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T. Rex: Engineering Fantasies

Global warming? “It’s an engineering problem, and it has engineering solutions.”

According to Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of State, adapting to climate change is an engineering problem that has an engineering solution. A soundbite from a Council on Foreign Relations presentation by Tillerson has been widely reported. But it is worthwhile to consider his full answer and its context.

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Comic Book Hayek:The Planners Promise Utopia

In his neo-Confederate “Mein Kampf,” Whither Solid SouthCharles Wallace Collins quoted a full paragraph from Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom regarding the emptying out of the meaning of words.

My instinct would be not to condemn Hayek for the politics of those who quote him. Even the Devil quotes Shakespeare.

But after taking another look at the Look magazine comic book edition of Hayek’s tome, I realized that Collins’s depiction of full employment as a sinister Stalinist plot was, after all, remarkably faithful to the comic-book version of Hayek’s argument. With only a little digging, one can readily infer that what the comic book refers to as “The Plan” is a policy also known as full employment (or, if you want to get specific, William Beveridge’s Full Employment in a Free Society). “Planners” translates as cartoon Hayek’s alias for Keynesian economists and their political acolytes.


To be sure, Hayek’s sole reference to full employment in the book is unobjectionable — even estimable… almost:

That no single purpose must be allowed in peace to have absolute preference over all others applies even to the one aim which everybody now agrees comes in the front rank: the conquest of unemployment. There can be no doubt that this must be the goal of our greatest endeavour; even so, it does not mean that such an aim should be allowed to dominate us to the exclusion of everything else, that, as the glib phrase runs, it must be accomplished “at any price”. It is, in fact, in this field that the fascination of vague but popular phrases like “full employment” may well lead to extremely short-sighted measures, and where the categorical and irresponsible “it must be done at all cost” of the single-minded idealist is likely to do the greatest harm.

Yes, single-minded pursuit at all costs of any nebulous objective will no doubt be short-sighted and possibly harmful. But is that really what “the planners” were advocating?

Hayek elaborated his views on full employment policy in a 1945 review of Beveridge’s Full Employment in a Free Society, in which he glibly characterized Keynes’s theory of employment as “all that was needed to maintain employment permanently at a maximum was to secure an adequate volume of spending of some kind.”

Beveridge, Hayek confided, was “an out-and-out planner” who proposed to deal with the difficulty of fluctuating private investment “by abolishing private investment as we knew it.” You see, single-minded pursuit of any nebulous objective will likely be short-sighted and even harmful unless that objective is the preservation of the accustomed liberties of the owners of private property, in which case it must be done at all cost!


Further insight into Hayek’s objection to Keynesian full-employment policy can be found in The Constitution of Liberty. The problem with full employment is those damn unions. On this matter, he quoted Jacob Viner with approval:

The sixty-four dollar question with respect to the relations between unemployment and full employment policy is what to do if a policy to guarantee full employment leads to chronic upward pressure on money wages through the operation of collective bargaining.

and

…it is a matter of serious concern whether under modern conditions, even in a socialist country if it adheres to democratic political procedures, employment can always be maintained at a high level without recourse to inflation, overt or disguised, or if maintained whether it will not itself induce an inflationary wage spiral through the operation of collective bargaining

Sharing Viner’s anxiety about those damn unions inducing an inflationary wage spiral “through the operation of collective bargaining” was Professor W, H, Hutt, author of the Theory of Collective Bargaining, who “[s]hortly after the General Theory appeared… argued that it was a specific for inflation.”

Hutt, whose earlier book on collective bargaining “analysed [and heralded] the position of the Classical economists on the relation between unions and wage determination,” had his own plan for full employment. It appeared in The South African Journal of Economics in September, 1945 under the title “Full Employment and the Future of Industry.” I am posting a large excerpt from Hutt’s eccentric full employment “plan” here because it makes explicit principles that are tacit in the neo-liberal pursuit of “non-inflationary growth”:

Full employment and a prosperous industry might yet be achieved if what I propose to call the three “basic principles of employment” determine our planning.

The first basic principle is as follows. Productive resources of all kinds, including labour, can be fully employed when the prices of the services they render are sufficiently low to enable the people’s existing purchasing power to absorb the full flow of the product. 

To this must be added the second basic principle of employment. When the prices of productive service have been thus adjusted to permit full employment, the flow of purchasing power, in the form of wages and the return to property is maximised

continued…. 

