Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Again One Of The Top 100 Economics Blogs

 I note that on 1/19/22 The Intelligent Economist released its annual list of the top 100 economics blogs.  Both Econospeak and Angry Bear, which we feed into, are on the list, us again as one of the financial economics blogs while AB is in the general economics section.  They again say we are not for beginners due to the "complexity" of things we post and talk about.

Barkley Rosser

Monday, January 24, 2022

The Arctic Hare and Walter Benjamin's program for a proletarian children's theater

The hare was a child so badly treated and offended by the other people because he had such long ears that he went off to live alone.

When he sees someone, he puts his ears back; for when he hears a man's call, he thinks they are talking about his long ears. He doesn't have a tail because he didn't have one before.

Whither Kazakhstan?

 Should I not be posting on the ongoing threat by Putin against Ukraine that is current dominating the news? Nobody is talking about Kazakhstan.  Yes, that is right, which means maybe somebody should, if just to sort of check up on what was The Big Crisis very recently.

So indeed it looks that the uprising that cost quite a few lives and resulted in a lot of damage is completely over, along with having several thousand people get arrested.  The Putin people are all praising him for bringing it to and end by sending in a couple of thousand troops that guarded a few buildings not under attack. But it looks that the Kazakhani security forces pretty much put the uprising down themselves prior to any of those forces arriving.  Crucial was the "shoot to kill" order put out by President Tokayev, which was carried out, with several hundred dead in the end.

One loose end is what really caused this and was there a major role by outsiders? The latter was claimed by the Kazakhstani government, but their only "evidence" of this was a completely goofball story about a jazz musician who entered Kazakhstan from Tajikistan. There have been vague reports that the CIA was training people in the countryside who poured into the cities, especially Almaty, and caused the worst trouble.  It does seem that indeed people did come in from the countryside, but nobody has provided any evidence of this supposed training.

The hard fact is that it seems nobody was expecting this or even vaguely predicting it. The widespread view was that the place was one of the more competently run former Soviet republics, despite lots of corruption and inequality. But most of them have that.  Its real per capita income had risen more rapidly than in almost all others, and it had risen in the ranking of these with each other.  It looked well off and stable. What happened?

I think this may have been an example of the "revolution of rising expectations," that we sometimes see upheavals in places where things are improving because people have hopes of them improving a lot more and demand it.  This really does look like a spontaneous outbreak against this entrenched corrupton and inequality that spread suddenly, but then after getting pretty fierce, was fairly easily put down, being spontaneous and not well organized.

What does seem to have come out of it is that Tokayev has cemented his power, especially against former president and "Father of the Nation," Nursultan Nazarbaev. The latter was removed from his position as leading the National Security Council, and the security chief, Kassimov, an ethnic Uighur, was removed from his position and arrested, with him reportedly a close ally of Nazarbaev. The premier was also replaced, and the security forces are being reorganized.  It is probably the case that the real import of Putin sending some forces, now reportedly being removed, is that he signaled his support for Tokayev in this power struggle, with Tokayev apparently having attending the KGB higher academy for a while during the Soviet period.

The most recent development is that after disappearing for awhile, Nazarbaev has resurfaed. He has publicly denied that there was a power struggle or any differences.  But it looks that he is accepting his loss of position and allies.  He has been around and knows what he needs to say to preserve what he can of his standing and power.

Oh, on the Ukraine matter, I do not know what will happen, but here is an action Putin can probably get away with without getting sanctions imposed on him, but that will also allow him to save face, given that the US and NATO will not meet his demands.  He can recognize the independence of the Luhanks and Donetsk separatist republics, something he has also done for South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Transdniestria, even though nobody else has recognized them. He can also supply them with a lot more arms and maybe some deniable green men to allow them to expand their territory of control somewhat in a couple of places, with an obvious one to have them retake the Sea of Azov port they briefly held of Mariupol.  Probably Putin can get away with these moves, which will provide him with face.

Barkley Rosser

Sunday, January 23, 2022

How intelligence was distributed among the animals

Illustration by Tom Seidmann-Freud
In the beginning, none of the animals was endowed with intelligence. When they saw a hunter coming towards them who wanted to kill them, they stopped, looked at him and were shot. So our Lord sent someone who put all the senses in a sack and put it under a big tree. The weasel noticed this, ran to the hare, told him about it and said: "Brother hare, let's go there, and if you want to take the sack, I'll give you good advice." 

When the hare tried to carry the sack, he could not lift it and went away. The weasel tried again a second time, but the sack was too heavy. Then a dove, perched on a branch and said, "hand it over." Instead, the weasel dragged the sack away and leaned it against a tree. Then he picked it up and carried it home. When he got the sack home, he opened it and saw there was nothing inside but mind. He went to the hare to tell him about the sack and told him, "don't tell the other animals about it; I will give you a little understanding, but keep the rest in my cave. If anything else comes along, I'll give him a little too." 

So the hare got some of the mind, and the weasel told him, "if you take your share with you, note the following: if you sleep during the day, open your eyes. If someone comes and thinks you would be a good bite for him to eat, he will think you are awake and go away again. But if you lie down and do not sleep, close your eyes. If someone sneaks up and wants to grab you, jump up and run into the forest. That much sense is enough for you." 

The weasel kept all the rest for himself and surpasses all the animals of the field in intelligence. If someone wants to catch him, he jumps into his cave. If you dig open the cave, he escapes from behind. That's why he's called the king of the mind. Little intelligence was distributed among the other animals and they have nothing more to this day.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

A Flip In Oil Markets

 A long time ago, sometime before the 2008 crash, prices of Brent crude oil and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude ran close to each other.  WTI would from time to time would exceed Brent, with them kind of bouncing around as they moved along. This changed with the financial market crash of 2008, with Brent becoming chronically higher than WTI, nearly always by several dollars per barrel. For various reasons arbitrage did not operate fully to bring those prices back together again.

