Branko Milanovic on the insatiable drive to maximize income

by Chris Bertram on July 13, 2017

I got into a bit of a twitter fight with the always interesting Branko Milanovic yesterday. It was a second-hand fight, because he’d already been involved in one with Kate Raworth and had blogged about that. What was interesting to me was how Milanovic believed some things to be not only true, but obviously true, which I thought not just false but obviously false.

Milanovic’s claim is that limitless economic growth is both necessary and desirable in today’s societies. In fact, he puts the claim in the negative:

De-emphasizing growth is not desirable, and perhaps more importantly, is utterly unrealizable in societies like our modern societies.

He may be right or wrong about that. If such growth implies increased consumption of resources, then that’s a pretty bleak prospect for anyone who believes in ecological limits, worries about heat death from climate change and the like.

Still, more interesting to me was his reasoning:

the really important counter-argument to Kate is that her proposal fails to acknowledge the nature of today’s capitalist economies. They are built on two “fundaments”: (a) at the individual level, greed and the insatiable desire for more, and (b) on the collective level, competition as a means to achieve more. These are not necessarily most attractive ethical characteristics for either individuals or collectives but they are indispensable for capitalism to function—they provide the engine that pushes it ever further. … This extreme commodification is obviously linked with insatiability of our needs and by our desire to climb up in hierarchical rankings. Since today’s uber-capitalism accepts only one ranking criterion, money (and since all other possible ranking criteria can be, through commodification, converted into the money-metric), the desire for higher societal rank is almost entirely identified with the desire for higher income. And if everybody wants to have higher income, how can we then argue they our society should cease to place a premium on economic growth …. ?

Now if he’d just made the standard claim that people want to maximize utility (whatever it means to say that) then I’d not have been riled, but what we have here is a straightforwardly and grimly Hobbesian view: people want to maximize their cash income both for the power it brings and because people care about social rank and that it its measure.

Getting out my copy of Leviathan, I read that

…the object of man’s desire is not to enjoy once only, and for one instant of time, but to assure forever the way of his future desire. And therefore the voluntary actions and inclinations of all men tend not only to the procuring, but also to the assuring of a contented life, and differ only in the way, which ariseth partly from the diversity of passions in diverse men, and partly from the difference of the knowledge or opinion each one has of the causes which produce the effect desired. So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power, but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more. (chapter 11)

and from chapter 17

But man, whose joy consisteth in comparing himself with other men, can relish nothing but what is eminent.

A number of things make it seem obvious to me, though not to a distinguished economist, that this view of people and their motivations is false:

  1. Career choice: if it were true that people were almost exclusively motivated by income maximization in order to assure their place in the social hierarchy, then people would always choose the career paths that maximized their income. They don’t. People who could have been corporate lawyers or made money in financial services choose to be teachers or nurses, or if they choose to be lawyers they work on immigration cases or for less in government than they could earn in the private sector. Some of these motivations are moral, some are due to the intrinsic satisfactions they derive from the work, sometimes they are choosing more leisure over a higher income. Of course, once they are on a career path then they prefer to earn more money rather than less, but that observation hardly detracts from the significance of the massive income-reducing choice they made.

  2. Location. In large free-movement areas like the United States and the European Union, many people would increase their cash earnings if they moved to different towns and cities. They don’t. They often prefer to continue to live in poorer areas where they are close to family, friends and a familiar social environment.

  3. Children. Having children reduces the earning potential of lots of people, compared with not having them. Millions of people make this income-reducing choice.

  4. Poltical choices: the era of populism shows that people don’t always vote with their wallets. In many ways, it might be better if they did, since Brexiters (for example) have chosen to be poorer in order to have to “take back control” and reduce immigration. Their utterly deluded beliefs about control and immigration don’t detract from the fact that many of them were willing to take an economic hit.

It may be that Milanovic’s claims are true enough as a generalization to have something like the awful effect he claims, but not only are counterexamples common, I’m not even sure that something like choosing a career simply on the basis of maximum expected income is even the most common case. Given the observed willingness of people in large numbers to sacrifice income for other goals, I think we can afford to be a little bit more optimistic than he is about the possibility of lower growth economies.

{ 246 comments }

1

reason 07.13.17 at 9:17 am

Milanovic contradicts himself, and I’m surprised you missed it. He claims that people want more money to move up the social hierarchy, but the social hierarchy is a hierarchy, so people cannot all move up it at once. So people are surely just as motivated to ensuring that OTHER people have less money.

2

Chris Bertram 07.13.17 at 9:27 am

@reason, well a strong belief that other people should have less money does seem to be a powerful motivation among talk radio callers.

3

reason 07.13.17 at 9:31 am

@Chris Bertram
And more importantly a powerful motivation for the already powerful.

4

Val 07.13.17 at 9:44 am

Something strange seems to be happening on CT. Suddenly we (the readers) are being exposed to a lot of awful ideas which we are apparently supposed to take seriously.

I don’t know if this is a reaction to Trump and Brexit, that the CT bloggers think we have to engage with crazy right wing ideas and try to understand them, perhaps. However I think it’s a bad move. I think you should be writing about people with good ideas.

How about Fiona Robinson for example? https://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/2048_reg_print.html

Much more interesting and better for us I think

5

MisterMr 07.13.17 at 9:59 am

I think that Milanovic is mixing three or four different things under the label “growth”:

1) first of all, we should differentiate economic growth between capitalist expansion (building more factories) and technological progress (productivity increases). Both of them cause growth in the GDP but they are different things, for example unemployment depends on expansion or lack thereof, not on technology.
Technology increases are certainly always a positive, since we can see “greener” technologies as technologic gains, but if we speak of expansion, obviously it can go up to a maximum (“full employment”) and then either stay there or fall back in recession; the idea that economies can expand forever is a nonsense, once you employ 100% of the population you can’t expand anymore. Milanovic point about poor country that have to grow should be taken as a point about expansion,
2) Still speaking about expansion, I believe that capitalist economy only have an expansion mode (boom) and a retraction mode (crisis), and this depends on the fact that demand for additional capital goods is necessarious to keep up total aggregate demand; this is important socially because crises suck but can’t go on indefinitely (see point 1). Milanovic example about Italy should be seen as an example of a country in long term economic crisis, with all the problems such as high youth unemployment that it causes. But we can’t solve this assuming continuous expansion.
3) As noted by Reason above, the point about hierarchies doesn’t make sensebecause hierarchies are relative, it’s retraction of the market that causes a lot of social problems.
4) Competition in general leads to technological progress, and thos is a good thing as long as negative externalities are checked, but this is a compleyely different thing that we label “growth” but has nothing to do with expansion.

6

nastywoman 07.13.17 at 10:09 am

and as Mr. Milanovic – as proof for his theory – has introduced ‘The Italian example’ – -(where he seriously insists that people are not happy because of a lack of growth)
let me introduce ‘The Swiss example’:

‘I think that it could be reasonably argued that no group of people in the history of the world has lived as pleasant lives as today’s Swiss. The advantage are well-known: lots of wealth, peace, moderate working hours, strong family and friendship bonds, acceptable weather, beautiful historical and natural sights, excellent and healthy food. Who then needs to grow? And Switzerland did not. It has by now stagnated for a generation and
while in Italy the GDP Growth Rate averaged 0.60 percent from 1960 until 2017 – in Switzerland it averaged just 0.42 percent from 1980 until 2017.
-(just also using data which supports my point)
Sooo – indeed:
‘One could say, “it does not matter if people are happy”. But the problem is that, while superficially people may be happy this Summer as they congregate on the beaches and drink aperol, there is even a deeper happiness in Switzerland without the presence
of growth.
The young are happy because they have a job market with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world – and the most generous paying jobs.
The middle-aged people are happy by some wonderful challenging jobs, the old are happy because their pensions are about the highest in Europe.
And even they have achieved ‘a stagnant Arcadia’ they have build together – the ‘most competitive economy in the world’ -(in nearly every international survey)

Soo you can be very, VERY happy in… let’s call it ‘refining such a ‘the most competitive economy of the world’ – WITHOUT ANY ‘superficial economical growth!

Capisce!!

7

TM 07.13.17 at 10:14 am

+1 for Val 07.13.17 at 9:44 am.

However this exposure to awful ideas isn’t something that just happened “suddenly”, it has been the case for a long time. “Someone is wrong on the internet” (https://xkcd.com/386/) appears to be a powerful motivator for many who post and comment at CT (incidentally that fact alone is convincing evidence against Milanovic’s claim that material greed is what motivates us) but it rarely promotes interesting debates. Why not spend our precious time posting and debating ideas that are actually worth taking seriously, rather than debunking obviously nonsensical claims that have been debunked a zillion times already? [And I’m off]

8

nastywoman 07.13.17 at 10:29 am

– or as my Italian Boyfriend would like to say:
‘ in a society where ‘extreme commodification is obviously linked with insatiability of some needs and desire to climb up in hierarchical rankings.

Makes him – especially an Italian very unhappy!

And the worst for every true Italian might be:
”today’s uber-capitalism which accepts only one ranking criterion, money (and since all other possible ranking criteria can be, through commodification, converted into the money-metric) and the desire for higher societal rank in the world of the Milanovices almost entirely identified with the desire for higher income.”

That’s why – especially ‘Italians’ – might be very, VERY unhappy?

Capisce Branko?

9

Chris Bertram 07.13.17 at 10:31 am

@TM Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

10

Jonathan 07.13.17 at 10:54 am

The point about desire for leisure in (1) seems to me to be worth emphasising. Plenty of evidence that people would like to realise more of productivity gains in an economy through more leisure time over higher consumption – reasonably spread, not stressed full time workers alongside unemployed, those on zero hours contracts. Relatively few employees are in a position to negotiate this, given power relations in labour markets (I would have thought Milanovic is enough of an old Marxist to realise that point). With unions emasculated and governments enthrall to labour market flexibility, the post war tools that led to falling working hours have been eroded

11

SusanC 07.13.17 at 10:55 am

Yes, I think it’s self-contradictory, even if you accept the debatable premises.

If people want to maximize their relative social status, and in a capitalist society this is chiefly measured by money, then this can be achieved by making others poorer instead of yourself richer.

But (a) the birth rate tends to be lower in industrialized capitalist countries than pre-industrial ones. Even if some people are still having children, this might be taken as evidence in favour of the theory that under capitalism people seek status through wealth, and are therefore disincentivized from activities such as having children.

(b) from round about 1815, the UK saw large scale population movements from the countryside into towns and cities. So the desire to remain in the same place took a big hit with the rise of industrial capitalism.

(c) the crisis over Brexit stems in part from the discovery that if you give people the opportunity to move from Poland to a better paying job in the United Kingdom, many of them will take it.

As to (1), as academic we’ve taken the direct route of satisfying our desire to feel smug by having a status-conferring job as a academic, rather than the more indirect route of earning a lot of money in order to feel superior. (cf. Marx,

12

Kate 07.13.17 at 11:03 am

Why is it greed – and not pure fear – that must drive capitalism? I’m stealing a page from Schumpeter here. innovation, etc., the drivers of growth, come about perhaps not so much because members of a firm are greedy, but because if they fail to innovate, they will fail. Shameful bankruptcy, loss of income and living standards. It’s a “win or go home” kind of world. The only way it doesn’t turn into the Marxist dystopia is through growth, a product of – you guessed it. innovation and increased productivity. Capitalism contains the seeds of its own survival.

But reducing competition may not relieve us from the burdens of pursuing continued growth. For Schumpeter *also* points out that the protection from the forces of competition, a “fortress” behind which a firm can hide for a time, gives them some wiggle room to come up with bigger and better innovations (pace Mariana Mazzucato).

So I suppose I get to the same place as him… but not for the same reasons.

13

Collin Street 07.13.17 at 11:21 am

Why is it greed – and not pure fear – that must drive capitalism?

Because the people who write this shit aren’t in touch enough with their own emotions to recognise “fear”. So they see their own behaviour of aquisitiveness, and they misinterpret it as a desire for property-qua-property rather than the security [and safety] that the property represents.

14

Val 07.13.17 at 11:22 am

Hmm.

There is a new issue of Feminist Philosophy Quarterly which is about Catharine MacKinnon (it’s linked from Feminist Philosophers, just btw)

Anyway at one point there was a discussion of the phenomenon of erasing people’s viewpoint or experience (I can’t remember the terms but I guess people would know what I’m talking about).

Anyway that’s what Hobbes and Brankovic are doing – they are erasing caring. They are more specifically erasing my life experience. So therefore naturally I think – but how could you possibly take this seriously? It’s just patriarchy. That is so obvious. I’m genuinely puzzled about this. It’s like there’s been a whole world of knowledge and theory that is erased here in general, and I really don’t understand why.

The thing Fiona Robinson points out – the obvious thing, the thing that is actually staring everyone in the face – is that there would be no human population without caring.

15

Peter T 07.13.17 at 12:02 pm

Milanovic on inequality or eastern Europe is worth reading. But here he is just channeling the careful obliviousness to reality that’s part of economics training. As social psychologists point out, humans have lots of different status hierarchies and, even under late capitalism, wealth is just one – the main one, but still not uncontested. And wealth is a proxy for security, comfort, leisure…

Despite much earnest reasoning to the contrary, I have yet to see a convincing argument that human desires can trump the brute facts of finity, of planet, resources, ecologies, time, space…as a good many ruins remind those of us who care to look. This time is always different, until it’s not.

16

engels 07.13.17 at 12:04 pm

there would be no human population without caring

Capital investment!

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/us_5836eb7fe4b000af95edf12e

17

mw 07.13.17 at 12:34 pm

“If such growth implies increased consumption of resources, then that’s a pretty bleak prospect “

But there’s no particular reason that it should. I don’t think of limitless economic growth as ‘more and more’ but rather ‘better and better’. And a big part of that ‘better and better’ consists of being able to a live long, healthy, comfortable, interesting life without having to choose an income-maximizing occupation. The wealthier societies become, the easier it is to choose meaning over money. That’s a luxury that a couple of centuries of economic growth has made available to some of the earth’s inhabitants (a fraction that has expanded greatly during my own lifetime). If we don’t screw it up, it should be available to nearly all the Earth’s billions by the end of this century. Societies should absolutely continue to promote growth so that more and more individuals can be free from having to maximize their incomes.

18

Alex SL 07.13.17 at 12:50 pm

The question is, is this a claim about fundamental human nature or merely about the nature of humans who have been socialised in a culture saturated in capitalist market economy and its attendant ideology? If the former then it is clearly completely wrong; if the latter, it is at best partly correct.

19

MisterMr 07.13.17 at 1:03 pm

I’m a reader of Milanovic’s blog and I’m under the impression that he is pretty leftish.

@Nastywoman: I think you see only the half of Italy that you want to see; I know personally a lot of italians that are very unsatisfied of their economic situation.
The important thing is that we are not speaking just of “income”, but also of other things like job security that are indirectly correlated with income, because when the economy is bad both wage are worse and the risk of losing your job (or the risk of being in permanent unemployment or underemployment when you get out of university) increase.

@Val: I don’t think you can draw a clean distinction between “caring” people and evil greedy patriarchists; for example, many people want a better job to send their kids to a more expensive school, that is both caring for their children and social competition VS other families.

20

Lee A. Arnold 07.13.17 at 1:17 pm

The great pacesetter here is Hazel Henderson. It is unfortunate that her work is not better known.

Let’s not yet discard the need for “economic growth” by the GDP numbers (adding indicators for environment and quality of life) for policy in developing countries. At this moment, they need it.

But beyond this, I think that greed, fear, & competition will come to be regarded as caveman-canards.

I think that the moral sentiment we will confront soon is a cross between Schumpeter and Keynes: a moral disaffection and disconnection from ownership of the means of wealthgetting (and even boredom with it; see Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy), which is crossed with the potential of production to complete satisfaction of everyone, i.e. the satiety of most goods and services (see The Economic Possibilities of Our Grandchildren).

If artificial intelligence disemploys half the whitecollars in the next two decades, this sentiment may accelerate. Because nobody will have the money to buy the stuff that could obviously be produced to satiety.

In the future, growth will occur anyway. It is ensured by the human perception of comparisons (better? stronger? lighter? more fun?) and the fact that this perception is now married to the principles of modern science. We will be able to grow without environmental damage and resource depletion (although we still have work to do, to prevent these). Buckminster Fuller stated this position correctly, over a half-century ago.

But on the “insatiable human desires” thing? The deeper I go into this, the more I believe that the hypothesis of “insatiable human desires” is a false belief that was contingent upon the 17th-18th Century Enlightenment, and so then it became a beginning chapter in today’s economic textbooks. Locke, Hobbes, Smith etc. were engaged in devising a new system of psychology that would help to divorce society from the rule of monarchy and aristocracy, by promoting the growing interests of the individual. To them, greed was a theoretical affordance.

But if they were alive today, would these thinkers regard greed and competition as necessary “fundaments” of “human nature”? I doubt it. Hobbes maybe! But most of them were not so narrow. The Enlightenment recognized other desires, toward the arts, toward “natural philosophy” and “lovers of system”.

Indeed by the late 19th Century, many thinkers who were still in the Enlightenment tradition suspected that capitalism might be an historical phase that would end by satiation of the need for physical mechanisms — that this development had an endpoint.

It wasn’t just Marx, Verne and Wells. Very, very few people were so certain as to posit that capitalism was here to stay. They would not have been theoretically so foolish. I don’t find it in Marshall. Two great ones with thoughts rooted in this earlier time, Keynes and Schumpeter? Not so foolish either.

But, after that, our future expectations were waylaid for another century, by two World Wars, a Cold War, and the trente glorieuses of automobiles, highways, TVs, washers, dryers, etc. — and all of the income-producing employments upon these gadgets. Leading to the temporary growth of the Western middle class, and coinciding with a short period of income-gap moderation through gov’t policies, as Piketty shows. All of which APPEARED to make work-for-money a continuing and necessary condition of human nature, or of the cosmos.

I think the appearance that work-for-money is a cosmic necessity is a mistake, a very deep one, almost an epistemological mistake. It is inevitably going to cause a disaster. The question soon before us all, is whether it is necessary for society to drive the people to find new growth and inventions, by putting the people into lack-of-money. Must achievement be registered as a numerical growth?

21

SusanC 07.13.17 at 1:35 pm

One of the ways in which societies (or economies) can grow is by population growth. But in industrialized capitalist societies there is less incentive to have children: so this is one way in which capitalism has a tendency away from growth. Arguably, without this we’d have already run into some kind of Malthusian catastrophe.

It is at least a theoretical possibility for the wealth per person to keep going up, with the total size of the economy limited by the Earth’s resources, as long as the population keeps going down.

(The ending of this piece of anti-Mathusian Science Fiction presumably features the Last Man on Earth, who is a really, really rich guy with lots of robots to attend to his every need. Feel free to imagine him being played by Charlton Heston).

22

CJColucci 07.13.17 at 1:53 pm

I was always taken with Hobbes’s point that people might be satisfied with a moderate portion but feel, perhaps rationally, that they need more to secure the moderate portion they want. I’m less convinced, however, that there is no stopping point. Lacking any desire for a life of Trumpian excess, I would find my wildest material wants satisfied by a few million dollars, and my desire to secure that few million by a few more. That might work if I win a $10,000,000 lottery, but it might not work if I have to earn (as the world defines “earn”) the necessary ten million. Can a person who needs to generate ten million from money-making activity (I leave aside lucky entertainers and athletes, as special cases who can amass large amounts of money without specific money-generating skills) actually succeed in amassing that much if he or she is willing to stop there? Or do you have to be the sort of person who won’t stop to amass that much to begin with?

23

SusanC 07.13.17 at 1:57 pm

As an aside, there are several Charlton Heston movies that might serve as the counter-argument. Soylent Green, obviously, though if you’re taking a more Nietzsche or Hobbes inflected line your protagonist might actually enjoy knowing that Soylent Green is made from people. I think I can see how a remake of Planet of the Apes could do it, or even I am Legend/The Omega Man.

24

nastywoman 07.13.17 at 2:08 pm

@19
”I know personally a lot of italians that are very unsatisfied of their economic situation.”

Me too – and at Mr. Bertrams other thread about “The Sovereign Myth” Kate writes:
”Greece is a lot less “sovereign” in the face of its foreign creditors than, say, Germany.”
As the euro is basically the mark. So I don’t think the “lost sovereignty” argument is crazy at all!” –
Right!? –
as isn’t your argument – ‘that we are not speaking just of “income”, but also of other things like job security that are indirectly correlated with income,”

– and I thought – somehow all of this seems to be related? – including the so called ‘liberal’ US economists – who during the Greek Crisis moved to the side of the: ‘We want our sovereignty back crowd’.
But then the Greeks -(like perhaps the Italians you are talking about?) – suddenly didn’t want their sovereignty back anymore – as it might have ment: ”no more dough with no interest rates – payable back… sometimes ”- or -(more important?) ‘NO MORE members in a Europe with countries who all had given up (‘part’) of their ‘sovereignty’ – in order to ‘form a more perfect union’.

And what it all means?

MY Italian friend seems to be still… ‘romanticized’ (copyright Milanovic) – while the Italians you were talking to -(and who I also know very well) might have been… ‘americanized’… or ‘germanized’?!

25

Anarcissie 07.13.17 at 2:27 pm

Val 07.13.17 at 11:22 am @
‘Anyway that’s what Hobbes and Brankovic are doing – they are erasing caring.’

They’re observing social systems, cultures, which erase caring except, sometimes, for certain channels which are integrated with the power structure of the system. Patriarchy, for example — the infant soon learns that it should profess love and admiration for the patriarch and his representatives, even if they are rather repulsive. Those who do not are crushed, or at least threatened.

26

bruce wilder 07.13.17 at 2:33 pm

A friend of mine who has long since passed in old age always liked to tell stories of how, as a child, he would run to his father to complain of some ill-treatment from his mother and his wise father would listen patiently to his elaborate complaint and nod sagely saying, “Now Charlie, of course I have only heard your side of the story so far and it may be that I will see it differently when I hear your mother’s side, but just based on what you tell me, it sounds like your mother is right and you are wrong.”

The Milanovic you quote is all the enemy capitalist ideology, if not capitalism itself, needs to doom it to oblivion. “the careful obliviousness to reality that’s part of economics training” (Peter T) is certainly a wonder to behold.

Given that many of the most important problems facing civilization are economic in nature, it is mildly interesting that we handicap ourselves so in collectively thinking about economics.

27

steven t johnson 07.13.17 at 2:39 pm

There was quite recently on Massimo Piglucci’s philosophy blog a discussion of the morals of vegetarianism, which as I recall noted neither the difficulty and cost of attaining a properly balanced vegetarian diet that adequately met the nutritional needs of all (which by the way would include the aged, small children, sick people and also pregnant women) for large numbers of people. Nor did it note the question of whether vegetarianism isn’t about justifying the inability of the current economic system to continue providing meat to its people. Giving the people Communion wafers was so much cheaper than giving them subsidized meat from animal sacrifices. Yet the issue for theologians was the supernatural inefficacy.

Then, lo, the OP. After reading the Piglucci discussion I’m afraid I haven’t the stamina to chase through Milanovic’s tweets. But the similarity of the issue is remarkable I think. Are people defending the renunciation of growth because they are not really interested in human welfare at large, and see no connection between what used to be called the productive forces of society and the exercise of vital powers? Even more, do they not remember that people are a force of production too, and their reproduction is growth?

It is quite common for people who support capitalism, even support capitalist restoration, to think of themselves as leftists because of the moral refinement of their tastes. Milanovic is quite correct on one point (even if inadvertently) capitalism does rely on the endless pursuit of profit. The existence of individuals who do not maximize profit is entirely irrelevant: The majority of decisions about the material structure of our lives are made by private individuals pursuing profit. Money is an insatiable need. )(The moral sanity of a system relying on insatiable needs is a question that can be left ignored by the philosophers of Bleeding Heart Libertarians.) If the objection of the OP is that capitalism does not rely on the endless pursuit of profit, I can only say, think you’re wrong.

