Book Chat: Mariana Mazzucato – Mission Economy

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 24, 2021

As announced a few weeks ago, here is the first of a series of book chats – starting with Mariana Mazzucato’s Mission Economy. The idea is that this post opens up a space for anyone to talk about any aspect of the book they want to discuss (under the general rules that apply to discussion on this blog), as well as raise questions of clarification that we could put to eachother.

Mission Economy is about rethinking capitalism and rethinking government. Perhaps it is even more about rethinking government than about rethinking capitalism. Both need to be rethought in order to redirect the economy into what Mazzucato calls ‘a mission economy’, which will allow us to tackle problems facing humans and the planet that are currently not properly addressed: climate change, insufficient high-risk long-term investments in the real economy, real wage growth that is much lower than productivity growth, and so forth.

Mazzucato argues that right now we (that is, our governments) ask “how much money is there and what can we do with it?” but instead we should be asking “what needs doing and how can we restructure budgets and design innovation and collaborations between the government, industry, academia and other groups so as to meet those goals?” [click to continue…]


Billionaires in space

by John Quiggin on July 22, 2021

With its unsubtle allusion to an Australian cult classic of the 1980s that’s the headline for my latest piece in Independent Australia. Key points

Nothing has changed in the basic physics that makes space travel, beyond the minimal scale achieved in the 1960s, essentially impossible. On the contrary, advances in physics have shut off every theoretical loophole that might have permitted us to exceed the limit imposed by the speed of light. Nor has there been any reduction in the massive amount of energy needed to propel even a single person into space.

The world is facing challenges that threaten our very existence, from pandemics to climate catastrophe to nuclear war. We can’t rely on fantasies of escaping into outer space. Nor we can afford a system that delivers a huge proportion of our collective income to a handful of irresponsible adventurers.


Sunday photoblogging: Valmagne

by Chris Bertram on July 18, 2021



Twigs and branches

by John Quiggin on July 16, 2021

Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!


Tuesday photoblogging: Cirque de Mourèze

by Chris Bertram on July 13, 2021

I didn’t post on Sunday. Although I’ve been taking lots of pictures, I’m separated from my preferred photo-editing software at the moment so a lot will have to wait. But yesterday I took this shot of the wonderful landscape of the Cirque de Mourèze in the Languedoc: wonderful columns of rock risking from a sandy floor. A cloudy day was not ideal for pictures, but it was better for walking there than fierce sunshine would have been.

Cirque de Mourèze


There is such a thing as being too rich

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 12, 2021

I spoke to some US-based scholars today about a study they are planning to do on the question whether American citizens think one can say that at some point, one is having too much money. Long-time readers of our blog might recall that in January 2018 I asked you for input on a study I was setting up in the Netherlands to find out whether the Dutch think there is the symmetrical thing of a poverty line – a riches line. And yes, they do. The study has in the meantime been conducted and published in the journal Social Indicators Reserach, and is open access – available to all. I am very grateful to my collaborators and (economic) sociologists Tanja van der Lippe, Vincent Buskens, Arnout van de Rijt and Nina Vergeldt, since I would never have been able to do this on my own: the last time I did empirical work was in 2002 (and in the good tradition of economics graduate training, I never collected my own data when I was trained as an economist, hence it was a great adventure to set up this survey).

Based on our data, we find that 96,5% of the respondents made a distinction between a family that is rich and one that is extremely rich, whereby the standard of living of the latter is described as: “This family has much more than they need to lead an affluent life. They never have to consider whether they can afford certain luxury spending, and even then, they still have plenty of money left to do extraordinary things that almost no one can afford. No one needs that much luxury.” [click to continue…]


Sunday photoblogging: Swift

by Chris Bertram on July 4, 2021

I have spent much of the week trying to photograph the swifts that screech around and above Pézenas (France) often reminding me of the attack sequence in 633 Squadron/Star Wars as they fly in groups through the canyons formed by the streets. It is very tricky, as the sort of shutter speed you need to freeze movement also reduces the depth of field and everything happens too fast for autofocus to lock on. So I’ve filled memory cards with large numbers of pictures of blue skies and blurry birds, with a very few acceptable shots. They really are extraordinary creatures and it lifts the heart to see them.



