Saturday, November 27, 2021

We've turned a corner on intersectionality and come to a crossroads...

The right-wing War on Wokeness has won over Seattle progressive Democrats... "because we can't afford to give the GOP any ammunition for the 2022 election."

Democrats, who are famous for "keeping our powder dry," are now concerned that their opponents may use the specter of wokeness against them unless they get out in front with hardy denunciations of wokeness.

In other news, Susan Sarandon is still responsible for Hillary Clintons loss to Donald Trump in 2016. And don't get me started on Dan Rather Ralph Nader! (I always get those two guys mixed up.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Playing With The Strategic Petroleum Reserve

 Over the last month crude oil prices have noticeably declined from in the neighborhood of $85-86 per barrel to $78-80 per barrel. But there has been only a very small decline in retail gasoline prices, and the headlines even as of yesterday was all about "sharply rising gas prices." 

So, Pres. Biden has moved to release a record amount of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, getting several other nations to also release such reserves, including UK, South Korea, Japan, Inda, and maybe even China.  What was the result on crude oil markets? Not much. Brent slightly declined while WTI actually slightly increased, the markets perceiving this as largely a very short term move. Of course, Biden has also asked the FTC to look into oil prices not lowering retail prices after the crude oil price decline.

This reminds me of a tale I was told back in the 1990s during the Clinton admin from a friend who was working on the Council of Economic Advisers staff.  It involved a time when oil and gasoline prices had risen somewhat, although they were mostly quite low in that time period.  The CEA Chair was Joe Stiglitz while the Chief of Staff was Leon Panetta, and they met with Clinton.

There had been public talk of releasing oil from the STPR to counteract this fairly small upsurge of prices. Stiglitz spoke against it, arguing it would have little effect on the markets, and furthermore, it looked like the markets would turn around on their own and push down the temporarily mildly elevated crude oil prices. Panetta's response was, "Great! We can release some oil, not really disrupt the  markets, but claim credit for the price decline when it happens!" Some oil got released with a bout of publicity.

So, maybe it is worth it for the publicity, even if it really has little actual effect on things.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Rittenhouse Verdict and the Future of Vigilante Violence

There are typically two levels in a case like Rittenhouse’s, the individual issues of justice and accountability, and the social implications of the crime and its judicial resolution.  I want to spend a moment with the second.

America faces an impending crisis of vigilante suppression of democratic rights.  In the past year we’ve seen militias openly threatening violence in takeovers of state capitals, the Capitol Building in Washington and the streets that have seen protests against police brutality and similar issues.  Militias have brought guns to their own protests against vaccination, mask orders and other public health actions by state and local government.

Maybe this is the highwater mark of the militia movement, but maybe not.  There will certainly be flashpoints in the coming years where political tensions will be intense.  A videoed police murder might set off a new wave of BLM-ish actions.  There may (and should) be mass events demanding action on climate change.  Above all, there is a significant chance that political interference may cause the 2024 election to be visibly (and actually) stolen, which would trigger a tsunami of large-scale demonstrations and direct action activities.  An important question is whether armed right wing thugs will be permitted to suppress them.

We are in a difficult situation.  In much or most of the country, police are either passively or actively supportive of vigilantes.  This was transparent in Kenosha, where, even after he had shot an unarmed, mentally disturbed man and tried to surrender to the police, Rittenhouse was allowed to go his way.  There are similar indications in my home state of Oregon.  We can’t rely on the police to curb the militias.

Even when armed paramilitaries kill protesters, we have learned from the Rittenhouse case they stand a good chance of being acquitted.  Granted, the criminal law is not an ideal line of defense against a political strategy like vigilante intimidation, since it is constructed around the question of individual culpability.  Indeed, Rittenhouse might well have been innocent in purely legal terms, even though his actions were part of a pattern of vigilante social control.

This leaves the legislative route as the only alternative.  Here we are hemmed in by the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the second amendment.  Broadly-written gun control laws will be declared unconstitutional.  Ironically, the language of the amendment itself justifies an armed citizenry on the grounds of a supposed need for a “well-regulated militia”.  What that qualifier means is obscure, but private militias are exactly the threat from which we need deliverance.

