine Workers' leader, John L. Lewis, with her also unsurprisingly not liked by business leaders. But she had the ear of FDR throughout his presidency. Part of why these groups did not like her perhaps had to do with her being a woman, and one from an old New England family with an old fashioned accent.  She was low key and not an outgoing person, although she achieved a great deal. She would also serves on the Civil Service Commission under Truman.

Quite aside from not knowing how important a role she played in such crucial New Deal innovations as Social Security, the other thing I knew nothing of and apparently was not known at all widely prior to Downey's 2009 bio, is that she was also the first lesbian cabinet secretary, a matter that was long kept deeply secret.  Her old New England family was conservative and Congregationalist, her father ran a stationer's business in Worcester, MA and taught her Greek and Latin when she was young, but she became a progressive concerned about poor people and workers while attending Mount Holyoke College, where she majored in physics and chemistry. Teaching those subjects in Illinois she also worked at Hull House in Chicago with Jane Addams where she became an Episcopalian and then attended Wharton to study economics for awhile, and then moved to Greenwich Village where she also got involved in the suffragette movement, and also got a Masters in economics and sociology at Columbia.  She taught sociology at Adelphi College, but got involved in advocating worker safety and got appointed to the New York City Consumers League in 1910 on the recommendation of Theodore Roosevelt and was deeply involved in the aftermath of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. She became very prominent as an advocate for worker safety, rose to state level positions under New York Governer Al Smith and then his successor, FDR, who then took her to Washington in 1933.

Anyway, regarding the more secret part of her personal life, in 1912 she married a male economist, Paul Caldwell Wilson.  She retained her maiden name, and went to court to be able to do so, so as not to get her husband in political trouble because he was the secretary of the New York mayor. She had a daughter in 1916, but two years later her husband began exhibiting bipolar disorder, which became so serious that he spent most of the rest of his life (dying in 1952) in hospitals, with her daughter also suffering from the same problem. Somewhere as all this went on she developed her hidden side.

Her main partner was Mary Harriman Rumsey, who would serve for FDR as the first head of a consumer safety agency. She and Perkins shared a house in Georgetown until Rumsey died after falling off a horse in late 1934. While apparently they held dinner parties, their relationship was very much kept in the closet except for a very narrow group of insiders. Rumsey was the daughter of railroad magnate E.H. Harriman and the older sister of W. Averell Harriman, wealthy banker, whom she convinced to work for the National Recovery Agency of FDR.  He would later be Ambassador to the USSR in WW II, Commerce Secretary under Truman, and New York governor in the mid-50s, as well as many other things. Rumsey, who had been married and had three children, although with her husband dying in 1922, was the founder of the Junior League, a group that supported houses for the poor along the lines of Hull House, an activity through which she initially got to know Perkins. Sometime after Rumsey's death, Perkins would live with New York Congresswoman Caroline O'Day. In 2015 Perkins was recognized by a national LGBTQ group.  The main building of the Department of Labor was named for Perkins by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.

An odd late item is that in her later years she taught labor relations at Cornell University.  For some period of time doing that she lived in elitist Telluride House in Ithaca, where she intrigued some neoconservative intellectuals who hung out there, most curiously Paul Wolfowitz, who was taken with her reportedly dry wit.  She would die in New York City and be buried in Maine, where her parents had come from.  In any case, she was a woman important on many fronts, far more important than many have been aware of (or at least me). So I am helping to make her better known (and a final point is that she also supported universal national health insurance, but that was one item she was unable to get FDR to push through, and we are still waiting for that).

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, March 14, 2021

"How The Humanities Building Went Wrong" Or Does Brutalist Architrecture Represent Fascist "Institutionalized Tyranny"?

 My freshly arrived Spring 2021 issue of "On Wisconsin," the alumni magazine of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, has an article whose title is the first part of the title above in quotation marks.  The later quotation marks phrase appears in the article, but not the word "fascism." The article is about a famous but much criticized building on the UW-Madison campus Peter Dorman well knows, long known as the Humanities Building, although renamed the George L. Mosse building in 1999 after the famous history professor of that name who died that year and had give a lot of money to UW, and who, ironically, was not only a refugee from Nazi Germany in the 1930s but would become a famous scholar of fascist culture and its origins.  His name also does not appear in this peculiar article in which the building is always called by its original name, the Humanities building, and until recently it did contains much of both the music and arts schools on campus.  After much criticism over decades, it is now scheduled to be torn down sometime after 2029 and replaced with something else, budgetary considerations depending.

