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August 2018

Comment of the Day I have noticed this a lot over the past fifteen years. Journalists are very, very bad at citing their sources—it is one minor reason why they have a low reputation. That and their overaddiction to beat sweeteners, when not playing opinions-of-the-shape-of-the-earth-differ: Kansas Jack: The New York Times Has a Serious Quality Control Problem: "Has anyone else noticed that interesting, novel observations at Vox.com, especially by Matt Yglesias, come out a week later, slightly altered in the NYT? Is it just me who thinks that?...

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Note to Self: "The Song of Everlasting Sorrow" and Historical Patriarchy...

Note to Self: The Song of Everlasting Sorrow and Historical Patriarchy: I was reading, as one does—I do not remember why I was reading this, however—an English translation_ of poet, landlord, scholar, bureaucrat, drunkard Bai Juyi's Song of Everlasting Sorrow. And I was struck by four short lines:

Tang Poems English Translation

The overturning of the natural order as a consequence of the love of Emperor Xuanzong for Lady Yang Guifei was so great that all cross the empire parents wished for girl- rather than boy-children...

This struck me as having obvious bearing on my ["Historical Patriarchy"][] lecture...

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Bai Juyi: Song Of Unending Sorrow: For the Weekend

Bai Juyi: Song Of Unending Sorrow: "China's Emperor, craving beauty that might shake an empire,...

...Was on the throne for many years, searching, never finding,
Till a little child of the Yang clan, hardly even grown,
Bred in an inner chamber, with no one knowing her,
But with graces granted by heaven and not to be concealed,
At last one day was chosen for the imperial household.
If she but turned her head and smiled, there were cast a hundred spells,
And the powder and paint of the Six Palaces faded into nothing.

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Adolf Hitler Interviewed by George Sylvester Viereck in 1923: Weekend Reading

Nuremberg rally Google Search

George Sylvester Viereck: Great interviews of the 20th century: Adolf Hitler: "'When I take charge of Germany, I shall end tribute abroad and Bolshevism at home.' Adolf Hitler drained his cup as if it contained not tea, but the lifeblood of Bolshevism....

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The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler attacks Beto O'Rourke. There is something deeply mentally, morally, and psychologically wrong here—with Glenn Kessler, with his bosses, and with his colleagues. In a Washington Post with good journalists, there would be a substantial number of resignations today.

Kessler's major point appear to be that Black teenage boys aren't children, and that you are armed and dangerous if you have a toy gun: Glenn Kessler: Beto O’Rourke’s claims on African Americans and police shootings: "If you drill down and look at the data for unarmed black children killed by police, there is virtually no support for the idea that this happens at a frightening level...

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This is the most hopeful take on American productivity growth relative stagnation I have seen. I thought it was coherent and might well be right 20 years ago. I think it is coherent and might possibly be right today. But is that just a vain hope?: Michael van Biema and Bruce Greenwald (1997): Managing Our Way to Higher Service-Sector Productivity: "What electricity, railroads, and gasoline power did for the U.S. economy between roughly 1850 and 1970, computer power is widely expected to do for today’s information-based service economy...

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Dick Schmalensee: Handicapping the Highstakes Race to Net-Zero: "Economists argue that a broadly applicable incentive-based system... could reduce emissions at a much lower total cost than any alternative regime. Incentives to reduce emissions could be produced directly by a tax on emissions or through... cap-and-trade system. But the argument for relying primarily on financial incentives has historically not been very persuasive.... Even in California and the European Union, where cap-and-trade systems for CO₂ have been established, so-called “ancillary” or “belt-and-suspenders” policies that target particular sectors or sources have also been deployed...

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Berkeley Economics Departmental Seminar: Sociological distance, present and the legacy of past discrimination, and preventive treatment in Oakland, CA: perhaps 20% of the black-white cardiovascular health gap due to the fact that Black patients are seen by sociologically-distant white doctors: Marcy Alsan et al.: Does Diversity Matter for Health? Experimental Evidence from Oakland: "We study the effect of diversity in the physician workforce on the demand for preventive care among African-American men...

