Friday, December 30, 2022

A New Wellbeing Rankings Study

 David G. Blanchflower of Dartmouth and Alex Bryson of University College in London have just published a paper at NBER 30759 "Wellbeing Rankings," which provides some provocative ideas and data on various possible measures of well-being in societies. This reflects dissatisfaction with the tendency to use a single measure, "life satisfaction" on finds in the happiness literature, with ranks of nations widely publicized based on these. Traditionally Nordic nations such as Finland and Denmark come out on top of these.

This study argues one should consider not just a positive measure, but consider negatives that detract from well being as well.  So, drawing Gallup and some other organizations that actually daily track people in many nations, they look at four positive affects: life satisfaction, enjoyment, smiling, and feeling well-rested along with four negative affects: pain, sadness, worry, and anger. Clearly there are major cultural differences across nations regarding some of these, such as smiling, but these are what they go with.

They also consider individual US states as "political units" and throw them into the mix. This leads to one of the larger unanswered question mbekiarks for this study. When they rank entities on their net well beings, US states generally do well, in fact provide 9 out of the top 10 entries, with only Taiwan at 8th not one, and in the top 20, only Austria, the Netherlands, and Iceland manage to get in as well.  But somehow the US as a nation performs much more poorly, at 150th lower than the lowest state, West Virginia at 122. The lack of explanation of this is a serious problem.

There is much not to expect in all this. China is 30th, Denmark 38th, Finland 51st, Russia 87th, UK 111th, US 150th Ukraine 185th. The top 10 are Hawaii, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Taiwan, Alaska, and Wisconsin. The bottom three are Palestine, South Sudan, and Iraq at 215 (Iran is at 205).

Something that happens is that some places do well on the positives but not on the negatives and vice versa. Thus Bhutan is 9th on overall positives, but lots of pain there and it ends up 99th overall.  The top four just on positives are Paraguay, Indonesia, Laos, Hawaii. The top four on negatives (least harm) are Taiwan, Somaliland, Uzbekistan, China, 

So, what is putting China and Taiwan so high on reducing negatives? China is 8th on avoiding pain and 2nd on avoiding sadness. Who is ahead of it on avoiding sadness? Taiwan. Hong Kong is well behind both of them at 79th. 

And Russia? It has traditionally done poorly on positives on these, with mid-range life satisfaction, they are 160th in smiling (which they tend to sneer at publicly doing). But like China it does well on two negatives, coming in at 11th on worrying and 8th on anger. This raises the question of whether correspondents in authoritarian nations are willing to be honest about certain questions.

There is much to chew over this, and I think we shall be hearing more about this study in the future, despite its flaws.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Goodbye 117th Congress

 Merry Christmas, you all.

So, the 117th Congress is done, and Nancy Pelosi is ending her historic run as Speaker of the House.  It passed more legislation than we have seen happen in a congress in a very long time.  While Joe Biden did not get all he wanted, much less the progressive caucus, a great deal as passed, some of it, like the infrastructure bill, that has been languishing for decades. At the tail end we got the right to marry confirmed, reform of the electoral act to prevent a VP from messing with countng votes, the CHIPs act and the Inflation Reduction Act, with inflation actually declining right now, if not due to that act particularly.

Also managed to get a spending bill passed under the wire to cover the next nine months, and the J6 comm released its report and Ways and Means got Trump's taxes.

What did not get through? An immigration bill. It looked that a modest one that would please large numbers of people on both sides was put forward by Synema and Tillis, legalising the DACA dreamers while increasing security at the border. But in the end it just could not get through. Politicians love to browbeat this issue too much to actually do anything useful about it.

The other biggie is no debt ceiling increase. I read that this would take "too much time," although I do not see why. But it did not pass, so this will become a chief playting for the GOP in the House this coming year.

There is also the problem that the green stuff in the IRA is very protectionist, violating WTO rules, and really angering European allies of the US. But I guess Biden just has Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin on his mind.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, December 17, 2022

This Life: faith, work, and free time, part two

At the beginning of this year, I posted a response to Martin Hägglund's This Life: Secular faith and spiritual freedom. In October I learned of a conference next May in Belgium at which Hägglund will be one of the keynote speakers. So I submitted an abstract to present a paper.

When it came time to start working on a draft for the conference, I remembered my blog post and it formed the core for the rest of the draft. In that earlier post, I wrote about Marx's identification in the Grundrisse of the inversion between necessary labour time and superfluous labour time. During editing of a first draft of the conference presentation I took a break and went for a walk. There it struck me that the inversion of necessary and superfluous labour time was a parallel to the inversion of this life and the supernatural that Ludwig Feuerbach had criticized. The following is an excerpt from my draft:

Thursday, December 15, 2022

The Political Economy of Effective Altruism

 Back in the day, I used to give talks on child labor.  I would always begin by saying that boycotts and shaming of corporations, while understandable as an emotional response, were unlikely to do much for the world’s children.  This was because very little child labor is employed in making internationally tradeable products.  Moreover, simple prohibitions don’t get at the root causes, which need to be identified and addressed with national and international policies.  Most of the talk would be about those causes, and I would end with a call for people in the audience to get involved politically, so that US policy would at least not reinforce the conditions that impose poverty and insecurity on much of the world’s population.  I would give a list of specific demands.

Feeling like I had communicated a complex topic persuasively and provided a motivating political spin at the end, I would ask for questions.  Inevitably, the first would be some variation on “What should(n’t) I buy?”  People were so enclosed in a worldview in which only individuals could take action, and “collective action” meant lots of individuals were doing the same thing, that my argument simply couldn’t get through.

Effective altruism is a variation on the same theme, only substitute philanthropy for shopping.  If “what should I buy?” springs from the consumption portion of income, “how should I give?” pertains to  the portion not dedicated to current or future consumption.  The first question would be asked by a citizen of the 99%, the second by a one-percenter.

But it’s worse than that.  Conscious consumerism’s only fault is that it occupies the ethical place that should be the seat of politics; conscious philanthropy adds the additional problem that the surplus income it channels is itself the consequence of choices that can make the world a better or worse place.  To put it bluntly, effective altruism allows people to exploit or even defraud others to become rich, so long as they expiate themselves by giving away the surplus portion of their riches in accordance with an approved set of criteria.  Its ideological function is cemented by the criteria themselves, which call for discrete interventions with measurable outcomes; these can be applied to philanthropic donations but not to the more systemic interventions addressable by politics.

So we come to the fact that Samuel Bankman-Fried gave enormous sums of money to politicians, think tanks and other receptacles whose purpose was to enable him to make yet more money, for instance by expanding the pool of potential investors in his crypto exchange to pension funds.  He gave more or less equally to Democrats and Republicans.  (The official donations to the Dems were slightly greater, but by his own admission Bankman-Fried channeled more of the dark money to Republicans.)  The favored Dems were, not surprisingly, corporate-friendly third-wayists, like the Center for American Progress.  Objectively, no matter how brilliantly he might divide his philanthropy between malaria bednets and techie projects to avert an AI singularity, his contribution to world betterment was more than offset by shoring up the global order via the political arm of his investments.  Effective Altruism exists to foreground the first and obscure the second.

The prominence of both consumerist and philanthropic strategies to fix what’s wrong with the world are reflections of an immense political vacuum.  Somehow, and quickly, politics needs to be rebuilt from the ground up: a vision of genuine change that can grapple with the extreme challenges that face us, political movements organized around elements of that vision, and a few victories along the way to give us strength and spirit.  The goal would be to live in a world in which “what should I buy?” and “how should I give?” were no longer regarded as important political questions.

What Is The Bielefeld School Of Economics?

 This is about a paper I have just written for a special issue to appear in a journal I used to edit about the late economist, Peter Flaschal. Who most of you are probably thinking, although maybe not all of you? He was a heterodox macroeconomist located for his entire career at Bielefeld University in Germany.  He coauthored a lot with a group of economists who either were on the faculty there, at least for some time, or visited there frequently. Some of the other members of this group are the also now late Carl Chiarella of the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia, Willi Semmler of the New School in New York, Peter Skott of U-Mass Amherst, Toichiro Asada of Chuo University in Tokyo, Reiner Franke of Bremen University in Germany. They have tended to work on fairly mathematical nonlinear dynamics models that can show both growth and endogenous cycles, including complex ones such as chaotic, so, unsurprisingly, up my alley. 

Their most important influence was models of this sort by the late Richard Goodwin, who had a Marx-influenced predator-orey model of class struggle syclical fluations. Their early models were labeled as Kynes-Wicksell-Goodwin (KWG) models, But then they picked up invnentory adjustment models from Metzler, leading them to label their models Keynes-Metzler (KMG) models.  Around 2009 Flaschel in particular, sort of following Goodwin on this, put more emphasis on both Marx and Schumpeter, relabeling their models as Keynes-Marx-Schumpeter (KMS) models. Their models differ both from the New Keynesian models that assume rational expectations and dominate much of academic macroeconomics nnd are paid attention to by central bankers, and also Post Keynesian models, that tend to be less mathematical, although both have also been influenced by Kalecki and Kaldor. Partly because they have had trouble publishing in to journals and have never created any of their own like the Post Keynesians have, they have done a lot of book writing, with Flaschel an author of coauthor on 17, not counting even more he edited or coedited, mostly with people named above.

Flaschel and several of them also advocating somewhat leftish policies for government intervention in economies to stabilize the endogenous fluctuations their models show to be prevalent, with these largely driven by real effects involving wage-price dynamics and inventory adjustments rather than financieal fluctuations, although they have well-developed financial sectors in their models, and some of them have done a lot of financial modeling, notably the late Chiarella, who wss a coeditor of the Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control for a while. 

Anyway, the policy angle that Flaschel especially came to advocate, along with Proano and Asada has been flexicurity, an approach inspired by policy in Denmark. It combines having a flexible labor market on both sides, free hirigin and firing with strong labor organizing, and a strong social safety net with government serving as an "employer of first resort." They have also advocated educational reforms to enhance all this as well as the use of pension funds for financing real capital investment, again with an idea to help smooth out business cycles. This approach has many supporters in the EU, where Flashel's writings on this have gotten some attention, although critics have called them "naive."

