Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Why The Late Janos Kornai Did Not Get The Nobel Prize

 Apparently yesterday Janos Kornai died in Budapest at the age of 94. He was the greatest analyst of the socialist system there was. Indeed, his personal life saw the full history of it in in his native land of Hungary, where, being Jewish, he barely survived the Nazi period there, with that inclining him to support the Stalin version of centrally planned command socialism, which took control of Hungary by the end of the 1940s. But as the 1950s proceeded he began to see its problems and his PhD defense in 1956 just prior to the Hungarian uprising against Soviet rule that year was a major public event that led to him spending time in jail and then a long period in trivial jobs, after having held some highly responsible positions earlier in the 1950s.

This period led him to privately study broader economics, including what was going on in the West.  This led to two great books.  The first in 1971 dealt directly and critically with established western economics, Anti-Equilibrium, identifying problems with general equilibrium theory that are now so widely recognized they are in textbooks, things like externalities and informational asymmetries. The latter followed by one year Akerlof's publication in the QJE of his lemons paper, which earned a Nobel Prize.  But Kornai was ahead of him and independent of him, but, well.

The more important book, the one he really should have gotten that trip to Stockholm to shake the hand of the Swedish monarch, was his 1980, The Economics of Shortage. This reflected him being brought back into a position of more responsibility and respectability, especially during a period when Hungary under Janos Kadar pursued its market socialist "goulash communism." The key Nobel-worthy idea in that book was that of the "soft budget constraint," another item now in textbooks. He noted that if a firm is state-owned it may not feel pressure to be efficient as it can count on the state to bail it out if it gets into trouble.  Of course this idea is relevant far beyond market socialist systems into lots of actually existing market capitalist systems where large corporations can get the political system to bail them out, even though they are privately owned. This is a form of rent seeking, and arguably Kornai should have shared the prize with the late Gordon Tullock and Anne Krueger, who actually coined the term "rent seeking."

As it was, a post on Facebook by Kornai's former coauthor, Gerard Roland, reports that in the late 1990s he was indeed apparently on track to get that visit to Stockholm. But he did not get it.  I am going to report from private information that why that did not happen was because of his personal relationship with the then dominant figure of the econ Nobel committee, Jurgen Weibull. Apparently Weibull was married to Janos's daughter, and just about at this time when he was a leading candidate to get it, that marriage broke up in a bad way, and apparently this led Weibull to turn against Kornai for the prize.

Kornai wrote much else, including probably the definitive analysis of socialist economies in his `1992 The Socialist System, written after the end of the Soviet system, including in Hungary. More recently he publicly opposed the anti-democratic tendencies of the Orban government in Hungary, and denounced it as an unacceptable "U-turn" against democracy and human rights.  It is ironic that his death followed an election in Hungary where Orban's opponents appear to have finally agreed to unite to overthrow Orban.  That may or may not happen, but I can appreciate that the declining Kornai might see this as a time to finally check out, may he RIP.

I am going to add here something possibly inappropriate, but, well, it is an old joke about Janos Kadar, a man who imprisoned and then later elevated Kornai, the "goulash communism" leader who played a dicey game with the Soviets, pulling as far away from them as possible while still kowtowing to them.

So, Kadar meets with some high Soviet official. This official asks him:

"Comrade Kadar, what do you think of Policy X?"

"Well, Comrade Soviet Official, Marx said..."

"Excuse me, Comrade Kadar, but we want to know your opinion of Policy X."

"Well, Comrade Soviet Official, Lenin said... :

"Excuse me, Comrade Kadar, but we want to know your opinion of Policy X"

"Well, Comrade Soviet Official, I can provide that, but I want to assure you that I completely disagree with that opinion."

Anyway, again, RIP Janos Kornai.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Bad Biden Foreign Policy

 I have posted on this previously, but not for awhile. The main meme is that for reasons I mostly do not get, Biden has been carrying over a lot of bad Trump foreign policies.  Some of them I understand for political reasons, even when they damage the US and world economies. But others seem to be just plain stupid.  I am not sure who in his admin are behind these failrures: SecState Blinken? NSA Sullivan? Of course in the end this stuff comes down to Biden himself, someone with much greater foreign policy experience than those two or anybody else in the admin. So failures really come down to him. 

The worst, although it gets little news attention, is Iran.  Biden ran on getting back into the Obama-negotiated nuclear JCPOA deal. He should have done so quickly. Yes, there were timing details to negotiate, but apparently those were negotiated.  Somehow somebody decided that they should push for crap that Trump wanted but which was dumped when the deal was originally negotiated with great effort, stuff like missile restrictions and Iran support for groups abroad. Anybody who knew anything about this, like me, knew that this stuff was still non-negotiable. So why on earth Blinken et al insisted on Iran caving on any of this was utterly insane and stupid.  They could have gotten this deal early, and it would not have triggered anywhere near the negative response the pullout from Afghanistan got (which I supported, but there was no way that was going to happen without a lot of bad publicity and damage in the polls, which has happened). He could have done this cleanly early with minimal fuss. But, no, and now it looks not to be done anywhere in the foreseeable future, and Iran has now accumulated nearly enough U fuel to make a bomb. And I read the admin is now looking to Israel for advice on this? This is a serious and massive failure on Biden's part. I do not agree with Hannity that he is outright senile, but this border line there, really seriously awful and stupid.

Another is the trade issue. Yeah, this is complicated, and I get that Biden is being domestically political.  So Obama and Biden negotiated the anti-China TTP, but Trump pulled out, and Hillary would have also, under domestic pressure. Now China is asking to join this actually existing trade group, with the US unbelievably stupidly out.  So indeed many in the Dem Party are protectionist, especially those associated with AFL-CIO. And Biden is very close to this faction. But steel tariffs hurt autoworkers in Ohio, with the shutdown at Lordstown partly due to Trump's steel tariffs.  But the idiot workers there still supported Trump for standing up for them or whatever.  So in OH it is steel producing Youngstown and Cleveland versus auto producing Lordstown, Akron, and Toledo, but no way any of them will not support protectionism and Trump. So why does Biden support this idiocy?  I think in the end it is Pennsylvania, his home state, which is the ultimate steel producing state, with no autos. So, in political terms understandable given what a key state his original home is.

There is much more unfortunately.  

Barkley Rosser

Monday, October 11, 2021

Bad Reporting On Latest Sveriges Riksbank Prize In Memory Of Nobel

 So the recipient are half of it to David Card for his 1994 study with the late Alan Krueger, who committed suicide not too long ago, on minimum wages, and how raising them might actually sometimes increase employment.  The other half was split between Joshua Angrist and Guido Imbens for developing econometric techniques for studying natural experiments, such as differences in differences, with a 1992 paper on compulsory education by them cited. Card and Krueger also used this.

Anyway, I learned of the award on the radio this morning at 9 AM, CBS News, not a cockamamie outfit usually.  The report stated (roughly) "Three American labor economists received the Nobel Prize for studies of immigration and its effects." That was it, their names were not provided.  As it is, Card has done some such studies, and when I began guessing who it might be, his name was on my list.  But the others were David Autor and George Borjas, even though the latter's studies on the subject disagree with the former's such studies. But they committee has given contradictory awards before, e.g. Mydal and Hayek, not to mention Fama and Shiller.  So, it was not out of the question.

But clearly they were way off on several counts. I know immigration is a hot issue, so any mention of that in the awards apparently got the attention, even though, heck, the minimum wage is also a pretty big and current issue.  What can I say, but more evidence of further decline in the quality of media in general, not just the increasing insanity happening on a lot of social media. When the regular media cannot get simple things right, what hope is there for the social media?

Barkley Rosser

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Passing Of Peter Flaschel And The Bielefeld School Of Macroeconomics

 German economist Peter Flaschel died yesterday at age 78.  I am not sure precisely of what, although it was not Covid-19.  He had been in declining health for some years, with a heart problem at least.  Roberto Veneziani, from whom I learned the news, said that Peter "sounded tire" when he spoke with him a few days ago.  Ironically he spoke with him to tell him I had accepted for publication in the Review of Behavioral Economics a paper they coauthored with two other economists on the economics of the pandemic. I knew and liked Peter a lot, although I had not seen him for a full decade, last when I spoke at Bielefeld University where he was located.  Indeed, his death I think means the end of what I had labeled "the Bielefeld School of Macroeconomics," although this did not catch on all that much. But I know that Peter, who may have been the central figure of this group, appreciated my labeling it as such and trying to bring some attention to them.

Indeed, I think they deserved more attention, which they got very little of in the US.  Various of them published quite a few books over the years, where their approach got laid out most fully.  But their articles did not show up in US journals, and to some extent I think they may have partly brought this obscurity on themselves.  In particular, while some like me saw them as having affinities with Post Keynesian economics, they themselves disdained the PKs for not being sufficiently mathematical. And, with a few exceptions, most of the Post Keynesians in their various sub-varieties and camps, seem to have ignored the Bielefelders, to the extent they were even aware of them.  Some of this may have also had to do with nations as well, with PKs mostly in US, UK, and Italy, although also in Australia, while the Bielefelders were heavily in Germany, with outposts in Japan, although some people at the New School in the US, and also in Australia.

