Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Conventional Macroeconomics Rears Its Head

 It is always annoying to have to admit one has been wrong.  But I was among those who a year ago or so was going along with those who argued inflation was transitory and the rate would probably come down later in the year.  The annoying Larry Summers, along with the somewhat less annoying Olivier Blanchard, prominently argued the contrary, hauling out old-fashioned conventional macroeconomic arguments why this might be the case, replete with implicit Phillips Curves and the like.  A major focus was the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan (ARP) fiscal stimulus and its large budget deficits aimed to help pull the US economy further out of the pandemic recession, but hopefully without stimulating inflation.  As it turns out, the critics were right, and while the economy has grown vigorously, inflation has not only not gone down, but it has accelerated.

Obviously part of this is due to things that neither Summers nor Blanchard could foresee, two more rounds of pandemic (with arguably a third now coming on), with these aggravating the supply chain problems that played a prime role in the initial rise of inflation, and which those of predicting a decline in inflation saw as easing.  And then we got Putin's invasion of Ukraine that has seriously aggravated supply side problems further in both energy and food as well as some other resource inputs such as nickel. The new round of Omicron B.2 also is hitting China, with lockdowns shutting ports and further keeping supply problems going.  Supply side problems on the inflation front look likely to persist certainly through the rest of this year, even if longer range forecasts in markets still see the rate returning to the old target 2 percent range some years in the future.

Needless to say, these supply chain and side problems affect global inflation, not just that in the US. Can we distinguish the effect of more recent fiscal stimulus in the US on its inflation that Summers and Blanchard highlighted with its impact on demand on top of these global supply problems?  One indicator may be a comparison with the euro area. It has experienced most of these supply problems similarly to the US.  It is also the case that both engaged in large fiscal stimulus in 2020 during the initial onslaught of the pandemic when the global economy eventually plunged through the floor.  But the euro area held back on this extra fiscal stimulus last year while the US roared ahead.

The crude numbers in comparison tell a Phillips Curve story.  On the one hand indeed inflation in the US is now about 2% higher than in the eurozone; 7.9% compared to 5.9%. But the unemployment rate in the US is much lower: 3.8% compared to 6.8%. The difference in growth rates has not been all that sharp, although indeed the US has been faster over the past year: 5.6% to 4.6%.  As for fiscal budget balances, the US is in a much more substantial budget deficit situation with it at -7.4% of GDP compared to -4.1% in the eurozone. 

Of course, the ARP has nearly run its course, although in Harrisonburg where I live the city is just now debating what to do with the extra $24 million it received as part of the ARP package.  The money may have been allocated, but it has not yet been spent. In any case, the new budget just proposed by Biden looks to cut the budget deficit roughly in half, although I expect that Congress will not have it do so by quite that much, especially as it will probably not go along with some of the tax increases proposed in the budget.  But if indeed the budget deficit were to be cut in half, that would put the US budget balance in line approximately with what one sees currently in the eurozone.

I close by noting that in recent years the US had one extra round of fiscal stimulus that was almost certainly not needed and did not have an equivalent in the eurozone, even if it did not set off an inflation increase at the time. This was Trump's tax cut for the well off that happened early in his administration, unaccompanied by any spending cut, and that happened at a time when the US economy was nearing a full employment level.  Biden's new budget proposal only partially attempts to undo that unnecessary and unuseful tax cut, but does not do so full, and very likely even the slight moves to do so proposed in the budget will not make it through the Congress.

Barkley Rosser

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Most Evil Rant in Aynkind's History

In previous posts, I discussed the Senate confirmation hearings plagiarism by Keisha Russell of a Washington Post column by Marc Thiessen and the shoddy scholarship of the former history professor, Allen C. Guelzo that underwrote the bizarre claim that "critical race theory is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant." 

In the latter post, I stuck to source that Guelzo cited in his published writings. There is much speculation that Guelzo's Kant to critical race theory pipeline owes its inspiration to Ayn Rand's attacks on Kant and I would like to present evidence that supports that thesis here.

Alissa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, aka Alice O'Connor, aka Ayn Rand once called Immanuel Kant "the most evil man in mankind's history." The claim appeared in a "brief summary" in the September 1971 issue of The Objectivist. In the first half of the summary, Rand congratulated herself for the foresight of her articles in previous issues of The Objectivist. The second half was a prelude to an excerpt from a forthcoming book, The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff, Rand's chosen successor as cult leader. "Suppose you met a twisted, tormented young man," her introduction began. It continued:

...and, trying to understand his behavior, discovered that he was brought up by a man-hating monster who worked systematically to paralyze his mind, destroy his self-confidence, obliterate his capacity for enjoyment and undercut his every attempt to escape. You would realize that nothing could be done with or for that young man and nothing could be expected of him until he was removed from the monster's influence.

Western civilization is in that young man's position. The monster is Immanuel Kant.

Rand then goes on to rationalize her repeated characterization of Kant as "the chief destroyer of the modern world." In a brief digression, Rand demurs that "It is useless to be against anything, unless one knows what one is for." What exactly was Rand for? She paraphrases one of her characters from Atlas Shrugged, "I've chosen a special mission of my own. I'm after a man whom I want to destroy. ...until the last trace of him is wiped out of men's minds, we will not have a decent world to live in. (What man?) Immanuel Kant." She concludes her introduction to Peikoff's essay with her own call to eradicate "cancel" every last drop of Kantian "intellectual poison" from American culture:
You may also find it hard to believe that anyone could advocate the things Kant is advocating. If you doubt it. I suggest that you look up the references given and read the original works. Do not seek to escape the subject by thinking: "Oh, Kant didn't mean it!" He did. 
Dr. Peikoff's essay will help you to understand more fully why I say that no matter how diluted or disguised, one drop of this kind of intellectual poison is too much for a culture to absorb with impunity — that the latest depredations of some Washington ward-heelers are nothing compared to a destroyer of this kind — that Kant is the most evil man in mankind's history.
Rand had indeed written previously on what an evil influence Kant was. In a series of articles in her Objectivist Newsletter from 1965, Rand condemned the University of California Berkeley student movement and the "Kantian" curriculum that they were, according to her, the product of. In one of her articles, Rand indicted pragmatism, logical positivism, linguistic analysis, and existentialism as the bastard children of Kant, along with student activism. Because it is such a tour de force of motivated invective, I am presenting a long excerpt from the essay with just a bit of digression cut from the middle.  

Mario Savio, Son of Immanuel Kant

If a dramatist had the power to convert philosophical ideas into real, flesh-and-blood people, and attempted to create the walking embodiments of modern philosophy—the result would be the Berkeley rebels. 

These “activists” are so fully, literally, loyally, devastatingly the products of modern philosophy that someone should cry to all the university administrations and faculties: “Brothers, you asked for it!” 

Mankind could not expect to remain unscathed after decades of exposure to the radiation of intellectual fission-debris, such as: “Reason is impotent to know things as they are—reality is unknowable—certainty is impossible—knowledge is mere probability— truth is that which works—mind is a superstition—logic is a social convention—ethics is a matter of subjective commitment to an arbitrary postulate.” And the consequent mutations are those contorted young creatures who scream, in chronic terror, that they know nothing and want to rule everything. 

If that dramatist were writing a movie, he could justifiably entitle it “Mario Savio, Son of Immanuel Kant.” 

With rare and academically neglected exceptions, the philosophical “mainstream” that seeps into every classroom, subject, and brain in today’s universities, is: epistemological agnosticism, avowed irrationalism, ethical subjectivism. Our age is witnessing the ultimate climax, the cashing-in on a long process of destruction, at the end of the road laid out by Kant.

Ever since Kant divorced reason from reality, his intellectual descendants have been diligently widening the breach. In the name of reason, Pragmatism established a range-of-the-moment view as an enlightened perspective on life, context-dropping as a rule of epistemology, expediency as a principle of morality, and collective subjectivism as a substitute for metaphysics. Logical Positivism carried it farther and, in the name of reason, elevated the immemorial psycho-epistemology of shyster-lawyers to the status of a scientific epistemological system—by proclaiming that knowledge consists of linguistic manipulations. Taking this seriously, Linguistic Analysis declared that the task of philosophy is, not to identify universal principles, but to tell people what they mean when they speak, which they are otherwise unable to know (which last, by that time, was true—in philosophical circles). This was the final stroke of philosophy breaking its moorings and floating off, like a lighter-than air balloon, losing any semblance of connection to reality, any relevance to the problems of man’s existence.

It has been said that Kant’s dichotomy led to two lines of Kantian philosophers, both accepting his basic premises, but choosing opposite sides: those who chose reason, abandoning reality—and those who chose reality, abandoning reason. The first delivered the world to the second.

The collector of the Kantian rationalizers’ efforts—the receiver of the bankrupt shambles of sophistry, casuistry, sterility, and abysmal triviality to which they had reduced philosophy—was Existentialism. 

Existentialism, in essence, consists of pointing to modern philosophy and declaring: “Since this is reason, to hell with it!”

Perhaps alongside Rand's sweeping condemnation of the mid-1960s university curriculum, Guelzo's more focused attack on critical theory and critical race theory may seem mild. Salami tactics. When they came for the critical theorists, I was silent... 