It might not survive Supreme Court scrutiny, but I would again urge, as a matter of priority, legislation at every level that prohibits bringing firearms to any political venue—a public building, a political rally, a demonstration or any event or gathering where political demands or deliberations take place.  We desperately need to disarm our politics before it’s too late.  If the Rittenhouse verdict tells us nothing else, it’s that we are approaching the point of no return.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Cheap trips to the lakes

We are experiencing climate change with a vengeance in British Columbia. For the past four summers, we have had horrific wildfires that send smoke all the way from the interior to the west coast of Vancouver Island. Last summer, we had a record-breaking "heat dome" that killed over 600 people and, after registering all-time heat records for several days, the town of Lytton burned to the ground. 

Currently, our third atmospheric river in three months has forced the evacuation of Merritt, B.C., many homes in Princeton and a vast area of farmland with around 3000 inhabitants in Abbotsford. The flooded area used to be the bottom of Lake Sumas, which was drained in 1924 but is threatening to return. All routes out of Vancouver to the interior or south to the U.S. have either been flooded, covered with mudslides or in several cases, major highways have simply been washed away.

The miracle of Barrowtown

People are filling sandbags in western Chilliwack to then ferry across to Barrowtown. So many people turned out after word spread on social media that people are urging people to stop coming.

Barrowtown is the pumping station in Abbotsford that keeps Sumas Prairie from reverting to Sumas Lake. The lake was drained in 1924 to create a large expanse of agricultural land. On the other side of a dike is the mighty Fraser River. It wasn't the Fraser, though, that flooded Sumas Prairie over the past few days but the Nooksack River in Washington State that overflowed its banks and diverted into the Sumas River headwaters. 

The flood from the Nooksack/Sumas River came close to overwhelming the Barrowtown pumps last night. If one pump failed, all four pumps would have to be shut down. If the water level reached the level of the pump house, the pumps would all fail or have to be shut down. When the pumps stopped working, water from the Fraser River would begin to flow into the lake bed to raise the flood level to over three metres.

Last night, the catastrophe seemed inevitable to the mayor and city engineers. It was averted by the sandbag dam built around the pumping station by hundreds of contractors, firefighters, and volunteers aided by more volunteers filling sandbags in Chilliwack.

The fire next time

BREAKING: Large fire breaks out in Sumas Prairie near Whatcom

Video taken by Black Press Media shows loud continuous bangs coming from the area. On Wednesday (Nov. 17) morning, Mayor Henry Braun said that hundreds of recreational vehicles were on fire, leading to noxious smoke in the area. He asked residents nearby to shut their doors and windows and turn off air conditioning system to avoid breathing in the smoke.

The area is currently under an evacuation order due to the ongoing flooding.

The "loud continuous bangs" are the propane tanks on the recreational vehicles exploding. Several things about the "series of unfortunate events" in Abbotsford come to mind. The draining of Sumas Lake was GEO-ENGINEERING. When it was good, it was very, very good. But when it went bad it was horrid. It was geo-engineering on a small, regional scale. The unanticipated challenge came from the Nooksack. The pumping station wasn't designed to handle a flood from a river that had long ago changed its course. Not to mention the atmospheric river.

Water, water everywhere... and hundreds of recreational vehicles on fire. Think about that name, "recreational vehicles." Another kind of geo-engineering. By unnecessarily burning copious amounts of fossil fuel, one can remove one's family from urban/suburban industrial congestion and "commune with nature" in a sort of industrially-congested way. WTF is that about?? The whole recreational vehicles thing can be traced back to William Wordsworth and his poetry about walking through the Lake District. But who the hell has the time to walk? And how much of the comforts of civilization can one cram in a backpack? (Rhymes with Nooksack.)

Several decades after Wordsworth wrote his Guide through the District of the Lakes, and three years before his death, the Kendal and Windermere Railroad completed a rail line to Windermere and began advertising "Cheap Trips to the Lakes," with, of course, Wordsworth's cottage in nearby Grasmere one of the big attractions. I like to think of that railway as the mother of all recreational vehicles. Cheap trips to the lakes, indeed.

In its infancy, the motor car was marketed to "society" -- people with means, that is -- as a recreational vehicle. The whole point of owning a car was to go on a jaunt to the countryside or the seaside for a picnic or a stopover at a resort. Why do people love their cars? Because the car enables them to get away from it all. Even if they never do and even if the car makes a big part of "it all" that they want to be able to get away from. 

Cheap trip to the lake, indeed.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Repeated Lying About Lying

 Of course Donald Trump has been using this Big Lie method of simply endlessly repeating a Big Lie and successfully so with his claim that last year's presidential election was "rigged" or "stolen," with according to the latest poll I just saw on the order of 70% of Republicans accepting this Big Lie.

