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Are We Living In The “Capitalocene”?

Are We Living In The “Capitalocene”?

I also attended the last session listed in the program at the ASSA at 2:30 on Sunday, an URPE session on “Ecology, the Environment, and Energy,” chaired by Paul Cooney.  He presented on “Marxism and Ecological Economics: An Assessment of the Past, Present, and Future.” Lynne Chester presented on “Energy and Social Ontology: Can Social Ontology Provide Insight?”  Finally Ann Davis presented on “”‘Home on the Range:’ Integrating the Household and Ecology.”  There were a lot of interesting ideas in these talks, and there was a vigorous discussion about them involving the audience.

What I want to present here is not anything in particular from the talks, but rather a remark from probably the most insightful commenter in the audience.  That was my old friend, David Barkin, who has lived in Mexico for a long time and is at Metropolitan University in Mexico City.  Long an expert on Mexican agriculture, he has in more recent years written a lot on ecological economics from a radical perspective.

Near the end of the session as the discussion was going on about all the papers, he brought up an idea I was unaware of previously, although it has been around for awhile.  It is due to the late German Marxist political scientist, Elmar Altvater, who first became known for writing on environmental problems in the Soviet Union.

So the concept he introduced is that rather than the world being in the “Anthropocene,” we are in the “Capitalocen.e.”  We may have been the former since humanity first emerged as a species and began heavily impacting the environment, including through bringing about species extinctions.  But in the last several hundred years we have moved into this much more damaging system of the Capitalocene.

This is a serious and challenging idea.

Barkley Rosser

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Might We Be On The Verge Of An “Upswing”?

Might We Be On The Verge Of An “Upswing”?

One of the more dramatic sessions at the just-completed ASSA meetings in San Diego was an AEA panel on “Deaths from Despair and the Future of Capitalism” on Saturday at 2:30.  Chaired by Angus Deaton, it focused on the book by him and his wife/coauthor Anne Case with the same title as the panel session.  Case spoke on their book.  This was followed by Robert Putnam, who spoke on his forthcoming (in about six months) new book, The Upswing, which this post will focus on. This was followed by Raghuram Rajan, who spoke about his recently published book, The Third Pillar: The Community. Finally Ken Rogoff commented on the Case/Deaton book, although he has no new book of his own.

So all of these focused on the declining life expectancy in the US, along with the associated broader breakdown of community and equality and so on.  Putnam presented a series of figures showing the long term trends on various variables from equality to memberships in organization to degrees of political polarization to the relative use of the words “we” and “I” in books published from the 1880s to the present.  He showed a trend where basically there was improvement from around 1900 to the 1960s (1970s in the case of equality)   All of these have since gone down basically steadily to the point that we are now “in about the same condition as we last were in the gilded age.”

This leads to Putnam posing a possible optimism the possibility of the “Upswing” in the title of his forthcoming book. He argued at the end of his talk that we should consider what happened back then: the emergence of the Progressive movement that started that upward trajectory of social capital.  He argues that since we did this back then, it can happen again, the Upswing. Can it?  I do not know, but maybe he is right to push for such an outcome, although it may take getting rid of our current president.

Barkley Rosser

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Is The Chinese Economic System the “Mandarin Growth Model” or the “Chinese-Style Keiretsu System”?

Is The Chinese Economic System the “Mandarin Growth Model” or the “Chinese-Style Keiretsu System”?

The first term in this choice was the title of a paper presented this morning (1/4/20) at the ACES/ASSA session at 8 AM in San Diego by Wei Xiong of Princeton University.  It was a highly mathematical model I shall describe shortly, but which drew heavily on the paper presented before it by Chenggan Xu of Cheng Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing, the alma mater of Jack Ma who founded Alibaba and the founder of Sinopec and the richest woman in China, etc. His paper was titled “Institutional Genes of China’s Socio-Economic Development,” with it discussed by the current ACES (Association of Comparative Economics) president, Scott Rozelle of Stanford.

The simplistic version of the “Mandarin model of growth” according to Wei Xiong is “political centralization with fiscal decentralization.”  He then presented a math model of incentives for regional governors in a growth tournament being judged by the central government.  These governments face a choice of long term growth-enhancing infrastructure investment versus short-term consumption spending.  He argues this leads to a “rat race of shadow banking borrowing” that is putting the Chinese system into peril as the debt-GDP ratio has been sharply rising, with much of this in the shadow banking sector. This was what I heard about personally on my last trip to China a few years ago, a lot of concern about the growth of the shadow banking sector, driven by local governments.

The historical underpinning of this Mandarin growth model was laid out in the paper by Xu who presented a tripartite system: The ruling bureaucracy, the system of deciding who was in that ruling bureaucracy, and the system and reality of land ownership.  In the imperial system the bureaucracy was the Mandarin elite who were in the  earlier and less-corrupt stages of dynasties selected according to the Confucianist Mandarin exam system originated in the Han dynasty.  This was separated from land ownership at that stage, but at later stages of a dynasty the  sign of rising corruption was the breakdown of the exam system as land-owning Mandarins got their incompetent sons appointed to the bureaucracy.

