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.


Returns to education: from a sure thing to a trip to vegas

Paul Krugman has pointed out, here and here that the meme that most of the inequality we have been experiencing of late has much to do with differences in educational attainment is bogus.  Mankiw responds in typical fashion by changing the standards by which that claim is judged.  Krugman presented solid evidence that the returns to education have been declining.  To which one should add that if we did a real ROI calculation the returns have gone negative.  Mankiw counters by saying that may be true but if you do not have an education you are less likely to get a chance to become the top 1%.

The difference between the two as near as I can tell is that Krugman demonstrates that buying a lottery ticket has worse odds of paying out than ever before and Mankiw’s master stroke is apparently that if you don’t buy a lottery ticket you have no chance at winning.

Sad, really.

UBC economist Milligan throws cake at educated, unemployed youth

I tuned into a rebroadcast of this morning’s the CBC’s the Current while cleaning the kitchen this evening which had an unusually good documentary on the problem of youth unemployment; specifically, the problem of university undergrads in finding jobs.  As someone who suffered the 90s recession in spades (really you should see my work history I can sharpen your kitchen knives and the teeth on your chainsaw to a fine edge of efficiency*) I was very much in sympathy with these newly minted baccalaureates.  Personally I pursued my education as an end in itself.  If I had become a logger full time I would a least be able to attempt to make sense of something beyond the hill.  That said I can totally understand why so many of those interviewed in the documentary felt let down: they did what they were told; they followed the path as laid out by parents, teachers and councillors; they volunteered; they studied hard and upon graduation the ambitious among them took jobs as servers.

One of the newly minted graduates arrived to a jobs fair with 40 resumes in hand, another paid a months rent to get a professionally designed CV worked-up.  All for nigh.

In any event a very sobering documentary about the problems facing the educated unemployed youth.  That was until they finally interviewed the economist Kevin Milligan from UBC.  In true Victorian form, Milligan’s bottom line was that however this documentary might tempt you to think something can be done for these wayward educated unemployed forget about it:  Denmark tried it in the eighties and it was a disaster.

Let us just forget about the fact the eighties and early nineties brought all kinds of ideas to the rocks of reality and let us similarly forget that Denmark is a small open economy (this will work in my favour below), what Milligan fails to do and what an economist ought to be able to do and suggest the form that public policy could take to ameliorate the situation.  But that is the rub, the mainstream of the profession takes a do nothing position as the default optimal policy stance with respect to unemployment.  As a nod to their objectivity I suppose I should say their glib nature is not particularly directed at the youth: if the 55+ cohort was suffering above average unemployment rates Milligan’s response would be FIF you too.

Ok so those are the preliminaries.  What Milligan fails to mention is that instead of admitting defeat Denmark learned from its mistakes and doubled down and developed a different strategy to combat youth unemployment.  This time they coupled income support with training and an integration of training with private sector demand.  In short they revamped both their retraining regime and welfare state institutions to match incentives and crucially demand.  So at the height of the down turn in 2009 the youth unemployment rate was fully 4% higher (12 vs 16) in Canada with an overall unemployment rate of 7.2 vs 8.6.  What does that mean? It means with some policy effort that both the general rate of unemployment and the youth rate of unemployment can be lower.  In short, instead of throwing cake, you can have your cake and eat it too.  Serious economists would do well to concentrate their efforts on making the world better rather then resting with lame ideological proclivities to leave it as is; and those of us who pay their salaries would be well advised to demand the same.

Cake just don’t cut it any more.

*In the abstract the sharpest blade would have a length but no width.  It would therefore be a line.

Book Review: Economics for Everyone

Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism

Jim Stanford (2008), Pluto Press, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Fernwood Publishing Inc.

Upon first reading Economics for Everyone I was disappointed. At the time of its publication I was a doctoral student at the end of a long road of education in and around economics, political economy and political science and I was looking for a concise and penetrating settling of theoretical scores. After a couple years, with the polemical urge tempered, I reread Economics for Everyone (Economics) from the perspective of a professor evaluating a potential introductory textbook on economics and political economy. Viewed from this angle Economics is an impressive introductory text.