Oh... and just one more thing. "Professor Allen Guelzo of Princeton" is not a Princeton professor. He was a professor at Gettysburg College. At Princeton, he is a "senior research scholar" in the James Madison Program, which is a right-wing beachhead installed in Princeton's Department of Politics in 2000 with a half million dollar grant from the Olin Foundation. What does a "senior research scholar" do? I suspect it has something to do with giving commentary on Fox News that can be propagated in Washington Post columns as right-wing talking points that get incorporated into Congressional testimony.

Jane Mayers profiled "How Right-Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education" in a 2016 Chronicle of Higher Education article adapted from her book, Dark Money. In the video below, Jane Mayer talks about the Koch brothers "political assembly line" starting at around 21:15 to 22:57.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

I. Kant, even

The grinning mug on the right of the YouTube Fox News screen above is Allen C. Guelzo, a historian of the Civil War and biographer of Abraham Lincoln. Guelzo is also a purveyor of a bizarre theory that Immanuel Kant was the progenitor of critical theory, critical race theory, Marxism, Jim Crow, and "every dictatorship in between":
But critical race theory may also be the most irresponsible way to think about race in America, and I think that's really because critical race theory is a subset of critical theory, which has got long roots in Western philosophy back to Immanuel Kant in the 1790s. Kant lived at the end of a century known as the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, but he feared that experience had shown that reason was inadequate to give shape to our lives. There had to be a way of knowing things that went beyond reason, and for him that meant developing a theory of being critical of reason, hence critical theory. The problem was that critical theory got away. It instead justified ways of appealing to some very unreasonable things as explanations -- things like race, nationality, class -- and they gave us Karl Marx and Jim Crow and every dictatorship in between, that's especially true about race.
As far as I can tell, Guelzo has not published anything on that specific theme. There is the Fox News interview from May of last year, an interview on the American Enterprise Institute podcast, "What the Hell is Going On?" with Marc Thiessen and Danielle Pletka in June, and Thiessen's column in the Washington Post from November. On March 24, Keisha Russell plagiarized Thiessen's column in her testimony on behalf of the First Liberty Institute at the Senate confirmation hearing for Ketanji Brown Jackson.

At universities, plagiarism is defined as intellectual dishonesty. There are other forms of intellectual dishonesty, such as fabricating or adulterating data from experiments or fabricating sources or attributing to authorities things they never said. After that, there is an enormous gray area of just plain sloppy scholarship that nevertheless gets vindicated by being published or delivered in a lecture or interview.

Although he is a university professor who has published several books, Guelzo's claims about Kant and critical race theory are not scholarship. They were not explicitly represented as scholarship. There is, however, an insinuation of scholarship that flows from their packaging. The commentator is presented as a scholar and is backed by a wall of books. His thoughts are presented in mellifluous, modulated tones, as if he is giving a lecture. He talks about a philosopher from the eighteenth century that only an academic would talk about.

But one must ask, is a Civil War historian necessarily any more of an authority on Kant and critical race theory than a Green Bay Packers quarterback is on vaccination? Because Guelzo has not published his idea that critical race theory is a "subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant in the 1790s," it would be prudent to examine his published work to see if there are any clues. There are clues but they are not entirely consistent.

In Abraham Lincoln as a Man of Ideas (2009), Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America (2004). and Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction (2012), Guelzo mentions Kant as a forerunner of romanticism, which Guelzo evaluates negatively but also associates with such figures as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edmund Burke, Evangelical Christianity, Abolitionists, Southern secessionists and so on.

Guelzo's scorn for romanticism is linked to his admiration for what he describes as Lincoln's "politics of prudence," which he identifies as an Enlightenment principle that guided the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. In a YouTube interview from February 2021, Guelzo attributed romanticism to Edmund Burke and cited pro-slavery Senator, cabinet secretary and Vice President John Calhoun as a follower of Burke.

Paradoxically, in an 2016 essay, "Dissenter for the Absolute: Commending Josiah Royce as America's philosopher," Guelzo wrote glowingly of Josiah Royce's thoroughly Kantian education. In his celebration of Royce, Guelzo offers only the slightest hint of a break by Royce from some aspects of Kant:
[Royce] ...did not want Absolute pragmatism to lapse into the usual caricature of idealism, which made ideas into nothing more than objects of idle contemplation; ideas always contain, at their core, an intention to act. And he separated his notion of the Absolute from Scottish realism, Romantic mysticism, and even some aspects of Kant.
Perhaps Guelzo's ambivalence toward Kant in that article reflects the fact his antagonism in the earlier books was second-hand. One of Guelzo's sources is Isaiah Berlin. In Berlin's lectures on romanticism from 1952 and 1965, he cited Kant as the reluctant "father "of romanticism and excoriated romantics as "enemies of human liberty" ultimately linking romanticism to Marxism and fascism.

Guelzo appears to have taken Berlin's word for it. Other commentators have not been so indulgent of Berlin's ideas about romanticism. Curiously enough, Berlin concluded his 1965 lectures, published as The Roots of Romanticism, with an encomium to the "unintended" effects of romanticism that undermines everything that he had previously said about the supposed evils of romanticism:
The result of romanticism, then, is liberalism, toleration, decency and the appreciation of the imperfections of life; some degree of increased rational self-understanding. This was very far from the intentions of the romantics. But at the same time — and to this extent the romantic doctrine is true — they are the persons who most strongly emphasised the unpredictability of all human activities. They were hoist with their own petard. Aiming at one thing, they produced, fortunately for us all, almost the exact opposite.
This concluding paragraph is a remarkable document. Somehow, we are told, romanticism had all sorts of unintended bad effects that reveal some deep, underlying anti-Reason, anti-Enlightenment, anti-freedom essence that the "result of romanticism" ironically confounded. The argument is so inconsistent that to even try to summarize it falls into incoherence: we have the "enemies of freedom" to thank for all those things that are essential to freedom. I suppose that is why Berlin called them enemies of freedom? Of course by the same logic, romanticism was an unintended effect of the Enlightenment, which was an unintended effect of the Protestant Reformation, ad infinitum. By those lights, it's enemies of freedom all the way down.

The contradictory conclusion to Berlin's 1965 lectures was no anomaly. Berlin was a virtuoso of the ironic non-sequitur. Listening to his lectures gives the sense of a comedy routine. Isaiah Berlin was an entertainer; the exaggeratedly ironic formulations were part of his shtick. His lecture on Kant is a case in point:
Kant hated romanticism. He detested every form of extravagance, fantasy, what he called Schwärmerei, any form of exaggeration, mysticism, vagueness, confusion. Nevertheless, he is justly regarded as one of the fathers of romanticism — in which there is a certain irony. ...
Kant was an admirer of the sciences. He had a precise and extremely lucid mind: he wrote obscurely but seldom imprecisely. He was a distinguished scientist himself (he was a cosmologist); he believed in scientific principles perhaps more deeply than in any others; he regarded it as his life's task to explain the foundations of scientific logic and scientific method. He disliked everything that was rhapsodical or confused in any respect. He liked logic and he liked rigour. ... But if he is in any respect the father of romanticism, it is not as a critic of the sciences, nor of course as a scientist himself, but specifically in his moral philosophy. 

Kant was virtually intoxicated by the idea of human freedom. 
So, let's be clear: Kant, the father of romanticism hated romanticism. He loved reason, which romanticism hated. He was intoxicated by the idea of human freedom and that spawned romanticism, the enemy of freedom. Isn't that brilliant? Who else could pack so many blatantly contradictory claims into two paragraphs and make it all sound oh so terribly clever?

Evidently, Professor Guelzo was not nimble-minded enough to realize that Isaiah Berlin was having us on. Maybe Berlin believed what he was saying at the moment. Maybe he didn't. But there is certainly nothing rationalistic and enlightening about Berlin's erudite stream of exaggeration, confusion, contradiction, wit, and irony. I'm not the first to call it a muddle.

In his introduction to Berlin's Political ideas in the romantic age, Joshua Cherniss discretely noted the author's inconsistencies:
...nor does Berlin ever exactly repeat himself, even when he is ostensibly recapitulating discussions that have appeared elsewhere, which means that one needs to read all his discussions of a topic to be sure that one has squeezed out every drop of what he (not always consistently) has to say about it. 
With regard to who was the "father of romanticism," what Berlin had to say "contained multitudes," to borrow Walt Whitman's euphemism for self-contradiction. In his 1965 lectures, Berlin said Kant was "justly regarded as one of the fathers of romanticism." Seven years later, it was "Kant's unfaithful disciple Fichte" who was "the true father of romanticism." Berlin repeated the attribution to Fichte of fatherhood in 1975 and 1983.

