Tuesday, March 30, 2021

The Iran-China Deal

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, March 27, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Virginia Ends The Death Penalty

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

Barkley Rosser 

Friday, March 26, 2021

All a simple misunderstanding

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

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

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

Monday, March 22, 2021

Peace in Libya?

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

A Curious Form of Sex Addiction

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Rescued from Oblivion!

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Woman Behind The New Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, March 14, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Friday, March 12, 2021

Falun Glenn



Thursday, March 11, 2021


 Who the Hell do these academic journals think they are violating my sacred First Amendment free speech rights?

We regret to inform you that we have decided not to send your manuscript to our reviewers for their comments and evaluation. In our assessment, your paper does not quite reach the bar in terms of making an original conceptual or theoretical contribution to meaningful work debates. 

I'm sure Fox News pundits will race to my defense. Andrew Sullivan? Glenn Greenwald? Dr. Seuss? Mx. Potato Head? 

William Godwin's ethic of leisure and the riddle of social justice

In An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793) William Godwin declared, "the object, in the present state of society, is to multiply labour; in another state, it will be to simplify it." In The Enquirer (1797), he affirmed, "[t]he genuine wealth of man is leisure, when it meets with a disposition to improve it. All other riches are of petty and inconsiderable value." "Is there not a state of society practicable," he asked in conclusion, "in which leisure shall be made the inheritance of every one of its members?"

In Thoughts on Man (1831), Godwin repeatedly emphasized the proposition that, "every human creature is endowed with talents, which, if rightly directed, would shew him to be apt, adroit, intelligent and acute, in the walk for which his organisation especially fitted him." Leisure was indispensable to fulfilling that endowment in that "occupation, which arises contingently" was "often not less earnest and intent in its pursuits" than the "prescribed" occupation of a trade or profession. 

Given Godwin's Calvinist upbringing, theological training, and self-professed lifelong "vocation as a missionary," it is plausible to construe Godwin's consecration of leisure as a critique and reformulation of Calvin's doctrine of the worldly calling, the doctrine crudely handed down to posterity as the Protestant work ethic. Adding consequence and mystique to Godwin's leisure ethic is its hitherto overlooked influence on Karl Marx's analysis of surplus value in the Grundrisse through the intermediary of an "anonymous" 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

One Dose or Two?

There are two theories out there about how to vaccinate.  One says, look, we have data only on the protocols that were adopted in the trials.  The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were administered in two doses, three to four weeks apart.  We know that works.  Don’t mess with it.  Stick to the protocol and make sure everyone getting these vaccines gets both doses in the proper time frame.

The other says, our goal should be to get basic protection for as many people as possible as quickly as possible, especially since ominous variants are spreading.  We are in a race, and when time matters as much as it does now you cut a few corners.  Since it looks like vaccine effectiveness is pretty strong two weeks after the first dose, make sure we get that dose out there and then go back, when there’s time and enough supply, to top it up later.

As often with dichotomous choices, the best course is neither.

We are after two related but different goals.  One is to minimize death and suffering, the other to reduce transmission as rapidly as possible.  Based on what we know, it is likely that a second dose of the two-dose vaccines (and maybe a third when variant-aware boosters become available) will increase protection, especially for those vulnerable to severe Covid.  On the other hand, getting first doses out the door at maximum speed will hasten the end of the pandemic while shrinking the reservoir from which mutant strains can emerge.  Two goals, not one.

Logically, with two goals and two choices, we would expect a mixed solution to be best.  (1) Identify the subset of the population who would most benefit from a second dose.  These will be the most susceptible to severe or long-haul symptoms, including the elderly, those with compromised immune systems, prior lung damage and other risk factors.  They should get two doses in line with the current protocol.  (2) For the rest of the population, prioritize the first dose.

There is room for adjustment.  The size of the priority protection group can be increased or decreased as we learn more about the incremental effect of a second dose and the role of different risk factors.  Perhaps some people who wouldn’t qualify for this group on the basis of their own health conditions might be folded in because their occupation or social circumstances either puts them at greater personal risk of severe symptoms or magnifies the consequence of otherwise modest declines in transmission potential that may result from getting both doses.

There is a lot of space for judgment, but the principle of a two-track strategy to pursue two different goals is the starting point.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Is There No Hope for "Muslim Social Democracy"?

 Probably not I am afraid.  Indeed, this label is a recently cooked up one, to replace an earlier one that used "Islamist" instead of "Muslim." The group claiming this apparently failing and declining label is the Ennadha Party of Tuinisia, founded in 1981 and still led by al-Ghannouchi, currently  Tunis's Speaker of the House, although he and his party, which has led Tunisia for the last decade, may be about to be removed from power.

