23 December 2009

Religion as the Opiate of the Masses

I think this famous Marx quote first appears in the introduction of Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, and I think it is famous from being in the Communist Manifesto, correct me if I am wrong here?

The form of the quote in "The Critique" is "It (religion) is the opium of the people". This quote is often cited, and often taken at face value to mean that religion is not for enlightened person, but rather something indulged in by the ignorant. Those who accept this quote at face value view religion as just something the ruling class keeps in place to pacify the exploited in an anti-revolutionary manner.

Marx's meaning is actually far deeper and more relevant. The quote in "Critique" is in the context of religion being dialectically both an "expression of real suffering, and a protest against real suffering". Without real suffering even the (ignorant or not) masses would feel no need to turn to religion. Religion is not always imposed by an aristocratic ruling class (as in pre-bourgeois revolutionary France), sometimes it is used by the oppressed as a means to get through the day. For a good example of this look up "Liberation Theology"

I read Marx's point to be that there is real suffering in the world, and we need to remove religion to begin to address it (this is contrary of course to Liberation Theology, which is part of the reason I think they are no better than social-democrats). When suffering is removed in the mind from the realm of the real into the realm of the supra-real it becomes impossible to address in the real. If I am poor and jobless because God is angry then the solution is to sacrifice my favorite sheep (or Lily). On the otherhand if I am poor and jobless because the demographically tiny capitalist ruling class has crashed our economy, evaporating the jobs of millions of proletarians (and however you want to define service workers) then the solution may be to remove the capitalists.

It goes without saying then that religion and socialism are incompatible. Many have argued that socialists are "soulless", and that it is impossible to be both socialist and believe in a higher power. I think socialism is incompatible with religion, but does not have to be with spirituality or belief in a higher power. I myself lean towards atheism in terms of a god who takes an active interest in our lives, but if Stephen Hawking doesn't know what happened before time started at the big bang then I sure as hell don't. So that being said it is possible to be spiritual and socialist, just not religious and socialist.

As Marx himself said (also in the Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right "It is the task of history, therefore, once the other-world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world." ie. it is our task as Marxist historians to pull back the veil of religion and establish the truth of the material world, and thus capitalist exploitation. (Yes Ian I know that was a very "Orthodox" statement to make.

Religion is the opiate of the masses, not that it makes them feel warm and fuzzy and forget their pain, but rather that it fogs their minds and causes them to misplace their suffering onto something out of their control. The true path to the end of misery for the human race is neither god nor the end of exploitation, but one leads nowhere and the other is a step in the right direction.

14 October 2009

Why Be an Economist?

A Profound Question

or more realistically

A self absorbed journey through some linguistic constructs in an attempt to justify my existence, and silence the proverbial Jewish mother in my brain that is telling me "it is not to late to go to medical school."

Waking up today and finding myself in my 4th year of a PhD program in economics has lead me to question what is this profession that I am spending so long to become a part of? Many days I find myself hating "economists" and thinking "I am nothing like these people", other days I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by such interesting and thought provoking individuals, who are also good, and caring human beings (reminder I attend UMass not a "normal econ school").

Regardless of my feelings about those around me I usually don't feel like an economist, I certainly am following a vastly different career path than most economists. I often can't remember what attracted me to the field in the first place. The following writings are an attempt to examine in a broad sense what the role of economics is, and hopefully arrive at an answer as to why I continue to follow this path.

So what is it that an economist does? In the biggest picture sense an economist is a social theorist who chooses economic processes as entry points of their social analysis. Already have arrived at a problem. The traditional (at least within my epistemological training) way of viewing society is as a jumble of political, cultural, economic, and natural processes. These processes overdetermine each other (are each other's causes and effects, and neither cause or effect), however what draws the lines between these processes into distinct linguistic categories? What makes a given process a political process rather than a cultural process? Voting for instance, traditionally defined as a political process, but how do I know this? In the linguistics of the analysis lies the answer (traditionally). These linguistic categories are historically contingent and overdetermined. That is, how we have used words in the past to define processes, and how processes have been analyzed before, as well as many other factors, allows us to use these linguistic categories to compartmentalize processes into political, economic, etc. Relying on this method of distinguishing processes based on linguistic tradition is essential for me, or the world falls out of any recognizable order, and meaningful analysis becomes impossible...Therefore an economist is someone who chooses economic entry points for social analysis.

