From the monthly archives:

November 2011

Athens Polytechnic comes to UC Davis

by John Q on November 22, 2011

A Greek friend has sent me lots of information on links between the suppression of dissent at UC Davis and similar events in Greece from the days of the military junta to the present. Here’s a video commemorating the 1973 uprising centred on Athens Polytechnic, which led to the downfall of the military junta the following year[1].  the last title says “The Polytechneio lives on. In struggles today.” Link

Among the legacies of the uprising was a university asylum law that restricted the ability of police to enter university campuses. University asylum was abolished a few months ago, as part of a process aimed at suppressing anti-austerity demonstrations. The abolition law was based on the recommendatiions of an expert committee, which reported a few months ago (report here, in Greek). There’s an English translation here, but it doesn’t work well for me.

Fortunately, my friend has translated the key recommendations

University campuses are unsafe. While the [Greek] Constitution permits the university leadership to protect campuses from elements inciting political instability, Rectors have shown themselves unwilling to exercise these rights and fulfill their responsibilities, and to take the decisions needed in order to guarantee the safety of the faculty, staff, and students. As a result, the university administration and teaching staff have not proven themselves good stewards of the facilities with which society has entrusted them. 

The politicizing of universities – and in particular, of students – represents participation in the political process that exceeds the bounds of logic. This contributes to the rapid deterioration of tertiary education. 

Among the authors of this report – Chancellor Linda Katehi, UC Davis. And, to add to the irony, Katehi was a student at Athens Polytechnic in 1973.


fn1. The fall of the Greek junta, only a year after Pinochet’s coup in Chile was, in retrospect, a historic turning point, after which rule by generals became steadily less common.

A bit of love, a bit of lust and there you are ….

by Chris Bertram on November 21, 2011

Shelagh Delaney has died aged 71, having written something extraordinary when she was 18. “Guardian obituary”:

Eric Rauchway and Ari Kelman on the UC Davis disgrace

by Henry Farrell on November 20, 2011

The following is a guest post from Eric Rauchway and Ari Kelman, both history professors at UC Davis (and bloggers at the recently revived “Edge of the American West”:, which I imagine will have a lot to say about this over the coming days.


On Friday, 11/18/11, police at UC Davis doused nonviolent protesters with pepper spray.

The police officer with the pepper spray, identified as Lt. John Pike of the UC Davis Campus Police, looks utterly nonchalant, for all the world as if he were hosing aphids off a rose bush. The scene bespeaks a lack of basic human empathy, an utter intolerance for dissent, or perhaps both. Pike’s actions met with approval from the chief of campus police, Annette Spicuzza, “who observed the chaotic events on the Quad, [and] said immediately afterward that she was ‘very proud’ of her officers.” Clearly in Chief Spicuzza’s mind there was nothing exceptional about the use of pepper spray against nonviolent protesters.

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Blogging the Zombies: Austerity (revised)

by John Q on November 20, 2011

Update Nov 20 I’ve revised this as a result of thinking about the comments, though I haven’t yet had time to take all the comments on board. The main change has been to focus specifically on the idea of “expansionary austerity”. As Keynes said in 1937, public sector austerity is desirable if the economy as a whole is booming. And, later in the chapter, I’ll talk about whether austerity is sometimes the least bad response to problems of foreign debt. The claim that is implicit in the current policies of the ECB, the UK Tories and the US Republicans is not merely that austerity is necessary as a response to debt but that it makes sense as a response to a deep recession. This idea is commonly described as “expansionary austerity” End Update note

I’m working on a paperback edition of Zombie Economics and adding a new chapter on austerity. Like last time, I plan to blog it in sections and take advantage of comments and criticisms from readers. I’m opening up with the intro, but plan to serve up something more substantive soon.


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Basil D’Oliveira is dead.

by Harry on November 19, 2011

At 80. Not 77. In Basil D’Oliveira: Cricket and Conspiracy Peter Oborne suggests that D’Oliveira may have been the greatest batsman of all time. It is worth remembering that by the age at which Dolly made his test debut, many successful batsmen have retired from the international stage: he did not even play first class cricket till after he had turned 30. Whether or not Oborne is right about that, it is certain that if D’Oliveira had been white then a youtube search would show up footage of him, rather than bringing up an ESPN special about a lesser batsman, in which his name is tagged only because John Vorster preferred having SA expelled from test cricket to having Dolly tour SA with the MCC.
Guardian obit here.
My review of Oborne’s book here. I’ll embed footage of him actually playing if someone can find it. (You can see a little here if you really work at it; in clip 6 the narrator says that John Arlott regarded bringing Dolly to England as the greatest achievement of his life. See this clip of Vorster announcing the cancellation of the tour and make your own judgement).

