Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Is There An Objective Reality?

Is There An Objective Reality?

Yes.

So this is the ontological question: is supposed apparently “objective” reality really real?

I come at this as someone who in the past questioned this.  I had my period of post-modernist questioning of objective reality. This culminated in a paper, which  I presented as a major address to receive a major recognition at my university, “Belief: Its role in economic theory and action,” American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 1993.

I shall stand by the vast majority of things I said in that paper, now under criticism on various fronts, but not all. I shall note, without bothering to reply specifically to any of those comments here, that indeed  there are things in this paper I now disagree with.  This was the height of my agreement with the pomo view of the universe.  But I had moved on from the less defensible parts of that  paper well before the general pomo exercise was to be revealed to be a pile of crap.in the Sokal expose in 1996.

I have just finished reading main portions of the latest book by my friend, Lee Smolin, “Einstein’s Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum,” which is to be a Christmas present to a family member, “pretesting” of gifts we call it.

Lee is a friend of mine, and the big cheese at the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, ON, CA. This is the place where the critics of string theory hang out, and Lee is their leader. I have spoken there, and I have lots of respect for this place and specifically many people there beyond Lee Smolin, their general protector and supporter.

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Does Menzie Chinn Or Tyler Cowen Replace Mark Thoma?

Does Menzie Chinn Or Tyler Cowen Replace Mark Thoma?

The retirement of Mark Thoma, whose Economist’s View has been praised on his retirement with having transformed the econoblogosphere back in the mid- noughties by linking regularly, daily in his heyday, to other blogs, including this one. Thanks to him when the big crash happened, there was a wide open debate across levels and schools of thought in economics about what was going down.

But for some time now, Mark has been reducing his activity on his blog, with it stopping being the reliable every day link to other blogs some time ago.  I fear that this combined with his retirement may be a signal of the decline, if not the outright death yet, of the econoblogosphere, at least as an important intellectual and policy force.

The obvious new competitor has been Twitter, which I confess I still resist.  It is ubiquitous, but also seriously shallow for serious issues.  I recognize its usefulness for covering immediate events such as disasters or revolutoins or strikes, etc.  But it is vacuous for any serious discussions.  But its appeal and attraction have simply grown, with the rise of use by Trump, with his 68 million followers and doing over 100 per day has substantially led to this shift.  We here are in a declining market.

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The Afghanistan War

The Afghanistan War

(posted by run75441)

The Washington Post has over the last 7 days published a detailed account based on many secret documents they have spent years obtaining to provide an accurate account of what has happened during what is now the longest war the US has been engaged in. It is an impressive account, which I have tried to follow, although with finishing a semester I did not read every word of it. But it is a serious and important serious series, just reaching its conclusion today, along with lots of commentary in the WaPo Sunday Outlook section.

One extremely serious bottom line on both of them was lying by US officials, just rampant and all over the place for both wars. WaPo Outlook had an especially useful column by Lauren Kay Johnson who was US military PR person in late 2009-early 2010, soon after Obama came in. Lies, lies, lies.

The obvious comparison is with the Vietnam War, and much does carryover such as corruption and bad excuses for continuing with unlikely improvement outcomes. Vietnam was bigger and deadlier, well over 2000 dead per year in Vietnam compared to about 100 Americans dying in Afghanistan per year. Easy to pay no attention to them.

So aside from much lower US deaths, maybe the other big difference from the Vietnam War is the shift to drones, perhaps not unconnected to the first. While this almost certainly reduced the US deaths, it also led to less knowledge on the ground that was there in Vietnam (see “They Marched into Sunlight” by David Maraniss, old friend of mine).

Obviously, a big difference between the two wars is that Vietnam beyond some point engendered a massive anti-war protest movement, while the longer Afghan war has not even to now triggered anything like the protests the Vietnam predecessor brought. Certainly both the far lower death rate and lower costs lie behind this.

But the similarities are clear and must be recognized. This has been a corrupt, ultimately hopeless war that people at many levels of the US govt have just routinely lied about. One difference between the two wars is the big role of opium in Afghanistan, with the money in it being hugely important, while it played a more minor matter in the earlier war.

