Skip to main content


Showing posts from May 20, 2012

musical chairs in the EU

Marcel Mauss tells a story, in his essay about the techniques of the body, about an incident he observed in WWI.  “In a gesture of collaboration, a British regiment, the Worcester, received permission to incorporate some French drummers and buglers in order to match the French military march. The result, according to Mauss, was a disaster: During almost six months, in the streets of Bailleul, long after the battle of l'Aisne [where the regiment had achieved some success], I often saw the ,following   spectacle: the regiment had conserved its English march and rhythmed it to the French. It even had at its head a small group of French infantrymen who knew how to work the clarions and who sounded the marches better than their men. The unhappy regiment of tall Englishmen could not form. All was discordant in their marching. When they tried to march in time, the music didn’t properly mark their marching. To the point where the Worcester regiment was obliged to suppress the French ma

The new spoils system

Mark Thoma, on Economist’s View, has posed the question, one he often refers to: why are politicians (American politicians) so indifferent to the employment problem? Meanwhile, Mark Stoller, on Naked Capitalism, has a postabout the present good fortunes of ex President Clinton and our current spoilssystem – which differs from the old spoils system in that the spoils aren’t enjoyed concurrently with one’s stint in office, but afterwards.   I think the Stoller post supplies some answer to the Thoma post. If you have a return to the pre-1929 distribution of industry, and you add to that the shrinking of the unionized part of the labor force to 1910 levels, then you get lack of concern about unemployment. A good question might be: why should politicians be concerned about unemployment? The unemployed, I think it is safe to say, don't have the resources to lobby much, or to make available rentseeking opportunities for politicians in the case they are voted out of office, o

Fortune and the market 1

On November 17, 1400,a Florentine merchant named Ardingo de’ Ricci wrote a letter to some associates in Catalonia, assessing his current business activity, and concluding: “For these reasons we have not decided to traffic in these regions… and we have taken the part of navigating in the Levant, in order if possible not to diminish our resources until fortune finishes its course.” Christian Bec, from whose study I extract this long lost instance of the woes of a middleman, has ventured out from the usual pool of well known literary texts into the lesser known and ordinary texts of merchants to fix the significance and meaning of Fortuna and its courses in the early Renaissance; he found that merchants allude to fortune in a number of ways: to signify a storm at sea, an unexpected turn of events in a war, or, as with Ricci, a general commercial state. What interests me in the latter is that clearly, a Ricci writing a letter to his investors today would use, without thinking, an

More socialist revolutionary propaganda - free!

The giant corporation and the state owned enterprise are cut from the same cloth. Victor Berger, the Milwaukee politician who was the first Socialist representative ever elected to the House, tried to get the Sherman Anti-Trust law overthrown in 1912. The reason was simple: according to the logic of the dominant socialist economic policy of the time, the more a corporation became a monopoly, the more it carved out a form that could be used when the state took it over. There was a natural evolution between monopoly and state ownership. This logic was not only a powerful argument in socialist circles. John Kenneth Galbraith, one of the great radical liberals in twentieth century America, also believed that the   monopoly form of the corporation rid itself of the pernicious, profit-seeking behaviors that made capitalism a bain to the common man, and promoted scientific progress and peace between labor and capital. I understand the logic, but I believe Victor Berger and Galbrai