I’m pretty sure that Hobbes in the end argued that safety depended upon submission to the Leviathan, on the grounds that power over others was ephemeral and bred internecine war. Some of us have more particular ideas about submitting to a just society, a Leviathan of a different sort than the King Hobbes loved. But in one sense, that’s a matter of detail.

28

MisterMr 07.13.17 at 4:20 pm

@Nastywoman 24

I’d like to answer something but I really don’t understand your point.

29

Jim Harrison 07.13.17 at 4:31 pm

Seems to me quite obvious that one of the permanent problems for capitalism is that people don’t have an insatiable desire for more and more material wealth. Which is why advertising is such a huge and all encompassing feature of our kind of civilization. On Sesame Street, the shows are brought to you by the letter r and the number 6, but most of the rest of the content of the media is really sponsored by the Seven Deadly Sins even if it says on the paperwork that the stuff is brought to you by Toyota or McDonalds. From the point of view of an economic system that must deliver increasing returns or collapse, the basic problem is a comprehensive failure of people to want enough.

30

Josep ferret mas 07.13.17 at 6:14 pm

Maybe Milanovic has a maximinizing view of Rawls’s difference pple while others like me, and I guess that you too, defend a non-maximinizing view according to which he government is not obliged to maximize income for the worst-off, provided that everyone has enough, because for example has other goals, like preserving nature

31

Ian Maitland 07.13.17 at 6:24 pm

Chris scores some palpable hits on Milanovic. But I wonder if some of his criticisms don’t fall closer to home. I have always been puzzled by the fact that some on the cultural left despise the accumulation of wealth but are horrified when it is not distributed equally. If wealth is dross why should we care that some people have more of it than others?

32

mw 07.13.17 at 7:08 pm

“Seems to me quite obvious that one of the permanent problems for capitalism is that people don’t have an insatiable desire for more and more material wealth. “

It’s true that most people aren’t willing to put an unlimited amount of effort into increasing their material wealth — at some point, they’d rather have more leisure than more money and stuff. But at the same time, there aren’t very many who can’t think of *anything* more (or anything better) that they would want if it was free (or cheap enough). Is your own list of unfilled material desires completely blank (or do you think it would it be if not for advertising)? And, of course, one of the things that a growing economy provides is the same amount of stuff with a steadily decreasing amount of time and effort. Even in industrialized countries, food and clothing were major household expenses not that long ago, whereas now they make up a small fraction of the typical budget.

33

engels 07.13.17 at 7:11 pm

If wealth is dross why should we care that some people have more of it than others?

If wealth is a power to make other people do stuff for you then no one should have it but if someone must then it’s better that we all have the same amount.

34

nastywoman 07.13.17 at 7:42 pm

@28
‘I really don’t understand your point.’

I think my ‘point’ was ‘the insatiable drive to maximize income’ and how sad
that even Italians now seem to have it?

35

RD 07.13.17 at 7:53 pm

1.Whatever happened to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?
2.”He who dies with the most toys…is dead.”
3.”Tea! Earl Grey! Hot!” Now that’s the ticket!

36

LFC 07.13.17 at 8:09 pm

From the linked Milanovic blog post:

Even my “free” drinking-beer time has become a commodity: I use it to “network”. Thus even the free time needs to be justified in terms of leading to greater income. People attend speeches of famous economists (who, by the way, have commodified their speeches) not because they expect to learn much, but because they expect to find there others with whom they can “network” (meaning, create future lucrative connections during a time ostensibly spent “learning”). I could go on.

Milanovic does not seem to realize — or, if he does realize, doesn’t acknowledge here — that at least some people may engage or attempt to engage in “networking” not because they have an insatiable desire for ever more income but because they are looking for work of some kind. There’s a difference between, on the one hand, wanting to have a job (or thinking one’s life would be pleasanter psychically and/or financially if one did) and, on the other hand, wanting to maximize one’s income.

To be blunt, not everyone is fortunate enough to be a famous economist with a visiting professorship at the CUNY Grad Center and ‘the hottest chart [or curve]’ in economics, as I recently heard his so-called elephant chart called. Despite the fact that Milanovic writes acclaimed studies of global inequality, one senses from this blog post that he needs, in the colloquial phrase, to get out more.

37

bruce wilder 07.13.17 at 9:06 pm

. . . one of the things that a growing economy provides is the same amount of stuff with a steadily decreasing amount of time and effort. Even in industrialized countries, food and clothing were major household expenses not that long ago, whereas now they make up a small fraction of the typical budget.

good thing rent and debt service and health care have been there to take up the slack or lots of people would be working part-time at low-wage jobs without a care in the world, and then where would we be? but, bury people in debt and make housing and healthcare unaffordable, not only can you funnel all the growth in the economy and more to a handful of John Galts like Martin Shkreli, Carrie Tolstedt (Wells Fargo account fraud), Eddie Lampert (destroyed Sears for fun and profit), Patrick O’Shaughnessy (Obama thought this payday lender should do his part overseeing the CFPB), Heather Bresch (Epi-pen pricing), whose greed does indeed appear limitless and no doubt make the world go round, but you drive millions to labor relentlessly selling crap for more. That is why I applaud financing college with loans that can never be discharged in bankruptcy: growth!

38

reason 07.13.17 at 9:39 pm

Susan C.
“But (a) the birth rate tends to be lower in industrialized capitalist countries than pre-industrial ones. Even if some people are still having children, this might be taken as evidence in favour of the theory that under capitalism people seek status through wealth, and are therefore disincentivized from activities such as having children.”

Nope. It is mostly due to compulsory schooling, capital based pensions (including government pensions) and urbanisation. A middle class society is capital intensive and large families dilute the capital. It is that simple.

39

reason 07.13.17 at 9:44 pm

P.S. I didn’t actually address the point about capitalism as such requiring endless growth. I don’t think it is true (I can certainly imagine a capitalist system that is no growth), BUT it is true for capitalist systems based on debt (and all our money these days is debt). Another reason to take “Between Debt and the Devil” seriously.

40

Nick Alcock 07.13.17 at 9:58 pm

More generally, he’s talking not about insatiable desires for *income* but for *everything*. This is obviously ridiculous. I might be greedy and want a whole chocolate cake, but that doesn’t mean that if I’m given ten thousand of them I’ll want to eat the lot. I might be greedy and want a symphony composed for me, or a corporation to run, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want a million symphonies or to be Emperor of the World.

Most desires are not insatiable. (It’s hard to find any that are, actually, at least in sane people.)

41

J-D 07.13.17 at 11:02 pm

Jim Harrison

On Sesame Street, the shows are brought to you by the letter r and the number 6, but most of the rest of the content of the media is really sponsored by the Seven Deadly Sins even if it says on the paperwork that the stuff is brought to you by Toyota or McDonalds.

I can figure how six of the deadly sins might play a part.

42

J-D 07.13.17 at 11:05 pm

Ian Maitland

I have always been puzzled by the fact that some on the cultural left despise the accumulation of wealth but are horrified when it is not distributed equally. If wealth is dross why should we care that some people have more of it than others?

Wealth is, by definition, things that other people don’t have. If everybody in our country has it, then it can only be wealth by comparison with other countries where people don’t have it; if everybody in our time has it, then it can only be wealth by comparison with other times when people didn’t have it. Therefore, by definition, wealth is a form of inequality, and the desire to accumulate wealth is a desire to aggravate inequality.

43

mw 07.13.17 at 11:28 pm

“…good thing rent and debt service and health care have been there to take up the slack or lots of people would be working part-time at low-wage jobs without a care in the world”

Some people do just that. Twenty-something ski bums and rafting guides. People who travel the world and pay for it with the revenue from their Youtube channel. This guy and his family:

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/02/22/getting-rich-from-zero-to-hero-in-one-blog-post/

But often the biggest obstacle is government. You could build a tiny house and live cheaply — if only you could find legal place to park it and live in it. Around here, this guy had to keep his location a secret or the authorities would have come down on him:

http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/09/21-year-old_u-m_student_trades.html

44

nastywoman 07.14.17 at 6:53 am

– and sorry about having to come back to this ‘Italian Thing’ – and it might be…uncomfortable? – but this ‘insatiable drive to maximize income’ might be mainly an ‘American Thing’.
-(but NOT ‘German’ – there I made a mistake)

Like – every since Donald Trump asked my dad in the restroom of the Mar-a-Lago ‘how much he got’ -(supposedly ‘money’) I suspected it – and my dad never, ever was asked in any restroom in Italy -(or in Switzerland or Germany) ‘how much he got’?.

And when I heard that if somebody (like Branco?) wants an American passport he -(or she) also get’s asked: ‘How much he got’?
Meaning – America for sure wants to know if you have an ‘insatiable drive to maximize income’ before they give you a passport – while for example in Germany it doesn’t matter at all.
There they -(supposedly) ask you all kind of other ‘good’ things – about and I know it might be very uncomfortable for US Americans – especially the ones who got their being
American for free -(by the parent making ‘nookie’) – that this ‘insatiable drive to maximize income’ might be really this ‘American thing while an Italian just wants to drive a Ferrari – one time?!

45

nastywoman 07.14.17 at 7:17 am

– or is it too much of a stereotype that Americans have this ‘insatiable drive to maximize income’ – and that they are ‘materialistic’ and ‘greedy’ and that a wise Indian once said ‘you can’t eat money and that ‘the white man’ (US) just don’t understand that – like nobody else in the whole wide world – and that I shouldn’t have written such a silly thing?

-(and now I’m worried that I’m going to be ‘in moderation’ forever…?)

46

MisterMr 07.14.17 at 10:11 am

@Nastywoman
I think I agree with you that the cultural value we sometimes give to wealth or income, where such wealth or income are a measure of the value of the person who has them instead of a measure of the stuff they can buy, sucks.
I believe it is true that this is more common in the USA than in other parts of the world.
I think Milanovic is wrong when he assumes that this is the reason we need growth: I think we need growth (expansion) because if the system doesn’t grow we go in recession, wich causes a lot of social problems.
The “wealth worship” isn’t really the reason we need continuous growth, because as pointed out upward wealth worship leads to a social hierarchy and as such is relative, growth can’t help.

@Reason 39
I don’t understand why you think that a “debt based” capitalist economy needs continuous growth, but a non debt based capitalist economy doesn’t:
Debt tends to accumulate because savers tend to reinvest their interest into other debt, so they have a “drive to accumulation”.
But the same goes for capitalists if they reinvest their profits into additional capital assets, so the only difference is if we assume that savers have a drive to accumulation, but capitalists don’t, which is a rather weird assumption imho.

47

Faustusnotes 07.14.17 at 11:17 am

I’m with Val here. I don’t know who this milanovic dude isn’t why he needs to be taken seriously but his post is just transparently wrong and also disgusting. Why is it worth discussing? Or at least, taken seriously? I know it seems like the world is full of arseholes right now but does that mean we have to engage critically with ideas that, as Chris helpfully observes, have been wrong for hundreds of years? This position of milanovics isn’t just wrong, it’s repulsive. Let the rich fools who work for the republicans believe this filth, if it helps them sleep at night, but let’s not ever make the mistake of thinking that someone who believes shit like this should be taken seriously.

48

Faustusnotes 07.14.17 at 11:18 am

“Isn’t why” should be “is or”. Stupid iPhone taking the wind out of my sails …

49

nastywoman 07.14.17 at 11:38 am

@47
– or perhaps the Milanovic dude is writing all of this because – when he apllied for citizenship -(did he?) there were all these questions about him becoming a ‘Good American citizen with an insatiable drive to maximize income’?

And he just was homesick to the good ole times in Belgrad -(and Italy – especially Italy – like me) when ‘people’ still weren’t infected by the Pest of an ‘insatiable drive to maximize income’?

And so -(like what Colbert used to do) – he now writes all this funny stuff to… in the preverbal sense of ‘pulling our chains’ of NOT wanting to become rich -(and famous)?

50

nastywoman 07.14.17 at 11:51 am

and about this @46
– needing ”growth (expansion) because if the system doesn’t grow we go in recession, wich causes a lot of social problems.”

It doesn’t at all if a rich country like US – distributes the wealth in a way Switzerland does.
And that’s why I posted the example of Switzerland -(countering Milanovics very annoying Italy example)

BE- cause if a country like Switzerland distributes the money the way it does – comes ‘NO GROWTH’ or so called ‘recession’ -(a stupid economical term) – the people are happy –
And that’s all we want – Right?
That the people are happy – or they erect a Doofus Von Clownstick for President and then Macron has to invite him for a parade just in order to get over the French recession by having US Doofuses believe – that we can visit Paris again and eat at Jules Verne and put a nice tip on our bill for our French Friends!!

51

Katsue 07.14.17 at 12:49 pm

@40

I agree with you in theory, but as someone who buys more board games than I will ever have the opportunity to play, or even have the opportunity to get tired of playing, I’m not sure I agree with you in practice.

52

steven t johnson 07.14.17 at 1:22 pm

So far as I can make out, the thread is largely indignation that, yes, we can too have capitalism without an unseemly obsession with making profits, endlessly, more and more and more. Unlike food or clothing or shelter, appetites for which are satiable, if only because of physical limitations on an individual humans’ capacity to consume, profit (and its manifestation as ownership) is indeed an insatiable need.

But the capitalist system is not a manifestation of human personality that constitute it, like the crystal whose shape is fundamentally determined by the charges and volumes of the ions that compose it. The nature of an army is not determined by the personalities of the soldiers. The existence of human beings who are not profit maximizers is as irrelevant to the function of the capitalist system as the existence of individual soldiers who are not happy warriors is to the function of an army.

So, yes, the man is right that the capitalist system is all about the endless pursuit of more and more profit, and this is an insatiable need. This is so true, that it should be a truism that the only economic crisis is a decrease in profits. Milanovitch may believe that what is necessarily true of capitalists is therefore true of everyone, or he may merely believe—correctly—-that it is basically true of every every effective actor in this system. And given the existence of private capital, with private power over the economy, then competition is inevitable. Even when individual capitalists jury rig individual accommodations with each other, the pacts break down.

The protest that “we” do not endorse these principles when we support capitalism (and its manifestation imperialism) is incorrect. They are not ugly excrescences added on by bad people pleasing themselves with their badness. An insatiable pursuit of profit and internecine competition with others (starting with the workers!) is inevitable. It is not a bad old idea, it is the reality.

53

Faustusnotes 07.14.17 at 2:20 pm

Katsue if you spend less time making money and more time socializing you can play all those board games AND prove milanovic wrong.

54

Orange Watch 07.14.17 at 2:39 pm

Milanovic’s reasoning seems to me to suffer the same disconnect that game theorists suffer when trying to understand human behavior…

55

LFC 07.14.17 at 2:46 pm

@Faustusnotes
I don’t know who this milanovic dude is [or why] he needs to be taken seriously

Happens to be one of the most prominent economists working today on issues of inequality, global (inter- and intra-national) income dist. etc.

Just b/c you’ve never heard of him doesn’t mean he’s nobody. I probably haven’t heard of most of the leading names in your fields of interest and/or expertise, but that doesn’t prove anything either.

56

Anarcissie 07.14.17 at 4:59 pm

Some of you may be interested in this essay about the depressing pervasiveness of dominance behaviors. Nominally, it’s about the hostility and aggression of motorists against bicycles, and therefore irrelevant to Real People, but it happened to pop up as I was reading this discussion, and it sort of resonates. It’s not about grand political conflict, just people going about their ordinary daily business in ordinary daily life.

57

Guy Harris 07.14.17 at 5:23 pm

nastywoman:

I think my ‘point’ was ‘the insatiable drive to maximize income’ and how sad
that even Italians now seem to have it?

How do you infer, from

I think you see only the half of Italy that you want to see; I know personally a lot of italians that are very unsatisfied of their economic situation.
The important thing is that we are not speaking just of “income”, but also of other things like job security that are indirectly correlated with income, because when the economy is bad both wage are worse and the risk of losing your job (or the risk of being in permanent unemployment or underemployment when you get out of university) increase.

(note the concern about “the risk of losing your job”) to “‘the insatiable drive to maximize income”? Not all dissatisfaction with one’s economic situation is dissatisfaction because you haven’t maximized your income.

58

Anarcissie 07.14.17 at 5:32 pm

Nick Alcock 07.13.17 at 9:58 pm @ 40 —
It seems obvious that the desire for money and other abstract forms of wealth can be, and often manifestly is, insatiable. And not only in persons: corporations, states, and other institutions are set up precisely to embody an insatiable desire for wealth counters. That is why growth is always an issue: so that there can be more and more. A great many people may not be interested in it, but those who dominate and shape the social order are, because the social order is set up to serve them, by their design.

59

Guy Harris 07.14.17 at 5:34 pm

nastywoman:

but this ‘insatiable drive to maximize income’ might be mainly an ‘American Thing’.

Mainly, but I rather suspect you’ll find it in other cultures as well, “uncomfortable” though that might be for you.

America for sure wants to know if you have an ‘insatiable drive to maximize income’ before they give you a passport

If by “passport” you mean “that thing you take with you when you travel to other countries, and that gets stamped by officials when you enter another country”, that was definitely not true when I got my US passport. Perhaps that’s changed since then, but I suspect not.

If you’re speaking metaphorically (and are speaking of visas rather than passports, i.e. letting you into the country), i.e. “Americans don’t think you really belong here unless you have an insatiable drive to maximize income”, perhaps that’s true of a lot of USans, but not of all of them. (I have never met Donald Trump in a restroom – something for which I’m eternally grateful – but nobody else I’ve met in a restroom has asked me how much money I have. Trump is not necessarily representative of all USans.)

And bear in mind that those people that you have met may, or may not, be representative of a group to which they belong.

60

engels 07.14.17 at 5:45 pm

Anarcissie: very interesting, but worth noting that cyclists themselves skew heavily towards dominant social groups, at least in London
https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/davehillblog/2015/oct/12/why-are-london-cyclists-so-white-male-and-middle-class

61

tom 07.14.17 at 6:41 pm

Chris: But if one believes in “the observed willingness of people in large numbers to sacrifice income for other goals”, then isn’t it true that our societies are much less consumeristic, commodified and materialistic than they are usually thought? (Especially on CT, I would add)

As far as I can tell, I don’t think Milanovic approves of (his perceived) extreme commodification of our societies but rather takes it as historically given and quite unchangeable, at least for the time being.

ps: I guess I also disagree with some other commenters. I found this and the Levy posts very interesting. Thanks for the links and for sharing your thoughts.

62

Val 07.14.17 at 7:24 pm

@19
“@Val: I don’t think you can draw a clean distinction between “caring” people and evil greedy patriarchists; “

I am explicitly not drawing distinctions between types of people. That’s liberal individualism. It is what Chris is doing and it’s what I object to because he is ignoring gender.

Feminist theorists (in economics particularly Marilyn Waring) have conclusively shown that economics is – still – based on the idea that the production of commodities for trade is ‘real’ work, while caring for others (and the ecosystem, although that’s a slightly different issue) is at best subordinate and at worst invisible. This form of discourse and epistemology is a product of patriarchy.

This is not just a characteristic of right wing or pro-capitalism theorists. In fact, both Hobbes and Marx elided women and caring. Both said that ‘men’ needed to have children, but neither acknowledged women’s work in this. ‘Caring’, however, is much broader than only caring for children.

It’s pretty awful that CT bloggers, who would likely say they support feminism, just keep ignoring feminist theory.

63

Val 07.14.17 at 7:42 pm

@ 19
Btw I should say that I do understand the point you were making – that ‘caring’ for children in a capitalist hierarchical society can include maximising their opportunities to be ‘at the top of tree’. However that’s a different issue.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading in related areas to the OP lately, and people continually get lost in the weeds over ‘human nature’ (as Milanovic does in his post above) while ignoring the obvious fact that this has all been organised around gender. Of course you can point out that it’s not that simple in real life, but it doesn’t alter the organising principle.

Here’s an interesting post from LGM to ponder on http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2017/07/trumpcare-home-care-workers

Are these people driven by an insatiable desire to maximise wealth, or do they just want decent pay and conditions? And is it purely coincidence that they are mainly women, or is the result of the kind of structural factors that I’m talking about?

64

Anarcissie 07.14.17 at 8:27 pm

@60 — It’s complicated. Coincidentally I just read an article complaining that very few of those who use bicycle ‘shares’ (that is, automated rentals like Citibike) in New York City are other than middle- and upper-class White people, and speculated as to the reasons. Among the speculations were internalization of dominant social values (riding a bicycle shows that you are poor, crazy, or otherwise marginal) to which secure middle-class types may be more immune. Another likely cause could be reasonable fear of the hostility which motorists and the police routinely show cyclists, compounded by very reasonable fear of racial hostility. Every motor vehicle is, after all, potentially a lethal weapon. Maybe someone will investigate.

65

T. M. Chandrasekhar 07.14.17 at 8:51 pm

Exponential growth in a finite world is impossible. The physical impossibility of Milanovic’s utopian fantasy of unlimited growth is nicely explored and dissected in this article by a UCSD physicist.

https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/

Ultimately these environmental and resource limits to everlasting growth manifest themselves as wars, famines, or financial collapses as increasing numbers of people compete for a finite of diminishing pool of resources – from arable land to fresh water and mineral resources. A steady state economy is the only viable future for most nations.

66

nastywoman 07.14.17 at 9:39 pm

@57+59
‘Branko Milanovic concludes: ‘All the rest is romanticism.’

– and even if ‘one knows personally a lot of Italians that are very unsatisfied of their economic situation’ – and ‘bearing in mind that those people one has met may, or may not, be representative of a group to which they belong’ – there still seems to be… concerning the issue of an ‘insatiable drive to maximize income’ – a little bit more ‘romanticism’ in a European country like Italy than – for example in the US – and I’m still not sure if Milanovic doesn’t regret that – as concerning – for example a two hour (business) lunch in Verona -(as instead of a 30 minutes sandwich in Manhattan – in order NOT to interrupt the ‘drive to maximize income’) – can make a yuuuge difference – if y’all know what I mean?!

And perhaps

67

Sam Bradford 07.14.17 at 11:05 pm

I’m with Val, generally. Some pieces of writing are so obviously wrong that they’re boring.

On the other hand, there are a few interesting comments in here. Particularly regarding fear vs greed; I suspect more people are motivated by the former than the latter, and it’s an important distinction. If I could sign up to a system that put a permanent cap on my possible income ($60,000 p/a, say) but also guaranteed me a liveable minimum wage and housing, I would. And it’s not for lack of ambition, it’s just that my ambition is not making money. It would be interesting to know what % of people would accept such an offer.

68

Val 07.15.17 at 12:07 am

@ 67
Yes it’s not that the CT bloggers are themselves boring, it’s about engaging with unworthy ideas. Maybe Milanovic tossed this off in a fit of gloom or cynicism or whatever – but it doesn’t seem like the deep thought that one would hope CT would be engaging with.

My particular frustration in this also, as I’ve said, is that this an area where there is loads of feminist theory and analysis, and it’s being ignored. I’d like to know why that is – not knowing, not caring, not being able to ‘see’?

69

Val 07.15.17 at 12:15 am

@ 67
Because I’m semi-retired and fortunate enough to have good superannuation, I’m pretty much in the situation you’re talking about (though on a somewhat lower but perfectly adequate income that definitely makes me one of the rich in world terms). Because I live in a society that is still more collective etc than the US, I feel a fair degree of security (though nothing is certain of course) and certainly don’t have any insatiable desire for wealth.

I think you are right – this may be much more about fear and insecurity – and thus is created by the ideology of free market neoliberalism. I’m sure people would be much more likely to accept stable state economics if they felt secure and weren’t just treated as disposable ‘human resources’.

70

SamChevre 07.15.17 at 1:30 am

This reminds me a lot of Waldman’s description of wealth as insurance. (This is one of the 10 most thought-provoking things I’ve read in the last decade; I strongly recommend it.)

Two themes that I wanted to comment on.

One, the left broadly defined has spent the last half-century trying to ensure that wealth and education are the only hierarchies that provide any value to those in them; it seems odd for a left-ish academic to mourn their success in this endeavor.

Two, I think it is critcal to note that “better and more expensive” does not necessarily mean “requires more raw materials.” My computer is 5% of the weight than my computer 20 years ago, and performs better.

