Walter Jon Williams: Quillifer the Knight http://www.walterjonwilliams.net/2019/11/barefoot-knight-with-cheek/:
Walter Jon Williams: Quillifer the Knight http://www.walterjonwilliams.net/2019/11/barefoot-knight-with-cheek/:
William Boyd: Rereading: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/jul/24/carre-spy-came-cold-boyd: 'One of the aspects of the novel that always bothered me was the end. Leamas... finally realises how he has been used by his own side, how he has been fooled, manipulated and misinformed to bring about a conclusion that was the opposite of the one he thought he was colluding in. He is offered the chance to flee, to escape and climb over the Wall with the young girl he sort-of loves back to West Berlin. He and the girl are driven to a "safe" area of the Wall in a car provided for him by a double agent. Operationally and procedurally this seemed to me a huge error. My feeling was that an agent of Leamas's vast experience and worldliness would surely be aware that such a means of escape was riven with jeopardy. Yet he goes along with it and pays the price. What had I missed? Reading the book again I now think I understand—but it does require close attention (new readers look away now)...
Note to Self: I see no way that live-action Mulan can match animated: animated's delicious subversion of the "Basic Training" tropes seems to me to make it unbeatable?
Actually, where do all the "basic training" tropes come from? They seem well-established by the post-WWI movie "Tell It to the Marines" https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0018471/. Captains Courageous https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captains_Courageous? The Red Badge of Courage https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Red_Badge_of_Courage? But those aren't basic training. Sergeant le Juane and Corporal Himmelstoss aren't this trope. Does it come from Xenophon? Where, when, and how did the "basic training" tropes enter our culture?
Matthew Arnold: Dover Beach https://sites.udel.edu/britlitwiki/dover-beach/:
The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits;–on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanch’d land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago heard it on the AEgean,
And it brought into his mind
The turbid ebb and flow of human misery;
We find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Walter Jon Williams: Charging A Brick Wall http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/williams_interview_2020/: Arley Sorg: 'What can you tell us about your recent novels—the Quillifer books and the Praxis books—what is special about them to you, and what do you really want readers to know about them?' WJW: 'At some point in the Nineties, my books started to grow in scope and got longer and longer. Eventually I wised up and split the huge stories into multiple volumes, which allowed me as much scope as I wanted, and also to be paid multiple times. Win/win! I’ve only recently realized that I’ve had a single project over the last twenty years, which is to examine the artifacts and tropes of genre, take them apart, and reassemble them in ways that make sense to me. It’s a very science fiction thing to do....
Weekend Reading: Robert Harris (2015): Dictator https://isbn.nu/9780307948137: 'On the flatter ground at the top of the slope Cornutus had drawn up four cohorts—almost two thousand men. They stood in lines in the heat. The light on their helmets dazzled as brightly as the sun, and I had to shield my eyes. When Cicero stepped out of his litter there was absolute silence. Cornutus conducted him to a low platform beside an altar. A sheep was sacrificed. Its guts were pulled out and examined by the haruspices and declared propitious: “There is no doubt of ultimate victory.” The crows circled overhead. A priest read a prayer. Then Cicero spoke. I cannot remember exactly what he said. All the usual words were there—liberty, ancestors, hearths and altars, laws and temples—but for once I listened without hearing. I was looking at the faces of the legionaries...
why would one want to think like an economist? What is thinking like an economist—rather than like a sociologist (looking for the webs of human connections and common belief), a political scientist (looking at power and at authority both given and taken), or a historian (looking at origins and development)? One wants to think like an economist because it is an especially useful way of thinking about the economy. What, then, is the economy? And why is “thinking like an economist”—marginal, interdependence, benefit-cost, and opportunity cost calculations—a good way of understanding it?
Partha Dasgupta provides the best short answer to those two linked questions, and in the process of doing so provides the best introduction to economics, that I have seen
Partha Dasgupta: Economics: A Very Short Introduction https://delong.typepad.com/files/dasgupta-economics.pdf
Let me remind you about Aristoteles son of Nikomakhos of Stagira:
He lived from -384 to -322, in the Greek-speaking communities around the Aegean Sea. He spent most of his time in Athens. For the two millennia following his death, he would be, for a large chunk of the world, THE Philosopher: capital “P” and capital “THE”. 1650 years after his death, poet Dante Alighieri would call him “the Master… of those who know”, “il Maestro di color che sanno”. Aristotle’s was, even at so long a distance in time, the most powerful intellectual name that one could conjure with...
Aristotle: Politics, Book I https://delong.typepad.com/files/aristotle-politics-book-i.pdf
Weekend Reading: Harry Brighouse: Teaching a 10 Year-Old to Read http://crookedtimber.org/2020/01/05/teaching-a-10-year-old-to-read/: 'My then-18 year old daughter was home with her friends when I opened my author-copies of Family Values. After they left she said “My friends are really impressed that you’ve written a book. But I’m not really. I mean, it’s just part of your job, isn’t it? It’s just what you’re supposed to do. I mean….it’s not like you taught a third grader to read, or something like that“. If you’ve read the book, or simply know its main theses, you’ll see many layers of irony in that exchange, and probably further layers of irony in the sense of pleasure and pride I got from it. But actually I did teach a kid to read, a 5th grader actually, though just one, when I was 18...
Knowledge system and cognitive science guru Andy Matuschak writes a rant called Why Books Don’t Work https://andymatuschak.org/books/, about big, difficult books that take him six to nine hours each to read:
Have you ever had a book… come up… [and] discover[ed] that you’d absorbed what amounts to a few sentences?… It happens to me regularly…. Someone asks a basic probing question… [and] I simply can’t recall the relevant details… [or] I’ll realize I had never really understood the idea… though I’d certainly thought I understood…. I’ll realize that I had barely noticed how little I’d absorbed until that very moment…
However, he goes on to say:
Some people do absorb knowledge from books… the people who really do think about what they’re reading.… These readers’ inner monologues have sounds like: “This idea reminds me of…,” “This point conflicts with…,” “I don’t really understand how…,” etc. If they take some notes, they’re not simply transcribing the author’s words: they’re summarizing, synthesizing, analyzing…
Note to Self: Best books about pre-industrial human society:
Patricia Crone (1989): Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World https://delong.typepad.com/files/crone-pre.pdf...
Ernest Gellner (1989): Plough, Sword, and Book: The Structure of Human History https://delong.typepad.com/files/gellner-plough.pdf...
Jared Diamond (1997): Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies https://delong.typepad.com/files/diamond-selections.pdf...
Introduction: Let me write, overwhelmingly, about inequality understood as inequality between people who regard themselves as members of a common culture, economy, nation. There is the separate issue of inequality between the different cultures, economies, nations that make up the world, but let me leave that for the very end, and then deal with it only briefly.
History of Inequality: For most of human history since the invention of agriculture, typical settled human societies have been about 80% as unequal as they could possibly be: were anything to stretch out the distribution of income and wealth by more than an additional 20%, and working-class women would have become too skinny to ovulate regularity and working-class children would have had compromised immune systems, and so the population would have failed to reproduce itself. The typical economy's Gini index was about 45 or so (the same Gini value as if 72% of wealth and income were evenly divided among the top 28%, and the rest evenly among the rest)—with New Spain in the eighteenth century estimated up at above 60 (the same Gini value as if 4/5 were evenly divided among the top 1/5, and the rest evenly among the rest) and the Kingdom of Naples and China estimated down below 30 (the same Gini value as if 65% were evenly divided among the top 35%, and the rest of income evenly among the rest).
4.4.2) “Freedom” Inverted: It’s Really Powerlessness: Capitalists and their ideologists write about how everybody is “free” in a capitalist economy: slavery and serfdom have both been abolished, so that workers can go where they want, take the jobs they want, and so raise society’s productivity. Marx reacts with very heavy-handed snark.
The serf was not free: he was tied to the land, and had to stay there and present his lord with the customary feudal rents specified under that form of land tenure. The coming of capitalism frees the serf: he is no longer required to stay on his inherited piece of land, and farm it.
But the coming of capitalism “frees” the serf in another sense as well: he is “freed” from his connection with the land, which now belongs to the landlord. And he can do what he used to do—farm the land—only if he can strike a bargain and rent it from the landlord. He is, in the words of Milton and Rose Director Friedman, “free to choose”. But he is also free to lose. And—if he cannot strike a bargain to rent the land and then cannot strike a bargain to work as an employee—free to starve.
Yes, he is no longer constrained by the web of obligations that constrained him under the feudal or the petty-bourgeois mode of production. But by the same token that freedom from social position and social ties may well reduce his bargaining power when he goes to the labor market. Constraints can keep you from doing better, but they can also keep you fro being forced to do worse.
Moreover, that bargaining-power reduction is essential for the system’s operation, at least in Marx’s view. Capitalism can only form if there are a lot of workers who have lost their feudal status as serfs who are both owned by and own the land, and lost their petty-bourgeois status as artisans or merchants who own their tools and their businesses. Only if there is a proletariat—a large group of workers who must find a capitalist employer, and must do so under conditions in which workers have very little bargaining power:
The starting point of the development that gave rise to the wage labourer as well as to the capitalist, was the servitude of the labourer. The advance consisted in a change of form of this servitude, in the transformation of feudal exploitation into capitalist exploitation.… Revolutions are epoch-making that act as levers for the capital class in course of formation; but, above all, those moments when great masses of men are suddenly and forcibly torn from their means of subsistence, and hurled as free and “unattached” proletarians on the labour-market…
4.4) Part VIII: Primitive Accumulation: At the end of Part VII, Marx had completed his analysis of how the purpose of capitalism-as-a-system was simply capital accumulation, which produced ever more productivity, wealth, and misery, all three growing together, and all three growing together at an ever-increasing pace. The natural next step in Marx’s argument would be for him to lay out what he forecasts will bring this mad sorcerers-apprentice process to an end.
That, however is not what we get. We turn to the next page, and its title of “Part VIII: Primitive Accumulation” tells us that Marx is now jumping back to the historical beginnings of the process of capitalist capital accumulation.
He needed an editor.
Fortunately, this part is misnamed. “Primitive” accumulation is supposed to be about how the juggernaut of capitalism initially gets rolling. This part starts out being about that. But it then moves on, and is in its later stages also about much, much more.