Oborne has the last word:

Cricket writers often mourn the lost generation of white cricketers such as Graeme Pollock, Mike Proctor or Barry Richards. But at least they got to play some Tests and unrestricted first-class cricket. The penalty that Apartheid inflicted on Eric Petersen, Ben Malamba, Cec Abrahams, Basil D’Oliveira and numerous others was far more absolute. They were denied training, facilities, access to turf wickets and any chance to play for their country at all. Only D’Oliveira escaped to enjoy complete sporting fulfilment, and he got his chance only at the very end of his sporting career, by which time his reflexes had slowed and he was half the brilliant sportsman he had been as a young man in 1950’s South Africa…..It is likely that but for the barbarism of Apartheid D’Oliveira would now be remembered as one of the very greatest cricketers the world has ever seen. By rights he should have imposed his great and singular talent on the cricketing world of the 1950’s, matching himself against the great cricketers of that age: Len Hutton and Denis Compton of England, Everton Weekes, Frank Worrrell and Clive Walcott of the West Indies, Keith Miller and Neil Harvey of Australia.

Britain: don’t marry a foreigner unless you’re rich

by Chris Bertram on November 19, 2011

I blogged the other day about the new restrictions the UK is planning to impose on would-be migrants, making it impossible for all but the super-rich to acquire permanent residency and forcing others into Gastarbeiter status (to be kicked out after five years). It gets worse. The government’s Migration Advisory Committee has now recommended that anyone seeking to sponsor a foreign (non-EU) spouse to enter the UK has to be in the top half of the income distribution (I simplify slightly). Read Matt Cavanagh on the topic here and the Free Movement blog here. So think through the implications. A British student goes to grad school in the US (for example), meets an American and marries: such a person would, under these proposals, be unable to return to the UK with their partner to live as a couple. If two countries were to adopt such rules and their nationals met and married, they would have the right to live as a couple in neither country. Iniquitous and unjust.

The ECB and the Davies Folk Theorem

by Henry Farrell on November 18, 2011

“Mario Draghi”:

bq. Let me use this occasion to dwell a bit further on monetary policy in the current environment. Three principles are of the essence: continuity, consistency and credibility. Continuity first and foremost refers to our primary objective of maintaining price stability over the medium term. Consistency means to act in line with our primary objective and with our strategy both in time and over time. Credibility implies that our monetary policy is successful in anchoring inflation expectations over the medium and longer term. This is the major contribution we can make in support of sustainable growth, employment creation and financial stability. And we are making this contribution in full independence. Gaining credibility is a long and laborious process. Maintaining it is a permanent challenge. But losing credibility can happen quickly – and history shows that regaining it has huge economic and social costs.

“Daniel Davies”: (on the Iraq War, but trust me – the logic travels).

bq. At this late stage in the occupation of Iraq, many of Henry Kissinger’s old arguments about Indo-China are being dusted down. One of the hoariest and worst is that we need to “stay the course” (or some similar euphemism) in order to maintain “credibility” – to demonstrate our resolve to our enemies, who will otherwise continue to attack us. It reminds me of my one and only contribution to the corpus of game theory.

bq. The Folk Theorem in game theory states that any outcome of a repeated game can be sustained as an equilibrium if the minimax condition for both players is satisfied. In plain language, it can be summarised as stating that “if we take strategic considerations into account, there is a game-theoretic rationale for practically anything”. This formulation leads on to my contribution, the Davies-Folk Theorem, which states that “if we take strategic considerations into account,there is a game-theoretic rationale for practically fucking anything” (it’s a fairly simple corollary; proof available from author on request).

bq. The point being that since game theory in general provides the analyst with so many opportunities to twist himself repeatedly up his own arse like a berserk Klein bottle, if a given real-world course of action appears to have nothing going for it other than a game-theoretic or strategic justification, it’s almost certainly a bad idea. Thus it is with that bastard child of deterrence, “credibility”.

bq. … The idea is that the war is costing huge amounts of money and lives with no real prospect of success and a distinct danger that it is making things much worse. However, to do the logical thing would send the signal to our enemies that we will give up if fought to a pointless bloody standstill. Therefore, for strategic reasons, we must redouble our efforts, in order to send the signal to our enemies that we will fight implacably and mindlessly in any battle we happen to get into, forever, in order to dissuade them from attacking us in the first place. It’s got the kind of combination of “counter-intuitive” thinking and political convenience that always appeals to the armchair Machiavelli, as well as to the kind of person who thinks it’s witty to describe things as “Economics 101” (Airmiles has been all over this one for ages, naturally). What’s it like as a piece of game-theoretic reasoning?