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Racism and "Race": Some Fairly-Recent Must- and Should-Reads

stacks and stacks of books

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I concur with Noah Smith here that the biggest dangers of machine learning, etc., are not on the labor but on the consumer side. They won't make us obsolete as producers. They could make us easier to grift as customers. Consider that nearly all of Silicon Valley these days is seeking not to make electrons get up and dance in circuits or to make circuits get up and dance in applications that accomplish tasks users wish done, but rather in trying to hack users' brains so their eyeballs will stay glued to screens: Noah Smith: Artificial Intelligence Still Isn’t All That Smart: "Machine learning will revolutionize white-collar jobs in much the same way that engines, electricity and machine tools revolutionized blue-collar jobs...

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I disagree with Jeff here: the Federal Reserve has not been doing a good job since 2010. Its central task as of 2010 was to (a) get the U.S. economy rapidly back to full employment at (b) a configuration of economic variables that would give it a short-term safe nominal interest rate of 5% or more so it would have room to properly fight the next recession whenever it should come. You could argue that the rest of the government make it impossible for the Fed to do a good job. But you cannot argue that the Fed should be satisfied with the job it has done since 2010: Jeffrey Frankel: The Depth of the Next US Recession: "Whatever the immediate trigger of the next US recession, the consequences are likely to be severe.... Pro-cyclical fiscal, macro-prudential, and even monetary policies... [leave] authorities are in a weak position to manage the next inevitable shock...

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As Michael Kades writes, “the stakes are much higher than an ideological battle or technical adjustments to a legal regime” here. We need to understand how anti-trust practice affects the degree of monopoly in the United States and Hal monopoly effects equitable growth and societal well being. We do not. I think that attempting to understand these two issues is the most important analytic issue for policy relevant economic research in the United States today: Michael Kades: Why market competition matters to equitable growth: "At first glance, competition in the U.S. economy may seem far afield of the topic of equitable growth.... What could antitrust enforcement have to do with maintaining a healthy economy?...

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The New York Times has a very, very serious quality control problem: Lawrence Douglas and Alexander George (2018-08-23): If Trump shot Michael Cohen in broad daylight, here's what Republicans would say: "House speaker Paul Ryan: 'If these reports are true–I emphasize IF–then yes, I’m very concerned. I don’t think the president should be killing people in broad daylight in front of Tiffany’s. But I’m not a legal expert, I could be wrong.'...

Senator Mitch McConnell: “People die every day in this country. I’m not going to let myself get sidetracked by these distractions”...

Tom Friedman (2018-08-28): What if Trump Did Actually Shoot Someone on Fifth Avenue?: "House Speaker Paul Ryan said, 'We will need more information than is available at this point'...

...Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said through pursed lips that he “was not going to comment on every up and down with this president”...

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Yes, Republicans Are or Are Pretending to Be Easily Grifted Morons: The Theory of Relativity: Is It Time to "Teach the Controversy"?: Hoisted from Seven Years Ago

Preview of Yes Republicans Are or Are Pretending to Be Easily Grifted Morons The Theory of Relativity Is It

It is now 24 years since my default hypothesis became that that the conservative wing of the Republican Party is composed exclusively of people who have completely disabled their bullshit detectors, and were, as a result, easily-grifted morons. That default hypothesis has served me very well. Only now it is broadened: now all Republicans either have or are pretending to have completely disabled their bullshit detectors, and so now all Republicans are easily-grifted morons:

Hoisted from Seven Years Ago: The Theory of Relativity: Is It Time to "Teach the Controversy" in America's High Schools?: Jason Kuznicki pleads for charity for creationists:

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Comment of the Day: JEC: The Uses of a University: "It's worth expanding on this a bit. Brad is advocating for a particular view of the purpose(s) of a university—a view I happen to share. But to understand the debate, we need to bear in mind that this view isn't the only one with a substantial following...

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John Hawks: The So-Called Toba Bottleneck Didn't Happen: "The Toba bottleneck idea came from the initial observation that there might be a coincidence between population expansion times and the Toba eruption, made 20 years ago. But many geneticists (including me) quickly pointed out that the dates of population expansion have little connection to the dates of population contraction...

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Comment of the Day: Graydon: Jacob Levy: I don’t think there’s anything—anything—on which I’ve gotten so much disbelief-that-becomes-near-anger as when I contradict the post-2014 Fox narrative about campus life...: "The campus narrative is a way to assign moral wrong because they can't assign factual wrong back to the institutions and processes which are assigning factual error to them...

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Noah Feldman: Southern District of New York Will Tear Into Trump Organization: "This isn’t over. In the span of one week, we learned that the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York had both secured a guilty plea from Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen and offered an immunity deal to the company’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg...

