Sunday, May 30, 2021

Do Languages Get Simpler When They Get More Complicated?

 Oh, a minor diversion from the usual political economy stuff that goes up here.  

This is triggered by an article in last week's The Economist on the nearly dead San language, Nluu.  It has only two living fully fluent speakers alive, both in their 80s.  The San languages are among the world's most ancient, although arguably reflecting a simpler world than the one we live in, although certainly with many complications we know nothing of.  But the point that caught my attention was that it has 45 distinct click sounds, along with 114 basic sound units. It is one of only three languages in the world (all of them San) that have something called the double lip-full kiss click, whatever that is. I only know that if one sees an exclamation point that means some sort of click. So probably the most numerous living San group are the !Kung, yeah, some sort of click on the front end of that name.

I have known about this matter of clicks in southern African languages for some time, but had no idea there were so many different ones.  Not only the San languages, but also the Khoechan (or Khoi khoi) languages have lots of them.  Some clicks can also be found in the much more widespread Xhosa languages, one of which was the mother tongue of Nelson Mandela, who almost certainly had some Khoi or San ancestry.  But beyond these languages, I am not aware of any others that have any clicks.  They have disappeared in later languages, and I am unaware of any other language having anywhere near the number of basic sound units that apparently this nearly extinct Nluu language has.

I have not heard anybody theorize about simplifying sounds over time in languages, but I know there is an academic argument about grammar becoming more simplified, especially when two languages are combined as with creole or pidgin languages, something written about by John McWhorter in hi The Creole Debate. Pidgin languages, artificially created to allow communication between groups and drawing on each other's languages, tend to be especially simplistic in gramatical terms.

It occurs to me that this might apply to English, which is itself a sort of creole out of Germanic Old English and Latinic Norman French, with some other elements.  In a way it may be the world's most complicated language in some forms, notably in probably having more words than just about any other language, drawing on so many inputs from so many parts of the world and fields.  But in grammatical terms it is rather simple, with only a few cases and having eliminated gender from most words.  In contrast, Lithuanian, thought to be the closest to the original proto-Indo-European has seven cases, more than any other, although Russian is not too far off.  However, despite this relative grammatical simplicity, English is hard to learn, not only because it has so many words but because it violates its own supposed rules so often, in contrast with Spanish, for example, reputedly one of the easiest languages to learn.

So, there is no big profound point here, but just that I find this curious: that it seems that as languages evolve and interact with each other and encounter more and more influences, they seem to drop elements they previously had, whether these are sound units or grammatical forms and cases.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Trumpification of Xi Jinping

 The Peoples' Republic of China (PRC) has achieved great outcomes over the last several decades, especially after the late Deng Xiaoping took effective control of the nation from Maoist holdovers.  He set a model of indirect and collective leadership in contrast with Mao Zedong who ruled nearly absolutely for nearly three decades, while building and enforcing a cult of personality dedicated to himself. Of the top three positions in the nation, he held only one: Chair of the Military Commission, making him Commander-in-Chief. But he was never General Secretary of the Party (with his exact position there unclear), and his highest position in the actual government never above Vice Prime Minister, which he did not remain in all that long.

The system went through various changes in the 1980s, with Deng clearly running things, although after 1983 the Head of State position, President, got a 5-year term.  Starting in 1993 the system established with the accession of Jiang Zamen in 1993, a new pattern appeared that the Supreme Leader (a title Deng was granted by the CCP in 1979) would hold the top three position for 10 years, two presidential terms: President, Party General Secretary, and Char of the Military Commission. This did not work perfectly as when the transition in 2003 to Hu Jintao came, Jiang delayed handing over the Chair of the Military for about half a year, while Hu got the other two on time.  Their rivalry would come to dominate the hidden power struggle in Zhongnanghai with its remnant "Sitting Committee" of retired Long March and later leaders carrying on their ancient power struggles.

In any case, the period from Deng's becoming Supreme Leader, although bearing few specifically official positions of power, led to a profoundly seriously successful period of Chinese economic growth and social and cultural achievement and advancement.  It would lead by around 2014 China becoming the world's largest economy in real PPP terms, with it now more than 30% ahead of the US on that measure, even as the US continues for a few more years to be tops in nominal GDP. In the last year China has announced achieving ending deep poverty. So, much has been achieved, and way more than I have mentioned here. It is now in many ways the world's leading economy and society.

