Brad De Long writes something condescending

by Chris Bertram on May 24, 2011

I was starting to feel somewhat neglected. Usually, when I write something of any substance on Crooked Timber, Brad De Long pops up and has a sneer. Recent efforts have been so stretched in relation to what I actually wrote that I have to conclude it’s personal and that Brad is just itching to have a go. Well that’s his problem. Usually, I’d post a short and polite correction in his comments box, explaining where I thought he’d got himself mixed up, but recently Brad has taken to “moderating” my comments, as if I were some kind of troll. Well ho hum. Anyway, he clearly approves of my latest, or purports to , since he (unsurprisingly) approves of my judgement that Leninism doesn’t offer a way forward for the Western left. Well no shit. But he also appears delighted to catch me out in a “contradiction”, because, well, didn’t I write something laudatory about Cuba on the occasion of Castro’s retirement over two years ago? (It seems Brad is keeping track, which does feel a bit creepy.) Well yes I did, though he clearly didn’t understand the point I was making, which was principally that US hate-obsession about Cuba has everything to do with capitalism and not much to do with enthusiasm for human rights. Plus (in the case of Brad and people like him) it signals that you really really disapprove of those to your left. Am I pro-Cuban in the sense that I support the ideology and strategy of the Cuban CP? Well no, of course not. I’m not a Barca fan either, for that matter, but I will be cheering them on in the Champions League final.

UPDATE: I see that DeLong has extended his original post slightly. I respond below the fold:

He gives a characterization of my most recent post , thus: that I call for

“the left” to abandon social democracy—… and rely on a combination of “populist nationalism[:] culturally conservative, worried by immigration (and willing to indulge popular anxieties), anxious about the effects of markets on working-class community…” and zero-growth greenism.”

Nope. I speculated (hopefully it’s true) that the left would break with the likes of New Labour and Larry Summers (i.e. elite neoliberals masquerading as “progressives”). They aren’t equivalent to social democracy except in DeLong’s brain. My speculations did involve a rapprochement between the social group that (in the UK) forms the basis of “old Labour” and is currently worried by immigration and the corrosive effects of global markets in their communities and another group I characterized as the “eco-left”, for want of a better term. In case anyone is in any doubt, I’m not hostile to immigration, though I do endorse the view that the relentless pursuit of more stuff (not technically equivalent to growth in the economists’ sense) will not improve human happiness and will wreck the environment, and that we ought to be thinking about schemes involving less working-time, more leisure and lower unemployment.

{ 299 comments }

1

William Timberman 05.24.11 at 9:09 pm

He writes far nastier things about Noam Chomsky. I would say that if social democracy were Brad DeLong…well, no, I’d better not say anything like that. Clearly, though, he has a thing about anyone to the left of Larry Summers. I’d rather not go overboard with my distaste for his antics, given his prominence and my lack of it, but I think I can say this — if his economics weren’t so eminently sensible, he’d probably be Glenn Reynolds.

Oh, and despite my admiration for Xavi, Iniesta and the tiny wizard from the Pampas, I’m cheering for the dour Scot and his scarlet entourage….

2

michael e sullivan 05.24.11 at 9:26 pm

well, however unjustified the US hate-on for Cuba is, I didn’t really get your point when you wrote that 2+ years ago either. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I got your point, but thought that your way of making it (in the form of praise for an all-around terrible regime) was obscene.

I do get the sense when you start talking economics that you are in the camp of those who really believe that markets in general are a problem. Not just the general left-center view that while most things work better with markets, they do not contain any sort of magical fairie dust, and thus need to be appropriately regulated and if the primary basis of economic activity, need to be accompanied by some kind of comprehensive social insurance. That’s a fairly broad general position espoused by the kind of sane conservative that is mostly silent/nonexistent since the 1990s, through DeLong/Krugman through real leftists like JQ, with the argument between camps coming in disagreements over the hows, whys and how muches of the regulations and social insurance.

I sometimes get the sense, and that Castro post was one of those times, that you are off the market bus entirely.

If Brad Delong has the same sense, then I can see why he’d be fairly hostile.

3

Mrs Tilton 05.24.11 at 9:36 pm

The final sentence of Chris’s post:

I’m not a Barca fan either, for that matter, but I will be cheering them on in the Champions League final

I believe this is what the young people call “burying the lede”.

4

Chris Bertram 05.24.11 at 9:40 pm

(Simply for the record, michael e. sullivan, I can tell you that I think markets are an indispensable part of any complex economy, something I’ve been convinced of at least since I read Alec Nove’s Economics of Feasible Socialism when it appeared in 1983. So any “sense” you sometimes have is incorrect.)

5

christian_h 05.24.11 at 9:45 pm

Well so you and De Long are both wrong about Leninism. What else is new?

6

CDT 05.24.11 at 10:30 pm

Brad’s a gifted writer and economist, but he does seem to have a few blind spots. One of them is a visceral hatred for Chomsky (whom he recently called “the stupidest and most dishoneset man alive”). You’re in good company.

7

Myles 05.24.11 at 10:32 pm

He actually moderates all comments, due to change in policy some months earlier.

8

engels 05.24.11 at 10:36 pm

I think markets are an indispensable part of any complex economy

You’re certain we’ll still have them in a thousand years time?

9

Myles 05.24.11 at 10:41 pm

I’m not a Barca fan either, for that matter, but I will be cheering them on in the Champions League final.

Well that doesn’t really work. It’s almost impossible to separate “support Cuba against US embargo” from “support what Castro does.”

I’ll go further and say that in the case of Cuba, the exigent problem is economic mismanagement more than anything else. Which concerns capitalism. And which can’t be separated from democracy, because with a democracy they wouldn’t have half the economic system they do. I’m hardly in the camp that says capitalism necessary begets democracy, but I think it’s pretty obvious that when you give people democracy they generally vote themselves capitalism (with caveats). So the distinction between wanting a democratic and a capitalistic Cuba is, to the extent it exists in any substantive sense, an exceedingly fine one. (This is not to get into the nitty-gritty of precisely what kind of capitalism the U.S. wants for Cuba, but merely that everyone, including the Cubans themselves, wants to be capitalist in some way, shape, or form, social democracy included.)

10

engels 05.24.11 at 10:43 pm

when you give people democracy they generally vote themselves capitalism

And if they don’t, then you can always send in the CIA!

11

Phil 05.24.11 at 10:48 pm

It’s almost impossible to separate “support Cuba against US embargo” from “support what Castro does.”

As someone pointed out to me years ago in the context of Philip Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb”, ‘almost’ implies ‘not’.

12

William Timberman 05.24.11 at 10:53 pm

And if they don’t, then you can always send in the CIA!

Or take all their stuff and give it to people who know how to make more profitable use of it.

13

Colin Danby 05.24.11 at 11:01 pm

Engels: That 1,000 years from now buyers and sellers of goods/services will seek each out, and strike bargains with prices, seems about as safe a prediction as any you could make about human social institutions.

Chris: I thought your 2008 Castro post was fine, but I’m struck by the fact that it calls Brad out. Nothing wrong with that, but if you take pokes at people, they remember.

And yes, even my totally innocuous comments at his place get moderated.

14

tomslee 05.24.11 at 11:02 pm

Brad’s a gifted writer and economist, but he does seem to have a few blind spots. One of them is a visceral hatred for Chomsky (whom he recently called “the stupidest and most dishoneset man alive”). You’re in good company.

Agreed on all points. Barbara Ehrenreich makes up the troika, for some reason that I just don’t understand.

15

sg 05.24.11 at 11:06 pm

This:

unless it is yoked to social democracy greenism quickly becomes a form of reactionary nostalgic agrarian conservatism

is profoundly ignorant and stupid. Is this the best he has to offer? Maybe he should read some Marxist critiques of greenism so he can actually understand what he’s talking about…

16

Tao Jonesing 05.24.11 at 11:06 pm

Don’t feel bad. DeLong moderates the comments of people with whom he disagrees, especially if can’t prove them wrong. Consider it a badge of honor.

17

christian_h 05.24.11 at 11:15 pm

Engels: That 1,000 years from now buyers and sellers of goods/services will seek each out, and strike bargains with prices, seems about as safe a prediction as any you could make about human social institutions.

Really? I have no idea what social organization will be like in a 1000 years, even if humans are still around by then… If there’s one thing I’d be wary of it’s declaring the historically particular (like “markets”) to be universal. I for one would be surprised if Leninism in any form was still around in a thousand years ;)

18

kent 05.24.11 at 11:22 pm

Brad didn’t just “moderate” one of my comments a month or so back, he flat out didn’t let it be published.

19

rea 05.24.11 at 11:44 pm

So, christian_h, Leninism really is the way forward for the American left?

20

The Medium Lobster 05.24.11 at 11:48 pm

“Brad’s a gifted writer and economist”

Brad DeLong is a gifted writer and economist, except for his terrible writing and his continued endorsement of failed and failing economic policies. As for DeLong’s visceral loathing of Chomsky, I believe Chomsky actually has a fairly reasonable and response to that question of his about the press corps “we” can’t have, if DeLong ever feels like using his brain again while a leftist is in the room.

21

The Raven 05.24.11 at 11:51 pm

Sympathies. Delong hates even moderately left thought, for reasons he has never stated. I’ve just got tired of it, personally, and have stopped reading him. I think I can add to the list of reasons which the discipline of economics failed so thoroughly is an intense bias against leftist critiques. This led economists not to consider the possibility of robber-baron capitalism in action, even as it stole the wealth of the world.

22

bert 05.24.11 at 11:58 pm

Did you watch the semis?
An unexpected pleasure to see an English team, playing away in Europe, being way more skilful and way less dirty than the opposition. By contrast, Barca – whingeing, whining, bleating, repeatedly felled by wafts of air. Messi’s second goal almost made up for it. But almost means not, as has been pointed out.
Come on you reds.

23

StevenAttewell 05.25.11 at 12:01 am

Regarding the 1000 years issue, I think it’s helpful to separate exchange from “the market”; I personally prefer Polayni’s definition (“A market economy must comprise all elements of industry, including labor, land, and money…to include them in the market mechanism means to subordinate the substance of society itself to the laws of the market…”) but there are others.

I don’t know if “the market” will actually exist in 1000 years. Assuming humanity is still around and that there isn’t some general technological collapse, once you’re in the nanomachine stage, we’re getting close to the kind of matter materializer end of scarcity that makes Star Trek appealing to the left of the spectrum.

On the greenism issue, I think DeLong is painting too broadly, but he does have a point – without some sort of social component, greenism can lead to troubling outcomes. However, the “reactionary nostalgic agrarian conservatism” is only one small part of this (and yes, I think it’s in there). What worries me more is eco-hipster-capitalism.

24

Martin Bento 05.25.11 at 12:02 am

As for 1000 years from now, markets exist to deal with scarcity. They are already becoming problematic for informational goods in a digital age, where there is no natural scarcity once the item exists, and the fundamental problem is deciding what to fund. Imposing scarcity after the fact so that you can have a market may not always be the most efficient solution. If we move to a situation where most of the value in the economy is in non-material goods, the efficacy of capitalism is indeed questionable. And that looks may be 100 years away, not 1000.

25

Harold 05.25.11 at 12:03 am

He calls out Chomsky for being “dishonest”, but is Delong being honest when he only allows comments that agree with him?

26

pogonisby 05.25.11 at 12:32 am

I don’t see that it’s inconsistent to criticise ‘old hard left Leninism’ when you have praised one Leninist regime in the past.

27

Lemuel Pitkin 05.25.11 at 12:38 am

Reading the comments on this post is a reminder of how far to the left so many CT readers are of the contributors. (This is even more true of DeLong.) It raises an interesting question about the blogosphere, why are there so few genuinely left blogs. Sure, there are some barely-read vanity projects, but nothing with remotely the readership of CT or DeLong.

It’s strange, because after 15 years of bouncing around the worlds of progressive politics in the US, I have the strong impression that a large minority of the staff (and a smaller but nontrivial part of the leadership) of US unions, NGOs, community organizations, liberal media (such as it is), and even certain precincts of Democratic politics have some background in left, not liberal, politics — what we might call nondenominational Marxism. But that current hardly seems to be represented in the blog world at all.

Would be nice to think it’s just that most small-c communists have better priorities than pointing out that Someone is Wrong on the Internet. But I suspect there’s something else at work.

28

Sandwichman 05.25.11 at 12:49 am

Can’t we all just get along? ;-)

29

Ebenezer Scrooge 05.25.11 at 12:49 am

I’ve noticed that when I’m critical of Brad on his site, he knocks me out about half the time. He doesn’t seem to care so much about the substance of the critique as the language. If he takes it as a factual correction, he’s usually happy.

But I do agree with Brad on greenism. Left unchecked, it becomes Rousseauvianism. And left unchecked, Rousseau rhymes with Pol Pot.

One of the big divisions on the left is between those who respect Rousseau and those who loathe him. I don’t know anybody who has engaged with Rousseau and isn’t on one of these extremes. Obviously, I’m one of the loathers. Greenery isn’t Rousseau, but it ain’t that far away.

30

J— 05.25.11 at 12:53 am

I’m not a Barca fan either, for that matter, but I will be cheering them on in the Champions League final.

Tiki-taka is theft.

31

sg 05.25.11 at 12:58 am

StevenAttewell:

On the greenism issue, I think DeLong is painting too broadly, but he does have a point – without some sort of social component, greenism can lead to troubling outcomes

Just as well, then that greenism has a huge social component, and bases most of its green politics on a foundation of social justice and equality.

Which would explain why “reactionary nostalgic agrarian conservatism” parties, politicans and “thinkers” generally hate greenism more than any other political force except Leninism – which they usually accuse greens of being driven by (except when they’re accusing greens of being amoral atheists who will bring about the next holocaust).

You know, green politicians and activists have written books, and stuff. It’s not hard to work out what green politics is about. Clearly this is beneath deLong, since he can’t distinguish greenism from the politics of some of its main political opponents.

32

Lemuel Pitkin 05.25.11 at 1:03 am

Check out the latest: If anyone in the US opposed Castro for the right reasons, then the motivations of US policy toward Cuba are unimpeachable. Seriously, that’s what he says.

That technocrats are angels, i.e. with no interests of their own, or motivations except what’s best for everyone, is one of the pillars of Delongism. Some people are untrustworthy because they are on Team Republican, some people are (less, but still) untrustworthy because they are on Team Democrat, but he is perfectly trustworthy because he is on Team Technocratic Sanity.

33

david 05.25.11 at 1:03 am

“It’s almost impossible to separate “support Cuba against US embargo” from “support what Castro does.””

That’s awesome. Especially in the context of markets uber alles.

We have a crap definition of markets, and of capitalism. (Of socialism too, though that’s less relevant here). So anything about how markets are important becomes pretty meaningless pretty quick, unless by markets you mean people spend money for things, and that’s not what the market people are or at least tend to be talking about.

Delong is an extreme case of general hostility to the left from US technocrats who ought to know better. The Iraq war was half a wake up call, the crisis another, but the hostility remains, because who wants to look like the stool for the ruling class.

The hostility to greenism (ooh hippies!) is a particular manifestation of the general trend. Left unchecked, Pol Pot! If only my robot body could help me live long enough to say I told you so…..

34

StevenAttewell 05.25.11 at 1:29 am

sg – Eh. I’ve had mixed experience as to the social component of greenism, and its attachment to social justice. Some folks walk the walk, but there’s plenty of privileged affluent white folks who identify as environmentalists who don’t. There’s a reason why the term environmental racism was invented – big parts of the environmental movement got itself into trouble on the issue of population control and its application to non-white areas of the world back in the 1970s.

There are real issues about hierarchy of values that can’t be taken on face value – what is the position of greenism on a corporation like WholeFoods that has a strong environmental record, but an equally strong record of opposition to unions, lousy health care and opposition to health care reform, etc.? What’s the position of greenism when you have a situation when the cheapest wind-farm blades come from China but unions want to enforce Buy American provisions of Federal grants?

35

Matt 05.25.11 at 1:32 am

Don’t forget- Brad also thinks he refuted Foucault [all of him, maybe- it wasn't so clear] while still an undergrad at Harvard. (He claimed this in an anthology John Holbo edited, I believe. Good stuff.)

36

William Timberman 05.25.11 at 1:33 am

LP @ 32

He’s not a bad boy, is Professor DeLong, but he is a naughty one. I wonder how much of his savagely defended technocratic superiority is just the usual whistling in the dark. If David won’t live long enough to find out, I certainly won’t. It doesn’t matter though, the type is common enough. I have to say that I enjoy reading him despite my reservations. He’s awfully smart and supple. Reads Latin, too….

As for what else is at work in your no. 27, I expect Gramsci is the key. We can’t all be poets, but that doesn’t mean that whilst enduring decades of nonsense in our day jobs, we don’t long to say and here said things which by our own lights actually make some sense. No doubt many of us will be disappointed to discover that we were never up to much with our secret selves, but one shouldn’t piss on the value of catharsis, even amongst the disadvantaged.

37

William Timberman 05.25.11 at 1:36 am

That’s hear said. I need better eyesight, and a spell-checker endowed with a more sophisticated AI.

38

Watson Ladd 05.25.11 at 1:37 am

So which side of the left hates Rousseau and which side loves him? In the Platypus Reading Group I was taught to read Rousseau as the man who created the idea of a free human nature that would bring about a new era of freedom in civil society, not as a reactionary agrarian of romantic discontent. I’m pretty sure that this reading dispute decides what one thinks about Rousseau and his great students Saint-Just and Robespierre as well as any positional question. This is the issue with using names as thought figures.

39

Ebenezer Scrooge 05.25.11 at 1:43 am

Even a Rousseau-a-phobe like me agrees that he called for “free human nature that would bring about a new era of freedom in civil society.” I just think it happens to call more from human nature than civil society can tolerate. Which pretty much makes him a reactionary agrarian of romantic discontent. ymmv

40

tomslee 05.25.11 at 1:43 am

Damn, The Medium Lobster disagreed with CDT and me.

We lose, obviously. Are we a source of Fafblog? We are not.

41

bianca steele 05.25.11 at 1:43 am

@34
I understand that walking the walk is considered overrated, showoffy in certain circles.

42

Pär Isaksson 05.25.11 at 1:44 am

My favourite DeLong post would probably be this one: http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2004_archives/001093.html

43

Jonathan H. Adler 05.25.11 at 1:46 am

Delong moderates his comments now because he got caught a few too many times selectively editing comment threads.

JHA

44

Jim Aune 05.25.11 at 1:57 am

Meanwhile, is anyone pointing out that Chomsky’s endorsee for President in 2008, certified Jew-hater (not that anyone cares about that around here, except maybe Berube) Cynthia McKinney is now shilling for Qaddafi? DeLong’s real point is that CB, like Chomsky, lacks anything resembling practical wisdom or political judgment.

45

bianca steele 05.25.11 at 2:08 am

Nobody but Berube cares that someone’s a Jew-hater, or nobody but Berube cares what Chomsky thinks about anything other than sentence transforms?

46

bianca steele 05.25.11 at 2:20 am

You might argue that you don’t see much evidence on Wikipedia that McKinney is, but the ADL says the evidence is “troubling” and how can you not trust the ADL?

47

Martin Bento 05.25.11 at 2:23 am

Steven, yes, there are those conflicts, and the real world often produces conflicts between competing values. But it goes both ways. It is not, or should not be, only a problem for the greens. If supporting labor means supporting a supermarket that is not environmental as opposed to one that is, that should count as a problem for the labor movement as well. The most serious environmental problems are problems of avoiding massive die-offs or civilizational collapse There is no grievance labor has that can justify shrugging this off.

Less theoretical is the problem law enforcement, prison worker, and related unions have created by pushing three strikes laws and the like, at great cost to civil liberties and certain communities. Labor is hardly innocent from pushing their narrow issues at broad net social costs I’m all for a labor movement, but the unions have not always been stalwart either and accounting for competing values applies to them too.

48

Anton 05.25.11 at 2:39 am

“something condescending”

De Long sneers at anyone on his left. This isn’t uncommon. In fact, it’s the typical reaction to a political position left of one’s own. Positions on the right have to be considered. But for those on the left, a sneer will suffice. Your original post is a ready example. Of the four political currents you identify, one—the last—is left of yours. The first three are given paragraph-long descriptions, which, like them or not, are clearly the product of a moment or two’s reflection. The fourth is dispatched in a single line as “washed up, marginal, authoritarian and unappealing.” Notice how the level of political and intellectual seriousness suddenly drops off a cliff?