At some point in my life the economic processes of society seemed to have primacy, or at very least seemed like a logical entry point to achieve my goals. I wanted to be an economist. There was no "ah ha" moment for me in economics, and frankly no specific things stand out in my consciousness that helped to overdetermine the choice to peruse economics. This seems important as it is different from how my mind works in reflection on most other topics, for instance I remember two specific determinants that shaped my decision to propose Catholic marriage to Alison. That being said, logically when I decided to study economics, if political entry points had made more sense to me, or cultural, or natural, I would have made another choice as to my path through the education system. The choice to enter the academic system at all is being intentionally ignored here.

Having reached a point in my life (today) where I more or less accept that economic processes are valid as (over)determinants, but they do not hold any special place in my heart why continue in this field? What good can be done here? It is clear that work along these lines (self analyzing postmodern gibberish) will never be accepted by a discipline that values mathematical proof, however I continue to engage in it. Why do I stay in a field and refuse to work within the commonly accepted boundaries of that field? What is to be gained? I still want to be an economist, but I don't want to do what I perceive most economists as doing. In terms of the big picture however the choice of an economic entry point does not feel wrong, we have been reduced to level of abstract intuition. Returning again, what do economists do that attracts me?

Economists choose an entry point out of the infinity of processes that fit into our linguistic construct of what constitutes economics, and then theorize about it, or in the case of our bastard cousins econometricians, try to empirically show that their selected process holds to some arbitrary standard of truth. It is essential to believe that theorizing about our economic entry points is shaping the world in a positive way to have desire to continue in the profession.

So leaving aside what has determined the choice of entry point to be economic, we move forward into a theory. Our analysis of these theories will change the world, there is no doubt about that. It is impossible not to change the world when we do theory if they are by their natures overdetermined. My teaching, my social interaction, my very life is complexly shaped by my engagement with theories that have economic entry points, as well as those that do not, however I am making a conscious decision to have economic entry points in my own work. But the underlying question remains: Am I changing the world for the better, or just changing the world? (This is not to say that my changes are not insignificant or arbitrary, but my very existence changes the world) I know that my goals in theory are for a better world, but really I cannot by definition begin to understand all of the consequences of my actions.
This is where I am stuck. The big problem.
I know that I want greater world equality, to live under a less exploitative system of production, but more importantly to advance human civilization through science and technology at the fastest rate possible, to know God....while yippee aren't I a fucking wonderful person? But is studying economics the best way to chase my goals? In a broader sense are my goals worth chasing, and where will I obtain an answer to this question?

But the problem remains, if these are my goals, and the consequences of my actions are unknowable, why study economics? Because the consequences of influencing the world in the desired direction with other entry points besides economics are just as unknowable, and I have already invested a lot of time working in economics because of reasons I no longer remember? How very unsatisfactory of a reason. But for me it is part of the Why in the statement "I am an economist"
To return to the title "Why be an Economist?" I don't have a better answer than "It is as good as being a ......fill in the blank", and it is how you do your job matters just as much as what your job is.

That was hopefully the most narcissistic post for the remainder of the year.....I can't help but mix self absorption with self reflection.

09 October 2009

Nobel Peace Prize?

What the Fuck????
Nelson Mandela, Dr. King, Even Mother Teresa. I can see the justifications for them winning the Nobel peace prize. Barak Obama? the last time I saw anything about him in the news it was weighing the merits of sending 40 000 more soldiers to Afghanistan.

Is the state of the world so far gone that an American president who goes 12 months without starting a new war or doing anything to end the two wars his country is already in deserves a prize for peace?

A preemptive award is another argument that I heard. Barak Obama is attempting to enter a nuclear disarmament deal with Russia, he is attempting to end the war in Iraq, give him the prize and he will live up to it. Fuck that! George Bush signed more treaties than Obama has so far and Bush was pure evil. Obama's government has not done anything for ending the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Following this preemptive line of argument give me the Nobel Prize for chemistry....it might motivate me to discover the cure for cancer.

My problem is not that this makes the Nobel peace prize look bad, the committee has done that for themselves. The problem is this cheapens all the previous winners including my buddy the 14th Dali Lama.

The Nobel piece prize has today entered into the realm of "American democracy", it is now nothing more than a sad joke that fools the ignorant!