Which brings us to how the current Supreme Leader appears to be blowing this very seriously, and I seriously think that a non-trivial influence on what I think is a serious mistake that has been made was inspired or at least aided by former President Trump during his time in office.  I see two items here. One is the replacing of the normal 10 year turnover of power with a lifetime appointment of the Supreme Leader, and the other is assuming a "We are Number One" approach to world affairs, with it looking like these two reinforce each other, and with both certainly inspired by and to some degree supported by by former President Trump while he was in office.

So in 2013 Xi Jinping, a "princeling" son of a former high official, took power as Jiang did 20 years earlier, getting all three of the top positions at the same time from his predecessor.  At first things continued as they had up to about the time Xi was to be reconfirmed at the 5-year rotation time.  But then, after having interacted with US President Trump, including getting to eat chocolate at Mar-a-Lago while Trump showed off sensitive videos for diners at his club, things changed. Xi made it clear that he would not step down in 2023 when his second term ended, but would remain in power indefinitely, to the end of his life, if he could pull that off. 

As it was, Donald Trump's reaction to this announcement was to comment on how "maybe we should try this in the US."  People thought he was joking, but subsequent events show he was not at all, and is very envious of not only Xi but Putin and Erdogan and other authoritarian leaders who have assumed absolute lifetime power in their nations. Indeed, he continues to actively push an end to democracy in the US and essentially him being allowed to indeed assume the US presidency for the rest of his life.  Not clear who is actually influencing whom here.

But there is another important feature of what Xi has done that leads to the conclusion that he has Trumpified himself. Prior to this declaration of lifetime rule, he seemed to follow a path described by an adviser to his predecessor as "peaceful rise," which involved avoiding angering other nations to the point they would oppose policies or actions of China as its economy and power became more and more important in the world. And from 1979 until very recently this approach was highly successful on so many fronts. Indeed, in the first years of Trump's presidency, when his "America First" policies led to a complete collapse of favorable attitudes towards the US around the world, China stood briefly as a beacon of world leadership, supporting international rules and customs and world order.  It still claims to do so, but unfortunately Xi seems to have decided to imitate Trump with a "China First" policy since he assumed lifetime leadership, with this badly carried out policy leading to an enormous backlash.

There are several issues involved here.  Many involve increased suppression of human rights within China, including in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.  But an especially crucial one seems to be its management of its role in the origin of the Covid-19 virus and the subsequent pandemic.  A free and democratic nation would be open to and assist investigations of the origin of a disease that looks to have emerged initially within its boundaries. But China has never accepted this, suggesting it came from US troops at an athletic event in Wuhan in October, 2019, or maybe on some frozen food from wherever, a theory that the WHO under Chinese influence still takes seriously, although nobody else outside of China does so.  It is clear it first appeared in Wuhan in central China, but exactly how and when remains unknown and will probably remain so, since rather than being open and helpful, the Chinese government (reflecting the views of the CCP) has destroyed all evidence relating to the origin of the disease and suppressed Chinese initially reporting on it.

For awhile China got away with this because Trump politicized the issue by making exaggerated claims that China consciously created the virus and then lied about it, with all this embedded in a lot of racist anti-AAPI verbiage that he took to the campaign trail, with a major uptick of attacks on Asian Americans following this. 

But changes of mind of various scientists who previously said that the "lab leak" hypothesis was highly unlikely have changed their minds, and now we see not only President Biden but much of the world demanding a more thorough and transparent investigation regarding where this virus came from. However, despite some possible new openings, such as possibly finding the originally infected people (an effort likely to be blocked by China), I think too much crucial data has been destroyed by the Chinese government for us to ever really figure this out.

Well, so more recently we have seen a change to a much more aggressive and hostile approach to the rest of the world by the Chinese leadership.  When the Australian government demanded an deeper probe on the origins of the virus, instead of agreeing like an open and democratic government might do, the PRC responded by a massive attack on Australian trade with China. More recently when the EU, while not declaring that Chinese policy towards the Uighurs is "genocide," they nevertheless raised some complaints about what is going on with those people there, the Chinese response was a strong attack that led to the EU ending negotiations on a trade and investment deal with China, which had looked to be good to go a few months ago. And, of course, there have been militarily aggressive moves against India, as well as in the South China Sea.

All this has led to the Xi becoming Trumpified. Prior to Trump becoming POTUS, the US had an fairly high approval rating around most of the world, although not in the Muslim Middle East. But when Trump came in it did not take too long for his "America First" policies, along with his personally insulting most leaders of US allied nations (Israel, KSA, UAE, and a few others excepted), for the approval rating of the US to collapse, in some nations dramatically so, with the upshot being that the US went from basically being one of the most respected and approved of nations in the world, to being  barely above a pariah.