49

Myles 05.25.11 at 2:41 am

It’s strange, because after 15 years of bouncing around the worlds of progressive politics in the US, I have the strong impression that a large minority of the staff (and a smaller but nontrivial part of the leadership) of US unions, NGOs, community organizations, liberal media (such as it is), and even certain precincts of Democratic politics have some background in left, not liberal, politics—what we might call nondenominational Marxism.

That’s easy: in the case of the American hard left, they are generally idiots. Not in the sense of “they hold a different political opinion from me,” but in the sense that “this guy has no grip on reality.”

And I’ll point out that the cheap trick of “hey look at the CIA” doesn’t really work: people do generally vote for capitalism, with or without the CIA. What percentage of the vote did Allende get, again? (Don’t tell me he got less of the votes than Bush did in 2000!)

50

Substance McGravitas 05.25.11 at 2:44 am

That’s easy: in the case of the American hard left, they are generally idiots. Not in the sense of “they hold a different political opinion from me,” but in the sense that “this guy has no grip on reality.”

Beams and motes and so forth and also you’re an idiot.

51

David Kaib 05.25.11 at 2:50 am

@ 48 – The answer to your question is “more than Pinochet.”

52

Myles 05.25.11 at 2:55 am

Hardly a good comparison, given that Pinochet was a despot.

But anyways, the Cuba thing is utterly insane. When you give people a free choice, people vote for capitalism with caveats (social democracy, for example). They never actually vote for serious socialism of any kind (and there was certainly never even a majority for even Allende’s extremely mild form of socialism, never mind the Castro takeover), so supporting capitalism for Cuba and supporting democracy for Cuba, at the present time, is pretty much the same thing. If Cubans got democracy, they would vote for capitalism. That would be their big focus, their numero uno, when they do get the vote: vote themselves a better economy, where they are actually paid real money for real work. Which means capitalism.

53

Sandwichman 05.25.11 at 3:02 am

Nobody expects the narcissism of small differences.

54

sg 05.25.11 at 3:10 am

yeah myles, a despot who got in over the elected better-than-a-despot because someone (I wonder who?) sent in the CIA. Thanks for refuting your own point.

StevenAttewell, martin bento makes clearly the point deLong is missing, that organized labor doesn’t have a monopoly on left-wing politics and doesn’t have all the solutions – in fact, when it supports environmentally destructive industries it creates problems. Greenism recognizes this and seeks a broader foundation for social justice than just labour rights. It has often come into conflict with organized labour and as a consquence has developed new theories of social justice.

You say that greenism practiced environmental racism in the 70s; in the 70s, organized labour was also pretty fond of racist and sexist political organizing, and some branches and strands of that world have opposed e.g. the free movement of labour, rights for migrant workers, women in the workplace, etc. Failure to consider the full social implications of your political goals is hardly unique to greenism.

55

will 05.25.11 at 3:18 am

If you want a picture of the future, imagine Myles and Jack Strocchi arguing in a comment thread—forever.

56

dictateursanguinaire 05.25.11 at 3:28 am

‘ It’s almost impossible to separate “support Cuba against US embargo” from “support what Castro does.” ‘

Wow. Just…wow. Whatever the merits or lack thereof of Cuban socialism, it’d work a hell of a lot better for the average person if there were no embargo. The fact that you want to conflate those two things seems to me to be very clearly an argument in bad faith.

57

Henry 05.25.11 at 3:29 am

Jim Aune – you’ve already been warned once about insinuating that posters here are anti-Semites. Consider yourself banned – any future comments from you will be deleted on sight. While we certainly do not aspire to BdL’s … vigorous … policies of comment deletion, editing and interpolation, we try to maintain a minimum standard of reasonable debate here.

58

J— 05.25.11 at 3:34 am

If Cubans got democracy, they would vote for capitalism The Special One.

59

Lemuel Pitkin 05.25.11 at 3:42 am

If you want a picture of the future, imagine Myles and Jack Strocchi arguing in a comment thread—forever.

It’s a rare comment that hilarious and terrifying in equal measure.

60

dictateursanguinaire 05.25.11 at 3:51 am

“And I’ll point out that the cheap trick of “hey look at the CIA” doesn’t really work: people do generally vote for capitalism, with or without the CIA. What percentage of the vote did Allende get, again? (Don’t tell me he got less of the votes than Bush did in 2000!)”

If you count the votes for the increasingly leftist (at the time) Christian Dem candidate, 2/3 of the electorate. So most of the electorate voted for a candidate with views on capitalism ranging from “heavily regulate it” to “end it” and the guy your views on capitalism, um, killed a bunch of people. As they say on the internet, fail.

61

dictateursanguinaire 05.25.11 at 3:52 am

Change “most of” to “the majority of”

62

dictateursanguinaire 05.25.11 at 3:55 am

And, Myles, I actually fully agree with you that most people vote for capitalism and would if they had a vote. I think most of them would vote for a version with sig. gov’t involvement (look at the support for single payer in the US when you take out the dirty-socialism term of “single payer” and call it “Medicare for all” instead.) But some of your arguments are just completely specious and contrarian even when it does not sync up with facts

63

Ed 05.25.11 at 3:58 am

I gave up on DeLong when I realized that not only does he zap comments that disagree with him, he tends to zap good arguments against his position, and leave the bad arguments against his position on his site. I picked this up, btw, from reading right wing blogs who were complaining about critiques against him from the right was disappearing, but I’m sure it applies to criticism from the left.

I’d be happy to be disabused of this impression, but at the moment I have it and it means given my limited time that his site is a little too intellectually sleazy for my tastes.

64

LFC 05.25.11 at 4:10 am

I would guess Myles had not yet been born on September 11, 1973, when the democratically elected Allende was overthrown in a U.S.-backed coup. Allende won a fair election; his percentage of the vote is irrelevant, if not to Myles’s preoccupations, then certainly to the question whether the U.S. ought to have connived in his overthrow. On and just after 9/11/73 I remember feeling a mixture of anger and disgust at what I still consider to be probably the single most outrageous foreign policy action the U.S. has taken in my lifetime.

65

Emma in Sydney 05.25.11 at 4:17 am

I dunno, LFC, there’s a lot of competition for ‘single most outrageous foreign policy action the US has taken’, in the lifetime of anyone who can remember 1973. But Myles would always back the right wing dictator, regardless of voting, capitalism or anything else. Damn Chileans deserved the torture, disappearances, looting of their national wealth, huge diaspora, and more, that the US caused. They’d voted for a socialist after all. No penalty too high for that kind of egregious action. 50 years of US embargo, causing untold malnutrition and impoverishment, is too lenient for Cubans after all, and they didn’t even vote for it.

66

Myles 05.25.11 at 5:27 am

If you count the votes for the increasingly leftist (at the time) Christian Dem candidate, 2/3 of the electorate. So most of the electorate voted for a candidate with views on capitalism ranging from “heavily regulate it” to “end it” and the guy your views on capitalism, um, killed a bunch of people. As they say on the internet, fail.

Completely bullshit. Christianity democracy is a species of capitalism (as I mentioned social democracy being a form of capitalism). Heavily regulated capitalism isn’t soc!alism. To count the Christian Democrat vote, which was pro-capitalist but with caveats, within the anti-capitalist Allende vote is disingenuous and dissimulative in the extreme.

Now tell me, how many votes did Allende get on his own merits?

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Myles 05.25.11 at 5:36 am

Damn Chileans deserved the torture, disappearances, looting of their national wealth, huge diaspora, and more, that the US caused.

I actually have no position on this, at least not anymore. I am not prepared to make the argument that the coup was justified.

But I think it is perfectly valid to use the 1970 (IIRC) election as an example of people never actually voting for socialism over capitalism, whatever came next.

look at the support for single payer in the US when you take out the dirty-socialism term of “single payer” and call it “Medicare for all” instead.

Again, no position on this. I oppose Obamacare on federalist grounds, but that’s a completely different argument from the one we were having.

work a hell of a lot better for the average person if there were no embargo

Recent Cuban experience seems to demonstrate that insofar as Cuba has improved since the early 90’s economic emergency resulting from the end of massive Soviet subsidies (which, in turn, propped up Cuban communism way past its natural sell-by date), it is because of the hard currency foreign (chiefly European and Canadian) tourists are bringing into Cuba in pursuit of pleasure at the various capitalist enterprises that have been, grudgingly, established in Cuba, such as resorts. So what is killing Cuba, it turns out, isn’t some nonsense about the embargo, but an absence of capitalistic enterprise and resultant hard currency, instead of the current “we’ll-pretend-to-work-and-you’ll-pretend-to-pay-me” equilibrium.

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Chris Bertram 05.25.11 at 5:40 am

[I think you've filled your comment quota for today Myles.]

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Chris Bertram 05.25.11 at 5:49 am

#42. Yes, that’s certainly a good one. This one, however, might just top it:

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2011/02/deriving-their-just-powers-from-the-consent-of-the-governed.html

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StevenAttewell 05.25.11 at 6:36 am

Ok, time for some self-clarification:

Martin Bento – I never claimed that competing values only goes one way, but the original post in the previous thread did lean rather hard on the “eco-left on the side of the angels” line so I don’t think it’s out of line to bring this into question.

Taking your example of “supporting a supermarket that is not environmental as opposed to one that is,” isn’t that basically saying that in a conflict between social justice and environmental protection that environmental protection wins (which was my question to begin with)? Especially if one equates the green movement’s agenda with saving the planet full stop – when the question I’m raising is what kinds of green policies the green movement will adopt.

I do want to clarify/push back on one issue: labor != as social justice, obviously. However, social justice has to include class if it means anything at all, with trade unions as a major but not exclusive subsector of that, and I’ve found that the green movement’s thinking on class can be really damn fuzzy at times.

sg- on the other hand, greenism doesn’t have a monopoly either, and shouldn’t be credited with a “broader foundation for social justice” without serious investigation and assaying. I’m not saying that greenism practiced environmental racism – that’s not what environmental racism means – I’m saying that they’ve had their problems when it comes to issues of class and race, and because my activist background/tradition is in social democratic politics and progressive unionism, a failure to attend to class is a red line for me.

Which is sort of what DeLong was getting at – there were and are plenty of upper-class NIMBY types who obstruct both sprawl and sustainable in-fill development because they’re not down with having working class people live in their neighborhoods, and I wouldn’t lift a finger to help them.

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sg 05.25.11 at 6:58 am

Well StevenAttewell, greenism doesn’t claim a monopoly and I’m not claiming it has one. I’m just responding to your “red line” by pointing out that there are many, and it’s just as easy to cock up your political analysis by obsessing about working people as it is by obsessing about the environment. The labour movement’s record on a whole bunch of social issues is pretty poor, after all.

I do think that greenism has a broader foundation for social justice, and the movement has improved social democracy. If the party of organized labour had listened to greenism, for example, the UK wouldn’t have contributed to the mass murder in Iraq.

And as I said, this stuff has been subject to “serious investigation and assaying.” You wouldn’t know it to read asinine crap like that deLong statement, but there you go. Peter Singer wrote a book about it, maybe deLong could do to study it, if he can bear to read the opinions of a “performance artist.” It’s not hard to find – it’s called The Greens and it was written with the leader of the Australian Greens. Until deLong bothers to study the movement, I think we can safely say he’s not getting at anything remotely sensible, as is clear from every ridiculous word in that ridiculous sentence.

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Alex 05.25.11 at 7:54 am

If the party of organized labour had listened to greenism, for example, the UK wouldn’t have contributed to the mass murder in Iraq.

Or to a large majority of its own voters and activists, to the trade unions, to the far Left, to the military establishment, to the then CEO of British Petroleum, to the Liberal Democrats, to the Welsh and Scottish (and Northern Irish) nationalists, and in fact to a large chunk of the Conservative Party. Were the BNP up for it? I don’t think I cared enough for their views to remember. I’m not sure if “greenism” did any of the work in being right about Iraq – just not being a neocon was an 80% solution. It is hard to overstate just how many different interest groups and shades of opinion were right about Iraq. Really, only jingoism, pundit wankerism, and shameless careerism came out in favour.

To be frank, just being an opportunist and glomming onto Iraq because it was popular would have done the trick. You ask Nick Clegg.

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dsquared 05.25.11 at 7:59 am

Worth noting that the Greens were very divided on intervention in Libya, with quite a number in favour, and that their party policy, while taking us out of NATO, would maintain a force available “within an international UN-led policing force”. I’d very much in general advise a policy of “please don’t put your life in the hands of a rock’n’roll band” when it comes to trusting any political tendency at all to keep you out of bloody foreign involvements. I kind of fell for Libya myself on the basis of my UNSC obsession.

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sg 05.25.11 at 8:08 am

Alex, I think the BNP were against it, on quite morally reasonable grounds about not meddling in the affairs of foreigners. But this makes my point (and Chris Bertram’s, if I’m to believe deLong?) that following where organized labour leads isn’t always going to help our societies.

Obviously there are better examples. e.g. fishermen on the Grand Banks, the Australian woodchipping industry, and a wide range of basic democratic freedoms that the party of organized labour doesn’t seem to think are that important.

Yes dsquared, the Greens are a broad church and this makes their policy responses sometimes contradictory, delayed or weak. I think this is a political consequence of their foundational principles and I don’t see it as a bad thing. Don’t get the rock’n’roll band reference though…

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Michael 05.25.11 at 8:12 am

To conflate political systems (be it capitalism, socialism, whatever) with good or bad things that happen in the world is simply bluster. dont do it or you will relegate yourself to intellectual backwaters.

For example, Allende, a socialist, wins an election and the CIA helps to overthrow him. Pinochet is installed, capitalism reigns supreme, and he kills a bunch of people. Thus, capitalism, foreign intervention by the CIA, and lots of innocent dead bodies are all interwoven into a neat little oppression package that need to be opposed. QED.

first things first. the coup (along with every other coup i can think of) can never be justified. full stop. second, does it really make sense to associate capitalism with the blood on pinochets hands? seriously people, capitalism is about private property and exchange using markets. killing people is about shooting them. I dont see the connection here, but maybe i am missing something. please inform. and if anyone wants to go with the guilt by association argument, you are on very slippery ground.

and i have to ask, whats with the obsession with South America on the left? the world is pretty big and if you have to stick with only one region (really only a portion of this region) to make your theories fit, you should really, really question your theories.

afterall, if people dont vote for capitalism there must be other examples of socialists being voted into power in other parts of the world? did Eastern Europe vote for capitalism or socialism when it finally had the chance to vote? How many countries in Africa are still socialist? what about China and Vietnam, although they dont get to vote, which system do you think they prefer? need i continue?

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Former student of Delong's 05.25.11 at 8:13 am

Besides deleting critical comments, both from the left and the right, he serially misconstrues much of what he criticizes. I think it has something to do with his reading style. In this Harvard Crimson article (http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2007/6/4/andrei-shleifer-and-j-bradford-delong/), Andrei Shleifer says that his classmates were in awe of how fast DeLong could read, and they didn’t realize it was because he would skip pages. Perhaps this is why I sometimes see him making completely off-base criticisms of pieces that I’d expect him to agree with.

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Phil 05.25.11 at 8:14 am

Alternatively, Myles, you could look at it like this:
Christian democracy is a species of regulated capitalism (as I mentioned social democracy being a form of regulated capitalism). Regulated capitalism isn’t monetarism. To count the Christian Democrat vote, which was pro-capitalist but with caveats, within the monetarist Pinochet vote is disingenuous and dissimulative in the extreme.

Now tell me, how many votes did Pinochet get on his own merits?

Out in the real world, Allende was precisely a social democrat, and faced a lot of opposition from his Left for not being “anti-capitalist”. Painting Allende as some kind of cross between Saint-Just and Pol Pot serves no useful purpose other than delegitimating the Left and conflating the many different varieties of Right. And most people wouldn’t regard that as useful, either.

And back on ‘almost’ and Cuba – you conceded that it is possible to separate “support Cuba against US embargo” from “support what Castro does”, although you strongly implied that it isn’t. Could you commit yourself to one side of that question or the other? (Skip to the end: I think there’s a “those people” argument lurking here – i.e. you may oppose the embargo for good reason, but lots of those people oppose it because they’re crazy and/or evil, and it’s those people I was talking about. Which is fine as long as there are some of “those people” around (so we’re not just mouthing off about people we happen to hate), and as long as you can identify them (and their crazy evilness) by tests entirely distinct from “opposing the embargo”.)

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roger 05.25.11 at 8:56 am

On Economics View, Mark Thoma posted a nice link here (http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2011/05/delong-the-economic-outlook-as-of-may-2011.html) to Delong’s own summing up of the current state of economics. It contains a lot of breast beating, but of the kind economist’s like to do – where they slip into their repentence clauses about how they cleverly foresaw everything. And it contains Delong’s (and I think Obama’s and Geithner’s and Summer’s) sincere idea about how to achieve social democracy through the magic of the market: this comes in his consideration of the ‘virtuous’ idea behind the housing market bubble:

“Fifth, there was the fact that the old framework for lending locked lots of people out of the real estate asset class, and … that we should be trying to broaden the access of the poorer half of Americans to high-return investment vehicles.” Yes, ‘we’ economists should be herding the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free to some pretty slick high return investment vehicles and all will be well!

I think this is a very good expression of the same Summers ideology that led to Clinton’s concord with Gramm in 2000, when the mortgage market was deregulated, as well as the ideology of Obamacare, where the intrusion of a dysfunctional private market between the health of the citizen of the state and medical care was reinforced, and not stripped away. Delong’s paper is, as well, one of those neo-liberal paens to the technocrats, lavishing Geithner and crew with praise for bailing out Wall Street for us all – because things could have been so much worse! Repair work that involved, of course, a little sacrifice of market principle – after all, the government did loan 6 – 9 trillion dollars at 0.25 percent interest to the richest group of Americans while the great mass of them, those making below 200 thou per year, are much poorer in every way – but never mind the little glitches in the wondrous market machine, it has all worked out beautifully.

I think that Chris Betram’s typology of the left was pretty good. However, I would add to it a general belief that has driven the course of the fragmented left. Since the late eighties, the political elite in leftist parties became convinced that all the social insurance vehicles developed by socialist and conservative governments alike in the developed economies could now be shifted to the ‘private sector’ – letting the ‘poorer half’ of the population get their clever paws on high return investment vehicles and the like – and that nirvana would result, maintained by some clever technocratic tinkering at the top. The predictable result of this – both in its up phase and its down phase, the former characterized by the necessary bubble, the latter characterized by flooding the wealthiest with ever greater sums of money (from the S and L bailouts, a tremendous success! to the ttrillions of dollars channeled via the Fed to the wealthiest, another tremendous success!) is of course inequality at a level that now resembles Turkey and Mexico, according to the OECD.

However, as a good market-centric economist, Delong has faith that there is no such thing as entrenching, or oligopoly, or that the political effect of policies that make the wealthy ever wealthier will have the political effect of, oh, bringing us ever closer to an atmosphere in which the last shreds of the public social insurance system are destroyed.

In fact, to give DeLong credit, he does see, at least, that the latter is happening. But he has no sense that the economics he supports – with their technocratic adjustments that ‘save’ the economy – has any connection with the politics that further drives the immiseration of the majority and the enrichment of a small minority in the developed economies. Rather, he turns to a meritocratic vocabulary of the most naive kind for analysiing this – it is all about ‘smartness’ and “stupidity”, as he projects the virtues of being a good student to the social body as a whole. This is an oddly contradictory stance for a market man, especially because it is hard to see how ‘stupid’ people are going to benefit from those high return investments – but it isn’t something he is ever going to think about. Like many liberals, the vocabulary he uses to analyse things is saturated with his experience in the classroom – it is all about who is stupid or yucky and who is smart and is tearcher’s pet. It is too bad – his better impulses are always captured by this juvenile sociology.

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Bruce Wilder 05.25.11 at 9:11 am

Somehow, the criticisms of DeLong’s schtick remind of the old Woody Allen joke about guests conversing over dinner about the food at a Catskills resort: one guest says, “the food here is terrible” and her companion replies agreeably, “yes, and there’s so little of it”. DeLong is engaged constantly in that sort of cordial and incoherent controversy, where a vague agreement of sentiment or attitude floats over a sharp, but inconsequential logical contradiction. Incoherence of this sort — if “incoherence” is the right word? — characterizes both DeLong’s relationship with his liberal fans and his relationship to conservative-libertarian-Republican economists, with whom he chooses to “debate”.