With respect to introductory economic textbooks there is really only a choice between two genres. The first introduces students to the basic elements of neoclassical economic analysis and its mathematical formalizations. The second genre introduces students to the origins, evolution, key institutions and social relations that obtain in a capitalist economy. It is to this second genre that Jim Stanford’s text belongs. One of the inherent challenges for texts of the second genre is that there is a stark difference between educating students about the economy and educating students about the practice of economics as a social science (i.e. the discipline of economics). More often than not heterodox textbooks end up serving as introduction to the history of the polemics and controversies of economics as a discipline and thus function as prelude or substitute for actually talking about capitalism and its key institutional underpinnings. Economics for the most part avoids this trap.

is organized into five sections beginning with a discussion of “why we should study economics; the origins and evolution of capitalism as distinct form of economic organization; and the political economy of economics. All in 64 pages! Clearly the only way to achieve such a concise statement is via the hegemonic voice. Yet this voice is the voice of agnostic radicalism rather than an orthodox unitarianism. From an educator’s point of view, the schematic nature of the introductory section serves well enough to delimit the objects of analyses while at the same time introducing students to the idea that capitalism is both historically novel and socially mutable. This is important because the world is indeed populated by a series of extant capitalist “models” which produce qualitatively different results across a broad range of metrics. Stanford’s agnostic radicalism thus finds its empirical grounding in the reality that many different types of policies are indeed possible within capitalism.

Section two of Economics is dedicated to the gear box of capitalism—work, tools (capital) and profit. In this section the central agents of the capitalist economies are introduced; i.e., workers and capitalists and their associative economic units and their linkages. Here I wish Stanford had paid closer attention to management and managers and the difference between profit producing labour (workers) and profit maximizing labour (supervisors and administrators). This is unfortunate because one of the major failings of orthodox economics is its near silence on the question management Nonetheless, Stanford does touch on the problem of work effort and some of the carrots and sticks employed by management to elicit higher productivity. Thus for those wishing to go deeper into the issue of supervision and human resource management this text does provide an opening. The same can be said of Stanford’s treatment of the household as the site of reproduction. That is to say there is enough in his schematic presentation to allow both instructors and students to delve deeper into subject matter should they choose.

The third section introduces the dynamic elements of capitalist economies: competition, investment and growth, employment and unemployment, distribution and the environment. Each is taken up with the same rapid-fire vigour which like the previous sections should serve to stimulate the curiosity of students.

The fourth section is likewise a rather hefty presentation of the “Complexities of Capitalism”. Here the list of topics covered is too extensive to present here. All the traditional macroeconomic policy questions are dealt with from monetary and fiscal policy through to international trade and development which culminates in the presentation of a basic macro model of the economy. What I found interesting about this section was that it also raised three issues not customarily broached in introductory texts: the financialisation of the economy, pensions and a rather long discussion of that much neglected topic in orthodox textbooks—the state and liberal democracy.

The last section deals with that age old dispute between reform liberals and socialist reformers and revolutionaries. It is a muddled conversation and wish Stanford had simply presented the Nordic model as one possible alternative vision while noting Kalecki’s observations about the instability of high road equilibrium strategies. Students would be better served in my opinion to focus their attention on the structural barriers to any serious project of economic reform. This could have been partially accomplished by referring back to the chapter on the state and liberal democracy. The question is not if another world is possible for in the abstract it always is. The real question is how and under what conditions it could be possible.

The fuzzy nature of the last section is in no small part, perhaps, a function of Stanford’s agnostic radicalism. Indeed the weakness (strength?) of this textbook would only become apparent should Stanford choose to write an intermediate version. Then all the serious disputes between heterodox economists could not be papered over by the authority of the hegemonic voice that is characteristic of introductory textbooks.

That said, this is an introductory textbook and a very good one at that. It can be used in whole or part depending on the needs of the instructor. There is also an online resource which has course outlines, lesson plans and a glossary. Union educators and summer session instructors will particularly appreciate the truncated course plan for short intensive sessions.

The Problem with Africans and Arabs

April update. This blog post was turned into a full article. Published here:


The way the term Arab is being thrown around these days is enough to give a person reason to pause while celebrating the victories of the people of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. After all, in the present revolutionary context in North Africa there has been a deliberate effort to erase the fact that Libya, Tunisia and Egypt are all continental African countries. Moreover, to call one’s self Black or African or Arab is to use identity markers that are not indigenous to Africans or even the vast majority of people we now call Arab. The question then is who uses these identities and when? No doubt, mobilizing these identities can be useful for making certain kinds of political claims that advance the needs of African and Arab peoples (pan-Africanism, the Arab league etc). But still, we need to always ask for whom is this mobilization happening.