Meanwhile, Berlin appears at times to present himself as somewhat of a disciple of Kant. The original dictation of "Two Concepts of Liberty" concludes with the following affirmation of Kant:
The need to calculate and weigh and compromise, and adjust and test and experiment, and make mistakes and never reach certain answers or guarantees for rational action, must irritate those who seek for clear and final solutions, and yearn for unity and symmetry, and all-embracing answers. Nevertheless it seems to me the inescapable task of those who, with Kant, believe that "Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made."
The liberty that they seek to realise, and the world as they conceive it, seems to me, in comparison with that of the absolutists, more rational, more humane and more nearly realisable, because they alone are  compatible with what most human beings have found the facts to be.
Kant's phrase about crooked timber was Berlin's favorite and it became the title for a collection of his essays published in 1990. He used the phrase in two of his essays in that volume, "The Pursuit of the Ideal" and "The Decline of Utopian Ideas in the West." In the former essay, Berlin stated:
No more rigorous moralist than Immanuel Kant has ever lived, but even he said, in a moment of illumination, 'Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.' To force people into the neat uniforms demanded by dogmatically believed-in schemes is almost always the road to inhumanity. We can only do what we can: but that we must do, against difficulties.

The final irony of Guelzo's objection to Kant, critical theory and critical race theory is that it is utterly, profoundly unreasonable. Even in his scholarly work, Guelzo makes the inexcusable first-year undergraduate error of assuming (because it is convenient to his hypothesis) that a brief passage from a 1952 lecture by a famous philosopher is the last word -- or even Berlin's last word -- on the relationship between Kant, the Enlightenment, romanticism, and irrationalism. 

In his subsequent political pronouncements, Guelzo compounds his display of incomprehension with leaps of illogic such as "[t]he problem was that critical theory got away." Critical theory "got away"? Was this like a bank robbery with a "get-away" car waiting outside? Was critical theory some wild beast that escaped from the zoo? 

"There had to be a way of knowing things that went beyond reason," Guelzo explained Kant's thinking, "and for him that meant developing a theory of being critical of reason, hence critical theory." There is an example of word play by someone who knows nothing of the substance or context of the words he is playing with. Whatever its merits or faults, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason did not contain the seed that, according to one account by Berlin, spawned romanticism. That honour went to his moral philosophy. 

As for the "hence" that generated "critical theory" from "a theory being critical of reason," they do both contain the words "critical" and "theory." So what? As I have discussed here, Thorstein Veblen pioneered the use of the word "obsolescence" in sociology and economics. In 1928, J. George Frederick coined the term "progressive obsolescence" to refer to a strategy of accelerating the turn-over of consumer goods. Is progressive obsolescence, then, a "subset" of Veblen's critique of conspicuous consumption? If so, that would have to be demonstrated and not deduced from the use of the same words.

In his role as Heritage Foundation "Visiting Scholar," Guelzo doesn't have to demonstrate anything. He doesn't need to show you any stinking badges. All he needs to do is go on Fox News or an American Enterprise Institute podcast and make assertions that can then be repeated ad nauseum by conservative columnists and commentators until they blend seamlessly into the propaganda wallpaper that the right-wing audience can assimilate as expert-verified reality.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Keisha Russell Must be Censured for her Plagiarized Senate Testimony

Every sensible man, every honorable man, must hold the Christian sect in horror. -- Voltaire

Keisha Russell is a propagandist for the "First Liberty Institute" who they grace with the title of "counsel." It looks from her resume that the counsel she provides consists of appearing on right-wing cable news and doing speaking engagements. Her bio at First Liberty doesn't mention any litigation experience and emphasizes her "commentary."

Today Russell appeared before the Senate confirmation hearing for Ketanji Brown Jackson and read a script that included a section copied almost verbatim from a Washington Post column by Marc Thiessen. Thiessen is a "conservative" columnist with the Washington Post, which is to say he is a megaphone for whatever the current right-wing talking points happen to be. On November 11, 2021, Thiessen's column was on "The Danger of Critical Race Theory" and featured talking points based on an interview with "one of our nation’s preeminent historians, Princeton University professor Allen C. Guelzo," Here is Thiessen's paraphrase of Guelzo's argument:

Critical race theory, Guelzo says, is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant in the 1790s. It was a response to — and rejection of — the principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason on which the American republic was founded. Kant believed that “reason was inadequate to give shape to our lives” and so he set about “developing a theory of being critical of reason,” Guelzo says.

But the critique of reason ended up justifying “ways of appealing to some very unreasonable things as explanations — things like race, nationality, class,” he says. Critical theory thus helped spawn totalitarian ideologies in the 20th century such as Marxism and Nazism, which taught that all human relationships are relationships of power between an oppressor class and an oppressed class. For the Marxists, the bourgeoisie were the oppressors. For the Nazis, the Jews were the oppressors. And today, in 21st century America, critical race theory teaches that Whites are the oppressors.

Leave aside for the moment that: a. Guelzo's theory is batshit and b. Thiessen's summary of it makes it look even worse than it actually is. Here is part of Ms. Russell's Senate testimony:
What is Critical Race Theory?
Critical race theory (CRT) is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant in the 1790s. Critical theory rejected the principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason on which the American republic was founded.1 Critical theory teaches that all human relationships are relationships of power between the oppressors and the oppressed.2 The oppressor/oppressed lens of critical theory helped establish totalitarian ideologies such as Marxism and Nazism. In Marxism, the rich elite are the oppressors. For the Nazis, the Jewish people were the oppressors. Today, in America, critical race theory teaches that whites are the oppressors.3 
CRT’s key assertion is that racism is not the result of individual, conscious prejudices, actions, or thoughts, but rather that racism is a systemic and structural force.4 CRT teaches that racism is embedded in America’s legal system, institutions, and capitalist economy, and it demands “whiteness” as the societal norm.5 
CRT demands a radical reordering of society and restructuring of the systems that perpetuate racial inequality.6

Note footnotes, "1-6." This is the prelude for the plagiarist's predictable defense, "but I cited my sources!" Nope. Citing your sources in a footnote -- which at any rate will not be visible to the hearing audience -- does not make it o.k. to copy and paste verbatim the words of someone else. Let's go through Russell's first paragraph on CRT again with the words copied verbatim (from Thiessen) highlighted.

Critical race theory (CRT) is a subset of critical theory that began with Immanuel Kant in the 1790s. Critical theory rejected the principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason on which the American republic was founded. Critical theory teaches that all human relationships are relationships of power between the oppressors and the oppressed. The oppressor/oppressed lens of critical theory helped establish totalitarian ideologies such as Marxism and Nazism. In Marxism, the rich elite are the oppressors. For the Nazis, the Jewish people were the oppressors. Today, in America, critical race theory teaches that whites are the oppressors.

In my experience, that much evidence of plagiarism is sufficient to indicate that the paper in question is likely to have several more severe instances of plagiarism. I've gone through student papers with a fine tooth comb and almost inevitably one zinger is followed by many others. 

Why does this even matter? In academia, it is known as "intellectual dishonesty." It is a kind of fraud, somebody attempting to take credit for work they didn't do, for expertise they don't have, and for arguments and analysis that in all likelihood they do not understand. Keisha Russell probably knows next to nothing about Immanuel Kant besides the second-hand drivel she has copied from Marc Thiessen. For that matter, Thiessen probably knows little about Kant but at least he attributed the argument to Guelzo. I personally haven't read much Kant beyond the first few pages of a few of his books, but I do know critical theory well enough to recognize that "preeminent historian" Guelzo doesn't know what he is talking about.

As Max Horkheimer pointed out in his 1941 essay, "The End of Reason," skepticism about reason has also been fundamental to reason. Kant was following the tradition. He gives examples going back to the Socratics, Descartes, Locke, and David Hume. 

As the epigram of this post suggests, that arch Enlightenment figure, Voltaire, didn't hold Christianity in high esteem. Neither did he have much regard for the common people -- the rabble -- "We have never intended to enlighten shoemakers and servants,—this is up to apostles," he wrote to D'Alembert in September of 1768. Is it Professor Guelzo's contention that it was the original intent of the framers of the constitution to honor those "principles of the Enlightenment and the Age of Reason"?

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Why War Might Go On Longer

 An unfortunate reason the current war in Ukraine might go on longer than it should (with the should here being that it should never have happened in the first place, and the sooner it stops the better, with the onus here clearly on V.V. Putin to stop it as he started it without any justification), is that wartime leaders get a puff in their popularity at least for awhile and are let off the hook on domestic problems.  From the outside it may look that V.V. Putin is indeed in trouble with much of the world denouncing his Ukraine invasion and imposing economic sanctions on Russia. But with his total control of the media, reports have his poll results up some, despite various prominent figures expressing opposition, with the economic adviser Anatoly Chubais the latest to resign and reportedly depart Russia.  Children all over Russia are making Z formations in their schools, and Putin is able to purge enemies and impose an even longer jail sentence on his most threatening political rival, Navalny.

It must be noted that something similar, arguably even more dramatic, has happened with Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky.  He is now being hailed as a new "Winston Churchill," and is compared favorably with virtually all western leaders who are apparently shamed by the comparison.  Now I shall grant that there is much more to admire with him than there is with Putin, with his willingness to remain in Kyiv from the beginning of the invasion at the time when many were predicting a rapid conquest of the city by the invading forces and reports that Putin was actively seeking not only to depose him but to kill him showing real personal bravery. So his reputation is not all that undeserved. But it must be noted that shortly before the invasion started his positive poll rating was an abysmal 21%. He had come into office promising various reforms and changes, but his government had gotten bogged down in many ways.  His poll results are much higher now.  I do think he wants peace, but it is also the case that he may not be all that keen on going back to what he was. After all, Winston Churchill was defeated in the election of 1945.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Or should that be "One-Dimensional Org"?