71

J-D 07.15.17 at 2:46 am

Val

I am explicitly not drawing distinctions between types of people. That’s liberal individualism. It is what Chris is doing and it’s what I object to because he is ignoring gender.

I can conceive of a valid contrast between two approaches: (a) one which insists on considering individuals only as such, distinguished by unique characteristics, but disregarding any grouping of individuals into categories and therefore any distinctive group/category characteristics, an approach which might be described as a form of ‘individualism’, possibly ‘liberal individualism’; (b) one which acknowledges and treats as significant the ways in which people can be grouped in categories, each with distinguishing characteristics, gender being one of those ways.

But when I try to make use of that conception, it appears to me that ‘not drawing distinctions between types of people’ is part of the approach which might be liberal individualism and which ignores gender; whereas your sentence appears to me to be suggesting the opposite, that it is ‘drawing distinctions between types of people’ which constitutes liberal individualism and ignores gender (which is why you don’t do that). So I suspect I have completely failed to understand you.

72

ave 07.15.17 at 3:36 am

@54

Yes, with these assumptions every social situation starts to look like a prisoners’ dilemma. The suboptimal outcome is I guess supposed to be mitigated by some deus ex machina technical innovation that will save us from living in a finite world populated by people mutually preying on each other.

“But without endless high growth how will people satisfy their bottomless greed?”

I think the part of the Milanovic post that renders it so hard for me to be charitable is where he asserts that everyone just wants to turn their relationships into networking opportunities, turn their apartment into a rental or car into a cab, and turn leisure activity into a brand on youtube/twitch/ravelry/whatever . I don’t begrudge the few people who thrive at this but I’m sick of being told it’s good for us all and anyway inevitable so just shut up and assimilate already.

73

Val 07.15.17 at 4:06 am

J-D @ 71

I think you probably have too J-D and I think it’s p0ssibly because you are still thinking in ‘liberal individual’ terms about people making ‘choices’.

I’m asking you to think about power and discourse, or structural factors if you prefer – why do women mainly do the low paid or unpaid caring work? Is it because they all just individually ‘chose’ to, or is it more complicated than that?

And secondly, why is caring work low paid or unpaid? I’m asking you to go beyond mainstream economics that says ‘producing commodities for the market is more valuable than caring work because the market says it is’.

Did you know that in Australia telephonists used to be male, and their work was well paid and high status, and when women became telephonists the work became lower paid and lower status? Also doctors in Russia etc etc. …

It’s about power. Have you read the LGM post I linked?

74

Val 07.15.17 at 4:20 am

Just to clarify a bit further – Chris was talking about individual ‘people’ making choices that don’t maximise their wealth, which is fair enough to a point – people do make choices.

But to ignore the whole history of gender, class, imperialism and colonialism – that history which Carolyn Merchant describes as positioning women, people of colour, and working class men as ‘resources’ for patriarchal capitalism – seems to be a strange oversight.

A particular example is when Chris says “people” choose to have children, which disadvantages them financially. I am not aware of any evidence that having children disadvantages men financially – as far as I’m aware the evidence usually suggests the reverse. Of course ‘the family’ income may decline, but conflating women with ‘the family’ and not acknowledging that it’s women who are financially disadvantaged by having children, seems to me again a strange oversight.

It all, as I say, looks like ignorance or blindness about gender, but why?

75

Anarcissie 07.15.17 at 4:50 am

SamChevre 07.15.17 at 1:30 am @ 70 —
I believe information theory and the laws of thermodynamics forbid infinite improvement.

76

Anarcissie 07.15.17 at 5:31 am

So, what does this non-Milanovician capitalism look like, and where is it?

77

Val 07.15.17 at 6:07 am

I haven’t read Doughnut Economics either (like Milanovic) but I found an article on it by George Monbiot https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/12/doughnut-growth-economics-book-economic-model

It sounds really good. So the cynic in me wonders
– why are we talking about Milanovic’s intemperate attack when we could be talking about Raworth’s ideas?
– why did Milanovic feel so free to attack her ideas when he hasn’t even read her book?

I’d imagine Chris actually has more in common with Raworth than Milanovic. So why are we talking about him rather than her?

78

J-D 07.15.17 at 7:01 am

Val, I may be mistaken (and you may not believe me), but I think I do understand, at least fairly well, what you write in this comment and in this comment. I don’t feel like any of that is news to me. Yes, I have previously heard that about how medicine in the Soviet Union was both a female-dominated profession and lower in the hierarchy of status and remuneration than in other countries where it’s a male-dominated profession (no, I didn’t specifically know that about telephonists in Australia, but it surprises me not at all); yes, I am aware of the importance of structural factors, and of power relationships; yes, I am aware that there is a connection between the fact that caring work is low paid or unpaid and the fact that it is predominantly done by women; and so on, and so on.

But none of that helps me to understand the thing I don’t understand, namely, what it is that you meant when you wrote ‘I am explicitly not drawing distinctions between types of people.’ I have tried to explain why this specific statement puzzled me and seemed to me not to fit with the rest of your comments, but perhaps I didn’t do a good job of it, because you have taken the trouble to respond to me, but in a way which does not help me to understand that statement.

79

nastywoman 07.15.17 at 7:17 am

@76
”So, what does this non-Milanovician capitalism look like, and where is it?”

Once upon a time there were little and very romantic villages in the European Alpen – where society really worked by everybody in the village with her or his (capitalistic?) work got his fair share of the preverbal cake.
Like the baker baked his bread for the watchmaker or the cheesemaker and the carpenter and the cheesemaker and they did their ‘stuff’ for the baker in exchange. And nearly everybody was satisfied with the value of the exchange and the prices kind of set by the community.
And then all kind of… can we call them ‘capitalists’? from all over arrived and they wrecked these perfect little (‘capitalistic’) societies by – for example – showing up with mass produced cheap cheese – and the people in the village bought it -(on the insatiable drive to minimize their expenses) until one day they ask themselves:
”Are we stupid or what?”
”We have ruined our perfect little romantic (”capitalistic”) villages by ”greed” where not everybody anymore made a good living – and we better go back to our old system where if the village got wealthy – everybody got wealthy and we use the expression sustainability for our high quality work and make very romantically sure that everybody in our village gets her or his fair share – and so they did it – and it’s called ”Switzerland” -(at the same time ”the most competitive economy in the world) – and how often does one have to say that??

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TM 07.15.17 at 7:22 am

Again I second Val: Why not discuss Raworth’s thoughtful, well-researched vision of a sustainable economy? Because she isn’t a “famous economist” by certain standards, that’s why.
If I may be permitted a little plug:
Growth in a Finite World – Sustainability and the Exponential Function
https://www.slideshare.net/amenning/growth-in-a-finite-world-sustainability-and-the-exponential-function
P. 98 you’ll find more literature on the topic of “Prosperity without growth” (Tim Jackson, 2011). The list is a few years old so Raworth doesn’t appear. Milankovic simply ignores a huge body of literature and he can get away with it, because well he’s famous. What is sad is that places like CT could be the space for pushing back against this ignorance.

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Val 07.15.17 at 8:17 am

J-D I am not sure what you’re confused about. I’m not talking about ‘types’ of people, such as personality – like ‘we’re all individuals but some people are more less ethical, moreorless acqisitive etc’. That’s true of course but if that’s the only kind of difference you talk about you are ignoring structural factors – like a society that says ‘men go out and compete, women stay home and care’ etc.

They are two different things. In discrimination law, it’s called discrimination on the basis of an ‘attribute’, I don’t know if that’s any help to you. It’s not about ‘individual differences’, it’s about society saying on the basis of a certain attribute, you’re supposed to do x.

I don’t know how I can make this clearer, and I don’t get what you’re confused about to be honest. I presume you’re talking in good faith (a question I have sometimes wondered about in the past) but I don’t really get what the problem is.

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Guy Harris 07.15.17 at 8:25 am

nastywoman:

And then all kind of… can we call them ‘capitalists’? from all over arrived and they wrecked these perfect little (‘capitalistic’) societies

The answer to your question is “you can call them that as long as you also call the villagers “capitalists” if their societies were “perfect little (‘capitalistic’) societies”. But if it’s capitalist vs. capitalist, the word “capitalist” isn’t very useful, and you need to pick words that let you distinguish between the villages and the “outsiders”.

BTW, which of those flavors of “capitalist” is F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd?

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Val 07.15.17 at 8:25 am

possibly I’ve confused you further, but when I say “I am explicitly not drawing distinctions between types of people”, I mean I am not talking about ‘individual differences’ or ‘personality types’ in the way Chris implicitly was.

Surely you can understand that?

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nastywoman 07.15.17 at 9:08 am

@80
”What is sad is that places like CT could be the space for pushing back against this ignorance.”

– and what is even sadder is often the predominant theoretical -(or ‘academic’) pushback against theories which have to be already proven wrong in reality.

Like Milanovics Italian example he more or less bases his theory on – while in reality all these very well working economical concepts ‘WITHOUT GROWTH’ exist.

It’s a bit like the total ignorant US approach to Health Care – where WE -(the US) just could have picked one of the best (already existing and proven) – working models – but instead somehow we insist on discussing and inventing the whole thing from scratch?!

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Magnocrat 07.15.17 at 1:26 pm

The site Limits to Growth has been pressing its philosophy for decades, sensibly fearing the fragile nature of our planet. Growth , at least in part is due to limitless curiosity ; let’s get to Mars or let’s investigate atomic structure. Many of us are curious animals we want to know what we don’t yet know , and we have convinced ourselves that knowing means progress.

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Alex 07.15.17 at 1:59 pm

They are built on two “fundaments”: (a) at the individual level, greed and the insatiable desire for more, and (b) on the collective level, competition as a means to achieve more. These are not necessarily most attractive ethical characteristics for either individuals or collectives but they are indispensable for capitalism to function—they provide the engine that pushes it ever further

Apologies if someone has already said this, but the insatiable desire for more is not indispensable for capitalism to function. The Smithian argument with respect to butchers and bakers that we look “not to their humanity but to their self-love” is simply an argument as to why it doesn’t matter that human beings act selfishly, markets can produce good outcomes. It doesn’t say humans MUST act selfishly, otherwise the market will fail, far from it.

The benefits of markets (in appropriate situations and industries, not all ofc), are that they’re decentralised and allow multiple failure modes, rather than just subjecting the entire economy to Comrade Stalin’s Grand Plan, which can easily be gotten disastrously wrong. None of that *requires* selfishness – I can just as easily picture a market economy with totally selfless actors, everyone chipping in and helping out and trading on equal terms. (Obviously that leaves open the question of human nature and how selfish/selfless human beings really are/can be, but that’s another question)

And this isn’t even where growth comes from anyway. Really it comes from technological and scientific progress, cultural progress, including setting up new institutions and the rule of law, education, and Keynesian macroeconomic policies.

Anyway, it’s kinda ironic to have a discussion debating whether we can get growth down, when the big problem for the past ten years in the global economy is State’s consciously and unconsciously choosing lower growth rates and stagnation. Doesn’t seem like there’s an inherent tendency towards growth in capitalism in these circumstances.

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engels 07.15.17 at 2:21 pm

If #79 is satire it’s very, very good.

The ‘why are you paying any attention to Milanovic’ subthread is ridiculous, he’s one of the world’s leading authorities on economic inequality.

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engels 07.15.17 at 3:03 pm

of gloom or cynicism or whatever – but it doesn’t seem like the deep thought that one would hope CT would be engaging with

It runs through mainstream economics and other fields (IR?) and as Chris says had philosophical antecedents going back to Hobbes. Also arguably present in some more radical views (Bourdieu? R.D. Laing?) But by all means put your fingers in your ears and recite petty bourg verities about how people only really want ‘enough’ to live ‘decent’ lives if that makes you feel good…

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steven t johnson 07.15.17 at 3:30 pm

T. M. Chandrasekhar 07.14.17 at 8:51 pm
“Exponential growth in a finite world is impossible. The physical impossibility of Milanovic’s utopian fantasy of unlimited growth is nicely explored and dissected in this article by a UCSD physicist.

https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/

Ultimately these environmental and resource limits to everlasting growth manifest themselves as wars, famines, or financial collapses as increasing numbers of people compete for a finite of diminishing pool of resources – from arable land to fresh water and mineral resources. A steady state economy is the only viable future for most nations.”

Economic history does not suggest that resource depletion causes financial collapse. There have been recurrent financial crises on a relatively short time scale. The likelihood that resources are so quickly depleted, then suddenly restored on average every seven years seems unlikely. Famines usually occur when local shortages of rainfall or crops lost to disease, but they are thus far invariably local. Thus they are acts of God, except when they occur in socialist countries, in which cases they are invariably deemed malicious slaughter. Wars are rarely started by countries suffering resource depletion, because for one thing they can’t afford that much military. (And, no, not imperial Japan, who started WWII in 1937, long before the US oil embargo.)

As to the notion that most nations (curious how some nations can grow,) are only viable with a steady state economy means they must have a static population. Good luck arranging that. My guess is that you mean any real growth would have to be some sort of improvement in technique that didn’t damage the earth’s carrying capacity that permitted a rise in population and/or living standard (if they are genuinely separable things.) But if you can assume that, so can Branko Milanovic.

I also guess that you have in mind some sort of collapse of civilization, where the dispossessed hordes storm the temples of the godly. I think it is far, far more likely the godly will exterminate the dispossessed hordes in an effort to restore a balance which returns increasing profits.

Anarcissie 07.15.17 at 4:50 am
“I believe information theory and the laws of thermodynamics forbid infinite improvement.” Possibly. The sun will turn into a red giant that swallows the Earth long before infinite improvement is an issue. But I thought of that as cosmology, not thermodynamics. I am also a little confused about the reference to information theory. If you mean the impossibility of calculating the prerequisites for a stable ecology/steady state economy, then it seems your arguing that industrial civilization is a stupid mistake. This implies a dieback in the invasive population will salve the biosphere. That seems a bit drastic, but then, I speak as a member of the exploding invasive species.

Anarcissie 07.15.17 at 5:31 am
“So, what does this non-Milanovician capitalism look like, and where is it?”

It’s appearance is as various as the daydreams of reformists, which is exactly where it is.

TM 07.15.17 at 7:22 am
“Again I second Val: Why not discuss Raworth’s thoughtful, well-researched vision of a sustainable economy? Because she isn’t a “famous economist” by certain standards, that’s why.
If I may be permitted a little plug:
Growth in a Finite World – Sustainability and the Exponential Function
https://www.slideshare.net/amenning/growth-in-a-finite-world-sustainability-and-the-exponential-function
P. 98 you’ll find more literature on the topic of ‘Prosperity without growth’ (Tim Jackson, 2011). The list is a few years old so Raworth doesn’t appear. Milankovic simply ignores a huge body of literature and he can get away with it, because well he’s famous. What is sad is that places like CT could be the space for pushing back against this ignorance.”

Wikipedia on Jackson writes “The second edition expands on these ideas and sets out the framework for what he calls ‘the economy of tomorrow’. By attending the nature of enterprise as a form of social organisation, the meaning of work as participation in society, the function of investment as a commitment to the future; and the role of money as a social good, he demonstrates how the economy may be transformed in ways that protect employment, promotes and facilitates social investment, reduce inequality and support both ecological and financial stability.” Financial stability? The track record of geniuses who’ve solve the business cycle is not impressive. Not available at my public library.

As to Raworth, also not available at my public library, the two reviews of her book do not accuse her of calculating the carrying capacity of the Earth nor analyzing population policy. I’m afraid I’m not quite convinced it is thoughtful at all.

As to your slides, I’m not seeing anything about national income accounts, the measurement of growth, profit rates, income and property distribution, taxation and welfare spending, etc. Actually they seem to promise much interesting material (I’ve added the link to my favorites for later close reading,) but they don’t seem to have much to do with today’s economies.

As I’ve said I think the pushback against Milanovic is because he explicitly denies the possibility of moral reform of capitalism, which CT is committed to. Why should they argue with Raworth, who apparently shares the same belief in a reformed capitalism?

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Anarcissie 07.15.17 at 3:50 pm

But I also asked, ‘Where is it?’ That question was supposed to filter out non-implemented and failed utopian proposals, of which I have an ample supply already. I think Mr. Milanovic was talking about what is, not what ought to be.

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LFC 07.15.17 at 3:55 pm

steven t johnson @52

Assuming capitalism as a system is based on the priority of the endless accumulation of capital (lifting this definition from I. Wallerstein, via Marx pretty much), then the question arises whether the endless accumulation of capital necessarily entails continuous and increasing consumption of natural and other resources at a rate that exceeds the rate at which those resources are or can be renewed.

Your answer to that question is, presumably, yes; the OP implies, I think, that the answer might be no (as do various arguments about ‘sustainable growth’, though the relationship of those arguments to debates about capitalism is not completely clear to me, b.c I haven’t read enough here).

My point is that these arguments, to be at all illuminating, require at least some precision in and agreement on definitions and the deployment of evidence pro and con. Maybe Milanovic has done that somewhere, but that’s not what he does in the linked blog post. Indeed in the post he doesn’t even directly address the questions of ‘sustainable’ growth or whether it’s compatible w capitalism. Rather, he makes claims about individuals’ psychologies and propensities. It may be, as you write @52, that “the existence of human beings who are not profit maximizers is as irrelevant to the function of the capitalist system as the existence of individual soldiers who are not happy warriors is to the function of an army,” but M.’s blog post is not about, except indirectly, “the function[ing] of the capitalist system,” it’s about what he sees as the misguidedness of “de-emphasizing” growth, and he chooses to root much of his reasoning (such as it is) in claims about individual psychology, not claims about capitalism (or ‘the capitalist system’) requiring endless accumulation of capital or endless creative destruction, or whatever. I don’t think the word “capitalism” even appears in the post, or if it does it’s in passing.

You write @52 that M. “is right that the capitalist system is all about the endless pursuit of more and more profit, and this is an insatiable need,” but if that’s what M. said in the post, or all that M. said in the post, I don’t think people wd be objecting so much. It’s his claims about individual propensities and behavior, which you yourself deem “irrelevant,” that have stirred most of the objections here. And those objections don’t necessarily derive from people’s desire to have capitalism w/o greed or individual ‘badness’; rather, the objections are being raised b/c M’s statements about individual psychology and behavior are simply unpersuasive.

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LFC 07.15.17 at 4:05 pm

p.s. clarification:

Re-reading the key passage excerpted in the OP, I see that M. does say that individual greed etc. is “indispensable for capitalism to function.”

By your (steven t. johnson’s) own statements @52, that view of M’s is wrong (“the existence of human beings who are not profit maximizers is as irrelevant to the function of the capitalist system as the existence of individual soldiers who are not happy warriors is to the function of an army”).

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Orange Watch 07.15.17 at 4:23 pm

nastywoman@79

I’m not sure what you’re parenthetically calling capitalist really should be called capitalist, as it conflates modern capitalism with most economic systems that preceded it. Or to put it another way, I think you’re focusing on the wrong characteristics of the system to distinguish capitalism from not-capitalism, and are suggesting that the existence of some form of a public marketplace is all that it takes to be capitalist. Compared to doctrine capitalism, the ideal (or rather, idealized) miniature economies you describe had significantly more governmental/communal control, may have entirely lacked wage labor or significant amounts of currency, and did not perforce have meaningfully competitive markets. Among other things.

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MisterMr 07.15.17 at 4:50 pm

@LFC (but also to other commenters who IMHO misunderstand Milanovic’s position).
I think that Milanovic’s article should be read with M’s biography in mind: he was born in socialist Yugoslavia, then Yugoslavia had a rather traumatic change from socialism to capitalism, wich did lead to a very bad war and the dissolution of Yugoslavia itself.
He also has a certain knowledge of Marx, due to his upbriging, so he probably assumes that capitalism is based on continuous accumulation.
Now people all over the world have chosen capitalism over socialism, wich implies that people on the whole have chosen “accumulation for accumulation’s sake”, or at least growth in income over the more static soviet system. This is not a theory about psychology, it’s a description of an historical fact, at least from Milanovic’s point of view: how many serbians, croats etc. would like to go back to socialist Yugoslavia?

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bob mcmanus 07.15.17 at 5:01 pm

Appears people have already forgotten Piketty, whose historical analysis showed that periods of low growth increased inequality. r/g. In a sustainable economy, zero net growth, in order to be less than g (increasing equality) capital would have to have a negative return and at the least be a collapsing capitalism. If in this fantasy we moved quickly to socialism, well terrific, but we have only shown that capitalism needs growth, interrupted by equalizing crises. Piketty also shows that equality, as in the very exceptional trente glorieuse, only comes after catastrophe.

Low growth increases inequality, and under our current conditions, that means increasing political power to the rich, their corporations and their courtiers. We see how that works out and haven’t come up with an adequate countervailing power. I think low growth will inevitably lead to neo-feudalism, until someone shows me the plan and some successes.

PS: Won’t link, but the curious can look up “Accelerationism” which goes back to the Italian Futurists and Soviet avante-garde and in its current form best known by Nick Land and Benjamin Noys. I don’t think Milanovic is an Accelerationist.

PPS: Won’t get into Milanovic’s stuff “progressive expansion of commodification of things that were never commodified before” because this thread feels hostile to classical Marxism, let alone late capitalism or post-Marxism. There is nothing outside Capitalism, nothing that is not Capital, yes this means you and your care.

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bob mcmanus 07.15.17 at 5:33 pm

1) Since it is easy enough to scroll up and check, the problems so many have had with Branko Milanovic’s name (not to mention those deliberately mocking it) invites contempt and is possibly racist. Slavs and the Slavic descended don’t need this.

2) As far as reading feminists and incorporating feminist analysis, I currently have open Lisa Vogel’s 1983 classic and Esther Leslie’s biography of Walter Benjamin. Probably 40% of my reading is by women, and another 30% by half-woke men. If you want me to read particular women scholars, you have to make a good case, cause I already have hundred of books by women lined up. When am I gonna get to Agnes Heller?

As far as incorporating feminist critique into a given alien discourse, good luck, let me know, I have trying something similar for a decade.

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steven t johnson 07.15.17 at 5:43 pm

Alex@86
“Anyway, it’s kinda ironic to have a discussion debating whether we can get growth down, when the big problem for the past ten years in the global economy is State’s consciously and unconsciously choosing lower growth rates and stagnation. Doesn’t seem like there’s an inherent tendency towards growth in capitalism in these circumstances.”

The critique of capitalism as now impairing the growth of the productive forces (unlike previous social epochs, when it fostered them,) is one of the issues raised by Milanovic. The discussion here reveals that practically no one favors growth. Since growth includes increase in population including their education, and technological innovation and scientific discovery too. So I find that a staggering claim, bordering on open reaction. But maybe that’s just me.

That said, no, I do think self love Adam Smith means interest in profit. Moreover, I think Adam Smith believed the state was an ineffective actor precisely because it relied on other motivations for people, but those motives (respect for authority, patriotism, fear, benevolence, generosity, self-sacrifice) were inadequate. But greed was.

LFC@91
All capitalist systems are unstable and collapse financially because profit doesn’t increase continuously. That’s what a capitalist economic crisis is, a decline in profits. No decline in profits, no crisis. That’s why Clinton couldn’t truly grasp that Obama’s economic record was guaranteed to make it a close election. As to what a crisis of ecological collapse would look like? I don’t know. My guess is that financial crises will lead to wars that will be blamed as the cause of depopulation. I further guess that intellectuals will explain how a massive system of forced labor is necessary to address the ecological collapse, but maybe that’s just cheap cynicism.

LFC@92
Curse you, you’re right: An army composed wholly of pacifists wouldn’t work at all. So, yes, capitalism can be reformed out of existence by moral suasion of all capitalists to abjure greed in all its forms.

The prospect makes me glad to get up in the morning!

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bianca steele 07.15.17 at 6:07 pm

(Sorry, please ignore comment with the guy’s name spelled wrong.)

