Introducing the Bone Yard Railway: Logging and Freight

At some point we all get tired or bored or both.  But if you can’t play hurt, you should probably quit or die.  Granted, both options blow chunks…so lets assume we play hurt.

When I grew up in British Columbia logging deaths were superior to the homicide rate.  That is deaths per capita were higher for the logging sector as whole than the comparable homicide figures for the province.  When I started logging my safety equipment consisted of a pair of cork boots, a hard hat and a chainsaw! Within a couple of years I got saw pants and a pair of goggles. Ill just note that I did not ever have the pleasure of refusing to work on an unsafe job site…logging is unsafe particularly in the western rain forest.  All the logging truck drivers I met over the decade I spent in logging were disabled…a hand gone here, four or three fingers sheared off a choker man’s hand, a leg mid thigh…whatever all bones for the yard…I have a finger in there…everyone who logged back then made a donation (sacrifice?) to Caesar.

Well fuck Caesar, but in keeping with the dead art of dead head logging I am busy modelling in HO scale a working logging and milling town with freight to export points and a captured company town…more than this I can’t fathom…I am Canadian after all…why should my imagination surpass that of the Canadian haute bourgeoisie?

Maybe one day I will model freedumb.


Father of Humboldt Broncos player Evan Thomas invites everyone

Alright 16 hockey players got dead: 16 people. Sixteen young, highly skilled in their job, people died.  You can try and put words to it, try and put resources—money and time—to making them people you know. You can interview their host families, you can interview the towns’ people and you can follow their funeral, you can try to bring them alive—to make them matter.

OK. I am sorry they died. I am sorry for the people around them.  I am empathetic to the suffering of loss.  16 people are dead they will never be here again, their lives don’t matter. They are gone.

Now, I can walk and chew a stick of gum at the same time. There is no doubt that people matter.  Your life matters to me.  And so does every other life on the planet. If you don’t agree than you’re a bigot.

Stapled to the Front Door: Neoliberal Extractivism In Canada

This article discusses several aspects of the reliance in the Canadian economy on the natural resource extraction (NRE) industries. The NRE sector illustrates the dual nature of Canadian capital in a global context. The intensification of resource extraction is associated with an increase in inequality along several vectors. These increases in inequality, however, cannot be decoupled from the institutionalization of neoliberal policies at both the federal and provincial levels over the last 30 years.

The profound hegemony of neoliberalism: economic theory, public policy and capitalist accumulation

As the Library of Canada archives do not seem to be well indexed by google I am putting up a link to my doctoral dissertation which I defended in 2012 and was published in 2013.  A link to a PDF of the dissertation can be found here, and the full citation information can be found here.  You can also download the document here: Profound Hegemony of Neoliberalism.


A b s t r a c t
The central thesis of this dissertation is that neoliberalism is an accumulation strategy, an ideology and a public policy paradigm that is about diminishing the collective capacity of workers to negotiate credibly over the distribution of the surplus at either the level of the enterprise (through unions for example) or through more ambitious collective action at the level of macroeconomic policy (via a democratically determined industrial policy). I employ a critical realist methodology to investigate the different facets in the development of neoliberalism’s hegemony. Inter alia, I argued that neoliberalism, as an ideology and policy paradigm, is better understood as an amalgam of intellectual currents taken not only from within neoclassical political economy but also from what I have referred to here as neo-Weberian political economy. The hegemony of neoliberalism is illustrated, on the one hand, by the capitulation of new Keynesians to the supply side logic embedded in new classical micro economics and, on the other, by the neo-Weberian incorporation of the neoclassical firm into the heart of its comparative enterprise. In the last section a quantitative description of neoliberalism across a broad range of metrics is undertaken. The central message to emerge is that while neoliberalism, as an accumulation strategy, has been more or less successful in rising and maintaining profit rates and price stability, it has not been successful in terms of other macro-economic indicators. In particular, there has been an increase in employment insecurity, precariousness and market based income inequality. Further, in the Anglo American countries, while neoliberalism has been successful in restoring profit rates in manufacturing, these self same policies have not been successful in arresting the overall decline of manufacturing. Lastly, and perhaps most devastatingly for the protagonists of neoliberalism, these policies have not been successful in restoring GDP per capita growth of unemployment rates to their Golden Age levels . And even if those levels were exceptional, they were held out as the ultimate goal o f early neoliberal innovation and restructuring.



