Main menu

Thursday, 27 October 2016 - 3:41pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Thu, 27/10/2016 - 3:49pm

"It says here the US is going to liberate us again."

"Ooh, that's nice. It's been months since we were last liberated. I'll put the kettle on."

"Was that the liberation when we lost the roof?"

"No, you're thinking of the liberation before that. Last liberation we lost your auntie, remember?"

"Oh, yes. Time flies…"

Brian Eno on basic income

Published by Matthew Davidson on Mon, 24/10/2016 - 5:00pm in

From an item in this weeks reading (transcription provided by the author of the item):

"I often get asked to come and talk at art schools, and I rarely get asked back, because the first thing I always say is, ‘I’m here to persuade you not to have a job.’ … My first message to people is: try not to get to a job. That doesn’t mean try not to do anything. It means try to leave yourself in a position where you do the things you want to do with your time, and where you take maximal advantage of whatever your possibilities are. The obstacle is that most people aren’t in a position to do that. I want to do anything to work to a future where everybody’s in a position to do that. … [T]he concept [of basic income] is the closest thing I’ve heard to achieving the kind of future that I would like to live in."

Sunday, 23 October 2016 - 6:00pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 23/10/2016 - 6:00pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • There has to be a better way — Steve Keen: I knew Abbott and Turnbull in their Sydney University days: they were both active student politicians, while I was one of the leaders of the student revolt against the economics curriculum there. Abbott and Turnbull both tried to play a role in this “Political Economy” dispute—and their approach then mirrors their styles today. One believed he knew the word of God, while the other believed he was God.
  • Treasury analysis supports Labor’s negative gearing policy — Leith van Onselen at MacroBusiness: Now the ABC has received a document from the Australian Treasury, under Freedom of Information, which claims most of the windfall from negative gearing and the capital gains tax (CGT) discount goes to high-income earners: "The modelling said more than half of the negative gearing tax benefits go to the top 20 per cent of incomes in Australia."
  • What should the level of basic income be in 24 European & OECD countries? — Valerija Korošec for BIEN: We don’t want to make the system worse than it is. It’s logical, then, that the minimal level of BI should reach, at least, the level of current Social Assistance (SA): we could call this ‘partial’ BI. All BI proposals included in this analysis satisfy this condition. It follows that implementation of a BI close to the level offered by the current social security system (e.g., the SA level) implies budget neutrality in countries with a more universal system.
  • The Secret to the Incredible Wealth of Bill Gates — Dean Baker in Truthout: The story of Bill Gates' copyright protection, along with patent protection for prescription drugs and all sorts of other things, are a big part of the story of inequality. The key issue is that these protections are created by the government. They don't come from the technology. It is the protections that make some people very rich, not the technology. We grant patent and copyright monopolies in order to provide an incentive for innovation and creative work. It is arguable whether these mechanisms are the best way to provide these incentives. For example, in addition to making drugs very expensive, even when they would be cheap in a free market, patent protection also provides an enormous incentive for drug companies to misrepresent the safety and effectiveness of their drugs. But the key point for the inequality issue is that the strength and length of these monopolies is set by government policy.
  • Humans vs Houses: Australia’s perverse tax system — Cameron Murray in MacroBusiness: I often joke that my investment property earns more than I do. Thinking more about this led me to the realisation that my investment property has a privileged position in the tax system when compared to a measly old human being. […] our current system appears to be designed exclusively for the betterment of the property community, rather than the people community. It’s unreal.
  • Faking it: made up universities and degrees — Paul Greatrix at Wonkhe: It does seem to be a continuing problem and I was struck by this recent example reported in the Manchester Evening News. According to the paper the Manchester Open University claims to have a campus on Oxford Road with 2,000 students but was being investigated by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau: "The Manchester Open University claims to have a campus based on Oxford Road with 2,000 students from 90 different countries – and offers degrees in history, English, and medicine. But education officials say they can’t find a single trace of the institution and that the IP address used by organisation’s website is hosted hundreds of miles away in France."