It is indeed considered to be an icon, if flawed and troubled, if the brutalist style of architecture, designed in 1962 by Harry Weese, who would design Washington's metro stations. By the time it opened on campus in 1969, the year I started grad school there after completing undergrad there also, it was already a time when tastes began to change in the midst of anti-war protests and hippies all over the place, with it viewed by some as the article notes as representing "institutionalized tyranny."  It is large and blocky and concrete and "modern," with no frills or designs on it, classic modernist brutalism.  Although it turns out that many of the harshest criticisms came because of dysfunctionality arising from budget cuts during its building.  It is horribly energy inefficient, falling apart, leaking toxic chemicals, and numerous other problems.  It is these more than the long-running denunciation of its appearance that are doing it in ultimately.  The article even recognized that it had potential to be an architecturally great building, especially for those who like that architectural style (as my daughter Sasha does who lives in Madison). I was never all that great of a fan of it, and remembered the nice brick buildings there before it that were in the style of the still-standing University Club.

The question of whether or not brutalism and fascism are linked is not straightforward.  Indeed the architectures have serious similarities, both deriving from a modernist "rationalism" advocated by Le Corbusier, emphasizing simple materials and blocky designs with little implementation, and looking at classic buildings identified as "fascist architecture" in both Italy and Germany, they sure as heck look pretty brutalist to me.  The break is that self-identified brutalist architecture came after the war with no direct link, the term first applied in Swedish in 1960 to a brick building in Uppsala, the Villa Goth. Then it appeared in 1953 in Britain, where the term and concept took off, although soon spreading to the US and Brazil and some other locations, with its heyday probably the latemid-1950s through the 1960s, although some famous brutalist buildings continued to go up for some time after that. Many of the most famous such buildings were built by governments at some level or other around the world, with the Boston City Hall a classic example.

Curiously one thing former President Trump did was to issue a ban on building any US government buildings in that style, with the FBI HQ an example.  He insisted all should follow the "classical" style many in Washington follow.  However, that is apparently one of the many orders he issued that is being undone by the succeeding Biden administration.

A part of my bringing this up is that I have long been curious about how tastes change. In the 1950s and early 1060s in Madison and in some other places, Victorian architecture was considered to be awful, "an eyesore" or "outrageous." There were moves to tear down such buildings, with an especially famous case being a move to tear down Alexander Hall on the Princeton University campus.  That and some others were blocked, with Victorian architecture back to being admired and respected. The idea that Alexander Hall was something to be torn down is itself now considered "outrageous." But those leading such charges tended to be modernist advocates of brutalist architecture, which itself is now getting viewed harshly and getting torn down, although in the case of the George L. Mosse Humanities building in Madison this may ultimately be due more to its dysfunctionality than its architecture. A further irony of the official name of the building is that apparently Mosse himself did not like the building, but it was known he had a sense of humor, so it was viewed that he would appreciate having it named for himself despite his dislike of the building.

I am looking at these matters of taste as we are right now in the midst of another round of shifts cutting across many things, names of buildings, children's literature, and more, where things long in place are being removed or changed.  This is now being driven by politics, opposition to racism in particular, if not necessarily to fascism per se. It started with the moves to remove Confederate statues, especially in my current state of Virginia, with the uproar in Charlottesville in August, 2017 over a statue of Robert E. Lee arguably the opening shot of the new round.  This has since moved on to Dr. Seuss books and much else.

I find myself unable to determine where the line is.  So I support changing names of buildings from those for people involved in the Confederacy and the removal of their statues from public places.  But I also think this can go too far.  I find myself opposing the renaming of a high school in San Francisco that was named for Abraham Lincoln. Hey, he was the leader of the anti-slavery side in the Civil War! But that is being done because he approved of the killing of Native Americans at one point, although the details of that matter are rather complicated.  There is a push to rename anything named for a slave owner, but most of the Founding Fathers of the US were slave owners, including notably Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. We even have the hard case of Benjamin Franklin, who owned slaves for a period of time, but in later life became a leading abolitionist, arguably the most influential one of his day, probably convincing John Adams to support it, the only one of the really top Founding Fathers not to have owned slaves and thus to be "safe" and PC and all that. I do not know what the boundaries are.

This is an issue on my campus, which is indeed named for one of those slaveo-wning Founding Fathers, James Madison, "Father of the Constitution," as well as fourth president (not all that good of a one, to be frank, see War of 1812 and British burning the Capitol and the White House). On our campus there are three buildings that had been named for Confederate figures: Jackson, Ashby, and Mauty.  Those buildings have been renamed, all for African Americans, one of them for two current faculty members with whom I am good friends, another of whom just died shortly after this decision was made. A new dormitory has been built named for Madison's most famous slave, Paul Jennings.  But there is no move to rename the university.  We shall still be James Madison University, at least for now.

And I am unaware of us having any notorious brutalist buildings that need to be taken down either.

Barkley Rosser