4.4.1) “Primitive Accumulation” Proper: Part VIII does start out with its expressed topic. It hammers home the difference between the myth that the capitalist tell themselves and others, and the reality with which the system came into being. The myth is as follows, as Marx brings the snark:
Its origin is supposed to be.… In times long gone by there were two sorts of people; one, the diligent, intelligent, and, above all, frugal elite; the other, lazy rascals…. Thus it came to pass that the former sort accumulated wealth, and the latter sort had at last nothing to sell except their own skins. And from this original sin dates the poverty of the great majority that, despite all its labour, has up to now nothing to sell but itself, and the wealth of the few that increases constantly although they have long ceased to work. Such insipid childishness is every day preached to us in the defence of property…
The reality is very very different:
The process which creates the capital-relation can be nothing other than the process which divorces the worker from the ownership of the conditions of his own labour; it is a process which operates two transformations, whereby the social means of subsistence and production are turned into capital, and the immediate producers are turned into wage-labourers. So-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. It appears as ‘primitive’ because it forms the pre-history of capital, and of the mode of production corresponding to capital…
And it is not just that history happened this way in some ethically neutral way. Great crimes were committed. And great was the role played by political corruption. Marx reviews British history starting in 1500, running from Henry VIII Tudor to William III Orange, and beyond:
The spoliation of the Church’s property, the fraudulent alienation of the state domains, the theft of the common lands, the usurpation of feudal and clan property and its transformation into modern private property under circumstances of ruthless terrorism, all these things were just so many idyllic methods of primitive accumulation. They conquered the field for capitalist agriculture, incorporated the soil into capital [a very interesting phrase], and created for the urban industries the necessary supplies of free and rightless proletarians…
The Glorious Revolution... brought into power, along with William of Orange, the landed and capitalist profit-grubbers. They inaugurated the new era by practising on a colossal scale the thefts of state lands which had hitherto been managed more modestly. These estates were given away, sold at ridiculous prices, or even annexed to private estates by direct seizure … The Crown lands thus fraudulently appropriated, together with the stolen Church estates, … form the basis of the present princely domains of the English oligarchy…
Employ the power of the state, the concentrated and organized force of society, to hasten, as in a hothouse, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society which is pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power…
Not just market buying-and-selling bring capitalism into being. Brutality and force are the “midwife” of every transformation from one kind of society to another—here the origins of society based on the capitalist mode of production born from the womb of the previous pattern of society based on the feudal mode of production:
Unleash[ing] the ‘eternal natural laws’ of the capitalist mode of production, to complete the process of separation between the workers and the conditions of their labour, to transform, at one pole, the social means of production and subsistence into capital, and at the opposite pole, the mass of the population into wage-labourers, into the free ‘labouring poor’, that artificial product of modern history.... [Feudalism] has to be annihilated; it is annihilated. Its annihilation, the transformation of the individualized and scattered means of production into socially concentrated means of production, the transformation, therefore, of the dwarf-like property of the many into the giant property of the few, and the expropriation of the great mass of the people from the soil, from the means of subsistence and from the instruments of labour, this terrible and arduously accomplished expropriation of the mass of the people forms the pre-history of capital…
4.3.3) The Capitalist System Worsens Over Time: Remember, always, to Marx, capitalism is a system. It works, in the sense that it carries itself forward into the future:
Therefore, the worker himself constantly produces objective wealth, in the form of capital, an alien power that dominates and exploits him; and the capitalist just as constantly produces labour-power, in the form of a subjective source of wealth which is abstract, exists merely in the physical body of the worker, and is separated from its own means of objectification and realization; in short, the capitalist produces the worker as a wage-labourer. This incessant reproduction, this perpetuation of the worker, is the absolutely necessary condition for capitalist production…. The capitalist process of production, therefore, seen as a total, connected process, i.e. a process of reproduction, produces not only commodities, not only surplus-value, but it also produces and reproduces the capital-relation itself; on the one hand the capitalist, on the other the wage-labourer...
As the system carries itself forward into the future, it changes. It, Marx argues, becomes even worse and more destructive. The gap between what society could be given the magical productivity of human labor augmented by science and technology and what society is grows beyond measure.
Accumulation of capital leads to innovation and the invention of new kinds of more productive machines. The capital intensity of production rises. And as the capital intensity of production rises, downward pressure on workers’ wages rises as well.
Marx thinks he has an airtight argument that this will be so:
Since the demand for labour is determined not by the extent of the total capital but by its variable constituent alone, that demand falls progressively with the growth of the total capital, instead of rising in proportion to it, as was previously assumed. It falls relatively to the magnitude of the total capital, and at an accelerated rate, as this magnitude increases. With the growth of the total capital, its variable constituent, the labour incorporated in it, does admittedly increase, but in a constantly diminishing proportion... constantly produces, and produces indeed in direct relation with its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant working population, i.e. a population which is superfluous to capital’s average requirements for its own valorization, and is therefore a surplus population…
Marx believes that machinery is not a complement to but a substitute for labor. Here, once again, Marx has been betrayed by the labor theory of value. The century and a half after his writing of Capital has seen wages rise fifteen fold. It has seen inequality rise, fall, and more recently rise again. But even now, at our current inequality peak, it is only back to the level it was in mid-nineteenth century Britain here in the United States, and is lower elsewhere in the global north.
Not a Human Logic, But Its Own Mad Logic: Why does the system work as it carries itself into the future—as it “reproduces itself”, as Marx likes to say? The rapid advances of science and technology on the one hand in the scope of the collective social division of labor mediated by the market on the other greatly increase the productive power of humanity. Why are these increased productive powers turned not to the greater good but to making greater evils? Marx has an answer: His answer is that the wishes and wills of humans have no purchase once the capitalist machine has started rolling. People must fit into their slots, and do what their slot in the system requires that they do. Workers who do not sacrifice their essential humanity to a hard, dehumanizing, and low-paying job find themselves and their families at deaths door. Capitalists who do not devote every moment to raising productivity, pushing down wages, and reinvesting their larger profits to increase their scale of operations faster find themselves outcompeted. They wind up going bankrupt–and then their children join the working class proletariat. Thus, according to the principle that the purpose of a system is what it does, the purpose of the capitalist system is maximum investment and capital accumulation:
Accumulation for the sake of accumulation, production for the sake of production: this was the formula in which classical economics expressed the historical mission of the bourgeoisie in the period of its domination. Not for one instant did it deceive itself over the nature of wealth’s birth-pangs. But what use is it to lament a historical necessity? If, in the eyes of classical economics, the proletarian is merely a machine for the production of surplus-value, the capitalist too is merely a machine for the transformation of this surplus-value into surplus capital…
Mark thinks he has an iron and water-tight argument that this process of investment in capital accumulation greatly raises the stock of instruments of production that workers use—no, in capitalist factories as Marx sees them workers do not utilize machines, instead, machines use up workers—while reducing the funds available to be spent paying the wages of the workers:
The law of the progressive growth of the constant part of capital in comparison with the variable part is confirmed at every step … by the comparative analysis of the prices of commodities, whether we compare different economic epochs or different nations in the same epoch. The relative magnitude of the part of the price which represents the value of the means of production, or the constant part of the capital, is in direct proportion to the progress of accumulation, whereas the relative magnitude of the other part of the price, which represents the variable part of the capital, or the payment made for labour, is in inverse proportion to the progress of accumulation…
Thus, for Marx, it is inconceivable that there might be a permanent, durable increase in the average wage level as the process of capital accumulation proceeds and as capitalism-the-sytem carries itself forward into the future. Supply-and-demand could not, and marks his analysis, lead to such an outcome, for supply-and-demand work in the context of a ever-growing surplus population that makes up an industrial reserve army of unemployed and hungry-for-jobs workers:
The industrial reserve army, during the periods of stagnation and average prosperity, weighs down the active army of workers; during the periods of over-production and feverish activity, it puts a curb on their pretensions. The relative surplus population is therefore the background against which the law of the demand and supply of labour does its work. It confines the field of action of this law to the limits absolutely convenient to capital’s drive to exploit and dominate the workers…
In fact, for Marx, it is inconceivable the average wage level will manage to stay above bare subsistence:
The most diverse machines are now applied to the manufacture of the machines themselves…. The labourers employed in machine factories can but play the role of very stupid machines alongside of the highly ingenious machines…. To sum up: the more productive capital grows, the more it extends the division of labour and the application of machinery; the more the division of labour and the application of machinery extend, the more does competition extend among the workers, the more do their wages shrink together…. A mass of small business men and of people living upon the interest of their capitals is precipitated into the ranks of the working class…. Thus the forest of outstretched arms, begging for work, grows ever thicker, while the arms themselves grow every leaner…
Thus, as Mark sees it, the more powerful and productive new workers become, the more dominated and exploited workers become. :Workers become not men but fragments of men: hands, no more than appendages to the machine. And working to make things becomes not a source of joy at accomplishment but into an alienated torment:
We saw in Part IV, when analysing the production of relative surplus-value, that within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productivity of labour are put into effect at the cost of the individual worker; that all means for the development of production undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become means of domination and exploitation of the producers; they distort the worker into a fragment of a man, they degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, they destroy the actual content of his labour by turning it into a torment; they alienate…
In Marx’s analytical framework, wealth, productivity, and misery all grow together. Greater productivity produces greater wealth. And then greater wealth produces greater misery, because under capitalism wealth is used to dominate and, if the capitalist is going to survive, he must use his power to dominate to push down wages and worsen working conditions so that he can not consume but invest his profits to produce an even greater scale of production and even greater productivity:
In proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse. Finally, the law which always holds the relative surplus population or industrial reserve army in equilibrium with the extent and energy of accumulation rivets the worker to capital more firmly than the wedges of Hephaestus held Prometheus to the rock. It makes an accumulation of misery a necessary condition, corresponding to the accumulation of wealth. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, the torment of labour, slavery, ignorance, brutalization and moral degradation at the opposite pole, i.e. on the side of the class that produces its own product as capital...
What is going to bring an end to this mad process?
Henry Fielding (1749): The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling https://www.gutenberg.org/files/6593/6593-h/6593-h.htm#link2HCH0174: 'This bar of the uncle being now removed (though young Nightingale knew not as yet in what manner), and all parties being quickly ready, the mother, Mr Jones, Mr Nightingale, and his love, stept into a hackney-coach, which conveyed them to Doctors' Commons; where Miss Nancy was, in vulgar language, soon made an honest woman, and the poor mother became, in the purest sense of the word, one of the happiest of all human beings...
...And now Mr Jones, having seen his good offices to that poor woman and her family brought to a happy conclusion, began to apply himself to his own concerns; but here, lest many of my readers should censure his folly for thus troubling himself with the affairs of others, and lest some few should think he acted more disinterestedly than indeed he did, we think proper to assure our reader, that he was so far from being unconcerned in this matter, that he had indeed a very considerable interest in bringing it to that final consummation.