  • Smart cities wouldn’t let housing costs drive the worse-off into deeper disadvantage — Emma Baker, Andrew Beer and Rebecca Bentley: The relatively well-off and the upwardly mobile improve the areas in which they live over an extended period. The more economically vulnerable tend to make more frequent, multiple moves – living in slightly less advantaged areas each time. To put it in plain terms, the poor move to poor areas where they may become even more disadvantaged. Meanwhile, the middle classes move through our cities gradually climbing the housing ladder.
  • Straya: Strong on terror…unless you buy a house — Leith van Onselen, MacroBusiness: The Australia Government first agreed to implement the second tranche of AML [anti-money laundering] regulations in 2003. Yet 13 years later, these have been delayed indefinitely by the government. This indefinite delay comes despite the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) last year releasing a scathing report highlighting that Australian residential property is a haven for international money laundering, particularly from China, and recommending that Australia implement counter-measures to ensure that real estate agents, lawyers and accountants facilitating real estate transactions are captured by the regulatory net.
  • Negative gearing: Myths and facts — John Haly, Independent Australia: Between July 1985 and 1987, the Hawke Government abolished it and rent prices fell everywhere except in Perth, and to a lesser extent, in Sydney. This was not due to the absence of negative gearing but the very low “available” vacancy rates and competition from inflated rent prices (Grattan Report, p 34-34). Thereafter through, a less quarantined negative gearing was reinstated. Housing and rent prices rose but not at the rate they have since 1999. What mitigated the potential effects on the economy of unchecked negative gearing, was the 1985 introduction of a CPI indexed Capital Gains Tax. In 1999, the Howard Government removed indexing and introduced a 50% discount for capital gains for individuals. From that point on, housing prices (and rent) skyrocketed an average of 7.3% annually (Grattan Report, p 31).
  • Who Will Accept It? Currency-Issuing Governments are Constrained by Resources, Not Money — Peter Cooper: When it comes to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), I think a simple but central point to get across is that for currency-issuing governments the hard policy constraints relate to real resources, not money. We need to convey that money is not the constraint but in almost the same breath call for the focus to be on real resources when pondering questions of economic policy.
  • It’s Time to Base Economics on Human Nature, Not Homo Economicus — Jonathan Rowe in Evonomics: To an economist [Wikipedia] doesn’t make sense. People don’t work for free. Readers are “consumers,” not producers; and consumers do not produce what they consume. Yet they are doing so; and this kind of social co-production is flourishing not only on the Web, but in the society at large. In the U.S. and elsewhere, people are turning their backs on everyday low prices and choosing the social cohesion and productivity of their local Main Streets instead. Researchers and software designers are foregoing property rights – i.e. patents — to their work and are releasing it over the Web for free. So doing they are enriching the public domain that sustains their own work and also that of others. All of this – and more – defies the supposed “laws” of economics.
  • The Economist as...?: The Public Square and Economists — Brad DeLong; an intelligent and honourable mainstream economist muses on the responsibilities of his profession: Of course to provide someone with knowledge of the consequences may be simply to give them the kind of freedom that is necessity: the freedom to do what is the right thing. The old Cold War joke was of the strategist who would offer the president three possible options: immediate surrender to the Russians, total thermonuclear war, and his preferred policy. To the extent that there is no grave disagreement about what the good is and what the ends are, control is exercised not by the one who chooses the ends but rather the one who chooses how the means are evaluated.
  • Economists as public intellectuals — Antonio Callari, guestblogging for David F. Ruccio, picks apart DeLong's piece above: Curiously absent from DeLong’s history are important intellectual thresholds, most notably in late (European) medieval times (e.g., Ibn-Khaldun, Thomas Aquinas) , at which the legal, institutional, and even (and profoundly) cultural foundations were laid out for markets: the general discussions about the nature of property and the embeddedness of prices/incomes in social contexts. It’s not just whole schools of thought (i.e., the Sraffa-Smith tradition) that drop out of DeLong’s purview, but also whole interesting episodes of philosophical and intellectual history that get taken out. This can’t be because DeLong doesn’t know about them: he makes sure we know he reads beyond “economics” (he knows figures I grew up with, Homer and Cicero; figures I know of, Leon Trotsky and Alasdair Macintyre; and figures I frankly don’t know, St. Benedict). So, what is it that makes him, as such a well-read person, neglect the intellectual episodes others (e.g., Schumpeter) found important in the history of economics? A complacent, and problematic, view of the “economist” as “scientist”? A complacent, and problematically orthodox, definition of the core of “economics” as a study of “exchange”?