The liberal fans respond mostly to the pose of righteous attitude — “finally, an economist who validates liberal or partisan-Democrat tribalist points-of-view”! — while DeLong structures his controversies along Catskills lines: agreeing with the general, vague sentiment (“ain’t market economies grand?” — the general neo-liberal pose), while taking note of the logical contradiction. (In the abstract, you can see a contradiction in complaining the restaurant is serving bad food, and too little of the bad food — ha, ha — but really the folks are agreeing that they would prefer the combination of more, good food. Abstract distinctions, popular as they may be with theorists, do not always imply mutually exclusive sets of objects in the real world, eh?)

The truth is that DeLong is pretty far to the Right, describing himself, variously, as an Eisenhower Republican and as a neo-liberal. (For those keeping score, neo-liberals are not actually liberal. Shocking, I know.) He disguises it to a degree, by taking a partisan Democratic line, and projecting a bad attitude, while pointing out the logical contradictions embedded in the carping criticisms emitted on the Right. But, just as Woody Allen’s Catskills diners were in sentimental agreement, despite the logical contradiction embedded in their diverse complaints considered abstractly, so DeLong is in substantive, sentimental agreement with, say, Greg Mankiw or Tyler Cowen, even when he quibbles. He agrees with them that market economies tend to deliver a technologically-determined and presumptively efficient distribution of, and/or growth in income, and that left to its own sponteneous ordering, economies tend to an equilibrium or a growth path, which has certain Panglossian properties (even if the Philistines cannot observe the optimal goodness close up). None of his logical quibbles are motivated by curiousity about whether such a sentiment can be reconciled with either a functional analysis of how economies must operate, or disciplined observation of how the mechanisms of specific and actual economies do operate.

I know this is obvious, but, of course, DeLong is far fiercer with his Left, because, if he ever engaged respectfully with anyone even a little bit to his own Left, he, himself, would no longer be Left. And, if he ever departed from abstract quibbling over distinctions without a difference, and took up a functional analysis of how the economy operates, he’d reveal himself to be an exemplar of the Dunning-Krueger effect so pervasive among “orthodox” economists, as idiotically ignorant in his own way as the Chicago clowns (e.g Casey Mulligan of the mass-impulse-to-vacation theory of recessions) he likes to ridicule. DeLong holding Friedman up as an exemplary economist, allegedly embarassing to current Chicago School acolytes — a favorite trope for DeLong — serves many purposes, none of them the least favorable to a humane politics or a rational, evidence-based economics.

It seems to me that the continental divide between Left and Right in economics, at least, ought to lie along a boundary confounding twin concerns: One, being the distribution of income, and its effects on the functioning of the economy, and the other being the tension between allocational and technical efficiency, administrative planning and institutional regulatory controls on the one side and market de-coupling and prices on the other.

I’m not referring to the advocacy for more or less equal distribution of income, or more or less planning and regulatory intervention, which are always proper topics of political controversy. I’m referring to economics, as a “scientific” discipline tasked with a functional analysis of, say, how bureaucratic organization competes with, and complements, “market organization” in a more-or-less de-centralized and loosely-coupled economy; how institutions, as social mechanism can and do structure such an economy, and how the distribution of income actually affects production, growth and output. The orthodoxy of orthodox economics is all about denying that the other half of the continent exists: only allocational efficiency and market organization is considered a proper topic for “professional” economists, and it is magically and abstractly assumed to exist quite apart from any instituional shell of structure and support (absent a canonical catalog of market failures); and the distribution of income is a given outcome of market process, so that any political intervention violates market efficiency and is necessarily a “re”-distribution (and presumptively, a re-distribution downward in the class hierarchy, in which the claims of justice are opposed to efficiency).

Anyway, my hypothesis would be that what arouses Brad DeLong to reject most of the Left so harshly has less to do with the continuum of concerns about income distribution and regulation in the realm of politics, which are, always, practically, matters of degree and local, incremental reform, and more to do with the threat the Left’s concerns pose to professional economic orthodoxy. The Left’s desire for a more egalitarian distribution of income, more social insurance, more regulatory intervention, collective planning, and protection of the commons, creates an implicit demand for an economics capable of rationalizing those desires into a political program, which means an economics, which treats bureaucracy as a more important economic institution, in purely functional terms, than markets (which they are, in fact), treats a shortage of social insurance as a potential impediment to economic growth, and worries that economic relationships (putatively “market” relationships) can be predatory and destructive.

It is not as if the core of economics doesn’t have any ideas, which are relevant — tragedy of the commons, the importance of insurance and risk in the analysis of incentives, externalities, technical ideas about fiscal and monetary policy, etc. — but orthodox economics deliberately parses away in theory and ignores empirically “half the continent” of the economy. The Corporation — giant business bureaucracies that dominate the economy — scarcely exists in the imaginations of orthodox economists like DeLong. The Market is the defining characteristic of their imagined economy, but hardly matters in much of the real, actual economy. Keynesian theory is an elaborate kludge of handwaving, to disguise the central role of the distribution of income in the performance of the macro-economy; yes, Virginia, a predatory concentration of income by financialization can wreck the economy just as surely as too much naive or utopian Marxist idealism.

For DeLong to engage with the Left respectfully and productively would expose DeLong as a professional incompetent and ignoramus, who did not know much of anything relevant. He doesn’t know anything about administrative efficiency — it’s never more than a black box in his imagination. He doesn’t know much that’s useful about the predatory potential of financial institutions, as economic mechanisms; they’re “assumed” to be efficient in some minimal informational sense; beyond that he knows less than the average taxi driver.

As long as he is engaging with shameless hacks, dedicated to Randian eccentricities, DeLong is the one-eyed man in the land of the blind. It is heady stuff. But, engaging with the Left — even with not particularly smart representatives — means exposing his own abject professional incompetence and ignorance, because engaging with the Left on the kinds of issues the Left, almost by definition, is most concerned with — institution-building, administrative efficiency, protection and preservation of the commons, investment in public goods, etc. — tends to carry the conversation into areas about which orthodox economists like Brad DeLong know next to nothing, or know things that are obviously irrelevant or patently untrue.

In a debate with someone to his left, Brad is just another one-eyed chap, suffering under the handicap of not being able to employ stereoscopic vision to maintain perspective.

Engaging to his Left, exposes DeLong to a deep realization of professional inadequacy and feelings of shame, which he tries to trump and banish with the psychological defense of manufactured anger. It’s pathetic, really. We should feel sorry for him.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.25.11 at 9:20 am

@Martin: As for 1000 years from now, markets exist to deal with scarcity.

Scarcity does not necessarily entail markets; see allocation of organs for transplant, for example. Only when it’s deemed necessary to give something for getting something. Market is one mechanism, waiting list (for example) is another one.

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ajay 05.25.11 at 10:52 am

Scarcity does not necessarily entail markets; see allocation of organs for transplant, for example.

That example sort of undermines your argument, Henri, since it shows that even in areas where a market response to scarcity is explicitly illegal a market will still develop; as it has done with organ transplantation.

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christian_h 05.25.11 at 12:07 pm

A “market will still develop” because that is what happens in capitalism. Cf., commodification. The arguments for “there will always be markets” fall into two camps: one is the tautological camp, where “market” is defined in such a way that it describes any economic activity at all. The other is the ahistorical camp, which asserts that since markets rule our current economy they must continue to do so for eternity.

Neither is very convincing, obviously.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.25.11 at 12:48 pm

Well, at the same token, where market mechanism is explicitly enforced, a non-market response will develop too: people shoplift. And loot, whenever they get a chance. What does it prove?

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Matt 05.25.11 at 12:51 pm

people shoplift. And loot, whenever they get a chance.

Thankfully, they don’t. Most people don’t shoplift most of the time, (or loot), despite the fact that most shoplifters get away with it. Those who shoplift (or loot, in the relevant situations) are, thankfully, a small minority.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.25.11 at 1:03 pm

Thankfully, they don’t.

About $30 billion/year in the US, sez google.

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Michael 05.25.11 at 1:11 pm

The arguments for “there will always be markets” fall into two camps: one is the tautological camp, where “market” is defined in such a way that it describes any economic activity at all. The other is the ahistorical camp, which asserts that since markets rule our current economy they must continue to do so for eternity.

nope. markets have only one definition, not many. for a market to exist, you only need two things: (1) exchange of goods or services and (2) that a price is agreed upon for this exchange. thats it. now, there are implications that stem from this simple (and accurate) definition and if you dont like some of these, fine, but that doesnt allow you to change it.

so, will markets always exist? yes they will. you can argue that this is good or bad, but if existence is the question, it is very difficult to point to any society today where markets dont exist (at different levels of development of course). in 1000 years, anything can happen, but if there are zero socities today where markets dont exist, it is difficult to be optimistic about the markets demise.

and ajay is right, even when trade is illegal, people still do it. even in non-capitalist societies, black markets existed for all kinds of goods, often under tremendous risk. if nothing else, this shows the lengths people will go to to exchange stuff for other stuff they want or need.

Bruce, I hope you feel better now that you got that out of your system. as for your more substantive points, i cant touch on them all, but i think you too make a too hastily generalization about what economics is (you do say “orthodox economics” implying that you acknowledge that other types of economics exist, but then why didnt you just talk about the good aspects of those instead of a long rant against “orthodox economics”?). you seem to be saying that economics fails because it isnt political science. instead, just realize that economics is defined more by its method (optimality, behaviour at the margin, etc) than its subject matter. and they have looked into many of the subjects you say they ignore, even the orthodox types, such as income inequality and social insurance. the trouble for you i am afraid, is that it doesnt appear that you havent read any of these papers. but if you did, you would find that the evidence for the effects of an unequal distribution of income on the economy are highly uncertain. same goes for the provision of different forms of social insurance.

the good news is that any young enterprising scholar can have a nobel prize if she or he can shed a lot of light on such issues. and i am serious. these are very difficult topics to get a proper handle on and the preliminary evidence, to the best of my knowledge, is far from conclusive. although perhaps you (or anyone else) can point me in the direction of some evidence on, say, the effects of a highly unequal income distribution instead of just ranting against the DeLongs of the world without backing up anything you actually say?

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David 05.25.11 at 1:29 pm

Capitalism is not “markets”. No real shock there, but it gets lost when people go on about how great markets are. Ownership and control etc.

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ajay 05.25.11 at 1:33 pm

Well, at the same token, where market mechanism is explicitly enforced, a non-market response will develop too: people shoplift. And loot, whenever they get a chance. What does it prove?

Well, not a lot, because I didn’t make any statement about how a market was the only possible way of dividing scarce resources. I was pointing out that, if you’re trying to come up with an example of a scarce resource not entailing a market, transplant organs isn’t it.

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Norwegian Guy 05.25.11 at 1:47 pm

“Thankfully, they don’t. Most people don’t shoplift most of the time, (or loot), despite the fact that most shoplifters get away with it. Those who shoplift (or loot, in the relevant situations) are, thankfully, a small minority.”

But those who procure human organs on the black market are, thankfully, a small minority too.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.25.11 at 2:05 pm

I was pointing out that, if you’re trying to come up with an example of a scarce resource not entailing a market, transplant organs isn’t it.

Sure it is it. A scarce resource is allocated based on need. That’s a different concept from market-based allocation. There are criminals who, to an extent, subvert the mechanism, but the same can be said about any mechanism.

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Michael 05.25.11 at 2:06 pm

Capitalism is not “markets”. No real shock there, but it gets lost when people go on about how great markets are. Ownership and control etc.

of course. The two sufficient conditions for the existence of markets (not capitalism) are: (1) private property and (2) people. thats it. I cant think of any society that doesnt meet these two conditions. the problem as I see it is that people use the word ‘market’ as some catchall to describe the things they dont like, when they really should be talking about the implications of markets (for example, the tendency towards oligopoly in many industries, income inequality, child labour, the slave trade, etc) and not their existence.

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Jonathan H. Adler 05.25.11 at 2:12 pm

DeLong expanded his post on you, and his post on Leiter’s comments, but without indicating what was the original post and what was added. It’s par for the course, and not a particularly honorable way to engage in an exchange.

JHA

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CDT 05.25.11 at 2:23 pm

@tomslee 14. I submit to the Medium Lobster. DeLong’s a dishonest hack who can’t write his way out of a paper bag.

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Matt 05.25.11 at 2:24 pm

About $30 billion/year in the US, sez google.
Yes, of course, I’m not saying that people don’t steal. That would be dumb. What I’m saying is that it’s not true that “people shoplift whenever they get the chance”. That’s just flatly false for most people. (How often do you shoplift?) The large majority of this is done by a tiny group of people, relative to the population. Most people obey most laws most of the time. This is true of laws against petty theft, too. Even in cases where looting goes on, most people don’t do it. Do you deny that?

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Louis Proyect 05.25.11 at 2:38 pm

I am totally puzzled by Brad DeLong’s nastiness toward Chris Bertram since they have the same exact politics. Could it be some kind of turf war over who is best qualified to speak for pinkish liberalism? I seem to remember George Packer writing a vicious review of Mark Danner’s latest book in the NY Times. Could it be something like that?

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christian_h 05.25.11 at 2:39 pm

Michael, just because you proclaim something with conviction (“there is only one definition of markets”) doesn’t make it so. In fact in 91. you manage to contradict yourself when you complain that many people use market to describe forms of social and economic organization different from the mere “exchange of goods at an agreed price” you believe should be the definition of “market”. And you know, this is how language works. If a word is used to refer to different things, that means precisely that it does not have “only one definition”. You may be unhappy and think your preferred definition should be the only one, but that’s just wishful thinking.

As for the question “will there always be markets”, it’s still not well-defined. If you ask, “will there be a society in which no goods of any kind are ever exchanged for an agreed price”, then I’d still say yes, likely there will be – but surely it is a different question than “in any future society, will markets be the dominant form of organization for the allocation of goods”. The latter is a historical anomaly, so why you would assume it will never change is beyond me.

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Consumatopia 05.25.11 at 2:40 pm

Since the original phrase was “markets are an indispensable part of any complex economy”, I think it’s fair to ask whether markets would not merely exist but continue to be indispensable 1000 years from now.

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ajay 05.25.11 at 2:46 pm

A scarce resource is allocated based on need. That’s a different concept from market-based allocation. There are criminals who, to an extent, subvert the mechanism, but the same can be said about any mechanism.

Yes, you’re absolutely right, Henri: there is no market in transplant organs. I made that up. Sorry.

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chris 05.25.11 at 2:50 pm

@88-90: the fact that markets can exist even when they aren’t officially sanctioned seems to me pretty relevant to the question of how sure we can be that they’ll exist in some form in 1000 years. Barring some pretty serious genetic engineering, they’re highly likely to spring up somewhere whether society wants them to or not, and therefore, they will exist. (Provided, I guess, that there is a society of human beings, or some other species capable of market-like behavior, at all.)

Of course, that’s not the same thing as saying society will be market-based in 1000 years in the same senses that it is market-based today — that’s a much more uncertain prediction.

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christian_h 05.25.11 at 2:52 pm

The market is criminal, and most organs are allocated through non-market mechanisms. Insofar the organ transplant market is precisely comparable to allocation of goods via stealing or robbery.

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Zamfir 05.25.11 at 2:52 pm

Michael, I would say you are exactly taking the tautological path, defining markets as encompassing every economic transaction. Which is useful for some contexts, but not for others. In this sense, you could describe communism as a monopsonic market for labour combined with a monopolistic market for capital, and call the Soviet Union a market economy. That’s not completely silly, but it’s not what people use the words “market economy” for.

In the same sense, when people want to “introduce the market” in some previously government administrated function, they do not mean that the government should start paying for stuff. That is usually already the case, they mean more than that.

And not even every private transaction is part of a market. A market is an institute, traditionally a geographical place even, where the same or similar transactions take place repeatedly. So buyers and sellers know where to go (literally or more abstract) for a transaction they are considering. And where they can observe the conditions of other transactions, including market prices. It doesn’t to be anything like an economist’s ‘perfect’ market, but it has to be more than just a single one-off transaction.

If you want to buy or sell something (relatively) unique, then there is no market, in some sense of the word market. When my neighbour pays me money in return for extending his shed on my land, then our transaction is purely private and not part of a market. My department “buys” services from our financial and supporting departments, but there is no market for these services within our company, just fixed transactions. When an industrial plant buys spare parts from the original supplier of their equipment, they are not buying on the market.

Of course, in our societies such transactions take place within a larger social framework that does contain markets in any sense of the word, and the possible transactions on those markets influence the tranaction outside of the market and vice versa. And the stronger that interaction, the more a tranaction becomes part of the market. It’s more a gradual thing of “marketness” than a sharp cut-off. But if you define markets widely, as including every kind of transaction, then you’re destroying a lot of the usefulness of the concept.

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chris 05.25.11 at 2:53 pm

If you ask, “will there be a society in which no goods of any kind are ever exchanged for an agreed price”, then I’d still say yes, likely there will be – but surely it is a different question than “in any future society, will markets be the dominant form of organization for the allocation of goods”. The latter is a historical anomaly, so why you would assume it will never change is beyond me.

Nobody did assume anything of the sort. Everyone who is giving the answer “definitely yes” to “will markets exist in 1000 years” is taking the former, broader, definition of “markets exist” as the basis for the prediction.

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christian_h 05.25.11 at 2:57 pm

That wasn’t CB’s original point. Also, what Zamfir said.

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Chris Bertram 05.25.11 at 2:59 pm

- The “markets” sub-theme of this thread has taken what seems to me to be a rather bizarre turn. What I wrote, in reply to Michael E. Sullivan was “I think markets are an indispensable part of any complex economy.” Note (a) present tense and (b) “part”. I really have no idea about whether they will still be an indispensable part in 1000 years, and nor, I suggest, do any of the rest of you. But I’m willing to stick my neck out for the forseeable future.

- Amused by Louis Proyect’s comments. No doubt from the height he is observing us from, we are all just indistinguishable little dots on the ground.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.25.11 at 3:02 pm

I don’t understand what your point is, ajay. Should I insist that iPhones are not allocated by a market mechanism because some of them get stolen from the stores, factories, and during delivery, and because Steve Jobs and other Apple salesmen probably give a lot of then for free, as a gift? What am I missing?

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chris 05.25.11 at 3:07 pm

The person who brought up markets existing in 1000 years was engels @8, and I think the broad reading of “markets exist” is reasonable in response to that (even if it wasn’t intended, a post that short could hardly make it clear).

As for what Zamfir said, I think he/she may go too far in classifying some transactions as “not really market” — if there’s *no* alternative party that you could have dealt with, OK, but in a lot of those examples there is an alternative and you’re just choosing not to use it.

ISTM that the choice of whom to deal with is a very important part of the concept of market, and the associated phenomenon of competition, whether those people are competing on price or quality or customer service or whatever. This breaks down for a genuine monopoly/monopsony, but not really for inside deals — the choice to deal inside *rather than go to the market* is often voluntary, even when it is made by corporate/political governance rather than by an individual person, and thus, even though the particular transaction may take place away from the market, it is still consistent with the existence of a market for similar transactions.

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chris 05.25.11 at 3:10 pm

Should I insist that iPhones are not allocated by a market mechanism because some of them get stolen from the stores, factories, and during delivery, and because Steve Jobs and other Apple salesmen probably give a lot of then for free, as a gift?

ISTM that this proves that they are allocated by a combination of market and non-market mechanisms, not by either one alone. Of course in this specific case the market allocations predominate, but both do in fact coexist.

It’s in that sense that even if markets may not predominate as a means of allocating goods and services in 1000 years, they will very likely coexist with whatever means does predominate.

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ajay 05.25.11 at 3:11 pm

Should I insist that iPhones are not allocated by a market mechanism because some of them get stolen from the stores, factories, and during delivery, and because Steve Jobs and other Apple salesmen probably give a lot of then for free, as a gift? What am I missing?

Nothing. You’re not missing anything, Henri. I was attempting to disagree with you in order to appear clever, and so I lied and said that there was a market in transplanted organs. There isn’t, of course. It was foolish of me to say there was.

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piglet 05.25.11 at 3:12 pm

dsquared 73: Most people’s memories are so short. The Greens were big supporters of the Kosovo war in 1999, especially the German Green party that was then junior partner of the SPD government. A conservative government probably couldn’t have pulled the stunt of German bombers bombing Belgrade again with impunity. That’s what “progressive” parties are needed for. Depressive stuff.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.25.11 at 3:16 pm

Somehow I still feel that I must be missing something. Damn. You’ve ruined my day, you know.

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MPAVictoria 05.25.11 at 3:18 pm

I can’t help but get the feeling that people like Brad Delong are not on my side. That is the side of the unionized, middle class worker. Then again, who is on the side of the unionized, middle class worker?

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piglet 05.25.11 at 3:18 pm

“I think markets are an indispensable part of any complex economy.” Note (a) present tense and (b) “part”.