The assertion that unemployment is “voluntary” and can be cured by reducing wages is the classical assumption that Keynes challenged in the theory of unemployment. Hutt’s second principle, that full employment, achieved by wage cuts, will maximize the total of wages, profit and rent thus would be not be likely to command “more or less universal assent,” as Hutt claimed. But even if it did, Hutt’s stress on maximizing a total, regardless of distribution of that total between wages and profits, is peculiar. Why would workers be eager to work more hours for less pay just to generate higher profits? Hutt’s principles could only gain “more or less universal assent” if they were sufficiently opaque that no one could figure out what he was getting at, which Hutt’s subsequent exposition makes highly unlikely.

Hutt’s proposed full employment plan consisted of extending the hours of work, postponing retirement and encouraging married women to stay in the work force. He advertised his idea as a reverse lump-of-labor strategy. Instead of insisting — as contemporary economists do — that immigrants (older workers, automation or imports) don’t take jobs, Hutt boasted they create jobs, specifically because they keep wages sufficiently low and thus maximize total returns to property and wages combined. He may have been wrong but he was consistent. Nor did he conceal his antagonism toward trade unions and collective bargaining behind hollow platitudes about inclusive growth.

The U.S. has been following Hutt-like policies for decades now and the results are in:

For the 117 million U.S. adults in the bottom half of the income distribution, growth has been non-existent for a generation while at the top of the ladder it has been extraordinarily strong.

Or perhaps Hutt was right and what has held back those at the bottom of the income distribution is that wages have not been sufficiently low to insure full employment and thus to maximize total returns to labor and capital. The incontestable thing about Hutt’s theory is that no matter how low wages go, it will always be possible to claim that they didn’t go sufficiently low enough to enable people’s purchasing power to absorb the full flow of their services.

 

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From Full Employment To “Inclusive Growth”

This is the third of three posts on full employment. The unifying thread is that “full employment” has always been a political and not an economic problem. The first two posts were The Electoral College, White Supremacy and Full Employment as “Reign of Terror” and Full Employment and the Myth of the General Strike.

Employing Sorel’s distinction between myth and utopia, full employment has always been a utopia. But it is a utopia long abandoned by economists, who have substituted the totem of economic growth for the utopia of full employment.

The term “full employment” did not appear in the speech given yesterday (December 5) by Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. Instead, he mentioned the term “inclusive growth” six times.

“The cry for more inclusive growth starts with a crisis of growth itself.”

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Full Employment and the Myth of the General Strike

Georges Sorel thought he had made a ‘happy choice’ with his use of the term ‘myth.’ But he soon was disabused of that illusion by critics who dismissed the anachronism of myths and others who accused him of falsifying “the real opinions of revolutionaries.”

In his essay, “Myths of the Twentieth Century” published three decades after Sorel’s Réflexions sur la violence,,” Robert Binkley credited Sorel — along with Henri Bergson, William James, Vilfredo Pareto and Sir James Frazier — with having “prepared the way” for the 20th century’s metaphysical ‘Tower of Babel’ and, consequently, with having betrayed ‘truth’. “For truth became a variable, determined by a personal equation, a problem, or a culture. As the prestige of truth fell, the prestige of myth rose… Men began to talk of the myth of science, the Christian myth, the myth of the nation, the myth of socialism, the myth of the general strike.”

Binkley must have realized that he was blaming the messenger for the message. Whatever science and progress might have meant to its 19th century eulogists. their status as “truth” was contingent and ephemeral. Critics did not concoct out of nothing the defects they criticized.

Binkley summarized “four great myths in the contemporary western world” in the following passage:

These four are: the original Christian myth, from which the others are descended ; its secularized version of the world order or great society; the materialistic version with its eschatology of the proletarian paradise; and the antithetic or reactionary myth of the nation, with its mystery of blood and soil.

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The Electoral College, White Supremacy and Full Employment as “Reign of Terror”

Published in September 1947, Whither Solid South? A Study in Politics and Race Relations, by Charles Wallace Collins, “became both manifesto and blueprint” for the 1948 “Dixiecrat” campaign of Strom Thurmond and — over the longer term — the strategy whereby Southern white supremacists engineered a balance of power “lock” on the electoral college and thus on the Presidency. Matthew M. Hoffman examined the political consequences of that strategy in “The Illegitimate President: Minority Vote Dilution and the Electoral College,” published 20 years ago in the Yale Law Journal. Joseph Lowndes discussed the broader influence of Collins’s book on the emergence of a “New Right” in From the New Deal to the New Right: Race and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism. Collin’s strategy can be summed up in a few paragraphs from chapter 17 “The South Need Not Surrender”:

Neither the Negroes nor any of the groups which support them can alone, or in conjunction with each other, give assurance of control of a single vote in the Electoral College. … In comparison with them, the South is a political giant. … The South, being a geographical minority with a one-party system, would know at all times its minimum strength and from that work toward its maximum.