  • Universal Basic Income, Job Killing Robots, and the Washington Post — Dean Baker addresses robophobia, or Grimwade's Syndrome, as it is known in some parts of the galaxy: What possible difference can it make if a job is displaced by a robot or a more efficient assembly line? We have seen whole industries, like photographic film, wiped out by digital technology. Would the former workers at Kodak somehow be worse off if they had lost their jobs to robots than to digital cameras? The point is that robots are productivity growth. Say that a few thousands times until it sinks in. The impact of robots on the economy is nothing more or less than any other innovation that produces the same amount of productivity growth.
  • Brexit: Clearing Up the Economic Nonsense — David L. Glotzer wields a mean hypothetical (but is wrong about Maastricht; the UK is a signatory): Take the EU “membership fee.” For arguments sake assume that all of it is wasted, on let’s say muffins. What actually happens when over the course of a year £13bn is sent to the EU? What is the impact of this on the British economy? First Parliament instructs George Osborn to send money to the European Commission. George Osborn tells someone who works for him to type a number into a computer (here British Pounds are literally ‘keystroked’ into existence) transferring a certain amount of money to a British bank account held by the European Commission. Since the British Pound is only used as a currency within the British economy the EC can only buy muffins from British Bakers, thereby boosting the demand for British baked goods and increasing British GDP.
  • Basic Income Revisited — Robert Skidelsky in Project Syndicate: The ethical case for [UBI's…] source is the idea, found both in the Bible and in classical economics, that work is a curse (or, as economists put it, a “cost”), undertaken only for the sake of making a living. As technological innovation causes per capita income to rise, people will need to work less to satisfy their needs. Both John Stuart Mill and John Maynard Keynes looked forward to a horizon of growing leisure: the reorientation of life away from the merely useful toward the beautiful and the true. UBI provides a practical path to navigate this transition.
  • Money for Nothing: Confessions of a Payday Lender: “I Felt Like a Modern-Day Gangster” — Gary Rivlin, the Intercept: Spending time with Locke in Michigan often meant listening to long rants about the lack of gratitude among the partners he had brought into the payday business, despite all the money he had made them. “Friends screwing me over,” Locke said. “Business partners screwing me over. People who begged me to get them into the business — screwing me over.” He’s kind of a human Eeyore who wears his disappointment as an outer garment. Of his customers, Locke said, “I feel bad for these people.” But he seemed to feel sorry mainly for himself.
  • Math Education — Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, by Zach Weinersmith:
  • Basic Income, Job Guarantees and the Non-Monetary Value of Jobs: Response to Davenport and Kirby — Kate McFarland, Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN): To take just one example, Zipcar CEO Robin Chase spoke of her research on “passion jobs” a recent White House roundtable discussion on automation an UBI. She has interviewed individuals from a cab driver who wrote music that made autistic children happy (but could not afford to pursue this passion full-time) to a computer programmer who slept on friends’ couches while writing open source software for 3D printers. In her informal research, she has encountered many people who are unable to pursue socially valuable and personally gratifying projects, simply because these projects are not financially lucrative; instead, these people are stuck in “crummy jobs”, detached from their passions. Chase herself supports a UBI as a way to allow individuals to pursue vocations that would give their lives much more meaning than the jobs to which they must resort for income.
  • The Greater Happiness for the More Workers: Basic Income vs Job Guarantee Pt 2 — Kate McFarland at BIEN continues: Neurodivergent individuals, and others who do not fit neatly in the mold of society, can be stifled and inhibited by traditional work environments. Such individuals are better able to flourish personally–and, in turn, become more valuable contributors to society–if they are able to working outside of traditional jobs, or perhaps take the time to a job that is a better match.
  • Socrates on Debt and Ibn Khaldun on the Cyclical Rise and Fall of Societies — Michael Hudson in Naked Capitalism: In Book I of Plato’s Republic (380 BC), Socrates discusses the morality of repaying debts. Cephalus, a businessman living in the commercial Piraeus district, states the typical ethic that it is fair and just to pay back what one has borrowed or received. Socrates replies that it would not be just to return weapons to a man who has turned into a lunatic. Because of the consequences, paying back the debt would be the wrong thing to do. At issue is not the micro-economic morality of paying a debt, but how this act affects society. If a madman is intent on murder, returning his weapon to him will enable him to commit unjust acts. The morality of paying back all debts is not necessarily justice. We need to take the overall consequences into account.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016 - 8:24pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 19/10/2016 - 8:26pm in