To explain this seeming paradox at once, he was one who could truly say with him in Terence, Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto. He was never an indifferent spectator of the misery or happiness of any one; and he felt either the one or the other in great proportion as he himself contributed to either. He could not, therefore, be the instrument of raising a whole family from the lowest state of wretchedness to the highest pitch of joy without conveying great felicity to himself; more perhaps than worldly men often purchase to themselves by undergoing the most severe labour, and often by wading through the deepest iniquity.
Those readers who are of the same complexion with him will perhaps think this short chapter contains abundance of matter; while others may probably wish, short as it is, that it had been totally spared as impertinent to the main design, which I suppose they conclude is to bring Mr Jones to the gallows, or, if possible, to a more deplorable catastrophe...
4.3) Part VII: The Accumulation of Capital: 4.3.1. The Bourgeoisie Is the Ruling Class: This is where the book starts to sing (to me, at least).
The first important thing I get out of Part VII is that, to quote from the Communist Manifesto, “the executive of the modern state is a committee for managing the affairs of the _business class”. Wealth speaks loudly, and influences the government to arrange things for the convenience of wealth—to keep wages low, and workers available.
*4.2.5) Part V: Absolute & Relative Surplus-Value *: Here Marx is indeed repeating himself. You are trapped in some Groundhog Day-like scenario. This time through reading these chapters, my major thought was: Wouldn’t Engels pay for an editor? It goes over ground Marx has already gone over. And it loses itself in byways that seem pointless to me.
For example, what is the usefulness of this?:
From one standpoint, any distinction between absolute and relative surplus-value appears illusory. Relative surplus-value is absolute, since it compels the absolute prolongation of the working-day beyond the labour-time necessary to the existence of the labourer himself. Absolute surplus-value is relative, since it makes necessary such a development of the productiveness of labour, as will allow of the necessary labour-time being confined to a portion of the working-day. But if we keep in mind the behaviour of surplus-value, this appearance of identity vanishes. Once the capitalist mode of production is established and become general, the difference between absolute and relative surplus-value makes itself felt, whenever there is a question of raising the rate of surplus-value. Assuming that labour-power is paid for at its value, we are confronted by this alternative: given the productiveness of labour and its normal intensity, the rate of surplus-value can be raised only by the actual prolongation of the working-day; on the other hand, given the length of the working-day, that rise can be effected only by a change in the relative magnitudes of the components of the working-day, viz., necessary labour and surplus-labour; a change which, if the wages are not to fall below the value of labour-power, presupposes a change either in the productiveness or in the intensity of the labour…
Why is it not better to say that the rate of profit (or of surplus-value extraction) depends on five things; the length of the working day, the productiveness of labor, the intensity of labor, the cost of worker subsistence, and the deviation of the wage level from the cost of subsistence? What is gained by calling some of these ‘relative’ and the others ‘absolute’ as it is indeed true that, as Marx says: ‘relative surplus-value is absolute… [and] absolute surplus-value is relative’?
Perhaps there is a new nugget in Chapter 16 of this Part V. Marx wishes to establish that David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill have blinded themselves by confusing things that are present only under the capitalist mode of production with things that are always true of the human division of labor, and so confuse themselves. But Ricardo and Mill—and I—would respond: Yes, these things are only apparent and obvious under the capitalist mode of production, but they are always true in the sense that they are constraints on and opportunities arising from the construction of a societal division of labor under conditions of scarcity; it is just that under other systems of arranging the societal division of labor these constraints and opportunities are masked by how they are embedded in the networks of obligation and control that make up non-market societies.
This is an argument Marx ought to have wrestled with. But he did not.
And much of Part V is simply confused: Marx disappears into the swamp that is the labor theory of value, and criticizes other economists for not getting lost in the swamp in the same place he does.
4.2.6) Part VI: Wages: Once again, I find Marx in need of an editor: little said in a substantial space. However, chapter 22, on differences across nations in the level of wages, seemed to me to be of interest. Marx says that looking across countries there are those with:
more intense national labour… more productive nation[s]…. In proportion as capitalist production is developed in a country, in the same proportion do the national intensity and productivity of labour there rise above the international level…. It will be found, frequently, that the daily or weekly, &tc., wage in the first nation is higher than in the second, whilst the relative price of labour, i.e., the price of labour as compared both with surplus-value and with the value of the product, stands higher in the second than in the first…
So that a higher rate of exploitation, a higher rate of productivity, and a higher value of real wages in terms of the commodities they can buy go together. Comparing Russia to England, Marx finds:
Despite all over-work, continued day and night, despite the most shameful under-payment of the workpeople, Russian manufacture manages to vegetate only by prohibition of foreign competition…
English cotton mills pay their workers more and extract more profits and surplus value out of them. Russian cotton mills pay their workers less, over-work them more, and yet would fail to extract any profits or surplus value if not for government subsidies via tariffs. The more exploited are workers in Marx’s extraction-of-surplus-value sense, the better off there workers are.
This should have given Marx pause: if it is true looking from less-capitalistic to more-capitalistic nations that higher rates of exploitation and better-fed and better-housed workers go together, might it not also be true looking over time from less-capitalistic to more-capitalistic eras that we see the same? This should have led Marx to rethink. It did not.
4.2.7) Summing Up Parts I-VI: In summary, with the exception of Chapter 10, The Working Day, Parts I-VI of Capital do not sing for me. Confused, and where not confused usually wrong, is my judgment.
Part I makes Hegelian philosophical intellectual moves to construct an argument for the labor theory of value, an argument which I do not see as valid and which leads to a false conclusion. Part II makes the important point that capital is not a thing but rather a set of relationships or processes that generate a certain kind of economy with its patterns of production, distribution, and dynamic evolution. But this seems obvious to me: it is something I know in my bones. Marx presents it with what seems to me to be a lot of fluff and mystification.
Parts III-VI develop and use his analytical framework and, with the exception of chapter 10 on the working day, I find the framework creaky, inadequate, and often misleading: labor theory of value, rates of surplus value, organic composition of capital, and hidden behind the curtain the unsolved and unsolvable analytical problems of reduction and transformation.
It is only in Part VII that the book begins to sing to me.
I do confess that I am sad that §7.6 of my "Smith, Marx, Keynes" lecture notes https://www.icloud.com/keynote/0osOOsPvSrTaiK4__D5MghPVA is still just huge honking quotes from Paul Krugman's Mr. Keynes and the Moderns https://delong.typepad.com/files/keynes-moderns.pdf. I kinda want to say "just read the whole thing". But here are the passages I chose:
Chapter 12 is, of course, the wonderful, brilliant chapter on long-term expectations, with its acute observations on investor psychology, its analogies to beauty contests, and more. Its essential message is that investment decisions must be made in the face of radical uncertainty to which there is no rational answer, and that the conventions men use to pretend that they know what they are doing are subject to occasional drastic revisions, giving rise to economic instability. What Chapter 12ers insist is that this is the real message of Keynes, that all those who have invoked the great man’s name on behalf of quasi-equilibrium models that push this insight into the background, from John Hicks to Paul Samuelson to Mike Woodford, have violated his true legacy...
I have finished (a draft of) my "Smith, Marx, Keynes" lecture notes—well, I have not written 7.6 and 8.2. For 7.6, I have simply dumped in (much of) Paul Krugman's Mr. Keynes and the Moderns. 8.2 I have not written anything on. But what it is, it is...
4.2.3) Part III: Production of Absolute Surplus-Value: Formal Equality Masking Substantive Inequality and Oppression: Here Marx tries to peel back the mask that conventional liberal ideology places over the face of the capitalist market economy. The market economy pretends that it is a realm of freedom: everyone is independent, everyone is unbound by ties of slavery and serfdom, everyone owns what he or she owns, everyone produces, buys, and sells, everyone does so an an equal legal footing…
And yet..., and yet..., and yet...
Marx tries to lay out how such a formally-equal form of social organization like the market economy nevertheless produces massive and mammoth inequality. He does so by diving into the working day and the labor process: How is it that the value of labor-power is less than the value of the commodities that that labor-power the capitalist purchases then creates? Why doesn't the worker just work for themself and so reap the full value of the commodities they produce as the wage for their labor power?
However, Marx gets lost here in the swamp of the labor theory of value. And so the analytical apparatus he builds creaks. It is, I think, simply not up to the task.
Sources of Capitalist Social Power: I think, however, that it is easy to rescue Marx's argument by throwing his labor theory of value overboard and simply looking at average or market equilibrium prices. It is a fact that those without money have little social power. It is a fact that those without money have little ability to delay their purchases or sales in the hope that a better bargain will be. It is a fact that those who are desperate to buy or sell get a bad bargain. And it is a fact that workers are desperate to sell their labor, and then desperate to buy commodities now: they and their families have to eat.
But why can't workers just work for themselves? Why can't they be independent contractors, and so capture for themselves the surplus the capitalist exacts from the fact that workers are desperate to work and so will work for less than the value of what they will produce because they need money now? They can—if they have enough of a stake to tied themselves over. But as time passes and as production becomes more and more capital-intensive and value chains become longer and longer, the size of the stake needed to remain independent grows. Some succeed in maintaining the needed stake, and even enlarging it: they maintain a precarious independence or become capitalists themselves, respectively. Most, from bad luck, imprudence, or a failure to keep pace with increasing scale, fall into the proletariat, and so have to strike bad bargains with employers in which they capture little of the surplus created in the process of production.
That, at least, would be a coherent theoretical argument.
Marx Wrote at the End of an Era of Wage Stagnation: It would run into the empirical problem that the wages of labor today in the Global North are 15 times higher than they were two centuries ago, and that in the world as a whole only 9% of people earn too little in the global market to escape from extreme poverty while 80% were in extreme poverty 200 years ago. But it would be a coherent argument. And it would accurately describe the world of an Industrial Revolution with little or no increase in real wages that Marx had seen in his life up to 1867. (Albeit that phase of the world economy was about to end: wages, worldwide, were then about to start rocketing upward.)
Nassau Senior’s “Last Hour”: Please, I ask you, do not miss the last part of chapter 9: Section 3: Senior's "Last Hour". Marx’s evisceration of the argument in support of the cotton manufacturers of Britain by British classical economist Nassau Senior is a thing of beauty. And it was the source for the first economics article I ever wrote that would up published.
The Length of the Working Day: And read carefully and reread chapter 10. In chapter 10 the book descends from German Hegelian-philosophical and British classical-economic abstractions and theory into the condition fo the working class in England in the middle of the nineteenth century, and the book becomes great.