But today for the first time in well over a decade it happened.  The Brent price declined while WTI did not, with WTI at $86.90 per barrel with Brent at $86.79. I am not sure what has brought this about or how long it will last, but this is something we have not seen this for a long time.

Barkley Rosser


 An article about me and my wife, Marina, has just come out at the cover story at Madison Magazine, the alumni magazine of James Madison University, where I work.



Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Fight for 15!!

 Tyler Cowen links to a an NBER working paper with an excerpt from the paper:

 “Under only the efficiency channel, the optimal minimum wage is narrowly around $8, robust to social welfare weights, and generates small welfare gains that recover only 2 percent of the efficiency losses from monopsony power.

 A measly $8 ?  So much for the "efficiency" channel. What are the other channels? Here is the abstract:

It has long been argued that a minimum wage could alleviate efficiency losses from monopsony power. In a general equilibrium framework that quantitatively replicates results from recent empirical studies, we find higher minimum wages can improve welfare, but most welfare gains stem from redistribution rather than efficiency. Our model features oligopsonistic labor markets with heterogeneous workers and firms and yields analytical expressions that characterize the mechanisms by which minimum wages can improve efficiency, and how these deteriorate at higher minimum wages. We provide a method to separate welfare gains into two channels: efficiency and redistribution. Under both channels and Utilitarian social welfare weights the optimal minimum wage is $15, but alternative weights can rationalize anything from $0 to $31. Under only the efficiency channel, the optimal minimum wage is narrowly around $8, robust to social welfare weights, and generates small welfare gains that recover only 2 percent of the efficiency losses from monopsony power.

So, we need a $15 minimum to maximize the welfare benefits when we take both channels of welfare gains, the efficiency and redistribution effects, into account.

What bothers me about Tyler's selective quoting is that utilitarian arguments for redistribution are about efficiency. They are arguments that a redistribution of income can increase overall utility. I know, I know: Pareto. We're not allowed to make anybody worse off. But why do we defer to Pareto on efficiency? Someone who hadn't been brainwashed with the Paretian stuff would not see much of a difference in kind between situations where redistributing, say, labor would increase overall production  and one in which redistributing income would increase overall happiness. Both are inefficient, arguably.

And, on an ad hominem note, Pareto was a fascist!

Fight for $15!

( The paper is NBER working paper #29662, by David Berger, Kyle Herkenhoff and Simon Mongey)

Monday, January 17, 2022

"I shall Defend The Rights Of Parents"

This is what new Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin said when he made an executive order on the first day of his term to ban school systems from having mask mandates. Some systems will not go along, including that in Arlington and mine in the city of Harrisonburg. He claims to be defending the rights of parents, somehow not noting that he is violating the rights of parents who do not want their children be forced to be in school with unmasked children, thus raising their chances of getting Covid-19.

He also ended the mandate that all state workers be vaccinated. This affects me personally. Indeed, a message has come from the president of my university, which is a VA state one, that there is now no vaccine mandate. My own safety will now be compromised, thanks to our new governor.

Of course he has gone on Fox News to brag about this handiwork of his.  Will he be running for president as some suspect in 2024?

Barkley Rosser

In Defense of National Federation of Independent Business v. Department of Labor*

On January 13, the US Supreme Court, by a vote of 6-3, blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate.  The policy took the form of an emergency OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standard and would have required all firms with more than 100 workers to mandate vaccination or a testing regime as a condition for remaining employed.  The conservative majority on the court argued that this measure was too far from the original intent of the law to warrant the deference that is normally given to administrative flexibility.

Quite aside from the practical significance of the standard, which I’ll get back to, I think the court was right.  The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which created the OSHA administrative apparatus, was centered on protecting workers.  It was not intended to be a general purpose vehicle for advancing public health across the entire population.

Why do I think the emergency Covid standard wasn’t primarily about workers?  It did take the form of an employer mandate, after all.  The reason is that workers have been exposed to many risk factors from the virus with far greater impact than the vaccine status of their colleagues, and the Biden administration expressly refused to take any protective action.

Poor ventilation in the workplace is extremely hazardous.  A requirement to be masked in indoor settings and the provision of high quality masks would fit perfectly into the existing regulatory framework regarding personal protective equipment.  Redesigning workplaces to reduce crowding would be a big step, as would regular testing of everyone at employer expense.  Finally, a paid leave policy, while arguably a big step beyond traditional health and safety regulation, would have an immense impact on worker exposure to the virus.

In fact, a wide-ranging emergency standard with many of these provisions was drawn up early last year, but the Biden administration refused to adopt it.  Instead, it issued a standard only for health care workers and left everyone else unprotected.  Not surprisingly, the Supremes did endorse a vaccine mandate for this subset of the labor force: the administrative decision to protect health care workers against multiple Covid risk factors made it more difficult to argue that the additional protection afforded by a vaccine mandate was beyond the reach of the law.

By its own actions, the Biden administration has made it clear it has no intention of protecting workers as workers from avoidable pandemic risks.  Its vaccine mandate was intended to apply to workers as available components of the general public, and insofar as this is true, it is beyond the intended scope of the OSH Act.

This is supported by the practical effect of striking down the standard.  It will presumably lead to less vaccination and testing.  But vaccination status has little effect against infectiousness with the dominance of the Omicron variant, and the testing regime proposed in the standard was too weak to prevent a tsunami of false negatives.  The only consequential outcome will be that there will be a higher percentage of cases that result in hospitalization, ICU usage and death.  That is terrible, but its social cost is at a population level (strain on the medical system, social disruption), not on workers as workers.

I think, despite its limitations, the vaccine-or-test standard would have been on better constitutional footing if the administration had also adopted a broader set of workforce protections for all workers as it had for health care workers.  On a practical level, masking, testing, ventilation and paid leave as general workforce mandates would have had a far larger impact on the course of the pandemic.

In writing this I am not endorsing all the language of the majority, much less the fraction that issued a concurring opinion that would have greatly widened the precedential effect of the decision.  There are some weird attitudes on that bench.  But the central logic strikes me as correct.