MORE than 2000 customers at Toormina and Sawtell were left without power after safety equipment detected a fault this afternoon.

Shockingly, thousands more people, revealed not to be customers, also lost access to electricity. These freeloaders, or "electron bludgers", even include a huge number of children stealing electricity from their own family members; a sign of how ingrained the something-for-nothing culture has become.

More outages are planned in order to flush these electricity cheats from their safe havens. Essential Energy regrets the inconvenience to their legitimate customers, but is confident that they will support the measures necessary to maintain the integrity of the utility cartel system, which has done so much to replace boring old public services with a bewildering array of plans and bundles. For more information, just wait for the next pair of Irish backpackers with laminated ID cards to turn up at your door.

Sunday, 16 October 2016 - 8:11pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 16/10/2016 - 8:11pm in

I have had the most beastly week, and in rare moments when I've managed to gather up some scraps of dignity and hope, I have been mostly reading:

  • Want to Kill Your Economy? Have MBA Programs Churn out Takers Not Makers. — Rana Foroohar, in Evonomics, adapted from part of her book "Makers & Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business": With very few exceptions, MBA education today is basically an education in finance, not business—a major distinction. So it’s no wonder that business leaders make many of the finance-friendly decisions. MBA programs don’t churn out innovators well prepared to cope with a fast-changing world, or leaders who can stand up to the Street and put the long-term health of their company (not to mention their customers) first; they churn out followers who learn how to run firms by the numbers. Despite the financial crisis of 2008, most top MBA programs in the United States still teach standard “markets know best” efficiency theory and preach that share price is the best representation of a firm’s underlying value, glossing over the fact that the markets tend to brutalize firms for long-term investment and reward them for short-term paybacks to investors.
  • Why we need to teach political philosophy in schools — Jonathan Floyd in the Conversation: What is the spectre haunting Europe today? It’s simple. The thing that truly dogs us, that really drags at our heels, is ignorance. Ignorance of the fundamental ideas at the heart of politics. Ignorance of the key terms of political argument: liberty, equality, power, justice, and so on. Ignorance of the subject matter of political philosophy. […] We are ignorant of our ignorance of it, as well as what that ignorance costs us. It is, to borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, an unknown unknown, when it could be something else: the thing that liberates the minds of our citizens; a weapon of mass deduction.
  • How housing bubbles destroy productivity — Leith van Onselen at MacroBusiness: The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) has released a new report exploring “the nature and magnitude of the relationship between house prices, household debt and the labour market decisions of Australian households”, which paints a sobering picture for the economy and financial stability. The key conclusion from the report is that “households accumulate debt as house prices increase, leaving them vulnerable to housing and labour market shocks. House price increases also potentially promote or dampen labour supply and labour force productivity”. In other words, Australia’s housing bubble is distorting the economy.
  • Advertising — Flea Snobbery:
  • These charts show why some experts fear an apartment glut — Clancy Yeates in the Age provides your chart porn for the week:
  • How the two major parties shape up on debate around student loan reform — in the Conversation, Andrew Norton (higher education policy's evil incarnate) discovers that students paying the post hoc education tax often pool their resources by sharing their accommodation with others. Like animals. This barbarous custom is unheard of among employees of the Grattan Institute, and means the income-contingent payment threshold must be lowered to make graduates pay for their disgusting habits: Because HELP debtors often live with other people, their personal income is not always a reliable guide to their living standards. They share expenses and sometimes income with others. Grattan’s analysis found that half the debtors who would be affected by a $42,000 threshold live with a partner.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016 - 5:40pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Wed, 12/10/2016 - 5:56pm in

I'm sorry, but it's just irresponsible publishing an article like this without distributing an accompanying sick bag:

"The HSC taught me how resilient I am, and the impact goal setting can have on opportunity,” school captain Bianca McNeill said.

Jesus Christ, what are we doing to our children? As far as this stakeholder is concerned, this learning opportunity has achieved maximum outreach in terms of impactfullness. The lesson is to never let your child anywhere near a school if you want them to be capable of independant thought rather than just stringing together grammatically correct neoliberal clichés.