But this practice seems to be spreading for yet more degeneration happening as figures who have not done this like Trump now seem to be imitating him also.  The latest is Hugh Hewitt, a conservative who is a columnist for WaPo and usually avoids this sort of flagrant lying. But he seems to have caught the bug.

I rarely listen to his radio show, but yesterday (Nov. 15) I inadvertently heard it when it was turned on for awhile and got quite an earful.  I thought it was one of his guests but it was him.  He was repeating over and over and over way more times than I could count, "Everyone knows Adam Schiff is lying. Everyone knows Adam Schiff is lying..."  It was weird, so many times without a break or explanation, and even after a break he did it again and again.  It was obviously an effort to convince his listeners of something he knew they did not necessarily believe.  Heck, near as I can tell, at least among most Dems and non-GOPs, Schiff has a very high level of credibility.  I have always found him one of the most credible people in the entire Congress with a substantial grasp of a lot of fairly complicated information and never have seen him appear to knowingly lie.

So what had Hewitt on this binge of repeated lying?  It was Schiff's response to the indictment of Ivan Danchenko by the John Durham, the Special Prosecutor appointed to the DOJ during the Trump era hat Merrick Garland has left in place to do his thing.  Danchenko has been indicted for lying to the FBI about who his sources of information were when he provided information to Steele of the famous Steele dossier. This is all part of a long running campaign by Trump allies to somehow discredit the Steele dossier, which Hewitt, following the likes of Sean Hannity and others on Fox News, described as "totally discredited" and "shown not to contain a shred of truth."

Well, first of all, Danchenko was not indicted for actually saying anything false to Steele, only lying about who his sources were to the FBI, a point Hewitt did not mention.  Indeed, and I have checked on this numerous times after hearing some of the more perfervid claims against the Steele dossier, over 70% of it has been confirmed, with some of those confirmations actually in the Mueller Report.  Most of it was/is true. Only about two items in it have been shown to be false, a claim that Cohen visited Prague and that Carter Page was going to get some huge sum of money from Gazprom.  Otherwise, most of it has been found to be true, with some items still in the undetermined category. That latter includes its most notorious item, the infamous "golden shower" story about Trump, which seems increasingly likely to in fact also be true, given all the stuff that just seems to keep coming out about Trump, and which may be why so many of Trump's folllowers are so keen on just totally discrediting the whole dossier.

As for Schiff supposedly being disbelieved by "everyone," supposedly even including people like Nancy Pelosi according to Hewitt, the only evidence he seemed to supply for this is that Schiff's recent book has not been a bestseller, #357 on some list or other.  That it is not a big seller is obviously not at all evidence one way or the other about whether what is in the book is accurate or not. It is evidence that people are not all that interested, and in fact at this point most people are not much interested in this leftover 2016 election stuff, which the Steele dossier is.  But the Trumpistas are still desperate to somehow discredit that dossier, even as it has largely been verified.  So Hewitt and his ilk are the ones making a big fuss about his latest indictment and trying to dump on Schiff for his showing the dossier is largely accurate, in an effort to stir their own base up. But not that many care any more. They are too busy believing Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election to be all that worked up about leftover stuff from the 2016 one.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, November 15, 2021

Dems Continue To Sink Despite Improving Economy

 On the first page of today's Washington Post was reported a poll showing that when a random sample was asked, 46% said they would vote for a generic Republican candidate for Congress versus 43% for a generic Democratic candidate. Given reported further pro-GOP gerrymandering, if this were to hold for next year's midterms, GOP would certainly take solid control of the House, if not the Senate.  Not looking good for the Dems or Biden and Harris.

Now there certainly some things that are not looking good.  Covid-19 cases have started to increase again, if not dramatically, but in 35 states at latest report, and deaths seem to have stopped declining, if not started rising again. Of course, it may be that given that we now have 80% of adults having had at least one vax shot, we may be able to handle some increase in cases without hospitalizations and deaths rising, given that over 90% of those in hospitals and dying are unvaxxed.  But this is something Biden has emphasized and worked hard on, with bad news appearing, even if this is partly due to bad non-behavior (getting vaxxed, wearing masks) among his critics.

Probably foreign policy is not part of the most recent decline, but the messy nature of the end of the Afghan war dropped Biden's ratings by about 5% some months ago, damaging his previously generally favorable foreign policy rating.  That is probably not that big a deal now, although the damage seems not to be undone, despite an apparently generally successful trip to the G20 and the Glasgow summits.