This is the 10th anniversary of the "Arab Spring," which began a decade ago in Tunisia, widely viewed as the one national "success story" of that pitiable affair. All the others: Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and others, ended up with dictators or endless war.  Tunisia has a democracy! An informal economy merchant was hit up for bribes in the old regime of Ben Ali. He set himself on fire, setting off the whole Arab Spring.

In Tunisia it did lead to the fall of Ben Ali, with indeed a democratic government coming in, with the Ennhadha dominating as it has until now.  They indeed espoused a position of "Islamist social democracy," and quietly ruled with near zero attention from most of the world for the last decade as Tunisia has just quietly stagnated over the last decade, no major uprisings, no terror attacks, just a lot of ongoing boredom. Problem solved. Move on.

As it is, I cannot explain why social democracy has not been achieved, Islamist, Muslim, or whatever, in Tunisia.  I think the main reason is that the economy has stagnated.  Tunisia has no oil or major industries.  It has some tourism, although not big time, and some agriculture that gets exported to the EU, but it does not have a sufficiently highly educated populace to have any growing high tech industries.  It has just been sort of plodding along, and with the current crisis, the failure of this regime to substantially improve the quality of life is coming home to pay. 

It is highly likely that some sort of authoritarian regime will come to power in the near future, although probably not internationally troublesome enough to get much attention.  But if this happens, it will be the end of the idea that the Arab Spring would bring about democratic regimes in the Arab world, which, with the possible now failed state example of Lebanona, does not exist seriously beyond Tunisia, the "success story of the Arab Spring," now unfortunately apparently failing on this decade anniversary of the uprising.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Disposable People

Disposable people are indispensable. Who else would fight the wars? Who would preach? Who would short derivatives? Who would go to court and argue both sides? Who would legislate? Who would sell red hots at the old ball game?

For too long disposable people have been misrepresented as destitute, homeless, unemployed, or at best precariously employed. True, the destitute, the homeless, the unemployed and the precarious are indeed treated as disposable but most disposable people pursue respectable professions, wear fashionable clothes, reside in nice houses, and keep up with the Jones.

Disposable people are defined by what they do not produce. They do not grow food. They do not build shelters. They do not make clothes. They also do not make the tractors used to grow food, the tools to build shelters or the equipment to make clothes.

Although disposable people do not produce necessities what they do is not unnecessary. It is simply that the services they provide are not spontaneously demanded as soon as one acquires a bit of additional income. One is unlikely, however, to engage the services or purchase the goods produced by disposable people unless one is in possession of disposable income. Disposable income is the basis of disposable people. Conversely, disposable people are the foundation of disposable income.

Sometimes, disposable people have been called "unproductive." It sounds harsh but it is only meant in a technical sense. In the late 1950s, '60s, and '70s debate raged in academic Marxist circles about the distinction between "productive" and "unproductive" labour. The main issue had to do with the distinction between labour that produced surplus value for capital and labour that didn't, whether or not the product or service was useful or necessary. One further refinement had to do with whether the labour produced reproductive surplus value in the form of wages goods (or services) or machinery. In this view, labour performed producing luxury goods would be unproductive, even though it appeared to produce surplus value for the employing capitalist. In fact, though, it only assisted in appropriating surplus value produced elsewhere.

I suspect these debates could have been illuminated by Marx's Grundrisse or even more so by the 1821 pamphlet by Charles Wentworth Dilke, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties. That pamphlet explicitly excluded the manufacture of luxury goods from the process of capital accumulation and clearly explained why. The production of luxury goods destroys reserved surplus labour rather than establishing the conditions for its accumulation and expansion. Jean-Baptiste Say would have agreed:

Misery is the inseparable companion of luxury. The man of wealth and ostentation squanders upon costly trinkets, sumptuous repasts, magnificent mansions, dogs, horses, and mistresses, a portion of value, which, vested in productive occupation, would enable a multitude of willing labourers, whom his extravagance now consigns to idleness and misery, to provide themselves with warm clothing, nourishing food, and household conveniences.

So much for supply creating it own demand. 

Dilke contended that if capital was allowed to actually accumulate, the rate of interest paid for its use would rapidly fall to zero because the accumulation of capital was very limited, "if the happiness of the whole, and not the luxuries of a few, is the proper subject for national congratulation." When that limit was reached, the hours of labour could be drastically reduced, "where men heretofore laboured twelve hours they would now labour six, and this is national wealth, this is national prosperity." "Wealth… is disposable time, and nothing more."