Sunday, 9 October 2016 - 5:49pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 09/10/2016 - 5:49pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Time to Kill Security Questions—or Answer Them With Lies — In Wired, Lily Hay Newman asks you to "please reset your mother's maiden name": The notion of using robust, random passwords has become all but mainstream—by now anyone with an inkling of security sense knows that “password1” and “1234567” aren’t doing them any favors. But even as password security improves, there’s something even more problematic that underlies them: security questions.
  • Billionaire: Chinese real estate is 'biggest bubble in history' — Jethro Mullen and Andrew Stevens, CNN Money [I wouldn't normally cite CNN, but it's worth it for the tl;dr. You can't avert a private-sector debt crisis without fiscal policy. Private sector deleveraging without public sector spending is a) unlikely, and b) suicidal.]: "The problem is the economy hasn't bottomed out," Wang said. "If we remove leverage too fast, the economy may suffer further. So we'll have to wait until the economy is back on the track of rebounding -- that's when we gradually reduce leverage and debts."
  • What’s So Bad about the Trade Deficit? — David Glasner reproduces a column he wrote in 1984, because we're still having the same misbegotten arguments: Just what is so dangerous about receiving more goods from foreigners than we give them back is never actually explained, but it is often suggested that that it causes a loss of American jobs. […] It almost seems tedious to do so, but it apparently still needs to be pointed out that buying less from foreigners means that they will buy less from us for the simple reason that they will have fewer dollars with which to purchase our products. […] Anyone who has ever thought about it has probably wondered why a country that gives up more goods in trade than it gets back is said to have a favorable balance of trade.
  • Anti-Intellectualism, Terrorism, and Elections in Contemporary Education: a Discussion with Noam Chomsky — an interview by Dan Falcone and Saul Isaacson in CounterPunch: I mean even before the Second World War Paris was one of the main centers of intellectual and cultural life. But now Paris is a kind of subsidiary of Germany, their traditional enemy and they can’t come to terms with it. They’ve tried to create one crazy thing after another to try to be exciting, each one more lunatic than the last, and this is one of them. And it’s picked up here in mostly literature departments and some humanities departments. It kind of gives the impression of being serious. Like you use big words and you have complicated sentences and there’s things nobody can understand, so we must be like physicists because I can’t understand them and they can’t understand me.
  • Chartalism and Stock-Flow Consistency: A Reply to Nick Rowe — Alexander X. Douglas: In a world of perfect certainty, there would be no need to accumulate dollars: people would spend all their dollars (or whatever currency) buying what they need today on the spot market and everything they need tomorrow on the forward market. Cue the requisite Keynes quotations about money as the barometer of uncertainty.
  • How Perfect Markets Concentrate Wealth and Strangle Growth and Prosperity — Steve Roth: The dynamics are straightforward here: poorer people spend a larger percentage of their income than richer people. So if less money is transferred to richer people (or more to poorer people), there’s more spending — so producers produce more (incentives matter), there’s more surplus from production, more income, more wealth…rinse and repeat.
  • Undercommoning within, against and beyond the university-as-such — the Undercommoning Collective have been reading Paulo Freire: We recognize that the university as it currently exists is part of an archipelago of social institutions of neoliberal, free-market racial capitalism. It includes the for-profit prison and the non-for-profit agency, the offshore army base and the offshore tax haven, the underfunded public and the elite private school, the migrant-worker staffed shop floor and the Wall Street trading floor, the factory and the factory farm. All are organs for sorting, exalting, exploiting, drilling, controlling and/or wasting what they call “human capital” and that we call our lives.
  • OECD joins the rush to fiscal expansion – for now at least — Bill Mitchell: In the last month or so, we have seen the IMF publish material that is critical of what they call neo-liberalism. They now claim that the sort of policies that the IMF and the OECD have championed for several decades have damaged the well-being of people and societies. They now advocate policy positions that are diametrically opposite their past recommendations (for example, in relation to capital controls). In the most recent OECD Economic Outlook we now read that their is an “urgent need” for fiscal expansion – for large-scale expenditure on public infrastructure and education – despite this organisation advocating the opposite policies at the height of the crisis. It is too early to say whether these ‘swallows’ constitute a break-down of the neo-liberal Groupthink that has dominated these institutions over the last several decades. But for now, we should welcome the change of position, albeit from elements within these institutions. They are now advocating policies that Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) proponents have consistently proposed throughout the crisis.
  • Public spaces are going private – and our cities will suffer — Harry Smith in the Conversation: Part of the explanation for this trend is that local authorities are increasingly using existing public spaces to raise funds, by charging for events or leasing their spaces to companies. In many cases, cash-strapped authorities are suffering from public sector cuts, and trying to improve or maintain their open spaces by entering into deals with private organisations.