I guess the wording “any complex economy” could be interpreted to mean “any possible complex economy, now or in the future”. Glad you clarified that that’s not what you meant.

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Michael 05.25.11 at 3:38 pm

i cant believe i dont have anything better to do than debate the definition of markets. but se la vi.

christian_h, you claim to know how language works. then i suppose you are familiar with a dictionary. go there or http://www.dictionary.com and look up the definition of ‘market.’ you will find only one definition relevant to our discussion and its the definition i use.

perhaps i was a bit too generous when i said many people use the term to mean other things. its not many, its only a few, but some of their representatives are here today.
if a few people want to twist its definition, thats their problem, not mine.
and i will repeat my previous part and that is people are conflating the implications of a market with the market itself. if you want to talk about market implications, great, but you will regulate yourself to intellictual sidelines if you try to change the definition of the market.

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roger 05.25.11 at 3:44 pm

Bruce, of course, can defend himself better than I can. But I was amused by Michael’s “refutation” of Bruce’s point, which consisted in this: “markets have only one definition, not many. for a market to exist, you only need two things: (1) exchange of goods or services and (2) that a price is agreed upon for this exchange.”

And, of course, that is Bruce’s point. It is as if a man said, I have the solution to where chickens come from: eggs!

Goods and services are, ahem, the history that Bruce is speaking of. The price system, too, is the history – the institutional history – that Bruce is speaking of. There is no good or service without an organization to make it so in modern capitalism. You can go back to your mythic Robinson Crusoe stories, but, as Bruce could well point out, this has no footing in anthropology or history. Nor does the price system detach itself from organisations and bureaucracies. Go into a store tomorrow and try to bargain with the clerk about wonderbread, and see how far it gets you. The determinant of that price is not the market, if the market is identified by acts of exchange. Acts of exchange are a secondary determinant – often very secondary.

Markets are also different from the explanation of markets – something that neo-classical economists keep butting their heads into as they try to change markets through changing policy. When I just went up Rambuteau to get some bread, I passed by two or three wine shops, a number of restaurants, two asian food places, a flower shop, etc. None of the people who ran those shops, not one, would say that they are ‘calculating scarcity” – they would all say they are trying to make a profit. Now, perhaps, as in Jungian psychoanalysis, we should posit a supra-consciousness, a collective consciousness that these shopkeepers don’t understand, but that they respond to instinctively. And perhaps I was getting bread because I was unconsciously calculating how much wheat there was in the world as compared to how many people. But the more likely case is I needed and wanted bread. We can pretend there is some vast bread market that all the bakeries on that street are competing in, but we should certainly not reify it or pretend that this is what is really happening – this is only one axis to understand what is really happening. Nobody shops at an explanation for a market – people really do shop at the grocery store down the street. Economic abstractions should not stray too far from that social fact.

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christian_h 05.25.11 at 3:57 pm

The dictionary, Michael? Seriously?

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Sandwichman 05.25.11 at 4:03 pm

– Amused by Louis Proyect’s comments. No doubt from the height he is observing us from, we are all just indistinguishable little dots on the ground.

There’s definitely some kind of parallax effect going on there from Lou’s perspective. But he’s also touching on something I alluded to cryptically at #53 — “narcissism of small differences” or, in Rene Girard’s terms mimetic rivalry. Although Brad’s condescension is ostensibly about ideological differences, it is useful to consider his animus as motivated more by similarities.

Put crudely, Brad wants to distinguish himself from views that he fears will be mistaken as his. But there is a historical context to anti-communism that overdetermines (if I may use an unfashionable term) Brad’s own “clarity” and “realism” on the issue. The most influential anti-communists were ex-Communists. “Renegades”! And they somehow managed to do their about-faces without skipping a beat. There is thus an unmistakably Stalinist tone and sensibility to their accusatory certainties and conspiratorial totalities. No shades of grey. All black or white, with “fellow-travelers” as contemptible as “petit bourgeois radicals.”

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Michael 05.25.11 at 4:32 pm

this is getting funny. lets keep going.

The dictionary, Michael? Seriously?

a dictionary is where i get my definitions from. apparently not everyone else does. but you can learn a lot about how things are defined if you look in the dictionary. the word ‘market’ for instance can be found there. if you look it up, you will then learn what a market is (and by implication, what it is not).

i still think that the main problem is conflating the outcomes and implications of a market with what the market actually is. these are different just as a car and where it takes you are not the same thing. if someone wants to redefine ‘car’ to mean where it takes you or how fast you drive or if you get in an accident or not, fine, but people will slowly step away from you because they will think you have gone crazy. same goes for people who dont want to admit what a market is.

as for roger, my comment you quote was to a comment by christian_h, not Bruce, but thats a minor point. nevertheless, my point about Bruce’s comment was that economics is quite heterogeneous in terms of the topics they study and some of his concerns (income inequality, etc) are in fact taken up by economists, but the evidence is inconclusive.

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Myles 05.25.11 at 4:45 pm

And back on ‘almost’ and Cuba – you conceded that it is possible to separate “support Cuba against US embargo” from “support what Castro does”, although you strongly implied that it isn’t. Could you commit yourself to one side of that question or the other? (Skip to the end: I think there’s a “those people” argument lurking here – i.e. you may oppose the embargo for good reason, but lots of those people oppose it because they’re crazy and/or evil, and it’s those people I was talking about. Which is fine as long as there are some of “those people” around (so we’re not just mouthing off about people we happen to hate)

My argument isn’t actually the “some people” one. Economically speaking I think the embargo should be removed, but politically and legally it cannot be as long as Cuba refuses to give appropriate compensation to those whose property Castro expropriated without recompense. This is a somewhat different matter from other Communist expropriations, because the representative community who has legitimate claim to compensation all live in the U.S. (i.e. Miami exiles), and the U.S. government owes them proper accounting in its Cuban policy, so their rights and legitimate claims are not further violated as a result.

I propose a compromise: lift the embargo, but impose a supertax or supertariff on all imports and other economic transactions from Cuba, and then either disburse (perhaps via an independently set-up commission or board) all the money from the supertariff to Cuba exiles currently living in the U.S., in proportion to the size of their legitimate claims. Or, alternatively, use the money in such a way (perhaps determined and directed by the exile community) as to benefit exclusively the Cuban exile community in the U.S. Thus the U.S. can both trade with the despicable Castro, and simultaneously force him to gradually make recompense for his past wrongs.

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bert 05.25.11 at 4:46 pm

#71-74
Don’t get the rock’n’roll band reference though…
It’s from the City half of Manchester. To be honest, you’re better off not knowing.

Joschka Fischer is an interesting guy. Everyone remembers his showdown with Rumsfeld. He sussed out the Bush people as cack-handed nationalists. The liberal internationalists around Blair, tossing themselves off to box sets of The West Wing, chose to make fools of themselves instead.
Outside Germany, however, the fact that Fischer sent German troops across the border for the first time since 1945 gets less attention. At the grass roots, the Green movement is generally pacifist. Once you get to the level Fischer reached, liberal internationalism isn’t a bad summary of the Green approach. Not that this necessarily entails bombing cities. But as we’ve seen, it’s not a bar to it either.

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Myles 05.25.11 at 4:55 pm

(I’ll be extremely amused if Castro, in a fit of pique, somehow manages to forbid Cuban exports to the U.S. so as to not give a penny to the victims of his persecution.

I doubt he’ll do so, though. In that case, I’d be perfectly content to see him eat crow. I hope he has a good shit-eating face.)

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roger 05.25.11 at 5:01 pm

Dictionaries simply reflect empirical use of terms, Michael. In economic sociology, the definition of the market that is most used was devised by Harrison White, who defined markets as ‘self-reproducing social structures among specific cliques of firms and other actors who evolve roles from observing each others behavior.”

Your definition about markets extends the market definition to the breaking point. We, for instance, have just exchanged information. We could easily assign price conditions to this exchange in terms of number of replies. But I don’t think we are engaged in a market transaction. Of course, Gary Becker would beg to differ, but then, as Bruce said, there are a number of definitions – my Webster’s nineth gives me four of them.

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Seth Edenbaum 05.25.11 at 5:18 pm

[Seth, you are banned from this entire site for very good reasons. CB]

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will 05.25.11 at 5:19 pm

I think Zamfir’s right. Sporadic trade between European explorers and Native Americans did not constitute a “market.” Irregularity, low turnover, etc. did not allow for movement of prices towards their centers of attraction (hence the famous beads-for-Manhattan deal, or whatever it was.)

You could make an analogy to the equilibration of a physical system (e.g. two gases when a dividing wall is removed), but this is a little misleading. Markets don’t arise strictly from the isolated actions of individuals. They have an embedding institutional and cultural framework that circumscribes and regulates activity. Historically, most societies with markets (medieval Europe, the Roman Empire) were not capitalist: market exchange did not provide the raison d’etre for most production, nor were markets in land or labor well developed. (SteveAtwell referenced Polayni in the comment that started this tangent)

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MPAVictoria 05.25.11 at 5:30 pm

Myles should the US also refuse to trade with Canada, China, Australia, and so on?
All of these countries have deprived large numbers of people of their property?

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Western Dave 05.25.11 at 5:37 pm

@ Bruce Wilder 79 The punchline is “and such small portions.” Never let the goyim tell Catskills jokes. Oh hey, look, I’m doing my part to patrol for anti-semitism on the blog!
Assuming, of course, that butchering one of the oldest Jewish jokes in the annals is anti-Semtism. Given what American Jews think about humor and religion, I would say that stepping on the punchline is at least equivalent to burning an old testament or spitting on a Torah. So yeah, defending against anti-Semitisim.

(Insert appropriate movie clip from My Favorite Year here).

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dictateursanguinaire 05.25.11 at 5:57 pm

Michael – your pedantic dictionary crap would only be a valid point if every single commentator on the market raced to Webster’s and rechecked the definition against the definition in their head every time they used the word

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dictateursanguinaire 05.25.11 at 6:00 pm

All of this tautology about markets essentially boils down to: “it’s a market when it has good effects and a non-market when it doesn’t.” Polanyi (and, I suppose, Wittgenstein) tore this kind of intellectual dishonesty up long, long ago.

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dictateursanguinaire 05.25.11 at 6:06 pm

Sorry to flood this board but there’s one quote here that is too appropriate to leave out.

“I do not know which makes a man more conservative – to know nothing but the present, or nothing but the past.”

If you emphasize the “ignorance of the past” portion, you have a pretty good explanation of the market tautology line. Pure, beautiful capitalism uber alles für immer und ewig, no dirty intellectual work needed.

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Dan Karreman 05.25.11 at 6:15 pm

I actually think that the ongoing mis-understanding between Bertram and De Long is kind of edifying. Bertram partly associates to the left for tribalist reasons (which I presume is the only reason you can vote Labour after Blair and claim that you are to the left with a straight face) while De Long primarily associates to the left for instrumentalist reasons. Bertram is (rightly, I think) suspicious about instrumentalists ulterior motives – they are the kind of people that may start to support neo-liberal policies if they become convinced that a rising tide can raise all boats, equality be damned , while a true leftist think of equality as a non-negotiable moral position. De Long, on the other hand, think of Bertram as the kind of leftist that can sell out genuine progress for identity politics.

I think that they both may have a point, but would prefer that they debate this explicitly, rather than engaging in this rather undignified sniping.

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Seeds 05.25.11 at 6:30 pm

For example, Allende, a socialist, wins an election and the CIA helps to overthrow him. Pinochet is installed, capitalism reigns supreme, and he kills a bunch of people. Thus, capitalism, foreign intervention by the CIA, and lots of innocent dead bodies are all interwoven into a neat little oppression package that need to be opposed. QED.

first things first. the coup (along with every other coup i can think of) can never be justified. full stop. second, does it really make sense to associate capitalism with the blood on pinochets hands? seriously people, capitalism is about private property and exchange using markets. killing people is about shooting them. I dont see the connection here, but maybe i am missing something. please inform. and if anyone wants to go with the guilt by association argument, you are on very slippery ground.

But the CIA was sent in entirely because Allende wasn’t capitalist enough and Pinochet was. Nixon was worried about “another Cuba”. What’s your point? Nobody is arguing that capitalism = killing people. Did you actually read the thread before writing your post?

And as for the interst in Latin America, if we are discussing whether people ever vote in socialists and what America historically tends to do if so, Latin America is a large source if potential evidence (and actually it’s quite a lot of the world – if you don’t believe me, look at a map).

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geo 05.25.11 at 6:58 pm

Myles @118: force him to gradually make recompense for his past wrongs

Myles, you nitwit (I say that affectionately — you’ve given us many entertaining moments here at CT), have you considered how much each citizen of the US and UK would owe to his country’s innumerable historical victims if this principle were applied universally? Have you even considered that perhaps some of that property that nasty old Castro expropriated was acquired wrongly — not unlikely, considering the condition of Cuban society under Batista and long before? (See The Godfather, part 2, for extensive documentation.)

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Michael 05.25.11 at 7:02 pm

my dictionary comment was meant tongue-in-cheek. I guess I didn’t make that clear.

All of this tautology about markets essentially boils down to: “it’s a market when it has good effects and a non-market when it doesn’t.”

Nope. Markets (however you define them) can lead to good outcomes (such as life saving drugs or solar energy) or bad outcomes (the market for slaves or child labour). I said this in a previous comment, but given the volume of comments here, its reasonable to expect that it was missed.

dictateursanguinaire, I think you suffer from the same thing that DeLong suffers from. As previously mentioned, anyone to his left, he derides as a cook, which I think is true (and yes, I have had comments on his blog deleted too). For you, you implied that I am to your right and therefore its acceptable to deride me as uber capitalist who claims the world is perfect. Rather, the truth is that I am very often accused of being a rightwing nutjob by those more inclined to the left and accused of being a leftwing nutjob by those on the right. And I am happy to occupy that middle ground.

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William Timberman 05.25.11 at 7:10 pm

Geo, that was priceless. I’m reminded of something not quite so tongue-in-cheek:

Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

By all means, Myles, let’s compensate Confederate latifundistas for the loss of property emancipated during the War of Northern Aggression.

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BenSix 05.25.11 at 7:11 pm

I realise this is totally irrational but whenever academics act so immaturely I think, “No, I really don’t regret dropping out of University…”

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Phil 05.25.11 at 7:13 pm

Myles:

My argument isn’t actually the “some people” one.

What is it, then? Your comment makes it clear that it is possible to support the lifting of the embargo without being a Castro supporter, since you do and aren’t. In that case, why link opposing the embargo and supporting Castro at all – unless it’s that you’re working on the principle that you have your views for good reasons, whereas some people

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Michael 05.25.11 at 7:29 pm

as for me responding to an association between capitalism and the blood on pinochets hands, yes i do recall someone making that connection (although only indirectly because it is a ludicrous claim), but I don’t see it anymore. Either I am it was deleted or I am confusing it with something I read elsewhere. Both are possibilities. But I think we are in agreement, there is no connection. This was my point.
Well, I googled a few things. South America is 12% of the world landmass, 8.6% of the world’s people, and 13% of the world’s states. If one wants to have theories generalize, I think it should encompass more than this. If these were the numbers for capitalist regions/states, i think you would agree that results for the benefits/costs of capitalism could not be generalized easily from such a limited sample.

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Myles 05.25.11 at 7:39 pm

have you considered how much each citizen of the US and UK would owe to his country’s innumerable historical victims if this principle were applied universally?

I’m aware of it, but I would argue that Cuba is an exceptional case where ex factis jus oritur can’t necessarily apply. For here, the U.S. has genuinely pledged, in one way or another, perhaps in an unwritten way, to guarantee the rights and privileges of the Cuban exiles in Miami. It has a duty to see this through, just as Canada has a duty to observe understandings Great Britain, its predecessor state, had with the Native tribes (as it actually does

why link opposing the embargo and supporting Castro at all

I can’t see how one could justifiably support lifting the embargo without making appropriate recompense to the Cuban exiles, whose claims would be physically nullified by the act of ending the embargo. I haven’t see anyone advocating linking the two, and I think lifting the embargo is not worth the bother unless the two are linked. I am not terribly keen on legitimatizing the Castro revolution.

By all means, Myles, let’s compensate Confederate latifundistas for the loss of property emancipated during the War of Northern Aggression.

IIRC Great Britain, when it liberated the slaves in the British Empire (save for a few locations), made appropriate compensation to their former owners. I don’t see why the Union could not have done the same. I am not so much concerned with how much the ex-owners deserve, as I am with the destruction of capital inherent in the absence of compensation, and perhaps more importantly, the instability for financial and capital mechanisms which undergird the economy (and, per Richard Pipes, the society more broadly, the sophistication of the legal system being a function of the sophistication of property ownership).

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Substance McGravitas 05.25.11 at 7:42 pm

I’m aware of it, but I would argue

Do you navigate through fields of banana peels, Ming vases, and falling pianos or something? What is your day like?

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Myles 05.25.11 at 7:42 pm

And in ref. to Godfather II: the concept we are working with here in Cuba is basically seisin. The people whose property Castro took away have seisin.

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Martin Bento 05.25.11 at 7:45 pm

Steven, I explicitly said it goes both ways. If there is a conflict between supporting a supermarket chain that is environmentally sustainable and one that is unionized, it is a legitimate conflict for both the green and labor movements. You didn’t explicitly contradict this, but you did say that there is a hierarchy of values that cannot be taken at face value, suggesting if I’m construing it right that there is something dishonest in greenism, and mentioned examples that you thought would pose moral problems for greens without suggesting that they might also pose moral problems for labor. So greenism is dishonest if their values conflict with labor values. I’m pointing out that if there is a conflict, it is a problem for both sides, and it does not automatically say something untoward about the greens that there may be such conflicts.

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MPAVictoria 05.25.11 at 8:00 pm

“I am with the destruction of capital inherent in the absence of compensation”

Myles do you realize that when you refer to freeing slaves as “the destruction of capital” it makes you sound like an awful, awful person?

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BenSix 05.25.11 at 8:06 pm

I am not terribly keen on legitimatizing the Castro revolution.

You will, I hope, forgive my unsophisticated view but is ideological vexation really more important than making the lives of blameless souls a fair bit easier? The U.S. position seems to be a little like a grocer saying, “No, I won’t sell you a loaf of bread, hungry child, because your dying relative once gave me the middle finger…”

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Norwegian Guy 05.25.11 at 8:06 pm

The Cuban revolution is hardly the only case where someone has lost property. I imagine quite a few people did in China in the late forties, but there is no Chinese embargo.

And opposition to the embargo is also found on the right as well, even in the USA. Realists will point out that it doesn’t work. Libertarians will ask why the government should decide who they can trade with. But I doubt they support Castro.

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Myles 05.25.11 at 8:07 pm

Myles do you realize that when you refer to freeing slaves as “the destruction of capital” it makes you sound like an awful, awful person?

I am merely stating the truth. While freeing slaves is commendable, if you don’t make compensation you are going to seriously destabilize the capital structure of the economy, and prevent appropriate future investments, because the people who would have taken the money and invested in more productive activities than slavery wouldn’t have had the capital to do so.

One of the lesser known secrets of the Taiwanese Asian Tiger economy of the post-war years was the result of land reform, which delivered large amounts of liquid capital into the hands of people who formerly tied up all their capital in agricultural estate. Those people then invested the money in other productive sectors and thereby provided some of the very precious startup capital Taiwan needed on the road to industrialization. In fact, a lot of those who sold their land to the government (to be then distributed to small farmers) and then invested the money did so very successfully.

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MPAVictoria 05.25.11 at 8:15 pm

“I am merely stating the truth. While freeing slaves is commendable, if you don’t make compensation you are going to seriously destabilize the capital structure of the economy, and prevent appropriate future investments, because the people who would have taken the money and invested in more productive activities than slavery wouldn’t have had the capital to do so.”
So basically you ARE an awful, awful person. I mean we can’t let a little something like freedom get in the way of efficient markets can we?

146

Myles 05.25.11 at 8:21 pm

So basically you ARE an awful, awful person. I mean we can’t let a little something like freedom get in the way of efficient markets can we?

What on earth are you talking about? Surely there is no point in producing a stagnating economy unless we can avoid it? This is not a moral question, but rather one of economic good sense. I don’t know what rocks my boat, but I don’t generally derive pleasure and satisfaction from ruining the economy for everybody just to massage my moral fee-fees.

