Economics in Two Lessons: Draft Outline

by John Quiggin on February 20, 2018

At the suggestion of a reader , I’m posting a draft Table of Contents for Economics in Two Lessonshere
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Economics in Two Lessons: Chapter 1

by John Quiggin on February 19, 2018

Thanks to everyone who commented on the draft introduction to my book, Economics in Two Lessons. The revised introduction is here. Feel free to make further comments on it if you wish.

Moving along, here’s the draft of Chapter 1. Again, I welcome comments, criticism and encouragement.

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Panpsychism, Erewhon Edition

by John Holbo on February 19, 2018

A couple weeks back I posted about panpsychism. Is it as preposterous as all that? Opinions differ! Today I discovered that there are arguments for it, in effect, in Erewhon, by Samuel Butler (1872).

As you may know, the utopian Erewhonians, in Butler’s famous novel, are anti-machinist. But I hadn’t realized their attitude was grounded in explicit fear of the rise of conscious machines, rather than some other model of industrial catastrophe. The narrator himself has some trouble piecing it together: [click to continue…]

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Sunday photoblogging: pont naturel at Minerve

by Chris Bertram on February 18, 2018

Pont naturel at Minerve (tunnel cut by the Cesse river)

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The father of consumer sovereignty

by Henry on February 16, 2018

I hope to have a lot more to say about Quinn Slobodian’s Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism when it comes out next month. Short version: it’s a very important book that deserves to have a quite enormous impact. It does look at questions related to those of Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains (specifically – to what extent is the version of libertarianism that flowed from Hayek, Friedman and others explicitly anti-democratic). However, it doesn’t mention MacLean (whose book likely came out too recently to be considered), and deserves to be treated as a major achievement in its own right rather than as a further contribution to a semi-related spat. Hence, this preliminary post which is intended to get all that stuff out of the way before I write about Globalists proper. [click to continue…]

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Economics in Two Lessons

by John Quiggin on February 15, 2018

I’ve finally committed to delivering a manuscript of my long-overdue book Economics in Two Lessons. As part of the process, I’m going to post the chapters, one at a time, and ask for comments, criticism, encouragement and so on. To begin at the beginning, here’s the Introduction.

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Food For Thought

by John Holbo on February 14, 2018

It was not until I had attended a few post‐mortems that I realized that even the ugliest human exteriors may contain the most beautiful viscera, and was able to console myself for the facial drabness of my neighbors in omnibuses by dissecting them in my imagination.

J. B. S. Haldane

I got that one from a book on thought-experiments [amazon]. How have I not come across it in a book about serial killers? I read both sorts of books, like any person with normal beliefs and desires, healthy impulses and interests.

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Sunday photoblogging: Pézenas house

by Chris Bertram on February 11, 2018

Pézenas

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On Being Radical for Non-Ideal Reasons

by Miriam Ronzoni on February 9, 2018

Thank you to Ingrid for introducing me, and to all current members of the Crooked Timber for welcoming me on board. I am a long term fan of the Crooked Timber (since my days as a graduate student, in fact!) and therefore really excited to be joining the team.

I would like to kick off by elaborating on some thoughts that I have only briefly mentioned in a recent piece. The basic idea, in a nutshell, is the following: could it be that we sometimes have reason to be more radical under non-ideal circumstances than under ideal ones?

The reason why this might seem initially puzzling – it definitely is to me – lies in the fact that, by definition, non-ideal theory falls short of ideal theory in important ways. Sure, the suggestion is often made that our obligations of justice under non-ideal circumstances might become more demanding – simply because we might be required to compensate for the non-compliance of other duty bearers (although some people want to resist that thought ). This, however, is a point about the demandingness of our duties, not about how radically our aims should diverge from the status quo. When it comes to what we should be aiming at, rather than how much effort we should put into it, non-ideal theory is usually depicted at giving us targets that are closer to home. We should be more modest, we should not demand too much. We cannot have a truly egalitarian society, but we can maybe try and aim for a more humane one than the one we currently have. We cannot have gender equality, but we can maybe narrow the gap. We cannot put an end to capitalism, but maybe we can tame it just a little bit. The most obvious way in which this approach plays out is in the chase of the political centre by the mainstream left, which has been making social-democratic agendas ever more lukewarm over the last three decades.

However, the relationship between ideal and non-ideal theory does not always have to work that way. [click to continue…]

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Introducing new blogger: Miriam Ronzoni

by Ingrid Robeyns on February 9, 2018

Good news, Folks! Miriam Ronzoni is joining the Crooked Timber Crew.