Anyway, I gave them this label of "Bielefeld School" in a Foreword I wrote for one of their books in 2995, Foundations for a Disequilibrium Theory of the Business Cycle: Qualitative Analysis and Quantittative Assessment, by Chiarella, Flaschel, and Franke our of Cambridge University Press. The label has not caught on much, and they have not gotten as much attention as I think they deserve. My paper compares them in more detail to Post Keynesians, who are perhaps more combative about their heterodox relations with mainstream economics and only barely aware of these people, who sometimes put them down for their sometimes lack of mathematical rigor. I suggest that their common admiration for Kalecki and Kaldor and Goodwin whose models can generate complex dynamics is a possible opening for them to communicate and support each other, especially given that they are generally in the same neck of the ideological and policy woods, with the modern monetary theorists full emploiyment ideas looking somewhat like those of this flexicurity approach that does not get talke about in the US.

Barkley Rosser

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Mourning The Late Jiang Zemin?

Former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin died at age 96 on Nov. 30, curiously just as the worst outbreak of demonstrations to happen in China since 1989 happened, probably now come to an end, as China both suppresses them, arresting some people based on phones and visual surveillance, as well as some loosening in certain locations of the zero covid policy. Jiang came to power initially in the immediate wake of Tienanman Square in 1989, reportedly pulled up the ranks by retired elders, the unofficial but powerful "Sitting Committee" of the Politburo. Someone with a record as a somewhat opportunistic technocrat, it was initially thought he would be weak, but he remained in power until 2002, and continued to hold the Chairmanship of the Military Commission until 2004, while somewhat weaker Hu Jintao had become General Secretary of the Party and also President. 

Indeed, in his efforts to centralize power totally on himself, the networks of those linked to other powerful figures he needed to put down were probably more allied to Jiang than to Hu. If there was a serious alternative to Xi, it was probably Jiang more than Hu, although obviously Jiang had become very old and ill. 

But his death does pose a difficult moment for Xi. Apparently the state funeral will be this coming Tuesday, Dec. 6. There has been a history of political trouble following the deaths of former leaders, with the Tienanman Square uprising following the death of former leader Hu Yubang. It is not that Jiang was all that liberal, indeed was probably less so than his successor, Hu. But many are indeed making unfavorable comparisons between him and Xi, with his regime being remembered for being more open and free and tied to the rest of the world, with China joining the WTO during his time, as well at the period experiencing solid and unbroken economic growth. China has become very isolated, even more so with the covid locdowns that have become the focus of recent demonstrations.

Probably Xi will be able to get through this without too much upheaval, especially with the demonstrations against the lockdowns apparently shut down.  Nevertheless, it is reported that this funeral has many people talking more openly about unhappiness with the current regime.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, December 2, 2022

Economic Policy After The Midterm Elecions

 Will economic policy change much aa a result of the midterm elecrtions? After all, the GOP has taken the House of Representatives, if only narrowly, with inflation and the economy supposedly the top issue, especially for those supporting the GOP. Will this reappearance of "divided government" have an impact on economic policy? My bottom line is probably not too much, although there is the serious possibility of some major drama and damage happening during this coming year.

On the matter of having "divided government," I must note that we already have been having that, if not in the way this is usually posed. While Dems nominally controlled both the White House and Congress, although only partially so in the Senate given the need for 60 votes to win on any issue not tied to the budget and thus able to managed by reconciliation (and even on those not necessarily, given two Dem senators not always supporting Dem budget-related proposals), what has been left out of such discussions has been the Supreme Court. It has been dominated strongly the past two years by serious conservatives appointed by GOP presidents who have taken an aggressive stance on overturning policies accepted by past presidents and Congresses dominated by both parties. An egregious example of this regarding economic policy has been the restricting of the EPA's ability to regulate pollution, a serious matter.

Of course a major reason the change of control of the House will not have all that much effect on inflationary policy is that the Fed is the lead entity on that, and I do not see the Fed changing its policy that much in response to the election, whatever one thinks of the Fed's policy. As it is they have been fairly sharply raising interest rates recently, with the value of the US dollar being quite strong, with this in fact beginning to show some signs of inflation beginning to slow down, if still much higher than most people would like it to be. And we now have hints from Powell that while the Fed is still intent on further interest rate increases, those may also begin to slow down somewhat, maybe only 50 basis points up in December rather than 75. Again, these considerations look disconnected from the election outcome.

Obviously where the House may be able to change economic policy somewhat involves fiscal policy, given the House role in budgetary policy. And they may in fact make efforts to reduce or eliminate funding for certain Biden admin initiatives, particularly some in the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). As it is much of Biden's fiscal policy will not be affected. The probably somewhat inflatoinary ARPA is largely over, although there is still some disbursement of funds from it still happening. Also, the infrastructure and CHIPS acts seem to have some GOP support, so will probably be largely left alone.

What seems to be the top target in the IRA is funding for increasing the number of auditors in the IRS, with the GOP having put out all kinds of phony scare stories about these agents to be hired showing up armed at the doors of all kinds of middle class people. As it is, many of those to be hired are supposed to help out with such things as answering telephones, which most of the time now does not happen, with this sort of thing having become a problem due to many funding cuts in recent years for the IRS pushed by the GOP in Congress. In terms of enforcement the new agents are supposed to focus on higher income scofflaws as well as corporate ones, not middle or lower class ones. In any case, if the GOP-run House does succeed in cutting this funding, this will be inflationary due to reducing tax revenues. 

Another fiscal policy matter they might well push, although this is more likely to get blocked by the Senate or Biden veto is again cutting tax rates for higher income and wealthier people. This would also be inflationary if it gets implemented.

Arguably anti-inflationary would be cuts to Social Security and Medicare, although these are less likely to get passed, with I suspect some GOPs in Congress not wanting to get on board such cuts. But in fact cuts to Medicare might lead to higher costs rather than lower ones for recipients, and any changes to Social Security, if they were to happen, would probably take the form of raising the retirement age, only affecting Social Security outlays sometime in the future, not anytime soon.

Probably the only possibly anti-inflationary policy they would push might be for various policies to increase fossil fuel production in the US. These are likely to be blocked by veto if not the Senate, and would only have a fairly small impact some time in the future, given that as of now oil companies are sitting on lots of unused permits for drilling on public land. And one of the items the GOP loves to talk about a lot, the XL pipeline from Canada, would have zero impact on oil production in the US, and probably near zero even on production in Canada, as most of that oil gets out by other means anyway.

What the GOP in the House seems mostly obsessed with is having lots of hearings, with almost none of these having anything to do with economics, much less inflation in particular. Their top priority seems to be to expose the salacious contents of Hunter Biden's laptop, which like the 8 in a row Benghazi hearings will find nothing because there is apparently actually nothing on there about Joe Biden involving anything that actually happened, although that will provide lots of opportunities for GOP Reps to get on Fox News and its crazier cousins to promise that the next day will bring that witness that will surely show how bad Biden was. Hearings on Afghanistan, Fauci, and much else will also be similarly irrelevant to economic policy, although if they have hearings on trying to reduce immigration, well, like cutting funding for the IRS, this will likely be inflationary, not the opposite.

The possibility for drama involves the old saw matter of the debt ceiling, which the newly crazy GOPs in the House may well be willing to resist raising while making unacceptable demands to the point of triggering a default, which could indeed bring crashing financial markets and a global recession, with at least some degree of recession having non-trivial probability of happening anyway this coming year due both to Fed tightening as well as economic slowing in the rest of the world coming from China and the effects of the war in Ukraine. This suggests that a high priority for the Dems in Congress in the remainder of the lame duck session should be to use reconciliation to either substantially raise the debt ceiling or, better yet, just eliminate the darned thing that has been a damaging anachronism since almost the time it was instituted over a century ago, the only such thing on the planet. 

But, unfortunately, it seems that neither Biden nor any leading Dem in Congress, not even Bernie Sanders, seems at all interested in doing anything about this. Why they are so complacent on this I really do not know, although it seems they are all scared of some boogeyman of being viewed as "fiscally irresponsible."  But, as far as I am concerned, it looks to be utterly fiscally irresponsible to allow these incoming lunatics in the House the ability to wreak havoc on this matter. Deals were cut in the past in similar situations, as in 2011, and some Dems may think that the GOP will get blamed for any bad outcome on this.  But blaming GOP for a temporary government partial shutdown is one thing. Blaming them for a major recession is quite another, with blame for that, if it gets really bad and spills into 2024, much more likely to end up on the doorstep of the White House. What are they thinking?

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

So Much For The Iran Nuclear Deal

 Sorry you have not seen me here for awhile. My laptop on which I am able to post here was out of commission, but now has been fixed.

Well, it was not the US beating Iran in the World Cup. It is that the Europeans, especially the British, French, and Germans, have had it with Iran over the combination of their bloody attempts to suppress the ongoing demonstrations over the law that women must wear the hijab, as well as Iran's overt supplying of Russia with drones to attack Ukraine. They have now come to oppose further negotiations with Iran over the JCPOA nuclear deal.  I do not see this changing barring major changes in the current situation.

Frankly, I think the leaders in Iran could just bend on this hijab law. Heck, it is not something in the Qur'an. But an Iranian friend of mine says they view this as a slippery slope situation. If they give on that, then they will just lose total control.

I think Biden could have just gone back in to the deal when he first got in to office, although there were some details that needed to be straightened out, given that the Iranians had also eventually gotten out of compliance. But I think it could have been done, with Biden being too cautious and looking over his shoulder at Congress. Once they got in to dragged out negotiations it just all went to heck, never could pin it down.

Of course, the underlying problem goes back to Trump withdrawing from the deal when Iran was adhering to it. He claimed he would get a better one, but, of course, did not do so.  The upshot was the replacement of the more moderate government with the current hardliners who are convinced they cannot get rid of their silly hijab law.  Bah!