It may be that the whole noise about education and CRT spilling out of the Virginia governor's race is adding to the Dems' problems, but more clearly serious problem, dominating the headlines, is inflation, with the recent year to year 6.2% annualized rate report for October probably the punctuation point for today's especially poor poll ratings. This couples with reports of impending Christmas shortages, including even for Santas, with none of this looking good.  It remains unclear fully what is going on with some of these shortages, such as ports and truckers, and so on, but problems with these are now entrenched with not much improvement in sight, not to mention ongoing chip shortages pushing up prices in in the auto industry. And this price spike was especially led by energy, with rising gasoline prices in Virginia reported to have been a factor in the GOP governor's race win, and that was something I heard a lot about just prior to the election here.

So there are certainly things that look bad or actually are bad out there on various fronts.  But do they really justify these bad polls?  Do people really want to elect people who are currently running around trying to kowtow to Donald J. Trump as hard as they can?  There were reports about the Glasgow climate summit, but much of that got undercut by reports that it was just going to exacerbate oil and gas prices.  Real climate activists found it insufficient, and others found it inflationarily scary.  Ugh.

Anyway, there is a lot that looks plenty good.  One is the employment front. While it has not yet gotten back to pre-pandemic levels, it continues to rise and there has been upward movement of wages.  In September we had an all-time record number of quits, which presumably indicated people feeling so confident about getting a better job they quit their current job.  These people are not quitting to drop out of the labor force, or not most of them, although there remain s aubstantial number of people out of the labor force for a variety of reasons, and there are still some unemployed who are having trouble getting re-employed.  So this is not perfect, but mostly massively improving and mostly quite good.

Then we have the stock market, which Trump claimed would crash if Biden were elected.  It did decline from all-time highs this past week, but the Dow still remains above the famous Glassman-Hassett level of 36,000.  This is in the eyes of many still a rather overvalued market, certainly not one that has crashed.  But, of course, lots of people are not so directly affected by the market.

Furthermore, Biden just signed the hard infrastructure bill today, something most polls show is highly popular, and which even drew some GOP support in Congress, although GOP leaders and Trump are out to purge or punish those who did vote for it.  Unfortunately, the Dems have done a poor job of publicizing this achievement and what is in it. Obviously they need to do more on that, although we know all sorts of GOP Congress members will brag about parts of it delivering money to their states and districts, even though they voted against it.

Finally, although there seems to be zero media recognition of this, it looks like the big surge of gasoline prices may be over.  Crude oil prices have declined over the last three weeks from about $85 per barrel to about $80 per barrel, and crude prices are the main driver of retail gasoline prices with a lag.  Indeed, although I have not seen national data, it looks like gasoline prices may have stopped rising at all in recent weeks, with it possible they may even decline a bit, if crude prices do not return to rising again. Where I am this has happened, a freeze at $3.29 per gallon with a 5 cent drop over the weekend.  None of this is in the news, just more talk about rising gasoline prices.  We shall have to see on this, but there may be a substantially lower inflation report next month.  If so, will anybody notice, or will we start hearing about some other supposed horror?

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Disposable time, surplus population, and the limitation of the hours of labour

I'm on at 5:35 of the video. A little hoarse at 4 a.m.!

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Disposable time, disposable population, disposable products

DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME, DISPOSABLE TIME... Did I mention "disposable time"? Marx repeated disposable time seven time in paragraph (three paragraphs in the complete works) I've taken the above excerpt from. In English. In capital letters. That, and the fact that his theory of crisis was sandwiched between two quotations from The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulty suggest to me that Marx's theory of crisis was a response to and elaboration upon the argument presented in the pamphlet.

What Marx added was not commentary. It was a theoretical intervention of Biblical proportions, if you will pardon the expression. My argument would be that the contours of Marx's theory are more clearly defined against the contrast of the 1821 pamphlet's argument. But the influence of The Source and Remedy on this breathtaking passage about the creation of disposable time from the Grundrisse is unmistakable. "The creation of a large quantity of disposable time..." echoes Marx's earlier statement that the "whole development of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time" and thus ties the third fragment on machines unequivocally to the first fragment, as do the centering of surplus population and the juxtaposition of the superfluous and the necessary.