30 September 2009

A Thought on the French Bourgeois Revolution

A Thought on the French Bourgeois Revolution specifically because I was reading about it when this occurred to me.

I think a really important aspect of the French bourgeois revolution was the formation of institutions that lead to a feeling of entitlement within the oppressed classes. Property ownership in the peasant class is a good example.

Land ownership (at least for myself) breeds a sense of power and of my place in the world. I view the place I am currently sitting as my house, in the back yard is my garden, on my property and I would fight to the death to protect that (I dare you to test me on this Dan).

Serfs, or slaves, or whoever, that feel that they are in their "proper" or "god given" or predestined place in the world will not start a revolution. It is only when there are feelings (arguably determined at least in part by the existing institutions in society, be they cultural, economic or political) that lead to a sense of being entitled to more than a person currently has, or treatment better than what is currently being recieved, that revolution becomes a possibility.

People will not act in a revolutionary fashion if they feel that everything is as it was meant to be.

10 September 2009

Local Government and Revolution

Local government in the United States has relatively less power than State government, which has relatively less power than the federal government. This is not a groundbreaking statement. As such, the creme de la creme of bourgeois politicians inhabit the federal government. These are usually people who come from great privilege, who have well established families, and lots of money.

As we get down to local levels, the people in government are both in better touch with the needs of their constituents and also less likely to be out of touch with "the common man". They also have far less vested in the system they are currently serving (as a sweeping generalization)

It seems logical to me then that the area to direct our revolutionary activities is towards local governments. In the long run we will need to control the national state, however the current national state is institutionally stuck in its role as protector of processes that perpetuate the conditions of existence of the the current system. This state most likely cannot be changed from within, but rather needs to be removed.
Legitimization of the removal process (or at very least its beginnings) can start with a bottom up revolution. Just as Gramsci wrote that revolutionary activity has to start with individuals within the party, it also has to start at small levels of government.

Top down reforms will be just that, changes to the system of bourgeois exploitation, without removing bourgeois exploitation, not revolution. "Bottom up" can apply to the state just as much as it does to individuals.

03 September 2009

quote of the day

"In capitalist democracies the people neither make the laws nor interpret them nor enforce them. They vote, and through their vote are supposed to exercise compete, if indirect control over legislation"

By Moore in "The critique of capitalist democracy"

31 August 2009

Small Scale Government Possible in a Small World.

Large centrally planned states do not have a very positive history. Economic planning on a large scale in general does not.

Parliamentary democracy is doomed as the state organization of capitalism.

Democracy is ingrained as a positive in the American mind, and this is not wrong. What is wrong is that the important point of democracy for who? is not commonly asked

Is voting every few years really active enough to be successful politically? (Of course not Kautsky)

What was impossible in the past has now become a possibility. Proletarian democracy existing in small individual units. The soviets were originally conceived of in this way, but centralization followed. With email, texting, etc. the world of the blackberry may make localization of government into small workable groups possible (talk about capitalism bringing forth a condition of existence of socialism)

As the world becomes metaphorically smaller through technology, widespread coordination of small political units becomes increasingly feasible.

Many problems still remain, such as turning "Joe Sixpack" into a Gramscian intellectual who cares about politics, and is aware of exploitation, and destroying the dominance of finance capital to name just a couple.

Still one of the steps that moves us closer to my utopian vision, and could help give us market communism (as opposed to the state capitalisms of the past) is daily growing to be less of a burden.

Localization without efficiency loss would be a big hurt for big business, and be an important step in getting power into the hands of the masses.


So I have not posted in a while. The problem is not that I have been ignoring Marxism, but rather that I have been immersed in it. Studying for a comprehensive exam in Marxism while trapped in the bourgeois institution that is an American university. Sigh. I have found studying the two topics of imperialism and Marxist theories of the state interesting but not stimulating. It was not until returning to readings on epistemology and ontology that I have been compelled to think deeply again. Some of the most important theorists in this tradition (Gramsci, Althusser) have believed that a unique theory of knowledge is just as important to the revolution as acts carried out in the concrete-real. Who am I to disagree.
Contradictory to that last statement I don't have anything specific I want to write about at the moment, rather it is in examining contradiction as a concept that I perhaps have found my muse again? What will the next few days of stress and mental exhaustion bring? Often it is times of deep stress that bring great change. Viva la revolution.