Cutting off the historical ties between so called Arabs and so called Africans (by which we mean black people, as if those kinds of people are easily identifiable) is a trick of Orientalist historiography (in the way Edward Said uses the term). And investigating the problem of Orientalist methodology is not just about raising the bogeyman of identity politics, rather what ends up happening is that Orientalist methods are often blindly adopted to conceal the multiple historical, political, and economic ties that connect so called black people to browner looking people. For example, Yemenie ancient and contemporary history has deep connections with Somalis, Eritreans and Ethiopians across the Red Sea (20 km),  but the way the story gets told you would think Yemen was closer to Libya, and that the West Side of the Red Sea could be skipped in any story about Arabs. I would venture to say this is ridiculous. And I really don’t think we should accept Orientalist methods when thinking about what is an Arab or an African.

In fact niether Arab identity or black identity is self-evident. Instead, the parameters of identity are negotiated and connected to multiple political and economic processes. We need to be vigilant about how identity is produced as a sediment of various political, economic and social processes and not simply assert it as something given. That can only sound defensive and silly. The fact of the matter is that Egypt as a modern nation-state is deeply connected to the developmental ambitions and contradictions set in play by Mohammed Ali and his off spring, who were the first non-western leaders who really tried to catch up with the industrialised West. But because his project was intimately tied to Sudan, chattel slavery, and cotton production, one cannot separate the developmental trajectories of Egypt from its larger continental African connection and questions of race. After all, from the late 19th century until the mid-1950’s Sudan and Egypt were run as one country. It was Nasser’s revolution that really brought an end to Anglo-Egyptian rule in Sudan. In fact Nasser’s regime was an attempt to resolve the contradiction of the developmental trajectories set in place by Mohammed Ali, Ali’s off spring and their Anglo-Egyptian condominium; the promise of nationalism, of course being that you could democratize development on behalf of the nation’s people. But as such, Egyptian independence was always tied to a very ambivalent relationship to Sudan and vice-versa. On the other hand, Sadat and Mubarak are failed attempts at speaking to these very same developmental patterns that have historical roots. So, we need to be cognizant of how those developmental trajectories map onto notions of race, and regionalism, because it tells us much about how social and political contradictions are resolved. Egypt’s African developmental trajectories also need to be seriously thought through if this present revolution is not going to simply sink back into neo-liberal hell. After all the revolution in present day Egypt signals the failure of post-colonial arrangements, but it also signals the failure of a 3rd world project that Nasser articulated in tandem with the Nkrumah(s), and the Tito(s), etc. Partly this project failed because it was elitist, but more importantly that elitism failed to interrogate national developmental trajectories and to build a truly inclusive popular nationalism (as our friend Franz Fanon might say).

In the case of Libya, then, we should be aware that Ghadaffi was a major player in African politics. So much so that he nearly convinced the African Union to move the seat of the organization to Libya. But again his involvement in politics was not just symbolic, Ghadaffi’s money and weapons are involved in nearly every major conflict on the continent from Sierre-Leone (whose rebels were known to consult the Green book) to the conflicts in Chad and Sudan. The political-economy of Libya is also such that it relies on the importation of large amounts of migrant labourers from the African continent as well as South Asia. Historically, of course, Tripoli was also an important destination in the trans-saharan trade routes (whose starting point lie in the forest regions of “darkest” Africa) bringing important trading goods to Libya that were then exported to the Mediterranean world and beyond. These historical ties are what Ghadaffi himself has mobilized in justification for why the AU should be based in Libya. In contrast to this we have been led to believe that there is a yawning gap between “black” mercenaries and the rest of civilized Libya. But, the claim about the use of black African mercenaries should be viewed with caution. After all, the constitution of Libya outside of an African context is an orientalist fallacy (and fantasy) that obscures the real histories of these places and can only play to a violently racist hand.