Creaky Abstractions Return: But in chapter 11 the abstractions and the creaky analytical apparatus are back.
Marx then finds himself on the defensive. The profits that different manufacturers realize have nothing to do with the amounts of surplus value that Marx calculates different manufacturers extract from their workers. Why are the profits of one manufacturer who has few workers and so can extract no surplus value from them just as high as the profits of another manufacturer sweating surplus value out of tens of thousands? How I this consistent with Marx’s claim that profits in some sense are, or are the surface manifestation of the deep reality that is surplus value?
This is a natural question to ask. Asking it very much puts Marx very much on the defensive. So we find passages like:
The law... of surplus-value produced... clearly contradicts all experience based on appearance.... A cotton spinner, who... employs... little variable capital, does not, on account of this, pocket less profit or surplus-value than a baker... [with] much variable... capital. For the solution of this apparent contradiction, many intermediate terms are as yet wanted, as from the standpoint of elementary algebra many intermediate terms are wanted to understand that 0/0 may represent an actual magnitude.... It will be seen later how the school of Ricardo has come to grief over this stumbling block. Vulgar economy which, indeed, “has really learnt nothing,” here as everywhere sticks to appearances in opposition to the law which regulates and explains them. In opposition to Spinoza, it believes that “ignorance is a sufficient reason”...
To paraphrase, Marx is here saying: My theory says the sun rises in the west, but you say it rises in the east. You are confused by the surface appearance of things. I have a deeper understanding, and I will present my answer later.
He never did present an explanation.
As I said, the analytical apparatus creaks, and is not up to the task.
4.2.4) Part IV: The Production of Relative Surplus-Value: No, you are not caught in some Groundhog Day-like time loop. If this sounds to you like he is starting to repeat himself, you are right. And if you ask what makes some surplus value “relative” and other surplus value “absolute”, you will not get a clear answer.
I think that when the working day is expanded or the standard of living is lowered, that is an increase in absolute surplus value. I think that when productivity rises, that is an increase in relative surplus value. I would have called Part III “The Working Day and Surplus Value” and Part IV “Worker Productivity and Surplus Value”.
Deskilling: But do not skip or skim—too much. The analytical core of this part is an important insight: The market economy produces enormous incentives to innovate in technology and to then invest in labor-saving machinery in order to raise productivity:
A most furious combat rages between the capitalists for their individual share in the market... proportional to the cheapness of the product.... This struggle gives rise to in the use of improved machinery for replacing labour-power... the introduction of new methods of production... [and] a forcible reduction of wages beneath the value of labour-power is attempted...
And this pressure has a powerful impact in potentially "deskilling" workers. Marx quotes Adam Smith here:
The understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations … has no occasion to exert his understanding … He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.... The uniformity of his stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind … It corrupts even the activity of his body and renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other employments than that to which he has been bred. His dexterity at his own particular trade seems in this manner to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilized society, this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall...
Hence Adam Smith calls for a major deviation from laissez faire in favor of publicly-funded and mandatory public education:
The common people... have little time to spare for education. Their parents can scarce afford to maintain them.... As soon as they are able to work they must apply to some trade by which they can earn their subsistence.... But though the common people cannot, in any civilised society, be so well instructed as people of some rank and fortune, the most essential parts of education, however, to read, write, and account, can be acquired at so early a period of life that the greater part even of those who are to be bred to the lowest occupations have time to acquire them before they can be employed in those occupations. For a very small expense the public can facilitate, can encourage, and can even impose upon almost the whole body of the people the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education... by establishing in every parish or district a little school, where children may be taught for a reward so moderate that even a common labourer may afford it; the master being partly, but not wholly, paid by the public.... It was in this manner, by facilitating the acquisition of their military and gymnastic exercises, by encouraging it, and even by imposing upon the whole body of the people the necessity of learning those exercises, that the Greek and Roman republics maintained the martial spirit of their respective citizens....
The gross ignorance and stupidity which, in a civilised society, seem so frequently to benumb the understandings of all the inferior ranks of people... [leaves them] mutilated and deformed in... [an] essential part of the character of human nature. Though the state was to derive no advantage from the instruction of the inferior ranks of people, it would still deserve its attention that they should not be altogether uninstructed. The state, however, derives no inconsiderable advantage from their instruction. The more they are instructed the less liable they are to the delusions of enthusiasm and superstition.... An instructed and intelligent people, besides, are always more decent and orderly.... They feel themselves, each individually, more respectable and more likely to obtain the respect of their lawful superiors.... They are more disposed to examine, and more capable of seeing through, the interested complaints of faction and sedition.... In free countries, where the safety of government depends very much upon the favourable judgment which the people may form of its conduct, it must surely be of the highest importance that they should not be disposed to judge rashly or capriciously...
I dare say you might well be able to convince Adam Smith, were he here with us today, to ban cable news, and Facebook.
But to return to Marx and to the cause of “deskilling”, rather than attempts to counteract its effects, we have Marx:
Along with the tool, the skill of the worker in handling it passes over to the machine. The capabilities of the tool are emancipated from the restraints inseparable from human labour-power. This destroys the technical foundation on which the division of labour in manufacture was based.… In so far as the division of labour reappears in the factory, it takes the form primarily of a distribution of workers among the specialized machines.... In handicrafts and manufacture, the worker makes use of a tool; in the factory, the machine makes use of him. There the movements of the instrument of labour proceed from him, here it is the movements of the machine that he must follow.... In the factory we have a lifeless mechanism... independent of the workers... incorporated into it as its living appendages.… The machine... deprives the work itself of all content … [The] conditions of work employ the worker...
Capitalism as a Vampire: And so innovation further diminishes workers' power to strike a good wage bargain, in chief a reasonable working day. Dead Labor—capital—or rather Undead Labor—fastens upon Living Labor like a vampire sucking his or her blood:
Partly by placing at the capitalists’ disposal new strata of the working class previously inaccessible to him, partly by setting free the workers it supplants, machinery produces a surplus working population... compelled to submit to the dictates of capital.... Machinery sweeps away every moral and natural restriction on the length of the working day.... The most powerful instrument for reducing labour-time suffers a dialectical inversion and becomes the most unfailing means for turning the whole lifetime of the worker and his family into labour-time at capital’s disposal for its own valorization.... Dead labour... dominates and soaks up living labour-power...
There is even, Marx claims, a large downside to laws to protect workers, to raise minimum wages, and to shorten the maximum working day. Such laws relatively disadvantage small-scale producers, and drive them into bankruptcy:
If the general extension of factory legislation to all trades for the purpose of protecting the working class both in mind and body has become inevitable, on the other hand, as we have already pointed out, that extension hastens on the general conversion of numerous isolated small industries into a few combined industries carried on upon a large scale; it therefore accelerates the concentration of capital and the exclusive predominance of the factory system. It destroys both the ancient and the transitional forms behind which the dominion of capital is still partially hidden, and replaces them with a dominion which is direct and unconcealed...
What is worse:
The immense impetus given to technical improvement by the limitation and regulation of the working day is to increase the anarchy and the proneness to catastrophe of capitalist production as a whole, the intensity of labour, and the competition of machinery with the worker. By the destruction of small-scale and domestic industries it destroys the last resorts of the ‘redundant population’, thereby removing what was previously a safety-valve for the whole social mechanism...
“The Worse, the Better”: But there is a "the worse, the better" apocalyptic silver lining here:
By maturing the material conditions and the social combination of the process of production, it matures the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of that process, and thereby ripens both the elements for forming a new society and the forces tending towards the overthrow of the old one...
I tend to be very very suspicious of “the worse, the better” arguments.
Karl Marx’s Theory of History: Note also that it is in this Part IV of Capital that we get Karl Marx's big-picture theory of history and political economy:
My view is that each particular mode of production, and the relations of production corresponding to it at each given moment, in short ‘the economic structure of society’, is ‘the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness’ [mental conceptions, if you like], and that ‘the mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual life...
And it is in this part of Capital that we have get a very brief glimpse into Marx's speculations about the business cycle:
The factory system’s tremendous capacity for expanding with sudden immense leaps, and its dependence on the world market, necessarily give rise to the following cycle: feverish production, a consequent glut on the market, then a contraction of the market, which causes production to be crippled. The life of industry becomes a series of periods of moderate activity, prosperity, over-production, crisis and stagnation. The uncertainty and instability to which machinery subjects the employment, and consequently the living conditions, of the workers becomes a normal state of affairs...
3.4.4) The Layers Overlap: Marx’s First Published Essay: You can see all three of these layers in Marx’s first published essay, On the Jewish Question. There is the German-philosophical layer: interrogating the concept of what it means to be free. There is the French-activist layer: how to organize and legislate to attain freedom. And there is the British-economist layer: the real problems lie in the economy, and how the workings of the economy drive people to be cruel to each other in spite of society’s overall prosperity. In On the Jewish Question Marx is pro-freedom. Jews are seeking equal rights. Many (including Marx’s about to be ex-friend Bruno Bauer) claimed that Germany was a Christian country in which Jews had no standing to ask for equal rights until they joined it—that is, became Christian—and then work for separation of state from church. Marx disagreed, stating that Jews’ status as Jews ought not to in any way be a bar to political emancipation.
But, Marx went on to write, political emancipation is not full human emancipation. In order to accomplish that, we need to transform the economy so that it no longer oppresses people.
Marx’s Antisemitism: And then Marx’s argument becomes unfortunate, because the way that the economy oppresses people, Marx says, is that it leads them to behave like he says Jews behave:
Let us consider the actual, worldly Jew–not the [observant] Sabbath Jew, as Bauer does, but the everyday Jew.
Let us not look for the secret of the Jew in his religion, but let us look for the secret of his religion in the real Jew.
What is the secular basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly religion of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly God? Money.
Very well then! Emancipation from huckstering and money, consequently from practical, real Judaism, would be the self-emancipation of our time.
