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Showing posts from October 9, 2011

pascalian peasant economics

Paul Warde makes useful distinction (in Subsistence and Sales: the peasant economy of Württemberg in the early seventeenth century, Economic History Review, 2006) between a school of the economic historiography of peasant economies that emphasized Ricardian decreasing returns and Malthusian limits to resources, and a school that emphasized a Smithian growth approach, in which the peasant’s natural inclination to barter and trade and maximize profit is merely hindered by rent seeking and anachronistic guild like institutions. One of the star representatives of the latter approach, Sheilagh Ogilvie, attacks any theory that holds that the peasant economy is somehow special, because, according to her, such a theory is founded on the idea that peasants are irrational. Her reading, then, of Polanyi style analysis is that it is deeply patronizing to peasants and blind to the way peasants were struggling to become capitalists against the dead weight of feudal institutions: “But whether &

I'm gonna tell you how its gonna be...

At the moment, I presume that on inauguration day, January 19th, 2012, President Obama will hand the reins to President Romney. Romney will have a brilliant political prospect: he’ll be dealing with a Senate and House of Representatives that will be solidly Republican. But what of the quality of life of the American public? That will have declined precipitously during Obama’s four years. The African-American community will have declined, economically, to where it was in 1990. The American middle class will have continued to lose asset wealth and income, returning to the 1995 point. The housing market will be in deep freeze. Unemployment will be around 9 percent, but in terms of labor participation, the number of Americans working will be in the 1980s levels. The environment, in the meantime, will be starting to show the first signs of its crash. We know its coming, but we don’t know how it will manifest itself – although we know that the government will respond to it in the truly cl

Radical idea: let's stop kissing the ass of the rich

In its story about a trader going to jail for inside trading, the NYT injected an explanation of the trader's status that is, well, a sort of thermostat reading of the temperature of this here plutocracy. "Though Mr. Kimelman lived comfortably, he was hardly a Wall Street titan. In his best year, Mr. Kimelman said he earned about $400,000 and never had more than $1 million in the bank." I love it when the plutocratic libido scratches a hole in the placid news discourse that tries to normalize it. Compare this to Heritage Foundation's recent study of the poor, showing the American poor really have nothing whatsoever to bitch about. Here's the rundown from a Bill O'Reilly show: "O'REILLY: The Census Bureau reports that 43 million Americans are currently living in poverty. The bureau defines poverty as a family of four earning less than $22,000 a year. But the conservative Heritage Foundation says that many poor American families have lots of st

age of the bark beetles

Photo by Josh Haner, NYT “When I go see things with my children, I let them know they might not be around when they’re older,” he said. “‘Go enjoy these beautiful forests before they disappear. Go enjoy the glaciers in these parks because they won’t be around.’ It’s basically taking note of what we have, and appreciating it, and saying goodbye to it.” – Ralph Keeling, Scripps Institution of Oceanography In 1975, two years before he was tortured and murdered, Pasolini wrote a column in the Corriere della serra entitled “on the fireflies’. He begins with a question much debated on the Italian left at the time – how fascist was the ruling order in Italy? – but he quickly left the usual pro and contra behind, instead moving to a new view of Italy’s history by pointing to an unremarked moment, an unnoticed threshold. This threshold was not unique to Italy, but could be extrapolated to the the history of any capitalist or industrial country: ‘Since I am a writer and I polemicize, or a

smash the revolving door - another demand for the OWS crowd!

The Democratic party is supposedly divided between a rightwing faction and a liberal faction. In reality, the Democratic party, like the GOP, is in thrall to the revolving door faction. The revolving door Dems found their emblem and hero in Peter Orszag, the Obama advisor who, going from strength to strength, helped plan Obama’s “pivot” to the issue of the deficit before launching a career for himself in the financial world that Obama’s Treasury and Obama’s appointee to the head of the Federal Reserve so amply supported with 16 trillion dollars in loans over the last three years. Orszag, though, is easy pickings, an amoral DLC-er who pathetically wowed the kids hired to fluff for Obama in the press – people like Ezra Klein – because he had that shark vibe and was reportedly good with the babes – wow! How neat! It is hard to take the likes of him seriously, given the likes of those who take him seriously. The revolving door is a term that helps us understand the government/corporat

What is the natural economy

Historians who try to describe the rupture between capitalism and pre-capitalist modes of production face a dilemma. The predominant narrative that describes this rupture places capitalism in a teleological position vis-à-vis what came before it, and this makes it hard to describe pre-capitalistic economies in their own terms. This is especially true in as much as the clerks who existed in these pre-capitalist economies did not conceptualize the economy in the same way that economists conceptualize economies. The grounding condition for economics as a science is a recognition of economics as a social fact – and this conditions indissolubly binds together economics and capitalism. Even anti-capitalist economics, given its most systematic form by Marx, often falls prey to the teleological assumption that history slouches, inevitably, towards capitalism – although Marx backed away from that interpretation, as is clear from the letters he exchanged with Russian populists, where he conf

the golden bullet proof golf shirt

In the 1990s, Thomas Friedman wrote a book that, in a sense, was the founding document of neo-smarm – a pundit style for the end of history crowd. It was called the Lexus and the Olive Tree, or something like that, and it was littered with phrases that are instantly bullet point-able - amply demonstrating the difference between the art of the epigram and the banality of the sound byte. Neo-smarm is neo-liberalism that has kicked off its shoes, and Friedman is its master. I mention this not to attack the latest Friedman column – who cares about the latest Friedman column, or the one before that, or the one before that? Rather, it is to borrow a phrase from his book that struck me at the time. Friedman coined the phrase ‘golden strait-jacket’ to refer to the ‘de-politicizing’ of economic decisions. By de-politicizing, he really means the segregating of political decisions from the will of the people, as evidenced in elections and other such Christmas ornaments. . Not that Friedman wa