Chatting about books

by Ingrid Robeyns on July 3, 2021

Yesterday, I handed over the directorship of my institute to a colleague. In the speech two colleagues gave to thank me for my service, they described my role as being that of the ‘middle-manager’, who in the present-day neoliberal universities is crushed between the powers and constraints set by those above them, and the demands and needs of the many below them. I fear that kind of sums it up (although one could also mention the added difficult which is the negligence of the Government that continues to underfund higher education, despite report after report showing that with current levels of funding the only way for Universities to continue their mission is by effectively forcing its workers to produce massive amounts of unpaid overwork). No surprise, it was a role that consumed way too much of my time.

In any case, I turned this page and am now looking ahead to a year in which to concentrate fully on writing a book on limitarianism, the view that no-one should be extremely rich, which recently was discussed in The Washington Post. And I’m also very much looking forward to reading widely and freely, rather than not having time to do that to the degree that I would have wanted to.

My hope to read up on many books that have been staring at me, some for years, waiting to be read, made me think that it might be nice to organise “Book chats” here at Crooked Timber. So what’s the plan? [click to continue…]



by John Quiggin on July 3, 2021

In comments on a previous post, Thomas Beale takes exception to a statement by Ibram X Kendl (about whom I know nothing) that “The opposite of racist isn’t “not racist”. It is “anti-racist”.”

It occurred to me that, the opposite of “anti-racist” isn’t “racist” but “anti-anti-racist”

That raised some interesting thoughts for me. The construction “anti” doesn’t function like a negative sign in standard mathematics. It was first (AFAIK) used in “anti-anti-communist” to refer (mostly pejoratively) to those who thought that anti-communists like McCarthy and Nixon posed a greater threat to the US than did (domestic) communists.

Is there a tenable position that is non-racist without being anti-anti-racist. It’s not a logical impossibility – for example, I am neither pro-Nickelback, nor anti-Nickelback, nor anti-anti-Nickelback – but it’s hard to see how it could be sustained in the current state of US or Australian politics. Certainly, the critics of CRT come across much more as anti-anti-racist than as non-racist.


Twigs and branches

by John Quiggin on July 3, 2021

Another open thread, where you can comment on any topic. Moderation and standard rules still apply. Lengthy side discussions on other posts will be diverted here. Enjoy!


Not CRT, but critical thinking about race

by John Quiggin on June 30, 2021

Over the fold a piece I wrote on the Critical Race Theory panic. I took my time and I think everything has been said by now, but readers might like to discuss it anyway. There’s an earlier version here

[click to continue…]


I wrote something a while ago about why I think forgiving all student debt is neither a good idea nor progressive. One of the common responses to people who make the kinds of argument that I make is that, indeed, forgiving student debt is progressive, because, at least on the plan Sanders had, it would be paid for by a tax on speculative trades. So, it is progressive because it redistributes down.

After I saw that objection several times I realized that I didn’t have a well-formed concept of progressivity or regressivity, and didn’t really know what other people meant by it. So I’m asking you to do either or both: help me understand what progressive means, and/or understand why it matters that some policy is progressive.

To be clear. I agree that, if paid for the way Sanders planned to pay for it, loan forgiveness would have the net effect of redistributing down. Now, that doesn’t impress me a huge amount. Imagine a proposal that redistributed down from the top 1% just to the next 9%, and does nothing for the bottom 90%. Sure, that redistributes down, but the population within which it redistributes isn’t really of interest to me for now.

The definition of “progressive” on which the transfer from the top 1% to the next 9% is progressive is:

  • A policy is progressive as long as it has the net effect of redistributing resources downward at all.

That’s clearly not the definition underlying my objection to student debt forgiveness being progressive. (As I say, I just didn’t have a clear idea of what definition was in my head, but it wasn’t this one).

Here’s a second possible definition:

  • A policy is progressive as long as it has the net effect of reducing inequality of resources in the whole population

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Diana Ross and Kevin Coyne

by Harry on June 27, 2021

Radio 2 has been playing Thank You by Diana Ross all week. I wondered why I’d never heard it before, and discovered it’s because it was just released and, therefore, I presume, written sometime after 1972. I wondered whether someone with more musical knowledge/understanding than I have (which is nearly everyone who reads this) would listen to the first 36 seconds of Kevin Coyne’s “Need Somebody” from his first solo album, Case History, and compare it with the first 29 seconds of Thank You. They sound unnervingly similar to me.(And, the home recorded version sounds even more like Thank You to me).