*I would have like to italicize the case name in the header, but Blogger doesn't seem to allow me any way to do this.  If someone can point out a workaround, I'd appreciate it.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Is The Downward Sloping Phillips Curve Back?

 Maybe. We have gotten so used to the idea that to the extent it is even meaningful it is flat at inflation rate of 2%, nobody talks about the old textbook Phillips Curve that slopes down.  But there is some evidence that out of all these pandemic upheavals it may be back, at least for awhile. If this is the case then indeed there may be a tradeoff, and the higher inflation the US is experiencing may be due partly to strong fiscal and monetary stimulus, with that also bringing about higher growth and lower unemployment, the latter somehow not getting noticed by much of the media in all the moaning and wailing about inflation.

A possible simple measure of all this might be to compare the US and the EU. So as of the first Economist of the year, the US had an inflation rate of 6.8% last year while the EU had one of 4.9%. The US had a GDP growth rate of 4.3% while the EU was at 3.3%. And on unemploiyment, the US had a 4.2% rate versus EU at 7.3%.

The most recent annual numbers for the US seem to push this even more, with inflation at 7.0% and the unemployment rate down further to 3.9%. I do recognize that the advantage of US on unemployment is exaggerated in that many European nations have done better on labor force participation than has the US.

I also note that part of the higher inflation we are seeing does reflect global supply chain problems associated with the pandemic. The EU rate of inflation, higher than in the past, is a good sign of that. So maybe whatever higher inflation we see in the US is due to US policies might be that extra 2% the US has.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Yet another one of those Matadors

 Adorno's metaphor of the "matadors of the culture industry" didn't fall out of the sky. Nearly four decades earlier -- sometime between 1931 and 1933 -- he had written several short pieces, one of which was titled "Applause." 

I came across mention of it when I was looking to see if Susan Buck-Morss had anything to say about pseudo-activity in her The Origin of Negative Dialectics. I didn't find anything on pseudo-activity there but her quote from "Applause" seemed to tie right in to the matador motif, especially the part about applause possibly referencing, "the ancient, long-forgotten sacrificial ritual. Perhaps we might surmise, men and women once thus clapped hands when priests slaughtered sacrificial animals."

My hunch hit a bullseye. The matador makes his entrance in the fourth paragraph of "Applause": 

It is the virtuoso above all who merits our applause, because it is he who most clearly preserves the features of the priest performing a sacrifice.... Like the matador, who even today dedicates the bull to a saint or ruler before entering into combat, the virtuoso slaughters the piece of music in the name of the spellbound community as an act of atonement.

The theme of ritual sacrifice and the renunciation of ritual sacrifice plays a major role in Adorno and Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment. Coincidentally -- or not -- the essay (from 1955) immediately preceding the fragment on "Applause" in a collection of Adorno's writing on music is a panegyric to Bizet's Carmen. The short piece following "Applause" also mentions, in passing, "the wild excitement of the bullfight."

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

One of those Matadors of the Culture Industry

When Theodor Adorno referred to "one of those matadors of the culture industry," in his "Free Time" radio lecture, he was presumably referring to the idols of stage, screen, television, or recording studio who are the staples of the supermarket tabloid personality cult.

Oddly, though, his construction of the paragraph leaves open the interpretation that Adorno himself is "one of those  matadors" and the "culture industry" is the bull he is fighting. After all, he and Horkheimer coined "the culture industry" more than 20 years earlier.

The above repeats part of what was in my earlier post on Politics as a Hobby*. This post adds a photomontage of Adorno in a matador costume.

Monday, January 10, 2022

The Central Asian Alphabet Issue

 It remains too soon to comment in detail on the current upheaval in Kazakhstan as it is simply impossible to figure out what is happening, with multiple conflicting accounts and claims coming from many sources. Rather I want to comment on a deeper question that has been brought up in connection with this, although not central to it, but one that affects Kazakhstan's Central Asian neighbors as well: what alphabet should they use? This is something that is an ongoing issue in several of these nations with changes happening.

Prior to 1928 all of what are now the five Central Asian nations that used to be republics of the USSR: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan used some variation of the Arabid alphabet, with Russia conquering the Samarkand and Bukhara khanates only in the late 1800s. This reflected the dominance of Sunni Islam in all these territories culturally and politically. This area was not even part of the USSR when it was first declared on Dec. 30, 1922, having a vague status while nominally under Bolshevik control, but ransacked starting in the 1920s and through most of the 1930s by traditionalist rebels known as Basmachi, a word that actually means "bandits." 

Only in 1928 with Stalin's coming to supreme power in the USSR did the efforts to "modernize" and integrate into the USSR more formally begin in Central Asia. Part of this effort involved eliminating the use of the Arabic alphabet, with initially the Latin alphabet being introduced. This reflected the local ongoing modernization movement associated with pan-Turkism (a part of a broader movement known as pan-Turanism), which sought to unify all the Turkic speaking people under a single political entity, with the push to adopt the Latin alphabet coming out of Turkey, where Kemal Ataturk had replaced the Arabic alphabet with the Latin one as part of a Europeanizing secular modernism. That this movement had spread to Turkic speaking parts of Central Asia made it easier to push it through to adoption (note that in Tajikistan they speak an Iranian-related language, not a Turkic one).

Given this connection with the pan-Turkic movement it is not surprising that eventually Stalin became frustrated with this and wanted a greater national unity within the USSR. So in 1940 he imposed the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russia on all the Central Asian republics. At both times there was resistance to the alphabet change, with this even erupting into violence at certain points. Curiously the first place I read about this was in Thomas Pynchon's novel, Gravity's Rainbow, where there is much discussion of aspects of ethnicities and their issues and movement during WW II.