Dilke's disposable time may well have been an oblique rejoinder to Thomas Chalmers's (1808) concept of disposable population. Chalmers was as upbeat about the expansion of disposable population as Dilke was wary about the increase of unproductive labour. Dilke was an ardent follower of William Godwin, as had been Chalmers until he was converted by Thomas Malthus's polemic against Godwin on population. In the Grundrisse, Marx appears to have been enchanted by Dilke's concept of disposable time.

Nearly a century after publication of The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties, Stephen Leacock's The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice was serialized in the New York Times. At its core was the same dilemma at the heart of Dilke's pamphlet, with all the vast improvements of productive machinery, why weren't ordinary people better off and why were the hours of work still so long?

If the ability to produce goods to meet human wants has multiplied so that each man accomplishes almost thirty or forty times what he did before, then the world at large ought to be about thirty or fifty times better off. But it is not. Or else, as the other possible alternative, the working hours of the world should have been cut down to about one in thirty of what they were before. But they are not. How, then, are we to explain this extraordinary discrepancy between human power and resulting human happiness?

Leacock imagined an observer looking down from the moon on a production process that stopped short of producing enough necessities, and then again stopped short of producing enough comforts to shift, "while still stopping short of a general satisfaction, to the making of luxuries and superfluities." Leacock was a student of Thorstein Veblen at the University of Chicago and was clearly influenced by Veblen's philosophy. A passage in Dilke's pamphlet that imagines the "last paragraph" of a future historian uncannily anticipates Veblen's concept of pecuniary emulation:

The increase of trade and commerce opened a boundless extent to luxury:—the splendour of luxurious enjoyment in a few excited a worthless, and debasing, and selfish emulation in all:—The attainment of wealth became the ultimate purpose of life:— the selfishness of nature was pampered up by trickery and art:—pride and ambition were made subservient to this vicious purpose…

Inspired by Leacock's Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice, Arthur Dahlberg's Jobs, Machines and Capitalism was described by Louis Rich in the New York Times as "one of the most valuable, both theoretically and practically, since the writings of Veblen." Dahlberg's argument influenced Senator Hugo Black's legislation for a thirty-hour work week. 

At the core of Dahlberg's theory was the observation that, as machines replaced human labour in core industries, more and more workers were reabsorbed into "miscellaneous" employment, providing services and manufacturing goods that were not spontaneously demanded. They became disposable people in disposable jobs. Demand for these goods and services had to be artificially created through advertising, gratuitous product differentiation, built-in obsolescence, and salesmanship. Consequently, the bargaining power of labour was weakened, and capital was empowered to take a larger share of national income. The goods and services this higher income group were then encouraged to consume with their expanded incomes became increasingly frivolous, as did the new investments available to absorb the rest of their income. Eventually higher income earners would spurn the unappetizing new consumption and investment opportunities and hoard their excess income. Economic recession would ensue.

As had Leacock, Dahlberg cited the example of the First World War as an episode in which a shortage of labour imposed an unaccustomed discipline of efficiency on capital. They both argued that a permanent shortage of labour could be achieved through reduction of the hours of work. Such a shortage would lead to greater industrial efficiency, less waste, higher wages, more leisure, and, ultimately, the elusive goal of social justice.

The chance that Dahlberg, Leacock, or Veblen would have read The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties is slim but not impossible. Herbert Foxwell mentioned the pamphlet in his introduction and bibliography to AugustAnton Menger's The right to the whole produce of labour (1899). In Veblen's " The Socialist Economics of Karl Marx and His Followers" he mentions "Foxwell's admirable Introduction to Menger." More probable is some familiarity by Veblen with William Godwin's views on leisure, possibly through the unlikely intermediary of Harriet Martineau's writing. In Society in America, Martineau wrote the following tribute to Godwin, leisure, and… disposable time:

The first attempt to advocate leisure as the birthright of every human being was made now some half-century ago. [Godwin's Inquirer] The plea then advanced is a sound one on behalf of other things besides philosophy, literature and scholarship. Leisure, some degree of it, is necessary to the health of every man's spirit. Not only intellectual production, but peace of mind cannot flourish without it. It may be had under the present system, but it is not. With community of property, it would be secured to everyone. The requisite amount of work would bear a very small proportion to that of disposable time.

Leisure as the birthright of every human being? Harriet Martineau? Disposable time?