From Despotism to Hegemony and Round-again to Hegemonic Despotism: Burawoy’s Neoliberal premonition

Relentlessly Progressive Political Economy

Michaels Burawoy’s the Politics of Production (1985), stands out as an important contribution to Marxist political economy in general and in particular Marxist analyses of the dynamic interaction between welfare state institutions, the juridical regulation of industrial relations, and the labour process.  Inter alia, Burawoy set himself the task of developing an analysis of the “politics of production which aim[ed] to undo the compartmentalization of production and politics by linking the organization of work to the state” (p.122).  Burawoy used the dynamic interaction between labour market, welfare state, and managerial regimes to generate a typology of labour relations regimes.   Specifically he argued that “the process of production is not confined to the labour process… It also includes political apparatuses which reproduce those relations of the labour process through the regulation of struggles.  I call these struggles the politics of production or simply production politics” (Ibid: italics in original).


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The chimera of online community

This is just a short note on making a distinction that ought to be made between community and social media.  We have become habituated to refer to people who use social media as members of a community.  I think we would be better off if we re-habituated ourselves to refer to people who use social media as members of a “communications hub” or the more commonly used phrase “members of a network.”  The basic insight here is that communities, the physical spaces in which we live and interact with other human beings, rely heavily on personal reputation and repeated and sustained interactions.

Trumped up and buried under the ashes of neoliberalism


At the time of preparing this talk, January 2017, Donald Trump had just been elected the 45th president of the United States of America.    This talk is not really about the United States under the tutelage of the newly elected American President Donald Trump.  Rather this talk is more about how we arrived here: about the legacy of neoliberal policies that forged the trump card for the explosion of right wing populist movements and their victories across the advanced capitalist zone including in the United States.  As the vivid title of this talk makes clear, I am not arguing that we have moved to a post neoliberal order as of yet–although there are signs we may be in a bad transition out of the neoliberal epoch.  Alternatively, I will argue that we are living with the consequences of neoliberal institutions and policies: suffocating under the ashes of neoliberalism with Donald trump as the brightest burning coal at the top of the ash heap.

As most people know, to play the “trump card” in any game—political, economic or otherwise—confers a decisive advantage to the person who plays it given the right circumstances and timing.  The idiomatic expression “trumped up” refers to situation that has been manufactured to produce one set of outcomes while falsely claiming to produce another.  A trumped up criminal case is promulgated on phony evidence where the wrongly accused faces a criminal sanction while the broader public is misled to believe justice is being done.  There is close analogue here to the phrase gaslighting.  Much of neoliberalism, indeed an important explanation for its ideological spread was the initial promise of employment and renewed economic growth, i.e., what we might call the remedy to economic shame[i].  There is a sense in which neoliberalism is and was a scam and a manipulation of public morale: the difference today is most, including significant sections of the ruling classes admit this. They simply do not care because its all just a contemporary communications game.

If you are on the left it is easy, in this context, to simply be against Donald Trump and the sundry list of right wing populist movements and leaders. Who reading this post is for racism, sexism, xenophobia and soft and hard bigotries of all stripes?

Rather the problem for the putative left, particularly but not solely, its formal parliamentary forms; the Democratic Party in the United States, the New Labour Party in Britain and Australia, the Socialist party in France, the New Democratic Party in Canada, and the Sozialdemokratische Partei in Germany, for example, is to come to terms with what is now 40 years of their own internal drift to the right and their own hand in building the very neoliberal institutions which  created the conditions in which right wing populism and inequality flourish and left wing politics languishes.[ii]

In the above regard, it is my suspicion that it will be much harder for the institutionalized left to come to grips with the folly of neoliberalism than the right.  This is particularly so in the upper echelons of the progressive social structure (intellectuals, academics, politicians and the quasi woke citizenry).

Here is why.  For the right, neoliberalism was an internally motivated project, which sought to roll back, dismantle, and or fundamentally restructure the post World War II social order.   Neoliberalism was never about jobs, productivity, or economic growth for conservative elites: it was about a redistribution of power upwards.  In this regard, the adoption of neoliberalism did not require a conversion of ideological convictions as it did for the left. It was broad and important segments of the left which made the conversion:  It is the Clinton democrats, Tony Blair’s ‘new labour’, Gerhard Schröder’s ‘third’ way, and the legions of intellectuals and academics which made their own accommodations, and indeed in many cases who crafted neoliberal innovations that will have to do the hard work of soul searching, shame letting, and back tracking.

I am not very sanguine about the prospects of the aforementioned coming to pass for three reasons.  For one thing, most left accommodations to neoliberalism were made within the reality of a very constrained political economy characterized by high unemployment,fears of high inflation, and low economic growth and a concomitant ideological restructuring to the right.  For example, Tony Blair inherited Margaret Thatcher’s new United Kingdom, and Bill Clinton inherited Ronald Reagan’s “New Day in America.”  It would be impish to maintain that these were not real reconfigurations to the possibilities facing policy makers—left or right.