I’ll third Val. Milanovic is well known (Chris Bertram has discussed him here before, I think) but Raworth sounds like someone whose theories might appeal to people who read CT, unless I’ve made a false assumption about who these readers are. Though Milanovic seems like someone who might appeal to this group also. But it seems very implausible that she’s as ignorant about the nature of capitalist economies and societies as he implies, so implausible that it appears to be gratuitously insulting. Why would he do this? Maybe to position her as too naively leftist to be listened to? Or maybe to position himself as a purer critic of capitalism than her? Or generally as a gatekeeper and her as someone we should agree with his policing of?

In fact, the fact that no one before Val brought this up, even, is strange.

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Val 07.15.17 at 7:16 pm

engels @ 88

Have you ever reflected on your need to say ridiculous and dishonest things to and about me? The comments you are referring to, by Sam Bradford @67 and by me in response, are nothing to do with “petty bourg verities” – they are reflecting our own wishes and in my case my lived experience.

I don’t know about Sam, but I presume like me, he lives in a capitalist society. Yep, that’s true, but we didn’t fucking create it, and we’re allowed to imagine other societies and other ways of living.

What is it with guys like you (and Milanovic apparently)? As soon as someone tries to think about alternatives to the poisonous capitalist societies we have now, you jump all over them, especially me?

What is your problem exactly? Because what it looks like in both cases is that you’re so-called ‘socialist’ dude-bros who can’t bear women intruding on their territory.

This may get me into moderation because it’s a personal attack, but I’ve tried everything with you and I’ve had it. I am fucking tired of being the recipient of your contempt. Cut it out.

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bob mcmanus 07.15.17 at 8:58 pm

okay, so feeling guilty or something I go look up “feminist economics” at Wikipedia. Wow, I don’t know those names and works at all, although I have encountered the themes repeatedly, in Silvia Federici, for instance. ( I am pretty much in the social reproduction camp.)

3rd principle, from Paula England, paraphrased: All actors are not selfish.

Care. Okay, one could base an analysis of the social world from a base of CARE (and it’s denial and exploitation), just as we do labour or marginal utility. This would be a radically different ontology from both traditional and Marxist political economy, theory would support a praxis, praxis would gradually and/or abruptly create a better world. I contend such an analysis is pretty incommensurable with other discourses, and would require their abandonment. Communication would breakdown, leading to hostility and resentment in both camps.

Intersectionality is really hard. Let me try a little.

Late capitalism is characterized, among many other things, by declining profits, overaccumulation of dead capital, and seriously increased global competition. In order to maintain accumulation, wages and relevantly, the social wage must be reduced. This increases underemployment and the amount of unpaid labour in social reproduction (everything from babies to housework to twitter and facebook to CT.) In addition, late (or all) capitalism is about techniques to extract value directly from unpaid labour and social reproduction.

Thus the “care economy” and the “value economy” are in a dialectical relationship, not merely overlapping, but describing the same thing from different standpoints. This is not so far from classical marxism, in which cooperation on the shop floor formed social and interpersonal bonds etc underpants etc revolution.

Thing is, the step in which I decide that the unpaid and socially reproductive cooperation between men on on the shop floor, or building onto his house, or going to community college is so qualitatively and radically different (rather than quantitatively, shades and degrees of privilege and power) than women doing the same things or other forms of unpaid labour is really hard. I can’t move uncritically to a feminist standpoint.

But I can see that a “caring” standpoint could be revolutionary and perhaps even effective. Try it out in Adelaide. I’ll be watching.

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engels 07.15.17 at 9:18 pm

What have I said that is ‘dishonest’?

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nastywoman 07.15.17 at 9:33 pm

@93
”not sure what you’re parenthetically calling capitalist really should be called capitalist, as it conflates modern capitalism with most economic systems that preceded it.”

As I never have heard the word ”capitalism” I had to look it up and in the dictionary it said:
”an economic system in which resources and means of production are privately owned and prices, production, and the distribution of goods are determined mainly by competition in a free market ”

@79
But if it’s capitalist vs. capitalist, the word “capitalist” isn’t very useful, and you need to pick words that let you distinguish between the villages and the “outsiders”.

That is true??!

So would it have been better to write – that –
In a village ”an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market” – is preferable to an ”outsider economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market”??!

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engels 07.15.17 at 9:50 pm

they are reflecting our own wishes and in my case my lived experience

That was kind of the point. Ime the idea that life isn’t all about money tends to be rather more popular among middle-class people than it is among the rich, the poor and the unionised working class.

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Sandwichman 07.15.17 at 10:28 pm

Basically what Milanovich is saying is that growth is necessary, inevitable and desirable because there is no such thing as a general glut.

This is a “debate” in classical political economy and then in economics that should have ended two hundred years ago when Jean-Baptiste Say admitted that the “impossibility” of a general glut depended on how one defines “supply.” If not then, it should have ended 150 years ago when Alfred Marshall invoked the “magic wand of confidence” to prove that there is no such thing as overproduction. If not then, it should have ended 82 years ago when John Maynard Keynes showed why the economic system was not self-adjusting. If not then, it should have ended 20 or 30 years ago when it became clear to anybody with one functioning eye that trickle-down, supply-side economics didn’t trickle down.

At any rate, the whole point of the doctrine of the impossibility of a general glut was supposed to be a vindication of laissez-faire. Branko Milanovich is unwittingly promoting a doctrine of multi-national state intervention to insure continuation of a measure of “progress” whose most important advantage was supposed to emanate from its perpetual spontaneous generation.

Next, the government needs to build one, two, dozens… of nuclear power plants to insure that the perpetual motion machine doesn’t run out of fuel.

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engels 07.15.17 at 10:54 pm

What is it with guys like you (and Milanovic apparently)? As soon as someone tries to think about alternatives to the poisonous capitalist societies we have now, you jump all over them, especially me? What is your problem exactly?

Just for the record, I haven’t stopped anyone from thinking about alternatives to capitalism—I disagreed with the contention that the idea that individuals (under capitalism) are motivated to pursue unlimited accumulation is not worth engaging with.

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Val 07.15.17 at 11:15 pm

engels @ 103

Did you somehow miss the bit where I acknowledged that I was fortunate to be in the position I’m in?

Individual superannuation through work is compulsory in Australia. Again, as with the fact that Australia is a capitalist society, this is not a situation that I personally created, nor is it one that I agree with, because it’s inequitable. However, possibly because I am only one person in a population of 25 million, I have not yet been able to change Australian society completely (though I have to say that I have done a very good job on campaigning for our public health system on numerous occasions).

engels, if you are trying to say that no-one who has a decent (even modestly decent) income and a professional occupation should comment on CT, I think it would cut out most commenters. So why is it repeatedly me who has to be publicly singled out for contempt because of these things? Could it actually be because I’m a feminist?

Anyway enough of the personal spat. If you want to have reasoned debate with me, good, but if you try using contempt targeted at me again I will keep calling you on it.

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Guy Harris 07.15.17 at 11:29 pm

nastywoman:

So would it have been better to write – that –
In a village ”an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market” – is preferable to an ”outsider economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market”??!

Yes. At least there’s a difference between the descriptions, unlike speaking of “capitalism” and “capitalism”.

Then you take all the common parts, factor them out and remove them, and say that “an economy not run by outsiders is preferable to an economy run by outsiders”. That’s a pretty clear statement, and can be usefully debated.

Then again, as orangewatch said, perhaps there are more differences than just “villagers vs. outsiders”, and perhaps the village economies shouldn’t have been described as “capitalist”, as using the same term for them papers over those differences.

Of course, the home of Roche, Nestlé, and ABB could hardly be described as having a romantic little village economy, so your story is presumably a parable rather than an actual economic history of Switzerland. I’m not sure to what actual events in Swiss economic history the story you tell corresponds.

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Guy Harris 07.15.17 at 11:35 pm

nastywoman

As I never have heard the word ”capitalism” I had to look it up

The person to whom you’re referring said “modern capitalism”, not “capitalism”. The villages may well have been “capitalist” in the sense of the dictionary definition, but not in the sense of modern industrialized capitalist economies, as per, for example, orangewatch’s comment.

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Val 07.16.17 at 12:11 am

Bob @ 100
“But I can see that a “caring” standpoint could be revolutionary and perhaps even effective. Try it out in Adelaide. I’ll be watching”

I guess this is for me? I’m actually in Melbourne but thanks. I wrote a long response but then my battery went flat and I lost it, so maybe another time. I’ve actually been sick, hence the frequent commenting here and probably the somewhat grumpy tone :)

But getting better now so should get back to thesis, which has to be finished soon.

I did see that Kate Raworth wrote an extremely polite but also rather damning response to Milanovic on her blog. I should learn from her perhaps.

But actually I have a theory that public left wing intellectuals in the U.K. and US need to be stronger and clearer in their condemnation of noxious ideas and that maybe their lack of clarity has contributed to the mess that the UK and US are currently in. Not trying to blame the victims but eg I think that rather than equivocating on the EU, Corbyn should have condemned the Brexit leaders like Savage and Johnson in the strongest possible terms.

Similarly I would like to see John Holbo criticising the HA people (other thread) more robustly. They’ve got a political agenda, particularly against feminism and environmentalism (or possibly as someone else said are at least being used for one) and it should be confronted.

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Val 07.16.17 at 12:13 am

I think on reflection Corbyn doesn’t do negative politics does he, so he wouldn’t condemn the people, but he could have condemned the noxious ideas and lies they were telling.

111

Guy Harris 07.16.17 at 12:37 am

steven t johnson:

steven t johnson 07.15.17 at 3:30 pm
T. M. Chandrasekhar 07.14.17 at 8:51 pm
“Exponential growth in a finite world is impossible. The physical impossibility of Milanovic’s utopian fantasy of unlimited growth is nicely explored and dissected in this article by a UCSD physicist.

https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2012/04/economist-meets-physicist/

Have you done any analysis that refutes the points he makes there?

My guess is that you mean any real growth would have to be some sort of improvement in technique that didn’t damage the earth’s carrying capacity that permitted a rise in population and/or living standard (if they are genuinely separable things.)

Growth that damages the earth’s carrying capacity obviously can’t go on forever unless we’re about to start colonizing other celestial bodies. And the population can’t remain above earth’s carrying capacity forever, obviously, so, if we hit that level (assuming we haven’t done so already), either the population will have to remain steady rather than growing or the demands of individuals on that carrying capacity will have to shrink to compensate for the growth.

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LFC 07.16.17 at 1:15 am

MisterMr @94

Maybe Milanovic does think he’s simply describing historical facts, to use your phrase, but that’s not really how the blog post reads, istm. His biography/background is of some relevance, I suppose, but I don’t want to get into a discussion of the collapse of the USSR or the dissolution of Yugoslavia, not in this thread anyway.

(Btw, I don’t think the word socialism should be applied to the Soviet system, but that’s also best left for another occasion.)

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BenK 07.16.17 at 1:17 am

The obvious play to invalidate your three arguments is to suggest that there are non-monetary values; that money is a means to an end. Children, for example. Or if you want to be cynical, that children are also a means to an end of personal — happiness? security? some fundamental biological teleology? Career choice can also be about status signals and all that, when money is traded against other similarly selfish aims.

Anyway, there’s nothing in your arguments that suggests that drawing the boundaries strictly around income is a fair move when discussing the Leviathan.

Alternatively, Hobbes has been discussed for a very long time, and there are quite a few potential critiques, including ones that don’t embrace humanism – but certainly some that do.

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BenK 07.16.17 at 1:17 am

The obvious play to invalidate your three arguments is to suggest that there are non-monetary values; that money is a means to an end. Children, for example. Or if you want to be cynical, that children are also a means to an end of personal — happiness? security? some fundamental biological teleology? Career choice can also be about status signals and all that, when money is traded against other similarly selfish aims.

Anyway, there’s nothing in your arguments that suggests that drawing the boundaries strictly around income is a fair move when discussing the Leviathan.

Alternatively, Hobbes has been discussed for a very long time, and there are quite a few potential critiques, including ones that don’t embrace humanism – but certainly some that do.

115

J-D 07.16.17 at 1:51 am

Val
I think I was confused partly by the implicit contrast between ‘type’ and ‘gender’, since in one sense of the word ‘type’, gender is obviously a kind of type (of person) — indeed, that’s the etymological root of the word ‘gender’ (although etymology is not identity). However, I think I now grasp which more particular narrower sense of the word ‘type’ you intended. That wasn’t clear to me initially, but I think you have now cleared that up, so thanks for that.

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MisterMr 07.16.17 at 2:01 am

@Sandwichman 104

I think that Milanovic actually believes that capitalism causes general gluts, because I think (based on other posts on his blog) that he has an high opinion of Hobson, who had an underconsumptionist theory. I read his post as “oh dang, we collectively choose the capitalist route, so continuously increasing income becomes a necessity, wich could well cause gluts”. I cant read M’s mind tough so I could be wrong, however the idea that capitalism needs continuous growth and underconsumption theory are not opposed, they are often two sides of the same coin.
(Incidentally I don’t agree with M, I just think that his post is criticised for the wrong reasons).

@Val
I for one know next to nothing about feminist theory, and as a consequence I don’t know if I can engage a meaningful discussion with you.
However, for example, take the statistic that says that women in the USA have 80% of the income of men in similar occupations. This is a problem, isn’t it? But if this is a problem we want the income of women to increase, and we think that women are devalued by having a lower income, that is close to Milanovic’s point. We probably want women’s incomes to rise faster than men’s to close the gap, not that men’s income fall, and this requires overall growth. I’m not totally convinced by this argument (I think that income of some categories should fall), but it isn’t by itself an argument against this or that category of people.

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engels 07.16.17 at 2:05 am

How is it personal spat? I made a couple reasonable objections (principally that Milanovic is generally worth engaging with, and that the idea that people don’t care about increasing their income has a rather middle-class feel) which you responded to with an endless barrage of outraged personal abuse.

118

steven t johnson 07.16.17 at 2:13 am

Guy Harris@111 “Have you done any analysis that refutes the points he makes there?”

In 1880, if an economist contemplated a New York City with a metropolitan population in excess of eight million people, they might have concluded that the streets would be so deep in horse droppings the city would be effectively uninhabitable. I do not think we are justified in assuming technology will come to the rescue, but nor are we justified in assuming there will be no technological innovation. As for population and industrial production that stresses the carrying capacity of the biosphere? You tell me. Cite your sources, please.

Physical production can stagnate, or grow very slowly, while profits for the ruling class increase. Redistribution, revaluation after financial crises, speedup, etc.

Are people confusing themselves with notions about capitalist growth actually meaning an increase in human welfare? That capitalist growth doesn’t mean more wealth and income for the capitalists but a universal increase in the goods of life? That’s not capitalist reformism, but just plain capitalist apologetics.

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engels 07.16.17 at 2:27 am

Maybe part of the problem might be your tendency to perceive almost any disagreement as a deep personal injury, inflicted for nefarious reasons, that sends you into a rage…

120

Faustusnotes 07.16.17 at 3:57 am

Milanovic is not wrong because he endangers my “petty bourgeois verities” or because I need to believe that capitalism can be tamed morally. He’s wrong because he’s wrong about what people want and how they think. He – and people like Engels in this thread – are making a normative claim that humans are motivated by greed and the desire to accumulate more. This is simply not true. Engels mischaracterizes mine and Val’s position as privileged middle class people whining that money isn’t everything, and as always puts his own privileged arse on the side of the workers, but as usual he’s completely misrepresenting us. The issue here is not that money is more important than cultural capital (to draw on a recent internet controversy). The issue is the claim that the desire to grab more money is a fundamental part of human character or morality. That is fundamentally wrong , objectively and clearly, it’s just factually bullshit. If you can’t get something as basic as that right, you are a fucking idiot. It’s as equally bullshit as trying to build a feminist theory on “rape is biologically inevitable” or a social justice theory on “blacks are inferior.” Start from these positions and you will construct nothing of value.

As another commenter points out, capitalism doesn’t assume anything about the moral content of its actors, it simply assumed market competition is a useful way of organizing the distribution of resources. That’s it. Sure there is a scum of commentators that has floated to the top of the American right wing cesspit who think that this means all humans must be greedy grasping arseholes, but why would we waste our time on ideological discussion with such transparently mean-spirited and corrupt people? If Milanovic has imbibed their poison then I recommend questioning all his earlier work, rather than saying his earlier work justifies listening to this crap.

Also, if you’re a socialist revolutionary like Engels or McManus the hyper feminist , and you believe this rubbish Milanovic is spouting , you might want to ask yourself a few searching questions about how socialism will ever work against such a moral backdrop, and what legal and social mechanisms you will need to use to restrain this greed in a socialist society. If you’re having difficulty answering the second question, I believe Stalin and his buddies have a body of work on “the kulak problem” that you could look to for inspiration. Bonus revolutionary points if you see it as sensible guidance rather than a warning …

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Val 07.16.17 at 7:25 am

@ 119
Because you had to jump in to an interesting discussion with your contemptuous jibe about “petty bourg verities”. I don’t know what you think your put downs add to discussion, but they annoy me, especially because they so often seem to be directed when I’m having interesting and positive discussions.

Now if you can’t let it go I’m going to start posting videos from Frozen at you. You stuffed up. Let it go.

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J-D 07.16.17 at 8:10 am

engels, do you perceive no difference in tone between

But by all means put your fingers in your ears and recite petty bourg verities about how people only really want ‘enough’ to live ‘decent’ lives if that makes you feel good…

and

Ime the idea that life isn’t all about money tends to be rather more popular among middle-class people than it is among the rich, the poor and the unionised working class.

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nastywoman 07.16.17 at 8:14 am

@107
”I’m not sure to what actual events in Swiss economic history the story you tell corresponds.”

Try it firstly with the ”Alpine Convention” which might have mirrored in all it’s… ”controversy” – discussions about how damaging a ”insatiable drive to maximize income” can be – waaay before Branko Milanovic came to his (silly) conclusion about the insatiable drive to maximize income.

And a lot more ”actual” –
Do you know that the home of Roche, Nestlé, and ABB came up with the idea to limit – in ”a ground-breaking referendum” – ”bosses” pay to 12 times that of lowest-paid staff … and that 34.7% of all Swiss already voted for that? –
And so – even the referendum in this first ”try” failed – it showed how far advanced Switzerland already is – in the ”capitalistic”? believe of ”wealth for all”

And that’s what I really like -(currently residing on the Swiss-German border) that most Swiss honestly believe that EVERYBODY in a society should be ”profiting” from the fruits of their -(with our any doubt) – ”capitalistic” society.

And about your idea that, the home of Roche, Nestlé, and ABB could hardly be described as having a romantic little village economy”.

It might be time for you to visit ”Die Alpen”??

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nastywoman 07.16.17 at 9:06 am

and furthermore @ALL

– as somebody else has already mentioned Milanovic was born into ”communism” –
And as a (Italian) communist once famously mentioned that ”communism” is:
”When everybody drives a Ferrari” –
Milanovic perhaps REALLY was mainly thinking about that – when he wrote about an ”insatiable drive”? – and that ”communism” just hasn’t been done the right way (yet?)

Which could bring us to the question of:
”an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market” –
(defined as : ”Capitalism”)

Perhaps it just haven’t been done right yet either? – even if a country like Switzerland -(and Germany) point to the fact – that ”great – great” paying jobs – a great social net – great affordable health care – great FREE education – great and long payed vacations – and a great life-work balance can be the result of ”an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market” –

Which doesn’t mean that there are lots and lots of idiots – who prove the complete opposite.
Just like in Switzerland where the likes of of Roche, Nestlé, and ABB still exist – besides some really awesome – sustainable systems of a ”romantic little village economy” – and as my favorite cheesemaker always says:
”One day the (NOT GROWTH ORIENTATED) sustainable systems of a ”romantic little village economy” will take over completely -(the same way it already has taken over in some small communities in California – or anywhere else where sane people roam the earth)

Capisce?!

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Chris Bertram 07.16.17 at 9:47 am

@engels “Ime the idea that life isn’t all about money tends to be rather more popular among middle-class people than it is among the rich, the poor and the unionised working class.”

Indeed so, though we might think about the conclusions we should draw from this and whether they lend any support to Milanovic’s psychological thesis. People who have very little money have a reason to want more money that has nothing to do with proclaiming their position in an status hierarchy and everything to do with satisfying essential needs. That fact has long led to a worry among pro-capitalist ideologues from Max Weber writing about Prussian peasants (iirc) to some reactions to basic income proposals, that, if you paid the poor more then they would work less, as they would knock off the job as soon as they had enough to give them an adequate standard of living.

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Guy Harris 07.16.17 at 10:43 am

nastywoman:

<blockquoteAnd as a (Italian) communist once famously mentioned that ”communism” is:
”When everybody drives a Ferrari”

If that is, in fact, true, that leaves open the question of whether it’s a bug or a feature of communism. If Ferrari have finally figured out that thermoplastic fuse blocks probably aren’t the brightest idea in the world, perhaps it’s closer to a feature, although you’d probably best either equip them with some form of clutchless transmission – which I think newer ones have – or with lighter clutch springs. (And the excitement may well wear off after a while for some.)

I.e., not everybody would want a Ferrari. Trust me on this one, even if it shatters romantic notions of the wonderfulness of Ferraris.

Which doesn’t mean that there are lots and lots of idiots – who prove the complete opposite.
Just like in Switzerland where the likes of of Roche, Nestlé, and ABB still exist

And, in Denmark, the likes of Novo Nordisk still exist; that’s very nice for me, as, without companies such as Novo Nordisk, I’d be dead.

One day the (NOT GROWTH ORIENTATED) sustainable systems of a ”romantic little village economy” will take over completely

And they’ll be making either 1) injectable insulin or 2) treatments to let my beta cells grow back, without my immune system going on the attack against them again, hopefully. Otherwise, I won’t be around to enjoy those “romantic little village economies”.

Now, whether we’ll all be typing stuff onto Internet comment boards in that world is another question; unless there’s a way to make microchips without big expensive fabrication plants, of the sort that are unlikely to be buildable in a “romantic little village economy”, probably not. One might argue that we’d be better off without computers, cars, trains, automobiles, tractors, telephones, etc., and perhaps we would be, but if you’re going to predict a world made up entirely of “romantic little village economies”, make sure that world will be able to make everything you’d need, and that anything you’d want, but not need, that it couldn’t make is something you’d be willing to do without.

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reason 07.16.17 at 10:53 am

Mister Mr. @46
“I don’t understand why you think that a “debt based” capitalist economy needs continuous growth, but a non debt based capitalist economy doesn’t:
Debt tends to accumulate because savers tend to reinvest their interest into other debt, so they have a “drive to accumulation”.
But the same goes for capitalists if they reinvest their profits into additional capital assets, so the only difference is if we assume that savers have a drive to accumulation, but capitalists don’t, which is a rather weird assumption imho.”

Sorry for quoting the whole thing, but it seems incoherent to me.
1. What have depositors got to do with debt levels? It is the amount of lending that happens (or is allowed) that is the key.
2. There is no evidence that there is excess accumulation of productive assets. Capitalists can only make profits as long as there is somebody else who is spending more than their income (yes it could be government). And I see no reason to imagine that we could not have inheritance taxes to make very large accumulations difficult. (Anti-trust and anti hostile takeover measures might also help). I’m not saying that capitalism as it currently functions could thrive in a no growth environment, but I don’t see anything inherent in capitalism itself (private ownership of the means of production) that stops it from thriving in a no growth environment. There are plently of small businesses that have thrived for a long time without any growth.

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reason 07.16.17 at 11:00 am

I think people in general are barking up the wrong tree with “capitalism” (I think it is just another form of power concentration – the alternatives aren’t really better). I think the problem is specialisation itself. If people put all their eggs in one basket, you are inevitably going to have very defensive lobbies pushing their particular special interests, the general good be damned. We need to reassure people about their economic security. Mass accumulation of assets is to a large extent just fear of losing privileges.

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reason 07.16.17 at 11:06 am

P.S. To clarify something else – I’m of the view that a sustainable economy would be capital intensive, and that we work less but a higher proportion of economic would be directed to maintaining our capital (rather than consumption). As Herman Daly thought we must aim to do (less throughput, aim is to maintain our capital and improve welfare).