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, November 20, 2022

The Anti-Racism of Fools

Antisemitism has long been intermingled with movements against injustice and elite control.  This is because the most widespread image in the mind of antisemites is the existence of a secretive cabal of Jews who control global finance and promote liberal-sounding ideas only because it serves their nefarious goals.  Hatred of Jews therefore deflects radical inclinations that might otherwise fuel movements against real domination.  This understanding was summed up in the expression that “antisemitism is the socialism of fools”, often voiced in socialist circles in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Now that class is no longer regarded as the ur-oppression from which all others stem, new reservoirs of fools can be tapped to keep antisemitism in business.  This is apparent in the ongoing wave of anti-Jewish bigotry that masks itself as anti-racism.  Ye and Kyrie Irving are relatively easy examples to point to, since their foolishness is on display.  But even a much cleverer Dave Chappelle illustrates the anti-racism of fools trope.  Watch his recent SNL monologue closely, and you can see all the elements there—not only the winking references to Jewish collusion and control, but also the way sly attacks on Jews become a substitute for identifying and challenging the control of cultural institutions, and most of the rest of America, by the ultra-rich, who, for historical reasons, are nearly entirely white.  Like, why should the livelihood of any artist, which of course includes satirists, depend on patronage by corporate moguls?  The fool part is thinking you’ve pinpointed the problem by fantasizing about a conspiracy of Jewish moguls.

Being smart is not a defense against being stupid, and bigotry is always stupid.

Friday, November 11, 2022

The Audition Commodity

Richard Serra and Carlotta Fay Schoolman produced the video, "Television Delivers People" in 1973. It manifests a critique of television mass media that was subsequently defined by communications scholar, Dallas Smythe as the "audience commodity" but the outline of which had already been presented by him in 1951 in the Quarterly of Film, Radio and Television:

The troublesome fact is that under our uneasy institutional compromise by which the stations are publicly licensed and commercially operated, the effective, if not the legal, responsibility is divided. And the voice which speaks most often to the consumer is that of the advertiser. Is it any wonder that the consumer is confused and inarticulate in trying to express his judgment as to how these media should conduct themselves? Is it any wonder that our traditional view of our cultural values, including freedom of speech and freedom of the press, may be reshaped increasingly into the likeness of the cultural values of the advertisers?

Smythe's point was not that advertisements occupied the majority of the air time but the it was the advertiser who dictated what kind of programming was most conducive to attracting an audience that would respond positively to its commercial message. Advertisers would not settle for just any audience, but sought an audience of consumers -- consumers of its products. The exchange value of an audience would thus be determined by its propensity to consume the products advertised.

I'm not really interested in subsequent criticisms and defenses of Smythe's formulation because they are mostly concerned with minutiae over whether or not Smythe carried his analogy between audiences and workers too far (which he did, in my opinion, but that doesn't discredit the larger picture). In a 1977 paper, Smythe asked, rhetorically, "Am I correct in assuming that all non-sleeping time under capitalism is work time?" My answer to that would be no, but because it was a rhetorical question, there really would be no point in answering.

I briefly mentioned Smythe's audience commodity in talks I gave in the summer of 2021. I would like to go further now to articulate what the 21st century version of that audience commodity looks like. While there is still a traditional mass media component, a new element of media has emerged since the mid-1960s that has a "do-it-yourself" flavor of "pseudo-activity" -- to use Adorno's terms. The most recent iteration of this activity is so-called social media.

The sourcing of content is the most obvious feature of social media. Millions of amateurs crank out content for twitter, tik-tok, instagram, etc. daily in the hope of going viral and potentially monetizing their social media presence. The prospects of success in this effort are mediated by algorithms that are oblivious to the artistic or intellectual quality of the content that is promoted.

Although social media emerged in the period following the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 26, 2004, its features evolved over the previous four decades and are discernable in, for example, motivational training, multi-level marketing, and academic publishing and conferencing. In all of these enterprises, participants perform work and/or produce content for no compensation other than the prospect of self promotion. Often they pay fees or costs to participate.

Like television broadcasters, social media platforms sell an audience to advertisers. Unlike television broadcasters, they do not produce content to attract that audience but instead provide an outlet for some portion of that audience to produce its own content, the bulk of which disappears into the virtual void. Alongside and augmenting the audience commodity is what I call an "audition commodity" of content producers throwing content against the wall in the hopes that something sticks.

In contrast to Smythe's audience commodity, the audition commodity does perform work albeit largely of the socially unnecessary kind. A small percentage of Twitter accounts are responsible for a large proportion of tweets and consequently of media views and advertising revenues. In 2019, Pew Research reported that 10% of tweeters are responsible for 80% of tweets. Nevertheless, it is the banter -- retweeting, quote tweeting, and commenting -- that lends an interactive patina to the medium.

Eighty-four percent of Google Scholar articles since 2021 mentioning audience commodity also mentioned social media, although those mentioning audience commodity constitute less than a quarter of a percent of articles that mention social media. Over three times that many articles pair social media and town square and over six times as many pair social media with marketplace of ideas and 50 times as many pair it with public space, albeit sometimes ironically or critically.

To recycle a paragraph from that year-old post about the marketplace of ideas:

Social media has created the illusion that anybody can become a celebrity in a viral heartbeat, as if the circuits of social media amplification were not as dominated by advertising, propaganda, and entertainment as any television network. What the competition of the market tests, though, is not the "truth" of ideas but their marketability. That is to say, their superfluity relative to truth.

Monday, October 31, 2022

The Humiliation Of Hu Jintao

 The recently completed onec-every-five-years Party Congress in China, which confirmed Xi Jinping for a third term as General Secretary of the party, punctuated his apparent assumption of essentially total power by humiliating his predecessor, Hu Jintao, in its final session. At the beginning, he was forced to leave the session, with two men clearly pulling on his clothing in a widely seen video to make him get up and go. It is unclear how much of this was reported to the Chinese public, but the English language Chinese media insisted that he left the meeting for health reasons.  Apparently his health is not all that great, but he was not obviously immediately ill when made to leave, and he was most clearly made to leave.

So, why this humiliation? The general view is that indeed it was Xi asserting his total control very clearly to everybody in the room and more widely.  Later that session pretty much all remaining allies of Hu in either the 24 member Politburo or its 7 member Standing Committee were removed and replaced by loyalists of Xi's, with this reportedly going further and deeper than expected, although it was expected.

Reports have tried to argue that rule by Xi is a great improvement over that by Hu, with this supposedly justifying this humiliation heaped upon him. Of course, China now has a higher GDP and larger military, with deep poverty eliminated in the last decade, and many scientific achievements occurring, along with a space program happening. But pretty much all of this probably would have happened if Hu had been in power over the past decade. Growth was rapid under his rule in 2002-2012, indeed more rapid than under Xi given the slowdown in growh in the last few years. Most of these activities and trends were already well in place and ongoing under Hu.  It is not clear Xi has added anything at all to any of it himself, aside from perhaps a greater acceleration of military buildup.

The latter has been accompanied by something not at all admirable, a more aggressive and hostile approach to neighboring countries.  This is supposed to justify Xi's assumption of total power and imposition of massive surveillance on citizens in a way unseen anywhere in the world ever. Fights are being picked with India, although there have been wars with India decades ago, all of which China won. The policy of expanding into the South China Sea, which international courts have ruled China does not own, was happening under Hu, but has been accelerated under Xi. Xi has also taken more direct control of Hong Kong, with the prospect that this economic golden egg is going to be severely damaged and stop producing what it did in the past, with the suppression of human rights now going on there, leafing to many fleeing.  And, of course, we have seen heightened threats against Taiwan, a place that is superior in every single regard in per capita terms to the Peoples' Republic, which seeks to control it and to it what it is now doing to Hong Kong.

All this is being emphasized further by Xi's first action after the Congress, to go to the Yan'an cave, a founding place of significance to the Communist Party. Xi there emphasized "arduous strruggle" as he did in his long speech at the Congress. But why should a nation not at war with neighbors and enjoying a still rapid growth into solidly middle income status, and moving into its higher levels, have to engage in "arducous struggle"? Why cannot people achieving a higher standard of living enjoy it? This is what goes on in democratic nations with high incomes. They do not threaten their neighbors and go around shutting down cities while super surveilling people.  China is increasingly going on a dark path as its leader becomes a totalitarian dictator whose bad decisions will not be countered by any checks or balances by anybody.  This is the phenomenon of degnerate autocracy, whose path and model is that set by Xi's pal, V.V. Putin in Russia, with his now clearly disastrous invasion of Ukraine.

I shall note two items that have been put forward in the media with little comment or questioning as supporting the claim that Xi is somehow some improved leader over Hu. One has to do with corruption and the other has to do with income inequality.  Supposedly Hu was very bad on both of these, Xi is a great improvement and a hard charging reformer on both. There is some basis for this, but it is seriously exaggerated.

The stronger case is on the matter of corruption. The pro-market and essentially capitalist reforms set in motion by Deng Xioaping did lead to the emergence of a wealthy elite, with this emergence accompanying an apparent increase in corruption. The trend to this was in place when Hu took power, and he did little to combat it. Xi very publicly engaged in an anti-corruption campaign when he took office. It has indeed led to some improvement in China's international ranking on this matter, with China moving from being the 80th to the 66th most corrupt nation in the world according to Transparency International, over the past decade. A major problem with this campaign is that it appears to have been heavily directed at critics of Xi, thus with this campaign also being part of his consolidation of personal power. These days one must be one of his cronies to get away with being corrupt, with there still being plenty of that around.