One might have thought that given how long it had been in place there would be no further changes. But with the fall of the USSR at the end of 1991 and the Central Asian republics becoming independent nations, the issue reappeared, with indeed each alphabet having its own symbolic as well as practical implications. Clearly maintaining Cyrillic implied remaining reasonably closely tied to Russia in various ways, economically and politically. Rising Islamic fundamentalist movements urged a return to Arabic, although that has not happened in any of these five nations, with only Tajikistan having such a movement being sufficiently strong that there has been any serious push for that to happen. The main rival has been the Latin alphabet, offering both a return to links with Turkey, but also with the West, especially the US, but also to some extent an opening to China, where there is much more knowledge and use of the Latin alphabet than the Cyrillic. 

Two of these five nations have retained Cyrillic with only minor pushes to change, the two smallest: Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which despite much economic influence now coming from China remain strongly linked to Russia and part of its Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which has sent in troops to Kazakhstan, also a member (the other members are Russia, Belarus, and Armenia). I do note that while it remains a part of the CSTO, Kyrgyzstan is the only one of these five to have actually had more or less democratic governments for periods of time since 1991.

Curiously the one that first changed to Latin and has stuck with it almost immediately with independence was Turkmenistan. This is the most isolated of these states, indeed of the former Soviet republics. It is a strict dictatorship run as a personality cult and has stayed out of all alliances, although it does belong to the UN. It is the third largest in size in both population and land area. It manages to maintain its isolated independence due to having major natural gas supplies by the Caspian Sea, exports of which have kept Turkmenistan from needing economic assistance from any outsiders.

The largest in population and second in land area is Uzbekistan, which was long ruled by its former Soviet Communist Party Chief, Islam Karimov, who died in 2016 to be replaced by Shakvat Mirziyoyev. The Karimov regime was probably second only to Belarus in maintaining something close to the old Soviet economic system, with Karimov as a full dictator. Since his death his successor has introduced various market reforms, but not much in the way of political liberalization. But Karimov made a move with independence to adopt the Latin alphabet. But this has not been completed and both Latin and Cyrillic are used, although there has been a long run trend to full adoption of the Latin alphabet. it is ironic that while Karimov followed the Soviet economic model, he sought to remain more independent of Russia than say Belarus. But the alphabet issue remains live and not fully resolved.

Which brings us to the now troubled Kazakhstan. I note that almost nobody was predicting any kind of political upheaval there. It was one of the few former republics that moved up in its ranking among them on real per capita income, with Kazakhstan long a major exporter of oil and natural gas. Like Uzbekistan it was ruled by its last Soviet Communist Party Chief, Nursultan Nazarbaev, now aged 81. There was lots of corruption and political repression, but that is true in the other Central Asian nations, and Kazakhstan seemed to be doing better than them, with Nazarbaev making deals with both the US and China, while maintaining a primary and close relationship with Russia, not only by being in the CSTO but hosting Russia's space base at Baikonur and with Russian troops helping to protect its oil wells in its southwestern areas near the Caspian Sea (second in population in the region, it is the largest in land area and the second largest of the former Soviet republics, with its eastern boundary on the Xinjiang province of China, and it having a Uighur minority population). Kazakhstan has long had a diverse population, with about a quarte being Slavic, mostly Russian, with many of those moving into northern Kazakhstan in the early 1960s as part of Khrushchev's Virgin Lands program. But up until now conflicts between the many groups there have not been a problem.

Regarding the alphabet issue, it long continued to use the Cyrillic alphabet. But then in 2017, the current president, Kossym-Jormat Tokayev, who attended a KGB higher academy in the Soviet era and has served as ambassador to both China and the UN, convinced Nazarbaev to make the switch to the Latin alphabet from the Cyrillic one. At the time Russian President Putin expressed unhappiness about this move, which may have had more to do with China than the US, with a major railroad part of China's Belt and Road Initiative goes through Kazakhstan. Nazarbaev hand selected Tokayev to succeed him as president in 2019, with Nazarbaev moving "upstairs" to be Chair of the National Security Council. In the face of the current upheavals, Tokayev has removed Nazarbaev from his position.

In any case, the Russian propaganda outlet RT has claimed that Putin has demanded as a condition to send troops in Tokayev should recognize the Russian annexation of Crimea and also readopt the Cyrillic alphabet. It seems that Putin has not insisted on this and has sent troops in even without this change. But this is a sign that this remains an important issue for Putin, and we may yet see pressure on Kazakhstan to revert alphabetically.

Barkley Rosser

Politics as a Hobby*

In a radio lecture he gave two and a half months before he died in 1969, Theodor Adorno explored the paradox that people do not know what to do with their free time and thus no longer even like it because "[t]hat state of freedom has been refused them and disparaged for so long." People are generally more familiar with the Kris Kristofferson / Fred Foster version of the same idea from their song "Me and Bobby MeGee":

Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose
Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free

Roger Miller recorded "Me and Bobby McGee" on May 16, 1969. Adorno gave his radio lecture, "Freizeit: Zeit der Freiheit? Leben als Konterbande" on Deutschland-funk (Radio Germany), nine days later.

In his radio lecture, Adorno illustrated the problem of free time with "a trivial personal experience."

Time and again in interviews and questionnaires one is asked what one has for a hobby*. Whenever the illustrated newspapers report about one of those matadors of the culture industry—whereby talking about such people in turn constitutes one of the chief activities of the culture industry—then only seldom do the papers miss the opportunity to tell something more or less homely about the hobbies* of the people in question. I am startled by the question whenever I meet with it. I have no hobby*.

The asterisk after the word "hobby*" indicated that it appeared in English in the original transcript. Whether or not it was Adorno's intention, the appearance of expressions like "hobby*" and "do-it-yourself*" in English has the effect of rusticating them as "Amurican" dialect. 

Teddy Adorno takes a selfie

Aside from slyly implicating himself as "one of those matadors of the culture industry"—along with Horkheimer, he had introduced the concept of the culture industry more than twenty years previously—Adorno took the occasion of his astonishment at the question about hobbies* to affirm the distinct seriousness of both his professional and his leisure time activities. It is easy to be amused or repelled by Adorno's apparent snobbery. But the uncomfortable fact is that it is virtually impossible to write about the inescapable grip of non-labour time mediated by socially necessary labour time without pretending to oneself that one has somehow, against all odds, escaped from it.