130

Guy Harris 07.16.17 at 11:17 am

nastywoman:

”I’m not sure to what actual events in Swiss economic history the story you tell corresponds.”

Try it firstly with the ”Alpine Convention”

“The Alpine Convention in a nutshell” doesn’t seem to be particularly focused on small village cheesemakers. “PROTOCOL ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE 1991 ALPINE CONVENTION IN THE FIELD OF TRANSPORT” speaks of “transferring an increasing amount of transport, especially freight transport, to the railways”. I don’t know of any locomotives being built by “romantic little village economies”.

The stuff I see on the Alpine Convention website looks pretty reasonable to me. But I’m kind of a left-brained person, and it all looks pretty left-brained to me; not much romanticism, which, for me, is a feature, not a bug.

Do you know that the home of Roche, Nestlé, and ABB came up with the idea to limit – in ”a ground-breaking referendum” – ”bosses” pay to 12 times that of lowest-paid staff … and that 34.7% of all Swiss already voted for that?

Yes, I did; I remember reading about it a while ago. It’s claimed here that the CEO-to-worker pay ratio (probably to the average worker, rather than the lowest-paid worker) in the US was 20-to-1 in 1965; even if you think pay is 100% determined by your “worth”, I’m not convinced that the CEOs of 2013 are 15 times better than the CEOs of 1965, so as to justify a 295-to-1 ratio in 2013.

But at least they banned “golden parachutes”, as they call them here in the US (called “golden goodbyes” in the article).

And about your idea that, the home of Roche, Nestlé, and ABB could hardly be described as having a romantic little village economy”.

It might be time for you to visit ”Die Alpen”??

Yes, although I suspect my visit would confirm my suspicion that, while the Swiss economy might include small village cheesemakers, most of the Swiss economy is made up of larger entities and Mittelstand-style businesses tied in with the Big Global Economy. (Blessed are the cheesemakers, but they’re less than 1% of GDP.)

131

Val 07.16.17 at 12:43 pm

The point is also that engels’ intervention, whether the original rude one or the later more polite one, was a misreading of the conversation between Sam Bradford and myself.

There had been a theme in the comments about whether the supposed “insatiable desire” that Milanovic posits is (insofar as anything like it exists) more likely related to fear and insecurity than greed. That was what we were discussing.

(It’s not pleasant in a discussion to have someone barge in, misunderstand what you’re saying and start insulting you. Obviously. For some reason that sounds really funny to me.)

The other thing I think is important and relevant is to remind people that above a certain fairly modest level of income, there’s no evidence that higher income equates with greater health or happiness on a population level (eg my old favourite example about Cuba having similar life expectancy to the US).

The factors that are important seem to be equality, fairness, social solidarity, caring and relationships (and access to healthcare, particularly good primary health care, of course). Having just visited a South Pacific nation I might add not being exposed to western junk food etc (capitalism generally in that sense).

(I’m guessing, but I think the level of income involved may be not that far from the current per capita global income ie it’s about distribution rather than growth. Wonder if anyone knows of better estimates?)

132

MisterMr 07.16.17 at 2:34 pm

@reason 127
(Note:I’m not an economist)

The problem is not “depositors” but creditors, aka “savers”. In my understanding a “debt based system” work this way:
Some people don’t want to spend, but they want to accumulate wealth. This could cause a recession but the government steps in and creates bonds, so the savers are happy because they get financial assets and the government recycles demand into the real economy through government spending; something similar happens through banks and private lending.
Eventually financial assets pile up and as they claim interest if the real economy doesn’t grow fast enough interests eat up a rising share of the pie.
The whole debt based economy exists because there is a group of people who wants to accumulate and not to spend, otherwise the government would have no reason to emit bonds.
If we speak of the real economy, as long as the economy is booming (expanding) a group of people (capitalists) is spending money not on consumption goods, but in additional assets (factories). When for whatever the reason they stop building new factories, a part of aggregate demand disappears, which makes existing factories redundant, which causes a vicious cycle of disinvestiment and fall in aggregate demand.
I take this as Marx’s theory of the business cycle, expressed in “demand side” terms.
From this point of view, the debt based economy is just a special case of the “overaccumulation” thingie, just what is accumulated is financial instead than real.
You say that there is no excess of capital, but this is true from your point of view but maybe not from the point of view of capitalists who would see their profit share fall as employment rises.

Regarding taxes and other ways to check accumulation, you might be right (I hope you are right actually) but this just mean that we accept that capitalism is based on greed and accumulation and we choose to put a check on it, not that capitalism is not based on greed and accumulation.

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nastywoman 07.16.17 at 3:42 pm

@126
”Now, whether we’ll all be typing stuff onto Internet comment boards in that world is another question;”

– which has to be answered with a happy:
YES – as the ”romantic little village economy” – on a blog like ”Crooked Timber” – could be understood as more of a ”parable” about a desirable world (or economy?) –
where the desire for ”GROWTH” mainly exists in spring – concerning the nature in a pretty romantic landscape and the ”insatiable drive to maximize income” is more or less limited to the few ”Trumpists” – and otherwise all the ”good stuff” I was writing about – plus what Val just suggested –
is available for ”the people”!

134

engels 07.16.17 at 5:00 pm

Val, JD, FaustusNotes: this will doubtless come as a blow to your inflated self-esteem but I really don’t care a great deal what any of you think of my behaviour or my politics.

Chris, I’ve got a fair bit of sympathy for what you’re saying; I didn’t object to the post but to some of the over-heated replies suggesting that the Milanovic/Hobbes views weren’t worth debating. I think the question of what poorer citizens of capitalist societies want is interesting and fraught. It seems hard to ignore the Hobbesian currents in popular culture anyway

135

Anarcissie 07.16.17 at 5:40 pm

Faustusnotes 07.16.17 at 3:57 am @ 120:
‘He – and people like Engels in this thread – are making a normative claim that humans are motivated by greed and the desire to accumulate more…’

That’s not a normative assertion, if by normative you mean ‘stating how things ought to be,’ which I think is the usual meaning of the word. Also, as I recall Engels did not make his assertion apply to all humans, but to a specific set of them: the ruling class of capitalist states, who are the primary people who matter as to the configuration and behavior of these states. The confusion between normative and descriptive seems odd in present company.

136

engels 07.16.17 at 6:02 pm

PS. Val and FaustusNotes might reflect on the extent to which their online praxis lives up to their anti-Hobbesian principles…

137

bruce wilder 07.16.17 at 7:38 pm

reason @ 127-129
MisterMr @ 132

I cannot say that I am much impressed generally by casual references to “alternatives to capitalism” like these alternatives are in a box and on the shelf at Wal-Mart. The record on intentional communities does not make me optimistic about winging it after The Revolution; I’ve been to Cuba.

Given the sheer vast scale and complexity of social cooperation in the the economic system we are limited, practically, to tinkering and regulating, and a serious perennial problem of the Left, as representatives of the lower orders plus the more airy fairy elements of the creative classes, is that the Left have a hard time locating leaders and political operatives who are even half-way competent at the exercise of authority in the management of hierarchies, never mind the constant hazard of betrayal to the interests of the wealthy few. (It is not an accident that mainstream economists are almost all hacks or corrupt or both. It prevents the left from hiring any to good effect or colleges from educating the young while busily indoctrinating them.)

If we want to save the human race from voluntary extinction (personally, I am keeping an open mind, but let’s assume we do for the sake of argument), then economically, job 1 includes some fairly extreme constraints on all use of energy (not just fossil fuels) in production and distribution. We’d have to plan the backbone systems of communication and transportation and electricity generation and related systems of location and structures (e.g. housing) to use in 2050, a fraction of the energy we use today, from all sources.

That doesn’t seem to be part of people’s common intuition. Elite culture seems to like the Elon Musk song-and-dance and the lastest news on the price of solar panels. We want flying cars and we want them now; let us pause now to worship our iphones. We read constantly of technological progress on the will-of-wisp of self-driving cars, but building high-speed rail connecting northern to southern California struggles to survive its politics.

And, most people do not want to hear about the advisability of population reduction. I don’t see many articles celebrating Japan or Italy’s declining population. (We don’t celebrate Syria’s declining population either, for obvious humanitarian reasons, though it is arguably an adaptive response to neoliberal economics and climate change.)

For the developed world, such a radical reduction in all energy use while largely eliminating uses of fossil fuels that add carbon to the global carbon cycle, would involve replacing most existing infrastructure. The replacement of most infrastructure happens anyway over a 30-50 year period. Structures and systems that seem to persist for centuries are actually being reproduced by routine maintenance and repair and renovation. So, in theory, there is not necessarily some vast incremental change in the rate of investment in the capital stock required, but the change would be radical nevertheless.

Whether we need a larger “capital stock” as reason seems to suggest is hard to assess. Though maybe he means something else, such as the need to institute active management of more previously “natural” or “wild” systems: at anything like the present weight of human population and consumption, we are inevitably having to turn vast areas of the natural world into parks and farms and assume responsibility for managing their ecologies.

Why do we have to reduce energy use of all kinds? Because that is proxy for all human activity impacting the earth and its ecology, straining its capacity to carry us and the rest of living things. All energy use entails entropy and waste. There’s no “clean” energy; that’s magical thinking. Anything we do now will be done on a vast scale with global impact. If the U.S. replaced all its fossil fuel energy generation with solar panels, it would have to cover an area of land in solar panels comparable to all the area now paved with concrete and asphalt. The resources consumed in making (and replacing) the solar panels would be similarly vast, and not without consequences for resource depletion and the environment.

I suspect we also have to do something to slow down the implementation of new technologies. Maybe, radically reducing energy use and its consequences as waste and energy reduces the risks of innovation, but I suspect we also need to scale up the infrastructure of the scientific academy, to monitor what we are doing, in our ignorance of consequences in this uncertain world. We need to take more seriously the general lessons of lead poisoning from gasoline and the threat to the ozone layer from hairspray, as the bees die off and the oceans fill with jellyfish.

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Sam Bradford 07.16.17 at 7:44 pm

This argument began with a psychological claim, didn’t it? The claim being that endless greed is the most important motivation of human behaviour and organising principle of society. This just seems empirically wrong to me. I know too many people who don’t give a shit about money beyond having enough to live on.

It may be true that these sentiments are more common in the middle class. Well, that makes sense, doesn’t it? In our current society, not having enough money leaves you gravely insecure and fearful. Of course poor people want more money, they need it. Once you have a certain degree of security, it becomes a secondary concern. I’d say that greed beyond that is a question of temperament rather than a universal. Maybe 20% of people think the way Milanovic says they do? I’d consider it an aberration. Most people can call an asshole an asshole.

I think the most interesting comment to come out of this was by whoever first brought up fear, because I think that’s something really missing from the standard analysis. I’ve spent my life on a low income and surrounded by low-income people, and our relationship to wealth is basically one of fear rather than greed. Fear of homelessness, basically. That’s the motivating factor, not a desire for status through wealth. That applies even more so for those with families.

I’m from New Zealand. Once in a while the business pages will publish an article bemoaning the tendency of business owners here to sell up when their business reaches a certain size rather than seeking to grow. There’s even a name for this – “the Three Bs”. Boat, bach (holiday home) and BMW. The idea being that business owners, having attained these three luxuries, decide they’ve done enough work and sell up. Well, what could be saner? It makes me feel a tinge of national pride.

139

nastywoman 07.16.17 at 8:15 pm

@134
It seems hard to ignore the Hobbesian currents in popular culture anyway…

Not too hard as long as there is Been B with:

”Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess
Paparazzi, catch my fly, and my cocky fresh
I’m so reckless when I rock my Givenchy dress (stylin’)
I’m so possessive so I rock his Roc necklaces”

Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation, I slay
Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation
You know you that bitch when you cause all this conversation
Always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper

Girl, I hear some thunder
Golly, look at that water, boy, oh lord”

140

F. Foundling 07.16.17 at 9:29 pm

@OP

First, I will play the devil’s advocate, even though I find Milanovic’s thoughts presented here neither congenial nor interesting and original at all. To begin with, I don’t think that he’s saying that income is people’s *only* priority; the fact that people may compromise and balance that desire with other priorities doesn’t seem to contradict his claim that social rank and income are *one* priority that is indispensable for the functioning of contemporary capitalist societies. And even if he had claimed that, the specific counterexamples wouldn’t necessarily disprove it:

1. Career choice: it could be argued that people choose things they know they are good at, because that maximises the plausibility of their attaining the highest possible income, or at least the highest possible social rank *within a specific sphere*. You know that you can never be anything like a great football player or a hot supermodel like some others in your class, so you study hard in order to become a tenured professor and hope that *this* will get you the status, prestige, adoration and fancy mobile phones that you crave.

2. Location: moving may lead to a lower *relative* social rank & income *within a specific community*. You know – better first in the village than second in Rome.

3. Children: children may be regarded as something that increases your status (after all, a perfect and complete life is commonly supposed to include having a partner, a family and children) or even specifically as a signal of income, as a luxury of sorts, an example of the ‘insatiable needs’ Milanovic mentions. You buy the children the most expensive clothes and toys, enroll them in the most expensive schools and so on – they’re like a Mercedes.

4. Political choices: political decisions, including ‘taking back control’ and reducing immigration, may be seen as a way to increase one’s social status and, frequently, income as well. Brexiters may have realised the country as a whole would get less resources, but they almost certainly thought that native Britons such as themselves (as opposed to immigrants, the immigrants’ employers, Eurocrats etc.) would get *more* resources (not just as a relative share, but also in absolute terms).

And now a couple of problems with Milankovic’s claims. First, as the examples show, even if people did inevitably want a higher social rank than other people, that still wouldn’t necessarily entail that they had to attain it through higher income, since there are other forms of prestige. Second, even if people did inevitably want to attain higher social rank specifically though attaining higher income than other people, that still wouldn’t necessarily entail growth, because the same thing can be achieved no worse and no better in a zero-sum game. Third, it is *not*, in fact, inevitable for people to attach great importance to attaining higher social rank and income – it is a fact of life that some people *are* more indifferent towards rank and prestige than others, and more inclined to view both other people and their own activities as something unique rather than something to be assigned a specific place in a hierarchy. These are also the more decent people, if I may venture to express a subjective political and philosophic preference, and often the more useful and less harmful ones in my experience. That is because there are just too many discrepancies between what leads to higher rank and income and what is actually beneficial for other humans.

Milanovic mentions insatiable needs, which is not *necessarily* connected to income and social rank at all. It is true that there always remains some part of your lifestyle that *could* potentially be made more convenient and comfortable – hence the so-called ‘insatiability’ – but that doesn’t have to mean that you desperately need ever more material resources. The same amount of food per month, the same amount of small luxuries per month, etc., with some variation – not an increase – are quite enough to keep a person happy.

141

Val 07.16.17 at 9:39 pm

Bruce Wilder @137
“I cannot say that I am much impressed generally by casual references to “alternatives to capitalism” like these alternatives are in a box and on the shelf at Wal-Mart. The record on intentional communities does not make me optimistic about winging it after The Revolution; I’ve been to Cuba.”

What does this mean? What are you saying about Cuba?

Obviously I’m interested in Cuba, I’ve studied it a bit, but I’ve never been there. One of my daughters has been there twice, she likes it a lot. Obviously she’s only been a visitor, and there’s a lot she wouldn’t know, but some of the things she mentioned (as I recall)
– lack of advertising
– lack of geographical class division (I think the beautiful houses of old Havana were divided up into apartments for working class people)
– quirkiness, art, what she imagines as 1950s style (because she wasn’t born in the 1950s of course) including the big old American cars (which of course aren’t very environmentally friendly but Cuba’s CO2 emissions are still relatively low)

I’d like to go, but am not likely to in the near future as I’m trying to restrict the amount of travel by plane I do and it’s a long way from here. Other things I like about it (from what I’ve read) are the health system and the urban agriculture.

Did you not like it? What did you not like or dislike?

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Val 07.16.17 at 10:12 pm

There’s a lot to agree with in what people are saying here, but I still think we are tending to focus a bit too much on ‘human nature’ rather than social organisation.

So looking again at what Milanovic says:
“the really important counter-argument to Kate is that her proposal fails to acknowledge the nature of today’s capitalist economies. They are built on two “fundaments”: (a) at the individual level, greed and the insatiable desire for more, and (b) on the collective level, competition as a means to achieve more.”

He is ignoring two other “fundaments”, one obviously being an exploited working class, who (as we are all agreeing) are just trying to get by or escape poverty, rather than being driven by greed. The other is the ‘class’ of people who provide caring work, often unpaid or low paid, which historically has been organised by gender. It has been, and to a large extent still is, women who do this.

It’s really weird – it seems you can read an article almost every week in the mainstream media about how women still do most of the caring work and yet a prominent economist can still totally ignore it.

It is extraordinary to me, how much men are able to ignore women’s experience.

143

F. Foundling 07.16.17 at 10:26 pm

A brief note w.r.t. ‘erasing care’ above – I don’t see how care changes the overall picture significantly. Paid care is a service offered on the market like any other (it is often low-paid, absent interventions in the market, because the supply is very large). As for unpaid care, few people in today’s capitalist societies are exclusively unpaid carers, but even being a full-time unpaid carer or housekeeper has never precluded desiring and striving for higher status and being greedy and competitive, it’s just that things apply at the household level rather than at the individual level.

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J-D 07.16.17 at 10:34 pm

engels

Val, JD, FaustusNotes: this will doubtless come as a blow to your inflated self-esteem but I really don’t care a great deal what any of you think of my behaviour or my politics.

I don’t know how much you care, but the fact that you posted this comment demonstrates conclusively that you do care.

145

engels 07.16.17 at 11:51 pm

children may be regarded as something that increases your status (after all, a perfect and complete life is commonly supposed to include having a partner, a family and children) or even specifically as a signal of income

I think it’s better for Hobbesoids to see them as self-seeking behaviour on the level of genes (or, for non-Darwinians, an effort to preserve something of one’s aims/values/status after death). Assimilating the provision of resources to one’s immediate descendants to altruism seems to me deeply mistaken, not least because there’s so little correlation between people who do it and people who give a shit about humanity at large.

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engels 07.16.17 at 11:56 pm

(I’ve a feeling there an interesting post by John Qoggin some years back about the tensions between these various Hobbesoid views: selfish genes v homo economicus v realism in IR…)

147

Peter T 07.17.17 at 1:24 am

If desire for more money is not an inherent human characteristic (and most people do not see it as one), then where does the drive to accumulate more come from? I think a large part of the answer is that it’s inherent in the nature of money, and therefore of monetised societies. The key characteristic of money is its divisibility – some fraction of the money value of every exchange can be diverted to other parties (taxes, but also fees, rents, profit – any third party share). This enables the erection of higher social pyramids, longer chains of money-based status, which in turn enable greater production. A cycle that ends when you run out of land, energy, room or other key resource inputs to production.

Status competition for more money drives the creation of more money than can be materially sustained, which leads to periodic demand crises. Or, more nastily, the underlying material base can fall, in which case status is threatened and, with it, production. Typically this leads to repression, reaction, violence and re-allocation. A good example is the collapse of European agricultural prices after 1870, which stressed the established land-based elites (and their relatives and clients), led to mass emigration, repression at home and violence abroad.

Milanovic would like to think we are in a demand crisis. My gloomier feeling is that we are, but also in an environmental one. We are now monetising everything in sight to keep the cycle alive. It will end when we demonetise things and accept the lowered hierarchies that go with that.

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engels 07.17.17 at 2:38 am

I cannot say that I am much impressed generally by casual references to “alternatives to capitalism” like these alternatives are in a box and on the shelf at Wal-Mart.

You’re in good company
https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=recipes+for+the+cookshops+of+the+future

149

TM 07.17.17 at 8:53 am

@engels “Ime the idea that life isn’t all about money tends to be rather more popular among middle-class people than it is among the rich, the poor and the unionised working class.”

I will bite for once. I happen to be a union member, more importantly I do know a bit about the history of the union movement. If engels really thinks that the only concern of unions is wages, he must be totally ignorant of what unions do. Why do you think unions have worked so hard for lower work hours? Some of the biggest union fights have been for more leisure time (e. g. the partially successful fight for the 35 hour workweek in Germany and France, see https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auseinandersetzungen_um_die_35-Stunden-Woche) rather than more money.

As to the rich and the poor: Some of us (apparently not including engels) think that we should aim for an economy that doesn’t produce rich and poor people. I would be perfectly fine with a society of middle class people who have materially enough to live good lives and are free of the illusion that “life is all about money”. I also think his view of poor people is rather insulting.

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TM 07.17.17 at 9:03 am

engels 134: “I think the question of what poorer citizens of capitalist societies want is interesting and fraught.”

It is certainly an interesting question and one that in my perception nowadays gets pathetically little public attention. However I haven’t see you contribute anything of substance to that debate we might have, except for suggesting that poor people only care about money, which I think is baseless and ignorant.

151

TM 07.17.17 at 9:25 am

Since Switzerland has been mentioned above: You might enjoy this little documentation which shows by far the most popular activity that the mostly middle class, but poor and rich as well, residents of the Swiss capital like to engage in in their free time. It is a case study in the “commodification” of leisure time. Watch these residents of an affluent society spend every free minute on income maximization.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hly8NG3y-vE

It’s worth remembering that many of the things that real existing people in the real world enjoy most are free or cheap: sex, conversation, parties, music, dancing, hiking, swimming, spending time in green space. Capitalism has to work hard to convince us that what we really need is more stuff. Capitalism has also relied on limiting access to and, yes, commodifying some of these activities, and this has often been justified as promoting economic growth. People who have access to clean rivers or lakes or ocean fronts don’t need swimming pools, for example. So you privatize access to water bodies, or refuse to protect them from pollution. But even in capitalism, there are other choices.

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Rapier 07.17.17 at 10:18 am

Huge mistake here by Milanovic and all involved. It is not ever increasing income that the uber rich and most everyone else seeks. What is sought it ever increasing price of assets. The ‘wealth’ of nations is measured in the mark to market price of assets and uber wealth is measured by the holding of assets, mostly financial assets.

The entire system is designed to inflate the prices of assets by the way. Such is the be all and end all of the ‘economy’ now. This will end.

153

reason 07.17.17 at 10:18 am

Bruce @137
I think we need a larger more distributed capital stock in order to move to sustainability, because at the moment we are using resources extensively and not intensively. We will have to recycle more and that requires quite sophisticated technology. We will have to replace cheap simple throwaway technology like plastic bags with more expensive reusable technology to do the same thing, etc, etc. And yes I agree mostly with your other points.

But I think capitalism or not capitalism is besides the point, I’m not much into regarding names as particularly important. But the scale and driving factors of how we build the world we live in must change.

154

reason 07.17.17 at 10:26 am

MisterMr @132
“The whole debt based economy exists because there is a group of people who wants to accumulate and not to spend, otherwise the government would have no reason to emit bonds.”

I don’t think that is true, there is more bond issuing in war time when there is less accumulation due to desire to accumulate and more due to lack of production of consumption goods. And actually at present government bond issuance is a small part of credit creation, most of it is private.

It is also possible that investment can be made to save costs (either financial or environmental) rather than to expand consumption good capacity.

155

reason 07.17.17 at 10:29 am

Bruce,
think about the current paradox – the most environmentally efficient modern houses are owned by the well off. That is why I think we need more investment in a nutshell.

156

engels 07.17.17 at 10:33 am

Hence it comes, too, that the social war, the war of each against all, is here openly declared. Just as in Stirner’s recent book [The Ego and Its Own], people regard each other only as useful objects; each exploits the other, and the end of it all is that the stronger treads the weaker under foot; and that the powerful few, the capitalists, seize everything for themselves, while to the weak many, the poor, scarcely a bare existence remains.

What is true of London, is true of Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, is true of all great towns. Everywhere barbarous indifference, hard egotism on one hand, and nameless misery on the other, everywhere social warfare, every man’s house in a state of siege, everywhere reciprocal plundering under the protection of the law, and all so shameless, so openly avowed that one shrinks before the consequences of our social state as they manifest themselves here undisguised, and can only wonder that the whole crazy fabric still hangs together.