The image, from a 1955 LIFE magazine feature, celebrated the emancipation of family members from household chores that disposable goods provided. It unintentionally evokes the anti-Nazi photomontage by John Heartfield, "Hurrah, die Butter ist alle!" 


Wednesday, November 10, 2021

RIP Tracy Mott

 Tracy Mott has died at 75, a well-known Post Keynesian economist and nice guy.  I was Facebook friends with him, and from there he seemed fine, actively posting and commenting.  Indeed, in the obit I saw for him it did not say what he died of.  But I guess one can post there even when one is not well.  He died in Denver where he had long lived and been in the economics department at the University of Denver, which he served as Chair of for quite a long time, building it up as a center of heterodox economic thinking.

Tracy took some time to get into economics.  He was long interested in the problems of inequality and poverty, but he had an earlier academic degree from Union Theological Seminary.  However, he never became a minister, and I am not sure what his religious affiliation was at any point. Apparently he worked for various charitable and government agencies associated with combating poverty. Somewhere along the line all this work led him to decide he should pursue the study of economics.

He ended up at Stanford for his graduate study, and his major professor was Don Harris, father of the current US vice president. His main academic interest came to be on the work of Michal Kalecki and the relationship of it to that of Keynes.  The obit I saw online identified him as being interested in "Keynesian economics," no mention of Post or of Kalecki.  But in fact he was more interested in Kalecki and his most cited publications were in the Journal of Post Keynesian Economics. And it was at Post Keynesian conferences that I first met him, although I would see him elsewhere as well.  

I always liked and respected Tracy.  He was a good guy and a good progressive economist. I shall miss him.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, November 8, 2021

Money Illusion in the Twenty-First Century

The starting point for any consideration of inflation is that wages (and interest, profits and rents) are prices.  Every transaction has two sides, and one person’s price is another’s income.  In the aggregate, leaving aside international complications, inflation can’t have either a negative or positive effect on aggregate real income.  After this you can explore issues of distribution, inflation’s effects on planning, and so on.

Money illusion is the name given to the failure to recognize the income-expenditure identity.  Your introductory economics textbook, if you were exposed in high school or college, defines the problem as one of recognizing changes in your nominal income but not the prices of the goods you buy.  It leads to the mistaken view that inflation makes you better off.

But people have gotten wise to price increases, if only because the media explode with concern when any potentially inflationary tremors are felt.  If anything, paranoia about inflation has become the norm.

This is also a form of money illusion, but a reverse of the first: people recognize the rise in prices but not that this also entails the rise in their incomes.  They rally in support of politicians who promise to reign in any hint of inflation, thinking that if prices stabilize they can fully enjoy the increase in their incomes, which they expect to continue unabated.  In my own, oddball textbook I call this “Type II Money Illusion”.

From a pure theory standpoint these two forms of illusion have an identical basis, but one is railed against in every basic macroeconomics class while the other goes unmentioned.  Ever wonder why?

Anti-Racism and Democracy in Our Schools

 It’s generally conceded that Terry McAuliffe’s statement “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” was a big blunder that contributed to his defeat last week.  The context was a debate with his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, who had used his party’s playbook on Critical Race Theory and the “leftist” takeover of education.  Not surprisingly, Youngkin hammered McAuliffe with this quote in TV and web ads.

So what should McAuliffe have said instead?  Imagine a response like this: “My opponent wants our schools to take wide detours around any mention of racism in history, politics or economics.  He says this is how parents can take back control of their kids’ education.  I say exactly the opposite.  Everything we’ve seen—opinion polls, demonstrations, and local school board conversations—tells us that Virginia’s parents want to improve education on all fronts, including better informed treatment of racial inequality and ways we can end it.  They don’t want any particular ideology, but they do want schools that address racism honestly and reflect our shared desire to rise above it.”

You can change the words to your own liking, but the key point is that it is possible to be for both anti-racism and democracy in education.

So why wasn’t this the message in Virginia or in the United States overall?  One reason might be the technocratic biases of the administrative class that has predominant power within the Democratic Party.  They are for a properly managed education system insulated from the whims of the common folk who can only gum it up.  Their knee jerk reaction to a Republican call for parents to rebel against progressive directions in education is to reject parental involvement in general.

Another reason, with historical roots in the first, is that the current dogma in anti-racism is that white supremacy is in America’s “DNA” (a biologically dubious metaphor), and that all whites, knowingly or not, are implicit racists whose biggest contribution to the cause would be to step aside and keep their mouths shut.  If that’s what you think, the idea that a democratic upswell of parents, many or most white, could be a force for progress against racism is a dangerous illusion.