Miriam is a Reader in Political Theory at the University of Manchester. She has a background in both philosophy and politics and has worked in the UK, Germany, and Italy. She is interested in the interdependence between global and domestic justice, issues of domination across borders, feminism, the definition of the very concept of justice, and the methodology of constructivism. She lives in South Manchester with her husband Christian and their two children Francesco and Sara. She is a keen traveler and cyclist (kids allowing).

Miriam, welcome!

I have a piece in the New York Times looking at the implications for the bitcoin bubble for economic theory and, in particular, for the (Strong) Efficient (Financial) Markets Hypothesis (EMH) which states that prices determined in financial markets reflect all the available information about the value of any asset. If that’s true then governments can’t improve on a policy of allocating investment to those assets with the highest market return, which can be achieved by letting private capital markets determine all investment decisions.

Bitcoins have no inherent usefulness, being a record of pointless calculations. They are useless as a currency (their putative purpose) and are now being promoted as a store of value on the basis of scarcity alone. This leaves supporters of the EMH with a dilemma.

If Bitcoins are indeed worthless, then financial markets should price them at zero. But the introduction of futures trading actually boosted the price in the short run. Even after recent declines, there’s no sign that prices will reach zero any time soon.

On the other hand, if Bitcoins are valuable simply because people value them, then asset prices are entirely arbitrary. The same argument can be applied to any financial asset.

Dean Baker at CEPR has a nice followup, making the obvious but crucial point that, since financial services are an intermediate input to production, we want the financial sector to be as small as possible, consistent with doing its essential tasks. As the experience of the mid-20th century shows, a market economy can function perfectly well with a financial sector much smaller than the one we have today. As Bitcoin shows, the massive expansion since then is nothing but wasteful speculation. The financial sector should be cut down to (a small fraction of its present) size.
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Adam Roberts has been fighting the good fight, keeping blogging real. He’s been reading his way through H.G. Wells’ collected works so you don’t have to. You can just piggy-back along for the ride. But all good things must end. He just published the post for Wells’ final work, Mind At The End of Its Tether. I’m no Wells scholar but I actually had read that one. It’s astonishingly pessimistic. Nigh-Lovecraftian. And it isn’t even supposed to be fiction. It’s what Wells was feeling in his last days. Here is the book’s opening: [click to continue…]

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Some Thoughts About Women’s Empowerment

by Serene Khader on February 8, 2018

A Valentine’s Day ad appeared in my feed today, suggesting that I give the meaningful gift of “sponsoring a girl.” Though getting such an ad on Valentine’s Day was a new one for me, these types of ads are nothing new. During the holidays, I saw ads suggesting I buy a poor woman jute to make baskets, a goat, and even, as Rafia Zakaria wryly remarked on at the end of last year, a chicken. Fifteen years ago it would have been a cell phone.

Why does it seem so obvious to so many that earning an independent income will lead to, or just is, women’s empowerment? I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the origins and persistence of that association.

I’m not asking why it seems that earning more money will improve the lives of poor women. The answer to that question is, I think relatively straightforward. If poverty is conceptualized as a lack of money, then it is easy to see why more money seems like the solution. (However logically sound this line of reasoning may be, it is unclear that income usually improves poor women’s lives; often, as Sylvia Chant points out in her important work on the feminization of responsibility) making an income often just means more hours of exhausting and unrewarded work—but more about this below)

I’m also not asking why women’s entrepreneurship seems like a good thing in general. Narratives about the poor pulling themselves up by their bootstraps have tremendous power, at least over Americans—whether the contexts they are analyzing are domestic and international. A body of feminist literature also suggests another reason, in addition to capitalist ideology, that women earning an independent income seems desirable. The cultural ideal of the economically self-sufficient individual is androcentric. It frames what is possible and desirable for human beings in general in terms of what is possible for those who do not have care work socially assigned to them.

Important as this feminist literature is, what I want to know is why it has been so easy to convince Northern audiences that income generation empowers women. Many representations of women as farmers and small business owners treat income-focused development interventions as feminist. And it’s not just pop cultural representations; it’s not uncommon to find international development organizations whose entire women’s empowerment agenda is about income generation—often, though decreasingly so in recent years, through microcredit. Feminism is opposition to sexist oppression, so the implication of the empowerment language seems to be that gender relations are improved by income generation.

But why would this be? I’ve been thinking the answer has to do with underlying assumptions about the causes of sexist oppression, especially the oppression of “other” women.