So who else besides Peter was part of this group?  One was Reiner Franke, who was with Peter at Bielefeld for a long time, but then moved to Bremen.  Another was Willi Semmler, who long split his time between Bielefeld and the New School, not quite sure what his status is with all that.  But he was the main US link.  Then there was Toichiro Asada at Chuo University in Tokyo and the late Carl Chiarella of the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.  I knew/know all of these.  Carl in particular, whose PhD was in Applied Math and served for awhile as coeditor of the highly mathematical Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control was one who was especially critical of what he considered the low mathematical content of much of Post Keynesian economics.  Peter himself had an undergrad degree in math, and also shared this view.  Just to note the Bielefeld connection, both Asada and Chiarella spent a lot of time visiting at Bielefeld and working with Peter on joint projects as well as with some of these others.

So what is the Bielefeld approach, and why do I respect it a lot?  Well, it combined Marx, Schumpeter, Keynes, Metzler, and Goodwin to generate fairly complicated models that combined both long-run growth dynamics with short-run cyclical fluctuation dynamics.  Their models easily produced various complex dynamics, including such things as chaotic dynamics, which I have long been interested in. They never went along with rational expectations or any of that stuff. I always thought their models were both realistic and intellectually sophisticated.  But as noted, they did not publish articles in some journals that might have gotten them more attention, especially the Post Keynesian ones that I think might have taken them. And books, well, it is easy to ignore books, no matter how good they are.  So I think their very appealing approach in my view just did not get the attention it deserved

And now it probably will not any further, as probably its key and central figure still at Bielefeld is no longer with us.  As it was in recent years he had become involved with some younger economists, especially Veneziani, who is at Queens College in London. Some of their work with various coauthors has in fact moved back more to a directly Marxist approach, with this very much the case for Peter's last book out in 2018 with Roberto and some others from Elgar, Value, Competition, and Exploitation: The Marxian Legacy Revisited.   Anyway, I shall miss him, a good man and a fine economist.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Origin Of The Terms "Socialism" and "Communism"

 This is one of those rare times when I post here about my academic research, but on this matter, well, I think this is of broader interest than than the usual obscuranta that I usually study academically.

So, my wife, Marina, and I, were asked to contribute to a "Handbook on Comparative Economics." We were supposed to have sent in our chapter by the end of September. There will be a conference on this around Oct. 18 in Trento, Italy, neither of us will make, although we have committed to presenting there.

I am not going to describe what our paper is supposed to be about, which it will deal with, oh matters of how to do comparative economics.  But while writing this paper we got distracted by certain foundational issues that we, authors or one of the most widely used comparative economics textbooks in the world, thought we knew the answers to. But we did not, and I note that my wife was one of those rare people in the old USSR who was allowed to visit the Marx-Engels archives that are still there in Moscow.  No, we should have known this stuff, but we did not, and our textbook contains errors on this matter,

So indeed, the issue is as the title of this post puts it, what were the origins of these widely used terms: "socialism" and "communism"?

In our textbook we erroneously identified the "utopian socialist," Robert Owen, as the person who coined the term.  He indeed picked it up within a year of its coinage and spread it in 1835 as part of his effort to develop trade unionism in the UK. But he got it from Pierre Leroux, who nternwrote about it in 1834, although reportedly he was talking about it two years earlier, and there are claims it was around even earlier.  But he was the first to put it in print, with a Christian and utopian overlay on it, generalized sharing. He was a follower of Saint-Simon, who was not much of a socialist, despite everybody from Marx to Hayek labeling him as such (long part of our paper). Marx much admired Leroux, although he rarely cited him in his writings. But when he first got to Paris he sought him out, and would later put him on the Executive Committee of the First International. Later in his life, Pleroux would become mayor of his hometown (sorry, not sure its name) in France, where, apparently there is a statue of him.

Which brings us to the more controversial term, "communism." The hard fact is that neither me or Marina knew the origin of this term.  In our textbook we labeled it (accurately) as having come out of France somewhere between the late 1830s and the early1840s.  We both sort of thought that maybe was Proudhon who originated it. I have not read his work in great detail, but I think he used the term. Of course, this makes things complicated, especially for someone so official as Marina was in the old days of the USSR, with her special access to the original texts of Marx and Engels. But even she thought it was Proudhon who might have originated it. But, fortunately our joint doubt on the matter, with in fact that neither of us really knew the answer, led us to be vague in our textbook, simply attributing the origin accurately, if ignorantly, to French radical movements of that period.

So, in fact, while somehow both Marx and Engels never mentioned Pleroux in print, Engels in his notes to the "official" 1888 English translation of the Communist Manifesto, actually provided a footnote on who originated the word, "communism." It was yet another utopian socialist, Etienne Cabet, who advocated "Icarian" communities, and put forth the term in his book on this, published in 1840, although apparently he put it out in 1839, from whence it spread. He competed with Fourier, who inspired the Transcendentalist Brook Farm in MA, and Owen, who organized New Harmony in IN, for starting utopian communities in the US, where, well, land was inexpensive,  In the end 140 such communities were founded, some of which, such as New Harmony, survived to become just regular towns in the US. Anyway, as a final irony, a utopian community inspired by the communist Icarain Cabet in California, which he had a hand in, had as one of its more prominent participants a relative of Pleroux.

Which leaves us with a further old and not regularly remembered point: back in those days there was no clear distinction between these two terms, "socialism" and "communism," with this there in the Communist Manifesto. Indeed, many think that Marx defined pure communism in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. But in fact when there he laid out as an ultimate goal "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" as well as the famous "withering away of the state," in fact he claimed he was describing the "higher stage of socialism," no mention of "communism."

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Will Krysten Sinema Change Parties?

 I have resisted posting something like this, but while I have yet to see anybody else suggest it, this possibility has been on my mind now for several days.

We have never seen to my knowledge a senator refuse to offer their views on possible resolution of a major disagreement involving money.  The contrast to Sen. Sinema is her associate in the Senate in blocking various Dem initiatives (including undoing the filibuster, which would really open things up), Joe Manchin of WV. For how annoying he may be, at least we understand that he comes from one of the most pro-Trump states in the country, as well as the state being the heart of coal in the nation, so no surprise he resists limits on fossil fuels. So, no surprise he is resisting. But he art least actually provides numbers he wants and seems to be open to negotiation to come to a conclusion.

But Sinema is playing a game never seen before, ever. She says nothing. Apparently last week she had four private meetings at the White House with President Biden, yes, four. Apparently he tried really hard to get her to the Manchin stage, actually saying a number, much less details of what she would like to see removed from the current $3.5 trillion (over ten years) reconciliation bill. She may have hoped the House would pass the hard infrastructure bill, which she supports, so she and Manchin would have been in a position to either cherry pick details or outright block the soft reconciliation bill. I am unclear how much of her unprecedented behavior is a matter of ignorance and stupidity or something else.

So, here I am worrying about the something else.  She was originally a Green, supporting Ralph Nader in 2000 when his campaign probably put Bush in instead of Gore. So, she has been drifting to the right, with this buzz about her personal life that got mocked on SNL last Saturday. So now we have this spectacle of her refusal to even meet with AZ voter groups has led to her being "harassed" as Fox News is now huffing and puffing about. Poor thing, people filming her in a restroom and confronting her in various public places.  Poor thing.

Well, I am now getting suspicious of what she is up to here with all this, whether it comes before or after whatever resolution of all these big policy debates comes about, not to mention the matter of the debt ceiling issue, which would easily be handled if the filibuster would be shut down, which she could decisively support.  But, hey, McConnell is looking at polls that suggest that if a failure to raise the debt ceiling leads to a major economic crash, a majority of voters will blame Biden and the Dems.

So we get reports that rather than meeting with AZ voters who supported her, much less saying a single word about a number or details on the reconciliation bill that might lead her to support it, she has been meeting repeatedly with various corporate funders giving her money and urging her to at least modify if not just outright oppose the reconciliaton bill. What does this mean?

I fear this is a prelude to a cataclysmic move: Sinema changing parties to the GOP. This would put the GOP in charge of the US Senate, with Mitch McConnell in charge there. This would be the end of basically anything Biden or other Dems would like to do at all in the Congress. Sinema already is more popular in the GOP than she is with Dems. With piles of corporate money, the GOP in the Senate would welcome her munificently and reward her greatly. But while this might make her a short-term star, AZ is changing, and Dems will make sure this is the last term she serves in the Senate if she follows through on this, and may well do so anyway through the primary process if she stays with the Dems while continuing to behave as she has been recently.

Barkley Rosser

Democratizing Work

I was a bit skeptical of the Global Forum on Democratizing Work. It seemed to me that rushing into an online conference was perhaps a bit over ambitious and misdirected for a relatively new initiative that arose out of a collective letter to the editors of newspapers.

Anyway, I attended three session today, two of them for their entirety and I was not disappointed. I mean my skepticism was not disappointed. A session on working time presented some fascinating accounts from a gig worker, an academic, and an organizer but then simply neglected to open up the hour and a half session to questions and discussion from the audience. Who did they think we were, chopped liver? The session I only attended briefly had an interminable power point slide show, narrated by a coughing, monotone old coot. The third session was on "No Bosses" and featured Michael Albert promoting his most recent book and pontificating about how a future society would operate. 