The fact of the matter is that because the ex-slaves represented a great deal of capital, to not make compensation would be economically ruinous, because it would seriously distort the economy’s underlying capital structure. For everyone. That is, including eventually the ex-slaves, when they can’t find jobs in newly established productive sectors and have to go back as sharecroppers. (Which is exactly what happened in the South.) The sort of bleating about only-if-we-had-finished-Reconstruction is not informed by the reality of the matter, which is that you can’t have a functioning economy with a completely nuked capital structure (as China learned as it progressed in the Deng era).

I would consider you an awful, awful person, rather than myself, for so subjugating the economic and social health of everyone just to please your own delicate moral fee-fees about not giving money to big bad ex-slaveowners.

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Tom Bach 05.25.11 at 8:30 pm

The economic conditions of ex-slaves in the South wasn’t the result of the successful establishment of a white supremacy but rather because the North failed to give the white supremacist the money they needed to created a thriving economy in which the ex-slaves would have benefited because, you know, capitalism abhors racism. Odd argument.

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chris 05.25.11 at 8:30 pm

Myles do you realize that when you refer to freeing slaves as “the destruction of capital” it makes you sound like an awful, awful person?

And a stupid one, too. Expropriation of capital doesn’t destroy it. It *might* result in the capital being put to a less productive use by the subsequent owner than by the previous owner, but that isn’t guaranteed, you have to actually look at the specifics.

Specifically, human capital is more likely to be put to better use by the person who *is* the human capital. Abolition without compensation is a *positive-sum* expropriation.

if you don’t make compensation you are going to seriously destabilize the capital structure of the economy, and prevent appropriate future investments, because the people who would have taken the money and invested in more productive activities than slavery wouldn’t have had the capital to do so.

What about the people who had the capital before you taxed them to give it to the ex-slaveholders? Unless you’re just going to print the compensation money you have to tax Peter to pay Paul, and there’s no reason to believe Peter wouldn’t have made about equally good investments.

For that matter, you could raise the same money (by whatever means you were going to raise it to pay compensation), put it in a sovereign wealth fund and invest it that way, rolling over the dividends in good times and using them to pay for disaster relief, unemployment, etc., when necessary. Ceteris paribus the macroeconomic effect is the same, except that the profit of the investments benefits the whole society rather than the ex-slaveholders.

Even if it’s necessary to have *some* investors it’s not necessary to have *those specific* investors.

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chris 05.25.11 at 8:31 pm

Oh, I forgot to mention: also, you could take the same amounts of money and give them away as a lottery. You still have an investor class, it’s just composed of different people. Again, the macroeconomic effect is the same.

150

Henri Vieuxtemps 05.25.11 at 8:40 pm

In every case of decolonization someone lost property. That’s what it’s all about.

151

CBrinton 05.25.11 at 8:42 pm

Myles: “The people whose property Castro took away have seisin.”

Is there any particular reason you’re using the archaic “seisin” instead of “legal ownership” or some similar term? The Cuban exiles have seisin to exactly the extent they can get such a right enforced, no more and no less. How is the “seisin” of a Cuban exile any different from the “seisin” of a Taiwanese whose property was expropriated by the Chinese Communist Party?

“IIRC Great Britain, when it liberated the slaves in the British Empire (save for a few locations), made appropriate compensation to their former owners. I don’t see why the Union could not have done the same.”

Provided you realize that “appropriate compensation” was an amount unilaterally determined by the UK government, not through any market mechanism, and presented to the slaveowners on the basis of “accept this or get nothing when we free your slaves anyway”, you are correct about the UK case. A significant amount of “capital” was still “destroyed” since the slaveowners did not receive nearly the amount their slaves had been worth in the pre-emancipation slave markets.

The US offered similar compensation to slaveowners in the non-seceding slave states. All those states turned it down, so the owners got nothing. There is no reason to think the slaveowners of the CSA-joining states would have behaved any differently.

152

mds 05.25.11 at 8:42 pm

what is the position of greenism on a corporation like WholeFoods that has a strong environmental record, but an equally strong record of opposition to unions, lousy health care and opposition to health care reform, etc.?

Some greenists might look beneath the surface and realize that empowering a deranged Randian right-libertarian with their money could have negative consequences. Last I heard, John Mackey was still a climate change denialist, no matter how much he touts ecotaxes (aka tax breaks for his company’s benefit).

What’s the position of greenism when you have a situation when the cheapest wind-farm blades come from China but unions want to enforce Buy American provisions of Federal grants?

Part of what makes Chinese manufacturing so inexpensive is their horrific disregard for pollution externalities, as well as their sweatshop labor. And products don’t actually teleport themselves across the oceans at zero environmental cost, either. So a greenite might consider at least part of a “Buy American” premium worth it just for the EPA oversight.

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dictateursanguinaire 05.25.11 at 8:42 pm

But, chris, wouldn’t you be making a moral decision about the people who owned that capital? Surely we don’t want the gov’t making moral judgments? After all, it was just the enslavement of four milli…er, hang on, I’ve got a John Birch meeting to run to.

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Myles 05.25.11 at 8:49 pm

but rather because the North failed to give the white supremacist the money they needed to created a thriving economy in which the ex-slaves would have benefited because, you know, capitalism abhors racism. Odd argument.

It’s a counterintuitive argument, I know, but I think it’s a perfectly valid one if one just abandons one’s pre-existing prejudices and think it through in a perfectly logical and detached way.

155

christian_h 05.25.11 at 8:52 pm

Michael: there is no connection [between capitalism and the blood on Pinochet's hands]

What? That is possibly the weirdest thing I’ve read in this thread. The blood was precisely spilled in the defense of capitalist property relations. Beyond Chile in 1973 it is historical fact that capitalism and its inherent tendency to reproduce itself in an ever-expanding geographical space has led to massive amounts of blood on people’s hands. The only way you can claim otherwise is by making another one of your arguments-by-definition and declaring capitalism to merely be an abstract, as opposed to a historical process of societal organization.

Now you might claim that capitalism does not necessarily have to lead to oppression, colonial and imperial warfare, etc. (although I’d say you would be wrong if you argued that) – in the same way I’d argue that revolutionary socialism does not have to use “red terror” and end in the Gulag. Or you could argue that whatever blood has been spilled in the construction and reproduction of capitalism was justified from a historical perspective, or a matter of excesses and misunderstandings associated with any process revolutionizing social and economic relations. (This is what I would argue about the red terror, but not the gulag.)

But claiming that all the spilling of blood was in no way connected to capitalism is quite simply laughable.

156

Myles 05.25.11 at 8:56 pm

After all, it was just the enslavement of four milli…er, hang on, I’ve got a John Birch meeting to run to.

This is incomprehensible. By the time we get to making decisions about compensation, the slaves have already been freed. It’s no longer a morally salient question.

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banflaw 05.25.11 at 9:01 pm

@76 Yes, I believe he was called on that in the comments to his Ian Morris post. I, too, could be putting away the books like a dervish if ‘reading a book’ meant ‘reading a fraction of a book, then taking your interpretation of it to be a more authoritative source on what it says than the text itself.’

What I think happened here is he was stung to see his belief system categorised and relativised along these lines, because he likes to think of it not only as ‘the most true’, but somehow ‘the most truthist’, so methodologically incommensurable with all others due to its inherently superior integrity.

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dictateursanguinaire 05.25.11 at 9:02 pm

Um, no. If someone today enslaves a child, they don’t just let the enslaver go after the child is freed. What you said is reprehensible.

“perfectly logical and detached way”

no comment.

159

bianca steele 05.25.11 at 9:03 pm

Myles, would this solution satisfy you? The slaves are freed and given all the legal rights of others, but privately the former slaveholders decline to do business with them of any kind unless they work off the “debt” imputed to them according to the presumption that they, more or less personally, harmed the former slaveholders by removing their once rightful property from them. Let’s call it . . . Jim Crow. What do you think?

160

Henry 05.25.11 at 9:06 pm

Myles – I believe you are on a quota of one comment per post a day, a quota which you are persisting in ignoring. We don’t really want Crooked Timber’s comments sections to become the ‘let’s disagree with the most recent silly thing that Myles has said ‘ club – so please let me make it clear that if you don’t start abiding by the rules, we are going to have to consider more serious sanctions.

161

dictateursanguinaire 05.25.11 at 9:10 pm

Also, Myles, in today’s world, the punishment for, say, owning and exploiting other human beings may very well result in the expropriation of capital. Are you saying that any form of monetary or property punishment should be totally taken off the books to ensure economic efficiency, even if the expropriated capital could be given to, say, the victims and they could then use it to invest? Your account completely leaves out the notion of punishment, except, of course, for communist pigs like Castro. Let’s say that he can be considered the owner of most Cuban industries – so he acquired it by force, just as slaves are acquired. So when democracy and capitalism come to Cuba, should he be paid the cash value of all that industry. Seriously, dude.

162

Tom Bach 05.25.11 at 9:16 pm

“It’s a counterintuitive argument, I know, but I think it’s a perfectly valid one if one just abandons one’s pre-existing prejudices and think it through in a perfectly logical and detached way.”

Actually, the way things worked out isn’t an example of “pre-existing prejudice” but rather an example of the way things actually worked out. You mistake economic nonsense for logic. The old Elite in the South, having lost a war they launched to create nation founded on white supremacy, wouldn’t have suddenly become open-minded capitalists if given compensation; rather, they would have been more effective at creating an apartheid state. To suggest otherwise is to mistake economic theory for reality.

163

piglet 05.25.11 at 9:19 pm

“In every case of decolonization someone lost property.”

Not to mention every case of colonization.

164

Lemuel Pitkin 05.25.11 at 9:24 pm

Bruce Wilder’s comment @79 is really subperb. It’s a pity it hasn’t gotten any responses since the thread has been taken over by Little Lord Fauntleroy and his critics.

Bruce, here’s my question: how much would you say that the same analysis applies to Krugman and our own John Quiggin? And, do you think some of the tone of their attacks on conservative economists (as harsh as on leftists in DeLong’s case, and much harsher in Krugman’s and Quiggin’s) has to do precisely with avoiding acknowledging that their substantive intellectual commitments are no different?

165

Colin Danby 05.25.11 at 9:32 pm

Ah, but, Henry, this

“While freeing slaves is commendable, if you don’t make compensation you are going to seriously destabilize the capital structure of the economy, and prevent appropriate future investments, because the people who would have taken the money and invested in more productive activities than slavery wouldn’t have had the capital to do so.”

pretty much wins the internetz, no? I have to assume “Myles” is taking the piss, and/or constructing a cruel, cruel parody of Austrianism.

btw I though Watson Ladd @38 was smart. More Rousseau blogging, please.

166

chris 05.25.11 at 9:36 pm

The judgment that they deserve to be compensated for the loss of their capital is *also* a moral judgment. For that matter, so is the judgment that murderers should be locked up, so governments can’t really get out of the moral judgments business.

167

Michael 05.25.11 at 9:37 pm

The blood was precisely spilled in the defense of capitalist property relations.

So let me get this straight. Pinochet killed his political opponents (including their famalies (i.e women and children)) because the proletriat were complaining that the bourgeois was sticking it to them? Oh, now I get it.

Its a virtual law that dictators are douchebags and they almost always execute their political opponents after taking power. Their economic ideology and the ideology of their opponents are irrelevant. Just look at the data. pinochet the capitalist kills socialists. Castro and Che the socialists killed the capitalists. China after their revolution killed everybody. Cambodia, Vietnam, Russia, Iran, Iraq, idi amin, basically any middle eastern leader. Need i continue? Its pretty easy.

The point is that if some douchdbag murdering dictators are capitalists and others are socialist, their political ideology probably has nothing to do with it. Its because they are douchebags.

168

William Timberman 05.25.11 at 9:50 pm

Agree that BW’s comment was superb — so much so that I couldn’t find anything of significance to add. Both Krugman and DeLong rely on the unique blessings of their time and place in abstracting a technical point with real or feigned confidence — it’s often hard to tell which — from the chaos of our political history. Krugman, of course, is a lot more cognizant of his blessed state, and more humble about it, and is to be therefore to be commended, etc., etc.

DeLong’s attacks on the lefts arise, I think, from his absolute cluelessness about what it means to be an object, rather than a subject of history’s attentions. We should all be so lucky. The millions who haven’t been, or won’t be, are unlikely to elicit any sympathy from Professor DeLong unless he someday is forced to switch positions with them. A merciful God would spare him that, but I’m not so sure a just God would.

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Martin Bento 05.25.11 at 10:21 pm

I think Delong’s prejudices are because he has internalized the belief system conducive to professional advancement in his field, more than his personal class background. His intellectual training has largely been directed towards this end, after all, particularly in the era he received it. Criticism from the left stings because he professes similar ideals, but holds that realities make stronger leftism than his impossible or counter-productive to implement. Since he does not disavow the general values of the left, he has to hit hard on their grasp of reality and their honesty. To the right, he can grant more on realism or honesty because he can make his case on values.

170

Phil 05.25.11 at 10:52 pm

Myles is rapidly ceasing to amuse and should probably be killfiled; it’s only a shame that that’s a decision for the management rather than the readership (bring back Usenet!)

Still, I think it’s worth trying to nail this one point down.

Me: why link opposing the embargo and supporting Castro at all – unless it’s that you’re working on the principle that you have your views for good reasons, whereas some people

Myles: I can’t see how one could justifiably support lifting the embargo without making appropriate recompense to the Cuban exiles … I haven’t see anyone advocating linking the two, and I think lifting the embargo is not worth the bother unless the two are linked

IOW, Myles opposes the embargo, but that’s OK. If you oppose the embargo, however, you are self-condemned as a Castroite and hence utterly beyond the pale, unless your opposition to the embargo has the same preconditions and caveats as Myles’s.

I say this is exactly and precisely a “some people” argument, and I say the hell with it.

171

Barry Freed 05.25.11 at 11:11 pm

Phil,

Myles is a troll. You highlight in your bold text a salient structure of troll argumentation. In fact, he’s such a suberb and masterful troll that no one in some 170 some comments has pointed this out. Nor in many of the other threads I’ve seen him infect on this site and elsewhere. I haven’t seen trolling of his quality (and disruptiveness–just note how he dominates every single discussion he enters into) since the glory days of Slashdot in the late 90’s and early 00’s. DNFTT.

172

sg 05.25.11 at 11:13 pm

No Colin Danby, this wins the internetz:

I would consider you an awful, awful person, rather than myself, for so subjugating the economic and social health of everyone just to please your own delicate moral fee-fees about not giving money to big bad ex-slaveowners.

because freeing slaves was done to please MPAVictoria’s “delicate moral fee-fees,” not because they were, you know, slaves, or anything…

173

Jonathan Mayhew 05.25.11 at 11:23 pm

The offenses for which Chilean and Argentine dictators killed people were belonging to leftist parties and organizations, so yes, the reason for these political killings was precisely “because the proletriat were complaining that the bourgeois was sticking it to them.” It couldn’t be clearer. Why would that even be controversial. Question mark. Marxism, or advocating the interests of the proletarian, was the explicit, named enemy of those regimes.

174

Barry Freed 05.25.11 at 11:23 pm

Case in point.

175

Barry Freed 05.25.11 at 11:24 pm

My 174 to sg’s 172.

176

Emma in Sydney 05.26.11 at 12:00 am

Barry, I’ve pointed out that Myles is a troll here and elsewhere. And have had to sit on my hands not to respond to him (not always successfully) because he is mighty good at it. Which is not a compliment.

177

BenSix 05.26.11 at 12:08 am

I wonder if the Myles method is in line with this

…perhaps the most interesting counter-example to the twin virtues of sincerity and accuracy was proposed by the sociologist Steve Fuller, who has been widely condemned for suggesting that intelligent design theory merits a hearing. Many of Fuller’s colleagues know he is a smart guy and can’t understand why he persists with this kind of argument. The answer is perhaps to be found in a piece he wrote in the spring 2008 edition of The Philosopher’s Magazine explaining his modus operandi. The idea that one should always say what one truly believes is narcissistic nonsense, he argued. The role of the intellectual is to say what they think needs saying most at any given time in a debate, not to bear testimony to their deepest convictions.

Without, perhaps, the sense of timing.

178

Barry Freed 05.26.11 at 12:46 am

Good on you Emma, I didn’t mean to imply that I’m the only one calling him out for his trolling, though I think I came off that way, and I’ve not been as regular a reader nor commenter on CT as I have in the past so I’ve missed those comments of yours; but I’m somewhat astonished that such an intelligent and highly educated commentariat as exists here on CT continually falls for what to me seems such evident and obvious trollery. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at all. But yes, as I’ve said above I haven’t seen such masterful trolling since the good old days of Slashdot. Which is also not a compliment (if it were intended as such I’d have said Adequacy.org, now those were the days.)

179

LFC 05.26.11 at 12:46 am

I don’t understand 100 percent of B. Wilder’s comment at 79 but I think I follow most of it, and one question I’d have for Wilder, Lemuel Pitkin et al. is: which economists do you consider exemplars of what Wilder calls a “rational, evidence-based economics” (which he contrasts with “orthodox” economics)?

Secondly, ISTM a bit problematic to suggest, as Wilder does, that ‘political’ differences between so-called orthodox economists on questions of, say, regulation or inequality are trivial since all of them adhere to the same basic intellectual framework. I don’t really agree with that. It’s not unlike saying, for example, that liberal Democrats who opposed the Vietnam war before ’68 were just like liberal Democrats who supported the war b/c, after all, they were all liberal Democrats.

180

Scott Engel 05.26.11 at 12:49 am

“The point is that if some douchdbag murdering dictators are capitalists and others are socialist, their political ideology probably has nothing to do with it. Its because they are douchebags.”

I don’t think I’ve seen this level of analysis since, well, probably the third grade.

181

sg 05.26.11 at 1:00 am

I agree with you entirely Barry, except that sometimes I enjoy feeding the troll to see just how outrageously it will act in return for its food. This one is a consummate performer.

If CT had a specified DNFTT policy I would definitely comply, though.

182

Martin Bento 05.26.11 at 2:43 am

Sometimes I think it is worth feeding the troll, and this may be one of those times. There are a lot of people who respond to certain intellectual gestures as markers of “intelligence” or “rationality”, even though they are not. One group is those who will treat any argument presented with a moderate and even-handed tone as reasonable, and any argument not so presented as unreasonable, even though reason in the sense of rationality is a matter of logic, not tone. Another variation is what we have here: those who will assume rigorous any argument that appears “tough-minded”. Myles’ argument deliberately flies in the face of conventional moral assumptions. That’s why calling him a horrible person does not help: that is part of the point. In this view, life is unfair, and those who take an excessive concern with making it fair are Quixotic or sentimental (and there are values of “excessive” for which I would say that is correct, but what those are is where the debate belongs). An assertion that brushes aside questions of fairness, and substitutes economic categories for ones of justice will reflexively seem more rational to such people, as it is using categories that can actually manifest in the real world, which “justice” cannot. Of course, even though creating a perfectly just world is Quixote, one can create a more just world, so invoking the unfairness of life should have little weight in itself. But there are those, probably guarding against weakness in themselves, who are unduly impressed with such ritual invocations. The thing is that Myles’ argument, even from a completely amoral standpoint, is silly, all ethical considerations aside, for reasons I think Chris made fairly clear, so it is a useful case in point for showing that “tough-mindedness” does not necessarily equal “intellectual rigor”. Also, I suspect the Myles’ argument has had or will have a lot of currency among National Review reader types, so it’s go to get it clearly shot down, rather than ignored.

183

Barry Freed 05.26.11 at 3:27 am

Martin,

I think that is a very thoughtful reply and that in remarkable way you’ve brought it full circle; it seems to me that you could substitute “Brad De Long” for “Myles” in what you wrote.

184

Mandos 05.26.11 at 3:47 am

I’m one of those people who tilts at windmills defending Noam Chomsky at DeLong’s blog, and I maybe get through one comment of three, and that too edited and not the strongest argument I made. I could go on at length on the motivations of Brad on the matter of Chomsky as I’ve developed a relatively clear picture as time goes on by what gets through and what doesn’t.

Brad and a lot of liberals are angry that NC takes them “out of context”, so to speak. Essentially, there is a liberal form of argument that goes like this:

1. Something horrible is done by the US in the name of Positive Nostrum.
2. I agree that it is horrible.
3. Positive Nostrum.

Chomsky focuses on the something horrible, and peels off the Positive Nostrum, and gives the true meaning of the statement. That is considered taking them out of context.

185

John Quiggin 05.26.11 at 5:00 am

Lemuel Pitkin @164 It seems that this is a game I can’t win. If (as some have argued is the case with DeLong) I’m harder on those to my left than those to my right, that’s obviously because I’m displaying my true sympathies. And, conversely, if I’m harder on those on the right (as you graciously concede in my case), that’s just covering up the absence of any real differences. Float or sink, witchcraft is proved in either case.