A few nights ago someone suggested to me that what tied Arabs together was a shared language and culture.  But spoken Arabic is not always intelligible to other Arabic speakers. In Oman, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia other linguistic practices exist which help form the locally spoken Arabic, but also remind us of other kinds of historical and cultural connections that make up these places (too diverse and complicated to get into now). I also remember being schooled by an Egyptian in Cairo, about why Egyptians are not Arabs. So again, I would venture to say things are complicated and this is not just a matter of identity politics. Instead, it seems that the afro-centrics speak a kernel of truth when they state that present historical methods tend to elide the myriad Afro-Arab connections. However, because the Afro-centrics refuse to periodize their claims, and because they make sweeping statements they end up projecting American history on to the rest of the world. Can we really accept the claim that so-called Arabs are inherently racist towards Black people? Yet, just because such a claim seems implausible it should not make it easy for us to dismiss the point that we need to pay attention to the way race has been operationalized in the framing of the present North African revolutions.

Indeed, because I don’t want to go afro-centric, I think it is better if we do some better dialectical thinking. So, while I would suggest that we need to not rewrite the history of the world as a footnote to America’s cultural wars, at the same time, we need to see that the rest of the world has increasingly come to see itself in highly racialised terms. This too needs to be explained (and only political-economy can explain it). But for now we also need to take seriously the kernel of protest and truth that the afro-centric folks speak about and build on it. Race does lie at the heart of many of these so called Arab revolutions in very complicated ways. Let’s not sweep this under the carpet in the name of self-righteous indignation or else we will add one more substantive reason for why these revolutions might come to nought.

Elleni Centime Zeleke
Adjunct Lecturer
African Studies
York University

Big Lie of 2010 No. 9: We are all middle class

Canadians like to think of themselves as middle class. Notice the fan fare attached to the release of Hulchanski’s and co. study on the trend toward the hollowing out of the middle class.

I had always thought the term “middle class” a little pedantic in light conversation and of dubious merit in an academic setting as it was just too broad of a descriptor–a hanging signifier if I may be permitted–a choose your own adventure work of fiction if you will. But its neo-Weberian pedigree with its black mould like grip on the bulk of the Canadian intelligentsia has ensured that it remains the ontological “work-horse”, plotting along in the back of most educated Canadians self understanding. It never fit the facts (that is indeed why term kept on stretching: plumbing lower then floating higher). Like the statue of liberty and its vacant promise of equal refuge to all, the term is above all an ideological and not a scientific category which expands as needs be with the comfort of the academic’s good conscious.

The big lie then (No. 9) is not that somehow we have finally discovered that the last thirty years have been very unequal. Indeed we knew this; and we know this. No the big lie is not about inequality and the crystal meth that neoliberalism is to that trajectory,but, rather, it is the attempt, by otherwise reputable economists, to paper it over by trying to claim that in fact the great divide is not between those who work for capital and capitalists but between age classes of workers; i.e., workers and retired workers, with the latter being conceptualized as the capitalist class. The degree of dishonesty here is on par with the regular reality defying dissembling of the Fraser Institute.

The idea that wealth disparity is largely a function of age is nothing less than an attempt to paper-over the basic divide between those who work for someone else and those that employ others.

It is all fine and dandy if you want to try to paper this reality over with the idea that the real economic cleavage is between workers earning present wages and workers drawing down differed wages. The problem is that to make this argument the case would have to be, to quote myself from elsewhere that:

“All financial assets WERE somewhere around GINI = 0 AND WERE concentrated in the the generational cohort of say 60 +.

I was also thinking that IF air-planes did not fly but rather traversed the earth on round pneumatic devices they might more properly be called buses.”

However, the need of respectable economists to reduce us all to middle class is as much a Weberian as an Austrian hangover which in terms of intellectual history should not be all that surprising. The term middle class has long been a sop to a faux egalitarianism that attempts to sweep away real class divisions by throwing everyone into the same sink and calling everyone a dirty dish.

On this score I will take Conrad Black’s antiquarian hooliganism over earnest but nonetheless dissembling simplifying assumptions.

At least with the Canard I know exactly why I am not invited to the table: in Conrad’s house the Doctors came in through the servants entrance.

How positively upper middle class of him?

The Ignoble and Noble Prizes for Economics

For Immediate Release

The Real-World Economics Review Blog is holding polls to determine the awarding of two prizes:

The Ignoble Prize for Economics , to be awarded to the three economists who contributed most to enabling the Global Financial Collapse (GFC), and
The Noble Prize for Economics , to be awarded to the three economists who first and most cogently warned of the coming calamity.

It is accepted fact that the economics profession through its teachings, pronouncements and policy recommendations facilitated the GFC. We also know that danger signs became visible long before the event and that some economists (those with their eyes on the real-world) gave public warnings which if acted upon would have averted the human disaster.