If I’m right, can you suggest examples of artists ‘borrowing’ from other artists that are more unlikely than the Ross/Coyne pair?

Just to be clear, I don’t actually think this is a case of borrowing: I don’t imagine for a second that anyone of Ms. Ross’s team has ever heard of Kevin Coyne, let alone heard anything he wrote, and if I am wrong about that I will admire her even more than I already do.


Swamp 81

by Harry on June 24, 2021

I’ve been listening to longform radio documentaries ever since I started listening to Radio 4/The Home Service more than 50 years ago. I can’t remember anything better than this series about the Brixton Riot of 1981, hosted by a chap called Big Narstie (of whom I had never heard, but who my somewhat-cooler-than-me son-in-law assures me is a generally good chap). The combination of careful historical analysis, eyewitness testimony, dramatic recreation (of which I am generally skeptical, but is done, here, carefully and sparingly) is brilliant. Mr Narstie himself is charming. He seems genuinely moved by some of the stories within the story, and manages to convey his enthusiasm about just how much progress has been made while insisting that much is left to do. It’s not until episode 7 (of 8) that we get to the riot itself. What the series does is explain why the riot (and the riots that followed in the summer of 81) happened, and to do that it traces the history of police/community relations in south London from the mid-1960’s. It’s not perfect. There’s no real discussion of the St. Paul’s riot from the previous year. And the thread about the New Cross house fire loses steam a little bit: it is not made clear to the listener that forensics eventually established that the fire began inside the house, which is a pity, because the relevance of the New Cross fire is that however it was started no reasonable person in that community could believe anything that the police told them.

Two police officers from the time tell their stories. One is frank and straightforward – the police force he joined was populated substantially by racist criminals, and almost entirely, otherwise, by people who were either implicated in, or happy to turn a blind eye to, the lawlessness of their colleagues. (Political scientists can correct me here, but from casual observation there does seems to be a pretty general rule: when you’re trying to explain rioting during peacetime in liberal democracies a good starting point is police/community relations, and it’s not unusual to find a long history of criminality toward the rioting community on the part of the police). The other officer is much more defensive, tarring the young men who were regularly stopped and searched under the Sus laws, beaten up, arrested, and “fitted up”, as criminals. But there is one amusing moment, in which he says, probably with at least an element of truth, something to the effect of “People say we were racist. But Blacks had moved into that area, and we treated them the way that we treated the people who had lived there before”.

Many of the stories of individual encounters with police officers that are told in the first few episodes are shocking and should be very hard to believe. I think it is worth dwelling a little, as the podcast doesn’t, on just why so many people not directly affected by the way Brixton and other Black communities were policed, did not understand the problem. To understand it you had to be willing to believe that (often violent) lawbreaking was the norm in the Metropolitan Police. Think of your own workplace. Imagine that you violently assaulted a someone you had just grabbed off the pavement/sidewalk in front of 10 of your colleague. How much push back would you get? Wouldn’t somebody get a little nervous that you, or they, would get into trouble? Now imagine that you do it again the next day. Now imagine that several of your colleagues do the same thing in the next few weeks. And then boast about it in the cafeteria. Most people in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations did not inhabit workplaces where that was normal, and, I think, found it very hard to take seriously the idea that the police, in particular, were like that. Especially if they lived in part of the country (and there were some) which was relatively well policed. [1]

Unless, of course, you had some direct experience of the Met yourself.

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Janet Malcolm and Joshua Cohen

by Corey Robin on June 19, 2021

Janet Malcolm has died. I, along with three other writers, wrote something about her for The New Republic.

Like Orwell, who thought Homage to Catalonia would have been a good book had he not turned it into journalism, Malcolm described her writing as a failure of art. Only writers who invent, she said, can write autobiographies. Journalists like her could not. They lacked the ability to make themselves interesting. The light of their work was powered, almost entirely, by the self-invention of their subjects.

You can read the rest of it here.

On Tuesday, at 7:30 pm (EST), I’ll be interviewing Joshua Cohen about his amazing new novel, The Netanyahus. You can sign up for the online event here. I can’t say enough good things about the novel—it’s about Jews, Israel, the Diaspora, identity politics, campus politics, declining empires, tribalism, nose jobs, and more. And Cohen is just an extraordinarily fertile mind, a genuine novelist of ideas, who’s also very funny. Should be a fun event. I hope you’ll join us. Again, sign up here.