bq. Lousy. It is certainly true that one of the benefits of doing something stupid is that it saves you from having to spend money on maintaining your reputation as an idiot. However, is the reputation of an idiot really worth having?

bq. It turns out that it can be proved by theorem that the answer is no. If the game of being a belligerent idiot with no sensible regard for one’s own welfare _was_ worth the candle, in the sense of conferring benefits which outweighed the cost of gaining it, then everyone would want to get that reputation, whether they were genuinely an idiot or not. But if everyone wanted that reputation, then everyone would know that simply acting like an idiot didn’t mean that you were one, in which case it would be impossible to establish a reputation as an idiot in the first place. The point here is that it’s one of the more important things in game theory that a signal has to be a _costly_ signal to be credible; like membership of the Modern Languages Association, a reputation in deterrence theory is something that is worth having, but not worth _getting._ People who use the word “signal” in this context (usually on the basis of a poorly understood or second-hand reading of Schelling) don’t always seem to realise that they are explicitly admitting that the costs of being in Iraq are greater than the benefits.

This “story”: highlights the political awkwardness of the current European political dispensation. The German Bundestag’s Finance Committee apparently knows more about the Irish government’s economic plans than the Irish public or, indeed, the Irish parliament. Nor is it very good at keeping the information to itself.

bq. THE GOVERNMENT has complained to the European Commission over the release in Germany of a document disclosing confidential details about new taxes to be introduced in Ireland over the next two years. In a deeply embarrassing development the document – identifying austerity measures of €3.8 billion in next month’s budget and €3.5 billion in budget 2013 – was made public after being shown to the finance committee of the German Bundestag yesterday. … Germany’s federal finance ministry confirmed yesterday that it had forwarded troika documents to the 41 member Bundestag budgetary committee in line with its legal obligation under European Financial Stability Facility guidelines. … Taoiseach Enda Kenny said last night he had “no idea” how details of the forthcoming budget ended up being discussed in the Bundestag in Germany. “Let me confirm something to you, the Cabinet has made no decision in regard to the budget which is on December 6th,” he said, referring to the documents [sic] specific references to the budget.

Herr Kauder’s “unfortunate turn of phrase”: aside, this is not a sustainable political equilibrium, either for Germany or for the states on the receiving end of EU-crafted austerity policies. The politics of the bailout are embroiling the national politics of different European member states in ways that are likely to increase distrust and unhappiness in all of them. Nor is this going to get better without major institutional reforms at the EU level (assuming, of course, that the EU survives long enough to institute such reforms).

Skeptics of the need for ‘more Europe’ and in particular ‘more democratic Europe,’ have some excellent arguments. It’s extremely difficult to map out the political processes through which this could happen. But the ever-more-labyrinthine entwinement of different countries’ national economic politics with each other will be increasingly unbearable without some such changes. A Europe in which Germany is both the paymaster and the taskmaster is not going to be a happy Europe, either for Germany itself or for the countries entangled with it.

Requests for help*

by John Q on November 15, 2011

A couple of requests for CT readers

  1. I’m running a half-marathon in Philadelphia at the weekend and raising money for an East Africa Famine appeal in Australia. The Australian government will match donations dollar for dollar, and you may also be able to claim a tax deduction, so this is a real bargain. You can sponsor me here – I’m currently a dollar short of halfway to my target of $5000
  2. I’m writing a piece about social democratic responses to what Colin Crouch has called the “strange non-death of neoliberalism“, and I’m looking for books that focus on restoring more equality in market incomes, for example by rebuilding unions or constraining the financial sector, as opposed to redistribution through the tax/welfare system. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

* I’ll ask nicely, but I refuse to bl*g

Occupy Wall Street Shutdown

by Henry Farrell on November 15, 2011

I presume that most CT readers know that Occupy Wall Street was, to use the police euphemism, “cleared and restored”: yesterday. Consider this an open thread to talk about it. While it’s a minor part of the story, the “confiscation of the OWS library”: (as best as anyone can tell, the 5,000 odd books are now residing in a dumpster somewhere) hit me particularly hard. Trashing libraries is a very particular kind of political statement.