The matter of income inequality is less clear, with a not so good story involved.  When Hu took power in 2002, income inequality was rapidly increasing. He came in with a call to turn that around, and in fact he succeeded. He especially focused on the regional inequality and also the gap between the urban and rural populations.  He made moves to reduce taxes on farmers, and he also introduced in 2005 and old age pension program. Richard Easterlin has documented that citizens had been becoming less happy in China up to about 2005, with this turning around then and going the other way, coinciding with these reforms implemented by Hu. As it was it still took until 2008 for aggregate inequlality to peak with a Gini coefficient around .49. It then began to decline and did so quite noticeably to about a .47 level by 2012. This decline continued for three more years after Xi replace Hu to 2015, when it bottomed out at around .45. But since then it has returned to creeping upward, getting back up to about .46 most recently. So, Xi can claim to have a lower Gini than when he started, but this masks an unfortunate turnaround with a return to a gradually increasing income inequality under his rule.

It should be noted that while Hong Kong has much greater income inequality than mainland PRC, Taiwan has much greater equality, with a Gini in the low 30s.

A final matter that cuts in several directions, has been Xi's crackdown on high flying CEOs of major corporations. Arguably this is a move to increase income and wealth equality, although as noted already, income inequality is actually increasing again. It may also be directed at possible corruption, although it is not clear that all of those Xi is attacking are all that corrupt. It seems more that he wants to squash them as possible alternative power centers, and indeed a curious fact about the most recent Party Congress was the much greater absence of any executives from major private companies in China. The Party is clearly emphasizing a return to more of a command and state-centered mode of operation in the economy. This may not pay off so well, as many of these CEOs are leaders of the highest tech companies in the nation. Going after them may aggravate the clear slowdown in economic growth that is happening, with this also being driven by ongoing lockdowns that increase social control, as well as the collapse of the real estate sector in China. Xi Jinping's assumption of total power for an unclear time in the future may in fact lead to economic and social stagnation in China, with all this to be distracted from by calls for "arduous struggle" and aggressive actions towards neighboring powers. This is a sad and disturbing outcome.

Frankly, Hu Jintao looks to have been a more humanitarian and in many ways more effective leader than his successor. He did not deserve the humiliation he received.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Are North Korean Workers Going To Annexed Portions Of Ukraine?

 Maybe. An October 21 report in NK Daily says so, with further speculation on this matter on blogs that cover North Korea. Supposedly Kim Jong Un agreed to this with V.V. Putin in their most recent meeting, with the number supposedly to be around 800-1,000, with the NK Daily report saying that they have actually been selected, and with Russia, China, and North Korea somehow agreeing that having these workers work in Russian-occupied annexed portions of Ukraine would not violate sanctions.  

I do not know what these workers will supposedly be doing. However, supposedly they will be going in November specifically to the Donbas area. I guess we shall see more about this, a curious development.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, October 20, 2022

If GOP Wins Either House Of Congress, Dems Must Kill Debt Ceiling

 If that come to pass, especially if GOP takes both houses, presumably they will be able to do it in the lame duck session, assuming that Manchin and Synema stick with them on it, which one of them might not. But as a budget matter, it can pass by reconciliation, which avoids a filibuster. Can be passed with only 50 votes plus VP Harris in the Senate. There are several specific ways they can do it, with it not really mattering which they do, just that they are able to do it if this comes to pass, which looks highly likely at least with respect to the House of Representatives, if not definite.

We have seen the GOP play games with the debt ceiling in the past, most damagingly in 2011, although sometimes when they have done so, they have suffered negative political feedback.  Indeed, fear of that has in the past allowed "more reasonable" Republicans in the House, where these efforts seem to have always emanated from, to eventually cut some sort of not too bad deal with the administration before the plug got pulled and an actual market-damaging default happened. 

The problem now, as we pretty much all know, although this matter is not getting much attention, is that that on top of the general polarization, the House GOP members are becoming increasingly radical right, with a whole bunch of seriously crazy types likely to enter the House with this election, even if they do not take control.  The moderate GOPs are retiring or getting primaried out for insufficient Trumpiness, and a bunch of election deniers and QAnon followers and so forth will certainly be coming in. And if GOP takes the House, if Kevin McCarthy is even able to get himself elected Speaker rather than someone much further right, he will be under severe pressure from the extreme wing of the party to make seriously wild demands that would be very damaging to put in place, with the Biden admin going to be resisting hard, and with these bomb throwers more likely to be willing to go all the way to pushing an outright default, even possibly with the conscious plan of bringing about an economic crash they can blame on Biden in 2024.

The danger of this is really seriously high, and it needs to be nipped in the bud.  I understand that many think that somehow the debt ceiling is some sort of sacrosanct thing, having been around in some form or other for over a century.  But it is not. It has never made any sense and no other nation has anything like it, although some have rules limiting the sizes of budget deficits, a different thing. Several of us here, most certainly including me, have posted on this general matter numerous times in the past.  And we have long argued that the debt ceiling should simply be abolished. It serves no useful purpose, and only opens our governing process to serious mischief.  Heck, even though a default was avoided in 2011, it came close enough that it led to a debt downgrade for the US.

So, Dems, if you lose a house of Congress, eliminate the debt ceiling, please!

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Iranian Demonsttations Spread to Oil Workers

 The death of a Kuidish-Iranian woman doe not wearing a hijab to cover her hair has led to weeks of demonstrations led by and mostly by young women especially in the Kurdish parts of Iran.  However, they have gained the support of young men as well, despite a severe crackdown by the authorities that has now killed over 100 of the protestors. 

The latest development that marks this becoming a more serious threat to the regime is that apparently the demonstrations have spread to at least some oil workers.  The oil industry is concentrated in the Khuzestan part of Iran on the Gulf, with a substantial number of the workers ethnically Arabs and Sunni Muslims in contrast to the majority Shia population, which both Persians and Azeris largely are, the two most populous ethnic groups in the nation, who together constitute over 90%. The Kurds are apparently mixed, some Sunni and some Shia.

Traditionally prior to the Islamic revolution, most oil workers belonged to the Communist Tudeh Party. They participated in the anti-Shah movement that led to the Islamic revolution. But in its aftermath, they were suppressed as was their party.  This has left them somewhat alienated.  Obviously given the importance of the oil industry to the Iranian economy, this appearance of them supporting the women demonstrators raises the ante.

In any case, the US should still negotiate a revival of the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, which would allow an increase in oil production and exports from Iran.  A deal has seemed very close for some time, but somehow as it looks to be almost ready to be agreed to, one side of the other comes up with some demand that looks unacceptable to the other. But maybe this can be overcome.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Patagonia: Life Imitates Theory

 When Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, completed the transfer of that company’s ownership to an environmental trust fund, it was front-page news across the country.  It came as something less than a shock to me, however, because I had described a very similar structure in a paper I wrote a few years ago about “pluralist social ownership”.

First, it’s interesting what Chouinard decided not to do.  He didn’t donate the company to a government agency, although that option is not quite as weird as it sounds.  Environmentally conscious landowners often donate parcels to park administrations or other government units, expressing their faith in the ability of the public sector to safeguard this type of resource and make it available for study and recreation.  If you don’t see the same sort of donations of companies like Patagonia, it’s because the track record of government in most other functions is much less impressive.

Chouinard also chose not to give Patagonia to its workforce.  This deserves a bit more attention, since many entrepreneurs have taken this course; some of the largest worker-owned firms were begun as normal, for-profit enterprises until the decision was made to put the workers in charge.  It’s a reasonable choice if the main motive of the private owner looking to divest is to benefit the workforce, but there is no reason why this has to be the dominant one, even for very socially conscious owners.  Chouinard is an example: he has earned a reputation for treating his employees very well, but his primary interest is environmental.

So instead he gave away the company to two environmental entities, one that holds all the voting shares (about 2% of equity) and another that will profit from the remainder.  This is perfectly reasonable, so long as these groups can be entrusted to adhere to this commitment.

Of course, if he had some other motive he could still have used the same general approach, but partnering with different organizations that shared his priorities.  If he were interested above all in gender equity he could have donated to gender equity trusts.  If the most important thing for him was to safeguard an indigenous culture, that type of trust could be endowed.  Or protecting the interest of a particular region, or promoting international cooperation, or, well, you name it.  Transferring ownership to a trust with a steadfast mission is an extremely adaptable approach, one that can accommodate a wide range of political and social values.

This is why I described what I called a “social equity fund” model in my paper.  The problem I was addressing was the form social ownership could take in a truly pluralist society, one with a mosaic of values and interests and not just one, however democratic the process for selecting it.  (I had reasons to doubt that a framework based on a monolithic conception of social interest would be compatible with democracy, but that’s a topic for another day.)  Investing ownership in a range of funds representing distinct groups and their values seemed to be the right approach.  Unlike state or even worker ownership, social funds could embrace a range of commitments as diverse as those found in society—truly a pluralist vision of social ownership.

The biggest problem with the Patagonia example, however, is that it was the work of a single individual, the firm’s founder and leader.  Chouinard is an exceptionally enlightened capitalist, but we can hardly count on the tender mercies of his peers.  This is why the indispensable step forward is to democratize the ownership shares of funds reflecting significant social interests.  This is the “socialist” part of the vision, in which most equity is progressively transferred from a minority of wealthy individuals to the funding system as a whole, and a mechanism for periodically allocating ownership to funds on a one-person, one-vote basis is established.

The paper discusses all this in some detail, including the regulatory framework such a system would require.

I hope Chouinard’s inventive solution to the problem of dedicating Patagonia to environmental values is recognized beyond environmentalist circles.  This points the way to a basic rethinking of how an economy can be owned and organized to advance social interests in a world in which such interests will inevitably be diverse and even sometimes in friction with one another.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Degenerate Autocrats

 Yesterday I had Konstantin Sonin present a seminar at JMU on "The Degenerate Autocrat: Origins and Consequences of the Russia-Ukraine War." Sonin is a former Vice -Rector of the Higher Economic School in Moscow who had to leave suddenly in March due to his critical remarks about the regime and has since been fired from the faculty there. He is Dewey Distinguished Service Professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at U. of Chicago and has coauthored with Daron Acemoglu, who might get the Nobel on Monday.