The eleven former seceding Southern States possess 127 votes in the Electoral College. These States hold 22 seats in the Senate and 105 in the House. Additional support on many southern questions may be expected from the four border States which have 43 votes in the Electoral College, 8 Senators and 35 Members of the House.

The aggregate of votes of the southern region is 170 in the Electoral College, 30 in the Senate and 140 in the House — nearly one-third in each. On questions which peculiarly affect the southern region, on the Negro equality question and on radical labor questions, these States may be expected to stand with the South in the Congress.

I have emphasized two phrases in the above excerpt. Collins candidly described the “Solid South” concept as a one-party system. A segregationist South was to dominate national politics by eschewing popular choice. “States rights” were to prevail over the rights of the citizens of those states. Collins’s notion of a white-supremacist lock on the electoral college did not rely on winner-take-all popular elections. In a 1944 pamphlet, he upheld the constitutional propriety of an elector deciding “to vote in the Electoral College for a person whom he thinks will protect the interests of his state rather than for a person nominated at a national party convention whom he thinks would be hostile to them.”

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White Supremacy as a Political Doctrine

Currently, Hillary Clinton leads POTUS-delictum Donald J. Trump by 1,677,000 votes. As we know, though, Trump has an overwhelming electoral college advantage. The original intent of the electoral college, according to Hamilton — the politician, not the Broadway musical — was to thwart the possibility of interference by a foreign power in choosing the chief executive.

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union? But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention.

According to NSA Director, Admiral Michael Rogers, that is exactly what happened this time around,  “There shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s mind,” Rogers said. “This was not something that was done casually. This was not something that was done by chance. This was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily. This was a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.” Fortunately, the electoral college was there to spare us from the election of that foreign power’s creature (sarcasm).

Be that as it may, I would like to distinguish between the original design and intent of the electoral college and the strategic preservation and capture of that admittedly flawed institution by proponents of white supremacy. It was no accident that attempts to amend the constitution to abolish the electoral college system were abortive. An important part of the story behind the white supremacist abuse of the electoral college has been outlined in Joseph Lowndes’s From the New Deal to the New Right and the Southern Origins of Modern Conservatism and in a 1996 Yale Law Journal article by Matthew Hoffman, “The Illegitimate President: Minority Vote Dilution and the Electoral College.

As teasers, I am presenting, below, an excerpt from chapter two of Lowndes’s book –“‘White Supremacy is a Political Doctrine’: Charles Wallace Collins and the Dixiecrat revolt of 1948” — and a section from Hoffman’s article — “Race, Presidential Politics and the Winner-Take-All Rule” — in a subsequent series of separate posts. White supremacist manipulation of the electoral college was intimately related to efforts to dismantle the collective bargaining framework established by the FDR New Deal. I hope to write on that issue later, after I have obtained more of the formative documents and analysis. But first, an excerpt from the chapter,”White Supremacy is a Political Doctrine”:

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Race, Presidential Politics, and the Winner-Take-All Rule (1 of 4)

The following excerpt from “The Illegitimate President: Minority Vote Dilution and the Electoral College,” by Matthew M. Hoffman is presented under the fair use Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act. The article was published in The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 105, No. 4 (Jan., 1996), pp. 935-1021. I have removed the extensive footnotes to facilitate presentation in the blog format. I will be posting one installment a day for the next three days followed by the fourth installment and table of contents on the fourth day.

Race, Presidential Politics, and the Winner-Take-All Rule

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Race, Presidential Politics, and the Winner-Take-All Rule (2 of 4)

The following excerpt from “The Illegitimate President: Minority Vote Dilution and the Electoral College,” by Matthew M. Hoffman is presented under the fair use Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act. The article was published in The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 105, No. 4 (Jan., 1996), pp. 935-1021. I have removed the extensive footnotes to facilitate presentation in the blog format.

The Free Elector Movement of 1960

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Race, Presidential Politics, and the Winner-Take-All Rule (3 of 4)

The following excerpt from “The Illegitimate President: Minority Vote Dilution and the Electoral College,” by Matthew M. Hoffman is presented under the fair use Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act. The article was published in The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 105, No. 4 (Jan., 1996), pp. 935-1021. I have removed the extensive footnotes to facilitate presentation in the blog format.

The Wallace Campaign of 1968 and the Rise of the Republican South

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Race, Presidential Politics, and the Winner-Take-All Rule (4 of 4)

The following excerpt from “The Illegitimate President: Minority Vote Dilution and the Electoral College,” by Matthew M. Hoffman is presented under the fair use Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act. The article was published in The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 105, No. 4 (Jan., 1996), pp. 935-1021. I have removed the extensive footnotes to facilitate presentation in the blog format.

Racial Politics and Present-Day [1996] Campaigns

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