21 July 2009

A New Generation

Those of us born in the 1980's and later never lived under the cold war proper, sure I remember a bit of the Regan and Thatcher shit and the decline but I never remember it being a serious topic in the household, or feeling any kind of threat from the soviets.
I believe that this generational difference in terms of propaganda exposure will become important. For the young supporters of president Obama the response to calling the president's programs socialism is not always "no they are not" but more along the lines of "so what if they are?".
Obviously someone from my position on the political spectrum thinks that any bourgeois government cannot by definition be socialist, but point aside, Our generation will relegate iron curtain politics to be nothing more than a historical curiosity. Sure the capitalist propaganda is just is strong now as it was during the cold war, but the old linguistic fight over words such as "socialism" just does not hold the same terror for us in the younger generation.
This brings me to my most important point of this post. As this younger generation experiences their first economic crisis as adults (I was born in 81 and don't remember having very many peers effected in the dot com recession of 01 as we still were in school.), now is the time for us to be doing everything possible to explain....Socialism, Communism, these are NOT historical curiosities, these are NOT things that were in place in the former Soviet Union, These are NOT things that were tried and failed. Now is the time when this generation will be most open to hearing that the system the live in may need to be removed. No one likes change when they are comfortable, but when a person is feeling bad about them self for being unemployed, a wonderful time to explain that it is not only their fault, the system is partially to blame.
What we need is for this younger generation to see socialism and communism as possible (if partial) solutions to some of the types of hurt and suffering around us, as alternatives to the system that has left some of us unemployed and wasting our lives, while some of our childhood friends become unbelievably, and decadantly and wastefully rich. (no blame on them of course....or is it time to start)

20 June 2009

Moving Beyond Class

I am really fond of the argument (I know found in the Althusser chapter of New Departures, I am sure it is elsewhere) that overdetermination will become the epistemology of a communist society. That is empiricism (and to a lesser extent rationalism), but determinist epistemologies nonetheless, have been the epistemologies of capitalism and as we move beyond this phase of humanity a new epistemology, overdetermination, will become predominate in society.

Much of the economic analysis (in fact all of it?) that has been undertaken within the framework of overdetermination has been done using the entry point of class (ie the work of Resnick and Wolff and many of their students including myself). The argument "why class" has been made many times and I will not repeat it here except to say that the choice of class as an entry point makes good sense within the Marxian tradition given the goals of our theories.

As we move beyond capitalism class will no longer be a useful entry point in the study of economic processes. Moving to a classless society will in fact render class fairly useless as an entry point for economic analysis.
The golden age of overdetermination in a classless society will have to find new entry points to study the economy, as an entry point of something that no longer exists will be both backwards and obsolete. The search for new entry points that logically make sense for economic analysis will be an important step moving forward.

Class will be regulated to the entry point that made sense under the system where the entire epistemology did not. It is only in moving beyond capitalism, and moving beyond modernism and humanism that overdetermination will have a chance to be fully utilized in society. Class as an entry point will have to die.


What constitutes a theory? Is it nothing more than a collection of statements? yes, then what? a collection of ideas? does an idea become more than a statement in certain discourses and not in others?
We have established that one theory can not be more true than another, that is a basic premise of something that is constituted by what it is not. Also it is commonly accepted that truth is theory specific. That is what is true under one theory may not be true under another.

This leads to a definition of a theory as a set of statements that establish truths, but what then makes one theory more true than another. To say that 2+2 = 5, I know it to be true! but does that make it more true than 2+2 = 4, which so many others know to be true. These single statements are not in and of themselves meaningful independent of their theories. But take then the two competing theories. 1. Standard Math. 2. Everything George Orwell wrote is correct. By the first 2+2=5 is nonsense, by the second it is truth. So what is the standard of truth of theories? Logic? Rationalism? ....of course not....broad social acceptance? This can not be truth as it would render Marxism a lie!

More importantly is truth meaningful in a postmodern world? What matters that I know 5? if discourse around it finds that it is a lie? what matters that we know Marx, when there is no discourse around Marxism?

Perhaps the Keynesians have it right! Perhaps all is fundamentally unknowable and we should hedge our bets! blah! and perhaps disco was real music and John Lennon got it wrong but I don't think so. Ah to not fall back into a meaningless phrase for a conclusion.....ah worlds with truth may be empty but they result in less sleepless nights.