So, big surprise, when Xi Jinping decided to imitate his former chocolate cake buddy with a similarly indefensible "China First" policy, the approval rating of his nation has fallen.  A column in the May 28 Washington Post by Fareed Zakaria provides some data on this collapse.  I shall bring this now long post to an end by simply listing the numbers he reported in this column, which compare a change from 2017 to 2020 in negative feelings towards China in these nations:

US, 47% to 73%

Canada, 40% to 73%

UK, 37% to 74%

Australia, 32% to 81%

South Korea, 61% to 75%

Sweden, 49% to 85%.

Barkley Rosser


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Larry Summers Doubles Down On His Inflation Prediction

 But somehow becomes vaguer about exactly how this is going to happen and show up, but he wants the Fed to stop it in its track, goshdarnit.  This is in a column appearing in the Washington Post, May 25, "The inflation risk is real."

Well, he does start out by saying that the economic recovery from the pandemic is a good thing, as is of course the the receeding of the pandemic itself, with the US doing well compared to "other industrial countries."  The fiscal and monetary policies supporting this have so far been a good thing, blah blah blah.  But now we must change course, especially the Fed, which Summers is still ticked off about not being appointed Chair of instead of Janet Yellen back when (both of his parents worked for the Philadelphia Fed, so, obviously he should have been put in charge of it, goshdarnit, quite aside from having Paul Samuelson and Kenneth Arrow as uncles!). It is not just ongoing easy monetary and fiscal policies involved here, but the "pentup demand" now roaring out that supposedly is going to race against supply responses for some long time into the future.

Oh, he does have some evidence.  Indeed the rate of inflation has risen and to a level, 7.5% annual rate in the first quarter, and can quote various others who agree with him that inflation is in danger of getting seriously out of control, such as Warren Buffett, and can quote Jason Furman (who briefly co-blogged with some of us back on the old Maxspeak) that the fiscal stimulus is "too big for the moment." 

This all supposedly means that the Fed needs to step forward by "explicitly recognizing that that overheating and, not excessive slack, is the predominant near-term risk for the economy." Furthermore, "policies toward workers should be aimed at the labor shortage that is our current reality" by ending extra unemployment benefits in September.  Oh, while he is worried about too much fiscal stimulus, he nevertheless does recognize that expanding infrastructure would help expand future supply capability, so he does reasonably argue states should not use federal aid to cut taxes.

Getting back to the Fed, regarding which Summers thinks  "Tightening is likely to be necessary," it must be noted that the Fed from the beginning of the year, if not earlier (along with Treasury Secretary Yellen) has forecast an increase in the rate of inflation this year. It must be admitted that indeed the most recent price spike exceeds what was forecast, so this is the opening for Summers and those who agree with him to argue that inflation is indeed a real risk that calls for a change of policy, or at least of rhetoric in preparation to change policy.  And this could happen, but how likely is it?

Here is where Summers seems to fall down.  The people at the Fed, led as near as I can tell by the astute Jim Bullard, have argued that nearly all price increases we would see are temporary surges associated with pandemic-induced supply chain problems, with the global shipping issue at the top of the list with its now tripling of costs.  A sign of this is the most dramatic price increases one hears about, such as for copper, have been overwhelmingly among raw materials and commodities rather than final consumer goods, although there certainly has been some passthrough for many of those.  But even with those, some appear to have perhaps stopped rising, notably that headline maker, gasoline prices, which seem to have stopped rising after the freakout following the Colonial Pipeline shutdown that set off people waiting in lines a la 1979 (and getting on Fox News screaming about hyperinflation and blaming it on Biden).

Summers actually has very little to say specifically to offset the argument that most of this recent spike in prices most dramatically of inputs is not going to continue for all that much longer.  He grants that some of this is "transitory," but then invokes unspelled-out "variety of factors" that will keep demand rising faster than supply so that they "impact...inflation expectations on purchasing behavior." The only specific sector he mentions is housing, where he says that rising housing prices have not shown up in official inflation data.  He also claims that such expectations are showing up in interest rate changes, even though over on Econbrowser Menzie Chinn argues that if one accounts for liquidity and term premia, changes in 5-note and TIPS rates show basically no increase in inflation expectations at the 5-year time horizon, those still sitting at about 1.7%, still below the Fed's target inflation rate.