186

John Quiggin 05.26.11 at 5:03 am

Meanwhile, you puzzle over the fact that your ideal leftist blogger is either non-existent or unreadably boring, and so you’re stuck with reading CT instead. I have some ideas as to why this is.

187

Michael 05.26.11 at 6:43 am

The offenses for which Chilean and Argentine dictators killed people were belonging to leftist parties and organizations, so yes, the reason for these political killings was precisely “because the proletriat were complaining that the bourgeois was sticking it to them.” It couldn’t be clearer.

sorry, i disagree. The innocent victims of his regime (how can children be killed because of their political ideology?) were killed because they were his political opponents and threatened his power. Their political disposition was irrelevant. I can easily imagine pinochet cutting the heads off of anyone who stood in his way. In the case of Chile, those standing in his way were socialists. But its the standing in his way part that is the cause. In other words, correlation does not imply causation. I learned that in the fourth grade.

If one wants to assert that pinochet was motivated his political disposition and not for pure power reasons, the same has to hold true for castro and che. The victims of that regime were capitalist supported by the US. Does this mean socialism was the cause of the murders? Hardly.

It is morally inept to talk about some victims and not others, dont you think? Why do people on the left talk about the victims of pinochet ad nauseum but leave the discussion of the victims of castro or mao on the sidelines? Now there are some questions political ideology can explain.

188

Zamfir 05.26.11 at 7:11 am

Michael, because the countries most of us we live in supported (or even enabled) Pinochet.

189

Steve Williams 05.26.11 at 7:13 am

‘The innocent victims of his regime (how can children be killed because of their political ideology?) were killed because they were his political opponents and threatened his power. Their political disposition was irrelevant.’

How can someone be a political enemy if their political disposition is irrelevant?

190

Henri Vieuxtemps 05.26.11 at 7:14 am

@Martin 182, I don’t think he’s amoral: notice “despicable Castro” in 118; clearly a moral judgment. Not everyone has the same intuition of justice as you do.

“A contract is a contract. That’s what we’re fighting for.” – Milo Minderbinder.

191

Martin Bento 05.26.11 at 7:28 am

Henri, I’m not saying Myles doesn’t make moralistic arguments; just that his argument on compensating former slaveowners is not. I’m evaluating the argument, not the person.

192

Henri Vieuxtemps 05.26.11 at 7:33 am

Ah, okay. I skipped that theme.

193

sg 05.26.11 at 7:40 am

how can children be killed because of their political ideology?

seems a very naive question.

194

Phil 05.26.11 at 8:02 am

Michael – Pinochet’s coup was carried out by an extreme right-winger in the name of opposing Communism; it was encouraged and endorsed by the US (and Britain) in the name of opposing Communism; and it’s still justified by some right-wingers in those countries, in the name of opposing Communism. Moreover, one of the first things that happened after the coup was that large numbers of leftists were pre-emptively rounded up, tortured and shot, not because they had been resisting the coup but (on the most charitable reading) because the coup leaders believed they were likely to resist in future, what with being leftists. Pinochet wasn’t Ubu; this really wasn’t a case of “down with everyone who happens to get in the way of the crazy megalomaniac who wants power because he just does, OK?”

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Phil 05.26.11 at 8:11 am

Oh, and

If one wants to assert that pinochet was motivated his political disposition and not for pure power reasons, the same has to hold true for castro and che. The victims of that regime were capitalist supported by the US. Does this mean soc1alism was the cause of the murders?

Yes, absolutely, in the sense that the errors and crimes of sozialist regimes pose really hard questions for anyone who calls themself a sozialist. This is one of the main reasons why organised Marxists have historically formed so many different groups – alignment to the USSR, alignment to how the USSR used to be, repudiation of the USSR and alignment with Mao’s China, repudiation of Mao’s China and alignment with Cuba, and so on. We on the Left are generally very well aware of the many imperfections of actually-existing sozialist regimes, and we would get on a lot better if the Right would stop belabouring us with them. It’s as if I decide to wear a pair of old but comfortable shoes to the shops, and halfway there I’m stopped in the street and harangued – “Comfortable shoes, are they? Ah, but are they new? Not very new? Isn’t that a bit of an understatement? Quite old, now we’re getting somewhere – so, you admit that they’re quite old? You don’t deny it?”

196

Chris Bertram 05.26.11 at 8:18 am

John Q @186 …. I was struck by the fact that in both this thread and the previous one I was called out by several commenters for _deviation from Marxist orthodoxy_ on the topics of class, social agency and the market. I’m in favour of as big a tent as possible myself, with the “progressive” neoliberal cuckoos (Larry Summers, Oliver Kamm …) to be evicted and the rest staying, pretty much (I’d make some exceptions … Milosevic fans, 9/11 truthers, etc for example). Many people keen on policing the tenets of orthodoxy (pre-analytical “bullshit Marxism”) are personally fine … just as some people like stamp collecting, but it isn’t going to make any difference in the world. Those keen on reading a blog that’s _pur et dur_ can always surf over to Leninology (as I sometimes do myself).

197

ajay 05.26.11 at 9:39 am

his absolute cluelessness about what it means to be an object, rather than a subject of history’s attentions.

Being the object of someone’s attention is exactly the same as being the subject of their attention.

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belle le triste 05.26.11 at 9:43 am

Not so, ajay: the subject of attention is merely discussed, the object of attention you get to poke and stuff.

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Phil 05.26.11 at 9:52 am

Thus: when I put up the DND sign on my hotel room door, the cleaner who’s due to come in the next morning is the subject of my attentions.

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ajay 05.26.11 at 10:41 am

This isn’t a distinction I’ve ever come across.

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engels 05.26.11 at 10:43 am

‘I’m in favour of as big a tent as possible… Those keen on reading a blog that’s pur et dur can always surf over to Leninology (as I sometimes do myself).’

I’m sure the washed up, marginal, authoritarian and unappealing Left will be flattered!

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Chris Bertram 05.26.11 at 11:00 am

engels: not meaning to be rude (I’d send you a private message if I could, email me if you like and I’ll respect your privacy): I’m conscious of a change in the way I think about you over the years you’ve been commenting at CT. It used to be that I would nearly always agree with your comments (and would worry about myself when I didn’t). Lately, though, my impression is of someone who thinks he (or she, come to think of it) knows where the truth lies and is therefore difficult to have a conversation with, since only one of us is open to persuasion. Am I being unfair? Have you become more inclined simply to assert an orthodoxy? (Not that I mind terribly, there’s room for that voice too, but it isn’t as interesting.)

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Phil 05.26.11 at 11:01 am

I was just making a cheap gag. I think the original counterposition was clumsily phrased – the idea seems to be more that DeLong sees himself as being among History’s movers and shakers (subjects) and has little empathy with those of us who are mostly getting moved and shaken.

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belle le triste 05.26.11 at 11:12 am

A skiving sub-editor opines: the problem is actually — as so often — in the ambiguity of the word “of”…

Subject vs object often means agent vs acted on; but subject also means topic. “Subject of attention” is more like “topic of conversation” than “protagonist of drama”; I was claiming — arbitrarily but convincingly, since right or wrong sub-editors are the true unacknowledged legislators — that “object of attention” must mean “topic you can (physically) act on”. I was also making the cheap joke Phil remade. Now back to subbing for me, and back to acting on topic for all of you…

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dsquared 05.26.11 at 11:33 am

#200: it’s an Edward Said thing I think – some people being “objects” and some being “subjects” is a big thing in some areas of critical theory.

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belle le triste 05.26.11 at 11:59 am

As a sub-editor my opinion of many of the adepts of critical theory — this doesn’t include Said — is that they’d be better critics when they learned to be better writers (or, you know, just basic punctuation). But this is an operational deformation of the area of my employment: I’m not having to rewrite stuff from its high end, more its interminably long tail.

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Walt 05.26.11 at 12:16 pm

You know, being on the left means you are surrounded by annoying motherfuckers. I don’t know what it’s like being on the right, so maybe it’s the same way, though I do sometimes wonder if we’d be more successful if we weren’t so goddamn annoying. Every intra-left argument I’ve heard in my entire life proceeds in the exact same way. One tendency, exemplified by Brad on his blog, is to call anyone to your left hopelessly unrealistic and possibly crazy. The other tendency, exemplified by Lemuel on this thread, is to argue that there’s a surprisingly small amount of distance between anyone to your right and Francisco Franco. Apparently the only two historical roles any of us aspire to are either Beatrice Webb visiting the Soviet Union, or Albert Speer. I’m sure these arguments are terribly exciting, and allow everyone involved their Recommended Daily Allowance of self-righteousness, but I’m ready for something new.

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Jeff K 05.26.11 at 12:26 pm

Doesn’t “subject” — test subjects, the king’s subjects — also imply a lack of agency?

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belle le triste 05.26.11 at 12:30 pm

Bounded agency certainly: as a subject you have certain rights and liberties, and the king can’t — in law, anyway — just do as he pleases to you. The king’s objects aren’t so lucky.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.26.11 at 12:48 pm

I don’t know what it’s like being on the right, so maybe it’s the same way

One word, man: orgies!

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Lemuel Pitkin 05.26.11 at 1:05 pm

Meanwhile, you puzzle over the fact that your ideal leftist blogger is either non-existent or unreadably boring, and so you’re stuck with reading CT instead. I have some ideas as to why this is.

Touché. Altho to be fair, the “unreadable vanity project” link was to my own blog.

Anyway, here’s my question: what are your substantive differences, then, with someone like Summers? Not the differences in life course, which are clear enough (and favor you), or the obvious & important fact that you’re here having this conversation. But the points of disagreement in economic theory and policy, or political vision?

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Jonathan Mayhew 05.26.11 at 1:12 pm

Yes, I agree with Phil and not Michael (187) here. it is also true that radical communists regimes that killed people did so because for ideological reasons, not because they were just bad people in some abstract way. The similarity comes when the net is cast wider to get friends and family members of militants who were not themselves members of organizations, or people who weren’t bourgeois, but just not ideologically pure enough. But yes, dictators do kill for ideology.

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MPAVictoria 05.26.11 at 1:14 pm

Walt:
It is like that old George Carlin bit about how anyone going a mph slower than you on the highway is a moron and anybody going a mph faster is a lunatic.

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Michael 05.26.11 at 2:03 pm

How can someone be a political enemy if their political disposition is irrelevant?

someone is your political enemy if they want to kick you out of power and possibly kill you. pinochet didnt kill every socialist in the country (given that Allende won a democratic election, thats a fair number), instead he targeted many people specifically because they were threatening to him politically. So, it follows that the cause that explains the killings is not ideology, but those whom he found threatening (their children were included to send a signal to his opponents, not because they were a threat directly).

As far as the differences between socialists, communists, capitalists, facists, whatever, when the kill people, I take the Chomskyean approach. That is, Chomsky points out people are responsible for their actions and should suffer the consequences when their actions are reprehensible. When crimes are committed, the perpetrators should be punished, full stop. Usually he is referring to American leaders and I think he is 100% correct to do so. But when others commit crimes, say socialists, they too should be called out and punished. These killings are not “errors” as Phil says or “excesses and misunderstandings associated with any process revolutionizing social and economic relations” as christian_h says. To claim so is 100% equivalent to Bush or Obama when they claim “mistakes” were made in when a village is bombed in order to make all criticism disapear.

To admit that socialism has blood on its hands is not to say it is without merits. Indeed, I have claimed many times that the blood on pinochets hands is not the responsibility of capitalism and the same argument holds for socialism. The crimes of socialists are not the result of their ideology. When dictator, be it fascist, capitalist, socialist, whatever have power, they generally want to keep it, so they often kill a few people. But when they do, they should be called out and punished if feasible. Its really not any more complcated than that.

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jafd 05.26.11 at 2:18 pm

There is a great deal of valuable land along the USA’s eastern seaboard, once the property of Tories who departed, hurriedly, between 1774 and 1783, whom the American government (under the Articles of Confederation) promised, in the Treaty of Paris, to compensate. Neither that government nor its successor under the US Constitution has followed through on that promise, and the United Empire Loyalists have been keeping track of what the USA owes its exiles (plus interest).

I’ve worked in real estate, did title searches in my home town that began with “Auctioned by the Provincial Congress to Mr. X in 1777″.

There is a point at which declaring ‘a good title through adverse possession’ is the _conservative_ position, at which restoring the property arrangements of the old regime becomes a radical upheaving of society.

Anyway, it has been suggested, by some fairly right-wing economists, that judging the recompense for expropriated property should start at the assessed value, for property tax purposes, under the old regime – if the former owners had undervalued their land in order to evade their share of their tax burden, ’tis just to make them live by that valuation now.

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Phil 05.26.11 at 2:20 pm

These killings are not “errors” as Phil says

Show me where I described killings as “errors” and I might read your comments in future.

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Myles 05.26.11 at 2:29 pm

Alright, this is actually absurd (as opposed to just being disingenuous):

because freeing slaves was done to please MPAVictoria’s “delicate moral fee-fees,” not because they were, you know, slaves, or anything…

Somehow, in your mind, “freeing slaves” becomes the same thing as “paying compensation to slaveowners after slaves have been freed by force”; this is all without noticing that the whole question of whether or not to pay compensation is completely dependent on the slaves being freed in the first place. In the case of the Ameircan South, without the freedom of the ex-slaves, the question of compensation wouldn’t exist.

So say this ridiculous smear smacks of bad faith would be a very great understatement. Why don’t do you right out and think that every person who disagrees with you is a pro-slaver? I wouldn’t be half so surprised, given the surfeit of non-sequiturs in your insinuations.

Oh, and Barry Freed and Emma in Sydney are fully encouraged to continue their mutual ego-massage.

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William Timberman 05.26.11 at 2:29 pm

Troubled sleep, and then I wake to find my choice of words the object — or is it the subject — of some attention. Ajay’s point is a good one; belle le triste’s rejoinder is more than good. I confess that I was intentionally attempting to exploit the ambiguity, not to attract ajay’s attention specifically, but to startle those, like Professor DeLong, who don’t seem to understand the difference between being talked about and being poked and stuff.

No doubt I was being overly fey, but my excuse is that I need a little poetry in my life, and the reasons, or lack of them, that caused Pinochet to butcher lots of people just wasn’t providing enough of it. Mea culpa.

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christian_h 05.26.11 at 2:30 pm

Chris (Bertram), I’m not sure what you expect, but if you call people names they might not feel any need to be particularly nice about it. This even more so when the name-calling is merely a collection of tiresome clichees that are fairly obviously disconnected from reality. (It wasn’t your vague “eco-left” that defeated the poll tax, to give just one example – without the organizing work by various “tired, washed-up, authoritarian” revolutionary socialist organizations it would not have happened.) If you dish it out you should me able to take it – anything else is making you look whiny and entitled.

What I wonder is why you are apparently unable to see that you behave exactly like De Long does (disclaimer: this is not to say you share his politics).

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Myles 05.26.11 at 2:32 pm

Or was it sg? Such Shakesville-esque amens, I can’t tell it apart.

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christian_h 05.26.11 at 2:36 pm

Michael, the fact that a revolutionary change in social relations usually goes along with massive violence does not absolve the perpetrators of that violence from guilt, any more than growing up in an abusive household excuses the acts of a rapist. Why would anyone think so? This doesn’t change the fact that the violence is a consequence of political processes.

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Henry 05.26.11 at 2:41 pm

Myles – one comment a day. Any more will result in a temporary ban. And more after that in a permanent one.

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Michael 05.26.11 at 2:45 pm

Phil, simple:

Yes, absolutely, in the sense that the errors and crimes of sozialist regimes pose really hard questions for anyone who calls themself a sozialist. .

If I am reading it wrong, please let me know. I am serious. I do not knowingly try to misrepresent other people’s words.

I guess you mean some of their actions are errors (such as inefficient policies) and some are crimes (such as killing people)? The quote your were using from me to set the context of your comments above only referenced crimes, so I read “errors” to refer to some of those crimes. I think this is a reasonable reading, but I evidently this is incorrect. Fair enough. It wouldnt be the first time a comment wasnt given fair play on a message board.

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Chris Bertram 05.26.11 at 2:56 pm

christian_h:

The poll tax riots were over 20 years ago, in circumstances where the Leninist left was both stronger and more diverse than it is today. You may not like it that I find the Leninist left now washed up, unappealing and authoritarian, but to say that it is doesn’t amount to name-calling, merely to a judgement of its irrelevance for the future. (The authoritarianism, I know all about from both the inside and the outside.) I’ve tried, on this thread and the previous one to engage respectfully with those commenters with whom I disagree, even when I find them (sometime) tiresome. I haven’t insulted or ridiculed them, edited their comments to interject my own commentary, or deleted (with the exception of 1 person already subject to a long-term site-wide ban). If you think therefore, that I behave “exactly like DeLong” you need to recalibrate.

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Bruce Wilder 05.26.11 at 3:08 pm

Michael @ 86: “economics is defined more by its method (optimality, behaviour at the margin, etc) than its subject matter”

Yes, it is. And, that’s a problem, as roger @ 114 explained. The characteristic method of economics is theoretical analysis, and analysis — by its nature — is a priori and content-free. It is as if biologists decided to study evolution, but not nature; or physicists devoted themselves to geometry without measurement. Seeing the world as a functioning mechanism is a prerequisite to an effective curiosity about how it works. Dr. Pangloss does not see the world as a functioning mechanism.

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Michael 05.26.11 at 3:29 pm

Bruce, I don’t think we disagree a whole lot here. Some economics is theoretical and content-free. Some is highly statistical and explicitly content-rich. I pointed out that for many questions you wished economists took up (income inequality, etc), they actually have, very often from an empirical standpoint. In fact, income inequality is a pretty hot topic at the moment. A simple google scholar search will prove this. Note that I am not claiming that they economic methods are always correct or better than other approaches, I am only saying that the research questions the discipline tackles is more heterogeneous than you assert.
I am no economist, but I would suggest you think of economics as being more than ECON 101. Intro Econ is exactly what you describe as “orthodox economics” and you are 100% correct in your characterization in that it is content-free. But Econ 101 is not the totality of even orthodox economics. I think you sell it short by not addressing the richer side of the discipline, especially the empirical side.

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christian_h 05.26.11 at 3:39 pm

Well Chris, if you think calling people “washed-up”, “marginal”, and “unappealing” is not name-calling, and amounts to being “respectful” then that’s of course your business. Just don’t whine when you’re being addressed in an equally “respectful” manner.

The anti-poll tax movement was 20 years ago, that’s true. Given that this apparently looks like the ancient past to you (as probably does the Stop the War Coalition, etc.) it seems I overestimated your age or possibly your ability to avoid making judgements about the future based on a snapshot of the present. Just out of curiosity, what successes has the “eco left” had recently?

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Salient 05.26.11 at 3:54 pm

Not that I mind terribly, there’s room for that voice too, but it isn’t as interesting.

I can’t claim to speak at all for two of my favorite fellow CT commenters to read, engels or Lemuel Pitkin, but I’ve felt increasingly exasperated and disempowered and politically detached or adrift over the past few years for reasons that probably have very little to do with CT. Perhaps we’re each processing a similar increase in exasperation in different ways — I remember reading LP’s strident comments on the Libya threads and thinking, “why am I so much less confident about this? did I misplace the courage of my convictions?” But it does feel like a lot more of what we (those of us who’d identify on the left edge of CT commenters) are writing now is sourced in exasperation. Which I can certainly but regretfully believe has been making my comments, if not theirs, less interesting.

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Chris Bertram 05.26.11 at 3:56 pm

christian: Being respectful to individual commenters here hardly requires me to refrain from being uncomplimentary about political currents and ideologies as a whole. Besides, it is obvious to most people as a purely factual matter that the Leninist left is indeed “washed up” (i.e, it is exhausted, its vital force is long gone), “marginal” (it has no significant influence on political life and nor is it likely to acquire any) and “unappealing” (it neither appeals to me nor to many other people).

(I rather sense that further discussion between the two of us would be pointless.)

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Steve Williams 05.26.11 at 5:09 pm

‘someone is your political enemy if they want to kick you out of power and possibly kill you. pinochet didnt kill every socialist in the country (given that Allende won a democratic election, thats a fair number), instead he targeted many people specifically because they were threatening to him politically. So, it follows that the cause that explains the killings is not ideology, but those whom he found threatening (their children were included to send a signal to his opponents, not because they were a threat directly).’