17 June 2009

Letter to a Colleague

The following is part of a comment I posted on another blog, Imagining History, but is a topic I will return to in the future here so I wanted to post it.
I feel that those of us outside of mainstream economics spend to much time teaching things we have already rejected. Part of this is necessary to keep our paychecks but part of it we do so we can feel superior to close minded mainstream economists. At the introductory level I think we need to do more of teaching Marxism as what is "right", not as an alternative theory.

Start Letter:

I feel that in many heterodox economics classes that I have taken, my education has suffered because a lot of focus and time has been given to the mainstream. If I thought that a thorough understanding of mainstream economics was worth while for me, then I would take a mainstream class, or attend grad school in a mainstream department for than matter. The more time we spend trying to thoroughly understand the mainstream the less time there is to study alternatives.

As a teacher, you have the power to have studied and rejected the mainstream ahead of time, so your students do not need to take the time to struggle with this in their first semester of economic history. If you believe the heterodox perspective holds more merit then you should teach only that. Otherwise you are placing heterodox theory at a natural disadvantage because mainstream courses do not take the time to go beyond a bare mention of Marx, Keynes, Kafka, etc.

It is within your job, hell it is your duty as an instructor to teach your students what YOU feel is the best course you can offer on economic history, using the best methodological approach, from your point of view that is.

If this means not doing the mainstream justice, so that you can spend the limited time that you have with your students giving a more thorough (non rigorous)course in economic history from a heterodox perspective, I would encourage you to do so. Plurality has many benefits, but within the confines of a single semester, in an undergraduate course, I would think you are better off teaching history from the perspective that you prefer.

That is unless you want the course to be a methodological survey of economic histories....which would a fantastic course but....maybe not at the undergraduate level, and the university may question why you have an s on the end of the word history in your course description.

As non-mainstream economists, beyond a basic understanding of the mainstream, why study in depth something that we think is "wrong"? We have rejected the mainstream without learning its nuances, certainly learning the finer points within the any theory just makes its contradictions come even more to the surface? (To be fair this point is as true regarding Marxism as it is any other theory)

There are only so many hours in the day (even fewer for those of us who blog). I would encourage you to spend the few you have with your students teaching things that they cannot get from any cookie cutter text on economic history.

13 June 2009

THe World Economy

It is not entirely fair, or for that matter accurate to simplify a globally integrated economy down to simple imperialism, therefore the following is very small part of what we are currently facing:

Global integration makes a lot of sense in the lens of capitalist growth. The traditional theory of imperialism holds, namely that domestic capital in advanced countries has fully saturated home markets and needs to find both new markets and/or cheaper sources of raw materials to increase profitability.

What is unique about the current period (and would be unique to any period of capitalist development) is the level of technology in the "home" nations.
Higher levels of technology by definition require larger capital investments, and ever increasing freedom/complexity of financial markets in order to facilitate these investments (and to get profit out of the colony).

As we are at the highest level of technology thus far in human advancement, modern imperialism requires the highest level of capital investment and most advanced financial markets the world has ever seen to be successful. All of this is fairly obvious and mundane.

Where this point becomes more interesting (to me at least) is that with greater levels of capital investment, (higher levels of development) it is easy to argue that greater levels of military security should also be a priority. This will come as no surprise to the portions of the world who live under perpetual occupation of the American military.

The two large contradictions here are that, 1. The very capitalists who rely on their home state for unprecedented military security are more often than not advocates of a shrinking the state at home (as the larger the state the more of their domestic profits are necessary to sustain it). And 2. The very same high level of technology that precipitates the need for military security in colonies (or subjugated nations, or whatever the popular thing is to call the countries we are fucking over today is), allows for easy destruction of large capital investments by small groups of unhappy, or aware citizens of these nations (ie "terrorism"). Technology facilitates the easier destruction of technology.

As per the development of any system, modern global capital holds within itself contradictions that have the potential to be its undoing.

07 June 2009

Why Marxism

For me, a (petit) bourgeois, much self examination is necessary as to the choice to study and work with a theory of the proletariat. There are many reasons that I wish to do this, and I imagine that the truth is a mix of these to follow and many others. This post is basically a list of superficial feelings that I grapple with, and I have intentionally avoided deep reasoning in the hope that superficial reflection on the negative aspects of my theory will lead to something positive. These are my weakest reasons for my own career path and I hope to post on my more noble personal justifications for Marxism soon.