An organization of society which would abolish the preconditions for huckstering, and therefore the possibility of huckstering, would make the Jew impossible. His religious consciousness would be dissipated like a thin haze in the real, vital air of society. On the other hand, if the Jew recognizes that this practical nature of his is futile and works to abolish it, he extricates himself from his previous development and works for human emancipation as such and turns against the supreme practical expression of human self-estrangement…
This was not a phrase Marx outgrew. A decade and a half later, in the mid 1850s, we find him writing things like:
Thus we find every tyrant backed by a Jew, as is every pope by a Jesuit. In truth, the cravings of oppressors would be hopeless, and the practicability of war out of the question, if there were not an army of Jesuits to smother thought and a handful of Jews to ransack pockets…
Yet by far the majority of the big bankers of mid-nineteenth century Europe were Christians. If he were around today, Marx would be one of those people who, when he wants to say something negative about bankers, will always say “Goldman Sachs” and never say “Bank of America” or “J.P. Morgan” or “Credit Suisse”. And the correspondence between Marx and Engels in which they express their envy of fellow German socialist Ferdinand Lassalle is just… weird. Simon Sebag Montefiore summarizes:
Both… were wildly jealous of Lasslle, who was in many ways what they wished to be: a political star, bon vivant… showman… lover… supported financially by his mistress, Countess von Hatzfeld…. Lassalle recognized Marx’s talent… helping him… get his work published…. Marx and Engles… repaid the favor with an endless stream of racist epithets… “stupid Yid”… “Jewboy”… “n——r”…. Lassalle… affair with a young woman engaged to a Wallachian prince whom he foolishly challenged to a duel. Lassalle was killed. Marx and Engels were astonished by the rise and fall of this flamboyant meteor…. Engels’s reflections on Lassalle’s intellectual and sexual power are particularly striking: “she didn’t want his beautiful mind but his Jewish cock”.
Marx was soon going to change his language away from On the Jewish Question’s claim that the big problem was that in market society all human beings acted like Jews: true human freedom would be thought of as the freedom of humanity from domination by the bourgeoisie, domination by the business class, rather than freedom from what Marx called “Jewishness”, and from an economic system that pushed people to act in what Marx called a “Jewish” way.
Mark Twain: From Huckleberry Finn https://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2019/11/30/all-right-then-go-the-whole-hog/: 'I about made up my mind to pray; and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was, and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that n—r’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie—and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out. So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter—and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather, right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote: "Miss Watson your runaway n—r Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN". I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell...
4.2) Capital, Parts I-II: Let me provide you with a brief guide in the form of my reactions on my last reading through Capital. And, truth by told, if I had made up the syllabus I would have assigned Parts VII and all but the last chapter of Part VIII, and dipped into Parts I-VI only for chapter 10, The Working Day, and a few selected passages. In place of the bulk of Parts I-VI, I would have substituted Marx’s 1847 essay Wage Labor and Capital; Marx and Engels’s 1848 The Communist Manifesto; Marx’s early 1850s study of French politics and political economy, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte; and his late-in-life Critique of the Gotha Program.
So here I am going to rush through Parts I through VI of Capital. I do not have time now to do more. Plus, with the exception of Chapter 10, The Working Day, which is great and which is by itself worth the price of the book, these pieces of the book do not sing to me.
4.2.1) Part I: Commodities and Money: The start of the book is, at bottom, a Hegelian German-philosophical argument for the truth of something called the labor theory of value: that the value of a commodity is the human labor that it took, directly and indirectly, to produce it. If you were a Hegelian German philosopher you might well find that argument somewhat convincing. But you are not. And in fact there are no Hegelian German philosophers at all: the consensus of philosophers is that Hegel is an important figure in the history of philosophy, but that his concepts and frameworks have little worthwhile bite.
Moreover, the labor theory of value is wrong, or at least profoundly unhelpful for Marx.
It involved him in spending years of his life trying to resolve all kinds of problems—the reduction problem, the transformation problem, how to characterize the capital-intensity of the economy—that were at best time-wasting sinks of energy and at worst led to what were in retrospect obvious analytical errors.
I get little out of Part I. But maybe I have not remade myself into the right kind of reader?
4.2.2) Part II: Transformation of Money into Capital “Capital” as Not Things But a Process: As the book moves out of Marx’s Hegelian German-philosopher mode it becomes, I think, much more promising. People typically think of “capital” as stuff: machines, buildings, inventories, and so on. But, Marx argues—I think correctly—that capital is better thought of as a particular form of social power: wealth directing human activity by being itself directed toward acquiring more wealth. Capital is money that is in the business of making more money by being used to buy and thus be transformed into commodities, and then back into more money. And, Marx argues, the most important commodity that capital is transformed into in its every-amplifying circular flow is labor-power, because the only reason that the system can produce profits on average—that the amount of capital can grow in general—is that the value of labor-power is less than the value of the commodities that that labor-power the capitalist purchases then creates.
But it takes Marx three chapters to say that.
Antisemitism Again: There is one piece of Part II that I should not pass over. It is:
The capitalist knows that all commodities, however tattered they may look, or however badly they may smell, are in faith and in truth money, are by nature circumcised Jews, and, what is more, a wonderful means for making still more money out of money…
What are “the Jews" doing here? Yep. This is a leftover from 1842, from the days when Marx and his soon to be ex-friends Moses Hess and Heinrich Heine were attacking “Jewishness” as the source of evil—cf. Heinrich Heine’s denunciation of his own city of Hamburg a:
a city of hagglers populated entirely by Jews, some baptized (I call all Hamburg’s inhabitants Jews)…
It’s people who behave like how Heine has been taught to think Jews behave who are the subject of his ire. Still, not at all a good look.
4) Karl Marx’s Analytical System: 4.1. On Reading Capital: 4.1.1. Why Are We Making You Do This?: Marx spent the next 20 years of his life after writing On the Jewish Question trying to figure out the economics, and then write it down. And in 1867 he published Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. (Or, at least, he published volume I. He died before he finished volumes II and III to his satisfaction.) Capital is a big and difficult book. And we have set you to read it in order to gain a sense of what answers Marx arrived at: what he concluded and why, and whether his conclusions are correct.
Why have we set you to read it? We could, after all, digest it into twenty bullet points and say “these will be on the exam”.
4.1.2) The Skill of Reading Difficult Books: One answer is that the skill of reading difficult books is something we have to teach. The labor economists tell us that going to Berkeley, or to other elite American universities, is very good for you not just in terms of making you a more knowledgeable, thoughtful, and well-rounded person, but also in terms of inculcating you a lot of skills that give you many, many extra life choices. Chief among these skills are: presenting yourself in English in person; presenting yourself in English on paper; and figuring out how to get information out of all the written English words that appear before your eyes. Thus one thing we are here to do is to teach the valuable skill of reading hard and difficult but valuable books. And reading hard and difficult but valuable books with us on the teaching staff coaching you through the process is the best way to do that.
Note to Self: One take on how we can learn better:
Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen: How Can We Develop Transformative Tools for Thought? https://numinous.productions/ttft/: 'It’s difficult not to be disappointed, to feel that computers have not yet been nearly as transformative as far older tools for thought, such as language and writing.... We believe now is a good time to work hard on this vision again. In this essay we sketch out a set of ideas we believe can be used to help develop transformative new tools for thought...
Andy Matuschak: Why Books Don’t Work https://andymatuschak.org/books/: 'Books are magical! Human progress in the era of mass communication makes clear that some readers really do absorb deep knowledge from books... the people who really do think about what they’re reading.... Readers must learn specific reflective strategies... run their own feedback loops... understand their own cognition.... These skills fall into a bucket which learning science calls “metacognition”.... It’s challenging to learn these types of skills.... Worse, even if readers know how to do all these things, the process is quite taxing...
Andy Matuschak and Michael Nielsen: Quantum Computing for the Very Curious https://quantum.country/qcvc: 'Presented in a new mnemonic medium which makes it almost effortless to remember what you read...
Knowledge system and cognitive science guru Andy Matuschak writes a rant called Why Books Don’t Work https://andymatuschak.org/books/, about big, difficult books that take him six to nine hours each to read.... [His] points have strong relevance for students in U.C. Berkeley’s Econ 105: History of Economic Thought: Do we live in a Smithian, Marxian or Keynesian World?. The core of the course is an assisted reading of three big books that are d—-ably difficult.... To assist you in this process, we have compiled 150 questions-and-answers—50 about Smith, 50 about Marx, and 50 about Keynes—that we think you should review and learn as part of your active-learning incorporation of the thought of these three authors into your own minds.... For those of you reading this who are in the intended audience of Econ 105 students in the fall of 2019, here is an incentive.... Some of these questions will be on the exam...
2.5) Adam Smith & Inequality: 2.5.1. Inequality Generated Outside the Market: Smith’s first way of minimizing the importance of inequality—or at least minimizing the responsibility of the market and of the economy for fighting inequality—is to argue that inequality springs from politics and sociology rather than from market economics. Inequality arises from the role that hierarchy and command-and-control play in the mixed-up processes that are human society. The society of England becomes more unequal because William the Bastard from Normandy and his thugs with spears—300 families, plus their retainers—kill King Harold Godwinson, and declare that everyone in England owes him and his retainers 1/3 of their crop. The society of England becomes more unequal because Queen Elizabeth I Tudor grants a monopoly over trade with America to Sir Walter Raleigh. Why? Because he had successfully flirted with her. These are not economic processes. These are not closely connected with the “system of natural liberty” than is the market economy.
Indeed, the system of natural liberty is only one way you can organize society. Societies can be organized as ones of feudal lords and peasants, as priests and worshippers, robbers bands and their victims. But these ways of organizing society are impoverishing and, Smith claims in his very naming of his system the “System of Natural Liberty”—unnatural. Dugald Stewart quotes from one of Smith’s lectures that, at least in the lecture hall at Glasgow in 1749, Smith was blunt:
Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of affluence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things…
I believe that the later Adam Smith would note that “tolerable administration of justice” covers a lot of ground: the later books of An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations are very long indeed: Book III on how the historical development of Europe has let it to deviate from the System of Natural Liberty is 43 pages, Book IV on errors being made in 1776 by the governments of Europe is 273 pages, and Book V on what governments should and should not do is 276 pages—a total of 592 pages on what governments should, should not, and have unfortunately done, with only a total of 346 pages laying out Smith’s analytical system and its conclusions, among them that:
All governments which thwart this natural course, which force things into another channel, or which endeavor to arrest the progress of society at a particular point, are unnatural, and, to support themselves, are obliged to be oppressive and tyrannical…
As Heilbroner puts it:
The great enemy to Adam Smith's system is not so much government per se as monopoly—in any form. “People… meet[ing] together… [and] the conversation ends in… some diversion to raise prices.”… If the working of the market is trusted… anything that interferes… lowers social welfare. If, as in Smith’s time, no master hatter anywhere in England could employ more than two apprentices or no master cutler in Sheffield more than one, the market system cannot possibly yield its full benefits…. If, as in Smith's time, great companies are given monopolies of foreign trade, the public cannot realize the full benefits of cheaper foreign produce. Hence, says Smith, all these impediments must go…
3) Karl Marx’s Intuitions: Marx’s Enthusiasm for the Market: But back up. First, note that Karl Marx was much more enthusiastic about the market economy and the prospects for the societal division of labor than Smith had been. This enthusiasm had multiple causes:
We see this enthusiasm show through in the passages of Capital in which Marx talks about the transformative work that is being done by the capitalist market economy. But it shines through much more clearly in Marx and Engels’s 1848 Communist Manifesto, in an extended passage that outstrips pretty much anything ever written by capitalism’s friends:
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part…. The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.