Albert has it all figured out, So, when I asked him a question about whether leisure would exist as a benefit in his new model economy or would become a central organizing principle, he confessed he didn't understand the question and went on to explain about how leisure was interchangeable with income as remuneration for work. So you can work more and earn more income or you can work less and earn less income but have more leisure. In other words, the income/leisure trade-off of vulgar neo-classical economics would become a reality.

I pushed the button to allow my webcam and microphone to be activated and nothing happened. Then I got a message telling me my webcam and mic would be turned on when they got to my question (which they already had). After several more minutes of being ignored, I posted a comment about the undemocratic moderation. That got a response and they let me say my piece. I was brief (I hope) I explained how historically the movement for emancipation of work had centered around the concept that "real wealth is leisure" going back to William Godwin and that Marx had analyzed surplus value as the appropriation by the owners of capital of the workers' "disposable time" -- that is the time left over after the worker had produced sufficient value to cover the cost of subsistence. I thanked the moderator and panelists profusely for giving me the opportunity to follow up on my question and explained that part of what I intended with my intervention was to "break the fourth wall" of audience passivity.

Albert replied with an appropriate anecdote breaking the fourth wall but then proceeding to make a straw man out of leisure, to extoll the pleasures of work in the emancipated society of his dreams and to gently gaslight me about relying on old authorities.

Which is all very good. I don't expect anyone to grasp immediately my radical point that no one really is interested in fantasizing about the glorious workhouses of the future. "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses," asked Scrooge after being shown two pauper children by the Ghost of Christmas Present. Truth is we have prisons and workhouses enough. 

Eight and a half years ago, I wrote an essay titled "Labour power as a common pool resource." (a revised version of an Ecological Headstand post, "Labor is (not) a commodity") Inexplicably and annoyingly, common pool resource essay was behind an idiotic Captcha wall, so I just now reposted it to EconoSpeak. What I really need to do, though, is to write a new essay titled "Disposable time as a common pool resource," which recants and debunks that previous one. I have written a 10,000 word essay that presents the theoretical ground for that second essay and I am scheduled to present a conference paper in November, so hopefully I will have the skill, energy and perseverance to accomplish that task.

Labor as a Common Pool Resource

The everyday experience of working people, economic policies of governments, bargaining priorities of trade unions and theoretical models of economists refute the idealistic maxim that labor is not a commodity.

An early rationale for the proposition was given in 1834 by William Longson of Stockport in his evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Hand-Loom Weavers:

- …every other commodity when brought to market, if you cannot get the price intended, it may be taken out of the market, and taken home, and brought and sold another day; but if a day's labour is offered on any day, and is not sold on that day, that day's labour is lost to the labourer and to the whole community…

Longson concluded from these observations of labor's peculiarities that, "I can only say I should be as ready to call a verb a substantive as any longer to call labour a commodity."

Karl Marx was emphatic about the peculiar historical nature of labor – or, more precisely, labor-power – as a commodity. Rather than reject the label outright, though, he chose to examine it more closely. Marx observed that for labor-power to appear on the market as a commodity, the sellers must first be free to dispose of it (but only for a definite period) and also must be obliged to offer labor-power for sale because they are not in a position to sell commodities in which their labor is embodied.

Connecting Longson's observation to Marx's, it would seem as though, aside from moral strictures, one of the qualities that most distinguishes labor-power from other commodities – its absolute and immediate perishability – is what compels its seller to submit unconditionally to the vagaries of demand. To paraphrase Joan Robinson, the misery of being regarded as a commodity is nothing compared to the misery of not being regarded at all.

So if labor-power is not a commodity, or is only one due to peculiar and rather disagreeable circumstances, what is it, then? Consider the idea of labor-power as a common-pool resource. Labor-power can be distinguished from labor as the mental and physical capacity to work and produce use-values, notwithstanding whether that labor-power is employed. Labor, then, is what is actually performed as a consequence of the employment of a quantity of labor-power.

Human mental and physical capacities to work have elastic but definite natural limits. Those capacities must be continuously restored and enhanced through nourishment, rest and social interaction. "When we speak of capacity for labour," as Marx put it, "we do not abstract from the necessary means of subsistence." It is the combination of definite limits and of the need for continuous recuperation and replacement that gives labor-power the characteristics of a common-pool resource. As Paul Burkett explains, Marx regarded labor power not merely as a marketable asset of private individuals but as the "reserve fund for the regeneration of the vital force of nations". "From the standpoint of the reproduction and development of society," Burkett elaborates, "labor power is a common pool resource – one with definite (albeit elastic) natural limits."

"Common pool resource" is not the terminology Marx used; Burkett has adopted it from Elinor Ostrom's research. For Ostrom, common pool resources are goods that don't fit tidily into the categories of either private or public property. Some obvious examples are forests, fisheries, aquifers and the atmosphere. Relating the concept to labor is especially apt in that it illuminates, as Burkett points out, "the parallel between capital's extension of work time beyond the limits of human recuperative abilities [including social vitality], and capital's overstretching of the regenerative powers of the land." That parallel debunks the hoary jobs vs. the environment myth.

The basic idea behind common-pool resources has a venerable place in the history of neoclassical economic thought. It can't be dismissed as some socialistic or radical environmentalist heresy. In the second edition of his Principles of Political Economy, Henry Sidgwick observed that "private enterprise may sometimes be socially uneconomical because the undertaker is able to appropriate not less but more than the whole net gain of his enterprise to the community." In fact, from the perspective of the profit-seeking firm, there is no difference between introducing a new, more efficient production process and simply shifting a portion of their costs or risks onto someone else, society or the environment. The opportunities for the latter may be more readily available.

One example Sidgwick used to illustrate this was "the case of certain fisheries, where it is clearly for the general interest that the fish should not be caught at certain times, or in certain places, or with certain instruments; because the increase of actual supply obtained by such captures is much overbalanced by the detriment it causes to prospective supply." Sidgwick admitted that many fishermen may voluntarily agree to limit their catch but even in this circumstance, "the larger the number that thus voluntarily abstain, the stronger inducement is offered to the remaining few to pursue their fishing in the objectionable times, places, and ways, so long as they are under no legal coercion to abstain."

In the case of labor-power, "fishing in the objectionable times, places and ways" manifests itself in the standard practice of employers considering labor as a "variable cost." From the perspective of society as a whole, maintaining labor-power in good stead is an overhead cost. The point is not to preach that firms ought to treat the subsistence of their workforce as an overhead cost. That would no doubt be as effectual as proclaiming that labor is not a commodity. As with Sidgwick's fishery, a greater advantage would accrue to firms that didn't conform to the socially-responsible policy.

Ostrom explained the differences between various kinds of goods by calling attention to two features: whether enjoyment of the good subtracts from the total supply still available for consumption and the difficulty of restricting access to the good. Private goods are typically easy to restrict access to and their use subtracts from total available supply. Public goods are more difficult to restrict access to and their use doesn't subtract from what is available for others. Common-pool goods are similar to private goods in that there use subtracts from the total supply but they are like public goods in that it is more difficult to restrict access to them.

If it were merely a matter of selling to employers, then labor-power would have the uncomplicated characteristics of a private good. Working for one employer at a given time precludes working for another. Hypothetically, the worker can refuse to work for any particular employer thereby restricting access. But here we need also to contend with that peculiarity of labor-power noted by the silk weaver, William Longson that a day's labor not sold on the day it is offered is "lost to the labourer and to the whole community."

"If his capacity for labour remains unsold," Marx concurred, "the labourer derives no benefit from it, but rather he will feel it to be a cruel nature-imposed necessity that this capacity has cost for its production a definite amount of the means of subsistence and that it will continue to do so for its reproduction." This contingency and urgency of employment effectively undermines the worker's option of refusing work, so that in practice labor-power has the features of a common-pool good rather than of a private one. Collectively, the choice of refusing work is further weakened by competition from incrementally more desperate job seekers – a population Marx called "the industrial reserve army."

So is labor a commodity or is it not? The arch, paradoxical answer would be "both." Examined more closely, the capacity for labor – labor-power – reveals itself as a peculiar commodity that exhibits the characteristics of a common-pool resource rather than a private good. An actual Charter of Industrial Freedom must address these peculiar characteristics rather than bask contentedly in the utopian platitude that labor is not a commodity.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

The Open Access Movement In Academic Publishing

I apologize that I look like someone voting for 3.5 and then some time later saying that they only support 1.5, but I am not interested now in discussing that matter. 

So, here I go. 1) I support Open Access in academic journal publications. 2) OTOH I grant that commercial publishers of academic journals should be able be able to demand payment for people accessing articles fully available in their journals, within "reason."  3) I agree that academic journals journals should allow authors to allow free access to their articles, but also that they may allow this not to be the case.

So, let me be more specific here. I have recently had a difficult situation regarding this. So awhile ago I was invited by someone I know I take seriously to submit a paper for a special issue in this issue, a 30-year retrospective on econophysics in the mostly physics journal, Entropy, published by mdpli.