The hobby* encapsulates the irony that in a society where labour is treated as a commodity and thus the person who performs it becomes alienated from her own activity, the rigid separation between work and free time requires that leisure also be "organized according to the system of profit." Free time becomes "the unmediated continuation of labor as its shadow." The "leisure industry" insures that free time is organized primarily as time for the consumption of commodities—camping gear, tourism, professional sports and entertainment spectacles, and so on. 

The hobby*, Adorno maintains, is a pseudo-activity that surreptitiously smuggles into free time, "the contraband of behavioral mores from work." Typically, the objects people produce during their do-it-yourself* hobbies* are of inferior quality to those produced through the specialized division of labour. What people make in their spare time "has something superfluous about it" because the "lack of imagination that is instilled and inculcated by society renders people helpless in their free time."

Of course, one can readily point out exceptions where imagination and creativity emerge from unexpected outposts. Those exceptions are notable, however, because they are exceptions. But the publicity given to the exceptions makes it seem as if anyone can do it.

Adorno addressed politics in passing toward the conclusion of his lecture, remarking that do-it-yourself* activity is a type of a more extensive pseudo-activity, which is "misguided spontaneity." Without specifying the source, he alluded to having addressed pseudo-activity "more than thirty years ago." A little digging suggests his infamous 1938 essay, "On the fetish character in music and the regression in listening," in which he lambasted jazz music and listeners as infantile. One trembles to imagine what he would have said about Janis Joplin.

In his radio lecture on "Free Time," though, he laments that, "pseudo-activity has expanded to an alarming degree, even, and especially, among those people who believe that they are protesting against society." One month before his radio address, Adorno had been confronted at a public lecture over his calling the police a few weeks earlier to evict students occupying the Institut für Sozialforschung.

Adorno went into more detail on the political implications of pseudo-activity in "Marginalia to theory and practice," written in 1969 and unpublished during his lifetime. In a letter to Herbert Marcuse, dated May 5, 1969, he mentioned that he was "working on theses that deal with... the relation between theory and practice," in connection with the student protests. The remarks on pseudo-activity in the theory and practice essay can thus be read as a continuation and expansion on the brief mention of pseudo-activity in his radio lecture.

Adorno's "Marginalia" essay is almost entirely concerned with criticism of the German student movement "actionism" that confronted him in 1969. There is a whiff of straw man in Adorno's caricature of the student movement. He enlists a canon-load of eminent names—Kant, Hegel, Fichte, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Weber, Plato, Aristotle, etc. etc.—to refute the anti-theoretical posture of the student movement while relying on a single anecdote about a graffiti incident to represent the entirety of student movement thought about the relationship between theory and praxis:

When a student’s room was smashed because he preferred to work rather than join in actions, on the wall was scrawled: "Whoever occupies himself with theory, without acting practically, is a traitor to socialism."

What Adorno elides in his characterization of the German student movement is that there were conflicts within the student movements. Some of its participants were his own students and followers. One of them, Detlev Claussen, shared an apartment with the student whose room was vandalized: 

This action was conducted by one of the most theory-hostile groups within the student movement. In fact, I also resided in said apartment, and that was not a coincidence! It was the so-called "leather jacket faction" of the SDS that came into our apartment and ravaged my best friends' room.
Claussen and his associates agreed with Adorno's criticism of actionism. Adorno's essay does not acknowledge such pluralism and accord with his own views.

Thesis 8 in "Marginalia" addresses pseudo-activity specifically. Adorno defines it as, "praxis that takes itself more seriously and insulates itself more diligently from theory and knowledge the more it loses contact with its object and a sense of proportion." Pseudo-activity is a product of the same "technical forces of production" that also renders it illusory. The ultimate irony is that such pseudo-activity conforms to the "objective social conditions" that it ostensibly protests against.

In an earlier essay, "Resignation," Adorno described pseudo-activity as an "attempt to rescue enclaves of immediacy in the midst of a thoroughly mediated and rigidified society." That essay connects up with the "Free Time" lecture in that it identifies "do-it-yourself"* as the "disastrous model of pseudo-activity." Such activity is nonsensical in that it seeks to "do what has long been done better by the means of industrial production only in order to inspire in the unfree individuals, paralyzed in their spontaneity, the assurance that everything depends on them." The "do-it-yourself approach in politics" is even more nonsensical than in home repairs, which Adorno admits may have a "quasi-rational purpose."

For all his polemic against pseudo-activity, though, Adorno leaves a tiny escape hatch: 

The administered world has the tendency to strangle all spontaneity, or at least to channel it into pseudo-activities. At least this does not function as smoothly as the agents of the administered world would hope.

What does this "not functioning smoothly" indicate for the now almost universal hobby* of do-it-yourself* politics, sponsored by the social media industry? Although Adorno's critique may imply a repudiation of such pseudo-activity, the alternative of "serious" engagement with both professional and free-time activities is, as he admitted, reserved for "someone privileged, with the requisite measure of both fortune and guilt, as one who had the rare opportunity to seek out and arrange his work according to his own intentions." The rest of us are condemned to alternate between "socially necessary labour time" and ancillary "free" time filled with pseudo-activities.

What is to be done? Hobbies* may be all we have. Can a do-it-yourself* critical theory hobby* shine through the cracks in the administered world where the strangling of spontaneity has not functioned as smoothly as the agents had hoped?

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Incoming Virginia Governor Youngkin Goes In All Anti-Environment

 Incoming GOP Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has just announced his choice for Secretary of Natural Resourxes, Andrew Wheeler, a longtime coal lobbyist, who seved as Trump's EPA director in the latter part of his term. He has an utterly abysmal environmental record, so bad I cannot think of a single thing he did that I can applaud or even ust vaguely approve ot. It was just simply all bad.

