Predistribution – a bad idea whose time has come?

by Daniel on September 26, 2012

I foolishly promised a few people that I was going to write something about “Predistribution”, which would not normally have resulted in actually writing anything about it, except that Chris then wrote his piece and I felt I ought to enter into the lists on the somewhat more sceptical side. In as much as it isn’t just a bit of industrial policy combined with “all things bright and beautiful” (More education! More skills! But who will empty the bins in this hi-tech utopia[1] and how much will they be paid and why?), predistribution appears to be, as Chris says, an attempt to make all sorts of regulations and interventions in the economy do the work of a redistributive tax and benefit system. I don’t like this idea, basically for reasons to do with the fact that even after it all, I’m still an economist at heart. But the fact that I don’t like it doesn’t mean, in and of itself, that it might not be the best idea going in Britain today – after all, all the other politically live proposals might be worse. Read on, for a discussion of all these issues …
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Is It Moral for Lefties to Vote for Obama?

by Henry on September 26, 2012

[Conor Friedersdorf](http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/09/why-i-refuse-to-vote-for-barack-obama/262861/) (if Lot were to look for One Honest Conservative Commentator to save the tribe from divine wrath, he’d likely have to lump for Friedersdorf), [says no](http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/09/why-i-refuse-to-vote-for-barack-obama/262861/).

> Obama has done things that, while not comparable to a historic evil like chattel slavery, go far beyond my moral comfort zone. … Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn’t “precise” or “surgical” as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. … Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama’s kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done. … Contrary to _his own previously stated understanding_ of what the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution demand, President Obama committed U.S. forces to war in Libya without Congressional approval, despite the lack of anything like an imminent threat to national security.

The last of these seems weaker to me than the first two (I was, and still am, against the Libya intervention, but don’t think that the War Powers Resolution question is a moral one). But the first two are pretty damn awful. On key foreign policy and human rights issues, Obama hasn’t been a disappointment. He’s been a disaster. You can make a good case, obviously, that his main opponent, Mitt Romney, would be even worse. But it isn’t at all clear that the consequences of _voting_ [^voting] for Romney over the longer term, would be any worse than the consequences of voting for the guy who was supposed to be better on these issues, and was not. Indeed, the unwillingness of American left-liberals to criticize the opprobrious foreign policy of a Democratic president (and the consequent lack of real public debate over this policy, since most of the right tacitly agrees with the bad stuff) weighs the balance in favor of voting against Democrats who you know are going to sell out. Personally, I’m on the fence, if only because the current Republican party is so extraordinarily horrible. But I think that there is a very strong case to be made for not voting for Obama, and I wish that there were more publicly prominent lefties making it.

[^voting]: Abstracting away the question of whether individual votes have any consequences.

Debt: The Next 500 Posts …

by Henry on September 26, 2012

A coda to the coda – Mike Beggs’ [piece](http://jacobinmag.com/2012/08/debt-the-first-500-pages/) on Graeber’s Debt in _Jacobin_, and the ensuing discussion in comments [here](https://crookedtimber.org/2012/08/29/debt-the-first-five-hundred-pages/) at CT, has given rise to a further exchange in which J.W. [Mason](http://jacobinmag.com/2012/09/in-defense-of-david-graebers-debt/) defends Graeber on money, and Mike [Beggs](http://jacobinmag.com/2012/09/on-debt-a-reply-to-josh-mason/) restates and extends his position.

Mason:

> Mike sees _Debt_ as “a move in an interdisciplinary struggle: anthropology against economics.” But most of the key arguments of Debt are better seen as part of an intradisciplinary struggle within economics. Admittedly it takes some unpacking, but Debt‘s key themes are in close harmony with the main themes of heterodox economics work going back to Keynes; while the “economics” that Beggs opposes to him represents only the discipline’s more conservative wings. … Debt‘s demonstration that money obligations are historically prior exchange of goods maps onto the insistence of Marx, Keynes and their successors that under capitalism, money values are logically prior to the production and consumption of real goods and services. … Debt‘s distinction between money and credit systems is not just an exercise in classification, but corresponds to a distinction that has has preoccupied many classical and modern economists, and has important implications for monetary policy in addition to the vaster cultural and political-economic ramifications Debt focuses on. … when Mike says that Debt exaggerates the importance of the system of payments, it is because he is coming from a narrowly orthodox view of what monetary economics is about, and why money matters. If your economic vision is shaped by more heterodox traditions — or by the responses to the financial crises of the past few years — the economics of Debt will seem more congenial.

Beggs:

> The debate between Josh and I centers on the question of whether or not the distinction between a ‘commodity/fiat money economy’ and a ‘credit money economy’ is a useful one in understanding our present economic system and its history. He thinks it is so useful as to be the central dividing line in economics; I think it is liable to mislead. The rest of the disagreement comes, I think, because Josh conflates the commodity/fiat-credit money economy divide with other divides in economic thinking. So he seems to that if I challenge that distinction, I must be a quantity theorist, must believe that money is simply a veil, neutral in its economic effects, and must misunderstand how banking works. In fact we are on the same side in all those other dichotomies, but Josh for some reason continues to maintain that if I disagree over the core distinction, I must be standing on the other side of all the others. … I think the ‘commodity/fiat money economy’ – ‘credit money economy’ divide is a problem; and … that the rest of his criticisms rest on the conflations with other theoretical dichotomies.