I did not fully read the long pro-open access screed that accompanied this invitation, which came after the invitation from someone I knew personally. The publisher, mdpi, provided a very long proclamation explaining their support for the Open Access Movement, something I generally favor. Anyway, I poozed out on reading their long speech on this, so missed far down into it where they declared that any author publishing in their journal should agree to pay a sum defined in Swiss currency terms just below $2000. So when my paper was accepted after a long pile of mostly bs, I received an invoice for nearly 2K USD,, which I was unaware was coming due.

So there is this movement for open access that has become a very big deal in US academia. It involves academic library relations with major publishers of journals ans much else. It has led to my own uni, JMU, no longer accepting papers from a journal I used to edit, JEBO, a journal pubbed by "the evil empire," Elsevier. This decision by my uni's library meant that I got a 10 percent discount on the invoice that arrived on my desk to publish this paper, "Econophysics and the Entropic Foundations of Economics.".

I have very mixed feelings about all this. I have had journals offer me this option after they accepted a paper of mine to allow open access of my paper, if I would pay about 2k. But if I said no, then my paper would be published.  When recently offered such option, I failed to accept them.

When rhis invoice came I complained mightily. Eventually they offered a large discount, and my uni paid for it. But I see a serious bottom line here: who is supposed to pay for all this,, authors or their bakers or others?

This is mostly a physics journal, and most of them have funds in their grants for publication costs. But most social scientists do not have such funds in their grants even when they have them. There is a serious bottom line here, and I do not think authors should be made to paid for this.

Barkley Rosser


Friday, October 1, 2021

Thoughts on superfluous disposable time

The whole development of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time. The relation of necessary labour time to the superfluous (such it is, initially, from the standpoint of necessary labour) changes with the different stages in the development of the productive forces. … In production resting on capital, the existence of necessary labour time is conditional on the creation of superfluous labour time. 398 Grundrisse

It is a law of capital, as we saw, to create surplus labour, disposable time; it can do this only by setting necessary labour in motion. - i.e. entering into exchange with the worker. It is its tendency, therefore, to create as much labour as possible; just as it is equally its tendency to reduce necessary labour to a minimum. It is therefore equally a tendency of capital to increase the labouring population, as well as constantly to posit a part of it as surplus population - population which is useless until such time as capital can utilize it. 399 Grundrisse

Labour capacity can perform its necessary labour only if its surplus labour has value for capital, if it can be realized by capital. Thus, if this realizability is blocked by one or another barrier, then (1) labour capacity itself appears outside the conditions of the reproduction of its existence; it exists without the conditions of its existence, and is therefore a mere encumbrance; needs without the means to satisfy them; (2) necessary labour appears as superfluous, because the superfluous is not necessary. It is necessary only to the extent that it is the condition for the realization of capital. Thus the relation of necessary and surplus labour, as it is posited by capital, turns into its opposite, so that a part of necessary labour - i.e. of the labour reproducing labour capacity - is superfluous, and this labour capacity itself is therefore used as a surplus of the necessary working population, i.e. of the portion of the working population whose necessary labour is not superfluous but necessary for capital. 609 Grundrisse

Capital… 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. 706 Grundrisse

The industrial reserve army, during the periods of stagnation and average prosperity, weighs down the active army of workers; during the periods of over-production and feverish activity, it puts a curb on their pretensions. The relative surplus population is therefore the background against which the law of the demand and supply of labour does its work. 792 Capital

What capital adds is that it increases the surplus labour time of the mass by all the means of art and science, because its wealth consists directly in the appropriation of surplus labour time; since value directly its purpose, not use value. It is thus, despite itself, instrumental in creating the means of social disposable time, in order to reduce labour time for the whole society to a diminishing minimum, and thus to free everyone’s time for their own development. 708 Grundrisse

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Goodbye Gene Weingarten

 I am not sure how many readers here know who Gene Weingarten is.  He is a humorist who has authored a column for the last 21 years that has appeared each Sunday at the end of the Sunday Washington Post magazine.  I am not sure where he was outletting before then, although I think he had some fame, but not huge amounts.  Anyway, without warning in today's column he announced "The Short Goodbye," his final column, mostly consisting of him quoting much older other humorists.  He gave no reason for his exit, although he is about 70, so it would not be unreasonable for him to just be retiring.  But I am concerned that there is more to this, that he was at least given a bit of a shove. As someone who has mostly enjoyed him and have read him out loud to my wife, Marina, we shall miss him whatever the circumstances.

His closing two sentences were: "I am grateful for it [writing the column], and the relationship I have had with all of you who read it - from the delightful dorks who thought evderything I siad was hilarious to those who looked in only to get riled over what the rude old coot was spouting this week. I will miss you all."

So, I see more to this line about people getting riled "over what the rude old coot was spouting.." because something very close to that was specifically said just over a month ago by someone not only criticizing him but demanding, yes, demanding that he be fired for being an insensitive old coot who was out of date and worse, microaggresssingly out of touch, old coot who must go.  And now he has.

The column that triggered this demand was about food, in particular, foods he does not like.  It went through vaiorus ones, including snails, with various snarky wisecracks typical of him.  However, he got into trouble with one, where he definitely went over the top, not only exhibiting ignorance that WaPo corrected in a news article some days later, and for which Weingarten himself confessed he was wrong, as well as broadly condemning an entire ethnic cuisine, not just a particular dish.. This was Indian cuisine, with him main remark to declare it all to be just one "spice," curry, which he declared he does not like.

So, the first problem is that curry is properly speaking not a spice.  It is a combination of spices and comes in many varieities, although there is a sort of standard grocery store variety one can readily buy that does not reveal any of that.  And, of course, lots of Indian cuisine, which has wide regional variations, does not use curry.  Weingarten did go to a top Indian restaurant and ate dished not using curry, admitting his goof on that, although in the end still saying he just does not like the cuisine.

But another sometime columnist/reporter at WaPo, the much younger Padma Lakshmi, took full offense at his column and not only did not let him off the hook, but demanded his removal and replacement by someone younger and more sensitive, blah blah blah. She did not accept his followup, and now he is gone without any real explanation or warning.  I fear this matter played a role in his sudden exit, although possibly not.  It may have simply pushed what he was thinking about doing anyway.

But I am going to whine that there is now a full-blown and intolerant cancel culture coming from both political ends (I note that Weingarten has been openly very left-liberal, despite this ethnic blunder). We have certainly been getting it for some time from the left with people demanding others be removed from public discourse for this or that microaggression.  In some cases these demands have probably been warranted, but without going beyond Weingarten, who may not be an example even as I suspect he is, many do not look like it to me.

But it is now also coming from the right.  We are now getting it a bunch at my workplace, James Madison University, although I do not think anybody has actually been fired yet. It started about a month ago with the beginning of the school year. Our administration, led by our provost, has been for some time on a campaign to increase awareness and acceptance of diversity, broadly defined, something I support.  But this fall training video for student ambassadors was put out, made by two students (both female), that unfortunately was a parody of the genre, with each of them identifying themselves by a longer list of possible things to worry about as a possible source of being discriminated against than I even knew about. They also then made it clear that there is an oppressor class, young to middle-aged (rules me out) white straight male Christians.  Anyway, some right winger got this video to Fox News, where it was publicized.  The upshot was a local firestorm with various major donors retracting funding and people withdrawing children and grandchildren.  Nobody got fired, but the training video was wihtdrawn

Now this week there has been another such incident, with the right wingers clearly having their eyes on us.  Some student photographed a slide an instructor had up in an ethics class that discussed an example from Jonathan Haidt questioning the morality or lack of ethics of a brother and sister having sex once in a woods without any consequences and deciding not to tell anybody  This got posted by a right wing politician here in VA, where we have a heated gubernatorial race going on  I have not heard of any consequences of this, with the dean above this faculty member defending academic freedom, while also sending a message along the lines of "please do not put up slides that will drive away yet more donors." Supposedly this faculty member was teaching that incest is virtuous.

I have myself become aware of the eyes watching on all this.  A few weeks ago in my Regional Economics course in a discussion about path dependence and long-in-place roads I got into the two libraries of Alexandria, both of them burned, the first by Julius Caesar. The second, the Library of Cleopatra, was burned in 391 CE. So I asked the class who burned it. One student said "German barbarians," so I laughed and said no, the Vandals only got as far east as Tunisia.  It was the Christians.  This student looked quite upset.  So I actually spent time in the next class giving them the full historical background of ho it came to Emperor Theodosius ordering its burning as part of the Roman Empire finally ending tolerance of pagan religions and philosophy. I was glad to see that this student seemed to find my discussion both interesting and acceptable, no complaints going to Fox News about me.

Anyway, I am finding this drive to get rid of people for making unfortunate statements way over done from all sides. And whether or not Gene Weingarten was driven out or not, we shall miss him.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Bungling The Debt Ceiling

It looks like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is bungling the matter of raising (or suspending) the debt ceiling, coming due in mid-October supposedly. He could have tied it to reconciliation in August, but decided not to, intent on getting GOPster on board with participating in doing it. But Sen. McConnell (R-KY) is having none of it, and even though Schumer thought he had them by tying it to a continuing resolution to keep the government going past Sept. 30, well, McConnell is not going along, nor are any of his colleagues, with maybe one exception, Sen. Kennedy of Louisiana who wants money for dealing with the effects of Hurricane Ida.  Anyway, it looks like McConnell is just fine with some economy-damaging crash, which may help GOP next year.  