With other learned professions entrusted with public confidence, such as medicine and engineering, it is inconceivable that their professional bodies would not at the very least censure members who had successfully persuaded governments and public opinion to ignore elementary safety measures, so causing epidemics and widespread building collapses.

To date, however, the world’s major economics associations have declined to censure the major facilitators of the GFC or even to publicly identify them. This silence, this indifference to causing human suffering, constitutes grave moral failure. It also gives license to economists to continue to indulge in axiom-happy behaviour. Nor has the economics establishment offered recognition to those economists who were not taken in by fads and fashion and whose competence, if listened to, would have prevented the collapse.

These two silences reveal a continuing moral crisis within the economics profession . The Ignoble and Noble Prizes for Economics are being offered as small first steps towards a cure.

Poll Procedures for the Ignoble Prize for Economics

Stage One: Nominations and Evidence

Nominations for both prizes are open to the international community of economists, rather than limited to a closed and secret shop. For each nominated economist an evidence page will be opened on to which people can leave evidential comments. In this way a documented case for (and against) each candidate will be built up.

I don’t know maybe we should have a prize for ignoble ideas. Efficient markets and rational expectations were pretty much baked into the reform and conservative wings of the profession. To single out Fama or Friedman seems odd. What about Krugman? He has authored how many papers with rational expectations sitting TDC? Progressive liberal economists need to take some blame for having played and purged along to get along. Economists, for the majority, were a pretty cozzy lot before the GFC. I am glad that after the GFC (and for one a faux noble) that some decided to break ranks ATF, but they enabled the general ideological climate as much as any putatively right-wing protagonist of the profession.

I know it is ugly and self serving but I won the de-linking debate

The BOC thinks Canada is in a recession and this comes just two months after the US was in recession so I have to say I won.   Now the critics  will say sure you were right but you never said why you were going to be right,  so you were wrong ( the critics are still in denial about unemployment).  To that I will only reference what I said at the time.  What did I miss?

De-linking has been revealed as a fantasy for china too.  This is the mother of all fears.

The essence of socialism.

Travis Fast

Sometimes when I find myself questioning many of my political positions (which I do every so often despite what appears here: which is the mark of a good social scientist I should add) I return to some foundational passages from bygone years and see if in them I am still able to see myself; that is, my sentiments –the fusion of the heart and head– reflected (don’t get all scared: you have a heart even if you think you don’t use it; and, don’t get all scared: you have a head even if you feel you don’t use it).

Below is one such passage which has been heavily edited down to the punch line. What I like about this passage is that it makes plain what characterises relationships between human beings when they are reproduced through alienated labour and its products. But more significantly the passage outlines the sentiment of what one might call an alternative socialist modernity in which mutual recognition in love through our individual labours and subjectivity is the causa belli. And although the passage offers no clue about how a community of human beings could be constituted on such a basis it does provide a normative basis from which we can judge our own and hold ourselves to account.

The passage is also quite stunning in the way that the author deals with subjectivity and objectivity: and even puts forward a positive notion of objectification. If you have not read this passage give it a twice-over; if you have, perhaps you will feel a little less lonely after having revisited it.

Comment on James Mill

When I produce more of an object than I myself can directly use, my surplus production is cunningly calculated for your need. It is only in appearance that I produce a surplus of this object. In reality I produce a different object, the object of your production, which I intend to exchange against this surplus, an exchange which in my mind I have already completed. The social relation in which I stand to you, my labour for your need, is therefore also a mere semblance, and our complementing each other is likewise a mere semblance, the basis of which is mutual plundering. The intention of plundering, of deception, is necessarily present in the background, for since our exchange is a selfish one, on your side as on mine, and since the selfishness of each seeks to get the better of that of the other, we necessarily seek to deceive each other. It is true though, that the power which I attribute to my object over yours requires your recognition in order to become a real power. Our mutual recognition of the respective powers of our objects, however, is a struggle, and in a struggle the victor is the one who has more energy, force, insight, or adroitness. If I have sufficient physical force, I plunder you directly. If physical force cannot be used, we try to impose on each other by bluff, and the more adroit overreaches the other. For the totality of the relationship, it is a matter of chance who overreaches whom. The ideal, intended overreaching takes place on both sides, i.e., each in his own judgment has overreached the other.