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Big Questions for Left Opposition Social Scientists: Cedarbrook Notes

2018-03-12_Brad_DeLong_Party_Card_pages

Cedarbrook Notes: Occupy had zero impact on austerity budgets. Mont Pelerin was not important because they gathered by a lake, sang “kumbaya”, and felt a sense of solidarity. We should not pretend defeats were victories.

What can we do? I think there are three levels that we ought to be operating on—all, right now, understanding the world rather than trying to change it: understanding policies, understanding mobilizations, and understanding utopia:

  • The first is understanding the effects of policies: the policies adopted between 1980 and 2007 did not have the results that their advocates expected nor the results that their critics expected. We really do need to figure out how to understand what the social world is rather than what the models—both pro and con—in use during the neoliberal era said the social world was.

  • The second is understanding the vicissitude of mobilization. The standard political center-left plans to promote full employment, progressive taxation and social insurance, upward mobility, and infrastructure and public services—equitable growth—all these are things that should meet with near-universal applause. By contrast, con-game kleptocracy in the interest of plutocracy should not get 60 million votes. Fascism—the belief that you need a strong leader who is a bully, because he is your bully, and he will bully your enemies, who may be corporations, foreigners, people who look or think differently, and who are always the rootless cosmopolites—should not be attractive to a 21st-century electorate on any level. Yet, somehow, it, terrifyingly, is. The same social-science models that failed to adequately track the effects of neoliberal policies failed to predict the seductive attractiveness of 21st century neo-fascism. Thus we have two different levels at which we need to understand the societal world: the effects of neoliberal policies, and the possibilities for mobilization.

  • The third is the question of what our Utopia is. How will our different view of the social world change our goals for a good society? Our utopia will almost surely still include full employment, progressive taxation and social insurance, upward mobility, and lots of infrastructure. But it will also include other and deeper objectives—objectives that have not been on the New Deal and social democratic bucket lists.

These three tracks all need to be pushed forward. But they also very much need to be three tracks. And they need to be three different tracks.


I think that Paul Krugman gets one thing wrong here. Corey Robin's piece is not a piece aimed at strengthening the left, but rather one aimed at weakening American liberalism. It is not at all clear to me that when "Corey Robin says 'socialism'... he really means social democracy: Denmark, not Venezuela". In fact, it is very clear to me that he doesn't: "If tax credits and insurance exchanges are the best liberals have to offer to men and women struggling to make stagnating wages pay for bills that skyrocket and debt that never dissipates, maybe socialism is worth a try.... Even if liberals come to support single-payer health care, free college, more unions and higher wages, the divide... will remain. For liberals, these are policies to alleviate economic misery. For socialists, these are... liberating men and women from the tyranny of the market and autocracy.... Making things free makes people free." Robin's piece is, at its core and in its intent, an ideological police action against social democrats, as people who see competitive markets as having a large proper role in the institutional mix of a modern complex society moving toward utopia. Robin's piece is not a Popular Front piece aimed at building a broad majority coalition to try to make things better. It is, rather, a factionalist piece aimed at delegitimizing the concerns and insights of the center-left: Paul Krugman: Capitalism, Socialism, and Unfreedom: "Two articles... by Corey Robin and... Neil Irwin... that... as a pair... get at a lot of what’s wrong with the neoliberal ideology...

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Nils Gilman: The Toba Eruption, by Spawning the #Transformationofthehuman Known as Behavioral Modernity...: "'Never before have I encountered someone so gleeful about catastrophe. When we discussed the risk that the Yellowstone supervolcano might blow at any time, Keller’s eyes twinkled. "It’s a fun idea", she said' https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/09/dinosaur-extinction-debate/565769/...

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MOAR Problems with Twitter...

San Francisco Bay

There are more problems with Twitter than the Nazis, the shrillness, the out-of-context mobs, the unhinged rants, the Nazi shrillness, the out-of-context Nazi mobs, the unhinged Nazi rants, the shrill out-of-contezt mobs, the unhinged shrill rants, the out-of-context unhinged rants, the shrill Nazi out-ofcontext mobs, the shrill Nazi unhinged rants, the unhinged rants by Nazi out-of-context mobs, the shrill out-of-context unhinged ranting mobs, and the Nazi shrill unhinged rants by out-of-context mobs.