I really do not see why Schumer did not see this one coming.  I think he thinks a year from now people will be remembering it was the naughty GOP that crashed the economy rather than the Dems doing so by mismanaging things.  People are not that smart.  He needs to keep the economy going, and we know the voters do not give a phoo about deficits or the debt, unless they see the economy not doing well, which a GOP crashing of the ceiling raise could bring about.  He needs to bite the bullet and get this into the Reconciliation, although apparently now it will take some time for reasons I do not understand, and we may get a short government shutdown before it can be done.  Bungling on this one. GOP now totally irresponsible and nihilistic.

Barkley Rosser

Online Voting

 Yes, a wonderful innovation!!!  No, I had not heard of this before, although maybe somebody reading this had encountered it.  So, where is this fabulous innovation being adopted?  Why Mother Russia!  So polls showed the United Russia Party that supports Vladimir Putin getting only 30% support for the Duma election that just happened.  But while I have not seen specific numbers, it is my understanding that they have been reelected as not only the majority party in the Duma, but with a supermajority over 3/4 that allows them to mess with the Constitution as they please and pretty much do anything else with little fuss that their leader wants!  

Of course, with one serious rival, Nemtsov, dead from being shot on a bridge in Moscow, and another, Navalny, in jail after an attempt to poison him to death, and the voting app his supporters were touting being cut off by Apple and Google at Putin's request, well, this left a rather weak oppostion, with the Yabloko Party a shadow of its never-large self, and with the Communist Party still Number Two, and apparently getting feistier than in the past as about the only serious possible source of opposition.  But neither of them or any others got too far.

But, just to make sure, there have been widespread reports not only of ballot stuffing, the old-fashioned way to do these things, but now this miracle of online voting.  So, at a minimum in one widely publicized contest in Moscow where the main opponent was a Communist, the on-site votes had him well ahead. But then the online votes came in, and, wow, they were overwhelmingly and in large numbers for the United Russia candidate.  Apparently this happened in many districts.  Such a miracle!

A funny thing is that those complaining about this sort of look like Trumpists complaining about mail-in ballots in the US, which has led GOP-led legislatures to move to restrict such voting, as it is widely perceived that Dems use it (or did in 2020 anyway) more than GOPs, for various reasons. It was not always that way everywhere, with Florida in particular having a long tradition of numerous older GOP voters using the mail-in, leaving the GOPsters there a bit less sure about going after it.  So the Putinistas can argue, well, this is just like the US.

Of course there are two problems.  One is that there is no obvious reason in any of these districts why online voters would have such different views than on-site ones, whereas we know of numerous reasons in the US why the mail-in voters were more likely to be Dems.  The other is that there seems to be no record of or way to check up on any of these online voters.  Who are they?  How many times did they vote?  Who was counting them.?  All I can say is that this seems to be quite the innovation for a ruling party that wants to hold an election with at least a nominal opponent participating, while guaranteeing a solidly favorable outcome, even in the face of polls suggesting this was not so likely.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, September 16, 2021

So, Whatever Happened To The Arizona Fraudit?

 Even though these "audits" are now apparently spreading to other states, notably Pennsylvania and maybe Wisconsin, efforts to somehow find election fraud in the presidential elections in those states in 2020, there is an odd thing that has happened that has basically dropped off the media radar screen. That is what the outcome of the initial one of these is, the "fraudit" in Arizona, authorized and financed partly with taxpayer funds by the AZ Senate.  It has dropped out of sight.

Well, after months of attention to it, with lots of money getting raised by those pushing it, and the similar folks in these other states also raising money off the fools who believe their lies, the question is what has happened?  The results were supposed to be done and available months ago.  The release date kept being put off.  The last we heard was several weeks ago when it was reported that three out of the five members of an oversight board of which we had never previously heard had gotten Covid-19.  OK.  But no new date of release was announced, and while it has been weeks so that those people presumably have either recovered or died, although maybe one is still on a ventilator. 

In any case, it is not obvious to me why any of these people being ill should be holding back a public reporting of the results. But, of course, I think we all know why this report has not been publicly reported: they got nothing.  There had been several recounts and checks on the results in Maricopa County, where the Board of Supervisors is 4-1 GOP to Dem, found that the original reported results were fully confirmed, not a single error.  So it is completely unsurprising that despite all the bizarre things the inexperienced goofballs carrying out this fraudit could find nothing. The last gasp has been people in the AZ state senate calling for the routers to be turned over. But the ballot machines were reportedly never on the internet, so routers make no difference.  We are simply left with just how long it will take for these people to finally publicly admit that their fraudit has been a giant fraud and waste of time and money that has found nothing.  This could take quite some time.

Barkley Rosser

RIP William John McGuire

 Aka "Bill" McGuire.  He started at the same time as I did in Fall 1977 as a tenure track Assistant Professor where I still am, James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, VA. We also started with Robin Grieves.  An odd coincidence was that when we were taken to the first full faculty meeting by our Depaertment Head, Howard Wilhelm, who died in January at age 94 of old age, it somehow came out that al four of us were Eagle Scouts.  I would become a good friend of both Bill's and Robin's.  I note that Bill was a Vietnam War veteran and was a macroeconomist with a PhD from UNC-Chapel Hill.

As it was, both of them would leave the department during the 1980s for different reasons.  Unfortunately, Bill had a major personal conflict with another member of the department (not me) that ended up souring him most of the department, and he had little communication with any of us after he left.  He initially went to Eastern Kentucky U. but some years later would leave academia and move to Arizona with his second wife, a former student of ours at JMU. They ran a reportedly successful private consulting firm.  But while I made some approaches to his wife to renew communication, he expressed no interest.

Anyway, I heard yesterday by email from our mutual friend, Robin, that Bill died over a year ago in July 2020.  While officially it was a heart embolism, Robin informed me that this was brought on by a bout of Covid-19.  This is the first person to have died of the pandemic that I knew personally.  I am still sorry that we did not renew communication prior to his passing.  

So, RIP Bill.

Barkley Rosser

Debt Ceiling Nonsense Yet Again - A Catch 22?

 Of course there should be no debt ceiling.  The US is the only nation to have one for absolute amounts of money (some other nations have ones tied to percents of budgets, and so forth). Even thought it is nonsensical and absurd, it has been around for over a century, a recrudescence of a deal to get funding approved by Congress for WW I in the wake of the passage in 1913 of the new amendment allowing a federal income tax. Somehow nobody in Congress or any White House has the guts to push for the ending of this thing, so it hangs on like some stinking zombie. 

Of course, for most of the time since it was passed, Congresses have been "responsible" and raised the ceiling without too much fuss, although it has been normal when different parties occupy the White House and the Congress for there to be some grumbling by people in Congress before they do the the responsible thing.  But in recent decades, while Dems in Congress have been responsible, raising debt ceiling several times for President Trump, we have on several occasions see GOPs in Congress make big stinks and force temporary government shutdowns while making demands for this or that.

The current situation is probably not that bad, but absurdity is definitely reigning.  Assuming they can keep all their people in line, especially Sen. Manchin of WV, it can probably be raised by reconciliation. But GOP Sen. McConnell is loudly declaring no GOP will support raising it, and has threatened a filibuster, although reconciliation can get around that, if all Dems agree.  However, even as he is loudly declaring not GOP support for raising the debt ceiling, he is also demanding that it be raised so that government bills get paid.  I really have no comment on this further, aside from noting that this is just further evidence on why this silly thing needs to be done away with once and for all.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, September 10, 2021

Norway’s Climate Dilemma

Carlos Joly, a finance-and-climate consultant, has a piece today on the upcoming election in Norway, one of the world’s major exporters of oil and gas.  To its credit, Norway puts its earnings in a fund to support future generations after its deposits are exhausted, known to economists as the Hartwick Rule.  That’s great for economic sustainability in Norway, but what about the threat its fossil fuel industry poses to the entire world?

Joly notes that the mainstream parties consider only domestic fossil fuel consumption, with the Labor Party proposing to go “carbon neutral” on that front by 2050.  (The neutral qualifier is highly problematic, as I show in my forthcoming book, Alligators in the Arctic and How to Avoid Them: Science, Economics and the Challenge of Catastrophic Climate Change.)  The Greens want to shut down Norway’s North Sea oil and gas operation over the coming 25 years.  Joly wants to go further and have the government instruct its oil revenue fund to divest from fossil fuels globally.

I have a different idea.  First, while the unilateral dismantling of its fossil fuel industry would be a well-intentioned step, I doubt it would have much impact on overall decarbonization.   25 years is too slow, and more importantly, the consumption of oil and gas is demand-driven, not supply constrained.  If Norway takes its fuels off the market, there will be other producers eager to take its place.  Second, simply abstaining from investing in other countries’ fossil fuel industries is unlikely to make a significant difference, largely for the same reason.  If producing oil and gas remains profitable, a shortfall in investment from some quarters will induce more from others.