He combined blocking new rules such as limiting mercury emissions into water and many others, with shutting down the Scientific Advisory Board, to simply ceasing to enforce existing legislation, most notably the Clean Water Act. This appointment follows Youngkin having already declared his intention to remove Virginia from the 11 state regional cap and trade system in the Northeast for GHGs. He may be blocked from doing that, and Wheeler may face a problem getting approved by the VA Senate. But Youngkin will take office a week from now, and his views on the environment are now clear.

Many Republicans look to him as a model for how to win in the future: throw enough carefully selected red meat to the Trumpian base, while also carefully nodding to more moderate policies aimed at appealing to independent suburban women, the apparent key swing voters. So it is curious to see what this politician, who might well end up in the future on a national GOP ticket, chooses to throw to whom.

Two areas where he threw meat to the base were on abortion and guns, areas where the last two years of Dem domination of both the executive and legislature in VA led to modest liberalizing changes. The base wants those rolled back to what was there before. However, since his election, it has become clear that Youngkin is not going to do anything, or not much anyway, on either of these hot button items, which might upset some of those centrist suburban women.  Not only that but he would almost certainly find any effort to change any laws regarding these issues being blocked in the still Dem-controlled Senate.

But on the environment he is clearly taking the hard line. It is not immediately obvious why.  This is an issue that could potentially upset those nice centrist suburban women.  And while the Trumpist base tends to think the climate change issue is yet another hoax, it is not one of those red meat issues that gets them chanting wildly at Trump rallies.  

In fact I think Youngkin is showing his deeper identity as an old country club Republican.  He is a billionaire and used to run the Carlyle Group. Heck, George H.W. Bush used to work for/with that outfit a long time ago, although I do not think Youngkin has or ever had any connection with the Bushes. But this is the gang, and these are big money interests he comes from. Certain parts of those big money interests, especially those involved in the energy scctor, especially the fossil fuel part of it. Thus we see this old anti-environmentalist former coal lobbyist being appointed.

I shall close by noting one other development today, one area where he does seem to be throwing red meat to the worst of the Trump base in a way that really will hurt the citizens of the state. He is joining the suit to block the vaccine mandate of Biden on businesses, now at the SCOTUS. And the outgoing governor, Ralph Northam, has been the only stae governor who is an MD. He will be missed on these policies.

Barkley Rosser

Friday, January 7, 2022

Classicaism and Revolution

 For those of you of a branch of Orthodox Christianity still using the Julian calendar, such as the Russian branch, Merry Christmas! I am tempted to comment on the situation in Kazakhstan, but I think we do not know what is going on there yet, so not now.

Instead somehow I have been thinking about something that has something to do with economics, but I am going to look at it in other fields, namely the relationship between classicalism and revolution.  That this is complicated in that in economics we think of "classical economics" as something that is old and out date, the economics of Adam Smith, highly conventional if somewhat simplistic.  But then we usually identify Karl Marx as being a classical economist, but then he was also a revolutionary. However, modern neoclassical economists use this "classical" label to dismiss him as out of date, even as they retain the ideas of Adam Smith to some extent.

Anyway, I want to look at the use of this term in other disciplines and where it came from and how this curious relationship has operated. If one examines the origins of the term, it came from French, "classique," with this connected to "class." In older French something classique is of a higher class in some way, and thus presumably of a high quality. However from at least the 1620s in English the term also came to be applied to things that are from or inspired by the Greek and Roman civilizations. Most of this discussion in English at that time applied to literature, especially poetry.

Probably the earliest movement that sought to revive Greek and Roman models was in architecture and happened not long after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.  This was in architecture and started after 800 CE when Charlemagne founded the Holy Roman Empire, which indeed consciously attempted to revive the Roman Empire and its models. For the next 200 years what is known as Carolingian architecture dominated northwestern Europe, especially in Germany and France, which consciously imitated styles from the late period of the empire such as those found in Ravenna. A supreme example is the cathedral in Aachen, Germany, where Charlemagne is buried. It would be succeeded by the Romanesque style.

The Renaissance would see another round of this in architecture.  This was stimulated by the discovery of the writings of the great Roman architect, Vitruvius, whose ideas became the foundation for much of architecture from that period on. 

As it is the field where I see the dynamic between classicalism and revolution is in music, where none of this has anything to do with ideas from Greece or Rome, much as is the situation in economics. So what is called "classical music" is something very broad, the music that is not popular music, rock or jazz or country or whatever. In recent decades the divisions between these have at times been fuzzy, but we still generally know what is in what category. And even in the past when classical music was very clearly identified, classical composers would often draw on folk music or tunes as inspiration for their compositions.  But that is not the crucial issue.

Within classical music itself there is a subset of it that is called "the Classical school" or period. This is a style most prominently associated with Josef Haydn and Wolfgang Mozart, who mostly composed in the latter part of the 18th century, with Haydn actually lasting to 1809 while Mozart died young in 1791. This style and period followed the Baroque period, whose most famous members were J.S. Bach and Handel, although it originated earlier in Italy with Arcangelo Corelli with Antonio Vivaldi also a leading part of it. The Classical school would be followed the Romantic school, led by Beethoven, a student of Haydn's, who started out in the Classical style but moved on, with the Romantic style dominating pretty much of all the nineteenth century.

So Beethoven is seen as a revolutionary who modified and liberated music from a rule-dominated and formal school before him. Indeed, not just the Romantic school, but "modern" twentieth century classical music and beyond went further, breaking more and more of the rules and structures that Haydn and Mozart followed, being in a key, certain numbers of movements in symphonies and concerti, and especially the use of the sonata allegro form within movements, with two themes and variations. This almost became Freudian, with Haydn being called "Papa Haydn," whom all these later classical composers would rebel against, more and more, going to polytonality and atonal forms.