Oh, he also invokes "Higher minimum wages, strengthening unions, increased employee benefits and strengthened regulations" as further exacerbating this inflationary surge, even though he says these "are all desrable."  But Congress failed to raise the minimum wage, and while Biden may be the most pro-union president since FDR and Truman, union membership remains very low and not expanding, as the vote on organizing at Amazon in Alabama shows.  He really does not have much in the way of how the recent price hikes will keep on going up or even accelerate, rather then slow down or stop or even go back down in some cases for many of these inputs like copper and oil.

Obviously none of us know for sure on this, and indeed reports have it that the Fed is keeping a close eye on the price increases with rumblings even from Yellen that if inflation actually does stick or accelerate they will act to offset it. But from what I see, it remains that the vast majority of these price increases are likely to slow or even reverse as the supply bottlenecks gradually get loosened as the year proceeds.  Summers seems to be mostly just waving his hands that they will continue, and the Bullard-Fed view that they will ease still looks to me to be far more likely.  But in the meantime, Summers gets to get a lot of attention, even if he is not Fed Chair.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Bibi Gets To Stay In Office (For Now)

 With the welcome cease fire in Israel-Palestine, it looks like Bibi Netanyahu has achieved his near term goal of remaining prime minister of Israel, thus not only remaining power but also out of jail, with barely anybody noticing that he has done this.  His rival, Yair Lapid, who was invited by President Reuvan Rivlin to form a government, was hoping to cut a deal with the Israeli-Arab members of the Knesset, but that is now out of the question, so Bibi gets to stay in office.  There will probably need to be another election.

And while there is officially a cease fire, this has not kept the Israeli security forces from further attacking people in the al-Aqsa mosque compound, which triggered the outbreak of this short war initially.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Labor market monopsony and Peter Diamond

 These are some no-doubt under-informed thoughts on monopsony  and labor markets that I've had preparatory to teaching the principles course.  In Peter Diamond's first search article, I believe, he briefly discusses a model of  search-friction-induced monopoly that is simple but provocative.  The idea is (I am embellishing here, so this is loose) take a large number of sellers and we'll say an equal number of buyers. Give each buyer a downward-sloping demand and let marginal cost  be constant and identical for each seller.  In a competitive equilibrium, the good sells for marginal cost and each seller serves one buyer. Now add search costs for the buyers--it doesn't matter how big or small.  If we start from the competitive price, each seller now faces a demand which is downward-sloping in the neighborhood of the competitive quantity at prices between MC +search cost and MC-search cost. Each will then raise price to MC + search cost. But this is not an equilibrium, since with all charging MC+ search cost, each has an incentive to raise price to MC + 2*(search cost).  The only symmetric Nash equilibrium has each charging the monopoly price! And the interesting thing is that this is the unique equilibrium for any value of search cost, however small.  

Now when we teach monopsony, we start with a single buyer. The idea that labor markets are monopsonistic in this sense is obviously a non-starter, as your students, some of them anyway, will tell you!  There are many buyers. But then you might mention search costs on the seller side, and show how they give each buyer a "little bit" of monopsony power, if they are small, which they probably are.

But we can do the analogue to the Diamond idea on the buyer side as well -- or so it seems to me, and get an equilibrium, with positive search costs, however small, in which each firm pays the (low) monopsony wage. So even a little bit of search friction can conceivably produce, for each of many firms, a lot of monopsony power -- in fact, as much monopsony power as a single buyer would have!!

Does anyone know if something like this idea has been applied to labor market monopsony? 

The Public Reappearance Of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

 Sigh, so much that is so obvious, and so much that is not, but so much that is so sad, especially as there seems to be little real prospect of any serious improvement or settlement on the underlying issues.  Indeed, it is probably the case we did not see anything happen for a good 7 years because from the Palestinian side things looked so hopeless in the face of ongoing Israeli expansion of settlements in the Occupied West Bank and increasing suppression of their rights, with more and more political figures on various sides declaring that the Two-State Solution was dead, so fuggedaboudit. With Bibi Netanyahu managing to get full control of the GOP line on things Israeli, and getting most of what he wanted from this while Trump was president, including a US embassy move to Jerusalem and recognition of the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights, not to mention the Abraham Accords diplomatic recognitions by UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, all this supposed to "change history," and without Israel giving up anything to the Palestinians for any of these items, the first two of which had long been bargaining chips held by the US government in order to bring about a sustainable and reasonable Two-State settlement.  But no, Bibi could even bring in screaming racists to his government, people the US government used to formally label as "terrorists."  But now, well, history was changed, and the Palestinians were just going to have take what they were given without any whining or complaining, much less any rock-throwing demonstrations or worse.