Anyway, his argument is that longtime full autocrats become incompetent as their regimes degenerate because they increasingly appoint incompetent sycophants who give them bad information and do not warn them of problems with bad policy decisions they make. They accumulate these bad asvisers, often from old longtime cronies who become increasingly corrupt as well, because they are afraid anybody competent might move to overthrow them.  Putin in Russia with his stupid decision to invade Ukraine is the current leading example, but he had others from the past including Nicholas II's decision to join WW I, Hitler's decision to invade USSR, Mao's decision to carry out the Great Leap Forward, and Saddam Hussein's decision to invade Kuwait. 

So far post-Mao China has avoided this slide into incompetent degenerate autocracy. The system set up where leaders would step aside after serving for ten years avoided this problem. But now it looks that Xi Jinping is making the move to go to this system, taking a third five year term as leader, with no clear successor in sight.  This is a dangerous situation, with a number of recent decisions looking somewhat questionable and the economy slowing down, although there still continue to be some forward looking decisions and actions being made.  But the longer term prospects from this move do not look good.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, October 7, 2022

An Improvement In China's Human Rights Record In XinJiang?

 On Octobet 5, 2022, the Washington Post published a front section srtory, "Uyghyr crackdown eases, bu Xinjiang;s scars endure," by Eva Dou and Kate Cadell. While documenting ongoing human rights problems and a lack of transparency in Xinjiang province in China, including ongoing use of forced labor in prisons in industrial parks, in the wake of criticism of its record in that province by the UN, the article reports that it appears that China is no longer sending Uyghur and Kazakh Muslim minority members to infamous "reeducation" camps.  Indeed, many of these are now being closed entirely, with the story providing a photo of a former one, now closed, in Kashgar, second largest city in the province and a famous stop on the historic Silk Road.

I applaud this development and hope it continues.  Besides the UN criticism, I suspect that Xi Jinping is looking for some favorable news in anticipation of his bid to get a third five year term as Party Chair in the forthcoming CCP congress. I hope this new and improved policy continues beyond that event.

There continue to be other human rights problems in China. Repression of speech and political activity continues to increase in Hong Kong, with a resulting exodus of people happening. There continue to be auxiliary health and other issues associated with the strong lockdowns associated with the pandemic, although those have resulted in low rates of the disease itself happening. 

But I must note and applaud when there is an improvement in the human rights situation anywhere in this world where there is such a strong trend to more authoritarianism in so many places, including in the US.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, October 3, 2022

Putin Supporters In US Becoming Desperate

 Latest reports have after Putin annexed four oblasts in Ukraine the Ukrainian military making numerous gains in several of those and simply on a major roll that seems very unlikely to be stopped or even slowed down all that much, short of Putin using nuclear weapons. First Lyman was taken, now the last town the Russians held in Kharkiv oblast was taken. Ukrainian troops appear to be closing fast on both Kreminna and Svatavoe in Luhansk (or Lugansk) oblast, with most of northern Luhansk likely to be conquered if those two are conquered, which now looks likely very soon.

Supporters of Putin have argued that losing territory in the northeast was one thing, and they have also claimed that the Ukrainians have suffered major losses in this run, although they fail to provide any evidence of that. But they have said that Putin is willing to fall back there as long as he holds clearly important Kherson in the south, where there has long been a standoff after Ukraine made some gains and long announced a major counteroffensive. Putin moved many troops from the northeast to Kherson to hold off that loudly advertised counteroffensive, and it seemed to be working. But apparently there has been a breakthrough there as well now, with a tank attack on the northern end of the Kherson front breaking through and the frontline pushed down about 25 miles and still moving, with movement also happening on the southern end of that front also.  

It seems that the only place on the whole front where the Russians can make any favorable claims involves the weird case of Bakhmut in Donetsk oblast. There the Wagner Group has been trying to conquer it for the last three months, although it seems not to have much strategic importance in and of itself. But while they have failed to conquer it, they have managed to move forward a few meters from day to day, and apparently are continuing to do so, the only place this is happening on the entire front. This allows local TV in Russia to report on "gains," even though these gains seem not to ever lead to much of anything. Some speculate this odd campaign continues partly due to the boss of the Wagner Group, Prigozhin, is trying to increase his power in Moscow.

So we have the Russian position largely collapsing with Putin being humiliated by all this in the wake of his annexation of these territories where he is now massively losing territory.  How are his supporters reacting to all this? Pretty badly, hysterically even.

I had not watched him for a long time, but I decided earlier this evening to watch one of his more prominent US supporters, Fox News's Tucker Carlson, whose show is the most watched on cable news I believe, even now.  He is full in on supporting Putin and was coming across as indeed nearly hysterical this evening. There was no mention of any of these military gains by the Ukrainians, not a whisper.

Instead, he was all in on the Nordstream pipeline incident, charging that it "is obvious" that it was carried by the US, citing statements by SecState Blinken that and end to the Nordstream pipeline would be a "strategic blow" to Russia, not to mention emphasizing that Russia owns the pipeline. As it is, the US and the nations that use the pipeline have avoided making any specific accusations as indeed it is very difficult to prove or establish who might have done such a thing. 

It is reported that the nearby nations suspect it was done by Russia. As it is, Nordstream I has been repaired. With that the Swedes were apparently about to investigate the sites of the explosions to look for evidence about what happened, but the Russians began pumping gas through it, which blocks that. Big surprise that Tucker Carlson had nothing to say about that.

His argument then segued into predicting that this supposed behavior by the US is going to lead to a nuclear war between the US and Russia, somehow never noting that it is Russia and Russia alone that is threatening to use nuclear weapons. He seems to accept that Putin's annexations are justified and that indeed Putin using nuclear weapons in Ukraine would be some justified self-defense. He reported with outrage on reports that the US might sink the Black Sea fleet if Russia uses nuclear weapons, with the US doing this without using nuclear weapons, although Carlson never noted this last point. This possibility of nuclear war is all due to the US, even as the US is not threatening the use of nuclear weapons at all, only Putin and various commentators in Russia.

I have to say that I was taken aback at the intensity of his outrage over all this, the US supposedly definitely responsible for the now all done pipeline incident, and this supposed danger of the use of nuclear weapons.  I now understand why I see local people commenting in my local newspaper, the Harrisonburg Daily News Record, to the effect that not only is Russia winning the war, they deserve to win the war.  This is a pretty astounding spectacle, but then most of these people also continue to believe the Big Lie of Trump that he actually won the 2020 presidential election, a lie Carlson also plays a major role in continuing to push.

Barkley Rosser 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Report From Moscow

 My wife, Marina, has returned from a two and a half week to Moscow to visit her 93 year old mother.  She almost got bumped from her Turkish Airlines flight out of Moscow through Istanbul, but her travel agent managed to get her back on.  Very glad she is back. Anyway, a few first hand current reports.

Yes, in terms of living standards, in Moscow most things are operating and there are plenty of goods in the stores, although prices are high. There is a major effort to have things seem "normal," lots of cooking shows on TV.  It is true that a lot of foreign goods are not available, although there are odd exceptions. Thus apparently French and Italian wines are available. Also, KFC is all over the place, although this would appear to be a franchise. Apparently Marriott hotels have been bought "for a dime" by the Saudis, who are now badly mismanaging them.

Many things are either not reported or reported very differently than over here. So supposedly the referenda on annexation were "transparent." People lined up to vote were shown on TV and there were some international observers testifying to this "transparency," from Syria, South Africa, and Brazil. No guns being pointed at anybody supposedly.

Yes, it was a big freakout when the partial mobilization was announced. One of her best friends had her son conscripted.  Apparently there is a known going price to get out of being conscripted: 5000 euros, yes, euros, not rmb/yuan or USD, and definitely not rubles, with the ruble/euro rate much worse in practice than the official rate.

My wife reminds me that there are still many "good and wise people" there, but unfortunately they are not in charge or having much say with those who are.

Oh, and a festschrift is being organized by the Russian Economic Federation for our old friend Victor Polterovich, now 85 years old and probably the most eminent economist in Russia at this time.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, September 26, 2022

Pharoah Sanders Has Passed

 One of the greatest musical performances I ever saw live was in Spring 1966, sorry have not tracked down exact date, in the University of Wisconsin-Union theater. It was a live performance of the final group of John Coltrane. None of his great quartet from "A Love Supreme" were in it, but it still completely blew my mind. 

Somehow this group had another saxophonist besides the greatest of them ever, Coltane, this guy Pharoah Sanders. He was really intense, arguably more so than Coltrane himself. Now, at age 81, Sanders has passed, one of the greatest jazz saxophonists ever. 

Apparently his original name was "Farrell." He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. When he got to New York in the early 60s, ne nearly starved initially. Eventually he got in to various groups such as Albert Ayler, Cecil Taylor, and then Sun Ra's group, with Sun Ra changing his name to "Pharoah," reportedly on Sun Ra not hearing the pronunciation of his name correctly, although obviously it was an apprporiate name change.

His work has been described as "spiritual jazz." This has been described in the Nation as providing "a frenetic blend of spiritual jazz that, through shrieking horns and loose rhythmic structure, was meant to summon higher powers. The idea, it seemed, was to blow the sax so hard that the music reached God's ears."

Not that I am particularly a theist.

His most commercially successful album was with the pianist of that group I sae in Madison, Coltrane;s last wife, Alice, with whom he produced "Journey in Satchidanda," which I used to play for my older daughters when they were young, a seriously great album

Barkley Rosser

Friday, September 23, 2022

Tom Schelling Is Rolling Over In His Grave

 Thomas Schelling got his Nobel Prize in economics for saving the world from global thermonuclear war in the 20th century, when many thought it was inevitable. Rival nuclear game theorist, John von Neumann, said to bomb the Soviets as soon as possible, like, tomorrow, preferably before noon 

Schelling won the debate in real time, being an advisor on "Dr. Strangelove..." bringing about as a result of that the installation of the "red phone," for immediate and direct communications on such matters between the then USSR and the US. I suspect that phone still exists in some form, bur I do not know

What Tom got his visit to Stockholm for, which I told him in person he would get before he got it, (yeah, really), was his formulation of how to find a socially beneficial game theoretic solution when many of those exist. He proposed finding a socially agreeable solution that all accept that is also socially good. This proposal he put forward and became accepted was no first use of nuclear weapons, period, even though, of course, the US violated that at the end of WW II. But while it did not become formally or officially accepted, this doctrine became accepted in practice, and we had no nuclear wars, and Tom was the most important person behind this, both intellectually, and in terms of policy in the 1960s.