One line of thought that would make sense of the view that income could reduce sexist oppression takes women’s male partners to be a cause, or at least major source of reinforcement of, sexist oppression. Women who live in nuclear households with men on whom they are utterly financially dependent are vulnerable. This vulnerability is to both abuse and deprivation. Data suggest that women and girls receive lesser shares of household resources than men.

There is certainly truth to this line of thought. But it is worth noting that even if economic dependency causes the vulnerability, it is unclear that income will eliminate it. As Chant’s work on the feminization of responsibility I mentioned above shows, income often causes men to increase their personal expenditures and contribute less to the household, leaving women’s bargaining position unchanged. The classic example of this is the recasting of children’s school fees as something women are responsible for.

But this line of thinking is not just empirically questionable; I think it also misses the role other factors play in causing sexist oppression in the global South. The gender division of labor, and the genuine need for household and caring labor to be performed, are not reducible to the actions of individual men. Without supports for the socially necessary labor that women perform, we can expect a common result of income focused interventions—in the North and the South—to be exhaustion rather than empowerment.

To put the point more bluntly, a key cause of women’s oppression is a system that depends on uncompensated labor from women, and the idea that income through additional public sphere labor is empowerment misses this.

I also think there’s another view about the causes of sexist oppression lurking in the background of the view that income is empowerment. To get at it, we need to pay attention to what are touted as the most important by-products of income-focused interventions. These include self-esteem, critical thinking—and something that has been loftily described as the ability to control or transform one’s destiny.

I think the idea that women’s entrepreneurship constitutes their empowerment appeals to the underlying view, widespread in the West and North, that “other” women are oppressed by customs, traditions, and cultures. (This view about the cause of “other” women’s oppression, and its deep flaws, has been theorized at length in transnational feminist scholarship.)

The idea that women become empowered by being able to think critically, to see themselves as distinct from their families, and to liberate themselves from a socially pre-determined future seems plausible if the background assumption that “other” women are oppressed by custom and culture.

Why income would cause these byproducts remains somewhat mysterious. But the idea that capitalism causes reduction in adherence to tradition has a long history in the West, as Naila Kabeer notes in her important intellectual history of women and development. Kabeer notes that modernization theorists thought that a nice byproduct of capitalism was that it would shake up the existing social order; social roles used to be assigned by custom, but now they would be allocated according to efficiency. But it’s unclear either that the division of labor caused by women’s double shift is economically inefficient. And more importantly, the fact that a division of labor is different from the one that preceded it does not mean it is more gender just.

The idea that income will empower women in the South has become a commonplace—so obvious that it needs no justification. The pop cultural images associated with it have been incredibly seductive. But I think it’s got its diagnosis of the causes of the oppression of women in the global South wrong.

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Pride and Prejudice and P-Zombies

by John Holbo on February 6, 2018

Yeah, the zombie version was good. But what if you wrote a version in which they are all zombies? I’m not sure if any actual edits to the original text would be required. Passages like the following are fine. They just need to be understood properly. [click to continue…]

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I’m planning an event (mainly for faculty and administrators) about improving undergraduate instruction, and I want the voices of undergraduates to, in some way, inform what gets said. it would be helpful to me to hear from current or recent undergraduates answering the questions below. And, to be honest, I have been collecting stories about good and bad college instruction for years, but not in any systematic way and only, obviously, from students who tell them to me, so this is an opportunity to gather stories from other people. Now—I know that not many undergraduates read CT regularly. But lots of you know some undergraduates and recent undergraduates, and many of you teach them. So i) ask students or recent students whom you know, and give me their answers. And ii) I’d be really grateful if those of you who teach undergraduates could send them this link, and ask them to contribute.

Here are the questions:

1. Describe something that one or more of your professors does/did that you think other professors ought to do as well.

2. Describe something that more than one of your professors does/did that you think no professors ought to do.

I can give you a couple of examples that I’ve gathered from recent undergraduates, that seem sensible to me, just to give you a sense of the sorts of things I am looking for.

Do: make students discuss a question for a few minutes in small groups before opening the class up to discussion
Do: cold call, but only after warning the students that you are going to do that
(I do both of these).

Don’t: ever speak to the board with your back to the class
Don’t: simply read the powerpoint slides, and don’t also make the powerpoints the textbook
(I did the first of those occasionally till a student told me not to. The second one… well, I don’t know what to say).

Please, just answer one or both of the questions!

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