When something good happens on Twitter, it has no positive externalities: it is too compressed and allusive to be of use to anybody not immediately and directly plugged in—and often it is not even of use to many who are engaged but who cannot follow the compressed and coded 280-character discourse. Back in THE DAY, debates between weblogs produced things of value to a large watching audience, and had large positive externalities.

For example, this day. Great for me and for a few others. But any good for a larger audience?:

Suresh Naidu: @CoreyRobin clarifies the s-word:

Corey Robin: The New Socialists: Socialists hear “the market” and think of the anxious parent... the insurance representative... decree[inig] that the policy... doesn’t cover her child’s appendectomy.... We bow and scrape, flatter and flirt, or worse—just to get that raise or make sure we don’t get fired.... Socialists want to... establish freedom from rule by the boss, from the need to smile for the sake of a sale, from the obligation to sell for the sake of survival.... The biggest boundary today’s socialists are willing to cross is the two-party system.... Democrats are also complicit in the rot of American life. And here the socialism of our moment meets up with the deepest currents of the American past.... It was said that liberalism was freedom plus groceries. The socialist, by contrast, believes that making things free makes people free.... Socialism is not journalists, intellectuals or politicians armed with a policy agenda.... It is workers who get us there, who decide what and where “there” is. That, too, is a kind of freedom. Socialist freedom.

Rakesh Bhandari: You mean the s-d compound word, right? And it's a pretty weak s-d too insomuch as the promise here seems to be that universal health insurance would make it easier for some employees to escape more-than-ordinarily abusive bosses. Not really the socialist critique of capitalism! It's pretty much the end of ideology where the leftist Jacobin and the Nobel economist both agree that capitalism can be fixed by universal health insurance that makes it easier to leave extraordinarily abusive bosses and restrictions on arbitrary sacks. Yet catastrophes await

Brad DeLong: Steering by the Socialist Idols in the Heavens Leads Us to Sail Not Towards but Away from the Shores of Utopia: (Early) Monday Corey Robin Smackdown: Robin writes of "the anxious parent, desperate not to offend the insurance representative on the phone, lest he decree that the policy she paid for doesn’t cover her child’s appendectomy". But that is not a problem with "the market": that is a problem with bureaucracy. National health systems face the same problems and make the same kinds of decisions with respect to "medical appropriateness" as do private insurers. Robin writes of freedom from "the need to smile for the sake of a sale". But that is not a problem with "the market": that is a problem with the need we have for a complex division of labor in order to be a rich society, in the context of the very human fact that people will not be eager to deal with you as a cooperative partner if you are a misanthropic grouch. The market provides a partial way around the unfreedoms generated by institutions of bureaucratic organization and social cooperation.... [But] the market pays attention to the wealthy and only the wealthy. But the problem then is one of poverty—that we have managed to arrange a very wealthy society in such a way that it has a lot of not-wealthy people in it. Contrary to what Robin claims, utopia is indeed the liberal dream of freedom plus groceries—with "groceries" standing in for enough wealth to route yourself around the unfreedoms created by bureaucracy and by your own misanthropic nature when they bind too tightly...

Cosma Shalizi: In Soviet Union, Optimization Problem Solves You: Capitalism, the market... bureaucracy... democratic polity... can be... cold monster[s].... We... live among these alien powers... try to direct them to human ends... find the specific ways in which these powers we have conjured up are hurting us, and use them to check each other.... Sometimes... more... market mechanisms, sometimes... removing... goods and services from market allocation.... Sometimes... expanding... democratic decision-making... and sometime... narrowing its scope.... Leaving some tasks to experts... recognizing claims of expertise to be mere assertions of authority... complex problems, full of messy compromises. Attaining even second-best solutions is going to demand “bold, persistent experimentation”, coupled with a frank recognition that many experiments will just fail, and that even long-settled compromises can, with the passage of time, become confining obstacles...

Suresh Naidu: The Shalizi and Robin essays are complements not substitutes. Borrowing your language: Corey is showing the undemocratic nature of negishi weighted swfs; Cosma is saying all feasibly computed swf are inefficient (criticizing both planning and markets).

Brad DeLong: Touché... Except that Corey's examples are flaws of bureaucracy and of the modes of sociability ("smile for a sale"), not flaws of market—which are externality, moral hazard, monopoly, negishi values, etc. Getting rid of markets won't tame bureaucracy or change modes of sociability.