157

TM 07.17.17 at 12:52 pm

steven t johnson 07.15.17 at 3:30 pm

“As to your slides, I’m not seeing anything about national income accounts, the measurement of growth, profit rates, income and property distribution, taxation and welfare spending, etc. Actually they seem to promise much interesting material (I’ve added the link to my favorites for later close reading,) but they don’t seem to have much to do with today’s economies.”

I appreciate your interest. The presentation I linked to is not concerned with economic theory (there’s another one on Ecological Economics, it’s very basic though). It’s really concerned with growth – Growth – as such, putting economic growth into the context of a limited planet. The technical part is about quantifying growth and understanding the exponential (there are related exercise problems here: https://www.slideshare.net/amenning/exponential-growth-casestudies). Most people, and I think that is particularly true of economists, talk about growth without grasping at all what that entails in material terms, or has in the past entailed. How have the last few hundred years of growth economy changed this planet, and what would a few hundred more years likely do to it? Few understand that e.g. a growth rate of 3.5% is equivalent to twice as much in twenty years. It sounds very different when you put it that way. It is also I think little appreciated how exceptional in the course of human history these few hundred years of growth economy have been, and how brief a period they represent. To the contrary, much of the economic profession assume that this is the normal state of affairs and low or no growth the aberration. When Milanovic says that “De-emphasizing growth … is utterly unrealizable in societies like our modern societies”, does he understand what he’s saying? He’s saying that rather than trying to adapt “modern society” to the ecophysical limits of our planet, we should maintain an unsustainable economic system at all cost until we hit the hard limits and “modern society” collapses.

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Katsue 07.17.17 at 1:14 pm

@53

Faustusnotes, please try not to offer financial advice to people whose circumstances you know nothing about.

159

engels 07.17.17 at 1:55 pm

Another take on having children as rational self-interest:

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,
Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter’d weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask’d where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty’s use,
If thou couldst answer ‘This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,’
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel’st it cold.

160

engels 07.17.17 at 2:23 pm

TM, I simply never said any of things that you appear to be angry about. I’ve also said before I think I’m not really interested in trying to argue with you.

161

engels 07.17.17 at 3:14 pm

Fwiw I think I think I’m broadly in sympathy with what Steven Johnson is saying and as he seems to be getting about a tenth of the abuse I am perhaps I’ll just sign on to those comments and bow out. Cheers guy and gals, and sorry again about Hillary Clinton!

162

F. Foundling 07.17.17 at 4:21 pm

It seems that I’m stuck in moderation for my misogyny again (the comment from 07.16.17 at 10:26 pm, currently with 10 approved comments after it). I just thought I should point this out to disprove Faustusnotes’ unfair accusations that CT bloggers give preferential treatment to racist brocialists such as myself. Give credit where it’s due! I tried to sneak in a misogynistic comment cunningly disguised as a rational contribution to the discussion, but Chris Bertram was on his guard.

163

engels 07.17.17 at 4:32 pm

164

Anarcissie 07.17.17 at 5:41 pm

TM 07.17.17 at 12:52 pm @ 149:
‘When Milanovic says that “De-emphasizing growth … is utterly unrealizable in societies like our modern societies”, does he understand what he’s saying? He’s saying that rather than trying to adapt “modern society” to the ecophysical limits of our planet, we should maintain an unsustainable economic system at all cost until we hit the hard limits and “modern society” collapses.’

It seems to me he understands that very well. The last paragraph of Milanovic’s cited article includes this: ‘If one really believed in, and wanted to argue for the incidental nature of economic growth (“whether or not the economies grow”), then he or she should start by trying to change the bases on which our (global capitalist) civilization has been built….’, but it is obvious that the incidentalists have no means, nor the slightest idea, how to actually change the bases on which our capitalist civilization has been built in any significant, general way. In any case they’re not doing it. Meanwhile our lords and masters are not only ranting about growth but very determinedly practicing it. They don’t care about the oncoming catastrophe, in the spirit of ‘In the long run, you’re dead.’

165

F. Foundling 07.17.17 at 6:56 pm

engels @ 445
>I think it’s better for Hobbesoids to see them as self-seeking behaviour on the level of genes (or, for non-Darwinians, an effort to preserve something of one’s aims/values/status after death).

I didn’t even posit what I posited only as part of an impersonation of a Hobbesoid, I clearly see that it works like this for many parents that I encounter. The enjoyment doesn’t have to be after death – while you’re alive, you can delight narcissistically in the status of your precious little (or grown) prince/princess as a splendid copy or extension of your own precious self, much as you could with a pet, a car, a house and a myriad other things. The appeal to DNA spreading as a motivation I see as pure mysticism and failure to distinguish between the biological and the cultural in one’s own mind. There is no primal urge to achieve the long-term abstract objective of perpetuating one’s bloodline, just a primal urge to have sex with an attractive human and a primal urge to take care of cute little creatures, both of which may result in reproduction, but often – and for many people always – have completely non-reproductive expressions.

166

MisterMr 07.17.17 at 7:40 pm

@Reason 154

I don’t really understand your point about war, it seems to me that it hasn’t anything to do with a normal economy.
Private credit creation is not different from government credit creation imho: if A buys at credit from B the bank will owe X dollars to B and A will owe X dollars to the bank; if B then spends X dollars to buy something from A then both credit and debt disappear. The amount of total debt can only increase if B doesn’t spend the money.

Perhaps though I misuderstood what you meant by “debt based economy”.

I don’t understand your point about investiment to reduce costs: if it recuces costs it increases profits, which increase the value of the capital asset.
It is also possible to invest to reduce eg. pollution, but usually businesses will do this only if forced by the goverment, precisely because such gains cannot be monetised/commodified.

167

TM 07.17.17 at 9:15 pm

“Meanwhile our lords and masters are not only ranting about growth but very determinedly practicing it.”

Growth rates are much lower than they used to be in the good ol’ days. Maybe our lords and masters can’t will growth into being after all, just because they think it’s desirable.

I don’t know what “incidentalists” are supposed to be or whether I’m supposed ot be one of them, but I will freely admit that I do not have the means “to actually change the bases on which our capitalist civilization has been built in any significant, general way”. Do you? Does Milanovic? If you have the means, would you pass them over so I could use them too?

168

TM 07.17.17 at 9:16 pm

Anarcissie 163: “Meanwhile our lords and masters are not only ranting about growth but very determinedly practicing it.”

Growth rates are much lower than they used to be in the good ol’ days. Maybe our lords and masters can’t will growth into being after all, just because they think it’s desirable.

I don’t know what “incidentalists” are supposed to be or whether I’m supposed ot be one of them, but I will freely admit that I do not have the means “to actually change the bases on which our capitalist civilization has been built in any significant, general way”. Do you? Does Milanovic? If you have the means, would you pass them over so I could use them too?

169

engels 07.17.17 at 10:16 pm

The enjoyment doesn’t have to be after death

You’re right. People can derive pleasure and perhaps a sense of enhanced status from their kids, some of it can be narcissistic and self-aggrandising, some of it instinctual, some of it’s because kids are just fun to be around at tomes. Either way, assuming having children shows parents aren’t behaving in a self-interested way is question-begging at best.

I think you’re being a little unfair on the selfish gene proponents. The idea is that genes built humans (‘survival machines’ in Dawkins’ terms) to propagate genes and have given us the urges we have because they would have been effective in leading to their propagation in the primitive human world. I think that’s consistent with your observations and doesn’t assume that anyone is ever motivated directly by the interests of her genes.

170

Anarcissie 07.17.17 at 10:28 pm

TM 07.17.17 at 9:16 pm @ 168 — ‘Incidentalist’ is short for Milanovic’s ‘one [who] really believed in, and wanted to argue for the incidental nature of economic growth.’

I would expect growth to become more difficult as a growth-episode matured, leading to ever more vigorous and indeed violent means to bring it about. Hence, mysteriously increasing imperial war, police surveillance, austerity for the poor, attrition of public goods, social stratification, media as propaganda, etc. etc. etc. — which we observe.

No, I don’t know of any way of affecting the social order above a very local level, given present conditions. But I think one early step must be to stop supporting fables about how capitalism can be reformed.

171

engels 07.17.17 at 10:34 pm

Oh but just remembered Chris was attacking the claim people maximise income, not utility. I think it’s probably reading Milanovic a bit literally. Perhaps he doesn’t think people want to maximise monetary income at all costs (working day and night, selling inessential body parts, AirBNBing the home and sleeping in a tent, …) but against some background of what’s normal, which could include supporting a family. Even then it does seem a bit implausible to me…

172

Val 07.17.17 at 11:44 pm

So we have the ‘people have kids for selfish reasons therefore looking after them doesn’t count as work’ line.

Channelling Dorothy Parker – though this is not a fresh hell, it’s a tired stale old hell.

173

faustusnotes 07.18.17 at 1:32 am

Engels, I’ll second what J-D said, and also ask you if it’s possible for you to build any kind of analysis of what is wrong with the world on something more recent than the works of your namesake and his maid-banging colleague? Your description of the conditions of the world from Marx, up above, bears no relationship at all to, for example, modern Japan, where I live. Perhaps you could update your texts to, I don’t know, the 21st century? Even the 20th would be a start. You might try to remember that America and the UK are not the whole world.

174

nastywoman 07.18.17 at 2:36 am

– and I hope I (don’t) have to contradict myself – at least when it comes to the insatiable drive of a lot of Californians to maximize income from their houses? as there was this article in the NY Times about:
The Cost of California’s ”Hot Economy” – a Housing Crisis.
– and the writers blamed not not enough building (Growth?) for the crisis.

And I had to write them:
No it isn’t the Cost of a ”Hot Economy”.
It is mainly the Cost of ”Hot Speculation” – as you mentioned yourselves that there is a severe lack of AFFORDABLE homes –
There is absolutely NO lack of unnaffordable and luxury homes – as my e-mail account proves – by geting flushed everyday with offers of houses and apartments everywhere in California – for two, three – or more millions – after I toured a lot of these places a few month ago – from San Diego to SF.
And looking at these outrageous numbers from Europe you could come up with the idea of a conspiracy to turn the whole State of California into a very exclusive State for every ‘rich’ American -(not unlike ‘Manhattan’)

And with this conspiracy in mind – it says it all – if journalists blame a lack of building for the high housing prices.
Don’t they know -(from the housing bubble of 2008) – that if you turn Real Estate into a main object of specualation – you get the current California housing prices – the ”Boom” and then ”the Bust”?
And the excuse – that this time the ‘finacial bubble’ -(with suprime loans) isn’t as much in housing but more in cars Californians desperately need to ‘commute’ is no relief for the ‘average’ families which will (again) suffer the most from the speculative Bust.”

And then the NY Times changed the headline into:
California’s Housing Crisis Reaches a ‘Breaking Point’ – which – ”somehow” – made me think is Branko Milanovic ”in the market” for an apartment or house in NYC and he would prefer – if there wouldn’t be such an ”insatiable drive”… well you know what I mean…?

175

TM 07.18.17 at 6:46 am

engels 160 and 161:

Vintage engels: gets called out on Bullshit, cries “abuse”, calls critic “angry”. Poor little snowflake.

176

TM 07.18.17 at 7:17 am

Anarcissie 07.17.17 at 10:28 pm Thanks, I know how to read. But what is that supposed to mean, “the incidental nature of economic growth”, that growth is a random phenomenon or what? Who argues for that?

I have pointed to the literature criticizing growth. Here are some refs:
• Herman E. Daly (1997): Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development
• Herman E. Daly (2012): Eight Fallacies about Growth
• Richard Heinberg (2011): The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality • Tim Jackson (2011): Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet
• Kate Raworth (2017): Doughnut Economics

These I think are important contributions from economists who question the growth paradigm. Is Milanovic engaging with them, does he offer a critique of their theories, or whom is he even talking about?

“I think one early step must be to stop supporting fables about how capitalism can be reformed.”

I’m unimpressed with people who insist that nothing short of world revolution can save the world, and since the revolution isn’t coming, we might as well stop trying to do anything. Your pseudoradical rhetoric doesn’t invalidate my analysis, and neither does his pseudoradical rhetoric give Milanovic a free pass for promoting what are really economic fables, as shown in way too much detail in this thread.

177

TM 07.18.17 at 7:54 am

Addendum: Milanovic’s first paragraph says it all. He hasn’t read Raworth’s book and isn’t engaging with her academic work at all. He says that changing the OECD statement promoting growth is a futile exercise, he has a point there, but he also specifically states that he believes growth is both desirable and an absolute necessity, which is the most stale, conventional, orthodox dogma ever in mainstream economics. From there to claim the radical high ground because Raworth is engaging with the OECD top brass in order to get them to commit to “redistributive and regenerative economies” – I call BS. At least Raworth did get mentioned by a “famous economist” on twitter (rolleye) and perhaps a few more people buy her book and start thinking about growth and sustainability, so maybe it wasn’t all for naught.

178

engels 07.18.17 at 9:19 am

people have kids for selfish reasons therefore looking after them doesn’t count as work

Nobody said that (looking after children is work and the burden of it falls disproportionately on women).

179

engels 07.18.17 at 9:31 am

(Compare: under capitalism doctors are motivated by self-interest vs medicine isn’t work…)

180

engels 07.18.17 at 9:52 am

(Also, if your motivation for having kids was a selfless desire to do your duty for Australia or humankind, then I feel a bit sorry for your kids…)

181

TM 07.18.17 at 10:32 am

About those “fables about how capitalism can be reformed”. When Bismarck, in the 1880s, established health and pension insurance for workers and other groundbreaking worker protection standards, the socialists were officially opposed. They simply couldn’t imagine a capitalist welfare state. A common and understandable predicament, the inability to imagine what might come, but we should at least make an effort to learn from past instances. Bizarrely, we have had commenters on CT seriously claim that the Bismarckian welfare state, as advocated by Bernie Sanders, constitutes a “socialist” or even “revolutionary” program, really imagining themselves as brave radicals.

Since Bismarck, empirically the reformists have had a far better track record than the actual or wannabe revolutionaries. You can dismiss that as a fable all you want, Anarcissie, but try to make a better case based on argument and empirical evidence rather than rhetoric.

182

MisterMr 07.18.17 at 11:47 am

@faustusnotes 173

“Engels, […] Your description of the conditions of the world from Marx, up above, bears no relationship at all to, for example, modern Japan, where I live. “

What description? I scrolled up but I didn’t see it (i’ts a long thread).
What (written by Marx or Engels) bears no relationship to Japan?

For what I can tell from the outside, Japan looks like a very competitive society, expecially in education, where for example unpaid overtime is quite common. What is so un-marxist about Japan?

183

engels 07.18.17 at 3:32 pm

http://crookedtimber.org/2017/07/13/branko-milanovic-on-the-insatiable-drive-to-maximize-income/#comment-713833

In FaustusNotes’ eyes Japan is almost as free of the ills of capitalism as Australia is for Val.

184

reason 07.18.17 at 5:53 pm

Mister Mr. @166
“Private credit creation is not different from government credit creation imho: if A buys at credit from B the bank will owe X dollars to B and A will owe X dollars to the bank; if B then spends X dollars to buy something from A then both credit and debt disappear. The amount of total debt can only increase if B doesn’t spend the money.”

???? Are you sure this is what you meant to write. It is completely mixed up.
What happens is A borrows X dollars from the bank (the bank then has a liability – money on A’s account and an asset the debt owed by A and A has an asset the deposit with bank and a liability the debt owed to the bank). Then A gives or transfers X dollars to B who now has an asset with bank and A no longer has an asset with bank. If B then buys from A the dollars move out of Bs account and land back on As. But the dollars still exist unless A pays the bank back.

But if the government borrows from the central bank it need never pay the debt back, and so long as the central bank remains the governments banker the government cannot go bankrupt which is where the real issues arise. So no, government debt and private are not the same thing, particularly if the government debt is owed to the central bank (i.e. it prints money).

As for the war thing, it was an illustration of a principle – i.e. that there are cases where the government creates debt for another reason than that people want to accumulate and not spend, sometimes the government wants to increase its spending faster than it increases taxes.

185

engels 07.18.17 at 6:32 pm

Vintage engels: gets called out on Bullshit, cries “abuse”, calls critic “angry”. Poor little snowflake.

Maybe you guys would be better off having these conversations with a therapist. Or taking up a new sport, like boxing?

186

engels 07.18.17 at 6:41 pm

It seems that I’m stuck in moderation for my misogyny again (the comment from 07.16.17 at 10:26 pm, currently with 10 approved comments after it). I just thought I should point this out to disprove

If it makes you feel any better my comments stay in moderation even after comments posted after mine which are talking/ranting about me (not complaining at Chris or anyone else as I’m aware it’s a group effort but it’s still a bit odd)

187

Anonymous 07.18.17 at 9:50 pm

Lurker here:
I think there is indeed a need for a lot more housing construction, and I think that the lack of building in, for example, the Bay area contributes to the problem you all are talking about. I think at least some people would deprioritize earning more than others if a home could be more easily had. The number of homes per capita has been decreasing since the crisis, and I would argue that (a) there is a need for me homes per capita with decreasing household sizes, (b) there is a need for more housing in urban areas due to economic trends and to reduce environmental pressures.

188

Val 07.18.17 at 11:34 pm

There is a person on this thread who is impersonating me, but who is actually a defender of capitalism and claims to have had children for patriotic reasons. I haven’t seen her, but engels has spotted her on numerous occasions.

If anyone else sees her, please let me know.

189

engels 07.19.17 at 12:07 am

I didn’t say you were a ‘defender of capitalism’ or that you had children ‘for patriotic reasons’ (this is like playing cricket against a muckspreader…)

190

Faustusnotes 07.19.17 at 12:24 am

Engels, do pay attention. I already do boxing and have done for 25 years. It doesn’t make dealing with revolutionary socialist misconceptions any easier, I can assure you.

I didn’t say Japan isn’t subject to the ills of capitalism, I said it’s not like the description you quoted. This would be because the description you quoted is from pre welfare state U.K., while I live in a society with a functioning welfare state and full employment. If you want to present a criticism of modern capitalism it might help to find someone writing about modern capitalism.

Has it never occurred to you that a beardy rich dude writing 120 years ago, who thought banging his maid was top notch revolutionary behavior, may not have a lot to say about modern economic relations? Or the best way to reform the modern social order?

191

LFC 07.19.17 at 4:07 am

engels @159

S. Greenblatt in Will in the World speculates that Shakespeare might have been commissioned by Southampton’s father to persuade the young Earl to marry: hence the 17 ‘procreation sonnets’. (No one knows if this is what happened, but if Shakespeare biographers couldn’t speculate their books would be thinner, and it is a fact that Southampton’s family was upset about his declared intention not to marry.)

Shakespeare executed this commission — if indeed there was one — in an unconventional way, one that appealed to the young man’s self-love and allowed Shakespeare to express his own intense feelings for the addressee. The resulting “vision of reproduction,” Greenblatt writes (p.231), “is not absolutely female-free, but, within the limits of the flesh, it reduces the role of the woman to the barest minimum…. The whole project will be spoiled if the child bears any resemblance to its mother [whoever she might be], for the goal is to produce a mirror image of the father alone.”

It is, incontestably, some of the greatest poetry ever written, but the appeal in the sonnet you quote is less to the addressee’s “rational self-interest” than to his narcissism.

192

F. Foundling 07.19.17 at 4:07 am

engels @ 169
>I think you’re being a little unfair on the selfish gene proponents. The idea is that genes built humans (‘survival machines’ in Dawkins’ terms) to propagate genes and have given us the urges we have because they would have been effective in leading to their propagation in the primitive human world. I think that … doesn’t assume that anyone is ever motivated directly by the interests of her genes.

Well, since the genetically determined urges, especially in today’s world, are so far from necessitating actual reproduction, attributing actual reproduction primarily to the genetically determined urges (by designating it as ‘self-seeking behaviour on the level of genes’) seems inappropriate. If someone in today’s advanced capitalist societies, especially in the middle class and upwards, produces offspring and raises it, the chances are that they consciously and deliberately chose that, and the primary reason they made such a choice was not the urges, which they can satisfy in other ways, but cultural or ethical motivations at the level of the individual (motivations that would work even in the complete absence of the urges in question). Those motivations might range from the completely selfish to the completely unselfish – a desire to have what your culture has taught you to regard as a ‘complete’ or ‘normal’ life, a life like that of ‘other people’ or of your own parents, to be able to observe some sort of continuation or extension of your own self, a desire to give to someone what you were given by your parents (in a way, repaying a debt to humanity), to perpetuate the traditions/values/experience that you have acquired… you name it. Of course, inasmuch as every possible motivation and thought eventually presupposes some basic universal mechanisms of the human mind, every behaviour (including altruism, self-seeking behaviour on the level of the individual, cultural influences etc.) is attributable to the ‘selfish genes’ at *some* level, but that observation is so general as to be useless – basically a tautology.

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F. Foundling 07.19.17 at 4:38 am

MisterMr @ 182

>What is so un-marxist about Japan?

Wait, I think I remember a better joke: Japan doesn’t have sexism and racism, hence its historical peacefulness.

TM @ 181

>Bizarrely, we have had commenters on CT seriously claim that the Bismarckian welfare state, as advocated by Bernie Sanders, constitutes a “socialist” or even “revolutionary” program, really imagining themselves as brave radicals.

>Since Bismarck, empirically the reformists have had a far better track record than the actual or wannabe revolutionaries. You can dismiss that as a fable all you want, Anarcissie, but try to make a better case based on argument and empirical evidence rather than rhetoric.

The existence of the revolutionaries was a precondition for the reformists’ proposals to gain traction within the capitalist political systems (while the revolutonaries paid the price for that by taking most of the bullets). Now that the revolutionaries are gone, the moderate social-democratic reformists such as Sanders have been marginalised and made to look ‘radical’, and even their moderate goals are perceived as utopian and near-impossible to achieve. Personally, I believe that actual socialism is not only preferable but also probably the only hope for a solution to humanity’s problems in the long run; there is no contradiction between that and thinking that moves towards social democracy within capitalism are at least steps in the right direction, in addition to simply being desirable from a short-term humanitarian perspective.

194

nastywoman 07.19.17 at 4:46 am

@187
‘I think there is indeed a need for a lot more housing construction, and I think that the lack of building in, for example, the Bay area contributes to the problem you all are talking about.’

Me too – there is indeed a need for a lot more ”AFFORDABLE” housing constructing – but the problem we are talking about – ”the insatiable drive to maximize income” can’t solve that.

It makes – as proven in the Bay Area – ”the problem” even worst – (at least for everybody who is depending on ”affordable” housing)
And there is a very simple resolution to the problem – again proven by countries who don’t have concerning housing a much lesser ”insatiable drive to maximize income”.

195

F. Foundling 07.19.17 at 5:14 am

MisterMr @ 94

>Now people all over the world have chosen capitalism over socialism, wich implies that people on the whole have chosen “accumulation for accumulation’s sake”, or at least growth in income over the more static soviet system. This is not a theory about psychology, it’s a description of an historical fact, at least from Milanovic’s point of view

I doubt he could sincerely think that, *especially* in view of his background. He if anyone should know perfectly well that what happened in Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union and most of the Soviet bloc had very little to do with the population’s consciously choosing capitalism as-it-really-is over socialism as-it-really-was. Not to mention that for many, the transition to capitalism did not mean increased growth in income but the opposite.

>how many serbians, croats etc. would like to go back to socialist Yugoslavia?

Maybe start here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yugo-nostalgia

196

nastywoman 07.19.17 at 5:29 am

and at @all
– that might be the main problem?
that it is in the case of the US centers of the ”insatiable drive to maximize income” NOT the ”insatiable drive to maximize income” which is the worst worrisome problem but this need to survive?

How do you survive – as an average American in an environment – where rent or housing could take 60 to 70 percent of your income? Or if you are a predominant ”younger” American by not beeing able to afford your own ”housing” and rent at all – and then sleeping so stereotypical in the basement of your parents house or on their sofa? –
you can’t survive that ”honorable” at all?
And then on top of it ”people” who can afford their own housing – making all these jokes about YOU becoming a ‘BernieBro’?