  • National borders exist to pen poor people into reservations of poverty — Giles Fraser in the Guardian: We are so hypocritical about borders. We cheer when the Berlin Wall comes down. We condemn the Israelis for their separation barrier and Donald Trump for his ludicrous Mexican fence. But are we really so different? We also police our borders with guns and razor wire as if we had some God-given right to this particular stretch of land. Through the random lottery of life, I have a UK passport. I didn’t work for it or do anything whatsoever to deserve it. In economic terms, I just happened to be born lucky. […] It’s like our own little version of The Hunger Games. And it is so normal to us, we don’t even recognise it as a moral issue.
  • Why universal basic income is seizing the agenda — Richard Murphy in iNews: So why do it? There are many reasons. First, a lot (bit not all) of state benefits would roll over into the basic income and that would simplify the whole benefits system, saving a great deal. Second, work would always pay, but the tax rate when taking work and losing benefits would fall to a much more acceptable level, which would end the poverty trap that still ensnares far too many people in the current system.
  • Cutting Australia’s Corporate Income Tax: A Gift to the U.S. Treasury Department — Dean Baker for Crikey: One of the ironies of proposals to reduce Australia’s tax rate is that the U.S. Treasury would be a major beneficiary. The logic is straightforward, even if seldom advertised by proponents of the tax cut. Under tax treaties, the U.S. credits it multinationals with tax payments to the Australian government on a dollar for basis. This means that if a U.S. multinational has its Australian tax bill cut by $10 million then its U.S. tax bill likely increases by the same amount. The money saved by the company in Australia will go straight to the U.S. Treasury. [Okay, sectoral balances and all that: the money actually goes to the Fed, where it just redeems the liability incurred when the money was issued, and the Fed actually provides new money when Treasury spends. However the irony stands.]
  • Adjuncts are unionizing, but that won’t fix what’s wrong in higher education — Lisa Liberty Becker in the Washington Post: The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), also the force behind the Fight for 15 movement, has mobilized adjuncts in such spots as Washington, Boston and Los Angeles. During this past semester alone, according to the SEIU, adjuncts at 11 schools have ratified or agreed on union contracts. While there have been short-term gains, the deeper we become entrenched in adjunct unions, the more we are locked in an educational structure that shortchanges students by skimping on teaching.
  • Six thoughts on teaching — Richard Seymour: In a way, the teacher’s job isn’t to inform students of what they, ignorant little twits, don’t know. It is to place a different value on not-knowing. It is to enable students to make peace with the fact that not-knowing is the usual state of affairs.
  • Conquer Your Day With the Power of Breakfast! — in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Curtis Retherford makes me LOL, and a LOL from me does not come cheap, my friend: Breakfast. Breakfast stands alone. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is the meal that fuels you for everything you encounter, that gets you ready for those important meetings. First thing in the morning, sit down and eat a bunch of eggs, and you will be able to tackle the day with confidence. You’ll be able to lean in to those who stand in your way and whisper softly in their ear, “my stomach is filled with eggs.” Their eyes will widen. They will not have realized that you have come prepared.
  • The Great British higher education sell-off — Ehsan Masood, openDemocracy: Private sector involvement in public services is now so mainstream it is surprising that it has taken so long for the market to meet higher education. But surprised we should be. The idea that we should be allowed to become rich from the education of present and future generations was a step too far even for Margaret Thatcher. Not so, however, for her successors.[…] I challenge any entrepreneur to read the research and HE bill, and not emerge feeling that you have struck oil. If these proposals become law, then, over time, the fee-paying student will become the human equivalent of black gold.
  • Let’s Get Fiscal — Bill Emmott (former editor-in-chief of The Economist) at Project Syndicate: In the inflation-plagued 1970s and 1980s, when investors’ demand for inflation-risk premia pushed up long-term borrowing costs, larger deficits tended to boost long-term interest rates further, while smaller deficits reduced them. It was this experience that caused policymakers after 2010 to assume that reducing government demand would help to boost private investment. […] But times have changed. For starters, we are no longer living in an inflationary era. On the contrary, Japan and some eurozone countries face deflation, while inflation in the UK is essentially zero. Only in America is inflation picking up – and only gently. Moreover, long-term borrowing costs are at historic lows, just as they have been throughout the last five years. Pursuing austerity in this context has resulted in a drag on growth so severe that not even the halving of energy prices over the last 18 months has overcome it.
  • ‘Chemophobia’ is irrational, harmful – and hard to break — Corey S Powell: In reality, ‘natural’ products are usually more chemically complicated than anything we can create in the lab. […] The distinction between natural and synthetic chemicals is not merely ambiguous, it is non-existent. The fact that an ingredient is synthetic does not automatically make it dangerous, and the fact that it is natural doesn’t make it safe. Botulinum, produced by bacteria that grow in honey, is more than 1.3 billion times as toxic as lead and is the reason why infants should never eat honey. A cup of apple seeds contains enough natural cyanide to kill an adult human.
  • Herstory, for Real — Ted Rall: Hillary Clintons probable victory in the Democratic presidential nomination is said to mark an important historical achievement for women. Certainly, she would become the first woman in the United States to be the nominee of a major party. From a broader historical vantage point, however, there's nothing novel about a woman marrying a powerful political leader and achieving power as a result, which is what happened in Clinton's case. It's time for the system to reward women who achieve power of their own accord.