Is it no longer possible to even imagine a conjoining of popular power and opposition to bigotry?  If not, we’re doomed.

Infrastructure week: organs of the human brain, created by the human hand

Who owns general social knowledge? Who owns the general intellect? Alf Hornborg pointed out that without the fuel to run it, a tractor is simply a piece of sculpture. It is not even a sculpture, though, if there is no one to design it and build it and operate it, let alone to design and manufacture the tools needed to build the tractor and so on.

Marx's list of things nature does not build, "machines... locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules etc." is echoed in the next paragraph, "railways, canals, aqueducts, telegraphs etc." but this second time explicitly excluding of "the machinery directly active in the direct production process."

Here's what happens (sometimes) when one reads, and rereads, and rereads a passage that at first seemed a bit obscure or even incoherent: the two paragraphs (four in the collected works translation) beginning with "Nature builds no machines..." are indispensable to the theory of surplus population and surplus capital. This is the place in the third -- and customary -- fragment on machines where Marx addressed surplus population. Surplus population is a condition for this:

As the magnitude of relative surplus labour depends on the productivity of necessary labour, so does the magnitude of labour time - living as well as objectified - employed on the production of fixed capital depend on the productivity of the labour time spent in the direct production of products.

Or, another translation, from the collected works:

Just as the amount of relative surplus labour depends upon the productivity of necessary labour, so the amount of the labour time employed on the production of fixed capital—living labour time as well as objectified—depends upon the productivity of the labour time intended for the direct production of products.

Marx is drawing an analogy here between the relationship of necessary labour to surplus labour (relative surplus value) and the relationship of direct production of consumer goods to the production of fixed capital. The input for the first relationship is socially necessary labour time while the analogous input for the second is socially unnecessary labour population -- that is, a population that has been been freed from production of necessities because it is no longer necessary. 

The surplus value produced by this surplus population is not immediately realizable. It is postponed indefinitely and thus, according to Marx, creates a disproportion between the need for circulating capital and the need for fixed capital, "when sometimes too little, then again too much circulating capital is transformed into fixed capital."

And there you have it. Marx's crisis theory: the production of fixed capital is to the production of consumption goods as the production of relative surplus labour is to the production of necessary labour.

To bring the analogy back full circle to the first paragraph: the production of general social knowledge is to the production of fixed capital as the production of fixed capital is to the production of consumption goods...

Who owns the general social knowledge?

to be continued...

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Disposable Time, Surplus Population, and Limitation of the Hours of Labour

On Saturday, November 13 I will be presenting, "Disposable Time, Surplus Population, and Limitation of the Hours of Labour," at the Historical Materialism conference. I will be exploring relative surplus population and the dialectic of "the superfluous and the necessary" from the perspective of three keyword-linked fragments from Marx's Grundrisse, beginning with Marx's proposition that "[t]he whole development of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time." My presentation is a continuation of research that began with "The Ambiguity of Disposable Time: The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties at Two Hundred." The session I will be presenting in starts at 12:00 pm. U.K. time or 4:00 am PST (video will be available subsequently on YouTube). To register for this session follow this link.


My conference presentation condense and builds on the analysis I have presented on EconoSpeak, in my series on series of posts on socially necessary labour time, my 10,000 word manuscript reworking that material and my current series of posts on EconoSpeak on the three fragments on machines.

Friday, November 5, 2021

"Constitutional Sheriffs" and "Posse Comitatus"

 In the nid-1970s when I was finishing my PhD diss and also working for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in its Water Quality Bureau, where I was mostly dealing with sewer systems issues, the Wisconsin branch of the Posse Comitatus was attacking and "arresting" individuals from my department who were trying to enforce limits on fishing of certain fish in certain lakes in Northern Wisconsin, some of these involving local Native American rights to fish some of these species in these lakes. 

In 1878, just after President Hayes removed most of the Union troops from the South at the end of Reconstruction, Congress passed the Posse Comitatus Act, which put limits on the federal government dominating local government authorities. Not sure when the Posse Comitatus movement got going, but they were there in Wisconsin in the mid-1970s, The last time this decentralized group got attention was in 2012 when some of their followers were arrested for physically attacking some people.