What I propose instead is that Norway regard its sovereign wealth fund (officially designated as a pension fund) as an endowment whose main purpose is to finance initiatives to forestall a climate disaster.  This means devoting a fixed share to funding activist groups in key countries organizing for emergency laws to quickly reduce carbon consumption, and the rest to R&D in decarbonized energy sources.*  Meanwhile, keep the oil and gas flowing so that as large a share as possible of global fossil fuel supply is generating carbon mitigation finance.  If and when a host of national measures impose decarbonization and fossil fuel demand finally plummets, then it will be time to turn off the North Sea tap for good.

*And no, Norway’s predominate financing of REDD+, the international program for promoting forestation offsets, does neither of these and is little more than a charade—for details, again see Alligators.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Beware of "The Narrative"!

Back in 1979 philosopher Jean-François Lyotard was commissioned to do a report for the province of Quebec that turned into a book, The Postmodern Condition. I remember that book well because I read it during my graduate studies that focused on narrative analysis. A central theme of Lyotard's book was the "death of metanarratives," such as the Idea of Progress or Marx's Class Struggle as the engine of history.

Fast forward to 2021 and "The Narrative" has become a core talking point of right-wing paranoia and propaganda. Whatever they disagree with is framed as a totalitarian Narrative that makes their rebellion against it heroic. Of course a large part of this anti-narrative narrative is projection. The conformity of the GOP/Fox talking points is notorious. But that is precisely what makes their precious melodrama so effective. By first accusing their designated other of foisting a narrative, they disarm any criticism of themselves foisting a narrative.

Dr. Julie Ponesse, Professor of Ethics at University of Western has made herself a lost cause celebrity with her stand against the "narrative" of Covid-19 vaccination. Professor Ponesse builds her case against the presumably monolithic narrative by cherry-picking some research studies (that wouldn't even exist if the narrative was as monolithic as she claims) and by flagrantly misrepresenting VAERS data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. According to Professor Ponesse, she has been put on administrative leave and faces "imminent dismissal" for refusing to comply with the university's vaccine mandate. 

The National Post reports that, "Ponesse has also made questionable claims about the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. In a video posted online, she calls the vaccines 'experimental.'" The CBC quotes Maxwell Smith, a bioethicist and assistant professor in the faculty of health sciences at Western and Co-Director of the Health Ethics, Law & Policy (HELP) Lab:

The strength of a position in ethics comes from the support provided via reasons & arguments, not that it's uttered by an ethicist. And her reasons used to support her position are distorted by falsehoods & concern areas about which she has no apparent expertise.

But pay no attention to the opinions of all those authorities, her employer the university, the official guide to interpreting VAERS data, and The Council of Ontario Medical Officers of Health who has strongly recommended mandatory vaccinations. They're all part of "The Narrative."

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Portland Not Burned To The Ground

 Over this past weekend I was in Portland visiting for the first time family who gathered for a reunion, with my second daughter, Caitlin, with two of my grandsons, having moved there in January from San Francisco (she is a psychiatrist with the VA system). I had been through a few times in a car, but never stopped.  So curious to check it out.  I generally liked the place and had a good time.

I also decided to check up on some of the hyperbolic claims I have heard over the past year plus or so regularly on Fox News, especially the Hannity show that I keep an eye on.  When for example denying that the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington was anything anybody should be upset about, Hannity has regularly invoked Portland in particular as a place that was "burning to the ground" in supposed antifa and Black Lives Matter riots.  It certainly is true that Portland has seen a lot of violence and plenty of demonstrations over the last year, being in fact one of the few places in the US where there are actually people who ID as being "antifa" and show up to protest, with right-wing opponents of them, such as the frequently violent Proud Boys also showing up to fight them.  On Fox I have seen plenty of burning buildings and boarded up buildings.

So I checked out the downtown.  I did not see any riots or burned down buildings.  I did see some boarded up ones, a whole two blocks worth, one of those just next to the Pioneer Courthouse, indeed a major focus of protests, and one other block a couple of blocks away.  That was pretty much it.  I saw a lot of garbage in a nearby park, and there are quite a few homeless people in Portland.  But the claims being repeated so frequently and vigorously on Fox News look to me to be just wild exaggerations.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, September 6, 2021

Happy Socially Necessary Labor Day!


Sunday, September 5, 2021

Spending and Producing

When a framing becomes ubiquitous you forget it’s a framing.  This is what popped into my head when I read a headline this morning about the infrastructure bills pending in Congress: Democrats Hit the Road to Sell Big Spending Bills as Republicans Attack.

Yes, they are proposals to spend money; that’s one way to look at it.  But they are also proposals to produce infrastructure and social services—the spending is for something.  Opponents have every reason emphasize the spending side, as in the phrase “tax and spend liberals”.  If you were thinking of buying a new car and I wanted to dissuade you, I would probably make a big deal out of how much money you would be putting out.  If I were on the other side and wanted to convince you to do it, however, I would talk about what the car could do for you and what difference it would make in your life.  The negative side of any purchase is the outlay, the positive side what you get for it.

The negative framing of government programs in terms of their monetary cost has become so dominant even a center-left publication like the NY Times routinely adopts it, and I doubt few of their readers take notice.

For a positive framing, referring to them as “infrastructure bills” is a start, but even better would be phrasing that more concretely pictures what people would stand to gain from them.  You could headline them as programs to make America more resilient to climate change, modernize transportation and communication, expand renewable energy and reduce child poverty.  I’m not sure how that can be squeezed into a page layout constraint, although if we’re talking about digital pages the constraint is a lot more flexible.

There are many ways to do it, but the starting point is to recognize the default framing is one that echoes the arguments of opponents of public action.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Analytical Bias

The world is made up of systems.  Our body is a system, or in fact a system of systems.  What we call “society” is another system of systems, as is the natural environment.  And all these meta-systems are themselves elements in even more encompassing systems that interconnect them.  

But these systems are very complex, difficult to explain or predict.  One successful strategy, which has had a revolutionary impact on how we live, is analysis.  This approach segments complex entities into smaller parts in order to study them individually.  Medical researchers don’t study the body as such, but perhaps kidney function or particular blood cells.  Social scientists may specialize in the effect of lobbyists on legislation, labor market patterns among immigrant communities or changing child-rearing norms.  Natural scientists study the viability of artificial wetlands, upwelling cycles in certain coastal zones or changes in the carbon balance of a set of tropical forest plots.  By biting off chewable portions of a much larger world, science makes it possible to achieve progress in our understanding of how things work: testable hypotheses, demonstrable evidence, causal explanation.  Analysis is the art of taking things apart, studying the pieces, and then putting them back together.

But this approach, for all its benefits, fails to capture most of the interactive effects that make a system a system.  It leads us to overstate the separateness of the things we study and observe and to understate their connectedness.  This is not an argument against thinking analytically, but for not being surprised by what this thinking fails to see so we can at least somewhat compensate for its shortcomings.

I’d like to introduce the term “analytical bias” to refer to this tendency to overlook the interconnectedness of things.  Of course, many thinkers, going back centuries, have recognized this problem; it’s the guilty conscience of analysis itself.  I’m just giving it a name.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Are Former Professors As National Leaders More Prone To Black Swan Events That Overthrow Their Governments?

 Probably not, but recent events in Afghanistan suggest an example.  This would be the sudden departure just over two weeks ago on Aug. 15 from Kabul of then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, which triggered the sudden collapse of his government and the unexpectedly sudden takeover of Kabul by the Taliban. Even they did not see this coming.  What was the black swan event involved?  It was reported in the Aug. 29 Washington Post that Ghani was told early in the afternoon that Taliban were in his palace searching room by room for him, which led him to leave almost immediately with his family and a few aides off the roof in military helicopters for Uzbekistan where they took a plane to the UAE.  He basically informed nobody of his exit.  In fact the Taliban were not even in Kabul at the time and were sitting outside awaiting the outcome of an ongoing negotiation in Doha, Qatar that was supposed to facilitate a peaceful transfer of power by August 31.  Indeed, only the day before Ghani did not even want to discuss defense arrangements with US military leaders because he was planning to give a talk on digitizing the economy.  Not even the Taliban foresaw what was coming, although all kinds of columnists are given President Biden heck that he did not foresee it. As it is, no one has yet explained why those guards engaged in the black swan event of informing President Ghani of this false report about Taliban in his palace.

As it is, Ashraf Ghani is indeed a former academic, who was a professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University before going to work for the World Bank.  He would later serve as Minister of Finance before becoming president. He was often accused of not being completely on top of practical things and too concerned with more abstract issues and policies.  He was also accused of overseeing a highly corrupt regime, which undermined popular support for it and encouraged such support in the countryside for the Taliban.  He has also been accused of being corrupt himself, with there being rumors, denied by his spokespeople, that he left the country with over $100 million in cash.

Where I feel the sorriest for him is how former President Trump completely cut him out of negotiations that Trump had carried out with the Taliban in Doha, resulting in essentially a surrender to the Taliban in Feb. 2020.  This got barely above zero publicity at the time, with major TV networks only spending on average 5 seconds per week on Afghanistan, although now they have nonstop 24/7 coverage. The agreement involved Trump getting Pakistan to release 5000 prisoners, one of them, Baradar, now apparently the main Taliban leader, with some of these people also ISIS-K who are fighting both the US and the Taliban and carried out the suicide bombing at Kabul airport two days ago that killed 13 US military personnel.  The US was to get out by May 1 this year, with the Taliban promising not to attack any US forces, a promise kept, which would help Trump with his reelection campaign, even as it completely undercut and destroyed all confidence in the Afghan government of Ghani.