The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.
The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.
The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life. Just as it has made the country dependent on the towns, so it has made barbarian and semi-barbarian countries dependent on the civilised ones, nations of peasants on nations of bourgeois, the East on the West.
The bourgeoisie keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, and one customs-tariff.
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground — what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?…
“What earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?”
The bourgeoisie —the market economic system in which the capitalists, the business class, hold the reins and have the wealth—has, is, and will create the material abundance needed for humanity to pass through the gates of history and enter its proper destiny of utopia.
John Maynard Keynes (1919): The Economic Consequences of the Peace https://delong.typepad.com/files/keynes-peace.pdf
Very few of us realize with conviction the intensely unusual, unstable, complicated, unreliable, temporary nature of the economic organization by which Western Europe has lived for the last half century. We assume some of the most peculiar and temporary of our late advantages as natural, permanent, and to be depended on, and we lay our plans accordingly. On this sandy and false foundation we scheme for social improvement and dress our political platforms, pursue our animosities and particular ambitions...
After 1870 there was developed on a large scale an unprecedented situation.... The pressure of population on food, which had already been balanced by the accessibility of supplies from America, became for the first time in recorded history definitely reversed. As numbers increased, food was actually easier to secure.... [Any] tendency of cereals to rise in real cost was balanced by other improvements; and—one of many novelties—the resources of tropical Africa then for the first time came into large employ, and a great traffic in oil-seeds began to bring to the table of Europe in a new and cheaper form one of the essential foodstuffs of mankind. In this economic Eldorado, in this economic Utopia, as the earlier economists would have deemed it, most of us were brought up...
What an extraordinary episode in the economic progress of man that age was which came to an end in August, 1914! The greater part of the population, it is true, worked hard and lived at a low standard of comfort, yet were, to all appearances, reasonably contented with this lot. But escape was possible, for any man of capacity or character at all exceeding the average, into the middle and upper classes, for whom life offered, at a low cost and with the least trouble, conveniences, comforts, and amenities beyond the compass of the richest and most powerful monarchs of other ages. The inhabitant of London... most important of all... regarded this state of affairs as normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant, scandalous, and avoidable. The projects and politics of militarism and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies, restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent to this paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper, and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary course of social and economic life, the internationalization of which was nearly complete in practice...
Europe was so organized socially and economically as to secure the maximum accumulation of capital.... The new rich of the nineteenth century were not brought up to large expenditures, and preferred the power which investment gave them to the pleasures of immediate consumption.... If the rich had spent their new wealth on their own enjoyments, the world would long ago have found such a régime intolerable. But like bees they saved and accumulated, not less to the advantage of the whole community because they themselves held narrower ends in prospect.... The railways of the world, which that age built as a monument to posterity, were, not less than the Pyramids of Egypt, the work of labor which was not free to consume in immediate enjoyment the full equivalent of its efforts.... This remarkable system depended... on a double bluff.... The laboring classes accepted from ignorance or powerlessness, or were compelled, persuaded, or cajoled by custom, convention, authority, and the well-established order of Society into accepting a situation in which they could call their own very little of the cake.... The capitalist classes were allowed to call the best part of the cake theirs... on the tacit underlying condition that they consumed very little of it in practice. The duty of "saving" became nine-tenths of virtue and the growth of the cake the object of true religion..... And so the cake increased; but to what end was not clearly contemplated. Individuals would be exhorted not so much to abstain as to defer, and to cultivate the pleasures of security and anticipation..... The virtue of the cake was that it was never to be consumed, neither by you nor by your children after you.... In the unconscious recesses of its being Society knew what it was about. The cake was really very small in proportion to the appetites of consumption, and no one, if it were shared all round, would be much the better off by the cutting of it. Society was working not for the small pleasures of to-day but for the future security and improvement of the race.... If only the cake were... allowed to grow in the geometrical proportion... of compound interest... a day might come when there would at last be enough to go round, and when posterity could enter into the enjoyment of our labors. In that day overwork, overcrowding, and underfeeding would have come to an end, and men, secure of the comforts and necessities of the body, could proceed to the nobler exercises of their faculties...
The war has disclosed the possibility of consumption to all and the vanity of abstinence to many. Thus the bluff is discovered; the laboring classes may be no longer willing to forego so largely, and the capitalist classes, no longer confident of the future, may seek to enjoy more fully their liberties of consumption so long as they last, and thus precipitate the hour of their confiscation...
I have selected for emphasis... the instability of an excessive population dependent for its livelihood on a complicated and artificial organization, the psychological instability of the laboring and capitalist classes, and the instability of Europe's claim, coupled with the completeness of her dependence, on the food supplies of the New World. The war had so shaken this system as to endanger the life of Europe altogether.... It was the task of the Peace Conference to honor engagements and to satisfy justice; but not less to re-establish life and to heal wounds. These tasks were dictated as much by prudence as by the magnanimity which the wisdom of antiquity approved in victors...
Smith Gets Snarky, Stoic, and Cynical: Snarkism: Adam Smith’s third way of minimizing the importance of economic inequality is to snark. The aim of wealth is to make you happy. Smith thinks that what wealthy women wish they could buy is beauty, and what wealthy men wish they could buy is strength. But who are the beautiful and strong in England? Adam Smith tells us in an aside on nutrition on the good qualities of the potato:
The chairmen, porters, and coal-heavers in London, and those unfortunate women who live by prostitution, the strongest men and the most beautiful women perhaps in the British dominions, are said to be, the greater part of them, from the lowest rank of people in Ireland, who are generally fed with this root [the potato]…
The rich aren’t doing a terribly good job of using their wealth to promote human flourishing, are they? And there is the implication that the rich are none too happy. We see Smith, and what he is doing here, I think.
Stoicism: Adam Smith’s fourth way of minimizing the importance of economic inequality is to assume the philosophical pose of the stoic. One works hard. One sacrifices one’s peace and leisure in order to get rich. And what does that get you as you age? Adam Smith writes that to the aging, looking back at a life in which they have sacrificed their ease and their happiness in order to gain wealth:
Power and riches appear then to be, what they are, enormous and operose machines contrived to produce a few trifling conveniencies to the body, consisting of springs the most nice and delicate, which must be kept in order with the most anxious attention, and which in spite of all our care are ready every moment to burst into pieces, and to crush in their ruins their unfortunate possessor. They are immense fabrics, which it requires the labour of a life to raise, which threaten every moment to overwhelm the person that dwells in them, and which while they stand, though they may save him from some smaller inconveniencies, can protect him from none of the severer inclemencies of the season. They keep off the summer shower, not the winter storm, but leave him always as much, and sometimes more, exposed than before, to anxiety, to fear, and to sorrow; to diseases, to danger, and to death…
Who then benefits from all the industry and toil of the upwardly-mobile? Adam Smith argues that it was, somewhat paradoxically, the poor. The rich sacrifice their true happiness to set in motion enterprises. And the commodities produced by those enterprises are principally consumed by the poor:
The earth by these labours of mankind has been obliged to redouble her natural fertility, and to maintain a greater multitude of inhabitants…. The proud and unfeeling landlord…. The capacity of his stomach bears no proportion to the immensity of his desires, and will receive no more than that of the meanest peasant. The rest he is obliged to distribute among those, who prepare, in the nicest manner, that little which he himself makes use of… all of whom thus derive from his luxury and caprice, that share of the necessaries of life, which they would in vain have expected from his humanity or his justice…
Cynicism: Fifth and last, Adam Smith minimizes the importance of economic inequality by claiming that there is little or nothing to be done about it. Human nature is such that people will seek to create, and then to obey, those whom they will call their superiors. It is the view expressed by Calvera in the movie The Magnificent Seven. Chico asks Calvera:
And the people of the village? What about them?
I leave that to you. Can men of our profession worry about that? If God did not want them to be sheared, he would not have made them sheep!
As Adam Smith puts it in his Theory of Moral Sentiments:
A stranger to human nature, who saw the indifference of men about the misery of their inferiors, and the regret and indignation which they feel for the misfortunes and sufferings of those above them, would be apt to imagine, that pain must be more agonizing, and the convulsions of death more terrible to persons of higher rank, than they are to those of meaner stations.
Upon this disposition… is founded the distinction of ranks, and the order of society. Our obsequiousness to our superiors more frequently arises from our admiration for the advantages of their situation, than from any private expectations of benefit from their goodwill…. We desire to serve them for their own sake, without any recompense but the vanity or the honour of obliging them…
To attempt to eliminate inequality is, for Smith in his cynical mode, like trying to bail out the sea: make society equal, and people will find somebody to look up to, and then figure out a way to give their money away to the rich.
So that is Adam Smith: worry about prosperity and wealth, yes; worry about poverty and want, yes; worry about inequality, not so much.
Needless to say, Karl Marx did not agree that income inequality is not worth a great deal of concern. He saw inequality as a necessary product of the market economy, a necessary product that poisoned all of its fruits, and one that made hopes of eliminating or even reducing poverty and dire poverty vain.
2.5.2) Wealth Inequality Prevents More Damage: Adam Smith’s second way of minimizing the importance of economic inequality is to claim that it is a relatively gentle alternative to other forms of inequality that will emerge if economic inequality is reduced. Smith argues in Book III of the Wealth of Nations that the rise in inequality in market income and consumption went along with reduced inequality in social status and hierarchy—and in reduced societal violence as well. Great landlords who cannot earn and spend their wealth in the city will focus on arming and maintaining retainers, and the result will be that they will “make war according to their own discretion, almost continually upon one another, and very frequently upon the king; and the open country still continued to be a scene of violence, rapine, and disorder”. But once there are luxuries to be purchased by wealth earned by selling produce to the growing cities, “it was impossible that the number of their retainers should not as gradually diminish, till they were at last dismissed altogether”, and so peace came to the countryside.