But then we have this other fact: in creating the Classical school, Haydn and Mozart themselves were revolutionaries who created new forms. Some of these were actual types of pieces or sets of instruments, such as the string quartet. Mozart, of course, was a star all his life, a prodigy who performed for royalty from age 5. But it is not well known that Haydn spent much of his career in obscurity at the Esterhazy estate in Hungary, toiling away on his composing.  It was actually fairly late in his life that he was really discovered, helped out ironically by Mozart when he was finally able to get to Vienna in the 1780s, with his real triumph coming in the 1790s when he spent time in London, on the verge of Beethoven's beginning to undo the structure he and Mozart had established.

Ironically possibly the most revolutionary core of the Classical school came from somebody else, someone famous and successful in his day, but who has been if not completely forgotten, pushed way down with his important role not known by many. This was the person Haydn and Mozart called "Papa Bach," the person who actually invented the sonata allegro form.  No, this was not the great Baroque composer, J.S. Bach, but the most important of his sons, Karl Phillip Emmanuel Bach. He was the actual revolutionary who founded the Classical school, with both Haydn and Mozart drawing off him. He was in his day a great success, the chief composer for the King of Prussia. But he would become forgotten both because he was superseded by Haydn and Mozart, but also in the nineteenth century after Mendelssohn revived the father, J.S. Bach, Somehow between his father and his followers, the real revolutionary who created the Classical school of classical music has been largely forgotten.

Barkley Rosser

Thursday, January 6, 2022

This Life: faith, work, and free time

The blurbs on first few pages of Martin Hägglund's This Life are so surprisingly accurate that it would be hard to describe the book with an original superlative. "Monumental!" "Powerful!" "Important!" "Electrifying!" "Profound, thoughtful, compelling, and insightful!" Those blurbs were not idle puffery. All that is left for me to add is that I liked it very much. Oh, just one more thing...

Hägglund's premise is that spirituality, and consequently freedom, is grounded in our mortality. Secular faith arises from an acute awareness of the risk of losing the relationships we cherish and manifests in our commitment to act to sustain the lives of the objects of our affection. 

In this context, freedom is not an abstract absence of constraints on our actions but the presence of the possibility to do what needs to be done to fulfill our commitments. As Hägglund writes in the introduction, "secular faith is the condition of freedom. ... We are free because we are able to ask ourselves what we ought to do with our time."

Time looms over Hägglund's discussion of secular faith in the first part of the book and inevitably forms the ground of spiritual freedom in Part II. After all, time is precisely what is finite in "this life." At the beginning of chapter 5, "The value of our finite time," Hägglund affirms the writings of Karl Marx as containing "the greatest resources for developing a secular notion of freedom."

Hägglund's account of Marx's analysis of the concept of value is exemplary. As he points out, "Marx's critique of capitalism stands or falls" on that analysis. Unfortunately, he argues, Marx's analysis has been almost universally misrepresented as an extension of the labour theory of value as formulated by Adam Smith and David Ricardo rather than a critique of the theory's contradictions.

At one point in his discussion of Marx's analysis, Hägglund states that "Marx's account powerfully demonstrates that the measure of value under capitalism is contradictory," but does not provide an explicit explanation of why it is contradictory. Hägglund then offers his own explanation: capitalism "treats the negative measure of value as though it were the positive measure of value and thereby treats the means of economic life as though they were the end of economic life. This is very close to the explanation Marx did give in the Grundrisse of why the measure of value under capitalism is contradictory.

Hägglund cannot be faulted for overlooking Marx's explanation. He certainly wasn't the first. In fact, I haven't found any author who has written about Marx's explanation. It is "hidden in plain sight." The clue to its location is contained in the "striking" use by Marx  of "the English term disposable time in italics in the original (rather than the German verfügbare Zeit)."

Marx used the English term because it was a quotation from an English pamphlet. The pamphlet, The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties was published anonymously in 1821. The author has subsequently been identified as Charles Wentworth Dilke. Marx cites the quotation profusely in the section of the Grundrisse on pages 704-709 (Penguin, 1973), which Hägglund describes as "luminous."

But Marx also cites the pamphlet earlier, on page 397, translating disposable time there as verfügbare Zeit. In the following paragraph, Marx offers the enigmatic but profound observation that, "The whole development of wealth rests on the creation of disposable time." He is here not referring specifically to the historical case of capitalism as becomes clear from the continuation of the paragraph:

The relation of necessary labour time to the superfluous (such it is, initially, from the standpoint of necessary labour) changes with the different stages in the development of the productive forces. In the less productive stages of exchange, people exchange nothing more than their superfluous labour time; this is the measure of their exchange, which therefore extends only to superfluous products. In production resting on capital, the existence of necessary labour time is conditional on the creation of superfluous labour time.

It is only in the last sentence that the distinctive characteristic of "production resting on capital" is identified. That characteristic is the reversal of the relationship between the necessary and the superfluous. Note that this is the only place in the Grundrisse where Marx refers to surplus labour time as superfluous (überflüssiger) labour time. 

Incidentally, disposable time in the above cited passage is rendered as disponibler Zeit rather than verfügbare Zeit. Nevertheless, the development of wealth resting on the creation disposable time is clearly a gloss on the quotation from the 1821 pamphlet.

The reversal of the necessary and the superfluous is taken up again by Marx on pages 608-610 where he discusses the necessity for capital of a relative surplus population and thus, "the relation of necessary and surplus labour, as it is posited by capital, turns into its opposite":

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

This reversal of the superfluous and the necessary is, of course, echoed a third time in the luminous "fragment on machines" where the infamous moving contradiction of capital "diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition - question of life or death - for the necessary."

Marx's explanation, spread out over "three fragments on machines," of why capital's measure of value is contradictory rests in the reversal, under capitalism, of the relationship between necessary labour time and superfluous labour time and the resulting subordination of the necessary to the superfluous. As a result of this reversal, superfluous labour time becomes split into surplus labour time, on the one hand, and surplus labour capacity on the other -- both being equally "socially necessary" and the latter becoming both a condition for and a barrier to the realization of surplus value.