1. As a bourgeois I have never been near the top of my class. I have experienced jealousy grounded in striving to be as wealthy as my neighbours. This is not a great reason, or even a good reason, to be a Marxist, but was certainly part of my life growing up. At times the idea comes forward in my mind that by helping overthrow the ruling class I could place myself in their position at the top of society. Essentially the idea is one of using the proletariat, and rhetoric of equality for personal gain. I hope this is not a strong part of my personality, but I certainly grapple with these feelings at times.

2. A counter point to #1. The (thankfully) more common thought that that material goods are a shallow pursuit and even becoming part of the ruling class will leave a person empty of true satisfaction. This idea becomes more dominate in my mind as I go through life. I believe this to be the truth. This of course brings the following question to light: If I believe that materialism is not a proper goal for a human to devote their existence to, do I have the right to force my view on others through revolution? Would this be any different from the followers of other theories (most notably religions) forcing their views on others?

3. Staying on the humanist perspective: I hope that a new organization of production will result in much faster progress of society, both in technology and in social relationships outside of production. I cannot help but wonder how many "Einsteins" have died of starvation, or been killed in imperialistic wars, or wasted their potential just trying to survive in other ways. Having lost God early in my life, my faith for now is placed in science and human development. I believe that a communist organization of production will lead to greater advances (capitalism did a great job advancing society in some parts of the world, but at a very unequal level that is unacceptable at our current level of global development. I feel most of the major contributions of capitalism are over).

4. A feeling of great injustice when viewing the world. Surely we as a species are advanced enough to give to each according to their needs? Even if this was only to help me sleep better at night...seeing the great waste and extravagance that many of us partake in during our own petite bourgeois existence disgusts me at times.

I realize the contradictions of a cynical self serving analysis of selflessness in society, namely communist theory, however it seems important for me to bring some of my poor reasons for studying within the Marxian tradition to light in the hope that underlying them I have better reasons for advocating and expanding a theory of the proletariat.

01 June 2009

An ode to General Motors

On this day of bankruptcy (I believe the largest one ever?)

"Crisis of every kind-economic crisis most frequently...in their turn increase very considerably the tendency towards concentration and monopoly." From Lenin's Imperialism pamphlet.

Go Ford! A little more protectionism (ok a lot more) and the market is all yours. Of course now that the tax payers are about to assume control of GM perhaps the greater democracy....I can't even finish that ridiculous concept.

On another note:

"Some employee-owned companies have failed, however, because management, mindful of their employee owners, often gave in to wage demands.

For this reason, industry experts say, the Obama administration structured the G.M. and Chrysler plans to lessen the union’s voice in management. The retirees’ health fund has six public-appointed trustees and five union-appointed trustees. Though the union health trust owns 55 percent of Chrysler, it will hold just one seat on the Chrysler board. And at both automakers, the health fund’s shares will be nonvoting.

previous paragraph from NYTimes online

Workers of GM this should be your hour! The state of our union (the UAW) has become even more pathetically transparent than normal. There is no left in the UAW, do something you liberal pieces of excrement! Is this not a time for action? Please for the sake of the workers in the UAW, in America, in the World. Do not let this opportunity pass you by! This is worker ownership of the means of production (and government and private), but control is the logical step......I implore you, throw out the old owners, we make the cars, we should control the industry!

23 May 2009

as per a conversation earlier...

...when a system hides so well the divisions within it, where to begin to look for weakness.

There is not a class war in our society, we have not yet reached the progress of our ancestors. In most areas we do not have the consciousness for a class war. This does not pertain to most reading this blog, but to far to many others.

Many workers in service treat the bourgeoisie better than their own comrades. Not because they want to be bourgeois themselves, but rather because our system perpetuates that "success" (and therefore money) is somehow bestowed upon the "better" part of society. We are conditioned to treat "our betters" with respect, not to question how they obtained this status.

Unification before revolution.

18 May 2009

economic methodology

"Calculus has been so successful because of its extraordinary power to reduce complicated problems to simple rules and procedures".