As John Maynard Keynes was to write a century and a half later: “It is far better for a man to tyrannize over his bank balance than over his fellow citizens…”
In general, I am not a believer in studying by rereading things you have read before. I am a believer in reading new things, related to but different from those already assigned in the course. This seemed (and seems) to work far better for me than going back over what I have already read. (Some clues as to why this works can be found in Andy Matuschak: Why Books Don’t Work https://andymatuschak.org/books/: "People [who] do absorb knowledge from books... are the people who really do think about what they’re reading.... If they take some notes, they’re not simply transcribing the author’s words: they’re summarizing, synthesizing, analyzing. Unfortunately, these tactics don’t come easily..." It comes easily to me if I am reading something new but related.) If you are like me, you might find it more productive in studying for the exam not to reread already assigned passages, but rather to take a look at three books from Oxford's Very Short Introduction series:
As you get ready to study for the final exam in Econ 105, let me make a suggestion: rather than going back over the (long and sometimes difficult) large selections from Capital assigned in the course syllabus, take a look at something else Marx wrote (with his BFF Friedrich Engels)—the Communist Manifesto. I recommend the Manifesto itself; an article by George Boyer (that I commissioned) on its historical context; the MEIA's brief sketch of the Communist League, the organization for which the Manifeso was written; and British economist Eric Hobsbawm's introduction to the 150-year-anniversary reprinting of the Manifesto. These pieces are all quick and lively, and they go back over the intellectual terrain and context of Capital and of Marx's ideas from a somewhat different ankle—thus making them excellent things to read as part of your studying process:
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (1848): Manifesto of the Communist Party https://delong.typepad.com/files/manifesto.pdf...
2.4) Adam Smith & Poverty: Adam Smith loathes poverty.
Adam Smith is eager to create a society in which there is no poverty.
Adam Smith spends a substantial amount of time investigating the course of poverty over time. For example, he takes time and care to write:
During the course of the last century, taking one year with another, grain was dearer in both parts of the united kingdom than during that of the present…. It is equally certain that labour was much cheaper. If the labouring poor, therefore, could bring up their families then, they must be much more at their ease now. In the last century, the most usual day-wages of common labour through the greater part of Scotland were sixpence in summer, and fivepence in winter.… Through the greater part of the Low country, the most usual wages of common labour are now eight pence a-day; tenpence, sometimes a shilling, about Edinburgh…. In England, the improvements of agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, began much earlier than in Scotland. The demand for labour, and consequently its price, must necessarily have increased with those improvements. In the last century, accordingly, as well as in the present, the wages of labour were higher in England than in Scotland. They have risen, too, considerably since that time, though, on account of the greater variety of wages paid there in different places, it is more difficult to ascertain how much…. Not only grain has become somewhat cheaper, but many other things from which the industrious poor derive an agreeable and wholesome variety of food have become a great deal cheaper. Potatoes… cost half the price which they used to do thirty or forty years ago. The same thing may be said of turnips, carrots, cabbages; things which were formerly never raised but by the spade, but which are now commonly raised by the plough. All sort of garden stuff, too, has become cheaper…. The great improvements in the coarser manufactories of both linen and woollen cloth furnish the labourers with cheaper and better clothing; and those in the manufactories of the coarser metals, with cheaper and better instruments of trade, as well as with many agreeable and convenient pieces of household furniture…
Which he then cross-checks with elite gossip:
The common complaint that luxury extends itself even to the lowest ranks of the people, and that the labouring poor will not now be contented with the same food, clothing, and lodging which satisfied them in former times, may convince us that it is not the money price of labour only, but its real recompense, which has augmented…
Having established that poverty has diminished, he next launches a full-bore attack on all those who claim this is a bad thing:
Is this… to be regarded as an advantage or as an inconveniency?… Servants, labourers, and workmen… make up the far greater part…. What improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable…
And then he makes a strong appeal to human solidarity, and to the reciprocal obligations humans undertake by entering into the gift-exchange relationships that knit society together:
It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged…
“It is but equity, besides…” This is a very strong appeal to human solidarity. It is coming from someone often seen as and sometimes dismissed as an apostle of human self-interest.
2.3) Society & the “System of Natural Liberty”: Adam Smith was a genius because he had a truly game-changing insight into how our societal division of labor should be organized. As far as the production and distribution of our collective material wealth is concerned, you see, most of what we need and want is both excludible and rival.
If something is “excludible”, that means we can assign it an owner—some one of us can be designated to control it, and to decide on its use, or decide to transfer “ownership” of it to something else. If something is excludible, we can push the decisions about how it is to be used out to the periphery of society, to the people on the ground who know what is going on, rather than have the decision made by some centralized bureaucracy clueless because of its inability to reliably judge information conveyed to it at third- or fourth-hand. Having ownership makes sense if information about what is going on is dispersed and hard to assemble: giving control to people on the spot is then a very good idea.
If something is “rival”, that means that one person's use of it forecloses the opportunities of others: if I am using this iPhone, you cannot be using the same iPhone. If a good is rival, that one of us is using it diminishes the opportunities and possibilities available to others. That makes them poorer. Thus it makes sense to charge a price for somebody using a rival commodity. That makes them feel in their gut the effects of their decisions on the opportunities open to others. Charging prices is a way to align individuals’ incentives about whether it is worth it for them to make use of a commodity with the effects of their decision on the overall well-being of the society.
Hence, Adam Smith argued in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, the wealth of nations is most greatly enhanced by following the dictates of what he named the System of Natural Liberty—“liberty” because it leaves people free to do what they wanted with their labor and their possessions, “natural” because it conforms with human nature, "system" because it can be and is extended to the status of a general principle. Let people decide what they want to do with their things and their labor, and they arrange themselves in a large highly-productive societal division of labor. Self-interest focuses people on creating value. Competition curbs any distracting focus of self-interest on accomplishing exploitation.
This “System of Natural Liberty” is, Smith argues, good. As Heilbroner summarizes:
Self-interest… drives men to action…. [But] a community activated only by self-interest would be a community of ruthless profiteers. This regulator is competition, the socially beneficial consequence of the conflicting self-interests of all the members of society. For each man, out to do his best for himself with no thought of social cost, is faced with a flock of similarly motivated individuals who are in exactly the same boat…. A man who permits his self-interest to run away with him will find that competitors have slipped in… will find himself without buyers in the one case and without employees in the other. Thus very much as in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, the selfish motives of men are transmuted by interaction to yield the most unexpected of results: social harmony…. The… market is that it is its own guardian. If output or prices or certain kinds of remuneration stray away from their socially ordained levels, forces are set into motion to bring them back to the fold. It is a curious paradox which thus ensues: the market, which is the acme of individual economic freedom, is the strictest task master of all…
This leads to a fraught question: Is this a theological point? Is the fact that acting “naturally” in the sense of giving market exchange free rein produces good results evidence that there is a benevolent Providence out there? Is this a teleological point? Are, in some sense, money and gift-exchange aimed at creating prosperity? How is it that processes that are not human—that lead to consequences not desired directly by any human—have a mind of their own, and lead to good ends? It is indeed a marvel that, as Smith puts it, in his theory at least:
[While] every individual… endeavours… to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value… labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can…. He… neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it…. He intends only his own security…. He intends only his own gain…. In this, as in many other cases, [he is] led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention…”
It is a marvel. But what kind of a marvel is it?
It is not that Smith is opposed to government. Government is necessary to protect property, and to enforce contracts: people—most people—will respect others’ property and keep their own contracts, most of the time. But for the non-most people and at the non-most times we need the police, hence we need government. We need public works. We need public education. We need national defense. Adam Smith is very clear on all of these. In fact, Book V of the Wealth of Nations on what the government should do and how it should do it is the largest of the five parts of the book. But, Smith is certain, attempts of some centralized bureaucrat to undermine the System of Natural Liberty in its proper sphere—to direct who should do what when and where—were likely to produce not wealth and prosperity but poverty and misery.
2.2) From Human Nature to Human Society: Hence the key importance of the human cultural invention of money in forming our large-scale human society: money means that any one of us can make a short-term one-shot exchange relationship with any other one of us, someone who we may well never see again. Money, you see, is manufactured trust, and it allows us to extend our societal division of labor to encompass, indirectly, nearly everybody else in the world.
For example, consider the 30-foot bronze statue of Athene Promakhos—Athena Fighting-in-Front—that the council and people of Athens had cast and installed on the Acropolis around -450. The Greek geographer Pausanias wrote that anyone approaching Athens by sea by day could see her gleaming helmet and the tip of her spear as soon as they had rounded Sounion Head at the southern tip of Attika. 70 tons of bronze supposedly went into the statue, which survived until 1204—63 tons of copper, 7 tons of tin. Copper was abundant. But where in the -5th century were the artisans of Athens to find 7 tons of tin? The historian Herodotos states that he could find nobody in Athens who knew where the tin was coming from: all anyone could say was that the ships had picked up the tin, already mined, in Sicily, and that they thought it came from “tin islands” in the ocean on the other side of Europe. But he could find nobody who would claim to have actually seen these tin islands, or this ocean on the other side of Europe. So he doubted the stories.
The answer, of course, was that the tin was in Cornwall, at the southwestern tip of the island of Britain. The societal division of labor, as governed by the market, was a mechanism that “knew” that 7 tons of tin needed to be mined in Cornwall and then shipped, probably via the English Channel-Seine-portage-Rhone-Mediterranean route, to Athens via Sicily. And so it happened. But, apparently, nobody anywhere in the value chain knew its entire extent. The market knew things that no human individual knew. And this was almost 2.5 millennia ago: the market knows much, much, much more now.
Language, weak dominance, gift exchange, and money have enabled us to progress from perhaps 10,000 of us 70,000 years ago living at a global average living standard of perhaps three 3.5 dollars a day to today’s world-girdling societal division of labor now 7.5 billion strong, with a global average standard of living no about $35 a day. We are now, collectively, on average, at least 10 times as well-off and 750,000 times as numerous as we were 70,000 years ago back in the environment of evolutionary adaptation when we last passed through a Darwinian bottleneck.
2) Economic Sides of Adam Smith’s Philosophy: 2.1. Starting Points in Human Nature: Adam Smith starts with the observation that humans are largely but not exclusively self-interested creatures: we are, largely but not exclusively greedy. Yet we have a complex and sophisticated societal division of labor. And that division of labor is essential to our prosperity. Indeed, it is essential to our survival: drop one or two of us into the Sierra Nevada, even in summer, and we will quite likely die. Drop 100 of us, and we will quite likely survive, and even flourish.
How can animals that are by nature greedy nevertheless cooperate on a large scale? That is the deep moral-philosophical question that we can see both of Smith’s big books—his The Theory of Moral Sentiments and An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations—as aimed at. As Robert Heilbroner puts it in his The Worldly Philosophers, Smith:
is interested in laying bare the mechanism by which society hangs together. How is it possible for a community in which everyone is busily following his self-interest not to fly apart from sheer centrifugal force? What is it which guides each individual’s private business so that it conforms to the needs of the group? With no central planning authority and no steadying influence of age old tradition, how does society manage to get those tasks done which are necessary for survival?...