I reread the first 50-pages of One-Dimensional Man and the 9-page introduction with Rosenberg's critique of Mills, Packard, Riesman, Spectorsky and Whyte in mind. That is a fair sample given that Marcuse repeats his basic thesis ad nauseum in various "negative" formulations. 

Rosenberg's essay almost qualifies as a critique of Marcuse's book even though it wasn't to be published for another five years. The essay was also published as "America's Post-Radical Critics," a less inscrutable title than "The Orgamerican Phantasy." 

The two qualifications I would offer to my claim is that Rosenberg never mentioned the underlying Veblenism of his targets and merely alluded to Weber by way of referring to Whyte's nostalgia for the "Protestant Ethic Person." The gap left by absence of a critique of Veblen by Rosenberg can be filled in by Adorno's essay, "Veblen's Attack on Culture."

Below I have summarized Rosenberg's essay with excerpts that, with one exception, seem to me as pertinent to One-Dimensional Man as they are to the books Rosenberg was criticizing. The one exception is that Marcuse frequently registered nostalgia for the "old class struggle" and "the ideological Passion Plays of Marxian condemnation and conflict."

It goes without saying that the Other-Directed Man, the Exurbanite, the Organization Man, [the One-Dimensional Man!] is a type... The type or character is deficient in individuality by definition.


All our authors are at one in conceiving the flattening of personality in America as a universal effect of our interrelated economic and social practices. 

What the Orgman-critics expose is not a flaw in society but the injurious realities of its normal everyday life. ... The emergence of the Orgman is conceived in terms far more deterministic than those of the "historical materialists." 


Before the Orgman can feel put upon, it is only fair that he consider the advantages gained. "It is not," explains Whyte, "the evils of the organization that puzzle him, but its very beneficence."


The drama of history has been replaced by a pantomime in which, freed of individual or mass conflicts, bewildered, adjusted beings respond as in a narcosis to mysterious signs, whispers, hints, and shocks, which each receives on his Riesman "radar mechanism."


Extremist but neither radical nor conservative, the Organization criticism is inspired not by a passion for social correction but by nostalgia. A sigh over the lost person mars the phantasy of American unanimity which has supplanted the ideological Passion Plays of Marxian condemnation and conflict.


Loosed from action, for which it can see no aim, the post-radical criticism often exaggerates its complaints, producing a worse impression of conditions than is warranted by the facts, at the same time that it seeks remedies in the wrong direction.


But there is more to the conception of the Orgman than regret for an older social type. As the representative of the new post-war employed intelligentsia, the post-radical critic suffers also a nostalgia for himself as an independent individual. For his former abstract sympathy with a nominal working class, the intellectual of this decade has substituted an examination in the mirror of his own social double as insider of the Organization and the Community. It is what he sees there that has caused him to project a morbid image of society compared with which the old "class struggle" America seems not only naif but as relatively healthy as a war with rifles and cannons.

For in regard to the misery of alienation who is a greater victim of what Whyte calls the split "between the individual as he is and the role he is called upon to play" than the member of the intellectual caste newly enlisted en masse in carrying out society’s functions? As writer, artist, social scientist, he is one with his talents and his education for creative work; in playing his part in the service of the organization he must eliminate any thought of functioning for himself.


The intellectual employee also accepts a more total identification with his role than other workers, in that the editorial director, the designer, the copy writer, etc., sells himself more completely in terms of both psychic energy expended and in number of hours worked. With him the division between work and leisure, discipline and freedom, has truly been erased. If the free artist or the founder of a great enterprise builds his life exclusively out of the substance of his work, today’s intellectual unbuilds his life in order to live his job.

Besides being the prime victim and exemplar of self-loss in contemporary society, the “organized” professional cannot escape a conviction of guilt for his part in depriving others of their individuality. He has consented to use his capacities as a tool and to approve in practice the proposition recorded by Whyte that "all the great ideas have already been discovered."

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Org-Dimensional Man

In 1959, Harold Rosenberg wrote the essay "The Orgamerican Phantasy," published in The Tradition of the New. Rosenberg's essay criticized the "post-radical" self-absorption of several of the same authors -- William H. Whyte, C. Wright Mills, and Vance Packard -- that Herbert Marcuse would subsequently praise in the Introduction to One-Dimensional Man for the "vital importance" of their work. In Vance Packard and American Social Criticism, Daniel Horowitz discussed Rosenberg's attack on Packard. Curiously, though, I can find no discussion that connects Rosenberg's criticism of Packard et al. to Marcuse's admitted admiration of and reliance on their work.

Tellingly, all of the authors discussed by Rosenberg in his essay cited Thorstein Veblen. In addition to the three also cited by Marcuse, Rosenberg also discussed David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd and Auguste C. Spectorsky's The Exurbanites. Rosenberg, however, didn't mention the common Veblenian legacy. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

1974 Redux?

 The stock of Thomas Robert Malthus rises and falls with the real price of food. He was not the inventor of his theory of population, a point that Karl Marx threw at him among other criticisms, with such people as James Anderson and Benjamin Franklin preceding him with pretty much the entiretly of his theory. But his timing was much better, publishing the flawed first edition of his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, a year coming at the end of a decade of rising food prices coinciding with the chaos of the French Revolution, which Malthus also opposed. The main flaw in his essay was his argument that food production grows linearly while population grows exponentially. The theory of exponential growth applies to the populations from which food comes as much as it does to human populations, but those populations find their growth limited by the fixity of land, which leads to the relevance of the law of diminishing returns, a point made by Ricardo and which Malthus picked up on by the third edition of his book, switching to it then to justify his theory of human populations tending to press upon the means of subsistence. Ricardo relied on Malthus's theory to underpin his depressing Iron Law of Wages.

Neo-Malthusianism expanded to include concern over natural resources beyond just food to such items as oil and energy more broadly as well as industrial metals.  Thus the neo-Malthusian Limits to Growth, initially published in 1972 had a heyday of popularity in 1974 when not only was world population growth approaching its all time maximum rate but the world experienced simultaneous energy and food price shocks.  The former was driven by the tripling of the price of oil following the Yom Kippur War in late 1973 and the Saudi oil export embargo on the US that happened then but that held even after the embargo was lifted as a broader production cut by OPEC was put in place. The latter followed poor harvests in 1972 and 1973 accompanied by large-scale purchases of corn in particular by the USSR to maintain meat production, which led to a tripling of the price of corn (maize) with other major grain crops also sharply rising in price. The upshot was sharply rising prices of both gasoline and food in the year 1974, the year that the stagflation of the 1970s took fully hold.  Oil prices soared again at the end of the 1970s with the fall of the Shah of Iran, but then grain and thus food prices did not do so.  But 1974 was a year of neo-Malthusian frenzy as both of these soared.

In the aftermath of having fallen very low during the pandemic, oil and grain prices had been rising since April 2020 and had accelerated with the more general outbreak of rising inflation since the beginning of 2021.  But now the outbreak of war in Ukraine has led to a much sharper surge of oil and wheat prices as oil and wheat exports from Russia have been widely embargoed (although not totally), with it the world's leading exporter of wheat and the second leading exporter of oil, and with wheat exports from Ukraine, the fifth largest source of it on world markets, due to disruption from the Russian invasion.  Oil prices have quintupled since their April 2020 low and wheat prices have more than tripled, with both of them surging by something like 50% in the month since Russia invaded Ukraine.  This is the first time since 1974 we have seen such a convergence of sharply rising oil and grain prices, although corn prices have not been up quite as sharply.  Only the slowdown of world population growth has kept us so far from having an outburst of neo-Malthusianist sentiment, and indeed to the extent that pressure to enact policies to combat global warming are partly driven by neo-Malthusian attitudes, the sharp increase in gasoline prices has brought at least in the US a reaction against such policies at least with respect to oil, as politicians on both sides of the fence call for at least temporarily suspending gasoline taxes in order to combat inflation. Heck, elections are at stake.

Barkley Rosser 

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Really Awful "Rhetoric"

 "Rhetoric" in quotes because it may not be just that.  I have not been posting much, partly because had a wedding for daughter, Sasha, last weekend, but also because I am seriously demoralized by the current situation, and every time I think I have something intelligent to say about the economics of it, that seems to keep changing, although I shall soon.

Anyway, I have to get off my chest what I have heard from my wife, Marina, coming out of Russian language sources, not reported in English language media.  This is from an hour and a half presentation by a man named Padkin (don't know first name and googling does not bring him up, maybe spelling off) who apparently heads something in Moscow called the Foundation for Conceptual Technology, which also does not come up on a google.  Anyway, this guy was calling for the use of Russian tactical nuclear weapons against NATO members, more specifically against Ankara, Turkey where drones are being produced that the Ukrainians have been successfully using against the Russian military, and also against two air bases in Poland that have been used to ship arms to the Ukrainians.  About the only good thing that can be said about his broadcast is that he said warnings should be sent first so that civilians can be removed.