But, while they may still exist in some shadow form, they have been clearly replaced by an organization formed in 2011, give or take a year, the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA). This group, with links to such far right wing groups as Oath Keepers, apparently has 10% of US sheriffs as members.

A fundamental point that both the older Posse Comitatus group, and this newer CSPOA group share, drawing on an extremist interpretation of the Jim Crow 1878 act, is that Sheriffs are the highest level of legal government. The federal and state governments are illegitimate and irrelevant. So, when a Sheriff arrests a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officer trying to enforce state rules on how many fish can be caught in a particular lake, well, they have no authority, and the local Sheriff can arrest them, and they did, even as, unsurprisingly, courts did not support their views of such matters.

There is a sharp contrast between county Sheriffs and city police chiefs. The former are usually elected, and have an average tenure of 11 years, with some states putting no limits on their campaign financing. Jefferson Parish in Louisiana Sheriff, Harry Lee, who held his position for over 30 years, declared (according to WaPo, 11/2/21) that he was "the closest thing to being to being a king in the U.S." OTOH, police chiefs are appointed, and their average tenure is a mere 3 years.

He is now out of power, and not in jail because Donald Trump pardoned him, is Joe Arpaio, former longtime Sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, which includes the now fifth largest city in the US, Phoenix. He was in office from 1993 to 2017. He eventually got into legal trouble for the camps he interned illegal immigrants in, widely described as being "concentration camps." Yes, these Sheriffs have great power. But then he supported Trump's old lie that Obsma was not born in the US. He still holds that view, and Trump pardoned him.

Bottom line here is that now these people are calling themselves "Constitutional Sheriffs," and some of them participated in the 1/6/21 insurrection. They view themselves as superior to both state and fedreal governments, and they increasingly support far right views of the world.

Barkley Rosser

Capital itself is the moving contradiction

 The phrase quoted in the title is probably the most well-known in the Grundrisse. It has been cited in books and journal articles at least a hundred times, an order of magnitude more frequently that the alternative translation found in the collected works, "capital itself is a contradiction-in-process," It is also a centerpiece of Moishe Postone's Time, Labor and Social Domination, where Postone quotes the sentence that contains it twice, in full: 

Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition -- question of life or death -- for the necessary.

When I read that quotation a little over 22 years ago, I was awestruck. I rushed to find a copy of the Grundrisse to savor the sentence in context and discovered a citation of The Source and Remedy at the end of Marx's paragraph. I was fortunate to live in a big city with a big university library where I could ferret out a microfilm copy of the 1821 pamphlet Marx had allegedly "rescued from its oblivion." 

Actually, as I explained in "The Ambivalence of Disposable Time," the pamphlet was rescued by the Goldsmiths’-Kress Library of Economic Literature, with a big assist from Cambridge professor Herbert Foxwell, I should add.

Postone's interpretation of the passage from the Grundrisse was riveting and I feel a bit sheepish about taking issue with it all these years later. My criticism may sound like nit-picking but hear me out. Postone had interpreted, "increase it in the superfluous form" to mean increase superfluous labour time. His interpretation is consistent with how it was translated in the collected works version. But the more ambiguous "in the superfluous form" in the Penguin translation is more consistent with Marx's original German.

Am I splitting hairs? Not really. The superfluous form leaves open the possibility that the opposite of "labour time in the necessary form" could be either superfluous labour time or superfluous not-labour time (or both simultaneously). What motivated my variant interpretation was Marx's elaboration of the contradiction of the superfluous and the necessary in what I call the first two fragments on machines on pages 397-401 and 608-610 of the Penguin edition.

My interpretation is consistent with the emphasis that Marx gave to the question of surplus population and surplus capital in those two earlier fragments, as well as in his discussions in Capital of the general law of capitalist accumulation and the internal contradictions of the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.

Postone's interpretation, I believe, lends itself to a more optimistic, Utopian cast to the cataclysmic "blowing up" of the foundation of "the social individual":

Forces of production and social relations - two different sides of the development of the social individual - appear to capital as mere means, and are merely means for it to produce on its limited foundation. In fact, however, they are the material conditions to blow this foundation sky-high.

To be sure, Marx insisted on the necessity of a social revolution to positively move beyond the contradictions of capitalism. But there is a darker possibility, especially in light of the first and second fragments on machines. 