Ilyana Kuziemko: Suresh to borrow our fave example of powerlessness and “nonfreedom,” I wonder if there is more joyless, dutiful laughing at the bad jokes of superiors in capitalism or socialism...

Brad DeLong: Now that is genuinely funny...

Ilyana Kuziemko: There is a hell a lot of it under capitalism! :)

Steven Klein: Freedom as non-domination-Pettit is in the background. I think just saying "its bureaucracy" underestimates the difference between a for-profit companies bureaucracy and government health care subject to public accountability, however attenuated. And what about this core example: "we’re forced to submit to the boss"? There's an interesting debate about whether freedom as non-domination—being free not just from external restraints but from subordination—is furthered or hindered by the market: https://t.co/goUG5FkwRF. Robert Taylor defends market freedom: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/exit-left-9780198798736?cc=us&lang=en&. Gourevitch argues basically you need full workplace democracy to realize freedom: https://t.co/hWZJCE4QEg. And I advance basically a left-wing social democratic critique of Pettit and Taylor (although Pettit would say he is closer to my position than I think he is): https://t.co/Q720I6724Q.

Suresh Naidu: I find that Taylor book interesting, in that he basically rests his case on an ideal of perfect competition/complete contracts. If real world markets are rife with deviations from that (e.g. monopsony and efficiency wages), I think the neo-republican case for markets falls apart.

Rakesh Bhandari: I think the language Robin is reaching for to describe his annoyingly vague sense of freedom can be found in Sen's and Nussbaum's capability approach. I think you need that before you can coherently critique welfare functions 1 reply 1 retweet 0 likes Reply 1 Retweeted 1 Like Direct message

Steven Klein: It's freedom as non-domination-Pettit is in the background. I think just saying "its bureaucracy" underestimates the difference between a for-profit companies bureaucracy and government health care subject to public accountability, however attenuated.

Brad DeLong**: There are failures of insurance that are market failures—the inability to purchase insurance because of moral hazard is a big one. But "bureaucracy" ain't one. To pretend getting rid of markets will cure bureaucracy takes you in a very bad direction...

Steven Klein: Right, but I think the difference is between decisions on treatment being opaque and nebulous and them being made through some public procedure. Yes, public health systems ration - they key is in how the rationing is done.

Suresh Naidu: There are real limits to the traditional neo-republican notion of freedom when it comes to big impersonal institutions. i.e. the problem is the discretion/caprice available to the bureaucrat/boss, not the institutional logic being implemented by the bureaucrat/boss.

Brad DeLong: But the institutional logic can be as alienating and as large a source of unfreedom as the caprice of the boss... Cf.: Ursula K. LeGuin: The Dispossessed, passim...

Suresh Naidu: "Freedom as non-domination". Absolutely.

Rakesh Bhandari: Eduardo Porter gave the disturbing example of old age homes that go private overprescribing medications that rob the elderly of many of their remaining conscious hours so that they require fewer staff members to take care of them.

Steven Klein: when it comes to health care, I'd take a government quisling terrified of breaking the rules over some precarious worker incentivized to find ways to deny claims or limit payments

Suresh Naidu: Right, assuming the bureaucrat doesn't have any discretion, and is just implementing the agenda of his employer, it matters whether her employer is a democratic government or a profit-maximizing firm. But you can imagine both democratic or market failures that could go either way.

Scotrt Ashworth: This is where I declare Brad a better empirical political scientist than Steven.

Steven Klein: Give me my political theory idealizations :)

Scott Ashworth: If your defense of Corey here is that BS-ish but inspirational talk is politically valuable and the NYT is for politics not intellectualism, I will concede defeat. 😏

Suresh Naidu: Why is it BS-ish? I think it's putting in public an academic conversation about freedom and markets that has been happening for awhile.

Suresh Naidu: Scott, is it because there is no distinctive market/nonmarket solution to bureaucratic agency problems, so scope for arbitrary whims remain constant?

Pseudoerasmus: I'm sympathetic to the healthcare example but I wonder how much of the “smiling for the boss” stuff is really about having to deal with tyrannical employers who can threaten your livelihood, rather than just middle-class intellectuals’ distaste for hustling to acquire luxuries...