As I have mentioned previously, Marx did not use the term "socially necessary labour time" in either the Grundrisse or A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. In my view, the three fragments on machines, pp. 397-401, 608-610, and 704-709 foreshadow the darker implications of socially necessary labour time, which Marx both downplays and attributes to "laws" in Capital. Those mediate laws, however, are ultimately expressions of socially necessary labour time.

For example, socially necessary labour time goes unmentioned in chapter 25, which deals with the relationship between the accumulation of capital and the disposable industrial reserve population. The absolute general law of capitalist accumulation, however, is the working out of the inherent logic of socially necessary labour time.

Marx's conspicuous use of the concept of disposable time in the Grundrisse may offer a clue as to why Marx's analysis just happens to be so germane to an investigation of secular faith. As mentioned previously, Marx's source for the concept was The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties. The author of that pamphlet, Charles Dilke, was a devotee to William Godwin, whose expression, "The genuine wealth of man is leisure, when it meets with a disposition to improve it." was an obvious influence on Dilke's "wealth... is disposable time and nothing more." 

Godwin was trained as a minister in the tradition of  Rational Dissent and retained his Calvinist modes of thought through subsequent phases of atheism and deism. His lifelong advocacy of universal leisure can be fruitfully interpreted as a modernization and reformulation in secular terms of Jean Calvin's doctrine of the particular calling, in which Godwin sought to elevate what he called the "contingent occupation" of leisure to equal status in "the business of life" with the "prescribed occupation" of a trade or profession.

Postscript: see also my Historical Materialism conference presentation on Disposable time, surplus population, and the limitation of the hours of labour in which I discuss the significance of "three fragments on machines" from Marx's Grundrisse.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Department of Comparative Advantage

 Somewhere on the web recently, I saw this anecdote:

Asked whether Ringo was the best drummer in the world, John Lennon replied: he's not even the best drummer in The Beatles.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Mr. Etcetera

The subtitle of T. R. Malthus's Essay on the Principle of Population advertised its inclusion of "remarks on the speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and other writers." In volume I of Capital, Marx did not mention William Godwin's name.  One might say, rather, that Marx studiously avoided mentioning Godwin. He did, however, engage in a sustained disparagement of Malthus -- particularly his essay on population. This alone would make Marx's silence on Godwin remarkable.

Consider the following "exchange" between Godwin, Malthus and Marx:

Godwin's name appears first in the subtitle of Malthus's essay. "Godwin" appears 63 times in the essay and "Godwin's" 37 times. "Condorcet" appears only 14 times and "Condorcet's" 11. The essay was primarily a response to Godwin. But Marx referred to the essay as having been celebrated by the oligarchy as "the infallible antidote to the doctrines of Condorcet, etc. ..." The  etcetera stood for the suppressed name of Godwin (u.a. -- und andere -- in the original German).

In his The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels had cited Godwin, along with Jeremy Bentham, as "two great practical philosophers of latest date" and had singled out Godwin especially as "almost exclusively the property of the proletariat" upon which the latter had developed "a literature, which consists chiefly of journals and pamphlets, and is far in advance of the whole bourgeois literature in intrinsic worth."

In March of 1845, Engels wrote to Marx recommending the exclusion of Godwin from a proposed library of the history of socialism  "despite the many excellent passages in which Godwin touches on communism." The reasons for leaving Godwin out were his "anti-social" conclusions and the prospect that Marx was going to write a "complete critique of politics." Subsequently, in his 1861-63 manuscripts that were published as Theories of Surplus Value, Marx explicitly excluded Godwin from his historical review of theories of surplus value:
These reviews are only intended to show on the one hand in what form the political economists criticized each other, and on the other hand the historically determining forms in which the laws of political economy were first stated and further developed. In dealing with surplus-value I therefore exclude such eighteenth century writers as Brissot, Godwin and the like, and likewise the nineteenth-century socialists and communists.
Marx did, however, review Malthus's 1798 essay, in which he criticized Godwin -- including passages from The Enquirer, published the year before -- making this oddly specific exclusion also peculiarly self-contradictory. Was there perhaps an more substantial reason for the omission?

In The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour, Anton Menger disputed Engels's account, in the preface to volume 2 of Capital, of the origins of the theory of surplus value, declaring that, "The real discoverers of the theory of surplus value are Godwin, Hall, and especially W. Thompson." 

Engels scoffed at Menger's insinuation that Marx's citations in Capital were intentionally deficient, dismissing the absence of reference to Godwin as a trivial exception to an otherwise comprehensive scholarly apparatus: "nowhere does he [Menger] quote a single English author not already quoted by Marx, apart from perhaps Hall and world-famous people like Godwin, Shelley's father-in-law."

Godwin was, in fact, Mary Shelley's father and thus Percy Shelley's father-in-law. That was an obvious diversion. More relevantly, Godwin was the author of An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and The Enquirer and it was in that capacity that Malthus criticized his views. Engels, of course, knew this. He knew that "Shelley's father-in-law" wrote "many excellent passages in which Godwin touches on communism." Engels knew that Godwin's practical philosophy had spawned a worthy proletarian literature. Engels was gaslighting.

Ironically, in their endeavor to inflate Marx's genius and originality, Engels and Marx obscured the substantive core of his contribution, which was heroic in its own right. Parts of that contribution were derivative. In itself, that is not a bad thing. It simply acknowledges the collective nature of the "general intellect." But there is now the residue of 150 years of the Marx sui generis cult to deal with. Even Marx acknowledged, albeit obliquely, that it would be an anachronism to regard him as the founding father of "the political economy of the working class."

In his inaugural address to the International Working Men's Association, Marx hailed passage of the English Ten Hours' Bill as "not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class." The Ten-Hour Act was passed by parliament in May of 1847. Marx, of course, was unknown in England at that time and his study of political economy and collaboration with Engels had only begun a few years earlier.

So where was this "political economy of the working class" to be found that Marx had extolled in his inaugural address? It was, according to Engels, contained in the journal and pamphlet literature formed on the basis of the reception by the working class of the practical philosophies of Bentham and Godwin.