I do not know how this is gong to end, but that high level Russians are talking like this in public is very bad news.  I note that it was a Russian TV anchor back in 2014 who was the first person in a major nuclear power since 1962 to talk about using nuclear weapons openly and seriously after the essentially wimply economic sanctions were imposed after Russia annexed Crimea. That guy talked about how dare the US do such a thing when Russia could "incinerate New York City." 

Barkley Rosser

Friday, March 18, 2022

On that "deep feeling that something is wrong..."

Georg Simmel called it "a faint sense of tension and vague longing" connected with the modern preponderance of means over ends. What Simmel calls estrangement  

[We] feel as if the whole meaning of our existence were so remote that we are unable to locate it and are constantly in danger of moving away from rather than closer to it. Furthermore, it is as if the meaning of life clearly confronted us, as if we would be able to grasp it were it not for the fact that we lack some modest amount of courage, strength and inner security.

I would add that this perceived remoteness of spirituality and contemplation is compounded by ambivalence toward the material wonders that the preponderance of means delivers. Here I am -- blithely typing into my computer to instantly send my thoughts out to potentially who knows how many readers, yet: 

People's ecstasy concerning the triumphs of the telegraph and telephone often makes them overlook the fact that what really matters is the value of what one has to say, and that, compared with this, the speed or slowness of the means of communication is often a concern that could attain its present status only by usurpation.

This, at best, "faint sense of tension and vague longing," or, at worst, "deep feeling that something is wrong," is what underlies the otherwise inexplicable appeal of demagogues and scapegoating cults, which promise the "courage, strength and inner security" that people feel they lack. The magical thing about cults is that their failure to resolve the tension and longing merely heightens the loyalty of recruits. The more they fail, the stronger is their grip.

At the turn of the twentieth century, both Simmel and Thorstein Veblen were, I believe, seeking to address that "faint sense of tension and vague longing" -- the infamous fin de siècle spirit of "ennui, cynicism, pessimism, and 'a widespread belief that civilization leads to decadence'." (wikipedia) Both offered compelling analyses. It seems that Veblen's critique became the 'common sense' of American social criticism and as such was eventually assimilated into what I would characterize as a mainstream current of resigned radicalism -- the sense that things are not quite right but that there is no realistic chance of fundamental change.

Veblen's social criticism may be summed up as asserting that social progress is perpetually impeded by archaic -- 'obsolescent' -- habits of mind, such that we are always trying to address today's problems with yesterday's institutions. "...this process of selective adaptation can never catch up with the progressively changing situation in which the community finds itself at any given time":

Institutions must change with changing circumstances, since they are of the nature of an habitual method of responding to the stimuli which these changing circumstances afford. The development of these institutions is the development of society. The institutions are, in substance, prevalent habits of thought with respect to particular relations and particular functions of the individual and of the community; and the scheme of life, which is made up of the aggregate of institutions in force at a given time or at a given point in the development of any society, may, on the psychological side, be broadly characterized as a prevalent spiritual attitude or a prevalent theory of life. As regards its generic features, this spiritual attitude or theory of life is in the last analysis reducible to terms of a prevalent type of character.

The situation of today shapes the institutions of tomorrow through a selective, coercive process, by acting upon men’s habitual view of things, and so altering or fortifying a point of view or a mental attitude handed down from the past. The institutions — that is to say the habits of thought — under the guidance of which men live are in this way received from an earlier time; more or less remotely earlier, but in any event they have been elaborated in and received from the past. Institutions are products of the past process, are adapted to past circumstances, and are therefore never in full accord with the requirements of the present. In the nature of the case, this process of selective adaptation can never catch up with the progressively changing situation in which the community finds itself at any given time; for the environment, the situation, the exigencies of life which enforce the adaptation and exercise the selection, change from day to day; and each successive situation of the community in its turn tends to obsolescence as soon as it has been established [emphasis added]. When a step in the development has been taken, this step itself constitutes a change of situation which requires a new adaptation; it becomes the point of departure for a new step in the adjustment, and so on interminably.

It is to be noted then, although it may be a tedious truism, that the institutions of today — the present accepted scheme of life — do not entirely fit the situation of today. At the same time, men’s present habits of thought tend to persist indefinitely, except as circumstances enforce a change. These institutions which have thus been handed down, these habits of thought, points of view, mental attitudes and aptitudes, or what not, are therefore themselves a conservative factor. This is the factor of social inertia, psychological inertia, conservatism. Social structure changes, develops, adapts itself to an altered situation, only through a change in the habits of thought of the several classes of the community, or in the last analysis, through a change in the habits of thought of the individuals which make up the community. The evolution of society is substantially a process of mental adaptation on the part of individuals under the stress of circumstances which will no longer tolerate habits of thought formed under and conforming to a different set of circumstances in the past. For the immediate purpose it need not be a question of serious importance whether this adaptive process is a process of selection and survival of persistent ethnic types or a process of individual adaptation and an inheritance of acquired traits.

For Simmel, it is not the 'obsolescence' of these institutions and habits of minds that is at the root of the problem. Rather it is the sheer proliferation of "objective" facts that overwhelm the individual's capability of assimilating them: 
If one compares our culture with that of a hundred years ago, then one may surely say — subject to many individual exceptions — that the things that determine and surround our lives, such as tools, means of transport, the products of science, technology and art, are extremely refined. Yet individual culture, at least in the higher strata, has not progressed at all to the same extent; indeed, it has even frequently declined. … The fact that machinery has become so much more sophisticated than the worker is part of this same process. How many workers are there today, even within large-scale industry, who are able to understand the machine with which they work, that is the mental effort invested in it? ... In the purely intellectual sphere, even the best informed and most thoughtful persons work with a growing number of ideas, concepts and statements, the exact meaning and content of which they are not fully aware. The tremendous expansion of objective, available material of knowledge allows or even enforces the use of expressions that pass from hand to hand like sealed containers without the condensed content of thought actually enclosed within them being unfolded for the individual user. Just as our everyday life is surrounded more and more by objects of which we cannot conceive how much intellectual effort is expended in their production, so our mental and social communication is filled with symbolic terms, in which a comprehensive intellectuality is accumulated, but of which the individual mind need make only minimal use. … Every day and from all sides, the wealth of objective culture increases, but the individual mind can enrich the forms and contents of its own development only by distancing itself still further from that culture and developing its own at a much slower pace. 
How can we explain this phenomenon? If all the culture of things is, as we saw, nothing but a culture of people, so that we develop ourselves only by developing things, then what does that development, elaboration and intellectualization of objects mean, which seems to evolve out of these objects' own powers and norms without correspondingly developing the individual mind? This implies an accentuation of the enigmatic relationship which prevails between the social life and its products on the one hand and the fragmentary life-contents of individuals on the other. The labour of countless generations is embedded in language and custom, political constitutions and religious doctrines, literature and technology as objectified spirit from which everyone can take as much of it as they wish to or are able to, but no single individual is able to exhaust it all. Between the amount of this treasure and what is taken from it, there exists the most diverse and fortuitous relationships. The insignificance or irrationality of the individual's share leaves the substance and dignity of mankind's ownership unaffected, just as any physical entity is independent of its being individually perceived. Just as the content and significance of a book remains indifferent to a large or small, understanding or unresponsive, group of readers, so any cultural product confronts its cultural audience, ready to be absorbed by anyone but in fact taken up only sporadically. This concentrated mental labour of a cultural community is related to the degree to which it comes alive in individuals just as the abundance of possibilities is related to the limitations of reality. 
If only these two contemporaries could have been brought together in an exchange of views! I have long admired Veblen's thought and his influence on subsequent writers, including Kenneth Burke, Stephen Leacock, and Arthur Dahlberg. But re-evaluating it in the light of "planned obsolescence" and "progressive obsolescence" I can now see its potential for misappropriation. We "can never catch up with the progressively changing situation" — therefore we must race ever faster on the treadmill of technological progress! 

William Trufant Foster and Waddill Catchings wrote several underconsumptionist texts in the 1920s that Steven Kates has argued were a formative — but unacknowledged — influence on Keynes's General Theory. For our purposes, though, what is of interest is their comments on Veblen in two of their early books, Money (1924) and Profits (1925). In the former book, Foster and Catchings took issue with Veblen's objection to the "conspicuous waste" of non-productive consumers:
But, however objectionable it may be to have any members of society appropriate for their personal use far more than they contribute to society, we cannot for that reason hold them directly responsible" for fluctuations in the world's work. Their "joy-riding” cannot budge business as long as the amount they spend in consumption bears a constant relation to the other factors that determine the annual production-consumption equation.