The second reason I am not optimistic about the chances of a volte-face on the part of the neoliberal left is quite simply that we are now almost two generations into the neoliberal epoch and easily one generation into its hegemony.  Educational attainment, political identities and careers have been formed and built within a neoliberal cognitive and material framework.  None of which is particularly easy (and in some cases possible) to walk away from.

Third, the left remains fractured between insiders and outsiders.  Because the political insiders on the left will not admit to the paucity of neoliberalism and the role they played in constructing the neoliberal order, the most vigorous and energized elements of the left remain largely outside formal political institutions and the broader public policy processes.  Indeed many insiders on the political left are still gaslighting the outsiders.  And if they are not merely sociopaths, its fairly hard for serial abusers to admit they have a problem…lotta shame needs to be overcome.

Moreover, it is by now blatantly apparent in American politics that the political process is over-determined by campaign and party financing—with the democrats still requiring that some professional politicians and administrators be the front for the donors and with Trump era republicans increasingly disposing of the political ‘middle men’ (sic) and opting instead to just put the donors in power. That is, within American politics it is increasingly the case that the Democrats and Republican parties do not merely represent different fractions within the haute bourgeoisie–they are the haute bourgeoisie.  There is, therefore, a toxic stasis on the European and North American left facing a dynamic, well funded, and popularly organized right.

Afterword to the introduction

It has been almost a year since I gave this talk and there is reason today to feel a bit more sanguine than one may have felt in the morning after Trump was inaugurated.   The British labour party had a major coup d’état with the victory of Corbyn. Equally positive has been the increasing traction of non normie style democrats.  Moreover, and I think more importantly, there are some positive signs that that the non parliamentary left is finally working through some of its major dysfunctions of which I will just touch on two below.

First, there are strong signs that the non parliamentary left intelligentsia is moving beyond the internecine, unproductive and self defeating debates of the naughties and teenies.  I think Trump’s election was a brutal wake-up call signalling that the prosaic and bitter debates of grad school educated lefties had become a waste of real resources.  Do not get me wrong, I think those debates had to be had, but they went beyond their best before date and ossified  into petty silos.  It was as if by sitting in grad school seminars and by standing giving grad lectures we were going to change something all on our own, as if the logical consistency of our interior ontological righteousness could alone change the world:  to be sure a much more meaningful exercise than Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium models, but often not much (there is a future post in this analogue, someone remind me of it).

Second, while we were busy, people like Jane McAlevey and countless others were actually being a part of helping communities organize.  Her title gets right at the problem, there are no shortcuts to the real work of organizing: there is no one big existential idea, no coupling of mobilizing and online communication hubs (often falsely called communities) for living in, and being a part of, organizing ourselves in the broader (as in not self selected) communities we live in.  Life has an unavoidable spatial context and real social complexity.  Organizing involves dealing with both.  I think the non parliamentary left is finally getting this.

[i]   See Arlie Russel Hochschild, “Strangers in their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right”, (2016), The new press.
[ii]  It remains to be seen if Jeremy Corbyn marks a shift in English politics.

The Return of the Very Cruel Economic System

This chapter is divided into three sections.  The first section examines the origins of the neoliberal policy consensus at the OECD.  The fist major rupture in the hegemony of the Keynesianism (neoclassical synthesis MKI) at the OECD came with the publication of the McCracken Report in 1977.  Some left critics have come to regard the Report as the first truly neoliberal policy document sponsored by the OECD.  I intend to challenge this interpretation somewhat by arguing that the Report is better understood as a rupture in the Keynesian consensus and not necessarily a fully worked-out alternative and certainly not evidence of a coherent neoliberal paradigm.  The second section, attempts to clarify the relationship between monetarism and neoliberalism.  After a brief theoretical presentation, I will then examine the conference proceedings from the 1978 Boston Federal Reserve’s After The Phillips Curve: Persistence of High Inflation and High Unemployment conference.  This conference is interesting because within its proceedings it is apparent the degree to which Keynesians like Robert Solow and Barry Bosworth (more so) were beginning to cross over from the demand to the supply side.    The third section examines the OECD Jobs Study released in 1994.  I argue that the publication of this document signals the hegemony of the neoliberal policy consensus.

The rest can be read here

Trying to get burned at the stake: heretical Easter edition

Me, I like heretics.  Sure hanging out with heretics and being a heretic is fraught with danger: a certain tendency towards a merely reactionary or contrarian stance, a pension for wasting time by reinventing the wheel and merely convincing yourself that a perfectly round shape really is the optimum form.  But often there is something to be learned from reverse engineering models and propositions.  Many economists like to argue that workers and consumers ultimately pay for corporate taxes either in lower wages and higher prices or both.

read the rest here