As it was, President Biden did move that removal date to August 31 from May 1 in negotiation with the Taliban, and it was ISIS-K that killed the US troops, not the Taliban. On April 27 the State Department told Americans to leave Afghanistan, and most have been gotten out, although apparently about 250 are still left who reportedly want out. Criticism that efforts were not made sooner to identify locations of them and also that paperwork to help out departing Afghan allies was not speeded up look valid. Complaints that these people were not moved out sooner face the problem that it was clear that such a move would precipitate the fall of the Ghani regime.

As it was, everybody, even the Taliban, thought the Afghan government would last longer than it did, even those who were forecasting that the removal of US troops would bring about its collapse quickly.  But even those people gave it several months or at least a few weeks.  Heck, the government in place after the Soviets left lasted for several years.  It was only nine days from when the first provincial capital fell on Aug. 6 to the Taliban in the far southwest to the fall of Kabul so suddenly on Aug. 15.

Now we again must recognize that former professor Ghani was not facing the reality of the situation then.  The WaPo story reports how soon after that US military tried to convince him that he needed to make a plan to let some of the capitals go while concentrating on a few that were crucial to the defense of Kabul, especially Jalalabad in the east. But he would have none of it, optimistically declaring they all could be defended even as they began to go in an accelerating wave with Jalalabad falling on Aug. 14. Even then he did not wish to discuss such matters, preferring to plan talks on economic policy. It did not help that his National Security Advisor was a 33-year old former ambassador with no military or intelligence experience.

As it was, apparently in the end he did recognize reality somewhat.  Late in the evening on Aug. 14 apparently he agreed to a negotiation with the Taliban about a power transfer, and on the morning of Aug. 15 an envoy of his actually flew out of Kabul to Doha to engage in that negotiation, which was what had the Taliban sitting outside the gates of Kabul.  But the black swan of guards misinforming Ghani arrived, and it was all over, and we have had a chaotic situation since, even as over 100,000 have been evacuated.

I supposed in the end even a non-former-professor might have fled suddenly if given the false information by guards that Ghani was.  I am seriously wondering if we shall learn what really lay behind this peculiar and unforecastable black swan event.

Barkley Rosserr

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XV: "Chapter Six" from the draft manuscripts of Capital

The draft "Chapter Six" was preceded by an earlier version of the analysis of formal and real subsumption of labour under capital. That earlier version is 28 pages long in volume 34 of the Marx-Engels Collected Works. "Chapter Six," proper, is 111 pages long. The earlier version contains one mention of the "labour socially necessary." The later version contains 12 references to: 

  • socially necessary labour time (3)
  • labour time socially necessary
  • socially necessary labour (4)
  • objectified labour... socially necessary 
  • socially necessary amount of labour time
  • socially necessary general labour, and 
  • quantity of labour socially necessary.

Besides "labour socially necessary," the earlier version had one reference to "average labour time necessary" and one to "general social labour time," which by context appear to refer to socially necessary labour time. 

It is, finally, common to all these forms of capitalist production that, for production to occur in a capitalist way, an ever-growing minimum of exchange value, of money—i.e. of constant capital and variable capital—is required to ensure that the labour necessary to obtain the product is the labour socially necessary, i.e. that the labour required for the production of a single commodity=the minimum amount of labour necessary under average conditions. (p. 107, volume 34)

Later in the same paragraph, Marx identified surplus population as integral to the incessant drive for productivity he called the "real subsumption of labour under capital":

It is precisely the productivity, and therefore the quantity of production, the numbers of the population and of the surplus population, created by this mode of production, that constantly calls forth new branches of industry, operating with the capital and labour that have been set free. In these branches capital can once again work on a small scale and again pass through the various phases of development required until with the development of capitalist production labour is carried on on a social scale in these new branches of industry as well, and accordingly capital appears again as a concentration of a great mass of social means of production in a single person's hands. This process is continuous.

With the real subsumption of labour under capital a complete revolution takes place in the mode of production itself, in the productivity of labour, and in the relation -- within production -- between the capitalist and the worker, as also in the social relation between them. (pp. 107-8)

This last paragraph was reprised almost verbatim in the later draft: 

With the real subsumption of labour under capital there takes place a complete //and a constant, continuous, and repeated // revolution in the mode of production itself, in the productivity of labour and in the relation between capitalist and worker. (p. 439)

After some additional material, the second version also repeats the paragraph that in the earlier version came immediately before the description of real subsumption as a revolution in the mode of production:

The capitalist mode of production develops the productivity of labour, the amount of production, the size of the population, and the size of the surplus population. With the capital and labour thus released, new branches of business are constantly called into existence, and in these capital can again work on a small scale and again pass through the different developments outlined until these new branches of business are also conducted on a social scale. This is a constant process. (p. 440)

The earlier draft is notable for its immediate launch into discussion of the superfluity of all necessary labour that does not produce surplus value. This recalls language from the Grundrisse in "Necessary Labour. Surplus Labour. Surplus Population. Surplus Capital."


Since the purpose of productive labour is not the existence of the worker but the production of surplus value, all necessary labour which produces no surplus labour is superfluous and worthless to capitalist production. The same is true for a nation of capitalists. The same proposition can also be expressed in this way, that all gross product which only replaces the worker's subsistence (approvisionnement), and produces no net product, is just as superfluous as the existence of those workers who themselves produce no net product or no SURPLUS VALUE—or those who, although they were necessary for the production of SURPLUS VALUE at a given stage of the development of industry, have become superfluous to the production of that SURPLUS VALUE at a more advanced stage of development. Or, in other words, only the number of people profitable to capital is necessary. The same is true for a nation of capitalists. (pp. 104-5)

Again, the passage is reprised in the later version almost verbatim:

Gross and Net Product

(This is perhaps better placed in chapter III of Book III) Since the purpose of capitalist production (and therefore of productive labour) is not the existence of the producer but the production of surplus value, all necessary labour which produces no surplus labour is superfluous and worthless to capitalist production. The same is true for a nation of capitalists. All gross product which only reproduces the worker, i.e. produces no net product (surplus PRODUCE) is just as superfluous as that worker, himself [who produces no surplus value]. Or, if certain workers were necessary for the production of net product at a given stage of the development of production, they become superfluous at a more advanced stage of production, which no longer requires them. Or, in other words, only the number of people profitable to capital is necessary. The same is true for a nation of capitalists. (p. 452-3)

For the most part, the passages referring to socially necessary labour time in "Chapter Six" simply reiterate (or anticipate) the definitions given in chapter one of volume one of Capital. Two passage stand out for their explicit connection of the pursuit of relative surplus value through productivity innovations. Notably, the first passage is the opening paragraph of the section on real subsumption:
The Real Subsumption of Labour under Capital or the Specifically Capitalist Mode of Production
In CHAPTER III we exhaustively analysed how the whole real shape of the mode of production changes with the production of relative surplus value //in the case of the individual capitalist, in so far as he seizes the initiative, it is spurred on by the fact that value = the socially necessary labour time objectified in the product, and therefore [extra] surplus value begins to be created for him once the individual value of his product stands below its social value, and can as a result be sold above its individual value// and how a specifically capitalist mode of production arises (technologically as well), on the basis of which, and with which, there also begins a simultaneous development of the relations of production corresponding to the capitalist production process—relations between the different agents of production, in particular between the capitalist and the wage labourer. (p. 428)

The second passage of interest to this review occurs 14 pages later, after a lengthy digression of supplementary remarks on formal subsumption:

On the one hand this [engaging in production for production's sake] appears as a law, to the extent that the capitalist who produces on too small a scale would embody in his products more than the quantity of labour socially necessary. It therefore appears as the adequate implementation of the law of value, which first develops completely on the basis of the capitalist mode of production. On the other hand, however, it appears as the drive of the individual capitalist, who endeavours to reduce the individual value of his commodity below its socially determined value in order to break through this law, or to cheat it to gain an advantage for himself. (p. 442)

In the draft "Chapter Six" Marx did exactly what I criticized him for not doing in chapter 12 of volume one of Capital and even more so in chapters 15 and 25: making explicit the connection between his law of value, and consequently socially necessary labour time, and the capitalist drive for extra surplus value through the introduction of machinery. 

Marx did not dwell extensively on surplus population in the two drafts on the subsumption of labour under capital. But he did mention it and he mentioned it in connection with "the labour socially necessary, i.e. that the labour required for the production of a single commodity."

Monday, August 23, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XIV: Capital volume III, chapters 38 and 49

I thought this was going to be the final installment of my review of Marx's writing on socially necessary labour time but then I discovered, as I was going through my posts that I haven't done the draft "chapter six" that contains the fascinating discussion of formal and real subsumption. So there will be either one or two mores posts. Yay!!