In Profits, Foster and Catchings chided Veblen and others for hypocritically assuming that other people's consumption is waste but their own is sensible:

No one who cries out against wasteful and harmful products proposes to have his own freedom of choice restrained. He assumes that in an ideal economic order, where nobody wasted the labors of men in the pursuit of profit, he would still be able to buy about all that he now enjoys; for, naturally, his own expenditures seem to him sensible. He does not expect to give up his favorite cigar or cheese, or anything else except, perhaps, certain newspapers or vaudeville shows that are beginning to bore him. It is always some other man's way of spending money that he wishes to curtail for the common good. So when Thorstein Veblen lashes, with all the thongs of his far-flung vocabulary, the conspicuous waste of the leisure class, and when Hartley Withers condemns it for 'consuming things that it does not really want,' we should bear in mind, however tempted we may be to join in the flaying, that every consumer is the sole judge of what he really wants. 

There are only a couple of steps from every consumer being the sole judge of what he wants to the economic imperative of advertising and fashion compelling people to want things they otherwise don't want. The first step is from Foster and Catchings to Paul Mazur's American Prosperity: It's Causes and Consequences (1928). Catchings was a senior partner at Goldman Sachs; Mazur was a senior partner at Lehman Brothers. The two men "played equally important roles in directing investment bankers toward the consumer industry." ("Brokers and the New Corporate Industrial Order" -- William Leach). They worked together promoting mergers in the merchandise sector. Mazur didn't cite Foster and Catchings in his book and he didn't mention Veblen. 

Obsolescence, however, appears 43 times in Mazur's book. Veblen used the term in 1897 and used it pointedly in The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). The term began to appear relatively frequently with reference to depreciation of capital goods around 1903-1904. Before then it usually referred to medical, biological, or linguistic matters. Obsolete was used by several economists, including Veblen, in the 1890s with reference to machinery. I could find no reference prior to the twentieth century of obsolescent or obsolete consumer goods.

Mazur's friend in the advertising industry, J. George Frederick, undoubtedly got his inspiration from Mazur's book for his article, "Is Progressive Obsolescence the Path Toward Increased Consumption." American Prosperity was published in January 1928. Frederick's article was published the following September. Frederick didn't mention Mazur. He did, however, take a dig at Foster and Catchings:

Messrs. Foster and Catchings have been talking and writing theoretically about this question for four or five years and getting much attention. They say "get more money into the consumer's hands with which to buy," which is most admirable doctrine, but their only concrete recipe for doing this little piece of bootstrap-lifting is for the Government to employ men on Federal building projects. I think that it is self-evident that this is a mere minor stop-gap.

Having now obtained Frederick's "Progressive Obsolescence" article, I'm confident he wrote the progressive obsolescence chapter of his wife's book and likely added the ironic praise of "Veblen's excellent phrase."

Herbert Marcuse's 1941 essay "Some social implications of Modern Technology" was published in the same issue of Studies in Philosophy and Social Science, as Theodor Adorno's "Veblen’s Attack on Culture: Remarks Occasioned by the Theory of the Leisure Class." Marcuse's references to Veblen there were mainly to the "Instinct of Workmanship" essay and to observations by Veblen about technology that were similar to Marx's views on the relationship between workers and machinery. Adorno was more perceptive in criticizing Veblen's one-sided debunking of culture as being "not completely out of harmony" with the "disarming" reception he received. Presumably, though, Veblen — and even Adorno — would have been horrified by facility with which Foster and Catchings repelled lashes from "the thongs of his far-flung vocabulary," Mazur perverted his "striking terminology," and the Fredericks mocked his "excellent phrase," conspicuous consumption.

Simmel's analysis didn't lend itself so readily to snappy sloganeering and perhaps that spared it from assimilation and vulgarization. I recently read a 54-page essay  that mostly focuses on a 24-page section of Simmel's The Philosophy of Money. My advice would be to read the section on culture in Simmel's chapter on the "Style of Life" twice -- or maybe three times. This is not meant as a slight on the 54-page essay. Simmel's writing is so rich and deep that one can read it over and over profitably. 

Simmel didn't offer a solution to the problems of modernity that he describes. To be fair, Veblen didn't offer a solution either, at least not in The Theory of the Leisure Class (later on he hallucinated about 'the engineers' as agents of social change). Simmel's refusal of a solution was consistent with his critique of the preponderance of means over ends. Solutions to problems, after all, are means, not ends. The end is not resignation but wisdom.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Marx's "most realistic... most amazing insight!"

In his farewell lecture at Brandeis University, "Obsolescence of Socialism," Herbert Marcuse quoted a passage from the Grundrisse and claimed that in Capital, Marx had "repressed this vision, which now appears as his most realistic, his most amazing insight!"

As large-scale industry advances, the creation of real wealth depends increasingly less on the labor time and the quantity of labor expended in the productive process than on the power of the instruments set in motion during the labor time. These instruments, and their growing effectiveness are in no proportion to the actual labor time which the production requires; their effectiveness rather depends on the attained level of science and technical progress. Human labor then is no longer enclosed in the process of production — man rather relates himself to the process of production merely as supervisor and regulator. He stands outside this process instead of being its principal agent. In this transformation, the basis of production and wealth is no longer the actual (physical) labor performed by man himself, nor his labor time, but his own creative power, that is, his knowledge and mastery of nature through his social existence in one word, the development of the social (all-round) individual. The theft of another man's labor time, on which the social wealth still rests today, then becomes a miserable basis compared with the new basis which large-scale industry itself has created. As soon as human labor, in its physical form, has ceased to be the great source of wealth, labor time will cease, and must of necessity cease, to be the measure of wealth, and exchange value must of necessity cease to be the measure of use value. The surplus labor of the mass of the population has then ceased to be the condition for the development of social wealth, and the leisure of the few has ceased to be the condition for the development of the intellectual faculties of man. The (capitalist) mode of production, which rests on exchange value, thus collapses... 

Marcuse's quotation corresponds to the passage beginning on page 704 of the Penguin edition and continuing though most of page 705, with some elisions. "Man becomes free from the necessities of spending himself in material production," Marcuse exclaimed following the quotation, "Free to control, even to 'play' with it according to his own human faculties. Not a word about class struggle! Not a word about impoverishment!"

Not a word about class struggle or impoverishment in the passage quoted by Marcuse because those questions were dealt with elsewhere in the manuscript. "It is already contained in the concept of the free labourer," Marx wrote on page 604, "that he is a pauper: virtual pauper." And, Marx continued:

According to his economic conditions he is merely a living labour capacity, hence equipped with the necessaries of life. Necessity on all sides, without the objectivities necessary to realize himself as labour capacity. If the capitalist has no use for his surplus labour, then the worker may not perform his necessary labour; not produce his necessaries. Then he cannot obtain them through exchange; rather, if he does obtain them, it is only because alms are thrown to him from revenue. He can live as a worker only in so far as he exchanges his labour capacity for that part of capital which forms the labour fund. This exchange is tied to conditions which are accidental for him, and indifferent to his organic presence. He is thus a virtual pauper. Since it is further the condition of production based on capital that he produces ever more surplus labour, it follows that ever more necessary labour is set free. Thus the chances of his pauperism increase. To the development of surplus labour corresponds that of the surplus population. In different modes of social production there are different laws of the increase of population and of overpopulation ; the latter identical with pauperism. These different laws can simply be reduced to the different modes of relating to the conditions of production, or, in respect to the living individual, the conditions of his reproduction as a member of society, since he labours and appropriates only in society. The dissolution of these relations in regard to the single individual, or to part of the population, places them outside the reproductive conditions of this specific basis, and hence posits them as overpopulation, and not only lacking in means but incapable of appropriating the necessaries through labour, hence as paupers. Only in the mode of production based on capital does pauperism appear as the result of labour itself, of the development of the productive force of labour.

 "Not a [single] word about class struggle! Not a [single] word about impoverishment!" No, not one word -- three hundred and twenty words about class and pauperization with another six pages on the same topics to follow. 

The passage Marcuse quoted is from a part of the Grundrisse that has come to be known as the "fragment on machines." It is my argument that the so-called fragment is intimately related to two other fragments that occur earlier in the edited manuscript as it has been published. The connections between the three fragments are both lexical and logical, and the analysis in the first two informs the interpretation of terminology used in the third. Marcuse was right that the passage he quoted contained a "most amazing insight." It just wasn't the one he thought it was.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Misunderstanding of Climate Change and Why it Matters: The Energy Price Spike

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has triggered a spike in oil and gas prices worldwide.  A natural response is for countries with untapped reserves to expand production as quickly as possible, but doesn’t this contradict the pledges they have also made to combat climate change?  This issue is covered at some length in a New York Times article today, and the entire discussion—the arguments used by government officials and energy experts and the assumptions of the journalists who quote them—is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how atmospheric carbon causes global warming.

The claims and counterclaims in the article are about whether short term increases in carbon emissions will make it easier or hard to reach a net zero target decades into the future.  That would be the right question to ask if there is an on-off climate switch based on what happens in 2050 or some other year, but there isn’t.

The severity of climate impacts will be determined by the accumulation of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere; in economic terms, it’s a stock, not a flow, externality.  The true test of our response to the climate crisis is whether we can keep this accumulation within a reasonable limit.  That’s the physics and chemistry of the greenhouse effect, not a political opinion.  If we emit more this year, no matter what the reason (like Ukraine), the budget constraint requires us to emit that much less in future years.  Given that stringent policies are not in place anywhere on planet Earth, and it is unclear whether there is political capacity to bring them about, there is no question at all about the effect of increased fossil fuel production, this year or any other, on climate outcomes.