But it was not to last.  The long simmering efforts by Jewish settlers to have Palestinian families in East Jerusalem evicted from homes the UN put them in during the 1950s because previously Jews lived in, them, not ancestors of those bringing the lawsuits to claim their own personal ownership, but on behalf of "the [Jewish] Community," clearly aggressive rank nonsense. During the recently ended Muslim holy month of Ramadan these efforts brought about demonstrations in front of the Damascus Gate on the north side of the Old City, with Israeli police and other security increasingly violently putting down these rock-throwing demos, and also blocking Muslims from entering the gate to get to the Haram-al-Sharif, the "Sacred Enclosure,"  aka "The Temple Mount," the most hotly contested piece of real estate on the planet, which sits on top of the ruined base of the old Hebrew temple in the southeastern part of the Old City, and which has two sacred Muslim sited on it, the beautiful Dome of the Rock, which contains a rock that the Prophet Muhammed reportedly ascended to heaven for a consultation from, and nearby to it the al-Aqsa mosque, viewed by Muslims as the third most sacred site in their world after the rock in the Kaaba in Mecca and the Temple of the Prophet in Medina. 

It was specifically to the al-Aqsa mosque that worshippers sought to go for evening Ramadan services and were blocked, which led to demos at the mosque as well. A few days before the end of Ramadan, without any really specific provocation (although I am sure various Israeli commentators would say otherwise), Israeli police and security forces entered the mosque, shooting people with rubber bullets and other forms of force, reportedly injuring 330, although not killing anybody. But this assault on the third holiest site in all of Islam set off massive demonstrations around the world and among the Palestinians, not only in Jerusalem and the West Bank, but in Israeli cities themselves, the first time ever for this, and, of course, Hamas in Gaza began firing rockets into Israel, over 100 so far.  Few of these unaimed missiles went further than 3 miles and 90% were taken out by Isrtael's Rocket Dome defense system. But a few longer range ones hit both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, killing 9 Israelis.  The Israelis have since hit back with massive bombing of Gaza, with the latest reported number dead at 140, 40 of those children.  They have also taken down large buildings, although warning ahead of time so people could get out.  This could be a lot worse, but it is ongoing, with no clear end in sight, although probably Hamas in Gaza will run out of rockets to fire pretty soon.

A question arises as to why Bibi let the police do something so outrageous and stupid as to invade the al-Aqsa mosque late in Ramadan and shoot a bunch of people, and, although perhaps more understandable, why did Hamas in Gaza think it reasonable after this to start firing rockets into Israel, knowing full well from past experience that the Israelis would bomb them severely, killing many innocent Palestinian civilians.

In the case of Bib, this looks like a last-gasp desperate move to hold onto his position as Prime Minister of Israel.  Israeli President Reuvan had shortly before this attack on the mosque invited the main opposition leader, Yair Lapid, to form a new government, after long gridlock and repeated stalemated elections, as well as Netanyahu himself having just failed yet again to form a government at Reuven's invitation.  It turns out that finally after all these decades, the contending possible PMs have begun looking at and negotiating with members of Arab parties in the Israeli Knesset (Yes, this is one difference between apartheid in Israel and South Africa, at least the Arab citizens of Israel can vote). Apparently Bibi tried, but failed to come to an agreement, and other far right wing partied have become disgusted with him (Lapid is only slightly more moderate than Netanyahu). In any case, Lapid had received his invitation, and many thought the moment had arrived for Bibi finally to be out.  But, aha! with this massive blowup within Israel itself between the Arab and Jewish populations, it certainly looks like any coalition government by any Jewish leader with any of the Arab parties is out of the question.  So this imminent threat that Lapid could form a government and remove him looks to be out for now, although who knows what will come down the road. There has been surprisingly little commentary on this precise matter in the media, aside from vague notes that this was in "Netanyahu's political interest," but this is why specifically.

As for Hamas, it is also seen to be in their interest, if not quite so immediately so as it is for Ben-Yamin Netanyahu. Hamas has been in a long conflict with the al-Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, led by the 85-year old Mahmoud Abbas, who has put off another election (which he and his group were expected to lose to Hamas).  Abbas, clearly a spent political force, has long led the PA government that arose from the now-all-but-dead Oslo Accords of 1993.  Unlike Islamist Hamas, secular al-Fatah was willing to recognize and work with Israel on many matters, and still does.  The Israeli government will be sad to see it go, and this is likely to be another fallout of Bibi's attack on the al-Aqsa mosque.