No argument from me on this one. Thing is, calculus fails both in the realm of prediction of complex systems (because when we simplify we lose partial determinants), and also in the realm of the important, the non-tangible, the non-rigorous, calculus can not appreciate the beauty of the insane.

formation of economic discouse in bourgeois society

It seems that discussion of the system itself does not often enter the daily economic discussion of most in our system. One of the primary goals of a (pre)revolutionary then has to be not only to fight against a system of bourgeois domination but to make consistent and repeated attempts to have the language of revolution become a part of mainstream discourse. Currently discussions of change in the economics profession, and in broader economic discussions are predominately limited to how to change the system we have.

It may be unrealistic to think that this type of discussion can immediately be changed to a broad public acceptance of the discourse of revolution. I would instead suggest that a possible first step would be to push for wider linguistic usage of concepts surrounding why we have the system we do, and how it came into place. In my own (ongoing) development acceptance and usage of this discourse lead naturally to questions of why can we not have a system that is better than capitalism.
History stands tall for the revolutionary.

13 May 2009

on postmodern spirituality

Spiritual fulfillment like most things loses its individual necessity when the totality is embraced. There is no need to find god for the individual, there is no personal quest. Becoming part of the social advancement lends itself to a certain acceptance that not only is the individual no more important than other individuals, the individual matters as a member of the whole.

All actions have innumerable ripples through space-time, so a personal belief that individuality shapes the totality can become enough. When all actions have by definition unforeseeable and unending consequences, the quest of the individual seeking eternal existence, or salvation, or both, becomes one of the individual participating in (contributing to) existence of the whole.

21 April 2009

the race worth running even without a finish

Education is not about the knowledge to be acquired, it is about the process of acquiring it.

Social change is not about eliminating the problems of society but rather about choosing a new set of problems that are preferable for the revolutionary.

Just as science would die if a unified theory was finished, life (that is worth living) would die in a Utopian fantasy world.

03 March 2009


In a world without god, or where science is god if you prefer (although the two concepts are vastly different), some argue that personal development becomes irrelevant. I would argue this concept is just plain wrong. Personal, and thus development of the totality is what we should and do live for.

My hope for eternal life lies in my dialectical interactions, shaping and being shaped by the totality. There is a considerable arrogance underlying this idea, however because this type of interaction is shared by all people I feel my arrogance is justified on this point. We are all shaping the future...it is our responsibility to try to shape it for the best (responsibility to who? or what?).

My hope for utopia lies with human technological advancement. Some "believers" may consider this a cold, and as one told me, "hopeless" way to go through life. It is not, it is more than enough. Look at the wonders around us.....that we all contribute to in some small way. God is not necessary to have a life worth living. Advancement has become central to so many. I am just starting to formalize it.

Hopefully the small void I feel in the part of my conscious that I recognize from my youth as my soul is just the unfulfillment of so much of my life's work, or a leftover of my Catholic roots, hopefully....

21 February 2009

Generations of social thought

It strikes me (after reading Lebowitz's piece in Feb 09 MR) that the first generation after the revolution will be the most difficult, and in many ways dictate the path a new society will follow (how is that for deterministic thinking!).

Nonetheless it cannot be argued that successful socialism and social thinking will be the most difficult when those practicing it are born and raised under capitalism. The true hope for collective democracy will lie with the children of the revolution.
This clearly was not the case in the former USSR, however collective socialism was never attempted there, and I don't know enough of the history to know if successive generations were more accepting of the state capitalism that emerged?

Hope for the future remains slight but bright.

19 February 2009

human and technological growth

As the human population grows quickly one of the many challenges we as a race face is the attempt to have human intellectual development come even close to keeping up to the rate of population growth. The obvious pressing issue that I am ignoring for now is that a majority of the human population spends much of their lives concerned with basic subsistence and thus is unable to contribute much to species development beyond the scope of genetics.

A smaller issue but one nonetheless on my mind is that of the greater chance of "reinventing the wheel" as a greater number of people work in any particular discipline.
Certainly the revolution of information technology that has characterized my life time goes a long way towards alleviating this phenomenon however I believe the revolution to be far from complete.

As academics we need to stop pigeonholing ourselves as "this kind of economist" or an economist, or a "social scientist", we are professional thinkers...all of us, hard or soft scientist, mathematician or marine biologist, or (ugh) statistician. The sooner we stop sorting knowledge by the goals we are trying to achieve and start opening ourselves up to the compliments and contradictions that other disciplines can offer us the faster we will develop intellectually as a civilization.