It’s amazing how removed current political and media chatter is from the basics of climate science.

The Iran Nuclear Deal And The Ukraine Invasion

 At New Year's I disagreed with forecasts made by David Ignatius that Putin would fully invade Ukraine and that the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran would be revived. I have been proven wrong on the first matter already. As of a week or more ago it looked like I would be about the second as well as reports had a revived deal nearly made, which I would like to see.

But now it looks like it may fall victim to the Ukraine invasion. In particular Russia is now demanding that any deal not involve any enforcement of any economic sanctions on Russia. Apparently Iranian leaders are unhappy about this extraneous demand, and the deal may not happen.  However, apparently it may not be necessary for Russia to sign for it to legally go into force.  The main complication would be that Russia is where excess enriched uranium from Iran is supposed to go, so Russia could scuttle implementation, even if the deal is legally reinvigorated.

One reason Putin may wish to do this involves oil prices.  Getting the deal back in place would relax sanctions on Iran and allow it to export more oil. This would ease the world price of oil. As of now, Putin would prefer to have that price as high as possible both to damage his enemies economically as well as to get as much income as he can from the oil he is able to export, given that Russia's oil is now banned from certain markets.

Barkley Rosser

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Selling Mrs. Conspicuous Consumption

In Selling Mrs. Consumer, Christine Frederick shilled for progressive obsolescence, which had been advocated the previous year in an article by her husband, J. George Frederick. Or at least that is the way it seemed to her biographer, Janice Rutherford, who wrote, "she now took up and elaborated upon his theme, even using the same words..." 

Even using the same words?! It is possible that Mrs. Frederick copied passages from her husband's article. It is also possible that her husband, editor, and publisher, Mr. Frederick, wrote the chapter on progressive obsolescence for Mrs. Frederick's book. It's possible he wrote other chapters and made strategic additions here and there throughout the book. I mean, seriously?

There is another odd moment in Selling Mrs. Consumer that could possibly be from the pen of J. George Frederick. In chapter 13, the author makes the odd observation that "[c]ooking in general is thus no longer a means of "conspicuous consumption," to use Veblen's excellent phrase [emphasis added]." Rutherford described the peculiar comment as "misunderstanding his [Veblen's] indictment of the middle class's emulation of the wealthy." The book went on, however, to explain:

Emulation is a natural and a persisting human quality in all of us. The display of expensive goods or unusual possessions testifies to the economic distinction and pride of the owner or person making the display. Thus, the old time housewife making a display of her cooking skill, her elaborate menu, her rich dishes, did so as a means of expressing the "conspicuous consumption" of her particular family and herself as contrasted with the persons or family or woman to whom she was making the display. We have "conspicuous consumption" today, but its objects have changed, thus we have or make displays in the kind and elaborateness of the clothes we wear, in the furniture or jewels or furs we possess, and above all, in the car we drive and the home we occupy, or our way of life and living.

There is no "misunderstanding" here. Frederick -- whether Mr. or Mrs. -- simply omitted the implicit stigma of Veblen's "indictment." It's natural and persistent, so why should it be treated like a crime? Given Veblen's deadpan, matter-of-fact delivery, who is to say that his description was unequivocally an "indictment"? 

Why do I suspect George may have contributed the remarks on conspicuous consumption? In 1933, Frederick edited the volume, For and Against Technocracy: A Symposium. The Technocracy movement of the 1930s was steeped in the influence of Veblen. Frederick also edited volumes on The New Deal and on planning. He was reported interested in Joseph Schumpeter's idea of creative destruction, which he likened to his own views on progressive obsolescence. 

An apologetic interpretation of The Theory of the Leisure Class is conceivable, albeit eccentric. While pondering this matter, it came to my attention that Veblen used the word "obsolescence" nine times in The Theory of The Leisure Class. He used the word "obsolete" eight times, and "obsolescent" 16 times. 

Prior to 1900, most journal articles that use all three of those terms are either dealing with animal species or with features of language. Even the term "obsolescence," by itself, mostly refers to biological or medical phenomena. Of 95 instances of "obsolescence" prior to 1905 in JSTOR, 3 or 4 of them referred to other than biological, medical, or lexical matters. 

Veblen's contemporaries and influences -- Herbert Spencer, Henry George, William Graham Sumner, John Bates Clark, for example -- did not use the term. Veblen used "obsolescence" in The Theory of the Leisure Class, The Engineers and the Price System, The Theory of Business Enterprise, The Instinct of Workmanship and the State of the Industrial Arts, and An Inquiry into the Nature of Peace. It would be fair to conclude that Veblen popularized obsolescence as a sociological or economic concept.

In fact, Veblen theory of institutional evolution is grounded in the inherent obsolescence of contemporary social institutions:

Institutions are products of the past process, are adapted to past circumstances, and are therefore never in full accord with the requirements of the present. In the nature of the case, this process of selective adaptation can never catch up with the progressively changing situation in which the community finds itself at any given time; for the environment, the situation, the exigencies of life which enforce the adaptation and exercise the selection, change from day to day; and each successive situation of the community in its turn tends to obsolescence as soon as it has been established [emphasis added]. When a step in the development has been taken, this step itself constitutes a change of situation which requires a new adaptation; it becomes the point of departure for a new step in the adjustment, and so on interminably. 

Incidentally, Theodor Adorno cited the above passage in his 1941 essay, "Veblen's Attack on Culture." It would be fascinating to assess Marcuse's One-Dimensional Man from the perspective of Adorno's critique of Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class (Adorno's essay is anthologized in Prisms). Presumably, Adorno was unaware of the Fredericks's cynical appropriation of progressive obsolescence and conspicuous consumption but he did acknowledge the assimilation of Veblen's theories, including the adoption by journalists of his "striking terminology":

One sees here the objective tendency to disarm a tiresome opponent by giving him a warm reception. Veblen's thought. however, is not completely out of harmony with such a reception: he is less an outsider than he seems at first sight.

What Adorno criticized as Veblen's one-sided (might one say "one-dimensional"?) debunking of culture thus lent itself to precisely the sort of cynical appropriation it received. One might say the same for Marcuse's "repressive tolerance" and today's hyped-up cult of the victims of cancel culture. I will address the latter issue in a future post, expanding on the arguments I presented three years ago in "Unreading Marcuse's Repressive Tolerance" and a few other related posts from that time.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

A Footnote to IT WAS BEDLAM!

Lewis Corey was a pseudonym for Louis Fraina, one of the founders of the U.S. Communist Party. In a letter to Marcuse dated August 16, 1960, Raya Dunayevskaya replied at length to his request for references to the American literature dealing with the issues of "the transformation of the laboring class under the impact of rationalization, automation and particularly, the higher standard of living." This was in connection with his research for One-Dimensional Man.

In her reply, Dunayevskaya briefly mentioned -- and dismissed -- Fraida/Corey's The Decline of American Capitalism as "so-called Marxist" and "underconsumptionist":

If you take the economists, you also have a choice of the flip side so that Louis M. Hacker now touts The Triumph of Capitalism and while everyone is ashamed of such past as The Decline of American Capitalism which, like all so-called Marxist books from Corey to that Stalinist apologist who passes for the Marxist authority (even Joseph Schumpeter's monumental but quite lopsided or, as we say more appropriate in Jewish tsidreit [confused, distorted], work, History of Economic Analysis refers to him as such) Paul Sweezy are one and all underconsumptionist so that, whether you take the period of the 1930s when "all" were Marxists to one degree or another and some serious works were done, or you take now when nearly the only works against capitalism are issued by the Stalinists, there really is no genuine Marxist analysis of the American economy either historically, sociologically or as economic works.

I suspect Marcuse accepted Dunayevskaya's evaluation and didn't bother with The Decline of American Capitalism, which is unfortunate because Corey's "so-called Marxist" critique of 'progressive obsolescence' may have led him away from Veblen-by-proxy moralism of the Vance Packard account of planned obsolescence and his own presentation of the evils of planned obsolescence as self-evident.



 From The Decline of American Capitalism by Lewis Corey (1934):

Capitalist production saves on labor and multiplies the productive forces. But two contradictions arise which constantly torment capitalist enterprise. Saving on labor decreases relative wages and limits the conditions of consumption. This sets in motion the forces of excess capacity, sharpened competition, and mounting distribution costs. These costs absorb much, if not most, of the saving on labor, and eventually strengthen the downward pressure on the rate of profit. The efforts of capitalist enterprise to escape these manifold contradictions created bedlam.