Postone's student, Fabian Arzuaga explored this grim scenario in his essay, "Socially necessary superfluity: Adorno and Marx on the crises of labor and the individual" that I mentioned in an earlier post. Especially relevant is his section, "Producing 'socially unnecessary' human beings" although his whole discussion of Adorno's thesis of the "liquidation of the individual" is also horrifying in light of our contemporary malaise of cult fanaticism.

This is not to say I deny the emancipatory potential. It is only that I do not see it as following "logically" from Marx's analysis of the development of the contradictions inherent in capitalism. Not only will the revolution not be televised, it will not be endogenous.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

GOP Does Well As Dow Jones Average Crosses Major MIlestone Of 36,000

 I am posting before the election results of Nov. 2, 2021 are fully in, but it looks that the GOP candidates will win in Virginia, where Biden beat Trump by 10 points a year ago for the statewide races, with GOP making gains in the House of Delegates that may switch its control to them, although that remains more up in the air. Also in New Jersey, where it was presumed that the Dem incumbent would easily win, the race is too close to call and he might lose.  In short, the GOP is doing very well.

Ironically, the stock market has hit new all time highs, with the Dow Jones Industrial average crossing the 36,000 milestone to reach 36,052.  This was the mark that in 1999 in a famous book by James Glassman and Kevin Hassett proclaimed would be reached within a year or so, that time being in the midst of the dot com boom that would crash the next year. So it took until now to reach it. Funny thing is that a year ago Trump forecast that if Biden won, the stock market would crash. Well it has risen, but it has not helped the Dems.  But then, we have long known that most voters really are not affected that much by it.

As it is, at least in Virginia the focus and noise has been all about rising gasoline prices, which have been rising sharply in the last two weeks.  Unemployment may be down and the stock market is high, but along with all the weird shortages, all the noise is that Biden has somehow hurt the economy because of the inflation, even though looking at month to month rares, inflation is decelerating.  Good chances by next year's election inflation will be much more clearly under control, but now in Virginia, voters do not see it.

And there is also all the hysteria about critical race theory and a high school boy who also in the last two weeks was found guilty in Northern Virginia of sexually assaulting two different girls in girls bathrooms in two different high schools while wearing a skirt. Supposedly there has been something like a switch of 39% by white women from Dems to GOP in this race from 2020.

At this point I still hope that the VA House of Delegates might still hold for the Dems, although I am not optimistic, and that Dem Murphy in New Jersey wins, maybe more likely. At least in VA, the State Senate remains in Dem control as it was not up for reelection.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Theft of alien labour time is a miserable foundation

In the early 1980s, I was riding home from work on a bus and looked out the window at a Toyota pickup truck alongside. I was overwhelmed by the realization that I could never in my life make such an object by hand, even if I had a well-supplied metal workshop. From that perspective, how could I hope to own such an item? I did own a Volkswagen Rabbit but somehow the pickup truck made more of an impression on me at the time.

I was experiencing a severe burnout from work in those days that manifested itself in unbearable fatigue. I would sleep for two days and feel I could go into work and make it through the day. I would have to go home by 11:00 A.M. I had a "cushy" government job that was pointless and it was all too cushioned with paychecks and benefits for me to think of throwing it away and stepping out into the void.

The epiphany of the Toyota pickup convinced me that my mental health was worth more to me than the paycheck. After a hot fudge sundae quitting celebration and a week or two at the beach, my draining fatigue began to lift. 

That is how I imagine the miserable foundation that the "theft" of my labour time laid down. It hardly seemed to me that what I "produced" during forty hours behind a desk had much value worth stealing. A cynic might point out that real production takes place in the private sector and government jobs are not productive. But that is just the point. There wouldn't be bullshit jobs if there wasn't a surplus population needing to be pacified.

Forty years later, I am still living beyond my means, especially taking into account the carbon dioxide footprint that I will never be required to pay for. A miserable foundation, indeed. Many people are not interested in what Marx wrote because they can't swallow the labour theory of value. I have news for them. Marx was not a big fan of the labour theory of value. He called it a miserable foundation

What does the labour theory of value have to do with the price of a house in Vancouver anyway? Well, I will tell you. 

Forty years ago, somebody with a decent income or a two-earner couple with average incomes could afford to buy a house in Vancouver. Today, you can only buy a house if you already own a house. There is no "ground floor" to get in on. The reason is neo-liberal labour policy. How does the government enable business to cut real wages without cutting real wages? Asset inflation. Let's not call it asset inflation, though. Let's call it "wealth effects" and the "ownership society." 

A terrible, no good, miserable foundation.