That is very, VERY… disappointing – and then in an effort of complete desperation YOU might join the very unpleasant bunch of ”Driving to maximize income Bro’s” – even sometimes going so far – joining a Wall Street Gambling Firm!

197

TM 07.19.17 at 7:44 am

[As so often, I wonder what the point of moderation is when a commenter is allowed to consistently misrepresent what other people say, after they have engaged with him in good faith. See 88, 136, 160, 163, 180, 183, 185.]

198

MisterMr 07.19.17 at 8:00 am

@reason 184

“What happens is A borrows X dollars from the bank (the bank then has a liability – money on A’s account and an asset the debt owed by A and A has an asset the deposit with bank and a liability the debt owed to the bank). Then A gives or transfers X dollars to B who now has an asset with bank and A no longer has an asset with bank. If B then buys from A the dollars move out of Bs account and land back on As. But the dollars still exist unless A pays the bank back.”

It seems to me your description of private money creation is more detailed but not significantly different from mine.

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reason 07.19.17 at 9:02 am

Val @188
Someone “who claims to have had children for patriotic reasons.”

Oh come on – nobody here is that stupid, surely!

200

Anarcissie 07.19.17 at 3:16 pm

TM 07.18.17 at 10:32 am —
Because the ruling class of a capitalist state decides, under threat, that the more obedient members of the proletariat need to be bought off with a Welfare system for a while, does not mean that the state or capitalism has been reformed. It’s simply a tactic of self-preservation. When the threat recedes, Capital begins to rescind the Welfare. This procedural cycle can be clearly observed in the United States over the 20th and 21st centuries and I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail. One of the dark sides of the arrangement has been endless imperial war, carried out first by Great Britain and other colonial powers, and subsequently by the United States. That aspect of capitalism hasn’t been ‘reformed’ in the slightest. Others are militarization of the police, an ever-deeper system of surveillance, and the excitement of tribal passions to keep the proles fighting one another. Far from being eliminated or mitigated, these aspects of capitalism are being enhanced and expanded.

The essence of capitalism is domination and invidious exploitation of a working class by a propertied class. As many people do not like being dominated and exploited, the system can be preserved only by force, by means of violence, fraud, and manipulation. You can’t reform something away from its essence. You need to think about replacing it.

201

engels 07.19.17 at 5:18 pm

Has it never occurred to you that a beardy rich dude writing 120 years ago, who thought banging his maid was top notch revolutionary behavior, may not have a lot to say about modern economic relations?

Yes, I can safely say that in a couple of decades of thinking about and discussing Marxism and politics that line of argument has never been presented to me…

LFC, thanks that’s interesting. ‘Rational self-interest’ was only really meant half-seriously though and we’ve been discussing a variety of self-regarding motives for parenthood including narcissism (see F Foundling’s comments above).

202

engels 07.19.17 at 5:32 pm

PS. I live in London and the Engels passage I quoted (nb. not Marx) seems to me pretty spot on.

203

TM 07.19.17 at 5:48 pm

Anarcissie: “It’s simply a tactic of self-preservation.” Congratulations smart alec! You just won 100 points!

204

engels 07.19.17 at 7:56 pm

205

nastywoman 07.20.17 at 12:08 pm

@202
”PS. I live in London…”

Now I finally understand – and I also will be at Capitalism Central end of next week to review – ‘The Damage” and do you know there is the best Indian restaurant I ever have eaten in – out at Gatwick and that always gives me hope that the ex-colony will take over -(at least food-wise) and do you know that ”you are what you eat” – so what do you prefer to eat?

Pages and Pages of Paper with Friedrichs quotes?
Like:
”Without analysis, no synthesis.”
or
”Ideas often kindle each other, like electrical sparks.”

206

Anarcissie 07.20.17 at 1:41 pm

TM 07.19.17 at 5:48 pm @ 203 —
Well, in this curious venue, it’s hard to know how simple-minded to be. My apologies if I’ve overdone it again.

207

engels 07.20.17 at 3:03 pm

TM, if someone has told you that they don’t want to talk to and you keep talking to them, that’s not good faith engagement…

208

F. Foundling 07.20.17 at 4:05 pm

Re ‘rational self-interest’ in 159, 191, 201: who is anyone to say which self-interest is ‘rational’? It gives me pleasure, therefore it’s rational and in my self-interest – that should be quite enough.

Re TM @ 197: engels’ ‘petty bourg verities’, as well as ‘sorry for your kids’ were, IMO, needlessly caustic and hostile-sounding formulations (and I say that quite independently of the fact that both expressed opinions were more or less contrary to the ones I had been expressing). However, your own ‘snowflake’ and ‘smart alec’ (the latter directed at Anarcissie) are completely overt insults, so I can’t help finding it a bit peculiar that you should be the one calling for more moderation.

Also, speaking of moderation – this might have been explained before, but if so, I have missed it: how are we supposed to interpret the non-chronological order of approval of the comments? Is this order supposed to reflect the degree to which the moderator appreciates a particular comment and considers it acceptable, or perhaps the degree to which he appreciates and trusts a particular commenter’s output in general? The way I see it, either my comment is bigoted, insulting and hopelessly idiotic, or it is not. If it is, it should be deleted. So far, none of my comments have ever been deleted, and yet it has become more and more common for them to be delayed relative to those of other commenters (thereby making it less likely for them to be read). For me at least, this engenders the distinct impression of a system of ‘gradient approval’, where one’s output is being graded by the authorities and placed higher or lower in some sort of hierarchy, one is penalised or rewarded (with decreased or increased exposure), and that for unspecified reasons about which one can only speculate. In the light of the comment policy, the tacit message of a relative delay would seem to be that one’s comment (or one’s overall output), while perhaps not so *completely* bigoted, insulting and stupid as to be deleted, is still at least *somewhat* bigoted, insulting and stupid, or at least *looks* suspiciously as if it might be bigoted, insulting and stupid. I can’t help wondering – is this intentional or just a side effect?

209

engels 07.21.17 at 8:18 am

who is anyone to say which self-interest is ‘rational’?

Rational and non-self-interested people like me obviously

210

engels 07.21.17 at 8:27 am

engels’ ‘petty bourg verities’, as well as ‘sorry for your kids’ were, IMO, needlessly caustic and hostile-sounding formulations

In my defence, they were directed at specific opinions, not individuals, and were embedded within substantive arguments which were entirely ignored (also, unlike some of my detractors I try to keep it brief)

211

Anarcissie 07.21.17 at 12:12 pm

F. Foundling 07.20.17 at 4:05 pm @ 208 —
Since this blog does not manifest threading, I recommend including an explicit indication as to which message(s) you’re responding to, and quoting the particular passage(s) if there is one / are any. The numbering seems to be generated after the text of the page has been set up, so if the text is altered the numbers may be off. I imagine the length of time in moderation is random with respect to content.

212

steven t johnson 07.21.17 at 2:48 pm

F. Foundling@195 “Not to mention that for many, the transition to capitalism did not mean increased growth in income but the opposite.”

The thing is, the capitalist system is concerned with growth of profits. Capitalist restoration has been highly successful in restoring profits in the former Soviet Union. And the wealth of those profits is now entirely safe from the grubby hands of workers. Optimists are convinced the same is true in the People’s Republic of China. It is an article of faith that the growth of profits will benefit the mass of humanity. The number of billionaires can be considered the practical index of the success of capitalism in a given country.

Critiques of growth are not about criticizing capitalism for failing to actually meet human needs. Critiques of growth are not even about showing the impossibility of capitalist growth to meets the needs and wants of all humanity the same way it meets the needs and wants of the ruling class. Critiques of growth are about criticizing the mass of people for wanting things. Or at least so it seems. I’m not really seeing any indication otherwise. Again, most of the ire seems to be provoked by the thought our master cannot be expected to reform themselves, and be satisfied with what they have, rather than accumulating more and more.

Socialist states in the world economy and polity have functioned as strikes against capital. The fall of socialist states and the restoration of capitalism is functionally breaking a strike. Breaking strikes always encourages the bosses to take more.

Kim Stanley Robinson’s newest novel is very much about many of these issues. I had tried to post a snippet of dialogue from it before, to be informed that comments on this post were closed, and I’ve already returned the book to the library. But given the taste many here have for SF, any interested in this post would probably find the novel very interesting.

213

engels 07.22.17 at 10:25 am

Critiques of growth are about criticizing the mass of people for wanting thing

I don’t think that applies to eg David Harvey

214

engels 07.22.17 at 11:14 am

none of my comments have ever been deleted, and yet it has become more and more common for them to be delayed relative to those of other commenters

Cognitive illusion? Say they release 1/5 of the comments at random each time, if you get lucky you won’t see that others have been held back but if it’s you you’ll know it. Fwiw I don’t think the new system makes any sense and I’ve said so before.

215

Harry 07.22.17 at 12:16 pm

Comment moderation.

I do quite a bit of it, but usually under severe time constraints, and (at least since I’ve been on vacation) with constant interruption. So I read very quickly. There might be 30 comments that need moderating. The most recent comments are at the top of the page so I look at them first, and start accepting them. I might be interrupted after 5, so, that explains the non-chronological approval in that case. Even if I have more time, I rarely approve a comment for a thread I haven’t been following. And if pushed for time I’ll tend to approve the shorter comments first. I am also much more likely to leave for others comments that I don’t understand (a small number of commenters regularly leave comments I don’t understand).

216

nastywoman 07.22.17 at 12:53 pm

– and I really like the moderation system here – as I practice – ”Random Dance” – and believe that one day we HAVE to stop making sense – and a threat were only comments make it nobody understands sounds kind of… interesting!

217

steven t johnson 07.22.17 at 1:39 pm

engels@213 Branko Milanovic is quoted in the OP as writing “And if everybody wants to have higher income, how can we then argue they our society should cease to place a premium on economic growth …. ?” I’m not very familiar with Harvey’s work, but I tend to think Harvey answers this question by advocating that we change our society. Presumably Milanovic is a capitalist restorationist, albeit maybe a reformist in his after hours. So economists take him seriously. I don’t think any trained academic economists regard Harvey as anything but a symptom of the madness of crowds. Didn’t the guy explicate Marx? He’s just noise in serious discussion, like saying single payer in real politics.

I still do not see how people can favor a stationary capitalism without favoring stationary populations, something which has never been seen in human society before, so no one knows how this might work. The point is not that there is no recipe for the future, there is not even any serious effort to ask the question of how that works. The practical indications of how this might take place is through differential mortality, and social discipline of the masses. Condemnation of the people is an essential part of social discipline.

218

LFC 07.22.17 at 1:49 pm

steven t johnson @212

Whatever the former Soviet Union was (bureaucratic collectivist(?), state capitalist(?)), it was not a socialist state.

As to China, it has managed to pull a large number of its people out of extreme poverty in recent decades, though a more egalitarian growth strategy could have done even more in that respect, while moderating the increase in inequality.

219

engels 07.22.17 at 6:31 pm

PS. on the people being directly motivated by the interests of their genes thing, I guess Dawkins could have pulled a Hegel and claimed his own work represented survival machines coming to consciousness of their gene-given mission as DNA propagators. A missed opportunity perhaps….

220

F. Foundling 07.22.17 at 10:08 pm

Henry @215:

Thank you for the explanation! That might explain what I’ve mentioned to some extent. So the user interface actually favours a *reverse chronological order by default* because the newest comments appear at the top. In that case – well, it’s your blog and your right to do whatever you want, of course. You can approve comments in alphabetical order, in order of length like the Surahs of the Quran, in a completely random order, or in accordance with any other principle that pleases you. Still, *if* you have decided that you want to make it possible for commenters to conduct a meaningful discussion and a conversation with each other, I think that it’s reasonably clear that the appearance of comments in any other order but the chronological one goes against this purpose – the dysfunctional consequences include not only changes in comment numbering and hence broken references, but also participants not seeing and not being able to react to some contributions to the discussion at all. So I will venture to suggest that for the given purpose, it might be better – and, if I’m not mistaken, not really noticeably more laborious – to scroll down to the bottom and start from the oldest comment, not the newest one (which is also what I at least do with my emails, other things being equal). In the same way, delaying all comments a little more would arguably have less negative effects than temporarily skipping some and thus scrambling the order. But, again, certainly, fiat voluntas vestra.

engels @214:
It didn’t seem plausible that the order could be random, technically. That aside, I now see that my wording was grammatically ambiguous. I didn’t mean to say that it happens more often to me than to other commenters, just that it seems to happen to me more often than it did before; it didn’t happen at all for some time after the new system was established, and recently it has been happening in, I think, about 50% of the cases. I do know that others are held back, too – I often accidentally find out later that someone has said something that I didn’t see and react to at the time.

221

F. Foundling 07.22.17 at 10:52 pm

engels @ 216:
>I guess Dawkins could have pulled a Hegel…

Good one!

Again, this isn’t really too much of a strawman. I have heard people actually appeal to DNA propagation as some kind of moral imperative; and I have seen evopsych people simply assume maximal DNA propagation as the ultimate goal that all sorts of clearly conscious and rational actions are oriented towards and highly fine-tuned for even without positing the mediation of any obvious biological urge to gratify.

222

Henry 07.22.17 at 11:34 pm

Adding on to what Harry says, when I go through the moderation queue, and I see comments to someone else’s post that seem middling truculent towards someone else, I am inclined to leave them in the queue, because different posters have different degrees of toleration towards aggressive behavior and I don’t want to step on another poster’s toes. So if you find your comment languishing longer than others, it is possibly (not certainly) because your comment is sufficiently aggressive to be in the judgment zone. I suspect that other posters sometimes think similarly. That this means that aggressive comments looking to get fights going, or contribute to ones that are already ongoing, sometimes take longer in a general sense, is an emergent rather than intended property of the system (albeit one that I am not personally perturbed by).

223

steven t johnson 07.23.17 at 12:58 am

LFC@218 If it doesn’t have business cycles, it’s not capitalist. Going by the minimalist functional definition of a state as a body of armed men who defend a certain kind of property, the USSR was socialist. And it’s unclear whether by that standard either bureaucratic collectivism or state capitalism are a real thing.

Trying to come up with a political normative/ideal type definition, that is capitalism=democracy, you end up with all sorts of misleading nonsense in my opinion. Libertarians use it to pretend mercantilist/absolutist regimes and imperial colonies and all sorts of things aren’t true Scotsmen (read, capitalist.) Something as simple as a universal suffrage, then capitalist (read democratic) states don’t emerge until the nineteenth century. Or maybe if you include woman suffrage until the twentieth. The emergence of capitalism had everything to do with the emergence of national currencies and national markets and national states, which means the Wars of Religion…and a political system couched in religious ideology, mutating from the Middle Ages to be sure, but still, nothing to do with ideas about democracy. Democracy came from revolution, actual or feared.

224

Val 07.23.17 at 5:03 am

Steven t Johnson @ 217

“I still do not see how people can favor a stationary capitalism without favoring stationary populations, something which has never been seen in human society before, so no one knows how this might work”

You may be aware that almost all wealthy nations now have birth rates below replacement rate, but it is not evident from your comment, so I’ll just emphasise it. The reason population keeps growing in wealthy countries is primarily immigration.

225

steven t johnson 07.23.17 at 1:39 pm

The biosphere is the world of living things. That includes entire planet. I have no idea what could possibly be immigration onto Earth.

In the US, areas with decreasing population are in social crisis. It is not clear this is a problem for the anti-growth faction.

Possibly the only “wealthy” country with a static or declining population and without immigration, and with a relatively static or even declining economy is Japan. There is currently a panic on about how Japanese young people aren’t having sex.

It is not clear whether the low birth rates in “wealthy” countries are due to the lower orders mastering their primal urges. Or because they mostly can’t afford to raise that many children in these wealthy countries. But again, it is not clear whether this is a problem for either the anti-growth or pro-growth factions.

226

LFC 07.23.17 at 6:09 pm

@steven t johnson
Trying to come up with a political normative/ideal type definition, that is capitalism=democracy, you end up with all sorts of misleading nonsense in my opinion.

I’ve never said, and never would say, that capitalism=democracy. I see no point or validity in this equation, whether it’s meant ideal-typically or otherwise.

227

steven t johnson 07.24.17 at 3:39 am

LFC@226 The refusal to recognize the USSR as socialist stems I think from the refusal to accept as socialism anything that isn’t a linear development of the democratic political culture of leading imperialist states in their most triumphant periods. The protest that it isn’t capitalism per se, but capitalist democracy plus social democracy you want is a distinction that doesn’t make a difference. And the need to cobble up pseudo-ideas like bureaucratic collectivism is just another way to repudiating revolution as, well, reactionary continental philosophy gave us the ideological construct of “totalitarianism,” which still has it adherents.

228

TM 07.24.17 at 8:09 am

Foundling 07.20.17 at 4:05 pm: I do care about debate standards a bit. I’m convinced that the bad behavior exhibited by some commenters would cease if there were more pushback from the rest. I ask you to consider that your conflating gratuitous insult with pushback provides encouragement for the bad behavior.

I don’t care that much about engels’ silly ad hominems but I don’t like to be falsely accused of misrepresenting another commenter, especially when I have taken the care to both quote verbatim what he said and engage with the content in detail, as I have done at 07.17.17 at 8:53 am, to which engels responded 07.17.17 at 2:23 pm. As of “smart alec”, that was snark but an insult? Certainly not. I think Anarcissie and I have had a respectful exchange here despite serious disagreement. Thanks!

229

TM 07.24.17 at 8:27 am

stj: “I still do not see how people can favor a stationary capitalism without favoring stationary populations, something which has never been seen in human society before, so no one knows how this might work.”

Can you provide references for authors who favor a non-growing economy with population growth? I don’t know any who do. And can you provide evidence for the claim that population stability “has never been seen in human society before”? I think the opposite is true: the population growth of the last few hundred years has been totally unprecedented in tens of thousands of years of human history.

Data point: Germany’s population has been constant, plus/minus a few percent, for almost 50 years now. More at https://www.slideshare.net/amenning/the-human-population-challenge

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F. Foundling 07.24.17 at 2:08 pm

Re the issue whether the USSR had real socialism – it depends on your definition. Do you define socialism as any case of state control of the means of production or only as control of the means of production by ‘the people’ (by a democratically self-governing collective)? Is it any case of control ‘by the society’ regardless of how that society itself is governed, or only control by a ‘society’ (a group of ‘associates’) that ‘truly’ (democratically) governs itself? If the former, how is Inca Empire-style ‘oriental despotism’ (or even feudalism) not ‘socialist’, and are we to accept that a slave plantation or a prison are internally organised in a ‘socialist’ way? Obviously, if these latter are socialisms, then they aren’t the socialisms that people dreamt of and fought for. ‘Revolutionary social-*democracy*’ was the name of the movement, ‘freedom’ was a buzzword, and even the ‘dictatorship’ was supposed to be ‘of the proletariat’.

The mechanism through which the ‘dictatorship’ would end up truly representing ‘the proletariat’ was partly a conventional representative-democratic one and partly – and most unfortunately – a matter of quasi-mystical faith: it was sort-of assumed that it would just happen by itself, in the same way as the state ended up representing the interests of the bourgeoisie in a capitalist democracy as well as in a capitalist dictatorship without the need of an official mechanism ensuring that. Well, it turned out that the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship did matter. That’s hardly surprising: when power is taken away from private hands and concentrated in the state – when it shifts from the economical into the political sphere – it should be obvious that the way in which that state and that political sphere is organised not only doesn’t decrease in importance, but it is exactly at that moment that it becomes crucial!

Even assuming for the sake of the argument that communist states were indeed states of the proletariat (or of ‘the people’), the connection between them and ‘their’ class turned out to be much more problematic than the one between bourgeois states and theirs. While they did seek to appeal to the population and created extensive welfare systems that benefited it, that seemed to differ only in extent and not in principle from what was done by many capitalist states. The states still remained highly distinct and alienated from the population, with sufficiently palpable differences in living standards and enormous differences in power, which is why capitalist restoration was so easy: the ruling elite was able to simply transform its political power into economic one without any significant resistance from the population. The people didn’t object to being deprived of its property, because it didn’t have the clear feeling that it was its property in the first place.

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engels 07.24.17 at 6:23 pm

TM, since you find me so intolerable on a moral, personal and intellectual level, maybe you should bestow the gift of your ‘good faith engagement’ elsewhere? Just a suggestion…

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engels 07.24.17 at 7:33 pm

Ps—just for the record here’s what I said (which you did indeed copy-paste—awesome!)

Ime the idea that life isn’t all about money tends to be rather more popular among middle-class people than it is among the rich, the poor and the unionised working class.”

and here’s your version of it, beginning just a couple of sentences later:

engels really thinks that the only concern of unions is wages
Some of us (apparently not including engels) think that we should aim for an economy that doesn’t produce rich and poor people.
haven’t see you contribute anything of substance
poor people only care about money, w

Perhaps you see the problem. Or perhaps not.

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F. Foundling 07.24.17 at 10:32 pm

TM 07.24.17 at 8:09 am:

This seems like a bit of an overreaction to me. engels didn’t ‘accuse you of misrepresenting him’, he just stated in a very calm and non-aggressive tone that he hadn’t said what you were objecting to, which can also mean that you had misunderstood him. Could that statement be justified? Possibly, possibly not. His wording did at least make your interpretation seem a very possible one, IMO; that could be due to an unintentionally poor formulation or to trolling, but not being mind-readers, moderators can’t distinguish between the two, and penalising unsuccessful formulations is hardly something they can be expected to do. He says you’ve misunderstood him – well, you can either ask him in what other way his earlier statements could have been interpreted, or you can just ignore him altogether. It’s no big deal, really. On the other hand, open insults, name calling (‘snowflake’) or virtually content-free kindergarten taunts to the effect of ‘Duh, I already knew that, Captain Obvious!’ *are* the sort of indubitable and easily identifiable cases of insulting behaviour where moderator intervention might have been more appropriate.

Henry 07.22.17 at 11:34 pm

Well, the way I see it, one conceivable result of such a system is that a moderator becomes more likely to neutralise, to a greater or lesser extent, the effect that a contribution has on a discussion without even needing to commit explicitly – even in his own mind – to the opinion that there is anything wrong with it. Something to the effect of ‘Err, I don’t know, this one just doesn’t feel *quite* right to me for some reason, so let’s skip it just in case’. In general, the more penalties are extended to the grey zone of less obviously and indisputably transgressive – and accordingly more common or ubiquitous – patterns of behaviour (only ‘slightly aggressive’ – or legitimately critical? beginning and contributing to a ‘fight’ – or to a legitimate debate?), the more likely it becomes that other factors than the transgression itself will influence the decision, probably even unconsciously. Factors such as ideological or personal sympathies or antipathies, for example.

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steven t johnson 07.25.17 at 12:47 pm

TM@229 “Can you provide references for authors who favor a non-growing economy with population growth? I don’t know any who do. And can you provide evidence for the claim that population stability “has never been seen in human society before”? I think the opposite is true: the population growth of the last few hundred years has been totally unprecedented in tens of thousands of years of human history.”

Population growth is economic growth. A stationary economy therefore precludes population growth, unless some segment of the population suffers absolute immiseration. But then, at some point, inability to reproduce, or actual premature mortality will obtain as the inevitable result of increasing poverty.

In my best judgment, economists who advocate stationary economy need to address issues of population control. And, who is to be the permanent underclass. Or, how there is to be no more underclass. The thing about all the anti-growth people I’ve seen, is that that don’t seem to care about these issues. This is why they smell so fishy to me. They certainly don’t seem to be thinking through the issues. In other words, I think it is incumbent upon you to provide references to economists who address these problems.

As to the other issue, the supposedly unprecedented growth rates of the last few years, I do not have access to a university library. But, exponential growth in an invasive species like humanity is fairly common in nature. The massive absolute increases in population in the later stages is shocking. But looked at from a global perspective, since the population die off about 70 000 years ago, population growth has been fairly consistent. The apparent population explosion is just the later phase. I suppose you might argue that human population growth is logistic instead of exponential. But again, I think that claim is the one that needs more support.

