The Rub

Ev11_45_12---Ballot-Box_weben if you hope that the Scots choose (choose!) to stay with England and Wales and Northern Ireland (and the Cornish :D), this piece by Irvine Welsh is an essential expression of what’s thrilling about the Scottish vote, which is that it represents a vindication of something true and real and powerful about the democratic principle. If the Scots choose to stay, it feels as if ‘politics’ will go back to process, to back and forth, to the channeling of imagination through a frame that, no matter how real the consequences, can’t help from being weighed down by its similarity to American idol. I don’t think that the Scots need to leave to feed this more expansive, imaginative, open idea of what democracy can be. But being given the opportunity to think more openly about how to organize society–aye, there’s the rub.

Teach the Controversy

Over at the Soros-funded Institute for New Economic Thinking, there have recently been a few blog-posts about the potential of, and the need for, economics curriculum reform. In a recent example, Abdul Alassad characterises the problem as follows:

rational debates of ideas has been replaced by dogma, to the detriment of society. A dogma is a set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true. Today, economics is taught as a set of assumptions that are unquestionably infallible, static, and undeniably true.

This misses the mark. Very few trained economists think that the dominant economic models are universal or incontrovertible. Rather, the danger of current economic teaching lies in the presentation of single models as the baseline for the analysis of economic problems, within a broader framework that relies on a single mode of economic analysis (the neoclassical synthesis). The result is that those whose exposure to economic concepts is limited to undergrad teaching come away with an attitude to the heterodoxy equivalent to the grade-schooler belief that there’s no such thing as negative numbers. Until you teach them how to manipulate unfamiliar ideas, questions that depend on those concepts will seem nonsensical.

So what’s the alternative? The failure of neoclassical models to predict or prevent the financial crisis, and its complicity in unavoidable perpetuation of inequalities under thirty years of neoliberalism could be used as an argument for simply replacing the dominant paradigm with another. The push for a more historical approach to economics provides a different, and likely more fruitful, answer: teach the controversy. It’s not clear why undergrads shouldn’t be exposed to the incompatible models of the Keynesians and the monetarists, marginalists and institutionalists, Marx and Hayek, Friedman and Coase.  For that matter, why shouldn’t they spend more time engaging with hard questions about the relationship between economic variables and real-world social practice, à la David Graeber or Thomas Piketty?

Of course, undergrads exposed to a variety of models, with often conflicting opinions about how policy will effect outcomes, and to theoretical texts that raise questions about the true nature of economic practice may end up somewhat confused about how the real world works. But this is exactly as it should be: if the last ten years have taught us anything, it’s that the world needs fewer, not more people convinced that they know how to organize an economy.

We're All Capitalists Now

Those concerned about inequality often place emphasis on the “income share of labour,” a.k.a. the ratio between the amount doled out in wages and the amount doled out in profits, treating it as a useful index of “how workers are doing.” This is logical enough insofar as workers are the ones, so the story goes, who have to rely on wages to eat.

In this sharp if somewhat technical review of Piketty’s Capital in the [...More] ‘ We’re All Capitalists Now ‘

Democracy for Everyone!

Good news, everyone: finance is getting more democratic, because technology.

You know how democracy works, right? It means that a service that was previously only sold to some people gets sold to everyone now. It used to be that only finance dudes got to have finance, but now everyone does. Hooray! Let’s watch a video of democracy happening.

What were we talking about? Oh yeah: today’s breathlessness about the democratizing potential of financial institutions [...More] ‘ Inconceivable! ‘

The End of Capitalists

Do not pass Go, do not collect $200

Now, I am not sure I totally agree with his reading of the politics, for reasons I’ve tried to spell out elsewhere. But JW Mason does a good job of making a point that has occasionally come up with since the economic crisis drove down interest rates, namely i. that there is no reason to think that real interest rates should be above zero, and ii. when real interests rates are very low, capitalists (qua [...More] ‘ The End of Capitalists ‘

“The Danes do it better”

There’s a lot of noise in Chris Maisano’s long critique of Lane Kenworthy‘s work, but in his key claim he’s on the nose and pithy to boot, calling out Kenworthy for adopting the “Danes do it better” argument.

Kenworthy, a professor of sociology and political science at the University of Arizona, has followed the popular “Ted Talk” strategy for academic notoriety: make a controversial claim about a well-known subject in easy-to-understand terms. Kenworthy’s particular [...More] ‘ “The Danes do it better” ‘

“The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away”

A weak translation, I am told by the internet, of Boethius. It almost makes one want to learn ancient Greek. Almost.

Seriously, though, 24 Hour Party People is a great movie.