There two steps that should be taken:
1. The monopoly on higher education shared by the more generally privileged members of needs to shattered. This is a common argument and I will not continue it here beyond to say that free education shouldn't be second rate education.
2. The way we approach science (and knowledge in general for that matter) needs to change. Academics need to come down from our ivory towers. Great research has had and always will have its place, but there needs to be a new focus on collaborative learning through teaching. Continued interaction in a teacher student format beyond that of a formal classroom setting is not even on the radar of many intellectuals. Sharing knowledge among friends? Interaction with intellectuals outside of one's own department is often frowned upon by colleges. Interaction with non-intellectuals is often considered a waste of time completely. We are missing great opportunities through academic elitism. The attitude of restricting higher knowledge to people who have "earned" the right to learn it causes a major drag on scientific advancement in this world.
It is time that we work collectively to change the culture outside of academia towards those of us in it. If we truly are doing anything worthwhile then we should be proud of any opportunity to share our work be it theoretical or applied with people who are outside of our area of expertise.

Free information and the time to learn it do not have to be luxuries in developed economies.
Wow this post went in a totally different direction than I had planed .....oh well.

17 February 2009

government and taxation

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, taxes are far too low in the United States.
Having grown up in a culture very similar to that in which I now live I find the different attitude about taxation in the United States very difficult to accept.
Is the government wasteful and inefficient? sure ...of course.....who is not? but the opposition to raising taxes in this country baffles me. For a vast majority of people a small increase (in dollar terms) of the taxes they pay could result in gaining far more in the way of transfers back to them. Be they directed to the very unlucky (or lazy as they are characterized in this country) or more relevant, be they in the form of lower costs on health, power, transportation, etc. Even a flat tax increase of 5% income across the board (this is not what I am advocating) would result in a vast majority of the population getting back far more in benefits than the 5% extra they would put out.
The only losers from higher taxation are the ones who can afford to lose it.
The misrepresentation that we are "being screwed" when the government takes our money is causing massive social ills in this country. I can understand why people at the top have fostered this perception, it does not take a genius to figure that out,
but it is time for the American people to wake up and pay some taxes. Only the very top would be hurt by higher taxes the rest of us would finally get some of the trickle down we so desperately need...
How do we get this trickle down? History has shown there are only two ways: take the money from the rich via taxation and use it on programs for everybody (health, power, etc.).
Or take a bigger slice with force. This second option has worked on micro level since the dawn of civilization, would it work on a large scale in the US? Not under the current conditions!

Does bigger government cause bigger waste?
Does bigger government help more people than it hurts?
For sure if it is the right kind of government.
Can our current government help more people that it hurts?
I would like to think so but I doubt it will.
Does bigger government mean greater democracy and rights as a citizen....not this government...not in this country....it is time for political a change ....a necessary beginning to the economic change we so drastically need. Not the removal of Obama, the man seems like his heart is in the right place. The change we need is a readjustment of power towards state and local governments. Places where changing who the corruption benefits are manageable battles in terms of scale.

03 February 2009

localized government some early thoughts

For some reason I am pondering the idea of transfer payments from federal to local governments this evening.

It strikes me that a relatively higher federal tax rate compared with state and local rates, and the transferring the money to local governments based on specific programs gives both a clear problem and a clear benefit.

The benefit is because of a problem that is suffered both on the state and especially at the local level in this country. Poorer areas collect less taxes on a local level, and thus in the interest of equity (and all that goes with it) federal transfers provide an important source of funding for less wealthy areas of the country.

On the other hand the idea of federal transfers bothers me in the sense that it allows the federal government to only fund programs that fit with the current administration's view of what are "useful" programs.

Thus I can easily make the case that we as a nation would be better off with a system of much higher domestic tax rates and much lower federal taxs. That is much smaller federal government and much larger local. It is very rare that I agree with a traditionally conservative view point (smaller federal government) however I think smaller federal government may be useful in this country on that condition of much larger power and amounts of money in the hands of local administrations. I am holding aside the issue of coruption of local governments which is certianly a problem....but a bigger problem than federal coruption?

Certainly I know what is best for me better than my neighbour does, and does not the same hold for localized government?

The role of the federal government regarding equality would then become generic transfer payments based upon regional income instead of funding specific programs?

More on this later. I just wanted to write some thoughts down tonight before I forgot them in the sea of life.