Brad DeLong: But the health care example is a problem with bureaucracy! Not with the market! We know where socialists who destroy the markets in an attempt to deal with the evils of bureaucracy wind up, and it is not a good place!'

Pseudoerasmus: I totally agree with that! Socialism does not eliminate people’s subjections to other people’s whims; but the guy thinks ‘democracy’ will, I guess.

Brad DeLong: But "democracy" subjects all minorities to the whims of the demos. The demos serves you a hemlock cocktail, you drink a hemlock cocktail...

Suresh Naidu: The neo-repubs have a broader definition of democracy than majoritarianism....in including robust checks and balances/civil rights

Ilyana Kuziemko: As we were discussing, I think the freedom argument is a clever argument in that it neutralizes a common defense of capitalism but isn’t an effective central theme for socialism...

Brad DeLong: Say, rather, that power is minimized by having multiple societal organizing mechanisms—wealth and market, direct democratic, representative democratic, by lot, technocratic, cultural, ideological affinity. The key is to keep one from subsuming all the others, as one or the other is wont to do...

Suresh Naidu: Yes I like this.... It's a variant of Walzer's spheres of justice..but in means putting up barricades against "markets in everything"...

Ilyana Kuziemko: Wasnt that Uncle Milton’s argument? That economic inequality helped check government tyranny by creating a separate power center? But then we got Citizens United.

Brad DeLong: Yep. And indeed...

Brad DeLong: Yes. Immense barricades...

Ilyana Kuziemko: Like confiscatory marginal tax rates on income over some very small multiple of one million or what?

Brad DeLong: Yup... But, as I said, Corey’s implicit claim that bureaucratic and mode-of-societal-cooperation forms of domination would melt away if not for "the market" strikes me as false and jejune. As I said: needed editorial attention... Read Cosma Shalizi instead...

Steven Greenhouse: Why so many young Americans are attracted to Socialism, Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Rakesh Bhandari: Except it's wrong. Clinton whom these new socialists (sic) hate proposed wildly progressive income taxes, stricter regulations on shadow banking than the putative socialist Sanders, and a massive green infrastructure program. They did everything to alienate the left from her.

Manu Saadia: More on the @CoreyRobin article and @de1ong rejoinder. To PK "socialism with American characteristics" is Western European social democracy…

Paul Krugman: Corey Robin and... Neil Irwin... get at a lot of what’s wrong with the neoliberal ideology... [of] low taxes and minimal regulation... that free markets translate into personal freedom.... In fact, the daily experience of tens of millions of Americans – especially but not only those who don’t make a lot of money – is one of constant dependence on the good will of employers and other more powerful economic players.... And it’s even more naïve now than it was a few decades ago, because, as Irwin points out, large economic players are dominating more and more of the economy.... What can be done about it? Corey Robin says “socialism” – but as far as I can tell he really means social democracy: Denmark, not Venezuela. Government-mandated employee protections may restrict the ability of corporations to hire and fire, but they also shield workers from some very real forms of abuse. Unions do somewhat limit workers’ options, but they also offer an important counterweight against corporate monopsony power. Oh, and social safety net programs can do more than limit misery: they can be liberating. I’ve known many people who stuck with jobs they disliked for fear of losing health coverage; Obamacare, flawed as it is, has noticeably reduced that kind of “lock in”, and a full guarantee of health coverage would make our society visibly freer.... Seriously, do the real differences between New York and Florida make New Yorkers less free?... If you’re a highly paid professional, it probably doesn’t make much difference. But my guess is that most workers feel at least somewhat freer in New York than they do in FL. Now, there are no perfect answers to the inevitable sacrifice of some freedom that comes with living in a complex society; utopia is not on the menu. But the advocates of unrestricted corporate power and minimal worker protection have been getting away for far too long with pretending that they’re the defenders of freedom–which is not, in fact, just another word for nothing left to lose...


Steering by the Socialist Idols in the Heavens Leads Us to Sail Not Towards but Away from the Shores of Utopia: (Early) Monday Corey Robin Smackdown

Preview of Steering Toward Socialist Idols Leads Us to Sail Not Towards but Away from the Shores of Utopia

I find Corey Robin smart most of the time. I find him annoyingly and profoundly stupid some of the time. Why? Because of occasional but stubborn blindnesses to very important parts of recent history and, indeed, very important parts of the world in which he lives—what seems to me a willful, trollish blindnesses.