Last and least, Germany has not been a stationary economy. Even more to the point, its workforce has undergo expansion and contraction with temporary workers, plus permanent immigration. You seem to be under the impression that what happens in one particular part of the global economy/ecology can be held to be typical of the whole. Or represents the norm the rest is approaching. Or something too confused to understand.

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steven t johnson 07.25.17 at 3:10 pm

F. Foundling@230
“Do you define socialism as any case of state control of the means of production or only as control of the means of production by ‘the people’ (by a democratically self-governing collective)?” The ultimate goals of socialism are production for use and the abolition of classes, as opposed to capitalism’s production for profit by use of labor services from unpropertied wage workers at a fair exchange in a free market by capitalists who loan and borrow capital from capital markets. It can be very hard to identify capitalist states, which is why most people try to identify capitalism with democracy.

A capitalist state defends this form of property by maintaining national borders; a national currency; promoting unemployment (often by encouraging exploitation of temporary migrant labor, but also by discrimination against immigrants it lures into the labor market,) as a means of labor discipline; restricting growth during crises of overproduction endemic to a capitalist system; operating as agents of force against other capitalist nations in pursuit of raw materials; labor and markets, etc.

A socialist state does not restrict growth to what is profitable, but engages in accumulation of physical capital regardless of profitability. A socialist state cannot rely on the threat of mass unemployment for labor discipline. A socialist state does not need an empire. As to what the genuine abolition of classes will look like and what means it will take to accomplish this task? That’s like asking how to have true democracy. If you try to identify a democracy by the kind of procedural criteria you want here, especially if you don’t wish away the existence of the rest of the world, you will discover that there has been practically no democracy, ever. And you will also conclude that the most undemocratic thing ever is revolution. Except, capitalist democracy is inseparable from revolution, just as capitalist development is inseparable from empire.

You cannot counterpose the forms of political power against the operations of economic life. They are things that go together. So, no, no any means of state control of production are socialist. Means of state control of production that prevent business cycles or do away with the necessity of empire count as socialist. I do not see how any a priori prescriptions about the political forms change those realities.

“Is it any case of control ‘by the society’ regardless of how that society itself is governed, or only control by a ‘society’ (a group of ‘associates’) that ‘truly’ (democratically) governs itself? If the former, how is Inca Empire-style ‘oriental despotism’ (or even feudalism) not ‘socialist’, and are we to accept that a slave plantation or a prison are internally organised in a ‘socialist’ way?”

I’m afraid this looks very much like an imposition, a deception limiting choices. How a society is governed includes economic outcomes, not just political procedures and narrowly defined state acts. An Inca-style empire does not accumulate capital like a socialist state, but accumulates property for the Inca and nobles. A slave plantation produces commodities for sale for profit. A prison is not generally a production unit at all.

You know better than I do that an abuse for socialist states, which do not suffer from gluts of production, is to rely on force to discipline labor, rather than unemployment. But an Inca-style empire—or a English empire or Republican China—finds famine an act of God, an ordinary catastrophe. Neither an English government nor Chiang Kai-Shek nor any Tsar had their power threatened by a famine. At some point, an honest inquiry has to ask, why was it different for the socialist states? That’s for you to answer for yourself, if you care to see the facts.

“The mechanism through which the ‘dictatorship’ would end up truly representing ‘the proletariat’ was partly a conventional representative-democratic one and partly – and most unfortunately – a matter of quasi-mystical faith: it was sort-of assumed that it would just happen by itself, in the same way as the state ended up representing the interests of the bourgeoisie in a capitalist democracy as well as in a capitalist dictatorship without the need of an official mechanism ensuring that. Well, it turned out that the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship did matter. That’s hardly surprising: when power is taken away from private hands and concentrated in the state – when it shifts from the economical into the political sphere – it should be obvious that the way in which that state and that political sphere is organised not only doesn’t decrease in importance, but it is exactly at that moment that it becomes crucial!”

Yet, somehow the Soviet state spent much of its existence consistently operating to provide many material benefits to its people. Despite the powerful heritage of anti-Semitism and a personally anti-Semitic all powerful dictator, more Jews survived in the Soviet Union than in the countries you extol. Instead of empire over the world, the Soviet state indulged dreams of the stars. The Soviet state helped people all over the world fight for freedom. There comes a time when it is not enough to decry mysticism, but to eschew it yourself. How does this sort of thing happen, when according to you, the socialist state was a mockery of humanity? Again, this is for you to answer for yourself, if you care to think.

It’s hard to read minds at the best of times, but especially difficult over the internet. But I’m afraid I still strongly suspect that despite all the insinuations you favor popular control over Party dictatorship, something like the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is something you abominate even more. That you vastly prefer the Party dignitaries like Liu and Deng (and Zhou) who stand for the rule by the reasonable, rather than the rabble.

“Even assuming for the sake of the argument that communist states were indeed states of the proletariat (or of ‘the people’), the connection between them and ‘their’ class turned out to be much more problematic than the one between bourgeois states and theirs. While they did seek to appeal to the population and created extensive welfare systems that benefited it, that seemed to differ only in extent and not in principle from what was done by many capitalist states. The states still remained highly distinct and alienated from the population, with sufficiently palpable differences in living standards and enormous differences in power, which is why capitalist restoration was so easy: the ruling elite was able to simply transform its political power into economic one without any significant resistance from the population. The people didn’t object to being deprived of its property, because it didn’t have the clear feeling that it was its property in the first place.”

I think at this point you are just indulging in false facts and colossal omissions and refusals to compare. Full employment alone is different in principle from capitalist states. Even if you are sincere in your impressions, it’s just wrong. You just claimed that there was no difference between the Soviet Union and the Yeltsin/Putin regimes you love so much. I think that’s crazy.

Your claim that capitalist restoration was easy is crazy too. Within the USSR, people like you spent your lives, even risking repression, to subvert socialism. Whole nations like Germany and the US spent billions and sacrificed lives to fight communism, and burdened the USSR with defense expenses. (Unlike capitalist countries, arms are a drain on a socialist economy instead of a way of turning taxes into profits. And, no, Soviet military expenditures were not just to serve the totalitarian crusade against humanity.) In the event itself, Yeltsin had to shoot up the Parliament itself. Nothing like democratic procedures there. No doubt that was easy to approve.

But that was just part of the counter-revolution. The massive attack on the living standards of the population, the orgy of corruption, were essential to the capitalist restoration. The notorious observation that the Russian population declined shows the magnitude of the assault I think. Apparently though, that’s easy for you to.

The bottom line, really, is: Your side won. Your values are being promoted in the glorious new age. Every nation freed from the socialist dictatorship of no proletarians, from Poland to Russia to Kazakhstan, culture is going in the direction you wanted.
What’s the beef? You needn’t answer, I’m afraid I already know, just hoping any readers might wonder for themselves.

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Matt 07.25.17 at 3:55 pm

As to the other issue, the supposedly unprecedented growth rates of the last few years, I do not have access to a university library. But, exponential growth in an invasive species like humanity is fairly common in nature. The massive absolute increases in population in the later stages is shocking. But looked at from a global perspective, since the population die off about 70 000 years ago, population growth has been fairly consistent. The apparent population explosion is just the later phase.

The Toba catastrophe theory hypothesizes that the human population may have been reduced to as few as 10,000 individuals about 70,000 years ago. Global annual human population growth peaked at 2.1% in the early 1960s. Current growth rates are about 1.2%. Starting from 10,000 individuals, 70,000 years of 1.2% growth would have produced a current human population in excess of 10^362. What about 70,000 years of only 0.12% growth? Then more than 10^36 humans. The Sun and all the planets combined mass less than 10^31 kilograms.

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LFC 07.25.17 at 4:26 pm

@steven t johnson
Obviously we don’t have enough shared assumptions to make conversation betw. us productive.

last point for me here, re:
The Soviet state helped people all over the world fight for freedom

As always, the devil is in the definitional details, spec. the definition of “freedom.” During the Cold War, many of the USSR’s clients and/or satellites (e.g., Nasser, or the side the USSR supported in the Angolan civil war; or E. Germany; the list could go on) had no particular interest in freedom, any more than many of the U.S.’s clients did. ‘Freedom’ consists of more than living in a state that has “abolished business cycles.”

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TM 07.25.17 at 5:41 pm

engels: if “the idea that life isn’t all about money” isn’t very popular among “the poor and the unionised working class”, I gather the more popular idea among these groups is that life *is* all about money. If that isn’t what you meant to say, perhaps you haven’t expressed yourself very clearly and perhaps attacking the critic for taking your statement literally isn’t enhancing your credibility.

I also note that the sentences of mine you quote are pasted without context and not indicating omissions, another observation that isn’t enhancing your credibility.

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engels 07.25.17 at 8:28 pm

TM, as I said before (last time embargoed), if you don’t find me ‘credible’ really noone’s forcing you to keep talking to me. I’m sure you can find somebody of your own intellectual and moral calibre to debate with…

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F. Foundling 07.26.17 at 12:40 am

@steven t johnson 07.25.17 at 3:10 pm

Most of what I would answer is already explicitly or implicitly stated in my original comment. Still, here are a few remarks.

1. As expected, you have a certain concept of socialism that is compatible with Soviet-style systems (adding some additional conditions to the one in my comment). I will reiterate that other people have different concepts, to which the factors I brought up in my comment are more integral than they obviously are to yours.

2. Apart from the definition of socialism, you mention some supposedly unique characteristics of the Soviet state; most of them are either not unique or highly disputable. You also mention the ways in which it benefited its population greatly; yet, as you know, it’s also easy to adduce ways in which it mistreated its population. That mixed bag of very good and very bad things proves that there was *something* unusual about it – nobody is denying that – but that is not at all the same as proving that it was a true socialist state.

3. A few things that you attribute to me and that I haven’t said:

3.1. ‘the socialist state was a mockery of humanity’ (no more than states on average are)
3.2. ‘there was no difference between the Soviet Union and the Yeltsin/Putin regimes’ (there was a difference, but not one of principle *concerning the power distance and alienation between the state and the population*)
3.3. ‘I love so much the Yeltsin/Putin regimes’ (I don’t)
3.4. ‘I extol some countries’ (I’m not really the extolling type, so you’re probably confusing me with someone else)

4. You dispute the easiness of capitalist restoration. What I referred to is that it became easy as soon as the ruling (‘Communist’) elite itself decided to embark on that course: there was no resistance *of the popular masses* and no attempt on the part of the *people* to defend or reassert its (alleged) control over the means of production. The events of 1993 were a conflict between extreme reformists and moderate reformists; neither side advocated a wholesale return to a Soviet-style planned economy (although, naturally, the remaining far leftists favoured Parliament). The attack on the living standards and the corruption that you mention are, if anything, more evidence of how easy restoration was: the elite was able to get away with enormous abuses without the people rebelling. At worst, the population would occasionally vote for the (more or less reformed) ‘Communists’, and that would change little or nothing.

5. Finally, you keep insisting vehemently, in spite of my comments, that since I do not approve of the Soviet-style system as it was, then I must approve of capitalism, or at least of capitalist restoration in the Soviet bloc. I’m sorry, but that dichotomy is false (speaking of which, no, I’ll have neither Zhou nor Jiang Qing, thank you very much). I do *not* personally regard the return to private ownership of the means of production in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a good thing at all, and I would *never* have chosen that route if that had depended on me. It’s not my fault that the ‘Communist’ establishment had decided firmly that they wanted exactly that, and that by their (mis)management of ‘socialism’ in the preceding decades they had successfully brought the majority of the population to a condition in which it wouldn’t object.

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J-D 07.26.17 at 9:17 am

steven t johnson
You can find graphical representations of the population of China over time at these URLs:
https://karlosborneisawesome.wordpress.com/key-features-of-the-chinese-economy/
http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/special/china_1950_population.htm
http://voxeu.org/article/why-did-europe-s-growth-take-happen-first
https://www.researchgate.net/figure/46538580_fig1_Figure-1-Data-of-China%27s-Population-AD-2-to-AD-1776-Million

They all show long periods of no nett growth.

And here you can find a tabulation of estimates of world population over time:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population_estimates

Again, long periods of no nett growth.

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TM 07.26.17 at 9:50 am

Matt 235: You are correct of course. It’s always weird when somebody tries to argue with elementary Math.

When I was teaching, I used this little exercise:

Starting from “Adam and Eve”, how many times has human population doubled until it reached the present level? And how long would it have taken humankind to reach that level at the current growth rate?

You don’t need a calculator for this. Remember the rule that ten doublings make a factor 1,000. 30 doublings make billionfold. So Adam and Eve needed only 32 doublings.

If we start more realistically from an initial population of 10,000, it’s just 20 doublings. At a constant growth rate of “only” 1%, it would have taken only 1,400 years for a population to grow millionfold, 2100 years to grow billionfold.

See slide 74 in the already referenced https://www.slideshare.net/amenning/growth-in-a-finite-world-sustainability-and-the-exponential-function
More material: https://www.slideshare.net/amenning/exponential-growth-casestudies
https://www.slideshare.net/amenning/the-human-population-challenge

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TM 07.26.17 at 10:13 am

stj 233: “Population growth is economic growth. A stationary economy therefore precludes population growth, unless some segment of the population suffers absolute immiseration.”

Your first statement makes no sense to me but there’s no disagreement about the rest. I’m not aware of anybody who argues that the population can (or should) continue growing while economic output doesn’t.

“The thing about all the anti-growth people I’ve seen, is that that don’t seem to care about these issues.”
The ones I am aware of do care about these issues (see my refs above). Have you read e.g. Herman Daly? Who are you referring to? Furthermore: even if some growth critiques aren’t completely “thought through”, that alone doesn’t invalidate them. After all, the alternative (let’s just hope that the economy keeps growing so the poor can be kept docile, and let’s hope that some magic technology will save the planet from climate change etc.) isn’t thought through either.

Re Germany: my claim was only that German society and economy have functioned reasonably well with no or almost no population growth for 50 years now, defying the doom-sayers. I address the “demographic doom” school of thought in the second half of the my “Population challenge” presentation.

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steven t johnson 07.26.17 at 3:00 pm

Matt@235 Yes, exponential growth rates will result in population crashes, effectively resetting the process. New technology allowing resource mining has allowed this iteration of the same process to go on much larger. But there is no reason whatsoever to think that human populations have been stable. No evidence I know of suggests they have ever been anything other than growing exponentially til collapse. If you wish to argue human population growth has been logistic, I think the burden of proof is on you. The social mechanisms that accomplished this feat would be of great interest.

The thing about the anti-growth faction—which includes sustainable growth advocates, which means no growth beyond what won’t damage the biosphere—is that at this point, they display no interest in how population is to be controlled or how material benefits are to be distributed. Absent actual arguments on what they do advocate on these issues, the default is, population is to die off to carrying capacity, then excess mortality due to poverty will sustain a Malthusian utopia.

Lastly, genetic analysis indicated a population bottleneck from about 70 000 years ago. The Toba hypothesis may or may not be in favor right now, but it was proposed as an explanation of the genetic data. I suppose the population bottleneck could be identifying a key phase in speciation of homo sapiens. But that would be pretty unorthodox. All popular views see humanity as having a long, long, long history of natural selection perfecting the species, not just Evolutionary Psychology.

LFC@236 Freedom is not being able to buy what you want if you have the money, which is your implicit standard, whether you realize it or not.

In any event, you single out as support for an Egypt that had been attacked by the last imperialist colony attacking indigenous peoples; Soviet (also Cuban and E. German) support for the Angolan government whose defeat of South African troops at Cuito Cuanavale played such a vital role in the downfall of apartheid in South Africa; E. Germany, whose assistance at Cuito Cuanavale is so unforgivable.

Your assumption that no one could possibly think the restoration of a unified German state hasn’t promoted imperialist oppression may rest either on the assumption that if Germans can buy what they want they must be free, or that there is no such thing as imperialist oppression. Either belief seems shaky to me.

You would be better off explaining how the democratic countries have been supporting freedom. You can start with the US, detailing how it promoted freedom with its interventions with big invasions in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan…but don’t forget the smaller interventions like Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Lebanon, Syria, Iran. Or just your basic intervention in politics with money and propaganda, as done by James Jesus Angleton in Italy after WWII.

This is of course an incomplete listing. No doubt it would be simpler if everyone accepted the dogma, capitalism and democracy are indistinguishable and inseparable and inevitable (forever.)

F. Foundling@238 As to your effort at a reply, unnecessary as it was…
1.Many conceptions of socialism are incoherent, obscurantist, covertly propagandistic. You want to make an objection, you have actually make an argument, not just say in effect, other people disagree. All your objections as near as I can tell also refute the existence, if not the very possibility, of true democracy as well as true socialism. This would explain why you don’t want to actually express your argument, of course.

2. You won’t define a true socialist state, but you still insist that I provide a proof that the USSR met an ideal type. I don’t think ideal capitalist states existed. At their origins they were markedly very similar to the medieval societies which incubated them. Your cloudy simulation of actual thinking is irrelevant to reality. These ideal type, individual personal psychological/moralizing “critiques” ultimately cannot serve any purpose other than explaining how “my” side is superior.

As for the notion that there was nothing unique about the USSR by comparison to capitalist states, this is false. And this is disputable only for people who disregard mere facts. You have no problem with the system that carried on the anti-Communist crusade, because you equate, for example, like LFC above, the USSR with empire. The English are still in Ireland, but the USSR gave away its empire. Catalonia and the Basques are still part of Spain. Empire don’t give empires away. If you have deluded yourself into thinking the USSR in 1989 was like Portugal in 1975, you’re crazy.

3. If your point is that I’m not quoting your words, of course you’re absolutely correct. I am nonetheless correctly characterizing the impact of your words. For instance, your double standard for real capitalist democracies (insofar as you distinguish capitalism and democracy) where they go unexamined and socialism is rejected for not meeting an ideal has the effect of extolling the capitalist democracies. The years of adulation from people like you was of course years of effort dedicated to capitalist restoration. I’m sure you and your co-thinkers and your resolute forebears who fought the struggle of ideas against Soviet socialism for so long didn’t dwell on how you were implicitly extolling democracy/capitalism. That would have been impolitic. No doubt you disagree.

But amusingly enough, at one breath you claim there is no difference in principle between Soviet socialism (which evidently is wicked because it is not ideal democracy, i.e., in practice, capitalist,) and the Yeltsin/Putin regimes. Capitalist restoration is not a difference in principle? Then, the next you claim you don’t love Yeltsin/Putin. Redbaiting Yeltsin/Putin is not a sign of disaffection from Yeltsinism/Putinism, it’s discreet politics. Admitting you actually support the essentials of what they did would be embarrassing. Fundamentally you think Yeltsin/Putin improved things, because like LFC knows, freedom is being able to buy what you have the money to pay for. Not having enough money to be as free as you want is not a principled stand for democracy.

4. Again, you falsify the ease with which capitalism was restored. Stalin devoted immense efforts to weakening anybody else’s role in the state. No doubt it is rhetorically useful to pretend this was the inevitable outcome of socialism, which in principle destroys democracy by destroying capitalism. But I suggest it was precisely because it wasn’t inevitable that so much blood had to be spilled. The inevitable doesn’t need so much effort. Also, it is perfectly obvious to you that Stalin’s propagandists never lied about being orthodox Marxists, but not to everyone else. But it wasn’t just Stalin’s efforts, but yours and your co-thinkers who spent years at great risk slowly educating the people against socialism, with a wink and nudge that it was just criticism of this kind of socialism.

But of course you are right that the event itself means something. The thing is, when a dispute between extreme reformists (fellow counterrevolutionaries, you mean) and moderate reformists (also fellow counterrevolutionaries you mean,) into a massacre, it happened because angry crowds intimidated the police into giving up. Yeltsin had to get new troops. And, yes, I’m one of those people who thinks Yeltsin falsified the election results after as much as he could, and was still repudiated. I think that with leadership Yeltsin could have been ejected from office, fairly easily. But I also think that it was the deeply reactionary ideology sowed by people like you that intimidated the leaders with the thought that revolution is anti-democratic. It isn’t.

As usual, by the way, the reproach that the people didn’t rise up en masse to kick out the oppressors, therefore they must not be oppressors, but the champions of the will of the people, therefore it’s the people who are responsible for the evil? Doesn’t just apply to the Soviet Union in counter-revolution. Only your sycophancy toward the capitalist/democratic ideals you extol keeps you from exclaiming in indignation how easily the ruling classes plunged the entire world into war, killing millions of people. The Kaisers and the Prime Ministers and the Presidents (I exempt the Tsar lest I really provoke your ire.) Slaughter in the streets of Moscow mean nothing to you. Plainly if the people were worthwhile they would have sacrificed their lives, whether it’s the mob in Berlin or Paris or London or Rome or Moscow.

Sorry, to me, this smack of simple hatred of the common people. Losing your job, or having your wages not paid, or having rampant inflation eat away at the necessities of life are mere inconveniences, not intimidation! The people killed in Moscow meant nothing to you, but they meant something to people who were tempted to resist…terror. Your position is really, it’s not terror if it’s done by my side.

5. False dichotomies are easily refuted by simply pointing out your real position. Neither Zhou nor Jiang Qing is not a real position. I suspect your real position is Chiang Kai-shek’s successors. And so it goes for pretty much everything your say. When you will not say what you really want, everyone should assume the default, that you want what you imply. If you feel uncomfortable when what that is clearly put into words, everyone feels uncomfortable when they are caught out at meanness.

As for the Communist establishment firmly deciding that it wanted restoration, the State Committee on the Emergency was a fake? The CC members were CP establishment. How many of those people are billionaires and politicians today? (Or were when they died?)

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F. Foundling 07.26.17 at 5:43 pm

In fairness, I should perhaps add to my previous comment that there were many well-meaning, reasonable and apparently competent people at the time who hoped that we could make a transition to capitalism and still have ourselves a nice social democracy like (a somewhat idealised) Sweden, combining capitalist efficiency and abundance with socialist care, regulation and affordability, with a nice regulated free market, a nice welfare state and a nice public sector. For me, ceding the people’s property to a bunch of economic kinglets has always been a terrible idea and it was obviously bound to have innumerable negative consequences in the short and long term. In retrospect, as the decades go by, I have only become even more firmly convinced of that. Even aside of all the evils of the transition as it actually played out and of the new system as it has actually come to be, it has only been becoming clearer and clearer that all over the world, the much lauded and craved bourgeois social democracy itself can’t survive on its own and preserve its own achievements, and capitalism left without an alternative destroys or neutralises democracy itself. I suppose we could have experimented by introducing elements of competition etc., as many suggested was necessary to improve efficiency, but never at the cost of reinstating a capitalist class; whatever we did, relinquishing public ownership over the economy should always have remained a red line. With more workplace democracy perhaps we could have moved towards something more worthy of the name socialism, but whatever our results in the short run, the one thing we should never have done is let capitalists own us. These are all, however, my personal idle thoughts – the fact remains that there were absolutely no social forces interested in making such a choice back then, and there’s no use crying over spilt milk now. Better luck next time. :)

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TM 07.27.17 at 11:45 am

stj 244: “No evidence I know of suggests they have ever been anything other than growing exponentially til collapse. If you wish to argue human population growth has been logistic, I think the burden of proof is on you. The social mechanisms that accomplished this feat would be of great interest.”

This is really precious. After having provided not one shred of evidence, not a single data point, no reference, nothing, to support your wild claims, you boldly declare that the burden of proof is on the other side to refute your absurd hypothesis of an eternal exponential growth/collapse cycle. No matter that such evidence *has* already been provided. FYI, if you were familiar even just with modern population data, you’d know that world population isn’t growing exponentially any more, it has been linear for about 30 years and all projections predict a stabilization by the end of the century, indeed a logistic growth pattern. As to the social mechanism stabilizing population, there is a huge literature on that topic, keyword demographic transition.

It’s also worth pointing out that no biological population ever has been observed growing exponentially over more than short time periods. What is observed in nature are a number of patterns – logistic growth, fluctuation, growth and collapse, stability. This is a well researched science and you show no indication of being even remotely familiar with the literature. This debate has become so bizarre one has to ask if you are some kind of fundamentalist cult member utterly invested in an obscure belief system.

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