So unfortunately before he died in 2016, he lived long enough to see the beginning of the unwinding of his rule. When Putin conquered and annexed Crimea in 2014, and much of the West put some pretty minor economic sanctions on him for this, one of his media flunkies (apologize I am not going back to dig up this immoral asshole's post or who is, let him die unknown), declared: "We can turn New York into ashes," or words to that effect. The moment I saw that media post, not shut down by Putin, I knew that Tom Schelling's hidden and implicit rule that had prevented the world from being destroyed in a global thermonuclear war, was over.

Needless to say, as he has become more desperate as his poorly functioning military is being defeated by the military of the nation he invaded without a shred of justification, Putin is making himself not only a world historical war criminal, but a total hypocrite. He actually reminded the world that Ukraine gave up what was then the world's fourth largest stash of nuclear weapons in 1992  He ludicrously complains that somehow now they regret that. No, he claims they are actively trying to get them back, which is another excuse for his invasion.

But, of course, in 1992, when Ukraine gave up its large stash of nuclear weapons, Russia along with US and UK signed the Budapest Memorandum/Accord that involved recognizing both the independence and the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Obviously Putin violated this in 2014, with both the US and UK failing to respond. That he now reminds of his violation of this agreement at this point is, well...

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Happy 155th Birthday to volume one of Capital!

In his 1965 farewell lecture at Brandeis University, Herbert Marcuse read a long passage from the Grundrisse's "fragment on machines" and then observed: “But Marx himself has repressed this vision, which now appears as his most realistic, his most amazing insight!"

In Time, Labor and Social Domination, published 28 years later, Moishe Postone addressed the same section from the Grundrisse and commented:

These passages do not represent utopian visions that later were excluded from Marx's more "sober" analysis in Capital but are a key to understanding that analysis; they provide the point of departure for a reinterpretation of the basic categories of Marx' s mature critique that can overcome the limits of the traditional Marxist paradigm.

Who was right? Did Marx repress his most amazing insight or is that insight from the Grundrisse a key to interpreting Marx's analysis in Capital? I would argue that both Marcuse and Postone are partly right and partly wrong. Marx didn't so much repress his realistic, amazing insight from the Grundrisse in Capital as hide it under bushels of supplementary illustrative material. You can find it there if you are patient and know what to look for. 

In that respect, passages from the Grundrisse are indeed a key to understanding and reinterpreting Capital. But what is the key to understanding and reinterpreting the Grundrisse? It is the 1821 pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the Natural Difficulties, that Marx cited and quoted from repeatedly in the Grundrisse, that Engels claimed Marx had "rescued from its oblivion," that Marx was fascinated by in the notebooks published as Theories of Surplus Value, and that Postone, Marcuse and almost every other interpreter of Marx's thought has ignored.

I discussed this peculiar omission in an article published last year, "The Ambivalence of Disposable Time: The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties at two hundred." In the last few weeks, I have completed a 21,000 word manuscript, "A shadow of things to come" that probes further into the backstory of the pamphlet and forward into the fate of disposable time in today's world. I'm sure it's not the sort of thing academic publishers would be interested in and thus am uncertain about how I will present my arguments to the public. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

How To Dismantle An Empire

 My late mother seriously admired the now late Queen Elizabeth II. Not only was she a conservative Anglophiliac with overwhelming British ancestry (all the "nations" of the UK) who had tea in the afternoon at the proper British time in more or less the proper British way, there was also the matter that the queen bore a son her heir only seven months after my mother had me. I was raised to see Charles as a   a sort of cohort.

Indeed, i came to view him with great sympathy, although in later years he would come to be highly embarrassing in many ways well and widely known. But in 1958, the second time I was in UK, on arriving I saw tabloids with front page stories about some ridiculous matter involving Charles, I think it was about him playing games in streets uncontrolled, or something like that. I felt total sympathy for this guy about my age whose every action, however trivial, ended up on the front pages of newspapers with all kinds of people weighing in censoriously.  I was horrified. But now, finally, he is King Charles III.

So the death of Elizabeth II is semi-personal, reminding me of the death of my mother at 97 in 2010, who really revered the late queen. But given this personal aspect, I wish to consider this appropriately seriously and substantively.

A takeoff for me, having just returned from my first trip to Europe in three years for conference on Nonlinear Dynamics in Economics and Finance in Urbino, Italy, is an FT Weekend piece by Simon Schama. He raises deeper historical issues, in particular the matter of QE II overseeing the dismantling of the British Empire. He notes that the main three earlier British monarchs who reigned for long times: Elizabeth I, George III, and Victoria, all who suffered various vicissitudes during their reigns, those reigns all ended with Britain (or still England Wales for QE I), the nation ended stronger and more powerful by pretty much any measure at the end of their reigns compared with their beginnings. For QE II, the outcome was quite the opposite. She oversaw the dismantling of the British Empire.

The extremity of how great the decline was needs to go back before her accession 70 years ago. Schama emphasizes as Elizabeth's ultimate promise and commitment she held to whole life, and probably more than anything else why so many mourn her personally, was made five years before her accession in February 1947, three quarters of a century ago, in of all places, South Africa. She famously declared: "My whole life, whether it will be long or short, shall be devoted to your service."

Now that time was even more full of British Empire than it was on her accession when the old imperialist, Winston Churchill, was the first of her 15 prime ministers, the last of whose accessions, Liz Truss, was her last Act of State, the day before she died at Balmoral, literally standing on her last legs. In Feb. 1947, her father was still Emperor of India, whose independence later that year Churchill would oppose, although ineffectually as Clement Atlee was PM. This was also while South Africa, although independent, still appeared to honor officially allying with UK in both of the world wars, with the victory of the apartheid-imposing National Party coming the following year of 1948, also the birth year of both me and her heir. 

Also, Britain still controlled the Palestine Mandate, without yet an independent Israel, also to come in that following year. The British Empire was as it had been at its peak in the immediate aftermath of WW I, only missing a few pieces out of the Middle East officially, such as Iraq, handed over to Lawrence of Arabia's old friend, as well, Faisal, whose son would be assassinate when he was overthrown in in 1958 by a Baathist coup. Ireland also was still held in that immediate aftermath, leaving a century ago, arguably the first piece to do so in this long dismantling.

Today it is pretty much gone. When she accessed, it was still true that "the sun never sets" over what UK officially ruled, although technically once the Indian subcontinent left in 1947it was no longer an Empire. There is still its ghost in the Commonwealth, which the British monarch still officially heads (along with lots of other things, including the Church of England). But she was the official Head of State of only 14 of those at her death, with several of those moving to change that soon such as Jamaica, Barbados doing so recently (those 14 include the core 5 Eyes nations of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but even they could go). Beyond that there are only odd scattered bits of direct British rule with English speakers on them, such as Gibraltar and the Falkand Islands, which Margaret Thatcher puffed herself up over by reconquering from Argenitna, although probably only because the US played in with its senior role in the Five Eyes of ultimate Anglophilia, a matter Charles de Gaulle of people was all too well aware of.

The gradual dissolution of this vast empire, probably the largest ever in world history, with the possible exception of that of Genghis Khan, which dominated the world for the century of the Pax Britannica, contrasts sharply with that of the more sudden dissolutions of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires at the end of WW I, with the delayed partial dissolution of the Russian Empire with the end of the USSR in 1991, although the successor Russian Federation still resembles a smaller version of it with its many sub-national units, with its possible dissolution in WW I undone by the Bolshevik Revolution that held most of it together, although Finland got out, while in WW II Stalin was able to absorb certain territories never part of it, such as western Ukraine.

The essentially sudden dissolution of those three empires led to conflicts that still plague the world. The worst probably came out of the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, which had been in long decline and shrinkage. But the problem of Israel and the Palestinians, of Syria and Lebanon and Iraq all come of that dismemberment, not to mention some of the problems in the Balkans, which triggered the beginning of that fateful WW I. And the Austro-Hungarian dissolution has left us also with those gnawing problems in the Balkans, not to mention the simmering resentments in Hungary ruled by Orban who supports Putin and Trump with his population still dreaming of lost sub-rule over parts of Romania, Serbia, Croatia, Slovakia, and sub-Carpathian Ukraine, where the dominant local group is the rather historically important Rusyns.

Well, I suppose the gradualism of the dissolution of the British Empire saved its former parts from such conflicts. Clearly the conflict between India and Pakistan is serious, and the British went along with the partition that arguably gave us that. The British themselves arguably aggravated one of the worst conflicts coming out of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, with them in WW I making promises to both Arabs and Jews regarding what would happen with Israel and Palestine. 

While it was gradual, for the first decade of Elizabeth's rule, the British government fought hard against various independence movements, such as the Mau Mau in Kenya, with slaughters in various places. Critics of Elizabeth II point out these events as reasons not to mourn her, that she did not somehow stop all this, or at least just resign in protest, or whatever. One of the more outspoken was Karen Attiah in WaPo today, who essentially says she should have resigned upfront over all this, although, frankly, Attiah completely destroys her own credibility by in the end taking QE II to task because after Nigeria won independence in 1960, when in the 1970s the Ibo tribe in Biafra tried to obtain independence from Nigeria, the British government supported the Nigerian government. It turns out that what Attiah is really worked up about is that she is an Ibo and her grandfather was forced to flee. Oops, talk about a complete collapse of credibility. Frankly, WaPo should not have published such a blatantly worthless piece of self-aggrandizement and hypocrisy, even as I was and remain sympathetic to the Ibo cause.