I’m trying hard, but this doesn’t seem to follow at all. You are of course right that he didn’t have every socialist in the country killed (clearly impossible), but it’s when you make the leap to him killing people who were ‘threatening to him politically’ that we have a problem. Why, exactly, were they threatening? Well, because they were either socialists, or associated in some way with the Allende administration, or with any of the many civil society groups that had been on the left of Chilean politics.

You see the problem; it’s just politics all the way down. It wasn’t like people were picked out of a lottery.

To address the point of whether, therefore, Pinochet’s ideology can be held responsible: the answer seems to be plainly, ‘yes’. We don’t have a problem holding plenty of other ideologies to be responsible for deaths in certain situations (Nazism, Maoism, etc), and the ideology here is fundamentally the reason things happened in the first place. Pinochet was a dictator, a general, a fan of militarism, and free-market economics, but what he really was, most importantly of all, was an anti-Marxist. It is this ideology, anti-Marxism, that it seems to me, can be fairly blamed. When you have concluded that it is so important to stop Marxism that torturing people associated with left-wing governments, disappearing people and their families, and forcing thousands of people into exile, seems like a price worth paying, then your ideology is, yes, at the centre of the problem.

On the final subject, of why we’re talking about South America, and the crimes of anti-Marxists, rather than those of Marxists (or Maoists or Leninists or whomever) elsewhere in the world, the answer lies of course in America’s involvement. Generally, American governments and the political commentators who fawn over them sure do like to talk the talk of holding themselves to a higher standard than everybody else. It hardly seems illegitimate to check if they’re bothering to walk the walk at the same time. And they aren’t; Allende might seem like ancient history, but Zelaya isn’t. Another right-wing military coup in a South American country, and the US’s reaction? Yawn, conceal (badly) a big smirk, and change the channel.

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Michael 05.26.11 at 5:54 pm

Steve Williams. your post is clear and good. I much prefer it to the ad hominems that get lobbed back and forth here. But I still disagree.

The thing I am trying to get at is the issue of causation. Does X cause Y. In this case, did anti-Marxism cause the killings, or was it something else? There certainly is correlation between anti-Marxism and the killings, as we both pointed out that the killings were not random. But causation? Such a question is actually extremely difficult to answer with certainty and I usually refrain from making such statements without lots of data to back it up. (This is especially true with mono-causal stories such as “it was ideology” or “it was capitalist explotation.”) This is because the number of alternative explanations is huge. However, one way to see if anti-Marxism caused the killings is to see this theory generalizes. Are there other cases we can point to? To see if it does, we need to expand the dataset (which is why I was suggesting looking outside of South America from time to time).

If we consider a large sample anti-Marxists, it is clear that the vast majority don’t kill people, let along in its name. This fact, whether people in this forum understand it or not, is evidence that ideology may not be an underlying factor here. If anti-Marxist ideology can be said to truly cause killings in any real sense, it must do so regularly. A second test would be to see if those doing lots of killings do so because they are also anti-Marxist. The answer here is clearly no as I said earlier. Dictators of all stripes kill their opponents. The result from these tests is that something else is going on. And very likely there are many things going on simultaneously, not only single factors. This also implies that anti-Marxism could still play a part, but its explanatory power is very low on its own.

And one can’t say that “well, in this case it was his anti-Marxism, but it doesn’t have to work that way all the time.” If this is your (or anyone’s) reaction, this is your bias talking. To have the hope of uncovering plausible causal explanations, looking for patterns is the key. There is no pattern of anti-Marxists killing people in general. There are only a few cases. There is however a pattern of dictators needing to consolidate power killing people, irrespective of the target groups ideology. Because the correlation here is much stronger, it is a more likely explanation for the cause of the killings.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.26.11 at 6:25 pm

There is no pattern of anti-Marxists killing people in general.

What?

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Michael 05.26.11 at 6:59 pm

I thought people might not get it. Its simple, but it requires thinking about statistics a little, which I know might be asking a lot from this forum. But I also don’t think my last post was sufficiently clear. Let me try again.

We want to find variable X that can explain pinochets killings. One test I proposed (common in statistics) is to see if X causes similar behaviour in other people. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t disprove X, but it does calls into question the explanatory power of X. In this example, X is pinochets anti-Marxist ideology. My claim is that other people that have X (an anti-marxist ideology), be they capitalists, fascists, whatever, rarely go around killing socialists. The inescapable conclusion is that pinochets anti-Marxism is probably not to blame.

Could there be other X’s that explain pinochets killings? Sure. I submit that to find such a variable, we should look for a variable that has a higher degree of correlation with “killing political opponents” than does an anti-Marxist ideology. I put forth the variable “douchebag who needs to consolidate his power”.

I think the evidence is such that the variable “douchebag who needs to consolidate his power” correlates very highly with dictators who kill their opponents. It is not difficult to find examples, but I don’t need to run through those for this audience. Thus, douchebagness is a better candidate for explaining pinochets killings that his anti-Marxism.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.26.11 at 7:09 pm

In the last 140 years (starting from 1871 events in Paris) there’s been so much specifically anti-marxist killing, that you’d need several pages to list the dates and locations.

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Walt 05.26.11 at 7:24 pm

Its simple, but it requires thinking about statistics a little, which I know might be asking a lot from this forum.

Seriously?

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Michael 05.26.11 at 7:42 pm

Henri, sorry, but you aren’t looking at it clearly.

To use some more technical (but simple) language, you are looking at “the set of all people who killed Marxists” and seeing what they have in common, which is an anti-Marxist ideology. Then you ascribe this common factor is ascribed to be the cause. But to do so is fallacious.

A there is another set of people we have to look at before you jump on the causality train. That is the “set of all people who have an anti-Marxist ideology.” If this set is found to be much larger than the one above, than there exists quite a number of people with an anti-Marxist ideology who don’t kill. I say that this set is very large because it includes the vast majority of people in the western world as far as I know. Marxism just isn’t popular anymore, sorry.

Another way this can be thought of is as a conditional probability. What you are saying is “given that a Marxist was killed, what are the odds that they were anti-Marxist?” The answer to this question is “high.” But such questions are not how causality is established. Instead, it is proper to say “conditional on being an anti-Marxist, what are the odds that such a person would kill?” This answer is “low”, and that implies that anti-Marxism isn’t a cause of the killings.

But you might argue, “he was a dictator, so comparing him to everyday people who are also anti-Marxist isn’t fair.” To which I would respond, this is exactly what makes my argument clear. He was a dictator, and dictators are douchebags who often kill people. It isn’t ideology that is the cause here.

By the way, I am pretty sure there is a large literature in political science that convincingly argues against the “ideology drives behaviour” argument.

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Pascal Leduc 05.26.11 at 7:43 pm

So In other words there has never been any anti-black murders because not all racist people murder black people.

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Salient 05.26.11 at 7:47 pm

To use some more technical (but simple) language, you are looking at “the set of all people who killed Marxists” and seeing what they have in common, which is an anti-Marxist ideology. Then you ascribe this common factor is ascribed to be the cause. But to do so is fallacious.

Correlation does not imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively and gesture furtively while mouthing “look over there.”

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Pascal Leduc 05.26.11 at 7:47 pm

For a less trite response, you can see how strong the anti-marxist motivation of pinochet in Naomi Klein’s Shock doctrine.

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Michael 05.26.11 at 8:06 pm

So In other words there has never been any anti-black murders because not all racist people murder black people.

No. It just says that there is something else going on and ascribing a mono-causal story is simple minded. Racism is an element in the story of course, but there are always other factors. And with respect to the previous example, I agree here that an anti-Marxist ideology played a part, I just think its small and a distraction from more important explanations.

And I thought you lefties were supposed to be the ones yelling all the time that context matters and that the simpleminded economists are not sufficiently aware of historical/contextual differences in their explanations of events. I am simply taking this advice seriously and holding up the mirror here, nothing more.

And if correlations waggle their eyebrows suggestively, the likelihood that we believe in that correlation is only a function of our own biases, nothing more. This is true for both right and left. I find the agnostic approach towards these correlations is usually the safest in the long run.

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bianca steele 05.26.11 at 8:07 pm

I have to think that if there were an anti-Marxist gene that gave possessors a 20% chance of committing anti-Marxist violence, as opposed to a 0.03% chance for those without the gene, we would attribute the bulk of anti-Marxist violence to anti-Marxism. But what do I know.

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Jonathan Mayhew 05.26.11 at 8:13 pm

The whole reason the Chilean coup happened was anti-Marxism. That is the cause of the coup and all the political killings that ensued. There was no other reason. It’s not some weak “correlation.” Political killings are motivated by politics. It shouldn’t be that hard to understand.

That not all anti-Marxists kill and that not all killers of Marxists kill every Marxist has nothing to with anything. Or even that not every Marxist killed is killed by an anti-Marxist. (He could be killed by a jealous husband, for example.) That’s weak broth.

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geo 05.26.11 at 8:16 pm

Michael,

We do get it, actually. Your reasoning is pretty rudimentary, after all, and requires no statistical training. The Romans even had a name for the fallacy you’re pompously and laboriously, invoking all the prestige of modern science, accusing us of: post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Please climb down from Mount Olympus.

As you have doubtless learned from all the well-deserved criticism directed at orthodox economic theory in recent years, deploying formal reasoning also requires modicum of common sense and uncommon sensibility. For example, when you announce as a valid and significant causal statement that “there is a pattern of dictators needing to consolidate power killing people,” you might have paused to reflect that “using violence to consolidate power” is part of the meaning, as generally understood, of the word “dictator.” (The dictionary says, “autocratic, authoritarian, domineering, high-handed.”) So that your statement is a semi-tautology, and minimally informative. It tells us nothing we couldn’t figure out simply reflecting on the word “dictator.” One wouldn’t, after all, normally say “there is a pattern of constitutional, legitimate, democratically elected leaders needing to consolidate power killing people.”

The question then becomes: what kind of ideology, in what kind of circumstances, leads to dictatorial behavior? One plausible answer is “dogmatic belief in unregulated capitalism, in a country with a moderately but not extremely stable democratic tradition, whose military and business class is encouraged and even pressured into extra-legal violence by a chronically lawless superpower that has shown itself fanatical in demanding access to foreign markets and investment opportunities for its corporate/financial elites.” There is, in fact, a pattern of just this kind of situation leading to violence: in Guatemala, Iran, the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Indochina, Indonesia, and many other places at many times in the 20th century.

Do you think there might be a causal relationship here, which you could use your statistical sophistication to help the rest of us refine?

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Lemuel Pitkin 05.26.11 at 8:49 pm

I think I preferred Myles to Michael.

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Walt 05.26.11 at 9:02 pm

Do we have to pick?

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Michael 05.26.11 at 9:04 pm

I make no claims to statistical sophistication (I actually have proof to the contrary), but I think it is a good framework that helps avoid against the natural biases we all have. And yes, I figured there was a name for the fallacy, as there always is.

I think bianca has it exactly right. The question is just what the %’s are. And I don’t think we will come to an agreement about what they are. But that’s fine.

geo, I actually think you make my point clearer than I could. All of the contextual parts are there, not a simple “anti-Marxist” ideology. Again, it plays a role, but it’s not the whole part. I couldnt help but try to prod people into admitting that mono-causal stores were stupid.

Although I would disagree with you about the “investment opportunities for US corporations” part. When you look at the amount of money involved in these investment opportunities, its just too small to account for anything I think. And it is a general rule that corporations tend avoid countries that have high political risk (look at the US oil companies that have the opportunity to buy up Iraq’s oil fields at auction, but didn’t, even to this day. But that’s a whole other topic I don’t want to start on).

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bianca steele 05.26.11 at 9:12 pm

Michael, I think I was disagreeing with you (or at least with what you included in your comments), but it will have to wait til later.

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geo 05.26.11 at 9:14 pm

Thanks, Michael, I’m glad we’re making progress. You raise an interesting objection about the amount of money involved, but there’s an answer to it. US govt policy in Guatemala in 1954 wasn’t driven by General Motors or Standard Oil; it was driven by United Fruit, with — and this is crucial — no opposition from GM or the rest of the corporate elite. Likewise, US policy in Iran in 1953 wasn’t driven by the Caterpillar Corporation or United Fruit but by the oil industry — again, with no opposition from anyone equally powerful. In Chile, it wasn’t the entire corporate elite that pressed for CIA subversion but only those with immediate interests: ATT, the copper industry, and their bankers. The routine is: those immediately involved press for action, and the rest of the corporate elite tacitly agree, on the understanding that their own chestnuts will be pulled from the fire in other situations, should the need arise. It’s not the specific intervention but rather the principle — the US government will do what it can to protect American business interests in foreign countries, by whatever means necessary and feasible — that commands the universal support of the business class.

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David 05.26.11 at 9:20 pm

Well if we suppose that under Pinochet there were 2 left killed or tortured for every 1 non-left, a total of 30,000 tortured or killed, a population of 7.6 million evenly split between left and non-left, then a chi-square test for independence between being killed or tortured and being left says that they are unlikely to be independent (prob < 0.0001 according to SAS) .

But of course if those assumptions aren't true…

I don't however think that anti-douchebaggarianism is the next big thing in political theory.

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David 05.26.11 at 9:21 pm

Or rather, I don’t in any case think that anti-douchebaggarianism is the next big thing in political theory.

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David 05.26.11 at 9:27 pm

Uh, I got the population wrong, but that doesn’t affect the final result.

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Michael 05.26.11 at 9:27 pm

bianca, i meant that the framework you talked about was right. How much can be attributed to different causes. its not that 20% means anything or that there is an anti-Marxist gene. And I don’t think I will end up agreeing with many people here, but that’s fine. But I think most of the differences are in approach, not content. But such is life.

Anyway, I think my comments on this post are coming to an end (insert collective sigh of relief here). But I will read and appreciate any comments that anyone posts.

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John Quiggin 05.26.11 at 9:51 pm

LP @211 One way to look at me vs Summers would be to assess his views on the five zombie ideas I discuss in my book.

Great Moderation: Summers was clearly a cheerleader, though I don’t know if he wrote much specific on the topic

Efficient Markets Hypothesis: His academic work has generally been at least mildy critical of EMH, but his policy actions have strongly affirmed it

DSGE: I don’t think he is a DSGE fan, but he was definitely part of the convergence between freshwater and saltwater schools. On the other hand, he supported a strong fiscal stimulus in the crisis

Trickle down: My impression is that (GS notwithstanding) Summers is more or less a mainstream US liberal on issues like this. So he wouldn’t support strong forms of trickle down, but also wouldn’t be anything like as concerned with income distribution as I am (or Krugman is, for that matter).

Privatisation: I assume he’s pro.

To sum up, considered on the basis of his academic work, he’s a fair bit to my right. Considered as a policy actor, he’s a long way to the right of himself as an academic.

Looking at your perception that he and I are very similar, I think it comes down to the fact that I’ve consciously chosen a ‘mainstream’ rather than ‘heterodox’ identity, for reasons I set out here
http://crookedtimber.org/2007/06/01/heterodoxy-is-not-my-doxy/

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bianca steele 05.26.11 at 9:58 pm

Michael:
What I said was in contradiction to several of your individual statements about how statistics should be used in this case. I don’t see off-hand how you can now say that you both understand what I said and agree with it. One of those must be wrong. Unless you were maybe just idly contradicting the statement “anti-Marxism is responsible for violence,” and showing why statistics shows that statement is invalid, for some other reason?

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Michael 05.26.11 at 10:10 pm

alright one more post.

the statement I stand by most (I stand by all my statements, at least the clear ones) is when i said:
Instead, it is proper to say “conditional on being an anti-Marxist, what are the odds that such a person would kill?” This answer is “low”, and that implies that anti-Marxism isn’t a cause of the killings.

This statement is exactly analogous to what you said, as far as I read it. Saying that there is a 20% chance that someone with an anti-marxism gene will commit violence against marxists is a conditional probability statement. its the same as saying “conditional on having the anti-marx gene, how likely are they to commit violence against marxists.” the answer, as you provided, is 20%. I dont see any difference from this and what I wrote above. Maybe we are disagreeing as to whether or not 20% constitutes the “bulk” of the explanation?

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Martin Bento 05.26.11 at 10:11 pm

It seems to me there is or should be a blogospheric norm that Delong is violating when he edits comments. I can understand that other bloghosts may not want to open a can of worms by judging the criteria he uses to delete comments, though these are questionable. Bloghosts don’t want their right to delete subject to community censure. But we can all agree that hostile edits intended to weaken, distort, or interpose contrary views (as opposed to disemvowelment, a form of deletion) is beyond the pale, right? If you’re going to allow people to speak, you should accurately represent what they said. I would call comment edits a form of fraud and possibly defamation. If so, how can the blogosphere enforce this norm?

I would suggest caveating links to Delong with verbiage something like this:

“Brad Delong often edits comments he disagrees with, so you may want to keep this in mind if you read his comments section or choose to comment.”

This could even be “Delong boilerplate” that becomes standard for links to Delong. It is a form of shaming, which is a good way to enforce a social norm.

If Delong has already stopped editing and substituted moderation, as someone seemed to suggest above, then I suppose this is moot, but I would like to know that Delong has actually quit. Perhaps this should be activated if he is caught editing comments again. I don’t know how to prove a comment was edited, however, if Delong does not wish to make it obvious. It is the commenter’s word vs. Delong’s. If accusations emerge again, I guess people will have to judge the credibility for themselves.

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bianca steele 05.27.11 at 1:03 am

Michael:
One difference between what you said and what I said: You said that statistical correlation between two distributions did not give us a reason to conclude causation. I said that differences in distribution between two groups could give us a reason to infer the possibility of causation.

You referred only to correlation of two evident features. I suggested the possible existence of an underlying, invisible or intermediate cause that changed the distribution of both features.

You stated that all “monocausal” explanations are simplistic. A gene does seem to be a monocausal explanation. I could be wrong, but regardless of whether 20% is a high number, I don’t think that distribution would rule out an monocausal explanation. (For example, if we could predict that the other “causes” were entirely benign and within the normal range, expected to occur about 20% of the time for all people, unavoidable and so on. Or if we found additional genes for additional kinds of violence, all with the same frequency.)

You implied that the inability to predict whether an anti-Marxist would commit anti-Marxist violence, by comparison with the ease with which we can conclude a Marxist was killed because of anti-Marxist violence, should be an argument against using statistical methods that might permit us to infer causation between anti-Marxism and anti-Marxist violence. I offered an explanation that does not involve considering whether it would be possible to predict whether an individual person would commit violence.

And I think what I said suggested the possibility of developing a model that could explain how the causation works. You seemed to suggest (though I could be wrong here too) that this is not expected or, really, wished for.

I’m not an expert on statistics but the layperson’s knowledge I have suggests that my expectations are reasonable. I really don’t see why you keep insisting that “anti-Marxism does not cause anti-Marxist violence,” which seems as simplistic as its opposite, much less offering such a long list of reasons nobody finds convincing.

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Gene O'Grady 05.27.11 at 1:37 am

I have to confess that the last time Professor DeLong edited one of my comments he greatly improved it.

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peter ramus 05.27.11 at 1:58 am

geo-

In Chile, it wasn’t the entire corporate elite that pressed for CIA subversion but only those with immediate interests: ATT, the copper industry, and their bankers.

Undoubtedly you meant ITT.

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Robert 05.27.11 at 8:41 am

I appreciate that John Quiggin is not making millions at GS, but arguing with us here.

But if he wants to argue with “Lemuel Pitkin”, I suggest he work through a few posts at the Slack Wire, his blog. In particular, working back through 4 or 5 posts ending on 17 May, I see both Krugman and DeLong being taken on.

These arguments seem more to me to be about economics than about divisions in immediate political tactics.

I suppose I ought to read Quiggin’s early articles on prospect theory. I did find stuff in Zombie Economics that I thought were better than when presented here, as well as stuff I thought misguided. I did not catch the overall structure of the book from the blog posts. It was probably much clearer to John at the time.

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LFC 05.27.11 at 12:13 pm

I’m not an economist and don’t follow these debates etc, but I found J. Quiggin’s 2007 post on heterodoxy (linked in his comment above), which I read just now, to be interesting. Bruce Wilder might also find it interesting. Incidentally I note that Wilder (and LP) ignored my comment/question at 179 above.

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mds 05.27.11 at 2:36 pm

Privatisation: I assume he’s pro.

His brutal firebombing of the Russian economy was all about the glories of privatization, so yes.

Summers also fought against the US taking a leading role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, because limitless capitalist growth, f*ck yeah! And he also recently blamed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for their supposed substantial irresponsible role in the “housing crisis,” while opposing tougher regulation of credit default swaps and the other abstract financial instruments that are much more to blame. My vague impression is that Professor Quiggin would not share these views or the policy prescriptions that would flow from them.