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Killing Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis

Killing Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis

Most of the attention in this recent attack by a US drone at the Baghdad Airport has been on it killing Iranian Quds Force commander, Qasim (Qassem) Solmaini (Suleimani), supposedly plotting an “imminent” attack on Americans as he flew a commercial airliner to Iraq at the invitation of its government and passed through passport control.  But much less attention has been paid to the killing in that attack of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, commander  of the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq and reportedly an officer in the Iraqi military, as well as being, according to Juan Cole, a Yazidi Kurd, although the PMF is identified as being a Shia militia allied with Iran.

The problem here is that supposedly US leaders approved this strike because there were no Iraqi officials in this group; it was supposedly “clean.”  But there was al-Muhandis, with his PMF also allied to a political faction, the Fath, who hold 48 seats in the Iraqi parliament.  The often anti-Iranian Shia leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, has now joined with Fath and other groups to demand a vote in the parliament to order a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.  It might be good for them to go, although Trump has just sent in 3,500 more Marines to protect the US embassy that came under attack and protests after an earlier US attack on pro-Iranian militias.

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Forward Creeping Excessmass Wins The War On Christmas

Forward Creeping Excessmass Wins The War On Christmas

“Excessmass” is a term neologized in a column in the late 1990s in the Wall Street Journal (sorry, unable to find precise date) by my JMU colleague, Bill Wood.  A devout Brethren, he was and remains disgusted by the crass commercialism associated with the Christmas holiday in the US. In this column he proposed dividing the holiday into two: a strictly religious one, “the Nativity” without gift giving, and a gift giving one he argued should be called “Excessmass,” a term that did not particularly catch on, but I am reviving as I see its forward creep as in fact damaging it not outright destroying the traditional religious Christmas, certainly far more vigorously than any bout of people saying “Happy Holidays!” to each other.

What triggered this post is that over the weekend in the Washington Post comics section (the most important part of the paper), nearly a  quarter  of the comics had a theme of “taking down the Christmas tree” or “taking down the Christmas decorations,” and indeed in my neighborhood I saw several houses where there was a tree out on the street on either the 26th or 27th.  Plus, for some years now a local radio station has started playing the schlocky commercial Xmas music (“Frosty the Snowman,” etc.) starting a day or  two after Halloween, but then on Dec. 26 is back to its usual pop music stuff. Hey, Christmas is over!  Time to move on to Valentine’s Day!  And also this year I saw the stores breaking what had been a Halloween barrier (the Thanksgiving one long ago broken) and putting up all their Xmas stuff in October.  Hey, with all that going on for so long, of course it is time to put all those decorations away the minute Christmas is over!

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Thiessen Balances His Policy Defense Of Trump

Thiessen Balances His Policy Defense Of Trump

Several days ago I posted on Marc A. Thiessen’s defense of 10 policies by Trump in WaPo.  I must now credit him with today on New Year’s Eve in the same venue publishing a column “The 10 worst things Trump did in 2019.”  Good for him, some balance after all.  I agree these are all bad things, although I disagree with some of his analysis of them, with a few caveats especially on a couple of the foreign policy items.  However, I shall just list them with Thiessen’s conclusion.

10. He ridiculously claimed “Our country is FULL”

9. He used anti-Semitic tropes to attack his enemies.

8. He said the Soviet Union was right to invade Afghanistan and congratulated China on the 70th anniversary of the Communist takeover.

7. He lost a needless government shutdown.

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The Unreasonableness Of The Policy Defense Of Trump

The Unreasonableness Of The Policy Defense Of Trump

In today’s (12/27/19) Washington Post, regular Trump defender, Mark A. Thiessen published a column, “The 10 best things Trump did in 2019”  This turns out to be mostly things either not worth defending or Thiessen, who simply never criticizes Trump, misrepresenting situations.  Here they are.

10. “He continued to deliver for the forgotten Americans.”  This amounts to unemployment continuing to decline, wages beginning to rise, and supposedly 57 percent of Americans saying they are better off since he became president.  Yes, this by and large happened, but amounts to Trump managing to having avoided derailing the expansion he inherited from Obama.  The problem is that he enacted many policies that have hurt the poor and redistributed money to the rich.  They would have been even better off without his policies.

9. “He implemented tighter work requirements for food stamps.”  Yikes, more of his helping “forgotten Americans.”  This was the amazingly Scroogeish policy of dumping people from getting food stamps just as the holiday season arrived, probably part of the “War on Christmas.”  This supposedly to help the “dignity and pride” of the poor.  Sure, Scrooge himself could not put it better.

8. “He has gotten NATO allies to cough up more money for our collective security.”  I guess the outcome here is not a bad thing, per se, although the amounts of  money involved are not all that big.  But this has been the only thing he has done regarding NATO, managing to alienate most of the leading nations in NATO, with him raising serious doubts regarding whether he would actually defend a nation that might be attacked by Russia.  Their attitude is best seen by the bunch of leaders mocking him on tape at the last NATO meeting.  They hate his guts and disrespect him.

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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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