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At This Point Richard Nixon Resigned

At This Point Richard Nixon Resigned

Richard Nixon resigned as president after the House Judiciary Committee recommended he  be impeached, the vote that just happened yesterday for President Trump.  In the case of Nixon that vote was followed by a famous visit from three powerful GOP senators, including Barry Goldwater, who informed Nixon that he had lost the support of the GOP in the Senate.  Of course now we have the GOP Senate Majority Leader McConnell going on Sean Hannity to promise that Trump will not be convicted and that he will “coordinate” with Trump’s lawyers to make sure there is no conviction.

Curiously, public polling support for impeaching Nixon only got ahead of opposition to it after the SCOTUS ruling that led to the public  release of the so-called “smoking gun” tape about a month before Nixon resigned.  In contrast, support for impeaching Trump has exceeded opposition to it since soon after it was announced the impeachment hearings would happen and appears to be holding steady, even as the Trumpists run all over the place declaring how he is  going to gain or is gaining from the impeachment proceedings.  It may be that his base is all riled, but so are those who do  not like Trump.

I also find it a bit weird that Trump and his supporters are running around threatening that the next time they control the House under a Dem prez, well, they will just go and impeach him.  They seem to forget that we have already seen this show with the Clinton impeachment, also a thoroughly partisan affair, and which never had support from more than about 30 percent of the population.  That one went to trial with all the GOPs voting for conviction, with one Dem also voting for it, Mr. Clean Russell Feingold of Wisconsin.  Of course the current GOPS say Clinton committed a crime called perjury and claim Trump has not, although last time I checked, bribery is still a felony.

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Is The Trump Trade War Over?

Is The Trump Trade War Over?

Probably not, but maybe.

The basic problem is that Trump has long wanted to beat up on other nations in a trade war; but now he is getting impeached, he needs positive news, and the stock markets like words of his making trade deals. So we get his trade deals, but it is all sort of a mess.

So there are two matters here. One involves China, discussed in a new post here by pgl, which I shall comment on later. But my quick take on it is his having made essentially similar proclamations in May, April, and even Dec. 2018. Sure, China will buy lots of US ag products and will respect intellectual property rights.  The number of times the latter has been promised, I have lost count of.  As for the former, well, Trump is still trying to pay off his farmer losers of his trade deals with US taxpayer money.

So, the item not mentioned by pgl, although I know he is knowledgeable on this, is the USMCA, or NAFTA++ whatever number.  The situation with this has become completely absurd. So on the day the House Judiciary committee called for impeachment of Trump, House Speaker Pelosi came out for a modified version of Trump’s USMCA.  Several changes were made, including putting a limit on pharma price protections and a demand for Mexicans to allow union organizing. There were nine other minor changes from the earlier versions. Anyway, it was enough for Pelosi to get the AFL-CIO to support it. She supported it.

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Stealing The 2016 Election?

Stealing The 2016 Election?

(Dan here…Thursday)

 I have been watching the later stages of the still-ongoing House  Judiciary Comm hearing on impeaching Trump.  I have seen Republicans repeatedly ranting on about how this is an effort to undo the “popular election” of Trump, the will of the “63 million” who voted for Trump.

Really, how dumb are these people? Hillary had three million more than Trump, 66 million.  He was not the popular winner.  What a joke.

Of course impeachment is explicitly an undoing of an election result.  The person elected, even ones who actually won the popular vote such as Nixon and Clinton, is charged with having engaged in conduct meaning they should be removed.  Quite aside from the hypocritical idiocy of ranting over Trump’s “popular” election, this claim about elections and impeachment is simply ridiculous.

Barkley Rosser

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Smoking At The Fed

Smoking At The Fed

This is about the now late Paul Volcker, but I shall come in from an odd and particular persprctive. Upfront, I did meet the late Paul Volcker several times, although never in an official situation.  Much of “inside” stuff I shall say comes from others.

I do not know the details of the Fed prior to the 1970s, but at least as of the Chairmanship of Milton Friedman’s major prof, Arthur Burns, who capitulated to the  demands of Nixon for his 1972 reelection,  But it was clear that Burns was carrying on a long established tradition in the Board of Govs of the Fed: they smoked their behinds off in their supersecret meetings in the old days (not the “openness” of now).