I am reminded of my reaction to someone flaming a comment thread elsewhere while posing as the love child of Sir Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. Ve noted that all religious people were equally bad, that there was no difference whatsoever between fundamentalist Baptists and the Archbishop of Canterbury. I could not help but think that, from a viewpoint outside Christianity, fundamentalist Baptists and the Archbishop of Canterbury are both deluded, but to view them as indistinguishable is not accurate or helpful. If we decide that there is no meaningful difference whatsoever between John Quiggin, Brad DeLong, Larry Summers, and Eugene Fama, what does that actually achieve? Besides sending a message to Roemer and Schweickart that they’re next?

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Lemuel Pitkin 05.27.11 at 3:53 pm

I will post fuller replies (including to 179) soon. But the short answer is that by embracing mainstream economic theory, Quiggin is strengthening the case for neoliberal policy, even tho he himself doesn’t favor it. For example, as I argue here, progressive mainstream economists really have no right to complain about confusion in public discussions of financial constraints on fiscal policy (“invisible bond market vigilantes,” etc.) when graduate macro courses even at “saltwater” places like Berkeley never mention government financial constraints, but only the logically unrelated (and irrelevant) concept of intertemporal budget constraints. Similarly I argue here that someone like Krugman has no right to complain about the neglect of demand-side explanations for the current crisis when his own work on international trade rejects demand-based explanations on, as he himself says, “a priority” grounds.

If you don’t want to end up like Summers, you really need to start somewhere else.

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Lemuel Pitkin 05.27.11 at 3:55 pm

(why am I in moderation?)

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Guido Nius 05.27.11 at 4:04 pm

It must be requiring a lot of editing.

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geo 05.27.11 at 4:38 pm

Peter @259: Undoubtedly you meant ITT.

Yes, thanks.

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John Quiggin 05.27.11 at 8:30 pm

LP, you seem to be lumbering me with responsibility for what’s taught at Berkeley and for (alleged) inconsistencies (and, apparently, typos) in Krugman’s writing. How does this work? Am I also responsible for what’s taught at Chicago, and for the silliness of Casey Mulligan? Is it the pointy hat?

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Walt 05.27.11 at 8:59 pm

Didn’t John write a whole paper on how game theory is useless? I don’t think they teach that at Berkeley.

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Colin Danby 05.27.11 at 9:10 pm

LP, you’re conflating “theory” with curricular choices.

One more time: there is no one-to-one mapping between fundamental theoretical priors and people’s politics. You’re simplistically collapsing a whole lot of links. I write as a heterodox economist, and it would be rhetorically convenient for me to dismiss the orthodox as witless tools of whatever … but it’s mistaken. Heterodoxers can be just as wrong.

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Lemuel Pitkin 05.27.11 at 10:00 pm

you seem to be lumbering me with responsibility for what’s taught at Berkeley and for (alleged) inconsistencies (and, apparently, typos) in Krugman’s writing. How does this work?

Sorry, the typo is mine. He wrote “a priori.”

The way it works, is that mainstream economic theory produces neoliberal economic policy. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to defend this view right now, but I hope you’ll agree it isn’t impossible on its face.

there is no one-to-one mapping between fundamental theoretical priors and people’s politics.

OK. But let me turn it around, Colin: Is there any connection at all between people’s theoretical priors and their politics — or, more to the point, the policies they find their work supporting? And if not, why do we have economic theory at all?

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Bruce Wilder 05.27.11 at 10:09 pm

LFC @ 261 and 179

I apologize for not replying. I’ve been travelling, and jet-lagged. I actually did write a comment, during a bout of insomnia, but deleted it, when I read it, and realized that I had been hallucinating.

Here’s a link to a Greg Mankiw review of a book by Robert Shiller that illustrates, I think, the conversation that ensues between someone, who exemplifies mainstream orthodoxy, and someone, who takes the study of economic institutions and facts, seriously. Pay attention to the date.

Shiller is not my hero, and I’m not a fan of “behavioral economics” and its intellectual conceits, but Shiller has done what I am suggesting economists do too little of, which is to study actual economic institutions, as social mechanisms, and actual economic facts, as if they matter. He’s studied markets and market prices, over time, with a view toward making a critical assessment of how, and how well they function.

Mankiw looks at Shiller’s work respectfully, but basically says, “How can we really know anything? Who are we to judge?” Mankiw, literally (as textbook author) embodies Econ 101 and you can see how he, for lack of a better term, resists economic facts, or more accurately, a critical assessment of the functioning of the actual economy. Now, Mankiw deploys his rhetorical pose of Socratic wisdom (“I know little, but, better than others, I know how little I know”) quite frequently, to partisan political advantage, but I’m arguing that this ignorance is genuine, and it is the psychological manifestation of the epistemological limitations of the methods of Econ 101 and its derivatives (e.g. pretty much all of macro-economics).

(Zombie ideas like the EMH are used to justify the superiority of not-knowing and not-criticizing the functioning of actual markets. EMH has been used to criticize Shiller for pointing out the multi-trillion-dollar housing bubble, while it was forming; even on its own dubious terms, EMH does not apply to the market in houses, but it doesn’t matter — not-knowing, not-criticizing-reality has become part of the intuition of economists.)

What’s “the method” of Econ 101 to which I refer? Well, it is building simple little analytical models and then waving your hands a lot in the general direction of the world, to establish what they “mean”, as if they are maps of the world, which they are not. And, in doing that, economists seem to lose the distinction between analytical modeling to develop concepts and ideal types, and operational modeling to understand actual mechanisms of the economy and catalog the variety and imperfections of the world. There are economists doing the latter, but the mainstream of the profession has a lot of difficulty digesting it. (I just read this book review by Krugman, where he notes how blind economics is to reality, when it can not readily build an analytical model of it.)

The one-sided of economics has some very serious consequences, I think, not the least of which is the severity of the current Global Financial Crisis. Without discounting the role of power politics and greed, I don’t think the technocratic management of the Federal Reserve and its regulatory functions could be as bad as it has been, without the determined blindness of the economists, who staff its policy and research positions, as well as fill many of its seats of power. The economists, who laboriously model control of interest rates, as if that were the end-all and be-all of Fed functions, simply do not appreciate the critical importance of the bureaucracies in banks, which regulate lending (and the consequent creation of credit and money in the form of financial securities).
To give a more prosaic example of reality-based economics, I can give no better example than the Calculated Risk blog, where Bill McBride, day-by-day, monitors the macroeconomy, in a way that very few academic economists, qualified as macro-economists, are capable of doing. He quietly and routinely does what a critical empiricist must do: he proposes an analysis to explain the statistical charts, and makes predictions, based on his analysis, judgment and experience.
But, the real gem at Calculated Risk is in the archives of his late, co-blogger, the estimable Tanta, who, several years back, explained in detail how a bank administratively manages the creation of mortgages and financial securities derived from mortgages, and how those practices had evolved and gone wrong, resulting in a predictable catastrophe.
Economics systematically abstracts away from that kind of bureaucratic control, in its obsessive focus on the alleged “markets” of the “market economy”. Oh sure, they gave a faux Nobel to someone, who wrote a book, titled, Markets and Hierarchies, and who spent his whole working life, trying to revive interest in institutionalism, but they didn’t actually read the book (which book was actually pretty bad, anyway, but never mind).
If only Ben Bernanke had been trained to appreciate what Tanta knew. If only Greenspan had been.

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Matt 05.27.11 at 10:32 pm

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to defend this view right now, but I hope you’ll agree it isn’t impossible on its face.

And thus was academic debated on blogs summed up. I’m not saying that to tease LP, who I think is usually a very useful contributor here, but merely to give expression to why I’ve come to comment less often then I used to.

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david 05.28.11 at 1:01 am

Interesting. Had never thought to think of Tanta as the anti-economists’ economist, but there she was, calling out structure and power and being in the world. Still very sad.

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LFC 05.28.11 at 1:27 am

Bruce Wilder @271:
Thank you for the reply and the references.

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Colin Danby 05.28.11 at 6:13 am

Hello LP:

To take the 2nd question first: we have economic theory in order to understand the world — or at least those aspects of the world connected to the production, distribution, and consumption of goods & services. That may not be all, but it’s more than enough: it’s a bit like asking why we have biology. The rapid leap to policy seems to assume that the world is a lot more transparent than it is.

On your first question (is there any connection): everything is connected to everything else, no? So I’m not claiming that there’s no link, only that there is no simple or necessary mapping. I’ve known neoclassicals of every conceivable political stripe.

I’m very sympathetic to Bruce Wilder’s argument, but note that it’s not so much about choosing one or another set of priors as about an inductive rather than deductive approach.

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John Quiggin 05.28.11 at 8:12 am

The relaitionship between theoretical franmeworks and policy positions is complicated. In terms of day to day politics, I’d say I’m to the left of most marxists I know, if only because they tend to be disengaged from such mundane issues as the progressivity of taxes.

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Robert 05.28.11 at 9:51 am

“which economists do you consider exemplars of what Wilder calls a ‘rational, evidence-based economics’ (which he contrasts with ‘orthodox’ economics)?”

My list includes Samir Amin, Paul Davidson, both James K. and John Kenneth Galbraith, Wynn Godley, David Harvey, Keynes, Nicky Kaldor, Hyman Minsky, Luigi Pasinetti, Joan Robinson, Anwar Shaikh, and Sidney Weintraub.

In discussing highly visible mainstream economists who supposedly lean left, nobody has brought up Joseph Stiglitz. I don’t know what I think of him. He has told Geoff Harcourt, I think, that he found Kaldor most useful when he was filling his policy-making roles. But I am not sure that he does not treat information asymmetry as another imperfection without which neoclassical theory would be correct – a viewpoint I find uncongenial.

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Walt 05.28.11 at 10:34 am

Robert, aren’t those all theorists?

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John Quiggin 05.28.11 at 10:56 am

At least as relevant, aren’t most of them dead?

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ejh 05.28.11 at 5:32 pm

Come raise a glass to Brad De Long
Who’s seldom right, yet never wrong.
Without his blog we’d be bereft:
For no-one’s right who’s to his left.

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ptl 05.28.11 at 8:16 pm

David Harvey’s alive. But he’s a geographer.

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Lemuel Pitkin 05.28.11 at 8:31 pm

For whatever it’s worth, here are some living (or only recently deceased, in one case) economists who in my opinion are doing good empirical work, from theoretical starting points that facilitate rather than obstruct asking questions about the world we live in.

Philip Arestis & Malcolm Sawyer
Tony Aspromourgos
Jorg Bibow
Robert Blecker
Gerard Dumenil & Dominique Levy
Andrew Glyn
Costas Lapavitsas
William Lazonick
Stephen Marglin
Perry Mehrling
Bob Pollin
Lance Taylor
Mark Weisbrot

It’s not in any way an exhaustive list, just people I happen to have been reading recently.

Among more mainstream economists, I admire Dean Baker, Steve Fazzari, Robert Gordon, Dani Rodrik, and plenty of others — this could be a very long list.

There’s lots off good stuff on the websites of PERI, the Levy Institute, and elsewhere.

There is not a shortage of good work being done in economics, I don’t think. The problem is that people exploring alternative approaches spend too much of their energy in fruitless “engagement” with the mainstream, and not enough building on each others’ work.

Robert Vienneau has a nice quote from John Q. up on his blog:

“A new project in the D[namic] S[tochastic] G[eneral] E[quilibrium] framework will typically, as Blanchard indicates, begin with the standard general equilibrium model, disregarding the modifications made to that model in previous work examining the other ways in which the real economy deviated from the modeled ideal. By contrast, a scientifically progressive program would require a cumulative approach, in which empirically valid adjustments to the optimal general equilibrium framework were incorporated into the standard model taken as the starting point for research. Such an approach would imply the development of a model that moved steadily further and further away from the standard general equilibrium framework, and therefore became less and less amenable to the standard techniques of analysis associated with that model.

But it seems to me that one of the major ways this situation gets perpetuated is that people like John Q. insist on addressing their arguments to the mainstream of the profession, instead of helping to build an alternative by embracing the “heterodox” label.

It’s a prisoner’s dilemma problem, I guess. Each of us individually can advance our preferred progressive policy by arguing for it in the most conventional way possible. But that means our different progressive arguments are mutually undermining, instead of mutually reinforcing.

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Lemuel Pitkin 05.28.11 at 8:44 pm

… and just to make it clear I’m not arguing with a strawman, consider this post of John’s form a couple years ago. He starts his discussion of the effect of information technology on distribution from a “neoclassical model of competitive markets, [where] all factors of production will earn their marginal product.” And when various commenters point out that in fact there is no coherent neoclassical model of distribution, he brushes that off as irrelevant. In other words, he engages in exactly the behavior he rightly criticizes in the Zombie quote above.

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bob mcmanus 05.28.11 at 8:51 pm

I’d say I’m to the left of most marxists I know, if only because they tend to be disengaged from such mundane issues as the progressivity of taxes.

So how do we get the more progressive tax system?

And this is exactly wrong and backwards in every way. Bourgeois economics disengages or abstracts from politics, Marxism accepts, demands, that the politics precede the economics.

I have been reading the liberal econoblogs for a decade, and whatever great economic policy prescriptions they may have, I have seen absolutely no evidence they have a freaking clue as to how to get their economics enacted into social policy. Krugman and DeLong have been pathetic and ridiculous since 2002, reduced to insulting Republicans and freshwaters and whining about the Senate.

And this is the assigned role of liberal bourgeois economics, to provide the pacifying fantasies of a just and equitable society in order to keep the masses quiescent so Capital can continue to capture the surplus.

When you or Krugman or DeLong or Thoma et al tell us to grab our pitchforks and build the guillotines I’ll take you seriously. But not when you babble of the paradise that might be like some priest to a peasant flock in ancien regime France.

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Martin Bento 05.28.11 at 9:03 pm

ejh, hilarious.

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John Quiggin 05.28.11 at 9:11 pm

@283 I start with that model to point out its increasing irrelevance. And, illustrating the point, I do the work to derive political conclusions, while you complain that I shouldn’t do anything until the contradictions in the theoretical foundations are resolved to your satisfaction.

@284 Of course you’re right. Revolutionary Leninism based on Marxist analysis has delivered actually existing socialism while progressive income taxes remain a fantasy that exists nowhere in the real world. How could I have forgotten?

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bob mcmanus 05.28.11 at 9:16 pm

Krugman is more interesting, having started his career with dynamic change, but it is Brad DeLong who is at the heart of bourgeois economics, and why this post was written. Brad is terrified of instability and radicalism of any kind, because it inevitably leads to the Gulag and Cultural Revolution. Thus he loooved Greenspan and the Great Moderation.

“Why don’t we have it” and “How can we get it” precede “what do we want.” Power precedes policy. Yes, it’s scary, but that’s the human condition. I love economics, but y’all need to start asking the first two more important questions to be good economists.

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bob mcmanus 05.28.11 at 9:18 pm

“Revolutionary Leninism based on Marxist analysis has delivered actually existing socialism while progressive income taxes”

There ya go.

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ejh 05.28.11 at 9:19 pm

There is surely though a reasonable critique of liberal-left economists that their strategy for change essentially consists of making an appeal to institutions that show few signs of listening to them and hardly more of even caring about the problems that they raise.

I don’t claim to have an obviously better idea, and I wouldn’t phrase it as it’s phrased above, but there is a point there, trying to be made.

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Walt 05.28.11 at 9:22 pm

So Lemuel, you argument is that because John has in his career addressed arguments aimed at the mainstream of the profession, that there’s no difference between him and Summers? He’s either with you or he’s against you?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 05.28.11 at 9:34 pm

I don’t claim to have an obviously better idea, and I wouldn’t phrase it as it’s phrased above, but there is a point there, trying to be made.

The point is trivial: those who pay the piper call the tune.

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Lemuel Pitkin 05.28.11 at 10:28 pm

So Lemuel, you argument is that because John has in his career addressed arguments aimed at the mainstream of the profession, that there’s no difference between him and Summers?

No, of course not, that would be silly.

I’m arguing that that there is a tradeoff between doing work addressed to the mainstream, and work that helps develop an alternative to the mainstream, and I wish that John Q. did more of the latter and less of the former. And I am arguing that the fact that progressive economists in general have emphasized the former over the latter is one of the reasons that economics continues to be dominated by the orthodoxy that John, you and I all object to.

I am further arguing that one of the big ways a coherent alternative develops is when it has its own institutions and self-conscious identity as an alternative, and to this end self-identifying as “heterodox” (and giving up on moving the commanding heights of the profession) is a useful commitment device. Along the same lines, I am arguing that a question like the effects of information technology on distribution would be better used to engage with, and contribute to, realistic theories of distribution, than to score debating points against a mainstream that isn’t listening.

But honestly, I’m feeling increasingly foolish here. Because you could just as well turn this critique around against me. Why am I spending all this time telling John Q. what kind of economics he should be doing, instead of doing it myself (or, operationally, working on my dissertation)? Or at least, why aren’t I putting this energy into commenting on work I approve of?

So I think it’s time to sign off.

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StevenAttewell 05.28.11 at 10:34 pm

bob at 288 – where has “Revolutionary Leninism based on Marxist analysis” resulted in progressive income taxes, precisely?

Progressive income taxation is a self-consciously reformist policy. Give the heirs of Eduard Bernstein their due – they got sh*t done.

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bob mcmanus 05.29.11 at 12:07 am

Rosa Luxemburg on Bernstein. Wikipedia says Rosa is becoming popular again.

Because…aren’t you at all embarrassed to admire a socialist of 150 years ago, a policy that is 75-100 years old, and one that has been in full retreat for 50 years?? And recommend the same tactics and tools we have been using for those fifty years?

Bernstein, Keynes, and the 80s New Keynesian Democrats were essentially conservative preserving some of the reactionary structures and institutions in order to stave off social revolution, protecting process concepts as best they could. The threat from the right was domestic and nationalistic, the one from the left international and global.

We all remember the threat from the right in the 1980s, Thatcher and Reagan. But what was the threat from the left? Decolonization. The New Keynesians had to find a economics that maintained Western hegemony and yet offered an alternative to the New Classicals, new militarists and renewed racism of the right.

Neo-liberalism, asset inflation, quasi-monetarism, globalization, etc. All a pathetic defensive crouch, protecting the Bismarckian (elites rule) welfare state while consciously sacrificing wages to global capital.

And deceiving the workers about the possibilities in electoral politics.

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bob mcmanus 05.29.11 at 12:12 am

And of course, the New Keynesians also fully understood that if women, blacks, and minorities really achieved political and economic equality in all classes the Bismarckian welfare state would collapse. But that’s another story.

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StevenAttewell 05.29.11 at 12:17 am

bob mcmanus –

Actually, I’m not embarrassed of a policy that actually won concrete gains and real political power for the working class and held it for thirty years, transforming the distribution of wealth and power in ways that have yet to be fully undone even in our lifetimes.

I’d rather have that than a bunch of middle class poseurs happy to fight to the last proletariat.

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John Quiggin 05.29.11 at 6:04 am

LP, I think there is a question of comparative advantage here, if you don’t object to this classical econ concept.

I have an excellent training in mainstream economics, gained with some pain from hardline Chicago School teachers. I’m very familiar with both the strengths and weaknesses of neoclassical econ, and can point out that many rightwing arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny on their own terms. Immodestly perhaps, I think that very few people on the left could do what I do as well as I do it.

By contrast, I don’t really think I have anything special to offer in terms of building a heterodox economics movements, at least nothing I can’t do just as well using a “behavioral” label. If there existed a well-developed alternative to what is now called mainstream economics, I expect I would be on that side of the fence. But, as far as I can see, there’s nothing like this out there.

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Anand Manikutty 05.29.11 at 5:49 pm

My reading of Brad DeLong’s critique of Noam Chomsky was that he found Chomsky to be doing this, that is, he faults Chomsky for agreeing with people for purely instrumental reasons, but I haven’t been following his comments on Chomsky too closely and I might just not be understanding his point of view.

My reading of Chomsky is not that he is dishonest. I don’t think that is the problem at all. The problem with Chomsky is that he sometimes agrees with people that he should disagree with, and it seems to be not because of his own convictions on the matter but because of a sense of solidarity with the political philosophy of the person in question.

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Lemuel Pitkin 05.30.11 at 10:20 pm

If there existed a well-developed alternative to what is now called mainstream economics, I expect I would be on that side of the fence. But, as far as I can see, there’s nothing like this out there.

Yup. That is the problem.

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