An index page of all the posts so far -- both numbered and unnumbered -- is here

Chapter 38, "Differential rent: general remarks," contains an interested recapitulation of the relationship between market price and value, specifying the "socially necessary quantity of commodity varieties" as part of the determination of socially necessary labour time:

It is in general in the form of the market-price, and, furthermore, in the form of the regulating market-price, or market-price of production, that the nature of the value of commodities asserts itself, its determination not by the labour-time necessary in the case of any individual producer for the production of a certain quantity of commodities, or of some individual commodity, but by the socially necessary labour-time; that is, by the labour-time, required for the production of the socially necessary total quantity of commodity varieties on the market under the existing average conditions of social production.

This isn't a distinction I have encountered before and a search of the collected works turns up no similar phrase. It would appear to refer to the fact that a significant quantity of variety of use values would need to be present on the market for generalized exchange based on abstract values to occur. Later in chapter 38, Marx explained how monopoly access to a waterfall, for example, would enable a capitalist to avoid the cancellation of surplus profit through other capitals introducing the same technology. "It is by no means within the power of capital to call into existence this natural premise for a greater productivity of labour in the same manner as any capital may transform water into steam."

Chapter 49,  "Concerning the analysis of the process of production," reiterates that "Profit (profit of enterprise plus interest) and rent are nothing but peculiar forms assumed by particular parts of the surplus-value of commodities." Marx discussed socially necessary labour time here only in connection with explanation that surplus value may not be entirely realized and that the apportionment of value into wages, profit and rent is simply a capitalist form of expression for "the measure of socially necessary labour contained in a commodity."

Sunday, August 22, 2021

“Do Your Research”

Is it my imagination, or do vax- and mask-hesitant people, reported in news stories about the Covid Divide, almost always say they “have done their research” or something like that?  The medical people and public health advocates that get interviewed rarely seem to use this phrase, at least not in the first person.  More research, more unhinged beliefs—how does that happen?

There are many parts to this story, but one is summed up in the word “research” itself.  In high school, students are taught to use the internet or general bibliographic indexes to find articles about their topic, take notes, and use them to “support” their thesis by showing that there are others, prominent enough to get published, who agree with them.  If they’re lucky, these students will go on to college and come into contact with teachers who de-educate them in this charade of scholarship and instead show how to do the real thing.  But between those who don’t go to college and those who do but don’t find that kind of teacher, most people never graduate from the high school approach.  They think going online and finding a few articles about the government coverup of vaccine deaths or the uselessness of masks means that they have done due diligence, thinking for themselves instead of robotically following public health mandates.

Practically speaking, how can we translate a deeper understanding of “research” into habits that everyone can make sense of and follow?

It’s just one way, but here’s how I taught it in the classroom.  I would say there are really two kinds of research, passive and active.*  Passive research is what you’re taught to do in high school.  You more or less randomly find some articles about the topic you’re interested in, jot down notes, and take stock of what you’ve learned up to that point.  If you are coming at a subject without any prior background, it’s the only way to begin.

But that’s just the first step.  Next, look at your notes and analyze what they say and what’s missing.  If someone says A causes B, do you have a full understanding of how that’s supposed to work—what actual process does it and why other factors don’t prevent it?  Look into the sources you’ve read: do they or the organizations they work for have an interest in the argument they’re making?  If a source offers what seems to be a fringe position, can you explain why it’s fringy—why they haven’t persuaded a bigger chunk of the mainstream of their field to join their side?  For every argument, what are the main counterarguments?  For empirical evidence, what are the uncertainties: the measurement issues, statistical questions, or possible inconsistency with other findings?

There’s no getting around the challenge of this second step.  It requires systematically thinking through the first-round information, locating gaps and squishy parts.  There’s a limit to how thorough you can be, especially if you don’t have much expertise to draw on, but it’s the only antidote to the “little-knowledge-is-a-dangerous-thing” syndrome.

The final step is to move to active research.  Instead of simply reading whatever comes your way on the basis of a very general search, you are actively seeking answers to the specific questions arising from your analysis.  This can mean locating rebuttals to specific authors or arguments, detailed bits of information needed to evaluate empirical claims, or the missing pieces that the initial round of reading didn’t turn up.  This requires more advanced search skills, which a knowledgeable teacher can help with.

The “research” that gathers up a clutch of anti-vax or other fringe Covid-related material is at best just the passive, stage one sort.  Unless you move on from there you may end up less informed, or more misinformed, than you were before you started.

*Actually, the research methods discussed in this post are what practitioners call desk research or literature reviews.  At the base of the food chain are the labors of researchers who themselves gather data, perform analyses or construct models to create new knowledge.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Socially Ambivalent Labour Time XIII: Capital volume III, chapter 15

Chapter 15 of volume III, "Exposition of the Internal Contradictions of the Law [of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall] is iconic. Sensationalists and contrarians will no doubt be drawn to the chapter on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. But true aficionados know that the real meat is in the counter-tendencies (chapter 14) and contradictions. One of the counter-tendencies was relative over-population of workers. It plays an even larger role in the contradictions of the tendency.

The paragraph immediately preceding section III of chapter 15, "Excess Capital and Excess Population," has a familiar ring to it:

The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself. It is that capital and its self-expansion appear as the starting and the closing point, the motive and the purpose of production; that production is only production for capital and not vice versa, the means of production are not mere means for a constant expansion of the living process of the society of producers. The limits within which the preservation and self-expansion of the value of capital resting on the expropriation and pauperisation of the great mass of producers can alone move -- these limits come continually into conflict with the methods of production employed by capital for its purposes, which drive towards unlimited extension of production, towards production as an end in itself, towards unconditional development of the social productivity of labour. The means -- unconditional development of the productive forces of society -- comes continually into conflict with the limited purpose, the self-expansion of the existing capital. The capitalist mode of production is, for this reason, a historical means of developing the material forces of production and creating an appropriate world-market and is, at the same time, a continual conflict between this its historical task and its own corresponding relations of social production.

What does this remind me of? This paragraph from the Grundrisse fragment on machines:

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.

Then comes the section on "Excess Capital and Excess Population." Excess, incidentally, is a translation of our old friend, überfluß (as in überflüssig). Surplus population and surplus capital, excess capital and excess population. We appear to have a match here with the section given the heading of "Necessary labour. Surplus labour. Surplus population, Surplus capital" in the English translation of the Grundrisse. Or, to be more consistent with a previous post, the three fragments on machines.

Socially necessary labour time is implicated in the first sentence of "Excess Capital and Excess Population":

A drop in the rate of profit is attended by a rise in the minimum capital required by an individual capitalist for the productive employment of labour; required both for its exploitation generally, and for making the consumed labour-time suffice as the labour-time necessary for the production of the commodities, so that it does not exceed the average social labour-time required for the production of the commodities.

Come to think of it "average social labour-time required" would have been a less confusing name for it than socially necessary labour time. A little later in the section, Marx explained that:

This plethora of capital arises from the same causes as those which call forth relative over-population, and is, therefore, a phenomenon supplementing the latter, although they stand at opposite poles — unemployed capital at one pole, and unemployed worker population at the other.

As Marx commented later on, "It is no contradiction that this over-production of capital is accompanied by more or less considerable relative over-population." It is no contradiction because the surplus capital cannot employ the surplus population unless it can produce sufficient surplus value. In short, there is superfluous superfluity (capital, population) on the one hand because there is deficient superfluity (value) on the other. 

Marx summed up the excess capital, excess population contradiction brilliantly in a series of stark rhetorical reversals. I have abridged the text somewhat to emphasize the form of the argument:

There are not too many necessities of life produced, in proportion to the existing population. Quite the reverse. Too little is produced to decently and humanely satisfy the wants of the great mass.

There are not too many means of production produced to employ the able-bodied portion of the population. Quite the reverse. ...

On the other hand, too many means of labour and necessities of life are produced at times to permit of their serving as means for the exploitation of labourers at a certain rate of profit. ...

Not too much wealth is produced. But at times too much wealth is produced in its capitalistic, self-contradictory forms.

The limitations of the capitalist mode of production come to the surface...

It comes to a standstill at a point fixed by the production and realisation of profit, and not the satisfaction of requirements.

This sequence reprises the argument made in the Grundrisse -- needs without the means to satisfy them; the relation of necessary and surplus labour turns into its opposite:

Labour capacity can perform its necessary labour only if its surplus labour has value for capital, if it can be realised by capital. Thus, if this realisability is blocked by one or another barrier, then (1) labour capacity itself appears outside the conditions of the reproduction of its existence; it exists without the conditions of its existence, and is therefore a mere encumbrance; needs without the means to satisfy them; (2) necessary labour appears as superfluous, because the superfluous is not necessary. It is necessary only to the extent that it is the condition for the realization of capital. Thus the relation of necessary and surplus labour, as it is posited by capital, turns into its opposite, so that a part of necessary labour – i.e. of the labour reproducing labour capacity – is superfluous, and this labour capacity itself is therefore used as a surplus of the necessary working population, i.e. of the portion of the working population whose necessary labour is not superfluous but necessary for capital.

This is the penultimate installment of my examination of Marx's category of socially necessary labour time. The final post will be anti-climactic. I will be dealing with some "general remarks on differential rent" in chapter 38 of volume III and chapter 49, "concerning the analysis of the process of production." There is nothing really new or unusual about those commentaries, as far as I can see, but it will be useful to go through the exercise for the sake of completeness.