Friday, 7 October 2016 - 7:11pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Fri, 07/10/2016 - 7:11pm in

And now a choice of viewing on

Sunday, 2 October 2016 - 5:32pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 02/10/2016 - 5:32pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • In which Review causes Relief — Wondermark, by David Malki!: nothing worse than the fear that you might be good at something that'd be really hard to do
  • The False Promise of Negative Interest Rates — Robert Skidelsky: Economists are now busy devising new feats of monetary wizardry for when the latest policy fails: taxing cash holdings, or even abolishing cash altogether; or, at the other extreme, showering the population with “helicopter drops” of freshly printed money. The truth, however, is that the only way to ensure that “new money” is put into circulation is to have the government spend it. The government would borrow the money directly from the central bank and use it to build houses, renew transport systems, invest in energy-saving technologies, and so forth. Sadly, any such monetary financing of public deficits is for the moment taboo. It is contrary to European Union regulations – and is opposed by all who regard post-crash governments’ fiscal difficulties as an opportunity to shrink the role of the state.
  • Yanis Varoufakis: Australia's negative gearing is 'scandalous' — Gabrielle Jackson commits some nauseating journalisticisms in her interview with "he, with his vibrant purple shirt and erect posture" for the Guardian: In Australia we have a scandalous system called negative gearing, the purpose of which is to subsidise the rich. […] Australia does not have a debt problem. The idea that Australia is on the verge of becoming a new Greece would be touchingly funny if it were not so catastrophic in its ineptitude. Australia does not have a public debt problem, it has a private debt problem.
  • Is David Cameron's Austerity Three Times as Bad as Brexit? — Dean Baker at CEPR (US): If we can credit the I.M.F. research staff for knowing what they were doing in their 2008 projections, then the U.K.'s austerity policies have cost it an amount of output equal to 16.8 percentage points of 2007 GDP or more than three times the estimated cost of Brexit. This means that if Brexit is an economic disaster then Cameron's austerity has been three times as costly as an economic disaster.
  • The Rough Beasts of Ed-Tech — Audrey Watters: “They’re brine shrimp,” my father explained to me when I begged him to let me order some, destroying the image I had in my head that these were little cartoon mermaids and mermen and mer-families. […] I’ve thought recently that for every silly news story we see that insists some new product is “like Uber but for education” or “like Facebook but for education,” one could easily substitute “like Sea Monkeys but for education.”
  • Viet Con — Mr. Fish in Truthdig:
  • The Brazilian Coup and Washington’s “Rollback” in Latin America — Mark Weisbrot in the Huffington Post: It is clear that the executive branch of the U.S. government favors the coup underway in Brazil, even though they have been careful to avoid any explicit endorsement of it. Exhibit A was the meeting between Tom Shannon, the 3rd ranking U.S. State Department official and the one who is almost certainly in charge of handling this situation, with Senator Aloysio Nunes, one of the leaders of the impeachment in the Brazilian Senate, on April 20. By holding this meeting just three days after the Brazilian lower house voted to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, Shannon was sending a signal to governments and diplomats throughout the region and the world that Washington is more than ok with the impeachment. Nunes returned the favor this week by leading an effort (he is chair of the Brazilian Senate Foreign Relations Committee) to suspend Venezuela from Mercosur, the South American trade bloc.
  • London’s empty towers mark a very British form of corruption — Simon Jenkins in the Guardian: Now we know. The glitzy 50-storey tower that looms over London’s Vauxhall and Pimlico is, as the Guardian revealed yesterday, just a stack of bank deposits. Once dubbed Prescott Tower, after the minister who approved it against all advice, it is virtually empty. At night, vulgar lighting more suited to a casino cannot conceal the fact that its interior is dark, owned by absent Russians, Nigerians and Chinese. It makes no more contribution to London than a gold bar in a bank vault, but is far more prominent, a great smudge of tainted wealth on the city’s horizon.
  • ECB’s expanded asset purchase programme – more smoke and mirrors — Bill Mitchell: We now have sufficient data to assess what has been going on under [the ECB's QE] program, and specifically under the public sector purchase programme (PSPP) components (one of three parts to the overall policy initiative). The conclusion is that the scheme has had very little impact on growth and inflation – which is no surprise. However, the pattern of purchases makes it clear that the ECB and the relevant National Central Banks (NCBs) have been engaged in a fiscal operation which has provided extensive debt relief to all Member States other than Greece. This is a demonstration of the European institutions once again engaging in smoke and mirrors (pretending to be operating within the ambit of the Treaties but openly doing the opposite) and behaving belligerently towards one nation (Greece) to ensure it stays subjugated.
  • Iceland proves the nation state is alive and well — Bill Mitchell dismisses "grand (delusional) schemes of a Pan Europe Democracy": The scaremongers who claim that the weaker euro nations would experience massive and ongoing currency plunges are in denial of history. Iceland’s approach to the crisis was less painful and more effective. Greece and other weaker euro nations could have enjoyed similar improvements in their external competitiveness if they had exited the EMU and allowed their currencies to float. Internal devaluation has clearly not been an effective route to increasing international competitiveness despite all the neo-liberal claims to the contrary.

Sunday, 25 September 2016 - 8:49pm

Published by Matthew Davidson on Sun, 25/09/2016 - 8:49pm in

This week, I have been mostly reading:

  • Bun — xkcd [I believe I know this lecturer]: Bun
  • The household debt bubble won’t grow forever — Laurie MacFarlane at the New Economics Foundation: In the economy, total income equals total spending: every pound spent somewhere is earned somewhere else. So if one sector of the economy is spending less than it’s earning and saving, the other sectors must collectively be spending more than they’re earning, and accumulating debt or running down savings. After the financial crisis in 2008, households started spend less to pay down debt, so the government spent more and ran large deficits to offset the effects of the crisis. But with the government pursuing further cuts to public spending in order to achieve a budget surplus by 2019-20, the only way that growth can be achieved and consumption maintained is by households running down savings and accumulating debt. [And linked from this, something I must have missed in March:]
  • How household debt is becoming the new safety net — Sarah Lyall at the New Economics Foundation: Credit is being used as a safety net by millions in the UK, according to new polling data released by debt advice charity Stepchange. They estimate that 15% of people - 7.4 million individuals nationally – have turned to debt for essential day-to-day spending, while 6% of people (around 3 million) use this credit safety net on a weekly or monthly basis.
  • The empty brain — Robert Epstein in Aeon: Senses, reflexes and learning mechanisms – this is what we start with, and it is quite a lot, when you think about it. If we lacked any of these capabilities at birth, we would probably have trouble surviving. But here is what we are not born with: information, data, rules, software, knowledge, lexicons, representations, algorithms, programs, models, memories, images, processors, subroutines, encoders, decoders, symbols, or buffers – design elements that allow digital computers to behave somewhat intelligently. Not only are we not born with such things, we also don’t develop them – ever.
  • The Political Movement that Dared not Speak its own Name: The Neoliberal Thought Collective Under Erasure — Philip Mirowski in an INET working paper: The neoliberals believed that the market always knew better than any human being; but humans would never voluntarily capitulate to that truth. People would resist utter abjection to the demands of the market; they would never completely dissolve into undifferentiated ‘human capital’; they would flinch at the idea that the political franchise needed to be restricted rather than broadened; they would be revolted that the condition of being ‘free to choose’ only meant forgetting any political rights and giving up all pretense of being able to take charge of their own course through life. Neoliberal ideals would always be a hard sell; how much easier to avoid all that with simplistic stories that fogged the mind of the masses: government is always bad; everything you need to know is already in Adam Smith; you can be anything you want to be; there is no such thing as class or the dead hand of history; everything can be made better if you just express yourself on some social media platform; there is nothing wrong with you that a little shopping won’t fix.
  • WashPost Makes History: First Paper to Call for Prosecution of Its Own Source (After Accepting Pulitzer) — Glenn Greenwald: In the face of a growing ACLU and Amnesty-led campaign to secure a pardon for Snowden, timed to this weekend’s release of the Oliver Stone biopic “Snowden,” the Post editorial page today not only argued in opposition to a pardon, but explicitly demanded that Snowden — the paper’s own source — stand trial on espionage charges or, as a “second-best solution,” accept “a measure of criminal responsibility for his excesses and the U.S. government offers a measure of leniency.” In doing so, the Washington Post has achieved an ignominious feat in U.S. media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own source — one on whose back the paper won and eagerly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
  • Keynes and the Quantity Theory of Money — Frances Coppola: Expanding the monetary base with QE while simultaneously reducing government spending and raising taxes to "fix the fiscal finances" is a wash. No, it's worse than that. It transfers money from households who would actually spend that money on goods and services, and businesses who would invest it for future growth, to banks and the rich, who only spend it on assets. The wealth effects from inflated asset prices may at the margin encourage more spending among those foolish enough to borrow (or dis-save) on the strength of unrealised capital gains, while the depressed interest rates that are the inevitable consequence of inflated asset prices may also encourage borrowing by those who would struggle to service debts if interest rates were higher. I am constantly amazed that any policymaker thinks that such unwise behaviour is to be encouraged. Deficit spending would be both safer and more effective than flooding banks with reserves and blowing up asset price bubbles. But we have tied ourselves into a ridiculous straitjacket because of wholly unjustified fear of government debt.
  • Keep on truckin’—without drivers — David F. Ruccio: I was perplexed. I couldn’t figure out what all the fascination was with self-driving cars. Why all the investment in designing cars that could be operated with little or no hands-on attention by a human driver? So, I asked a friend what that was all about, and he quickly responded: it’s really about trucks, not cars. In a country whose system of transporting commodities is insanely organized around highways and trucks (as against, e.g., railroads and trains), and where truck-drivers’ pay is once-again rising […] it makes perfect—profitable—sense to design trucks that can operate without drivers.
  • The Labour leadership battle between Jeremy Corbyn and his critics will soon be over – for three minutes — Mark Steel in the Independent: At last the result of the leadership election will finish this period of Labour’s squabbling. Then a new period of squabbling can begin, three minutes after the result is announced, when a group of 45 MPs issue a statement saying: 'During the last three minutes, it has become increasingly clear that Jeremy Corbyn has lost the support of the party and must step down immediately.'
  • For the first time, Saudi Arabia is being attacked by both Sunni and Shia leaders — Robert Fisk in the Independent: The Saudis step deeper into trouble almost by the week. Swamped in their ridiculous war in Yemen, they are now reeling from an extraordinary statement issued by around two hundred Sunni Muslim clerics who effectively referred to the Wahhabi belief – practiced in Saudi Arabia – as “a dangerous deformation” of Sunni Islam. The prelates included Egypt’s Grand Imam, Ahmed el-Tayeb of al-Azhar, the most important centre of theological study in the Islamic world, who only a year ago attacked “corrupt interpretations” of religious texts and who has now signed up to “a return to the schools of great knowledge” outside Saudi Arabia.
  • Making things matters. This is what Britain forgot — Ha-Joon Chang in the Guardian: Another argument is that we now live in a post-industrial knowledge economy, in which “making things” no longer matters. The proponents of this argument wheel out Switzerland, which has more than twice the per capita income of the UK despite – or rather because of – its reliance on finance and tourism. However Switzerland is actually the most industrialised country in the world, measured by manufacturing output per head. In 2013 that manufacturing output was nearly twice the US’s and nearly three times the UK’s. The discourse of post-industrial knowledge economy fundamentally misunderstands the role of manufacturing in economic prosperity.