On both sides, therefore, exchange is necessarily mediated by the object which each side produces and possesses. The ideal relationship to the respective objects of our production is, of course, our mutual need. But the real, true relationship, which actually occurs and takes effect, is only the mutually exclusive possession of our respective products. What gives your need of my article its value, worth and effect for me is solely your object, the equivalent of my object. Our respective products, therefore, are the means, the mediator, the instrument, the acknowledged power of our mutual needs. Your demand and the equivalent of your possession, therefore, are for me terms that are equal in significance and validity, and your demand only acquires a meaning, owing to having an effect, when it has meaning and effect in relation to me As a mere human being without this instrument your demand is an unsatisfied aspiration on your part and an idea that does not exist for me. As a human being, therefore, you stand in no relationship to my object, because I myself have no human relationship to it. But the means is the true power over an object and therefore we mutually regard our products as the power of each of us over the other and over himself.

That is to say, our own product has risen up against us; it seemed to be our property, but in fact we are its property. We ourselves are excluded from true property because our property excludes other men.

The only intelligible language in which we converse with one another consists of our objects in their relation to each other. We would not understand a human language and it would remain without effect. By one side it would be recognised and felt as being a request, an entreaty, and therefore a humiliation, and consequently uttered with a feeling of shame, of degradation. By the other side it would be regarded as impudence or lunacy and rejected as such. We are to such an extent estranged from man’s essential nature that the direct language of this essential nature seems to us a violation of human dignity, whereas the estranged language of material values seems to be the well-justified assertion of human dignity that is self-confident and conscious of itself.

Although in your eyes your product is an instrument, a means, for taking possession of my product and thus for satisfying your need; yet in my eyes it is the purpose of our exchange. For me, you are rather the means and instrument for producing this object that is my aim, just as conversely you stand in the same relationship to my object. But 1) each of us actually behaves in the way he is regarded by the other. You have actually made yourself the means, the instrument, the producer of your own object in order to gain possession of mine; 2) your own object is for you only the sensuously perceptible covering, the hidden shape, of my object; for its production signifies and seeks to express the acquisition of my object.

In fact, therefore, you have become for yourself a means, an instrument of your object, of which your desire is the servant, and you have performed menial services in order that the object shall never again do a favour to your desire. If then our mutual thraldom to the object at the beginning of the process is now seen to be in reality the relationship between master and slave, that is merely the crude and frank expression of our essential relationship.

Our mutual value is for us the value of our mutual objects. Hence for us man himself is mutually of no value.

Let us suppose that we had carried out production as human beings. Each of us would have in two ways affirmed himself and the other person.

1) In my production I would have objectified my individuality, its specific character, and therefore enjoyed not only an individual manifestation of my life during the activity, but also when looking at the object I would have the individual pleasure of knowing my personality to be objective, visible to the senses and hence a power beyond all doubt.

2) In your enjoyment or use of my product I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need by my work, that is, of having objectified man’s essential nature, and of having thus created an object corresponding to the need of another man’s essential nature.

3) I would have been for you the mediator between you and the species, and therefore would become recognised and felt by you yourself as a completion of your own essential nature and as a necessary part of yourself, and consequently would know myself to be confirmed both in your thought and your love.

4) In the individual expression of my life I would have directly created your expression of your life, and therefore in my individual activity I would have directly confirmed and realised my true nature, my human nature, my communal nature.

Our products would be so many mirrors in which we saw reflected our essential nature.

This relationship would moreover be reciprocal; what occurs on my side has also to occur on yours.

Let us review the various factors as seen in our supposition:

My work would be a free manifestation of life, hence an enjoyment of life.

Presupposing private property, my work is an alienation of life, for I work in order to live, in order to obtain for myself the means of life. My work is not my life.

Secondly, the specific nature of my individuality, therefore, would be affirmed in my labour, since the latter would be an affirmation of my individual life. Labour therefore would be true, active property.

Presupposing private property, my individuality is alienated to such a degree that this activity is instead hateful to me, a torment, and rather the semblance of an activity. Hence, too, it is only a forced activity and one imposed on me only through an external fortuitous need, not through an inner, essential one.

My labour can appear in my object only as what it is. It cannot appear as something which by its nature it is not. Hence it appears only as the expression of my loss of self and of my powerlessness that is objective, sensuously perceptible, obvious and therefore put beyond all doubt.

Karl Marx, “Comments on James Mill” 1844