What really went on in the earlier days is myth, but then in the 1970s Fed Chairs came to be required to testify on a regular basis to various Congressional committees.  Burns was the Chair then and the first of them who had to do this, and he set the precedent: obfuscating smoking in public.  Burns smoked a pipe, and he became notorious s the Congressional reps pressed in with their generally populist questions pushing for lower interest rates, he smoked his pipe at length before answering inquiries, to the point of actually shrouding himself in actual smoke, something no longer allowed.

From my old inside info, this matter of smoking was a big deal in the late 1970s when Jimmy Carter appointe G. William Miller to be Fed Chair, a corporate CEO with zero experience with either banking or the Fed.  His was one of the worst and most disastrous Fed chairmanships ever, maybe the absolutely worst ever.  To really nail this down, I have been told by insiders of the day that Miller not only did not smoke, but he imposed a no-smoking ruole on Bd of Govs meetings (not sure about FOMC ones, but probably them too).  I have been told that this reallyt seriously ticked off various decades-long Bd members who had long been used to smoking during Board meetings.  As it was, inflation soared shortly after Miller arrived, who was viewed as not only incompetent, but a jerk.

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How Long Will US Foreign Net Income Dark Matter Continue?

How Long Will US Foreign Net Income Dark Matter Continue?

The United States became a net foreign debtor in 1985. With current account deficits every year since then, net foreign indebtedness has steadily increased since and reached a reported total of -$10.56 trillion as of Sept. 30 this year, a substantial total.

However, while many have long predicted that this mounting net foreign indebtedness would eventually lead to the US also having a net negative capital income flow, it has not happened. In 1985 when the US initially went into net indebtedness, the US had a net surplus on capital income of about $30 billion. Rather than shrinking, that surplus apparently increased somewhat in the subsequent 34 years. As of the second quarter of this year, it appears that the annual surplus of capital income was running in the neighborhood of $100 billion.

While there are serious sources of uncertainty and noise in much of this data, it certainly seems that US-owned assets abroad are earning far higher rates of return than what foreigners are earning from their assets in the US. This has for quite a long time been labeled the “dark matter” phenomenon.

The question arises: how long can this odd situation continue?

Barkley Rosser

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The End Of The Harris Candidacy

The End Of The Harris Candidacy

I should probably not waste time on this, but I was a fan of Kamala Harris. Her ending her candidacy while still in fifth  place in the polls and  if in a long slide, has me disappointed.  As it is, given her declining polls, lack of money, and reportedly internally divided campaign staff; her chances of actually getting the nomination had fallen to effectively zero.   It is actually an act of class on her part to get out of the overly crowded Dem field.

In light of  the recent sharp decline of Warren as well who is now running #4 among Dems, we now have three white males on top.  As it is I confess, I favored both Warren and Harris over all three of them and the rest as well.  How is it these problematic three whilte males are on top (I reocgnize that especially supporters of Sanders and Buttiegieg will dispute this and may well show up here to properly correct me and tell us of their virtues, and they as well as Biden do have virtues)?

I am going to put it out there: I think both Warren and Harris, especially the latter, have been held to a higher standard as women and Harris more so as a minority woman, than the white males. They are not allowed to make any errors or even appear to make an error.  The white males can bungle and have serious issues, but hey, not a problem, or at least not a fatal problem.  They can go on for the next day.

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Why Did Oil Prices Plunge This Black Friday?

Why Did Oil Prices Plunge This Black Friday?

Nothing to do with the American super big shopping day after Thanksgiving, but several items, some of which may reverse themselves.  As it is, it was a pretty big drop, nearly 5 percent for the day for both West Texas and Brent crude, with the latter now just above $60 per barrel.

The big headline is the resignation of Iraqi prime minister Adil Abdul Mahdi. The immediate trigger of that was that it was demanded by Iraq’s most influential cleric, Ali Sistani.  This came after weeks of mounting protests in Iraq against the government, both in Baghdad, but also among Shia in the South, with Sistani a Shia cleric. He is based in Najaf, the Shia holy city where Imam Ali is buried, the son-in-law of the Prrophet Muhammed.  Protestors had just torched an Iranian consulate there. The supposed reason this might justify a fall in oil prices is that it is thought that the protests have reduced exports from Iraq, which is currently the second largest oil exporter in OPEC. I do  not know if that will result, but if indeed this leads to Iraqi oil exports rising, then indeed a price drop is justified.

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