For example, his piece in the New York Times last week. It really could have used some proper editorial attention it did not get: The examples presented of what is wrong with "the market" are simply... not examples...

Robin writes of "the anxious parent, desperate not to offend the insurance representative on the phone, lest he decree that the policy she paid for doesn’t cover her child’s appendectomy". But that is not a problem with "the market": that is a problem with bureaucracy. National health systems face the same problems and make the same kinds of decisions with respect to "medical appropriateness" as do private insurers.

Robin writes of freedom from "the need to smile for the sake of a sale". But that is not a problem with "the market": that is a problem with the need we have for a complex division of labor in order to be a rich society, in the context of the very human fact that people will not be eager to deal with you as a cooperative partner if you are a misanthropic grouch.

The market provides a partial way around the unfreedoms generated by institutions of bureaucratic organization and social cooperation. The market—if and only if you have wealth—allows you to be a misanthropic grouch and still get people to cooperate with you. The market—if and only if you have wealth—allows you to avoid having to work to make the gear-wheels of bureaucracy turn and yet still gain access to resources. It is certainly the case that if people are poor then the market does them no good at all. It cannot, then, be a way around bureaucracy or norms of social agreeableness. The market pays attention to the wealthy and only the wealthy. But the problem then is one of poverty—that we have managed to arrange a very wealthy society in such a way that it has a lot of not-wealthy people in it.

Contrary to what Robin claims, utopia is indeed the liberal dream of freedom plus groceries—with "groceries" standing in for enough wealth to route yourself around the unfreedoms created by bureaucracy and by your own misanthropic nature when they bind too tightly. The problem is not "the market" or "capitalism": Corey Robin: The New Socialists: "Under capitalism, we’re forced to enter the market just to live...

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How Much Is Left of Donald Trump's Brain? The Level of Cognitive Decline Here is Close to Being Absolute...

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Rob Beschizza: President Trump colors U.S. flag wrongly in classroom photo opg: "Maybe Trump should kneel before it a while, so he at least knows what it looks like. I've created a useful graphic of the Trumpamerica Flag:

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On Removing My Tweed Jacket at the Start of Lecture...

Observing Drought in California with Remote Sensing LP DAAC NASA Land Data Products and Services

A word about this peculiar costume—the closest thing you can get to goretex if all you have is a sheep—that I am now taking off...

Because of central heating, these male formal and semi-formal clothes aren't comfortable these days even in Oxford and Cambridge, England, where they were originally developed. They are really only comfortable in Scotland. That is well-and-good if you teach at the University of Edinburgh or in Glasgow—or, perhaps, in Stockholm, Oslo, Helsinki, or maybe in Washington or Oregon.

It used to be that these clothes were comfortable here in Berkeley. But, because of global warming, the climate here these days is a lot like what I remember Santa Barbara being like half a century ago when I was a child. When I got a job here at Berkeley in the mid-1990s, I looked forward to living in a place in which tweed jackets and such were comfortable both inside and out. The fact that these clothes were actually comfortable here was a factor—a small factor, but a factor. Increasingly, however, that is no longer the case. A problem resulting from global warming, albeit a small problem.

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Comment of the Day: Tracy Lightcap: Jacob Levy: I don’t think there’s anything—anything—on which I’ve gotten so much disbelief-that-becomes-near-anger as when I contradict the post-2014 Fox narrative about campus life...: "This is it, but I think the process is a bit more complicated. People who have made up their minds on a topic and committed themselves to it are still susceptible to arguments that work through repetition to undermine authority figures...

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This is, I think, both right and wrong. China has an... interesting property-rights system—your property is secure not through title deeds and such but through networks that link you to party and government officials. It's hard to argue that it does not work. It is easy to argue that it shouldn't work. But it does work, and this does, I think, have something to do with China's stabilization policy success. China has Keynesian demand management—and is willing to use it. China has interest rate tools, but they are in general effective at boosting only exports and construction. And China has effective financial repression, with which it appears to do a lot to manage banking and investment and thus the flow of aggregate demand. I have not seen a good analysis of how China's credit-based stabilization policy really works. I would like to see one. But fiscal policy and monetary policy ought—away from the zero lower bound at least, be powerful enough tools to do the job, and in all likelihood better tools to do the job: Noah Smith: China Invents a Different Way to Run an Economy: "The nation has avoided a recession for a quarter-century. Few countries can make the same claim...

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