Bedlam reached its climax in the theory of “progressive obsolescence,” seriously considered by the tormented magnates of industry, finance, and advertising:
“If we are to have increasingly large-scale production there must likewise be increasingly large-scale consumption ... To get more money into the consumers hands with which to buy ... is a mere minor stopgap. There is, however, a far greater and more powerful lever available. I refer to a principle which, for want of a simpler term, I name progressive obsolescence. This means simply the more intensive spreading – among those people who now have buying surplus – of the belief in and practice of buying more goods on the basis of obsolescence in efficiency, economy, style or taste. We must induce people who can afford it to buy a greater variety of goods on the same principle that they now buy automobiles, radios and clothes, namely, buying goods not to wear out, but to trade in or discard after a short time when new or more attractive goods or models come out. The one salvation of American industry, which has a capacity for producing 80% or 100% more goods than are now consumed, is to foster the progressive obsolescence principle, which means buying for up-to-dateness, efficiency and style, buying for change, whim, fancy ... We must either use the fruits of our marvelous factories in this highly efficient ‘power’ age, or slow them down or shut them down.” -  J. George Frederick, "Is Progressive Obsolescence the Path Toward Increased Consumption," Advertising and Selling, September 5, 1928, pp.19-20.
This is economic and cultural lunacy, but a lunacy wholly in accord with the social relations of capitalist production. Capitalism must produce and sell goods, but from the standpoint of profit it makes no difference what goods or who buys them.

The lunacy of “progressive obsolescence” was matched by the desperation of proposals to restrict production (now one of the aims of state capitalism). Said the president of the Durham Duplex Razor Company:
“Manufacturing merchandise faster than it can be sold is one of the principal causes of the increase in competition ... We are turning out more merchandise than can be sold profitably ... Business health can only be preserved by maintaining an equilibrium between production and consumer sales.” [12]
Thus was rejected the “principle” that production and prosperity depend upon mass consumption:
  • “Limit production,” with 2,500,000 workers already unemployed!
  • “Maintain an equilibrium between production and consumer sales,” “induce those people who now have buying surplus ... to buy a greater variety of goods ... not to wear out, but for style, change, whim, fancy,” while 85,000,000 workers and farmers were living on or below subsistence levels!

Sunday, March 6, 2022

The Blindfolded Scaffolding Begins to Unfold

We sense too little for the process of containment to unfold. Yet phenomenologists focus on early representations from the scaffolding for subsequent events in front of the now not-blindfolded infants. Infants looked at longer aspects of the psychoanalytic scaffolding: how reverie can be and is being a weird kind of blindfold. 

Since our dynamical, reciprocal exchanges unfold and lead to changes -- gaze-following behavior of another blindfolded person in which students were blindfolded and presented with a series of interstitial spaces that unfold between them. It follows that any better instructional scaffolding to students by tapping behavioral dynamics that unfold in the variations of student problem solving by being blindfolded to problem difficulty. As a member of the urban landscape and theatre, scaffolding seem temporarily to lead a group, or to lead a blindfolded person and the empowerment that brings there, in that underground space, the blindfolded audience a separate, private show begins to unfold.

While mothers showing adaptive scaffolding accounting for infants' feedback to the learner in the form of scaffolding and/or guidance from a coach or mentor, strengthening the scaffolding upon which we experience our lives to the target length, which is transferred to the blindfolded student (right) by repeated trials. Pat was thrown across those who watch all of the pieces unfold in time and space, and Robertson instructed her by asking how the story might unfold in today's world, and how it might examine events as they unfold (in particular, the scaffolding of using narrators was no longer of the children being blindfolded, experiencing the trauma again, or seeing it unfold before their eyes). Furthermore, we should unfold the time t and allow the As we can see from the above discussion, scaffolding not only, regular training, and blindfolded testing sessions whereas, the kind of concrete and scaffolding and crowds and cars, lorries,,, 

The inputs to here, one will also find most of the scaffolding with which Marx blindfolded but didn't know in which direction it was tracing how capitalist contradictions unfold is also the way that actual experiment participants are blindfolded, and the crucial role of mutual responsiveness in the scaffolding of our day-to-day life unfold: the existence and ubiquity of such qualities of experience that unfold during such go-along encounters that interact, one way or another, with the unfolding activity of our neural and bodily apparatus are apt (at best) for mere support and scaffolding by their best tools and technologies.

Ha ha. I could do this bit blindfolded.

In the concepts of scaffolding and the extended mind as long as the interaction process continues to unfold in this. Participants are located in separate rooms, blindfolded, given the novel’s postmodernist scaffolding as prime means. The story would unfold during the fragile interstices of a tense. I was still clinging to the scaffolding pole as he slaughtered. Then the blindfolded participants are left to sway in place. When they took off the blindfolds, men somehow had to hang on. Why transport a blindfolded victim on a bicycle? One of the fishermen volunteered to be blindfolded and toss their faces wrapped in cloth. That leaves them featureless, they seek beyond that wall of quattrocento blue a beauty that is a fiction of themselves -- and do not find it, blindfolded by love. 

Vietnam Stress is like running blindfolded with weights on. These of coping and transformation that began to unfold. Often the faulty scaffolding builds new scaffolding on which to develop not just these experiences in more depth, when it collapsed.

Fascist Traditionalism And Putin's Invasion Of Ukraine

 About a half century ago I urged by my oldest friend to read a book by Fritjof Schuon (1907-1998) written in 1953, The Transcendental Unity of Religions. The book's title basically tells its message: that while each religion has its own exoteric forms that differ from those of each other, there is a core to all of them that is the same, a transcendental unity of cosmic truth and fundamental reality. Schuon had links with the Shadhili Sufi order, the Sufis being the branch of Islam open to relations with other relations from a transcendental mystical perspective, somewhat echoing ideas present in the 19th century US transcendentalist movement that was also associated with progressive political ideas. 

I found this book most interesting, although I was not moved to get involved with the Sufi group that my friend and a couple of others were drawn to. My old friend and his wife really got into that group for several years, becoming quite conservative on social issues as well as some others. This led to a period of time when we did not have any dealings with each other. Eventually they became disillusioned with this group and moved on, eventually becoming Romanian Orthodox despite neither having any Romanian ancestry. They remain quite conservative in their views, although fortunately have not been fans of Donald Trump at all. We did renew our friendship and remain in communication. Schuon, originally from Switerland, eventually moved to the US, dying in Bloomington, IN, not too far from where my friends now live outside Indianapolis.

Schuon was strongly influenced by Frenchman Rene Guenon (1886-1961), who also would join the Shadhili Sufi sect and would move in 1930 to live in Egypt. He is viewed as the founder of a movement known as Traditionalism, also as the Perennial Philosophy. Raised as a Roman Catholic, Guenon initially was interested in Hinduism as well as Taoism before joining the Sufi sect. But like Schuon he argued that all religions share a common unifying of transcending beliefs.  Guenon argued that these ideas and beliefs dated from the pre-modern world and thus are Traditional. He favored ancient and medieval forms of art over those arising in the Renaissance and since. The Enlightenment and science and reason were seen as distracting from and degrading this primordial vision of transcendental unity.  Guenon's ideas were most influentially laid out in several books he wrote in the late 1920s such as The World in Crisis (1927) and Spritual Authority and Temporal Power (1929).  Guenon's work would become highly influential on much of modern academic religious studies.

While Guenon's work implicitly posed a highly conservative view of the world with its denigration of science and modernity, he avoided specific political movements, as did his follower, Schuon, and some others.  But one such follower did not engage in such avoidance, Giulio (Julius) Evola (1898-1974) of Italy. He would shift the religious focus to occultism and adopted an overtly anti-Semitic stance. His most famous books were Revolt Against the Modern World (1934) and Men in the Ruins (1953). Living in Italy under Mussolini he was initially too extreme even for the Fascists, but in the late 1930s after spending time in Germany with Himmler he would help move Mussolini to fully racist position more in line with that of Nazi Germany. He disapproved of the "populism" of both the Fascists and Nazis, arguing for the revival of an ancient caste system. He continued to formulate his philosophy of "radical traditionalism" and "magical idealism" after the war, adding a patriarchal element to his anti-democratic position.  He would be arrested in 1951 for active involvement in attempting to revive fascism. He advocated a trans-national "European Imperium." One of his current followers is sometime Trump adviser, Steve Bannon.

But for our purposes his most important follower and advocate of this Traditionalism is the Russian Aleksandr Dugin (b. 1962), who would lead the sociology department at Moscow State University for several years prior to 2014, when he was fired.  Dugin accepted the authoritarian and anti-Semitic elements of Traditionalism while shifting the religious focus to the Russian Orthodox Church. especially its Old Believer branch. He has developed his own version of the European Imperium as Eurasianism, which sees an even broader entity that rules all of Eurasia that is ruled by Russia. Dugin has laid this out in various works posing his own version of history that glorifies the history of the Kyivan Rus, especially in his most influential book, The Foundations of Geopolitics: The Geopolitical Future of Russia (1997). This book, now widely read by members of the Russian general staff, has become a major influence on none other than Vladimir V. Putin, with Dugin a major adviser of his. Reportedly it was Dugin who convinced Putin to take over and annex Crimea in 2014, and has long advocated Russia conquering Ukraine as part of a broader campaign to establish his Eurasiatic entity.

We thus have a great irony. On the one hand V.V. Putin has declared that a major motive for his invasion of Ukraine is that he is supposedly going to "de-Nazify" the nation. But his underlying philosophy reflects a profoundly fascist vision of the world.

Barkley Rosser