So, the only hope, really, is the Two-State solution.  But it looks to be deader than evet and beyond hope.  The increasing obviousness of this, along with the increasingly outrageous actions by the slef-confident Israeli government, propped up in that by Trump's policies, have triggered this uprising by Palestinians, including the deadly rocket attacks by Hamas, although Hamas looks to gain in the longer run from this by helping to bring down Abbas and al-Fattah and to become the undisputed leader of the Palestinian people with their refusal to recognize Israel and their ongoing demand that it cease to exist.

I note that so far the US seems to have done little useful in all this. Supposedly an unnamed "ambassador" has arrived in Jerusalem to negotiate a cease-fire, but nothing has come of it.  As for public statements, these have sounded almost Trumpish in their one-sided concern for Israelis facing the pathetic rocket attacks coming out of Gaza, without a word about all those being killed in Gaza.  Oh, there was a mild but brief criticism of the attack on the crowd al-Aqsa mosque, but pretty low key, even as many Dems have called for much more support and sympathy for the Palestinians in this.  At a minimum, Bernie Sanders has been completely right to call for ending the annual $4 billion in mostly military aid the US gives Israel.  Surely they do not need it, much less at this point deserve it.

Two odd personal notes on this.

The best man in my first wedding in 1968 is a guy Peter Dorman may have known whom I shall not name, although he is about to have very serious heart surgery and may die.  Back then he was to my political left, and showed up at the rehearsal dinner from the Dem convention Chicago riots with half his hair shaved off and a lot of stitches where a police billy club cracked his skull open. Later he would go through a lot of changes, including a period of being a Sufi, but evrntually went home to Brooklyn, where he became Orthodox Jewish, although, not Chasid/Chared.  He went to Israel where he married an Israeli-Yemeni woman and had 8 children, half now in Brooklyn, half in Israel.  In 1980 we debated the Israeli-Palestinian issue and he declared that the solution was for the Palestinians "in Judea and Samaria" to be expelled.  I did not speak to him at all for a long time after that.  We later reinitiated our friendship, but have largely avoided politics other than to make jokes about each other's highly different views.  I visited him in Jerusalem four years ago this month, and among other things he took me on a tour of King David City.  I could say much more about him. but I shall for now simply hope he gets through is surgery.  His wife is in Israel, but unable to fly to Brooklyn to be with him for the surgery due to the current situation.  He has expressed worry about his family there, and I have said I hope they are not hurt.

Also in my distant past I spent serious time in an Arab nation.  My Arabic was so good back then that I passed for being an Arab.  Some people though I was Syrian (I have also often passed for being Jewish without trying to do so, although I am very WASPy). I back then heard several people say all those terrible things that Israelis claim Arabs think of them: that they should all be killed, that Israel should be pushed into the sea. It is all true. Both sides have been victims; both sides have been guilty guilty guilty.  The obvious solution was and remains the Two-State one, but the assassination of its Israeli organizer, the late Yitzhak Rabin, began the long slide to today where all the supposedly smart people declare the Two-State solution to be dead.  Well, it had better not be dead, because the only alternative is awful endless bloody war.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Dilke, Chapman, and Dahlberg Pop-ups

Credits: Reuben Walker, animation and music. Tom Walker, concept and design. Charles Wentworth Dilke, Sydney John Chapman, and Arthur Olaus Dahlberg, analysis and inspiration.

Disposable People Reinstated

Today I learned that my EconoSpeak post, "Disposable People" (which has over 2500 views) has been reinstated by Blogger. I never knew it had been removed. If I was a GOP whiner, this would be a prime example of cancel culture in operation. But of course, it's only an artefact of moderation that has to rely on algorithms to identify potential community guidelines violations.


Thursday, May 13, 2021

"Ambivalence" has dropped!


Two things I am especially pleased about that were sort of incidental at the time: 1. The prominence in the title of "ambivalence" -- the future is ambivalent -- and 2. the ending quote by Benjamin of a quote about stereoscopic vision. 

Friday, May 7, 2021

The Death of Dick Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, May 2, 2021

A Recent Correlation Regarding Political "Leadership" And The Coronavirus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, May 1, 2021

So Much For May Day

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

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

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

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

Barkley Rosser