Occupy Berkeley

by Henry Farrell on November 14, 2011

If you’re not reading “Aaron Bady”: on this, you need to be.

bq. This was a very modest lesson in how power works. On Wednesday, several thousand UC Berkeley students learned a much bigger lesson, but in many ways it was exactly the same lesson: the rule is what the people with the force to enforce it say it is. And it becomes the rule when you either obey it, or when they use their force to make you obey it.

bq. …The person on the left is a colleague of mine, and I’ve seen his swollen hand and watched him limp and talked to him about what happened. I saw how physically shaken up he was, several hours after being beaten, and I went with a friend to get an Ace bandage for his hand. On the right, you can see someone I know who acquired several cracked ribs. I could go on. Or this video, in which you see the police yanking the director of the Townsend Center for the Humanities to the ground by her hair, applying choke-holds with batons, and punching people in the face.

“Jesse Kornbluh”: adds that police broke the ribs of a 70 year old poet at the demonstration. Aaron “suggests that people contact Berkeley’s Chancellor Birgeneau”: at

Phone: (510) 642-7464
Fax: (510) 643-5499
200 California Hall, MC#1500
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500

“to suggest to him that this angers you and that he shouldn’t do it again, or perhaps that he should resign, yesterday.” I’m of the ‘he should resign, yesterday’ school myself. At the very best he is an _ex post_ apologist for the brutality of the riot police he called in, and he is plausibly directly culpable for it. If anyone knows the email addresses for the board of trustees (who I am guessing are politically appointed, but still), or other pressure points, feel free to provide them in comments, and I will modify the main post accordingly.

The only reason Catholics like Joe Paterno and Darío Castrillón Hoyos are able to commit such uniquely awful crimes is because they are ethical in a way that run-of-the-mill godless folk cannot understand. Plus, I hereby stipulate that raping children is, admittedly, bad, mumble.

Even shorter: I don’t doubt that people whom I have just admitted committed evil acts are, in fact good, because [makes mysterious, several-part gesture with hand and wrists which magically resolves obvious contradictions.]

Armistice Day

by John Q on November 12, 2011

I spent the day in Canada (Toronto where I gave a talk on Zombie Economics last night). As in Australia, it’s now called Remembrance Day, but its a much bigger deal here, with lapel poppies de rigeur and two minutes silence observed in public venues.

If only we could mark 11/11/11 with a new armistice.

Some quick links

by John Q on November 11, 2011

* A few days ago, Australia’s Parliament passed legislation implementing a carbon tax (strictly speaking, a fixed price for carbon emissions permits, intended to convert to an emissions trading scheme in a few years). Here’s a piece I wrote for the Australian Financial Review on what this will mean for the doomsayers (that is, those who falsely predict economic doom as a result of this measure).

* Another opinion piece, in the New York Times, on Trichet, Draghi and the ECB

* Social scientists have known for a couple of decades that, contrary to its national myths, the US is a country with low intergenerational economic mobility, by international standards. Back in 2001, when I reviewed The Real Worlds of Welfare Capitalism by Bob Goodin and others, I mentioned that this was already well known. More recent evidence has shown that social mobility is not only low but declining. Yet until recently, popular discussion in the US seemed impervious to this evidence. Now suddenly, the issue is everywhere. Time Magazine had a front page story, there’s another in Salon and even the National Review is talking about it. Surely Occupy Wall Street has played a role here, but the lead time for a piece like that in Time would presumably predate #OWS. The experience of the Great Recession seems finally to be breaking down the power of zombie ideas.

The Rise of the Technocrats

by Henry Farrell on November 10, 2011

I’m at a workshop, unable to blog properly, and saving my eurozone energies for revisions to a piece for _The Nation_ (the ending of which has changed dramatically twice, and which is likely to change dramatically again before its Friday deadline). But this “piece in the FT”: is not very far from what I would be writing if I had the time.

bq. Apparently, the answer to the huge problems of the eurozone is the replacement of elected premiers with economic experts – approved officials dropped from European institutions. In Greece, Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank, has been pushed hard for the job; in Italy, Mario Monti, another economist and a former EU Commissioner, is much mentioned. They may lack a democratic mandate but they’re fantastically well regarded in Frankfurt. It remains to be seen if either will clinch the role. But what exactly is the great attraction of technocrats?

bq. If ever modern Europe needed brave, charismatic leaders to carry their nation through turbulent times, it would seem to be now. Instead, it is as if the crew of the Starship Enterprise had concluded that Captain Jean-Luc Picard is no longer the man for the job and that it is time to send for the Borg. Efficient, calculating machines driving through unpopular measures across the eurozone with the battle cry “resistance is futile” are apparently the order of the day. Faced with a deep crisis, once-proud European nations are essentially preparing to hand over power to Ernst & Young.