Certainly in the first years of her reign Elizabeth did nothing to assist in a peaceful end of the Empire. But her defenders point to her playing a role in the longer run of accepting that it was going to happen and making it do so with a minimum of violence, not fully avoided of course, and a maximum of broader acceptance and tolerance. A crucial sign many point to was in 1961 the year before the majority of British colonies in Africa gained independence. She danced publicly with Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, which had gone out the door first in 1957. This symbolically set the course.

She famously never publicly questioned policy of any of her 15 prime ministers (she also had 14 US presidents, 13 of whom she met, all but Harry Truman). But one of the few moments there appeared to have been a hint of a disagreement involved the matter of sanctions against apartheid in South Africa in the early 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher was not enthusiastic and opposing supporting them. Somehow the Queen managed to get it out unofficially that she disagreed with Thatcher, which led to a major row with many criticizing her for going beyond her authority. But in the end she won, with her helping to push Thatcher to support the sanctions that in the end would help end apartheid, with her later meeting Nelson Mandela, who clearly appreciated her role in this world historical event, especially given the historical role of the British royal family's involvement with slavery in the past.

The change all this brought can be seen in Britain itself as well, where while there is certainly plenty of anti-immigrant sentiment and racism as there is in the US also, one finds the incoming Conservative government of Liz Truss, who models herself after Thatcher reportedly, having descendants of immigrants from former colonies holding the top three cabinet posts: Home, Exchequer, and Foreign Secretary.

One can criticize Elizabeth II for apparently never outright apologizing for any of the past, even as she bowed her head in certain locations where serious wrongs were done in the name of British rule as well as noting that indeed many people suffered in the past. According to Schama in his essay, her greatest single speech was one where she did this in Dublin in 2011, a speech she herself largely wrote against the wishes of many in her inner circle, in which she acknowledged the sufferings on all sides in Ireland in the past and supported the Good Friday Agrementof 13 years earlier that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This was all the more important and difficult given that in 1979 the IRA had assassinated Lord Mountbatter, uncle of her husband and her own second cousin. Schama declared that this speech "put a period" on those peacekeeping agreements.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Will The Iran Nuclear Deal Ever Get Reestablished?

 It keeps looking like it might, but then ne obstacles seem to appear. President Biden promised to undo what I have long argued was the worst foreign policy mistake made by Donald Trump. He should have just done it right after he took office, but he made a bunch of extra demands and the negotiations went nowhere. Then the moderate Rouhani government was replaced by the hardline Raisi one, something some of us like me forecasted would happen if he listened to these people who thought he should make demand about missiles and foreign groups, none of this going anywhere.

Anyway, there have been fresh rumors of a nearly done deal, but it seems to be stalled out now on two items.  One is US demanding Iran let IAEA inspect some sites. The other is Iran demanding Biden promise no future president will undo the deal the way Trump did. But he cannot promise that, or maybe he can promise it, but he cannot deliver it, and they should know that.

A further complication is thr Ukraine war, with Iran now supplying Russia with drones. This is not directly a part of the negotiation, but it is souring the atmosphere, although Russia is pushing for the deal to be cut.

Another complication is that the Iranian leaders think that Biden is desperate for the extra 2 mbpd of oil production and exports that would probably come out of Iran with an end to sanctions. But they may have not notieced that gasoline prices in the US have been steadily declininb for nearly three months. Not quite so desperate, and also burned by MBS, who gave him a miniscul 100,000 mbpd increase in production for that fist bump, now withdrawn on request of V.V. Puting because of the ongoing decline in oil prices.

Anyway, the JCPOA should have been revived long ago, but here we are, and unclear if it ever will be.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Where Will M.S. Gorbachev Be Buried?

 Mikhail Sergeivich Gorbachev died on the same day as our daughter Sasha's 33rd birthday. Sasha herself noted that if it were not for him she probably would not exist. It was ultimately Gorbachev who decided that the USSR would obey the Helsinki Accords rules on letting people get married and so on April 4, 1987 let my wife Marina leave Moscow for the US, the top story on CNN that evening. For that we are personally grateful to him and respect him, despite other things he did that one may not support.

Some people do not support, him, only 8% of the Russian population according to a poll taken in 2017. President Putin has announced that he will not receive a state funeral, perhaps justifiable given that the USSR no longer exists, although Putin has regularly claimed to possess the powers for Russia that the USSR had as a part of continuity. But in fact Putin has all but said this decision follows his claim that the breakup of the Soviet Union was "the worst event of the 20th century," and he has blamed Gorbachev for it happening, arguably not entirely unreasonably.

Of course, views of Gorbachev in the 14 nations that were formerly republics of the USSR before it broke apart are almost certainly much better than they are in Russia, although I have not seen specific polls on the matter.  As it is, Gorbachev himself did nor seek to break up the USSR, even as he failed to prevent its breakup and many of his actions aided in its breakup, a complicated matter that was also brought about by things out of his control, such as low world oil prices after 1986 that tanked the Soviet economy.

While some of those nations remain as dictatorial or even more so than they were in the Soviet period, such as Turkmenistan and Belarus, most of the former USSR now has much greater freedom and democracy than it did in the Soviet period, this true even in Russia with Putin's backsliding back towards the way things were, including overturning some of Gorbachev's greatest achievements, such as the 1987 treaty on intermediate nuclear arms, although it must be noted the US has gone along with that as well.

There is much about Gorbachev that many do not realize. He was always a good Communist and Leninist, praising Lenin as late as 2006. He was initially brought to Moscow by Yuri Andropov, who was a tough guy hardliner, but sought to reform the Soviet economic system so as to improve the Soviet military and overcome the stagnation of the late Brezhnev period (Brezhnev curiously now rising in popularity). When Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko provided the swing vote for him in the 4-3 Politburo election in 1985 that put him in power over Moscow Mayor Victor Grishin after Brezhnev sidekick Chernenko died, who had succeeded Andropov, Gromyko declared he did so because of Gorbachev' supposedly "sharp teeth." And until the disaster at Chernobyl, Gorbachev's policies looked a lot like what Andropov probably would have done, his anti-alcohol campaign and his "accelerationism" to catch up to the US economically within the Soviet model, which looked not to bad until oil prices collapsed.

After Chernobyl, Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika policies, along with democratization, in effect involved pursuing for the USSR an ideal of a form of "liberal communism." Many have argued that such an ideal was (and is) impossible. But we have seen Communist parties operate within democratic systems in a democratic way, as in the Eurocommunism of Italy and also in India, although it was never in charge of the national government in either of those nations. But the city of Bologna was long considered to be the best run city in Italy for decades in the post WW II era under Communist mayors, and the state of Kerala in India has also been held up as having some of the best socioeconomic outcomes of all states in India, again reflecting years of rule by the Communist Party. Of course, arguably, what one sees in such cases is really just social democracy like what one sees in the Scandinavian nations.

The fundamental problem for the USSR was that once democratization was allowed, this led to the demands for independence by many of the republics, and this ended up with the USSR falling apart. Arguably this was inevitable. WW I brought about the breakup and end of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, with the Russian one surviving out of the fluke of having the Bolshevik revolution.  But the long stagnation of the system that came out of that revolution inevitably set up that holdover of the Russian Empire to fall, even if Putin has been trying to undo that breakup.

A serious question is to what extent after Gorbachev lost power, and even to some extent before he did so, bad behavior by the US and other western powers undermined the chances of either the USSR or Russia having a successful economic and political transition to being prosperous and democratic nations.  Of course some of the former republics have managed it, with the Baltic states the most prominent examples, even as others are far from it such as Tajikistan. One area where the US probably blundered was in arming anti-Soviet Mujaheddin in Afghanistan with stingers and other more advanced weaponry once it became clear in 1986 that Gorbachev was planning to leave. This may have proven to be less important for Russia than for the US and the rest of the world with the subsequent strength of the Taliban, clearly evident in their return to power a year ago.

Besides some bad advice on economic policy in the early 1990s, probably the item Gorbachev himself has complained about the most, and in this has supported Putin at times, including as recently as late 2021, despite Putin mostly denouncing him, has been on the troubled matter of the expansion of NATO eastward. Gorbachev apparently believed that George H.W. Bush promised no such eastward expansion at the time of the 1990 reunification of Germany, although defenders of Bush note that the promise then made was specifically about no NATO troops in the former East Germany, which has apparently been kept. The Warsaw Pact still existed at that time, as did the USSR, and the idea that Poland or Estonia might be joining NATO seemed an absurdity. While indeed US neocons have pushed for NATO to expand eastward, the fundamental push for that came from the nations who wanted to join after indeed the Warsaw Pact and USSR did break up. The US resisted for some time the requests for it coming from Poland and the Baltic states. Perhaps George W. Bush should not have suggested that Ukraine and Georgia could join, which clearly aggravated Putin big time. But when Putin invaded Ukraine this year, it was not at all on the verge of joining NATO, and his invasion has led Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

Which brings us to the matter of a burial place for Gorbachev, with where somebody is buried a very big deal in Russia. We can see it with Stalin, who initially was put in the mausoleum on Red Square with Lenin. Then in 1956 after Khrushchev made his speech denouncing Stalin he got moved to some obscure location. Then later Brezhnev partially rehabilitated him by putting him in the row behind Lenin's mausoleum with a bust, along with people like Brezhnev himself and Andropov. The nest layer of the hierarchy down from that was being in the Kremlin wall itself, where people like Yuri Gagarin and John Reed are.

Now nobody is buried there, and the most prestigious cemetery is behind the Novodevichy monastery, where in fact Khrushchev is buried along with many famous Russian and Soviet cultural and scientific figures are buried.  Russian playwright Chekhov is there as is the Soviet aircraft designer Tupolev. Many of the graves are quite picturesque. Among those buried there is Gorbachev's wife, Raisa, who died in 1999, with some more recent Russian political figures getting themselves buried near there.  There is a pretty impressive statue over her grave, which happens to be just in front of where my wife's maternal grandparents are buried. 