Adam Smith says that our ability to create and maintain a complicated societal division of labor that is so productive rests on three facets of human nature:
language, that makes us an anthology intelligence—what one of us knows or learns, pretty quickly all of us within and many of us without earshot will quickly learn;
hierarchy, in that we tend to form and respect weak dominance hierarchies in which we can command and obey;
gift exchange: we bind ourselves by forming gift-exchange relationships, what Adam Smith called our “natural propensity to truck and barter“. We firmly expect to be and are very happy when I we trade favors with each other, and we are uneasy when we feel as though we are always giving or always receiving, for we want the exchange of gifts and favors to be reciprocal, and roughly balanced.
Back in our environment of evolutionary adaptation, we could form gift-exchange relationships only with a few: our close neighbors, our good friends, and our near kin. Trust, you see, is necessary for a long-term gift-exchange relationship, and short-term such relationships are rare because each has to have and be willing to give up something the other wants or needs right now. And since we are largely self interested, trust is hard to generate and maintain without other binding social ties.
I have been remiss in posting here because I have had the unexpected load of getting together lectures for the last 40% of: Economics 105: The History of Economic Thought: Smith, Marx, Keynes.
So let me apologize for the dearth of material by stepping through my lecture notes:
1) Smith, Marx, Keynes: The aim of this course it to examine the history of economic thought through the lens of three major economic thinkers: Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes, each of whom wrote one long, difficult, but undeniably great book. Adam Smith in 1776 published his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Karl Marx in 1867 published his Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (volume 1). John Maynard Keynes in 1936 published his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (note the absence of the Oxford comma from Keynes’s title: Keynes was a British academic but not one from Oxford but rather from the University of Cambridge). In addition, read Robert Heilbroner’s excellent (if old) The Worldly Philosophers, a short survey of the history of economic thought, for context and background.
Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Marx’s Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, and Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money are great books to have read, if not easy books to read. They are, in fact, downright painful. (Heilbroner’s The Worldly Philosophers is, by contrast, painless, easy, and still great.) Learning how to read great but difficult books and make sense of them on your own is a very valuable skill to learn, but a difficult one to teach in any way but by doing it. Moreover, a great book is a great book only if the reader is ready and prepared to read it—and so learning to figure out how to become the kind of reader to appreciate a particular great book is another important skill to learn as well.
Well, I have wound up, by surprise, giving the last third of the lectures in Economics 105: The History of Economic Thought: Smith, Marx, Keynes. I admit I was not as averse to being imposed on by the Department as I might have been because I thought it might push me to get my head and my thoughts together.
Here they are—unfinished. But I should give the students an opportunity to see how I think about these thinkers and their works: https://www.icloud.com/pages/0howtV7CndvjkSCCLmtjmq_SA
Looking forward to this. Still, Heather, $26.55 for an ebook?: Hooks Book Events: "Please join us Oct. 30th, for Programs w/ a Purpose with @HBoushey, Pres./CEO of @equitablegrowth. She will discuss her book, Unbound: Heather Boushey Unbound: How Inequality Constricts Our Economy and What We Can Do about It: 'Many fear that efforts to address inequality will undermine the economy as a whole. But the opposite is true: rising inequality has become a drag on growth and an impediment to market competition. Heather Boushey breaks down the problem and argues that we can preserve our nation’s economic traditions while promoting shared economic growth...
Note to Self: Industrial Policy in Korea: Readings:
Alice Amsden (1989): Asia's Next Giant https://www.google.com/books/edition/Asia_s_Next_Giant/j0E9qKIqD-cC chs. 1-6...
Nathan Lane (2019): Manufacturing Revolutions: Industrial Policy and Networks in South Korea https://delong.typepad.com/lane-korea.pdf...
L.E. Westphal: (1990): Industrial Policy in an Export Propelled Economy: Lessons from South Korea’s Experience https://delong.typepad.com/files/westphal.pdf
Ha-Joon Chang (1993): The political economy of industrial policy in Korea." Cambridge Journal of Economics 17.2 (1993): 131-157 https://delong.typepad.com/files/chang.pdf
Rodrik, Dani. "Getting interventions right: how South Korea and Taiwan grew rich." Economic Policy 10.20 (1995): 53-107 https://delong.typepad.com/files/rodrik-korea-taiwan.pdf
Hoisted from the Archives (2005): Unstructured Procrastination https://www.bradford-delong.com/2005/08/unstructured_pr.html: I usually am quite good at structured procrastination—working not on the thing that is most immediate and imminent on my calendar, but on the priority #3 or #4 that is actually more important in the long run and that excites me at the moment. But today this system has broken down. I have done something nobody should ever do: I have spent an hour thinking about Louis Althusser.
It's all Michael Berube's fault, but its worth it, for (highlighted below) he has the best paragraph on Louis Althusser ever written. The rest is (or ought to be) silence:
Michael Berube: "The otherwise incomprehensible question of why anyone would think it necessary to devise a 'structuralist Marxism'. Structuralism is so antipathetic to all questions of hermeneutics and historicity that one might imagine the desire for a structuralist Marxism to be something like a hankering for really spicy ice cream. And yet, in the work of Louis Althusser, spicy ice cream is exactly what we have. I don’t like it myself. But because it’s an important byway in the history of ice cream...
Mary Robinette Kowal (2014): Me, as a Useful Representative Example: "Some people said some not nice things about me in a public space, and the story has been picked up as an example of sexism in part because one of the people saying those things works for my publisher. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has done a good analysis of the sexism in what’s going on, so I’m not going to rehash that. Instead I’m going to talk about how this affects me.... My impulse is to tell you all that I’m fine and that this has no material affect on my life. And that is true. But I also know that I am a useful representative sample of the abuse that happens to other women. I know that there are a ton of women who have received similar messages.... Sexism happens all the time. It’s visible in SFWA because people are actively fighting against it. Too many places, too many women, get this sort of unwelcome attention and commentary about what they were wearing but no one does anything. It’s always, 'Laugh about it' or 'Just shrug it off', or 'Ignore it and he’ll go away'. You see how well that last is working? So, I really, truly am fine. But watch what happens to me now that I’m posting. Read the comments when they happen. Note the people who say that because I’m talking about the abuse, I must be begging for attention. Take me as a useful representative example. And know that I am not an isolated case...
Four hours spent so far, and I am only 160 pages into Thomas Pikietty's Capital et Ideologie http://books.google.com/?isbn=9780674980822...
I can no longer claim to "read French" in anything other than a menus-and-street-signs sense...
Alexis Lothian: Alice Sheldon and the Name of the Tiptree Award: "In recent days, we’ve seen questions raised on social media about whether the name of the Tiptree Award should be reconsidered.... The questions relate to Alice Sheldon’s actions at the end of her life. On May 19, 1987, she shot first her husband, Huntington Sheldon, and then herself.... The Motherboard does not believe that a change to the name of the Tiptree Award is warranted now. But we believe that this is a very important discussion, and we do not think it is over. The community that has grown up around this award since its founding in 1991 deserves to have its voice heard in any conversation as significant as renaming.... Alice Sheldon... the story of how she and her husband, Huntington Sheldon (known as Ting), died. Friends and family—and the science fiction community at the time—viewed this tragedy as resulting from a suicide pact: the desperate and tragic result of a combination of physical and mental illness and the Sheldons’ desire to die on their own terms. He was 84 years old; she was 71. However... the story can also be seen as an act of caregiver murder.... Ting’s friends and family understood his death and Alice’s as the fulfilment of an agreement between the two of them.... Phillips writes: 'Ting didn’t leave a statement, but all Ting’s friends that I talked to plus his son Peter were unanimous that it was a pact, and that Ting’s health was failing'...
J. Bradford DeLong :: U.C. Berkeley, NBER, WCEG https://www.icloud.com/pages/0TzensY9YyNvqcY8elYagLUnQ https://www.icloud.com/keynote/0_nA1dc3XLgFa_2rEVsk3nuWQ
The Long 20th Century began around 1870 and ended in 2016.
Before 1870 humanity was poor, and life was typically nasty, brutish, and short. Before 1870, over and over again, technology lost its race with human fecundity, and greater numbers coupled with resource scarcity to produce a humanity where most people most of the time could not be confident that they and their families would have their 2000 calories, plus essential nutrients, plus a roof over their head in a year. Before 1870 those on the make overwhelmingly focused on how to take from others or keep what they had while maintaining order, rather on how to make more for everyone. It is true that between 1800 and 1870 technology and organization gained a step or two in their race with fecundity. But only a step. Any post-1870 slackening of the pace of technological or organizational progress, or any major redivision of society’s dividends devoting less to the sinews or peace and more to the sinews of war, and “nasty, brutish, and short” would reassert itself.
But starting in 1870 all that changed. Science reached critical mass and gave birth to engineering. A liberal political order gave birth to a market economy. Engineering and the market produced an explosion of economic growth: these days one single year sees as much proportional technological and organizational advance and change in the human economy as a typical fifty years did back before 1800.
Important to today, I think, is that the aliens in Ossian's Ride are refugees: Henry Farrell: Ossian’s Ride: "In 1959 the famous British astronomer Fred Hoyle published his novel, Ossian’s Ride... a future Ireland miraculously transformed into a technological superpower.... Hoyle wasn’t really interested in talking about Ireland.... Instead, he wanted to score points in an internal fight over British identity... responding to the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, who regularly denounced Hoyle as a secular atheist on radio and had written his own science fiction novel, That Hideous Strength, a decade before. The villain of Lewis’s book was a sinister institute called NICE, which Satanic aliens wanted to impose contraception, lesbianism, secularism and surrealist art on an unsuspecting Britain.... Hoyle riposted with a novel where rational and benevolently ruthless aliens used an organization called ICE to pull the priest-ridden republic next door into the technological age. His satirical portrait of Ireland told British readers that the world was being transformed around them, and that even their most backwards seeming neighbor would outstrip them if they didn’t embrace modernity. The irony of history is that Hoyle’s parody is now the truth...
J.R.R. Tolkien: Light as Leaf on Linden Tree:
The grass was very long and thin,
The leaves of many years lay thick,
The old tree-roots wound out and in,
And the early moon was glimmering.
There went her white feet lilting quick,
And Dairon’s flute did bubble thin,
As neath the hemlock umbels thick
Tinûviel danced a-shimmering.