So, the obvious place for Gorbachev to be buried is next to Raisa in the Novodevichy cemetery. But there is not enough room there for another monument, and more seriously, if Putin really wants to diss him, well, that is the most prestigious cemetery, and if he will not give Gorbachev a state funeral, he may not want to bury him in such a prestigious place.  We shall have to see just how down on Gorbachev Putin is, and where Gorbachev gets buried will be a substantial signal.

Addendum, 9/1/22: Apparently the memorial service for Gorbachev will be held tomorrow in the Pillar Hall of the former Soviet House of Unions the Tverskoye district of Moscow. Putin will not attend. Gorbachev supported the invasion and annexation of Crimea, but is reported to have opposed the current "special operation" in Ukraine, doing so in an interview on July 22 with Andrey Veneditkov.

Another addendum, 9/2: While he allowed cooperatives and foreign companies such as McDonald's, which opened its famous outlet on Pushkin Square in Moscow while Gorbachev was still in power, he did not substantially alter or undo the existing command socialist system of the USSR or decontrol prices. So, it continued dominating the economy with its problems until the end of the USSR at the end of 1991.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Will the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) Reduce Intlation?

 Probably not, but it also will probably not increase it either. This is the judgment of the Congressional Budget Office and also the Penn Wharton Budget Model, as well as libertarian economist Tyler Cowen of George Mason, who is critical of much of its content.  It has inflationary and disinflationary elements, and it looks that they about balance out, although in the longer run it is hard to know.

The obvious immediate issue is its impact from its aggregate character.  So it increases spending on various things, although some of its health parts should lead to lower spending in the future.  But it also increases taxes on corporations and through its funding of the IRS should lead to greater tax collections from wealthy individuals. Indeed, it is projected to lower the budget deficit. These elements are clearly offsetting to some extent.

In terms of its components, the most important are probably those related to climate.  Certainly the subsidies for moving off fossil fuels are inflationary in the short run.  But reducing external costs from global warming, as well as encouraging the development of more efficient clean technologies should be disinflationary in the longer run. This is not so clear cut.

Then we have the health front. Here it seems to be mostly disinflationary.  Besides caps on how much people must pay for certain things, probably the most important item is allowing Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices. This is something that should have been done long ago, especially given how high medical care costs are in the US.

I note that while many are pleased with the contents of the IRA, on many fronts it is much more limited than widely known. Thus it subsidizes electric cars only if they are fully produced in the US, this applying to only about 30 percent of them.  Also, apparently Medicare can negotiate with drug companies about only 10 drugs.  Obviously this law could have gone much further than it does.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Are Supporter Of Putin's Invasion Of Ukraine Suffering From A Neo-McCarthyism?

 Recently I have seen claims made on some blogs that those who support the invasion of Ukraine by Russia under orders of its president, V.V. Putin, are experiencing suppression and discrimination that resembles the McCarthyism of the late 1940s and early 1950s in the US. This is also supposedly applying not only to those who fully support the invasion, but also to those who merely oppose the US assisting Ukraine in resisting the invasion, with the US supposedly not justified in doing so because of all its own past bad behaviors from the War in Vietnam to the invasion of Iraq, to its supposed expanding NATO with a goal of supposedly adding Ukraine to that alliance.

It is certainly true that feelings are running high on this issue, and many who make these arguments are getting very strong pushback and even perfervid denunciations of their morality, much less their logic.  However, there are circles, especially among some of the stronger followers of Donald Trump, including quite a few GOP members of Congress, where such views are accepted and supported to varying degrees. But the question must be faced, not in terms of some whataboutism regarding past bad US behaviors in foreign affairs of which there have been many. But rather more directly this matter of a possible neo-McCarthyism.  Are at least some of those taking the side of Putin suffering egregiously for their views in ways that resemble the old McCarthyism? At least one similarity is that those who suffered under the old McCarthyism were accused of being pro-Soviet/Russian, and those supposedly suffering now are also accused of being pro-Russian, if not necessarily pro-Soviet.

I think, however, that if one goes back to look at what was involved in the old McCarthyism, what is going on now does not live up to the awfulness of that period. People suffered substantially more back then who faced accusations than do those now who are being criticized for supporting the invasion.

We must first recognize that McCarthyism, per se, what came about due to the activities of the late Senator Joseph McCarthy (WI-R) were a special subset appearing a few years after the initiation of a broader phenomenon. This was the general development of an intense anti-Soviet communism in the late 1940a in connection with the beginning of the Cold War between the US and USSR after the ending of their WW II alliance against the Axis powers. This initially came out of the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC) along with the FBI, with Sen. McCarthy only getting in on the action in the early 1950s, although the dramatic nature of his activities became the driving force of the movement and basically took it over and drove it once he got going.

The initial HUAC hearings emphasized the matter of outright spying by alleged Soviet agents, this not having been viewed as much of a problem during the WW II alliance.  One of the most (in)famous cases was that of Alger Hiss of the State Department, with Richard Nixon initiating his national political career by going after Hiss.  At the time, most on the liberal/left viewed Hiss as innocent and Nixon as nasty bad guy.  Well, Nixon was a nasty bad guy, but it turns out that almost certainly Hiss really was a Soviet agent, this becoming clear after the declassification of the Venona transcripts in the 1980s. These were decryptions of Soviet messages sent during WW II that were made by the Army Signals Intelligence Service, a predecessor to the National Security Agency (NSA).

Another case from that period, which was aggravated during the McCarthy period, involved Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They were convicted and executed for being "atom spies." As with Hiss, many defended them and argued and believed they were innocent. This included their two sons, one of whom I know and received a PhD in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison when I did, Michael Meeropol. He and his older brother, Robert, had to face that indeed their father was an atom spy for the Soviets once the Venona transcripts came out, although how important a spy hw was remains a matter of debate. But it remains clear that their mother was wrongly convicted, with her brother, David Greenglass, falsely testifying against her, claiming she typed materials for Julius that were typed by Greenglass's wife.  Many years later, Greenglass admitted doing this, saying, "you do not sleep with your sister." At most Ethel was aware to some extent of what her husband was doing, but it now appears she was not actively involved in it at all.

That they were convicted at the height of full McCarthyism in the early 1950s is certainly responsible for that they ended up being executed, not simply jailed.  Much more serious atom spy, Klaus Fuchs, was jailed and then traded sometime later to the Soviets, dying in East Germany eventually. It is not just that Ethel was outright innocent almost certainly, and they should not have been executed, but their execution was a botch, especially that of Ethel, one of those electrocutions that went awry and on and on in a horrible way. This was a horrible travesty, and their sons are fully justified in continuing to call for undoing the conviction of their late mother.

Another case that came out of HUAC before McCarthy got going involved the Hollywood Ten. They were not accused of spying for the Soviets, but it was viewed that as Communists, or "comsymps" close to Communists, they represented a noxious cultural influence that should be suppressed.  They ended up being blacklisted and prevented from working in Hollywood for an extended period, although eventually most of them would come to be rehabilitated.  We must note that at this time it became illegal to actually belong to the US Communist Party, although there was no obvious reason why that should be the case. Spying for a foreign power is one thing, but simply belonging to a party or saying things that people do not like is quite another. But this set the model that McCarthy would follow later: those accused of being Communists or comsymps would lose their jobs and otherwise be prevented from expressing themselves. I note that a major informant for HUAC in the Hollywood Ten case was Ronald Reagan.

McCarthy added some particularly obnoxious elements to all this, along with a much heightened publicity to all of it, with the atmosphere worsened during the Korean War of the early 1950s. Another element he added was outright falsification, accusing people who were not at all Communists or even particularly friendly to communism, some of them outright anti-communists, but who somehow or other knew or were associated with somebody who supposedly was.  His falsifications began with the event that first got him a lot of publicity, a speech he gave in West Virginia in which he claimed to have a piece of paper in his pocket with 44 names of Soviet agents in the State Department. He had no such list, and beyond Hiss only two more people there would be found to have been such spies.

In any case, McCarthy held long hearings in his Senate committee, making regular accusations against all sorts of people, with many of them indeed losing their jobs and otherwise facing ostracism and broader mistreatment. This was bad enough against people who merely held leftist views, but it extended to people who did not even do so.  Many suffered during this period until McCarthy was stopped and denounced by his fellow senators. He went to far when he went after the US Army.

So is what is going on now with those who support Putin's invasion equivalent to what I have just described? I do not think so. I am unaware of any of the defenders of Putin losing their jobs for doing so. I am unaware of any of them being prevented from expressing their views, although there may be some venues that have refused to publish or allow them to express them.  And within some circles they are receiving praise. They are simply not facing anything remotely resembling what happened back then.

Now there are people who are arguably suffering unreasonably at this time for all this. This is ethnic Russians, especially in the arts, who have been disallowed from performing and removed from positions, symphony conductors, musical peformers, and the like, although some prominent Russian sports figures seem to have escaped losing their positions.  One can argue that maybe those supporting the invasion deserve to lose their positions, but in some cases this has happened to ones who have publicly criticized the invasion.  Not enough.

A prominent example is Anna Netrebko, considerd by many to be the leading opera soprano in the world at the present time.  She is actually an ethnic Moldovan, not a Russian, but she first became famous performing in Russian opera companies. Furthermore, V.V. Putin himself is known to have been a great fan of hers. Nevertheless, she criticized the invasion after it happened. But that was not enough, and she has been effectively banned from performing in western opera performances, which leaves her in a full limbo as she is now also unable to perform in Russia.

I find this development to be unfortunate. But rather than McCarthyism, what it resembles is the anti-German hysteria that swept both US nd UK during WW I. That led to many families and organizations to Anglicize their German names to avoid persecution. Probably the most prominent such family was the Battenbergs in Britain who became the Mountbattens, the family of the late Prince Philip.

Barkley Rosser